Albert Einstein wrote, “Out of complexity, find simplicity.”
This quote was the basis for the immensely helpful book Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. At one time, it seemed as if every pastor was not only reading the book but also implementing the four fold elements within: clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. After extensive research, the authors uncovered a simple process among vibrant churches.
These same elements can be applied to discipleship. Here are some pitfalls to avoid when forming a discipleship ministry.
1. No Clear Direction
Rainer and Geiger define clarity as “the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people…. If the process is not clearly defined so that everyone is speaking the same language, there is confusion and frustration.”[i]
Here are 2 sure-fire ways to stifle a discipleship ministry: Misunderstanding and Minimization.
A. People Misunderstand the Meaning of Discipleship
Churches, according to Bill Hull, author and disciplemaker, throw “the word disciple around freely, but too often with no definition.”[ii]
New Testament Professor Scot McKnight supports Hull’s claim: “If one understands discipleship as ‘daily routine,’ then one will produce those who have daily routines. If one understands discipleship as ‘evangelistic ministry,’ then one will produce evangelists. If one understands discipleship as ‘Bible study,’ then one will produce biblical scholars. If one understands discipleship as ‘effective operations,’ then one will produce administrative geniuses.”[iii]
Furthermore, a quick survey of the Christian landscape will uncover various definitions of discipleship from different people. For example, Francis Chan, whom I have had the privilege of dialoguing with on two occasions, defines discipleship differently than Bill Hull, author of The Disciplemaking Pastor. Jim Putman, pastor of Real Life ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, suggests a different approach than Alan Hirsch, founding director of Forge Mission Training Network, or even Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church and author of Limitless Life.
Fortunately, Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, did not prescribe a model; rather, He gave us a mandate: Make Disciples! He didn’t suggest a process; he left us with principles, which is why Robert Coleman’s book The Master Plan of Discipleship is timeless.
Jesus, ultimately, left the size of the group, the length of the group, and the particularities of the group up to the disciple-maker. But, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Rather than using your freedom as a license for laziness, you must decide on a system and faithfully follow.
So what is discipleship?
We could say that discipleship is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ. When people become disciples, they learn what Jesus said and live out what Jesus did (Matthew 28:19).
Did you catch the 5 Components of a discipling relationship?
A disciple is:
- Intentional about equipping others for the work of ministry
- Studying/obeying the Word of God
- Accountable to other believers
- Empowered by the Holy Spirit
- Reproducing what he was taught with others.
Begin to incorporate these elements into your discipleship group.
One last word on this subject: It’s important to contextualize the process. A “one-size fits all” approach will not work. Discipleship in Chattanooga is very different than in San Francisco or even the Dominican Republic.
After preaching an evangelistic crusade, D.L. Moody was met after the service by a man who disapproved of his evangelistic strategy. Moody responded, “It’s evident that you don’t agree with my evangelism method. What’s your evangelistic model for winning the lost?” The man replied, “I don’t have a particular method.” Moody said, “I think I’ll stick with mine.”
Regardless of which model, material, or manner you affirm, decide on a plan and stick with it.