3 Ways We Miss Seeing Discipleship as Church Strategy

Every church should embrace the mission of making disciples and implement a strategy to accomplish that mission. Because the mission of a local church is to make disciples, a strategy is how the church is designed to make disciples. If a church’s strategy is not grounded in making disciples, the church has abandoned the mission Christ has given.

Because discipleship is an ongoing process of becoming more and more like Jesus, a church’s strategy should be her discipleship process. In other words, a church’s discipleship process should be synonymous with her strategy. I wrote on designing a discipleship process just a couple of weeks ago.

As church leaders think about their overarching discipleship process, here are three common mistakes:

1. Viewing discipleship as part of your strategy/process

If discipleship is viewed as merely information, then people are likely to view a teaching environment as best suited for discipleship. If discipleship is viewed as merely behavioral modification, then people are likely to view accountability that is focused on what people are doing as the best expression of discipleship. However, if discipleship is viewed as transformation, then the totality of the church’s focus is on making disciples. Surely this includes people learning the Word, but it also includes people being shepherded in community, serving others, living on mission, and worshiping Christ with their lives.

Ultimately discipleship is about transformation, not merely information or behavioral modification. When you design a process for discipleship, view discipleship as the whole process, not merely a component in it.

2. Over-programming early in your discipleship process

A common mistake is when church leaders craft (or borrow) a new mission statement and quickly throw all their existing programs under the new statement. The old just gets baptized with new nomenclature. The problem with the re-categorization approach is that if leaders just place everything they are doing under a new phrase, they have not really designed a process for spiritual transformation. A major consequence is that church leaders will unintentionally stall people early in the articulated discipleship process. Because people only have so much time, over-programming early in a discipleship process prevents people from moving to steps placed deeper in the process.

For example, imagine First Community Church articulates their process as “exalt, equip, and engage.” Their strategy is to move people from large worship environments (exalt) to places of biblical community and instruction (equip) to places of mission engagement (engage). Sounds good so far.

But First Community Church merely re-categorizes all their programming under their new statement. They place Sunday morning worship services and Sunday night worship services under “exalt.” Under “equip,” they place Sunday school, discipleship groups, home prayer groups, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, and a plethora of other things. Each week in their worship services, the leaders compete for time to promote their “equip” programs.

Do you see the problem? If someone actually went to all of the programs promoted, the individual would be at six different things each week. And he or she still has not served nor engaged unbelievers outside the church. Over-programming early in your discipleship process competes with your process. Over-programming hampers the body by complicating the lives of church members to the point that there is no margin for service or mission.

3. Divorcing mission engagement from the discipleship process

If a church’s discipleship process ends with the church, missions and serving those outside of the church have been tragically separated from the church’s strategy. A church’s discipleship process/strategy may sound like, “Come to our church, get connected, and help us do church better.” If the end result of a strategy is a better church, the church has too shallow a view of discipleship. If you believe what William Temple stated, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members,” then a church’s discipleship strategy must not end with the church. People must be deployed as salt and light in the world.

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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What say you? Leave a comment!

Daniel J Snook — 10/07/16 9:26 am

Thank You!!!!!! Well said. I love the quote, "The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members." Now, how to transition an established congregation into that way of thinking...

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
comment_post_ID); ?> "While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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