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Don’t Settle For Less

Your church exists to help people find and follow Jesus. Our Lord made it very clear when He said, “Go and make disciples.” The core mission of every church is to help people follow Jesus, walk with Him, and continue on their spiritual journeys. According to Eugene Peterson, “Discipleship is long obedience in the same direction.” Is biblical disciple making really the core that drives your church and everything you do? Will you settle for anything less?

Church culture has developed a pathway to service from conversion to volunteering to service. If you are not careful this can become more of a drainpipe then a leadership pipeline. Everyone should have a place of service but God has so much more for us than being an occasional greeter, usher, or taking our turn in the nursery. Maybe this is part of our willingness to settle for less than God intended? We need a pathway where disciples are trained, equipped, and released to serve.

Disciples make disciples, who become leaders, and then live on mission for Christ. That is a leadership pipeline. Matthew 4:19 defines a disciple as someone who knows and follows Jesus, is being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus. This describes the goal of what we are called to do, accomplish, and become. Goals without practices and habits are only a pipedream. You dream about the goal but your habits remain the same. We settle for less!

We must develop faith habits that produce actions today that will make our goals a reality tomorrow. Are you willing to do the right things today that will ensure kingdom impact tomorrow? One example would be our goal to see a church planting movement like the early church witnessed. If we want to see a movement we must plant more churches. If we want to plant more churches then we must develop more leaders. And in order to develop more leaders we must make more disciples.

A leadership problem is actually a discipleship problem. Our goal to be obedient to Christ demands that we develop a discipleship pathway and a leadership pipeline in our church. Do you have a clearly articulated discipleship pathway so that the people in your church know what their next steps toward Christ should be? Can your members clearly articulate that pathway? If it cannot be clearly articulated then it is not reproducible. You may have disciples but they will not know how to make disciples.

First, numbers are accurate but they are not adequate. If you had 100 teenagers show up for an event that would be great and should be celebrated but does that really define success? Have we settled for less than God intended if we only measure the number? A better metric would be that they are being discipled and they are making disciples themselves. It is not wrong to track attendance but that alone is not enough to according to Matthew 4:19. We cannot settle for less than seeing diciples who are committed to the mission of Jesus.

Second, discipleship is more than attending a class and getting a certificate. Biblical wisdom is not just how much you know and the knowledge you have gained. It is being able to put God’s principles into action in our lives. Is our discipleship pathway more about information transfer then it is life transformation? You do not graduate from discipleship in this life because as Daniel Im puts it, “It is more about a direction then it is a destination.” We do not arrive but continue to become more and more like Christ.

Third, you must learn to read the Bible honestly. We cannot ignore verses that speak of hardships, difficulties, persecution, trials, and tribulation. We must learn to trust God even when we lose things we want to keep and we keep things we want to lose. God allows suffering in our lives sometimes to cut away what will ultimately harm us. It also enables Him to install and insert into our lives what we really need. We should never settle for anything less than God’s purposes for our lives.

Fourth, we must be held accountable. Our discipleship pathway must have an obedience mechanism that holds those we are discipling accountable. We settle for less than God intended when accountability is the missing ingredient in our discipleship. It has been well said, “The faith that does not finish was faulty from the first.” Discipleship demands that we speak the truth in love. The Bible is clear that those who are more spiritually mature must speak into their disciples’ lives.

Fifth, discipleship materials are the least of your problems. Curriculum is important and must be biblically sound but the bigger issue is following through with actually discipling someone. Jim Putman’s necessary elements of a discipleship pathway are worth repeating. Intentional leadership plus a relational environment, plus a reproducible process is necessary. Jesus’ main focus was developing His disciples for the task of making disciples. Do not settle for making disciples but make disciple-makers.

Sixth, lead by example because the speed of the leader determines the speed of the team. We say we need more leaders but how much of your time is spent developing leaders? Do you disciple others weekly? Do you also weekly have a group you pour into because you see leadership potential in them? If not, you need to build these two necessary systems into your schedule. It must be a part of your ministry rhythm to be discipling and to be developing leaders.

Seventh, see the potential in every believer. When Jesus looked at His followers He did not see what everyone else saw. He saw world changers who would lead a movement. God has so much more for us than just volunteering to serve in our church. He sees an obedient disciple who is being transformed by Him and is committed to living on mission for Him. We must refuse to settle for less than God intended for our lives and for our churches!

THE DNA OF A CHURCH

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DNA is defined as the combination of features that makes something what it is. It is what carries our genetic information, reproduces itself, and is the means by which hereditary characteristics pass from one generation to the next. This major component of chromosomes determines a person’s hair and eye color along with many other features. We have all heard remarks like, “Wow, that apple didn’t fall very far from the tree” or “You could never deny that one” when a child looks a lot like one of their parents. God’s children should resemble Him!

Remember, anything healthy reproduces so what will your church’s children and grandchildren look like? In Organic Leadership, Neal Cole defines the DNA of a church as:

  • Divine truth
  • Nurturing relationships
  • Apostolic mission.

This definition is simple, uncluttered, and powerful. It promotes and produces a mindset of an always expanding and multiplying ministry led by the Spirit of God. DNA reminds us daily of our heritage and of what is most important to us. DNA determines who we are and who we are should determine what we do.

Even the tiniest of cells must exhibit DNA that is healthy and whole. A church will remain strong, healthy, and reproduce healthy children as long as its DNA is maintained. No matter what size a church is, it should have the Lord’s DNA because it belongs to Him, it is to glorify Him, and it should look like Him. Rick Warren has said, “Church size never determines significance! No airplane pilot thinks 15 passengers are insignificant!” The question is, “What kind of disciple should we be producing if our church has the right kind of DNA?”

The lowest common denominator in the church is the disciple. The DNA of the church will be determined by the DNA of the disciples that are being produced. What are the disciples in your church focused on the most? What takes up most of their time? How would your church describe a mature follower of Christ? Every church and every follower of Christ is commanded to make disciples. That is supposed to be who we are and what we do, but is it? Fact: unless making disciples is in the DNA of your church, world evangelism is a fantasy.

Neal Cole goes on to say, “If your ministry is struggling without leaders, don’t reevaluate your leadership program. Reevaluate your disciple making system.” DNA becomes infected and mutant when are churches become consumed with nonbiblical traditions. These traditions do not contradict the Bible but neither are they mandated or necessarily mentioned in the scriptures. Traditions such as singing happy birthday in the service, Sunday School, singing the great hymns of the faith, the way we take an offering, the pastor being at every surgery, and a host of others.

Traditions can be good or bad. They become wrong and dangerous when they are elevated to being equal or sometimes even above scripture. When this happens that church’s DNA is weakened and they begin producing anemic disciples. They stay busy with all kinds of activities and programs but the time has come for churches to quit focusing on matters that the Bible is silent on and begin again to obey what God has clearly commanded, making disciples. Don’t allow “good things” to become the enemy of what is best.

Spiritual maturity is not how much we know but what we are doing with what we know. The real issue is not where your church meets but how it operates. The New Testament norm for every believer and every church is to multiply. J. D. Payne says it this way, “A healthy ecclesiology advocates that your church is to grow and multiply itself throughout the world.” Every disciple is responsible for his spiritual walk and every disciple is responsible to make disciples. Where does it begin? By having the DNA of a disciple maker, Jesus!

The DNA of a healthy church requires that a mature disciple be defined as one who is making disciples that are making disciples!

DON’T FUMBLE THE HANDOFF

The race was about to begin and the excitement in the air was energizing.  My son Benjamin’s high school’s 4×100 relay team had qualified for state and was expected to contend for the Oklahoma 4A state title.  The gun sounded and they were off.  We stood up as my son’s team mate reached to him for the all important passing of the baton.  Then one of the greatest fears in any relay race took place – they fumbled the handoff.  It had not happened all year, why now? 

In a second their chances of advancing to the finals were over.  Unfulfilled expectations overwhelmed them because of one mishandled handoff.  The disappointment was real because they knew they were fast enough to make the finals and maybe even win but we would never know because they had not been able to pass the baton.  This story is painfully true to my family but we all survived and our lives moved forward.

Fumbling a handoff in a relay race has no eternal consequences but Christians are running a race that does matter in eternity.  We are to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus but what about the other runners in the race?  What happens when the time comes for us to pass the baton of ministry to someone else?  Are we fumbling the baton of leadership development?  Have many dropped out of the race because we fumbled the handoff?  Discipleship is the starting point, the sustaining practice, and the key to lasting impact.   

The only way to ensure the proper handoff of ministry is to continually be reproducing leaders in our churches.  The most important and crucial element in passing the baton is discipleship and disciple making.  Always moving forward and always reproducing through an easily reproducible process.  Thom Rainer has rightfully observed that, “Congested churches and stagnant believers are the antithesis of God’s plan.”  Could this explain why it is estimated that 90% of those attending on Sunday’s are passive in their walk with the Lord and the church?

The quality of a church’s leadership is directly related to the quality of its discipleship.  If we do not have a clear discipleship process then we should not be surprised when there is a shortage of leaders.  Neil Cole has said, “If you can’t reproduce disciples, you can’t reproduce leaders.  If you can’t reproduce leaders, you can’t reproduce churches.  If you can’t reproduce churches, you can’t reproduce movements.”  The lack of leadership development creates a bottleneck in the church which has been created by a lack of making disciples that make disciples.

In the book From Followers to Leaders Robert Logan and Tara Miller give a highly reproducible model of leadership development that they call the I/You approach. 

Stage 1:  I do the task and you watch me. 

Stage 2: I do the task and you assist me. 

Stage 3: You do the task and I assist you. 

Stage 4: You do the task and I watch you. 

Stage 5: You do the task and someone else watches you. 

Now that is passing the baton!   We must dedicate ourselves to the most strategic activity that any church can engage in; making disciples.  There will not be any kind of significant, lasting, or sustainable movement of church planting or church revitalization/renewal without meaningful discipleship.  It is the very task that Jesus focused His efforts on and invested most of His time and energy.  Alan Hirsch has said it well, “Only to the extent that we can develop self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted disciples can we hope to get the task of Jesus’ mission done!”

Don’t fumble the handoff!

IS IT REPRODUCIBLE?

Follow the Leader

I Thess. 1:6

“And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord,”

Every church’s mission is to carry out the great commission.  Our biblical values cause us to want to be obedient and join Him in His mission.  A great sounding vision statement paints a picture of what we hope our part of the mission will look like.  It is easy to talk about what we should be doing but many are struggling with getting it done.  Without an easily reproducible process of discipleship we will struggle with how to carry out that mission.

Does your church have an easily reproducible and repeatable process of discipleship?  Does it come to your mind right now without going to look or asking someone?  We are not talking about programs and activities but rather a well designed map that shows a believer where they are, where they need to go, and how to get there.  It is a clear concise strategy to move from being a new convert to becoming Christ-like?  If our vision is to make disciples that transform their communities for Christ we must work diligently to develop an uncomplicated strategy of reproduction.

Reproduction has always been a part of God’s plan.  From the very beginning man was told to be fruitful and multiply.  Godly families were to raise godly children who would then raise their own godly children.  When we receive Christ as our Lord we start out as spiritual babes and immediately begin the process of maturing into Christian adults.  Every church has the responsibility to provide their family with a developmental process that shows them where they are and where they need to be.  Making disciples really is all about reproduction.

First, Followers are to be Imitators!

Followers in 1 Thess. 1:6 means imitators.  Followers are to be imitators of other believers and more importantly Jesus Christ.  We are not to be impersonators, trying to be someone else, but rather imitators by focusing on learning the characteristics of the one we are striving to imitate.  Imitation is a fundamental part of discipleship because it is learning from others and using them as guides.  Reproduction occurs when the imitator becomes a model for someone else to imitate but the million dollar question is how does that happen and what does that process look like? 

Second, Can it be Easily Duplicated?

Will Mancini in Church Unique said, “It’s not about what you can do, but what you can duplicate.”  He tells us that 98% of all North American churches are functioning without an easily reproducible process of discipleship and that 50% of the people in our churches have never taken a step beyond the worship service itself.  How many people in your church are moving from the worship service to serving others?  Is there a map in place that a follower of Christ can chart their progress and that shows them how to move to the next step?

Third, Keep it Simple!

The steps and expectations of where a “follower” needs to be must be clarified and simplified.  In Simple Church (in my opinion a must read) Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger give us this definition; “A simple church is designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.  The leadership and the church are clear about the process (clarity) and are committed to executing it.  The process flows logically (movement) and is implemented in each area of the church (alignment).  The church abandons everything that is not in the process (focus).”

The challenge is to know what kind of disciple you want to produce and how that will occur in your church.  Keep it simple but remember it will not be easy.  Your work is cut out for you as you begin designing a map, a blueprint, that will guide believers to maturity in Christ.  It must be clear, uncomplicated and easily reproducible but it will not come without a lot of effort.  Pray, read, learn from others, find a church with a simple discipleship process, or give me a call; but most of all refuse to settle for anything less than reproducing disciples who reproduce disciples!

Jesus Was A Genius

I know what you are thinking, “Well Duh!  Of course He was!”  Yet, we don’t follow the genius of His strategy very often.  In The Master plan of Evangelism Robert Coleman said, “All of this certainly impresses one with the deliberate way that Jesus proportioned His life to those He wanted to train…Though He did what He could to help the multitudes, He had to devote Himself primarily to a few men, rather than the masses, so that the masses could at last be saved.  This was the genius of His strategy.”

Discipleship is a biblical command for every follower of Christ.  We have three obligations as disciples.  First, we are to follow Jesus.  Second, we are to help others follow Jesus. Third, we are to help others to help others follow Jesus.  Yes, it sounds simplistic because it is.  We are to help everyone we meet either to follow Jesus or to equip them to help others follow Jesus.  If we want to make a difference in people’s lives we have to be different.  We are not talking about an outward difference but an inward transformation and with a greater focus on discipleship.  The goal in the scriptures is not to find them, gather them, or improve them.  The object is to “make disciples.”       

Coleman also said,Better to give a year or so to one or two people who learn what it means to conquer for Christ than to spend a lifetime with a congregation just keeping the program going.….It might well be that some cherished plans of our own making will have to be redirected or perhaps abandoned altogether.  Equally agonizing may be the adjustment of the congregation to the Master’s view of the ministry.”  Please realize that training is an event but discipleship is a relationship.  The reality is that as you study the way Jesus discipled the expectations were obedience and passing on what they had learned to others.  Can you correctly call yourself a disciple if you have never made a disciple?

In Real Life Discipleship Jim Putman gives an excellent formula for discipleship. “An Intentional Leader + A Relational Environment + A Reproducible Process = An Infinite Number of Disciples.”   The path to discipleship is not new but by many it needs to be rediscovered.  It will require a major shift in many Christians’ way of thinking and following Christ.  It is about new behaviors and requires the following.  It will require a radical adjustment to missional behaviors and making disciples.  Next, it requires realigned activities where it is not just church activities but time dedicated to one on one discipleship.  Then, it requires relevant approaches that are relational where our focus is doing life day by day with people and not just programs.  Lastly, it requires redemptive action where we extend God’s grace to the lost, the last, and the least.  

Here are some Disciplemaking Principles from David Watson and City Team Ministries.  Please consider the radical changes these principles demand for them to become a reality in your life.

  • ·         Hold your leaders accountable to be making disciples.
  • ·         A disciple is not a disciple until one makes another disciple.
  • ·         Focus on the few to win the many.  Jesus did.
  • ·         It’s about discovery, not preaching or teaching.
  • ·         Obedience is more important than knowledge.
  • ·         Disciple to conversion, not convert to make disciples.
  • ·         The discipling process begins with lost people.
  • ·         Expect the hardest places to yield the greatest results.
  • ·         Prayer is the starting point for all disciplemaking.
  • ·         Keep all things reproducible.
  • ·         Following Jesus is about obeying God regardless if anyone else obeys God.
  • ·         You have to be intentional about the end product: discplemakers.
  • ·         Accountability and intentionality are critical.
  • ·         Making disciples is not a knowledge process-it is a relationship process