Four years ago I faced the brutal facts about disciple-making in our church. We were adding new groups. We were even making disciples. However, we had failed to create a disciple-making system that made reproducing disciples.
Hundreds of reproducing leaders have been developed since that painful moment. Our disciple-making movement is growing exponentially without any public push. Five key efforts led to the change. I believe each of them can be implemented in your setting.
1. Make Disciple-Making Your Church’s Mission
Jesus commanded us to make disciples. It is the primary mission of the church. To reflect the primacy of this mandate, our church’s mission statement is a definition of a mature disciple (See Diagram A).
The first church I served had a very broad mission statement. I did not have the authority or influence to change it. If you are in this situation, consider using the discipleship portion of your church’s mission statement as a launch pad to build a helpful mission statement that defines a mature disciple for your department. Publicly defining a mature disciple is essential to building a disciple-making system.
2. Provide a Disciple-Making Map
Once you have defined what a disciple looks like, providing a map to help people grow toward maturity is critical (See Diagram B). Our church identifies four phases of spiritual development: seeker, believer, follower, and leader. I believe a disciple maker’s job is to help people assess their current phase of development and empower them to take their next step.
Honest assessment is essential for healthy growth. Checking off the boxes next to the practices in each phase has been much more helpful than the definitions. People tend to overestimate their progress. For example, we believe it’s impossible to be a follower without regularly reading the Bible. Activities do not guarantee spiritual maturity, but a lack of activity is a good indicator of the extent of a person’s maturity.
Once you determine the phases of maturity, you get to start deciding which experiences you will use at each phase to prepare people to take their next step. For example, Followers Made empowers believers to become vibrant followers. Leaders Made helps followers become spiritual influencers.
When I first arrived at our church, an overwhelming majority of our people were stuck in the believer phase. We were awesome at reaching the lost. Unfortunately, we were equally good at losing the found. The absence of advanced spiritual formation training hindered further development. Adding these experiences has resulted in hundreds of believers becoming Spirit-driven missionaries at home, at work, and at play. Visit disciplesmade.com if you are interested in using these turn-key solutions.
3. Disciple Disciple-Makers
Jesus did not personally disciple hundreds of people. Instead, Jesus made disciples of a handful of people who joined Him in building the disciple making movement. I believe following Jesus’ example is critical. How does this translate into contemporary discipleship?
The discipleship movement at Westside [Family Church] started with one key decision: I stopped leading a small group. For four years I have led only the advanced discipleship groups that were filled only with people who were leading small groups.
Making that shift was a simple decision, but making the transition was difficult. I care for people. I love investing in their lives. I have found, however, that directly investing in 10 leaders is indirectly investing into 100 people. It is hard to believe, but I have personally developed 100 leaders since I made that transition. Because many of these leaders became leaders of leaders themselves, the indirect touch has reached well into the thousands. I have never spent more than three or four hours a week leading these groups. Multiplication can happen when you are no longer your disciple making system.
4. Follow Jesus Instead of a Formula
Many formulas for small groups and discipleship are available. I have learned very much from them. Nothing, however, has informed our process more than Jesus’ step-by-step guidance. My first step after facing the brutal facts was admitting to Jesus that I was not capable of developing the kind of discipleship system that was necessary. I committed to take whatever step He told me to take to build it. Obedience, not intelligence, has built our disciple-making system.
5. Become a Disciple Before You Try Making Disciples
You can reproduce only what you are. Disciples regularly hear from God through regular Bible reading, journaling, prayer, and accountability. Disciples regularly hone their spiritual gifts for God’s glory. If you try to be a disciple maker without being a disciple, you will frustrate yourself and those you are tying to lead.
Be bold! Jesus commanded us to make disciples. Jesus has given us His Spirit to empower us to do it. He has given us His authority to accomplish it. Lean into His Spirit. Claim His authority. Obey His command. Create a disciple making system in your church.
Brian Phipps serves Westside Family Church as Next Steps pastor, bringing strong leadership and investments in championing the spiritual growth of our congregation. Brian is experienced as a church planter, senior pastor, and discipleship and small groups pastor. He received his BA in religion from the University of South Carolina, and a Masters of Divinity and M.A. in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. He and his wife Carol have three amazing kids, Hannah, Sammy, and Caleb.