Anything old is old fashioned to much of the western world. However, two movements that altered the course of human history were the Renaissance (1300-1700) and the Reformation (1500-1600), both of which recovered or rediscovered that which was lost. By looking into the past, they were able to take giant strides forward.
A return to discipleship will enact the reformation of the twenty-first century. The strategy is not new. The method has been time tested and is culturally relevant in any context. Discipleship works as well in a small, rural church as it does in a major city megachurch. A seasoned pastor can experience the same results as an inexperienced minister. Laymen without seminary education or years of ministerial experience are able to reach the nations by implementing these core discipleship principles.
Yet my driving motive for writing this book is not to raise the banner of discipleship; it’s a clarion call for cultivating a deeper walk with Christ. I am passionate about disciple-making because my desire is to obey Jesus. When a person grows closer to him, the yield will be discipleship.
Discipleship is effective because it empowers believers to shoulder the work of ministry. Every individual in a discipleship ministry has another person they are working with. Disciples, many for the first time, are equipped to take responsibility for their faith and ownershipfor their God-given ministries. We are here because the first disciples took Jesus at his word. They made Jesus’ last words their first work. What would happen if we did the same? I believe we would rediscover what it means to be a New Testament church.
The Greatness of the Great Commission
What makes the Great Commission so “great”? It is that small two-letter prefix “co-.” Jesus could have told us about the Great Mission, something he would do alone. Instead, he enlisted us to join him in what we call the Great Co-Mission. As believers, we cooperate with him in a synergistic manner—working together.
In his book WikiChurch, Steve Murrell tells the story of a ten-year-old judo student who was seriously injured in a car accident. The student’s arm was so badly injured that the doctors were left with no choice but to amputate it. Everyone thought his judo career was over, yet despite his handicap, he persevered and continued his training. His teacher, aware of a plan the boy didn’t yet understand, taught him one move and one move only. The boy petitioned his teacher every day to teach him more than one technique, but the teacher would not change his mind. Every day of every week of every month was spent perfecting this one move.
The boy entered his first tournament after the injury and, against all odds, advanced to the finals. His opponent in the finals was more seasoned, faster, stronger, and, as was immediately apparent, in possession of all of his limbs. The match was a stalemate until the seasoned competitor lost focus for a moment. The one-armed boy performed the only major move he knew, and his opponent could do nothing to counter it. To everyone’s surprise, the one-armed boy was crowned the champion.
According to Murrell, the one-armed student won the match for two simple reasons: “First of all, he has mastered one of the most difficult moves in all of judo. Second, the only defense against that move is to grab your opponent’s left arm.”
Although I cannot confirm if this story is true, it still communicates a principle we must all learn: simplify. Learn to keep the main thing the main thing. When we do this and stop majoring on the minors, we become far more effective in our ministry efforts. Until disciple-making becomes the ministry of the church and not a ministry in the church, we will never see our discipleship efforts impact the world the way that Jesus envisioned.
This generation, as with every generation, has a fresh opportunity to reclaim this ancient pattern of ministry. Today’s church leaders are not like the generations immediately preceding them. Church in a box is outdated like Cavaricci jeans (you only know about these if you’re older than thirty), canned sermons are frowned upon, and more leaders understand their need for a comprehensive disciple-making strategy—the crux of the Great Commission. What is missing from the equation, unfortunately, is a measurable method for tracking effectiveness.
BirthMARCS of a D-Group
“Create incarnational principles, not duplicatable processes for people to implement,” was the advice of Will Mancini, author and visionary, in an hour-long phone conversation I had with him about disciple-making.
Mancini is talking here about a common phenomenon among ministry leaders. Many churches will experience success in a particular area of ministry and then attempt to repackage a step-by-step process for duplication in other churches. In the 1990s, many churches adopted the “Purpose Driven” model for ministry, which was very effective at the time.
But after years of implementing it as a nicely packaged, sure-fire disciple-making strategy, it began to fade. And some of this is due to the need to contextualize each strategy to our local culture. What works in Chattanooga, Tennessee, may not work in San Francisco or in Quito, Ecuador. The Word of God and the principles it teaches are timeless and transcendent, but man-made curriculums developed in a particular cultural context are not.
When God determines the maturity of a church, he doesn’t count the Christians—he weighs them, and the weight is measured by how deeply his teaching has penetrated into a person’s life.
Depth is more important than width; the transformation of a single person can have a greater impact than hundreds of shallow commitments. And as we will discover later, Jesus instituted this principle in his own disciple-making ministry. His plan for reaching the world was not through massive evangelism conferences, though they have their place, but by investing in people who would then invest themselves in discipling others.
Depth is a hard thing to measure, is it not? How do you measure the maturity of an individual? Are there certain elements that are essential for determining whether or not a discipleship group (D-Group) is healthy? I believe that there are. We will unpack these elements in later chapters, but here I want to introduce you to the M.A.R.C.S of a healthy discipleship group. The M.A.R.C.S are as follows:
In chapter 13 we will examine each of these five categories more closely. And by the end of this book you will not only have a fresh appreciation for the ancient practice of discipleship, but also will have learned how to develop a comprehensive discipleship system that will serve as the guiderails for implementing a new discipleship ministry … or for fine-tuning your existing one.
Imagine that you are asked to keep score of a football game for a local high school. You arrive early at the field, make your way to the press box, and prepare to document touchdowns and turnovers. But you immediately notice a problem: you forgot to bring a scorecard. You search your pockets and find that all hope is not lost. You still have an unused scoring card from a round of golf you played earlier. What luck!
Shortly into the first quarter, the home team scores the opening points. You ask the official in the booth next to you, “What did they shoot?”
“What did they shoot?” he replies to you, somewhat quizzically. “The team scored a touchdown and made the extra point for a total of seven points.”
You write down a seven, which is three strokes above the allotted par of four for the first hole. As you can imagine, you’ll quickly find out that you cannot record football stats on a golf scorecard. In the same way, we cannot judge church success by the standards of another model.
Many church leaders today easily fall into the trap of gauging success in the church by the ABCs of growth: Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. However, there is a serious problem with this scorecard, namely, that Jesus never gauged effectiveness by these criteria.
Read the Gospels. Jesus didn’t draw large crowds for the sake of counting heads or logging attendance. Although he did speak to the masses, he consistently left them to be in the close company of the twelve in his inner circle. Acts 1 records that after Jesus ascended into heaven, only 120 disciples gathered together to pray for God to empower them through his Spirit. This approach stands in stark contrast to most modern church growth standards of success. Jesus spoke with unprecedented authority. He raised the dead. He gave sight to the blind. He healed the sick. These miracles constantly drew increasingly large crowds, yet after his departure, only 120 people met to continue his work.
By referring to them as “only 120” I do not wish to discount the miraculous work of our Lord, but rather to point out that Jesus was not interested in expanding out at the expense of growing miles deep. Rather, he focused on developing mature, faithful disciples who carried a revolutionary directive: go make more of you. This does not mean that you should try and kill your church, only that numbers often give a false sense of accomplishment. So whether your church draws 50 or 50,000, depth is the goal.
We should also keep in mind that during his earthly ministry, Jesus never owned anything. The Bible tells us that he didn’t even have a place to lay his head, much less a regular meeting place for his “congregation” (see Luke 9:58). The acquisition of buildings for meeting together was not a priority on his to-do list. Buildings are not evil, but they shouldn’t be our primary model for trying to make disciples. Anyone can fill a building with people, but not everyone can make them into disciples.
Finally, it is good for us to remember that Jesus was not impressed with cash or finances. Yes, he taught on money more than on heaven and hell combined, but he never put much stock in the size of the traveling treasury. Again, this is not to say that a large or small ministry budget is good or bad—money allows most ministries to exist; rather, we must remember that it was not an ultimate focus of Jesus and should not be an ultimate focus of ours. Consider whom Jesus appointed to head up his ministry funds: Judas, who betrayed him for a meager thirty pieces of silver.
Jesus implemented a strategy of multiplication with the men he hand-selected, by leveraging the talents and abilities of each one. In the book Multipliers, authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown describe the mentality of a multiplier:
Instead of achieving linear growth by adding new resources, you can more efficiently extract the capability of your people and watch growth skyrocket. Leaders rooted in the logic of multiplication believe: 1. Most people in organizations are underutilized. 2. All capability can be leveraged with the right kind of leadership. 3. Therefore, intelligence and capability can be multiplied without requiring a bigger investment.
Sound familiar? Jesus’ discipleship ministry solidified this strategy. The authors go on to say,
Multipliers don’t necessarily get more with less. They get more by using more— more of people’s intelligence and capability. As one CEO put it, “Eighty people can either operate with the productivity of fifty or they can operate as though they were five hundred.”
Jesus used eleven men to change the world. You are reading this book today as a result of their ministries.
Closing the Revolving Back Door
If I am going to be completely transparent with you, I will admit to falling into this trap myself. Early in my ministry I would regularly challenge my members to invite their friends to church. Although I wouldn’t have admitted this at the time, our invitation was more about us than about them. We weren’t all that concerned about their personal needs, and as soon as they began attending we would encourage them to repeat this process with their friends. When those friends arrived, we extended to them the same charge to get their friends to church.
People would stick around for a few months, but many would eventually leave. Our church became a revolving door, with new people exiting the back faster than guests were walking through the entrance. Having talked with other pastors about this, I now know that I wasn’t the only pastor stuck in that rut of measuring growth through church attendance. Every pastor fights the urge to count nickels and noses.
What if we shifted the focus from running out and grabbing as many people from outside of the community to bringing them in and spending more time discipling the people whom God has already entrusted to us? What if we decided to invest in those already attending week after week?
Immanuel Baptist Church in Morgan City, Louisiana—the first church I pastored—had a small congregation, about sixty-five people. These faithful few were passionate about the things of God and desired to grow in their faith. I chose a handful of men to invest in while my wife, Kandi, selected a few women with whom to do the same. It didn’t take long for a discipleship initiative to spread through the congregation. Before leaving that church to pastor Brainerd Baptist Church three years later, God had grown the church numerically, but even more importantly, he had driven the roots of those relatively few members deep below the surface of a superficial Christianity. The seeds that were planted almost a decade ago are still being harvested today.
Believers who were at one time uncomfortable sharing their faith with lost friends before entering a discipling relationship were transformed into people living, breathing, and sharing the gospel. Their workplaces turned into a mission field for reaching the lost. Marriages were restored. Lives were changed. During the first year of ministry, we saw more people make decisions for Christ than were attending when I arrived. People regularly commented, “I feel like we are living the book of Acts.” I felt the same way. By adopting a new scorecard for effectiveness in our church, the members followed suit.
Was it that we implemented something new? No. We rediscovered something old, as old as the church itself: discipleship. This rediscovery of discipleship has changed my own life as well. I often wonder how different my life would have been if certain men hadn’t taken time to disciple me. But why stop with me? Let’s take it a step further: How different would your life be today if you had an opportunity to be engaged in a Christlike, biblical discipleship relationship? How different would the lives around you be if you were the one to take seriously Jesus’ command to make disciples?
K.I.S.S. Your Program Goodbye
A few years ago, our staff implemented a painful (though necessary) revision of our current programs. We applied something called the K.I.S.S. paradigm. Everyone on staff was encouraged to examine their ministries through the lens of our mission statement—Deliver, Disciple, Deploy—and to determine what things they needed to Keep, Increase, Start, or Stop (K.I.S.S.). Every ministry in our church was brought to the table. Nothing was off limits.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
This kind of evaluation is very difficult because it removes what you want and reveals what God wants. Far too often we allow our egos to hinder spiritual growth in ourselves and those around us, when God wants us to toss aside our preconceptions, lay down what mankind sees as important, and embrace the mission to which he has called us.
In the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, British prisoners of war in Burma during World War II are building a bridge for their Japanese captors. They devote enormous amounts of time constructing a bridge that serves as more than a channel for passage; it becomes something beautiful and wonderful for them. At the end of the film, there is a challenging moment when another group of Allied commandos force the captives to consider blowing up the bridge to keep Japanese trains from using it. It’s a very difficult decision for the men because of the extraordinary effort they have expended in building the bridge. The men have become so focused on the intricacies of their effort that they have forgotten the larger mission of winning the war.
I share this because as you read this book, some of you may need to think seriously about eliminating some good programs in your church if you want to do what is best. Train yourself and your people not to be impressed with success in the church that does not accomplish the goal set forth by Christ: making disciples. Don’t be impressed with momentary feats. Look for the fruit that lasts forever.
How many marriages were restored last year?
How many people are striving for holiness?
How many men and women are holding each other accountable?
How many addicts are experiencing victories over drugs, pornography, or alcohol?
How many groups are reproducing themselves exponentially?
How many fellow men and women are you investing in now?
In my first book, Growing Up, I wrote to those who wanted to be a disciple, those who longed to share in the heart of God. In it I introduced a system for spiritual growth that has been used in our own discipleship groups with great success. But in that book I was only able to scratch the surface of the what, why, and how of a discipleship group. In this book we will focus on the principal components of an effective D-Group, and I will show you how to implement that in your church.
So let’s get started. The first step we must take is to repent. We must repent for being disobedient in the mission of the church—making disciples.
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