Discipleship and Missional Churches

As a youth ministry major in college I was fed a steady diet of Sonlife’s strategy for disciple making.  The value of Sonlife was that it forced us to think through how the ministries that we led would develop disciples that would create disciples.  Discipleship seems to be a hot topic of late.  Last week I posted about Shaun King, and his decision to leave Courageous Church after losing faith in the model that they pursued to create disciples.  Shortly before that, Mike Breen wrote about how the missional movement is failing because of a lack of discipleship in its’ churches.  Last week I also read a fascinating post by Geoff Surrat about how the idea of being missional is often nothing more than a marketing job used to win people and fill the church, instead of change lives and help people love God.

While my hope is that these guys are wrong and the church in this country is doing a good job of discipleship, I do believe that Mike is telling the truth when he says that the western church is pretty poor at making disciples.  Whether it is our individualism, our lack of community, or just not knowing what a disciple really is… the church has done a poor job over the last fifty to one hundred years.  So, how do we work towards fixing this?  Slow down.

Discipleship is a slow moving process.  Discipleship is also not the sexiest of church growth strategies our there.  Embracing a philosophy of ministry that is based on intentional discipleship will not result in your church growing by leaps and bound numerically, but it will deeply impact the spiritual life of you congregation… and the impact will last for generations.

Three thoughts on developing a discipleship mentality in your church:

  • Have a plan.  Discipleship is hard, slow work… and does not happen unintentionally.  Know your congregation, know your community, and know where you want to go.  When I work through this with a church I always ask them “What do you want to be different in the life of a person, five years after they start attending your church?”  Know what skills, attitudes, behaviors, and habits you are looking to build into the lives of your congregation and work backwards to put together a plan of action.
  • Start with what you have.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but for the first year or so that you are intentionally engaging in discipleship, cut back on your evangelism efforts.  Take a season to invest in teaching and then living a lifestyle of discipleship with your congregation, and then set them free to reproduce.  While this may start slow, it will grow exponentially as your congregation begins to reproduce themselves in other people.
  • Model Discipleship.  Nothing kills the momentum of a discipleship movement quicker than a leader not fully buying into it.  If you are serious about discipleship, you need to be both pouring into someone AND being poured into.  Several years ago I was sitting in a Sunday morning service listening to a pastor talk about how important this was to the life of the congregation, only to admit later in the sermon that he hadn’t had anyone pouring into him for over a decade.  Any momentum that the sermon had was killed right there, and the discipleship program that they were trying to launch failed miserably.  If you are planning on engaging in discipleship, you must participate in discipleship.
What does the discipleship process look like in YOUR church?

About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.