There is no shortage of books and videos testifying to what God is doing through faithful disciple makers globally. One of my favourites is Jerry Trousdale’s Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus. Reading books like these builds my faith. The testimonies of God raising the dead, leading entire tribes to Jesus, and training new believers to become disciple makers fans the flame of passion for God’s mission ablaze in my heart. On the one hand, the testimonies inspire me toward change. On the other hand, the chasm between the reality of my faith journey and those depicted leaves me perplexed, frozen, and a little discouraged. I find myself asking, “God, is this possible here? How would we even get there? Where can I start?”
A few days ago, I sat down with Jim Egli, mentor and disciple-making practitioner. Along with his wife Vicki, Jim works with New Generations (https://newgenerations.org/team/) and the Vineyard Church to mobilize a movement in Africa. He has extensive experience in small/cell group ministry, church coaching, and researching what makes small groups effective for life change[i]. He reminded me of the three steps leaders should take if they desire to influence their congregation toward a movement mindset. I’m grateful for his conversation. It gave me much to think about and reminded me of what I’ve observed and experienced as I make disciples in my context. I thought I’d share some of my reflections from that conversation. Let’s dive in.
1. Articulate your collective definition of a disciple.
Jesus commands us to go and make disciples—confession time. Years ago, if you’d asked me what a disciple was, I couldn’t clearly and succinctly tell you. I could describe what I thought a disciple does, but the list became long, and the definition became complex. The most challenging part for me was coming up with a description that applies to all stages of a disciple’s growth.
As a leader, one of the best things you can do for your church is to guide your leadership through a re-discovery process of what Jesus defines as a disciple.
If you and your leadership do not already have a clear definition that was wrestled through together, I encourage you to take the time to do so. This step can feel arduous and even a waste of time. Please don’t rush it. Having alignment within your church on this definition will make a significant difference, and you’ll be grateful for the time spent in the years to come.
Here are some common approaches that I’ve seen in churches that have done this well:
Start with Scripture – Read the Gospels and the Book of Acts with an eye for how Jesus discipled and how the Bible describes a disciple.
Lay everything on the table – As you engage the Bible, give God and your staff/volunteers permission to challenge all your existing paradigms. Don’t allow your existing ecclesiology (Church forms) to drive your interpretation. Allow the scriptures to inform your way forward.
Don’t rush it. Take the time necessary to co-create the definition with the scripture as your plumbline. Leaders who engage a team of others to re-discover together see higher ownership of the mission of God and each person’s call to join him in their co-mission. A group of people is much more likely to ask the tough questions. Questions like, “When do you become a disciple?” “Are we defining a new disciple or a mature disciple?” “How do you make a disciple?” “When do you know if you’ve made a disciple?” Don’t shy away from these questions. Return to the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to raise questions through the people and reveal his answers through the Word.
Engage resources from others. One of the most encouraging things I did when I started asking these tough questions was discover that many others have already done much of the heavy lifting. The search engine on Christian bookstore sites is rapidly expanding with content. Look for anything that helps you process and discover Jesus’ way of making disciples. Check out the list at the end of this blog for some of our favourites.[ii]
Experiment with working definitions. Here at reKindle, our working definition of a disciple is someone who hears the voice of the Father, responds in obedience, and helps others to do the same. We’ve each had previous versions we’ve tried in different contexts. As we’ve tested it, we’ve found previous definitions lacking and have adjusted to strengthen as we go. Before going public to the entire congregation, give your leadership team permission to experiment with a first iteration and improve upon it after a season of rigorous testing.
Remember, these bullet points are my learnings as I’ve processed definitions with teams. It’s not an exhaustive list. Maybe you have other best practices you’ve discovered along the way. Keep track of these. I’m sure they’ll bless others who engage in a similar journey. Be sure to share your learnings with others as we catalyze disciple making in Canadian churches.
2. Layout a clear pathway to train others to make disciples. The second step leaders should take is to create a clear path for training disciple makers. There are two key points I’d like to make about this step:
First, this is a training pathway to make disciple makers. This is not a programmatic pathway to make disciples. This may feel like splitting hairs for some of you, but let me explain. Every follower of Jesus is called to make a disciple. If Jesus’ followers rely on church programs to make disciples, they will not have the tools to make disciples. The only skill they’ll develop is inviting their friends to the church event geared toward making a disciple. While this does have the capacity to add disciples of Jesus to his family, it does not have a multiplicative outcome and stands to impede the movement potential of the Church. Instead, treat your pathway as a training ground to equip disciple makers so that they can make disciples. This doesn’t mean you won’t have programs. It means the focus of the programs is on making disciple makers. It’s subtle, but it’s significant. As you form this pathway, return to the definition of a disciple you settled on in Step 1 and ask yourself, how can we train our people to help others become disciples?
Second, in my last five years, I’ve discovered the Holy Spirit is stirring in the hearts of some of the most unexpected people. In 1 Corinthians 1:26-28 Paul explains that God uses some of the most unlikely people for his plans. Ensuring that your disciple making pathway is clear and accessible serves as an invitation to the willing. Please don’t keep the path for equipping disciple makers behind closed doors or restricted like it’s only for those who’ve reached a certain level of maturity. In a culture where finding those who’ve genuinely left everything to follow Jesus can be challenging, this public, simple pathway will enable you to identify those willing to leave everything to follow Jesus. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by who engages in the path.
3. Live as a Disciple-Maker. The third step church leaders should take is to become a disciple maker personally. This means outside of your vocation and outside of the church programs. We know from the life of Jesus and his disciples that they modeled disciple making to others. If we, as vocational leaders in the church, rely only on our vocation to make disciples, our methods are not reproducible by those we disciple. I regularly hear perplexed pastors asking why their congregants aren’t making disciples. My question is, “Does your congregation have an example they can imitate?” A second question follows: “Could your congregation imitate your disciple making example?” Most pastors in Canada rely solely on their job to make disciples. This is inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t lead a church. I’d also posit that leading a church isn’t directly making disciples. As ministers of the good news, we must live out Jesus’ call to make disciples in life’s everyday, ordinary rhythms. Our people need an accessible, life-on-life example. In Matthew 11, the Message translation describes it as Jesus’ unforced rhythms of grace. I understand that the life of a pastor is filled. The demands are high. I also am confident that anyone leading in this capacity most likely signed up for the position because they have a passion for seeing many discover the saving and transforming love of Jesus and grow in that truth so that they may be more fully transformed into the person Christ created them to be. Making disciples is at the heart of why we signed up for the lifestyle. I urge you then to prioritize personal disciple making. It will take commitment and perseverance, but you won’t regret it. Ask the Holy Spirit where you can create space in your schedule to grow in your disciple making skills and praxis. Ask for help from other people and ministries that do this well. There are several ministries committed to helping people press into personal disciple making. Two of my favourites are the Missionary Pathway offered by the Kansas City Underground https://underground.thinkific.com/courses/missionary-pathway and 6 Habits of a Multiplying Disciple by New Generations https://newgenerations.us/habits-training/
We have an upcoming 6 Habits training about to launch September 12th, 2023. Click here if you’d like to join me and a group of other leaders across North America.
Shifting an entire church culture towards a multiplicative movement culture is no quick or easy task. But it is a rewarding assignment. Furthermore, God’s Spirit is actively stirring in the hearts and minds of many Canadian Christians. As I reflect on the journey of several leaders who have engaged in these steps, I’m very encouraged by the extent of the change we’ve witnessed in their church culture. Wherever you are in shifting towards a movement mindset, I encourage you to engage in these steps today.
[i] Jim has written numerous books on discipleship through Groups Ministries https://www.amazon.com/stores/Jim-Egli/author/B00ITPMQO6?ref=ap_rdr&store_ref=ap_rdr&isDramIntegrated=true&shoppingPortalEnabled=true [ii] A few of our favourite books are: Empowering Missional Disciples by Bob Rognlien, Contagious Disciple Making by Watson & Watson, Spent Matches by Roy Moran, Movements That Change the World by Steve Addison, and Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale. Our favourite podcasts include: The KC Underground, The More Disciples, Disciples Made, and Disciple Making.