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Forming Followers

What’s your job description?


If you had to boil it down to one sentence, what would it be?

Try some of these:


• Preaching, praying, appointing ministry leaders.

• Giving vision to a community of believers.

• Inspiring and encouraging a group of believers to follow Jesus

• Teaching and developing the gifts of a group of believers.


There’s a lot to like about all of the above, but in reality a church leader’s job can be expressed in just two words:


• Making disciples


That’s the job, and once you understand that everything you do as a leader should be evaluated in terms of those two words, then everything becomes a lot simpler. Leaders are often overwhelmed by life. So much to do, so little time. Meetings and sermons and decisions seem to arrive at such speed, it’s like one of those video driving games, where you have to dodge obstacles and stay on the road. All the focus is on keeping the car on the circuit, you’re barely able to think of anything else.


Do the next thing. And the next. Don’t crash!


Another sermon? Yup, I’m writing that tonight. After the prayer meeting and when I’ve looked over the minutes of last night’s elders' meeting. It’s all happening so fast, it’s hard to step back and ask the big questions:


What’s my job? What am I here for?


Disciple-making. That’s your job.


You already know the text at the end of Matthew’s gospel. So at some point, when you’ve caught your breath, take some time to ask yourself a hard question:


When I look at my week, how much is devoted to making disciples? I’m completing tasks, but are these tasks primarily focused on making disciples? The question can be expanded.


Is my church a place where I’m making disciples and disciples are being made?


If you think about it, that’s the only criterion that really matters. If the Lord visited your church, would he say this?


I like it! This is a place where disciples are made, where followers are formed. They understand the Great Commission. They do things here which help people become my disciples. Great!


So here’s a question that might sting a bit:


Is a regular Sunday service and homegroup attendance enough to make disciples of Jesus? I think you probably know the answer to that one.


So what’s the answer? Well, I certainly can’t fix the problem in a blog post, but here are a few thoughts.


Modelling


As the leader, not only do you model what it means to be a disciple, you model the very idea of disciple-making. Discipleship isn’t “a part of the Christian life,” it IS the Christian life. Following Jesus and helping others to follow Jesus is the purpose of life. So what do your people see when they watch how you live? Are you showing them both how to live as a disciple and how to make disciples?


Who’s discipling the leader?


Much has been written about what it means to be a disciple – I recommend Dallas Willard’s work on this subject. No space here for more. But obviously, it starts with you personally. So, who’s discipling you? Who’s helping you to become a better disciple? Many leaders don’t attend home groups. The excuse is either lack of time or fear of intimacy. So where do you go to grow? Who is walking by your side? Who loves you enough to ask you hard questions and guide you on the path? An accountability group might help (see our previous blog post), but it may not be the right place. You may need a different group. One thing is for certain – you need something. You can’t expect your church members to meet in small groups without being in one yourself. That won’t wash.


You need a plan


Discipleship doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t materialise out of the ether. It happens when a leader both models what it means to be a disciple, and communicates clearly how discipleship works.


If you don’t have a vision for discipleship, it won’t happen. Simple as that.


In fact, you need both a vision and a plan to implement that vision. Completing tasks like Sunday services are all well and good, but they aren’t fit for the purpose of making disciples. So here are some thoughts about how Jesus went about the task of making disciples.


Relationship


Disciple-making is rooted in relationship. These relationships come in various forms. One-on-one – Simon Peter. One-on-three – Simon, James and John. Small group – the Twelve. The large group – the 72. Each size has its benefits and its disadvantages.


Small groups of twelve(ish) are fine, but I have found they often don’t lead to intimacy. In order to grow in the faith, we need people who know us well, who ask hard questions, who challenge us. A group of twelve often doesn’t do this. It’s easy to hide in a group of twelve. A group of four and below works better. I think everyone in church should be in a group of four and below as well as a homegroup. It doesn’t have to meet every week, but unless it’s promoted by the leadership, then it won’t happen. And something vital is lost.


I acknowledge that time will be required. It won’t happen without commitment, but that’s the minimum cost of discipleship: time. And you as the leader will need to model what it looks like.


Knowledge and Experience, Word and Spirit


A Sunday sermon, even an expository sermon, is not teaching. It’s preaching. Preaching is not teaching. Yet Jesus spends an awful lot of time teaching his disciples. St. Paul’s letters use the phrase, “grow in the knowledge and grace of God” frequently. It is not possible to grow as a disciple unless, in some way, we are growing in our knowledge of God. And that comes primarily through the Word of God.


In your church, how do people grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures?


Homegroup and sermons provide input, but they are not enough. Not by a long shot. It is shocking sometimes to speak to long-time church members, whose knowledge of the Bible is wafer-thin. How can they grow unless we expect more of them? How will they grow unless we give them a vision of what it means to grow in the knowledge of God? How can they grow if we only offer a sermon and a home group each week? The answer is, many won’t. They need more. They need opportunities to gather around the Word of God and learn. Actually learn. Study. That takes effort.


I have found, however, that when pushed a little, many will rise to the challenge. In fact, they love it. There’s nothing so energised as a Bible class where people are learning and growing. So give them homework. Train them in a book of the Bible (or a topic) and then ask them to teach a section. You will be heartened by how God can lift a person when given a vision of their potential. That’s the leader’s job. That’s your job. And if you’re the leader of a big church, train others to do the same.


Spirit


Discipleship is learning to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We get to know him better through the Word and we learn to walk by the Spirit . . . by walking in faith, trusting in God’s Spirit to guide us. So discipleship involves both Word and Spirit. Christ sent out the 72 and they returned full of faith and joy. Teaching led to mission. There is no conflict between discipleship and mission, because discipleship produces followers with a heart to carry the message of God’s kingdom into the world. Empowered by the Spirit. That comes from growing in maturity. Word and Spirit go hand in hand.


A final word about your church culture.


You are not stuck with a set of tasks, which bind you. You are called by God to make disciples. If that involves making some changes, then so be it. Yes, some people may leave, because change is hard, but following Jesus comes at a cost. All leaders know that. So this week, may I encourage you to pray over these two questions?


How well are disciples being made in my church?

What changes do I need to make in order to create a disciple-making culture in my church?


Only you can answer these questions. Your answers may produce some discomfort, or you may be encouraged when you think about how disciples are being made in your church. I don’t know. Whatever the case, keep your eye on the goal.


Making disciples. That’s the job.


For the glory of the Disciple-Maker above all others.

If you are unsure where to start with finding someone to help you in your discipleship journey, our staff and associates, who are experienced mentors and pastoral caregivers, would love to chat with you. Contact our team for more information.

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