Disciple Making and the Small Church

The talk about the need to refocus on disciple-making is gaining a lot of traction among Christianity these days.  This should be a welcomed development, as it is pretty self-evident of the need to make disciples.

For the sake of brevity, I will assume we understand why as Christians we are called to be disciples and make disciples.  However, for the sake of clarity, let me say that my basic understanding of discipleship means that we learn not only to believe in Jesus but that we learn to believe and live as Jesus believed and lived life.

The big question is how do we make such disciples?

To begin with, such a question assumes that we as ministers are seeking to live as disciples of Jesus ourselves.  Here is a reality check: As ministers, we will always be making disciples.  The question is: what sort of disciples are we making?  Or to whom will the disciples we make be disciples of?  If we are disciples of anyone or anything other than Jesus, the disciples we make will likely become disciples of whoever or whatever we are disciples of.

Moving on to the question of how we, as disciples of Jesus, make disciples of Jesus, I have been slowly reading through the book Building A Discipling Culture by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram.  In this book, the authors describe a process of information, imitation, and innovation for making disciples (as seen in the picture).

Information is merely the teaching of scripture, theology, culture, and worldview necessary to the formation of disciples.  No matter what the skill, be it a disciple of Jesus or a pilot, there is a base of knowledge that is essential to learn if a person is to become adequate in their skill.  However, just as correct knowledge alone is insufficient to becoming a skilled pilot, correct information alone is insufficient to making disciples of Jesus.  To make disciples, we must also invite others into our lives to follow along with us in the doing of life together whereby the practices and disciplines of discipleship are learned by attempting those practices and disciplines.  This is called imitation.  Once a person has learned to imitate the life of a disciple, comes innovation.  Having learned to a life of discipleship, the disciple can begin to innovate in their own context.

Whatever you think of this process, there are some challenges that small established churches face.  Here, I am thinking particularly of small established Churches of Christ, since these congregations are the basis of my ministry experience.

First off, the process formulaically goes like this: Information + Imitation = Innovation.  The problem is that while most churches have a means for imparting information (sermons, Bible studies, etc…), there is not any way of practicing imitation.  As a minister, I have tried inviting others into life with me though not with a pointed of a focus or intent as described above.  I have tried to bring other Christians along with me in ministry, trying to equip them for greater ministry and develop in them their own leadership ability.  Some have accepted these opportunities and good fruit came as a result.  On the other hand, other times Christians have declined such invitations for a variety of reasons.  Of course, it is easy to do this if the minister has simply invited to serve with the church to do it’s ministry for the church.

This is where the challenge comes to small established churches seeking renewal in the mission of God.  Besides preaching and teaching, the minister needs to be equipping others for ministry and this happens through disciple making.  That is, the minister is asking (invitation) others from the church to walk in life together and learn (challenge) to become disciples set free for participation in the mission of God.  But this is difficult in a church culture where the minister is hired simply to do the ministry rather than equip others for the ministry.

Essentially then, to become a disciple making culture we are talking about a paradigm shift among churches in the way that we understand ministry.

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