Matthew 28:19-20 tells us that the bulls-eye of the mission of the church is to “make disciples.” Making disciples involves two functions:
- winning people to a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ
- growing people into the likeness of Jesus.
In the church there has often been tension between evangelism and discipleship. We sometimes view these as two separate & unrelated components. Often pastors, as well as lay leaders, have a preference for one over the other. Biblically, they are united as THE MISSION – we are called to “make disciples.” Like the Father, Son & Holy Spirit are one person, so is winning people to Jesus & growing them into His likeness ONE MISSION.
Because we tend to separate winning people from growing people, I think we’ve produced several generations of Christians who are sterile – they aren’t reproducing. They go to Bible studies & church but tend to make their faith a private affair.
The bottom line is: biblical disciples reproduce. If reproduction is not present, we need to ask ourselves some tough questions about the quality of disciples that we are producing.
As Jeff & I work with local congregations, we try to discern if the church has an intentional pathway for winning people to Jesus and growing people into His likeness. So we ask:
- How do people come to Christ in this church?
- How are people discipled into the likeness of Christ in this church?
We often discover no one is really sure how to answer either question – not even pastors. At best the plan is haphazard & random.
Last year I shared Vision 2020 with you at the annual meeting.
- One component is resourcing churches to be more effective in accomplishing the mission.
- Another is to multiply the number of churches through church planting & churches starting new campuses.
- A third is empowering churches by developing a system for developing leaders.
THE foundational aspect in fulfilling all three of those commitments is people in local churches making disciples, i.e. winning people & growing people. We’ve realized part of pursuing Vision 2020 is focusing on this biblical imperative.
I fear we’ve reduced the Great Commission to sending missionaries overseas and/or trying to increase our church’s attendance by adding new people – often people who come from another church. It is so much more than attracting people to our churches – though it is good for churches to attract people rather than repel them. It is so much more than simply sending missionaries overseas – though sending missionaries is important.
Last year Dave Ferguson & Todd Wilson wrote a book titled “Becoming 5” that challenges our understanding of what it means for a local church to accomplish the Great Commission. In the book they ask what is the target of our mission. Is it making cultural Christians or biblical disciples.
A cultural Christian is one who simply adds Jesus to his or her life. They’ve made a transactional deal with God that they will go to church & be a good person . . . IF God will bless their lives. Basically, they want enough Jesus to make life better and feel good about themselves. They look to their local church to feed them, entertain them, and take care of them. They see themselves as the mission.
A biblical disciple has a transformational relationship with Jesus that compels her/him to actively love & connect with people who are far from God and to die to self in order to become more like Jesus.
- Biblical disciples reproduce.
- Cultural Christians consume.
- Biblical disciples will change the world.
- Cultural Christians will change churches if they don’t get what they want.
One of the realities of being in leadership is that people will misunderstand you. I’ve felt misunderstood at times. I’m guessing you have, too. I know Donald & Hillary have.
Some have shared with me that they think all I care about is making churches larger & bigger. That is certainly not what drives me. If I’ve given you that impression, I apologize. What drives me is seeing the church accomplish its core mission of making disciples.
As we accomplish that mission, I suppose some churches will get larger, and, hopefully, they will leverage their size for greater & greater Kingdom impact. But getting larger is not the goal.
As I read Becoming 5, I felt convicted by the Holy Spirit as I reviewed my own pastoral ministry. While the goal in my heart was making biblical disciples, I fear that too often the result was adding cultural Christians.
Every church has experienced the pain of losing people for whatever reason. When this happens we are tempted to spend a lot of energy trying to please people so they won’t leave and go to a different church. It seems like this has become the operating system in a lot of churches… and not just churches in our tribe.
What’s the solution? I think is very basic: we need to change our operating system so that we are making biblical disciples who reproduce. In other words, our mission is not to focus on attracting, appeasing & keeping cultural Christians. It is to be multiplying disciples.
If you were looking through a scope, you would see something like this – a circle with one horizontal and one vertical line. The target is where the crosshairs intersect.
In Ferguson & Wilson’s paradigm, the vertical crosshair has to do with discipleship. At the bottom of this line is what they call Micro Addition. This is “one person at a time” coming to Christ. It has to do with adding to the number of Jesus followers. Every time this happens, the Bible tells us that heaven throws a party.
At the top of the vertical crosshair is Micro Multiplication which has to do with making biblical disciples “one person at a time.” If we set as our standard simply increasing the number of people who attend our church WITHOUT also having an intentional path to disciple them “one person at a time,” then we are likely to end up with cultural Christians & a lot of frustration.
How would you answer this question: what is your church’s process for reaching people who are far from God and growing them into a reproducing, biblical disciple?
My next question is, “If you have an intentional process, how is it working? Are you producing biblical disciples who are reproducing & making disciples…. or are you mainly adding a little Jesus to people’s lives?” I don’t ask that to be critical but to challenge you.
Here’s something we are learning about making disciples: the healthiest pathway to accomplishing the Great Commission is disciples making disciples versus churches making disciples. In other words, making a disciple requires a lot of life on life… not simply a program where people sit in a class. Unfortunately, most of us are stuck in a system whereby the local church tries to make disciples… and it isn’t usually working.
Multiplication occurs when we see disciples making disciples who make disciples – when there is BOTH Micro Addition (people coming to Jesus) and Micro Multiplication (people becoming like Jesus).
When you look through a scope, you generally see both a vertical & horizontal crosshair. This morning I’ve been focusing on the vertical crosshair because it is foundational to the mission. If the vertical crosshair is misaligned, the bulls-eye is missed. Thehorizontal cross hair has to do with Macro Addition or adding capacity for disciple making within a local church and Macro Multiplication or adding capacity by starting new churches. Without the vertical or micro crosshair being aligned, the horizontal or macro cross hair won’t contribute to mission accomplishment.
This past year it has become apparent to me that the objectives of Vision 2020 cannot be achieved unless the Christ followers in our local congregations are making reproducing, biblical disciples. Without this micro crosshair in place, we collectively don’t have the foundation we need to pursue God’s vision for us as the church in Indiana.
If you as a pastor disciple one person a year for the next four years and each person you disciple disciples 1 person a year, then – if my math if right & I am not promising that – 16 people would be discipled. Seems kind of slow, doesn’t it? If each person discipled continues discipling 1 person, then by 2026 the number increases to 1,024. Imagine this multiplied by 135 congregations in Indiana. Imagine how many lives would be transformed, how many marriages saved, how many families rescued, how many communities revitalized by 2026…by 2030…by 2040. Imagine how many new churches would be planted by the Church of God alone in Indiana and, likely, beyond our borders.
It all starts with you. You discipling 1 person who disciples 1 person who disciples 1 person. If this happens to the 5th generation, Indiana would be changed. And this would be blown out of the water if you as a pastor pick 6 to disciple each year. That just might be one of the most Kingdom effective uses of your time.
Indiana Ministries is in a multiplication partnership with Ohio & Michigan Ministries & Healthy Growing Churches. Tom Planck is the leader of this partnership. He’s developing a series of what we are calling Micro Meet Ups which will be web based. The purpose is to . . .
- spark discipleship conversations,
- provide resourcing, and
- help you develop an intentional discipleship system for your congregation.
The first one is Nov 10 at 1:00. If interested, email Alexis at Indiana Ministries (or any of us for that matter), and we can register you. No charge.
Whether you do the Micro Meet Ups or go a different route, I want to challenge you to develop an effective discipleship process for your congregation. Some of you have been working diligently on this already. I applaud your effort. Will you join them by taking intentional steps to make reproducing biblical disciples?
Also available to you is a free e-book download of Becoming 5 by Todd Wilson, Dave Ferguson with Alan Hirsch. Available here: https://exponential.org/resource-ebooks/becomingfive/