4 Actions for a Church-wide Focus on Making Disciples

One of the more common roles in a church is discipleship leader. Recently, as I was updating Planting Missional Churches for its next edition, Daniel Im and I listed discipleship coordinator as one of the seven key roles in a new church. In other words, someone holding up the banner of discipleship, helping everyone participate, is key.

Yet, the role of discipleship leader in a church can be an extremely difficult one. If it is a staff role, I would argue that discipleship and students are two of the most scrutinized positions on a church staff, which probably explains the short average-tenure for both. Everyone seems to have an opinion on teenagers and spiritual growth.

Most church leaders would agree that discipleship should be a priority for the church, but they are unclear on how to best support the team tasked with designing and executing a system for helping make disciples.

No matter how the church is structured, there are a few things that a church can do to help those discipleship leaders keep a church-wide focus on making disciples.

Have clear expectations

It’s difficult to know what the wins are when there are no clear expectations to start with. This is easier with some ministries than others. For instance, there are measurable benchmarks with most weekend programs: are there more kids attending than last year? Are there more first-time visitors to the services?

But, how do you measure the making of disciples?

The leadership has to decide what and how to measure discipleship, and then evaluate success based on those measurements. There will always be a measure of subjectivity when it comes to assessing discipleship success, but some objective measures are possible: are there stories of life-change coming from the small groups? Are more people being baptized? How many people are involved in a discipleship community?

Whatever measures leaders choose, they should set yearly goals and make those expectations clear with the team. (Our church has used the Transformational Discipleship Assessment. There are other similar tools.)

Define discipleship for your context

One reason why it’s difficult to measure discipleship is because everyone has a different definition of what it is. Studies have revealed a deep chasm between what pastors and parishioners believe successful discipleship looks like. Parishioners tend to think they are being discipled more effectively than their pastors believe they are.

A driver for this divide is the difference in opinion on what constitutes spiritual growth. Churches have to outline what a person becoming more like Christ looks like, and then structure everything around helping them get there.

Keep open communication

The only way for the discipleship vision to continue flowing from the pastor is if there is constant two-way communication with the team and the whole church. They have to hear firsthand the direction that God is giving the senior leader for the next season of the church so the systems can be adjusted to support the vision. Discipleship must be at the forefront always.

If you are a pastor and have a discipleship pastor, invite the discipleship pastor to sermon planning meetings. Give the small groups team a voice in the calendaring process for major initiatives.

An open door of communication will help build ownership throughout the staff, and maintain unity on the team with regard to disciple making.

Resource with the right tools

In an established church the church budget brings clarity to the church’s priorities.

If it’s “all about the weekend,” a majority of the funds are automatically designated for ministries that make the weekend services more attractive (i.e., a more effective kids program; a better sound and lighting system; more attractive signage, etc.). There is nothing wrong with making the weekend experience better, but we cannot assume that discipleship will happen on its own. If the church is dedicated to making disciples who make disciples, the budget has to reflect that priority.

Probably, a chunk of a budget for discipleship teams is providing curriculum for small groups. The content provided for groups matters. A lot. Without a biblically solid study for foundation, a small group can quickly turn into a social club.

In some cases, people prepare to write their own studies to fit the need of their context, yet that takes a lot of work.

One thing that may help is something that LifeWay just recently released. (Full disclosure alert: I work there.)

It’s a tool that can help you be a better steward of time and resources. For example, with smallgroup.com, a pastor can give any or all of their leaders access to a library of Bible studies, including video-enhanced studies. Each study comes with a customizable discussion guide. Whether you are writing your own studies to go along with the weekend sermon, or allowing your groups to choose, smallgroup.com is one of those tools that can get you to a discipleship goal. And, you can sign up for a free trial if you want to check out the concept.

With clear expectations, communication, and the right tools; your discipleship team will be set up for success.

> Read more from Ed.


Want to learn more about discipleship strategies for your church? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Five Tools to Develop a Strong Work Ethic

A church that breaks barriers needs a leader that breaks barriers.

Dealing with sin is of the utmost importance for a leader. But there is another issue that isn’t often discussed, and for those in ministry it goes hand in hand with confronting sin—the importance of a strong work ethic.

With sin, we cannot work hard enough to make God happy. Jesus did that for us. But when we experience joy in our forgiveness and salvation, God empowers us to work hard and accomplish things for His glory.

A barrier-breaking pastor is driven to do the work God has given that pastor. In the beginning of Genesis, God says a lot about our work. He has made us to do work, but sin has made it frustrating and difficult.

Sin can certainly lead us to be workaholics, and we burn ourselves or our people out. But it can also lead to the opposite, a poor work ethic.

As a church leader you often do a lot of the work outside of the view of your people, and that can be a temptation toward doing less and just trying to look busy.

Ministry is hard, but God empowers us for it. Leading churches that grow takes sacrifice, focus, and hard work. Here are a few tools you can use to stay focused on your work so that you will lead your church through growth barriers.

Work All Six

Places like America have a five-day work week with everybody working for the weekend—and there are even some trends moving toward a four-day work week. I want to encourage you to work during all six days and take one full day of rest, just like God designed it.

That doesn’t mean you work every moment of every day, ignore your marriage, and skip all of your kids’ events. But a six-day week in which you are working parts of those days engaged in your context helps keep your priorities centered on the world as God designed it to work.

Is your pursuit of rest idolizing God’s gift rather than using it to energize your God-given work? Work hard toward rest, and rest hard toward work.

Plan Your Work

It’s a lot easier to start your day focused on the task at hand when you planned your workday at the end of the previous day—or even your entire week at once. Maybe first thing Monday morning you set a general schedule of your week, then each evening you set a more detailed plan for the next day. How you use the blocks of unscheduled time will make the most difference.

It’s like a diet. If I plan the contents of my next meal, I’ll probably eat it. But if I go rummaging through the refrigerator I’ll too often end up being lazy and eating something not on my diet. Plan the productivity ahead of time, and then go for it.

Work In Segments

Think about working in segments of distraction-less environment. For example, the Pomodoro Technique uses a simple timer to break work segments into 25 minute periods. Once the 25 minutes are up, you have a five-minute break where you can do the things that typically distract you. You can read more about it here, but there are also many other tools that can help. Whatever you do, find tools that work for you to keep you focused.

Keep a Work Log

A great way to avoid distractions is to keep a work log. It can be paper or digital, whatever works for you. You may even want to share it with someone once a week to hold you accountable. But even when it’s not visible to others it’s a reminder to you, as you write down the time and a short description of what you did during that time, that you can be easily distracted and need to stay engaged.

What are the things that distract you most? Should you delete an app off your phone? Maybe your distraction is a good thing gone too far. Are you enjoying too many nights in front of the TV watching basketball? Be honest with what comes to mind first and take steps to keep it from ruling your schedule.

On the days where I have worked long, and done things of consequence, my rest is better and more sweet. My conscience is clearer. My joy in God’s grace is greater and I am more likely to trust Him with whatever comes next. If you struggle with a poor work ethic, try out some of these things and trust that God will do the same for you.

Trust God & Bear Fruit

If you are struggling with avoiding the hard work of ministry, God gives the grace to move through it toward a clear conscience and joy. But He will do so much more than that. He will prepare you from the inside out to be the kind of leader who breaks barriers and leads your church toward greater fruitfulness.

> Read more from Ed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

In the Numbers: Embracing Stats as a Vital Ministry Tool

I love statistics! I know what you’re thinking…I’m a nerd. Possibly. But, the truth is there are more nerds than you realize when it comes to statistics.

Stats a important for a number of reasons, and, although they can easily be misused or misconstrued, overall they can be helpful to pastors and others in ministry. Here are three reasons why.

Those of you who know me know my tentative relationship with all things sports. But, with our move to Wheaton I wanted to approach our new home missionally, so, I took in a Chicago Cubs game.

It isn’t that I know nothing of sports; I just haven’t kept up much. Going to the see the Cubs play, I’m learning the players, balls, strikes, touchdowns, and the like.

Even though I haven’t been that guy as a sports fan, Donna and I went to see Moneyballwhile it was in theaters. Now, almost everyone thought it was a movie about baseball—or about Brad Pitt—but it wasn’t. At least not at the core.

Moneyball was all about statistics—analyzing players’ performance, then selecting and playing those players based upon advanced stats. Home runs, hits, runs scored, and RBIs were recreated in aggregate, often using cast-off players, rather than one superstar player. It was a revolutionary approach to the game, and it was based on a statistical foundation.

Statistics, of course, aren’t limited to sports. What about those of you who are investors? Do you research the performance of a company that you are thinking about investing your money in? Sure you do.

What about those who have an important and possibly dangerous surgery coming up, do you want to know the odds of a successful surgery and recovery? Of course. Very few people want to go into it with no idea of the possible outcomes.

Numbers and statistics are part of our daily lives. Pastors and church leaders should embrace them as part of ministry.

How then do we use them?

Before I share how we should use statistics, let me share why some uses fail. Statistics shouldn’t be used to change a priori assumptions. For instance, we should not stop trusting scripture simply because someone may get up and say 74% of people believe the Bible isn’t what we think it is, so let’s stop believing it. The truth is that the Bible is authoritative regardless of what others say.

Also, statistics shouldn’t be used to determine how we do ministry. For instance, just because someone gets up and says that 90 percent of the church plants today implement the Launch Big model, doesn’t mean we should implement the same model in our next church plant.

Statistics shouldn’t be used to change our definitive beliefs nor determine how we do ministry. But they can be used in the following ways.

Statistics Help Define Reality.

Have you ever heard the statement, “facts are our friends”? It’s true. Statistics can be our friends in helping us determine reality. Statistics provide us information on people’s thoughts and behaviors. In short, they give us a starting point. For example, one research project showed the majority of people in the 7,000 subject churches were not using their gifts.

For many pastors and leaders this would have come as a shock. Others may say, “That explains a lot.” Either way, it helps pastors and leaders understand reality both for themselves, their church’s leaders, and other members.

Statistics Help Teach People.

Beyond defining reality, statistics can be used to help people understand how the church is engaging or not engaging. Research can demonstrate how the church thinks and why the church responds to certain issues.

Research is often a needed tool pastors can use to change a church’s opinion. If a pastor says, “We should build a gym to help the community” the church might question the expense. But, if the pastor says, “Ten percent of the population within 3 miles of our church are under 17 years old, and most of them have nothing to do after school. If we built a gymnasium we could run multiple ministries to meet their needs and maybe open their hearts to the gospel.” Those statistics paint a different picture that help many understand why the cost might be worth it.

Statistics Help Leaders Make Strategic Decisions.

The first use of statistics helps us define reality by giving us a bases and foundation. The second use of statistics helps us teach people, especially our leaders and members. The third, and probably most important, use of statistics is that they help us make strategic decisions.

If churches understood that one of the reasons why people weren’t using their gifts was because they didn’t know how, the leaders could then make strategic decisions as to howthey should teach their people how to use their gifts. As a result, churches could offer classes, produce material, preach a series, or write a blog series on spiritual gifts with the goal of reversing the statistics by changing the reality.

Statistics can also help determine what staff member to add next, when and where to have small groups, how many groups can be started each new semester, or how demographic changes should change outreach efforts.

In short, statistics are a great tool to assist pastors and leaders in being more effective and leading their churches or organizations to be more effective as well.

> Read more by Ed.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

How Does Church Planting Relate to God’s Mission?

Every church involved in a new church, and every church planter starting one, needs to answer the question: what is church planting?

For some, the word planting comes across as insider language. In the sub-culture of the church planting world there is an entire language mostly unknown to the outside. We’ve all heard of planters talk about “doing a parachute drop church plant,” or “starting with a launch team.” What do these words even mean? More importantly, what is church planting about?

That’s an essential question, really.

Church Planting or Church Starting?

When we talk about church planting it can be a little different than church starting. What’s the difference? Well, I think church starting happens a lot of ways. The most popular church starting strategy involves a group of people getting mad, leaving their home church, and starting another church. In most cases I wouldn’t advise this strategy.

Church planting, on the other hand, involves an individual, mother church, and/or a group of people going out to start a church for the purpose of engaging a community through gospel proclamation and demonstration.

Church plating, unlike church starting, should/must be mission driven.

Church planting grows in the soil of lostness (hence “planting”) where men and women far from God are challenged with the claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ by a group of intentional believers.

Church Planting and Gospel Movements

Church planting is about planting the gospel. And growth in church planting comes from making disciples.

As such, any movement of churches that’s going to be serious about reaching the lost world is going to be involved in church planting. In fact, most of us who write in the field of mission believe that any movement or denomination desiring to grow through conversion should aim for at least a three percent rate of church planting every year. (Take a look– most growing groups and denominations have over that percent and most declining ones have under that percent.)

Think of it this way, if a movement has a hundred churches one year they need to plant three the next year– at the very least.

Church planting is essential to the growth of the Kingdom and the work of Christ through His church. The networks, movements, and denominations that are thriving are thriving because they’re planting new churches. The key thing to remember here is that church planting is reaching lost people through the making of disciples that then gather into congregations.

Planting and the Mission of God

How does church planting relate to the mission of God? The mission of God is bigger than church planting, but it certainly includes church planting. Why? You can’t love Jesus and despise His wife. The church is the bride of Christ, and if you love the work of Christ you love the church.

Now, you and I both know that the church is a mess sometimes. While the church is the stunning bride of Christ, she sometimes looks more like Shrek than she does beautiful. But again, you can’t love Jesus and hate His wife.

Ultimately if you’re going to love the mission of God, you have to love the church of God which is sent out for the mission of God. Ephesians 3:10 tells us God has chosen the church to make known His manifold wisdom. Therefore the church is the tool or instrument of His Kingdom agenda.

If you want to change the world, and if you want to see God at work in the world, plant change agent churches. I think anyone who loves Jesus and His church would, by extension, love and be about the mission of God proclaiming the gospel of Christ– and that is done effectively through church planting.

Conclusion

So is it the mission more than planting?

Yes, it certainly is more than that. Is every church that’s planted necessarily a good thing? No, there are always exceptions, but as a whole, I think church planting is integral to the advance of the Kingdom. And more church plants doing more of what God wants us to do is a good thing.

For this reason I think church planting and multiplication is so essential to the mission of God.

None of our churches should be a cul-de-sac on the Great Commission highway.

Instead, as we plant churches that plant churches that plant churches, the Kingdom advances. The gospel is preached, men and women become believers, churches are formed, and those churches become agents of gospel transformation.

So, want to be missional? Great– just don’t forget church planting.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Joel Sprenger — 07/14/13 12:40 am

My thoughts for what they are worth. - The problem with all church plants in a de-christianizing society like ours is that they compete with already existing churches. Actions speak louder than words and the action of planting a church speaks loudly to the pagans that we believe that God cares about our denomination and the teachings and practices that are unique there-to. There are very few Bible verses that say in effect 'believe thusly', not zero but very few. Compare that to the number of verses that say 'act thusly'. This should give us some idea of what is important to God. Something that I think would help the The Church immensely is if all believers would memorize John 17:20-23 right after they memorize John 3:16,

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Why Being Fruitful is as Important as Being Faithful

In many corners of the church today, there’s an unhelpful and unhealthy division between theology and practical ministry. This division is damaging to both the discipline of theology and the practice of ministry because one without the other causes an imbalance.

Part of the cause of this division is the large number of theologically-minded people who spurn practicality as pragmatism. This can be seen as an overreaction to the Church Growth Movement of the 1980s.

Such critics rigorously decried a methodological mania as devoid of theological foundation. They took aim at folks like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and John Maxwell, accusing them of having only a modicum of theology accompanied by mountains of methodology.

Unfortunately, those theologically-minded people concerned with too much practicality, strategy, and leadership, threw the baby out with the bath water. Rather than looking for the proper place of practicality, strategy, and leadership, they found no place for it.

There are theologically-minded people who are producing large bodies of literature attempting rebuff any emphasis on the practical. They are teaching a whole world of people—a whole generation of pastors—that practical ministry, leadership strategies, and coaching don’t matter. I feel like some think practicality in any degree is heretical. It’s ecclesiology that matters, they say. All that matters is theology, they say.

They are creating a division, where no necessary division exists.

Contrary to that line of thinking, you have to consider the effectiveness of your ministry as well. Effectiveness isn’t only measured by the straightness of the angles in your division of the word of truth. Resist the urge to cluck your tongue when the topic turns to statistics and best practices, even if you just want to rush straight to ecclesiology and soteriology.

Honestly, it seems in some instances the “love” for theology is an excuse for failed discipleship, failed attendance growth, or failed discipleship, failed attendance growth, or failed outreach efforts. And, of course, that’s not what they say—they say they are just being faithful. The problem is they are not working in such a way to also be fruitful.

Here’s the danger. If we raise up a generation of theologically-minded people who have no tools for applying it to practical ministry, then reproduction stops. If we become so theological to the neglect of the practical, then ministry will be hindered.

That doesn’t mean we embrace the practical to the neglect of the theological. It’s also dangerous to go too far in the other direction. Practicality cannot be the driving force. Pragmatism cannot be the central focus of what we do. You have to be theologically-minded as well as practical.

Some essentially say, “I just want to do anything I can to reach people for Jesus.” That’s a bad idea. Don’t do anything you can to reach people for Jesus, because then you will end up losing the gospel.

The way we do ministry has to be driven by what we believe about the gospel and about theology. But if all we care about is theology and not how we might best apply theology in the world then we’re not taking seriously the gospel and theology.

> Read more from Ed.

Download PDF

Tags: , , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Leadership >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

To Reach Your Community, You Must Fall in Love with Your Community

“Give me Scotland or I die!”

That’s what John Knox said of Scotland. I would say: To fall in love with your community, you have to die–to yourself, to the mission and to your own preferences.

If you are going to reach a community, you need to be deeply in love with it. Jesus, looking down on Jerusalem, cried, “They are like sheep without a shepherd.” We have to say the same, about Plainview, Philadelphia and Pasadena. I am convinced you will not reach a community for Christ unless you are deeply in love with the community and its people.

Think Like a Missionary

I have often called for Christians in our world to think like missionaries in the Two-Thirds World. If you have ever been around a missionary, you know that the good ones all love the people they are sent to–they can’t stop talking about the culture and context.

When missionaries take up residence cross-culturally, they truly love the culture where they live, sometimes even more than the culture back home. In the same way, a person looking to minister in a specific community cannot be disinterested in it. If it is a fishing community, you had better love fishing or learn to love it. If the community has a high school football team, you had better keep up with it. If you are a church leader, the community and its people must have an important part in your heart.

I think you and I need the same passion in our contexts–our own personal “Scotlands”–for the Gospel.

Jesus demonstrated this very concept in His earthly ministry as He: walked with the people in His culture, lived with them, listened to them, told stories to them, welcomed their children, and recognized and met people’s needs.

The Church in Your Head

Too many church leaders read a book or go to a conference and get a great vision of a church in their heads. The problem is, they don’t have a great vision for their community. The catch here is that part of you often has to die. Your own preferences have to be laid down to receive Christ’s call and mission to the community. I don’t care what you like; I care that you love the Gospel and the people God has called you to reach. You may have to die to your desires–to pastoring a cool church in Manhattan or a laid back church in Southern California.

Leading the Church to Love

As a church leader, you must be willing to die to your preferences so your community can be reached with the Gospel, and so must your church. In established churches, this can be even more challenging than personally dying to self. This is because the pastor often already has the vision and burden to reach the community, but the church is comfortable residing in the Christian ghetto insulated from the community. (While maybe not as common, church myopia can also be a problem for planters if the new church is growing primarily by people coming from other churches, most, if not all, of whom already have their own ideas about how church ought to be.)

Reaching a community for Christ is not about you and your preferences. It is more about Jesus and his mission to send you to people. Your goal is what Count Zinzendorf said: “Preach the Gospel, die and be forgotten.”

Until the church dies to its comfort, preferences, wants and desires, it will not be able to reach the community. But like a grain of wheat, it must die so that it may bring new life.

Perhaps we should combine the phrases of Knox and Zinzendorf and say, “Give me Scotland or I die … then let me die and be forgotten.” When that matters most, you’ll die to self, live for His mission and reach your community in ways that are unimaginable.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Rapidly Growing Churches Place a Premium on Intentional and Strategic Leadership

I’m pretty sure that I’ve never met anyone who became a pastor so that they could spend their time worrying about strategy.

Those of us who are pastors and church leaders generally invest in ministry because we love people, not because we love spreadsheets and flowcharts. We love ministry because we want to see people move from where they are to where God wants them to be. There are very few things in life more powerful.

Seeing broken people become whole in and through Jesus really is amazing. However, church leaders do themselves and the churches they lead a huge disservice when they neglect strategy because they are not naturally inclined to it. Many pastors and church leaders are not necessarily strategically inclined, and because of that they ignore it, or intentionally neglect it.

In our research on the largest and fastest growing churches in America, however, we have found that strategy really matters. Churches who are rapidly growing, and who maintain that growth, place a premium on intentional and strategic leadership.

A Strategic Approach

Every year, at LifeWay Research, we pull together data from churches across the country. We collate the data in two ways; the fastest growing churches in the country and the largest churches in the country. This research is usually among the more talked about research we do each year.

Some think we publish this research because we are trying to exalt the large church as the “best” model for doing church. This simply isn’t true. Remember, God used the megachurch to reach Korea and the house church to reach China. Models should be held loosely, and Jesus should be held tightly. We are not convinced the bigger the church is, the better that church is.

We believe that any church that God uses is a great church. With that said, we also believe that facts are our friends. We want to regularly evaluate what God is doing in churches across the country, and one of the ways we do that is through this research.

As we comb through the research each year, we look to see if there are trends that stand out, or similar experiences that are shared by many of the churches who are seeing exciting growth.

Each year we find one or two areas that are unique and, we think, potentially helpful to other pastors and church leaders. This year is no exception. As we looked through the surveys, and interviewed a number of the churches, we saw a common theme of intentional strategy begin to emerge. This is more than just strategy, however, this is strategy in a couple of very specific areas – areas which might have received a bit less emphasis in the past.

We noticed that churches were intentionally investing strategic energies in groups ministry and sermon prep this year in a way that seems to be growing in popularity over the past few years. This matters because strategy is sorely lacking from many American churches. In a recent LifeWay Research study, among the pastors we surveyed, only 42% believed that their groups have a well-defined approach. Even worse than that, over half of all pastors we surveyed have no intentional plan for discipling all ages in their church.

This lack of consistent strategy in our churches is killing our disciple-making.

Group Strategy

Christ Church of the Valley – Phoenix, AZ

One church that is seeing God move in powerful ways is Christ Church of the Valley in the greater Phoenix area. They come in at #8 in the Largest Churches list and #91 in the Fastest Growing list. Started in 1982, they have grown to over 21,000 each weekend and meet across the Phoenix metro on 5 different campuses.

As a church, they would appear to be the definition of success, at least according to many. In spite of that, however, they recently underwent a pretty significant change in their group strategy. Formerly they used a fairly typical groups strategy with people grouped together by affinity. Additionally they would have a variety of ministries meeting throughout the week on their campus. While these ministry avenues generated a lot of people and activity, they were not sure they were helping the church actually accomplish its mission of, “win, train and send.”

Ashley Wooldridge, who is the Executive Pastor at Christ Church described their group gatherings as one “holy huddle” after another. He went on to say, “We would find groups of people that we liked and we would drive out of our neighborhoods, past all the neighbors that we knew did not know Jesus, and did not go to church” on their way to meet with their affinity-based small group. This lack of missional intentionality led the church leadership to reconsider their strategy. They arrived at a place where they were frustrated by their lack of missional effectiveness. “We are tired of saying that we want to reach our neighborhoods and change our culture yet really not strategically doing something about it.”

They completely shut down their affinity-based small group strategy. Instead, they launched a new groups ministry that is based on neighborhood. Every person in the church is encouraged to engage in a group that meets in their basic geographic area.

They are so committed to this strategy that Wooldridge tells us they don’t have any groups that exist today that would not be meeting in the neighborhood that the people live in. What is more, they eliminated all other larger groups that used to meet on their campus. Groups like women’s ministry, men’s ministry, single’s ministry no longer happen in lieu of everyone meeting in their neighborhood.

This combination of simplification and strategic discipleship strategy has served to promote relational discipleship as people now live in proximity with those they are growing in Christ with. It helps promote mission, as they can easily invite non-believers in their community to meet with their group, which is also in their community.

Wooldridge goes on to highlight that this has changed their approach to mission. “We found that it is a lot easier for a Christian to go overseas for Africa for a week, beat their chest, come back, feeling really good that they did something great, and then drive into their neighborhoods, while all the people around us that we know are not going to heaven with us.”

This change in strategy has unleashed the people in their church to grow as disciples, and to serve their community on mission. Wooldridge noted that they still send people around the world on mission, but this strategic change has exponentially increased their influence in their immediate area.

Though Wooldridge did not mention this, but my observation would be that they also enabled their large church to become smaller, and approachable, by multiplying through this neighborhood approach. Their intentional strategy has freed them up to serve people more effectively, allowing the Great Commission to go out and disciples to be made.

Real Life Church – Valencia, CA

Another church that is strategically positioning themselves to better disciple the people entrusted to them is the Real Life Church of Valencia, CA. Real Life Church is #93 on the Largest Churches list and #41 on the fastest growing list.

Real Life Church is working to strategically position themselves to see people’s lives transformed. While Christ Church of the Valley uses a streamlined, neighborhood strategy, Real Life Church is using a different strategy, focused on a variety of discipleship options, to help their people grow to be like Jesus.

Brennan Conklin, their Executive Director of Ministry explains their discipleship group strategy is divided into four segments. They offer Life Groups, Celebrate Recovery, Care Communities and affinity groups as a means for people to be discipled. Life Groups are companions to their weekend worship experiences, and meet in homes, with most people attending one in their basic geographic area.

Celebrate Recovery has become a major part of their groups strategy. Inviting people in who have any number of “hurts, habits and hang-ups,” they are seeing large numbers of people gather, on their campus, each week.

Care Communities are based off various topics and provide discipleship opportunities for people who have had their life turned upside down and are struggling with issues such as cancer, divorce, financial struggle, etc.

Finally, affinity groups gather around specific affinities such as men’s ministry or women’s ministry. This multi-faceted ministry allows them to offer opportunities to people wherever they are, and whatever stage they are in. Conlkin says that, while they offer many opportunities on their campus, they have a strategic push to offer many of these discipleship opportunities off campus for missional reasons. “We don’t want to see these kinds of discipleship paths be taken away from the neighborhood because of all of the people [there].”

While their four discipleship pathways are intentional, they are also highly relational and exist to serve people. In fact, Conklin describes their pathways as a means to help people assume more responsibility for their own discipleship. “Through these options, you are helping people take ownership of their following of Jesus.”

This effort to strategically enable their congregation to own their discipleship progress is an encouraging sign.

>>Read more from Ed.


Would you like to learn more about developing an intentional strategy for your organization? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Doing Life Together with Others Follows Christ’s Example

In a world that is pushing against community, the church must pursue authentic community.

Community matters.

There are few things in which the church can be more counter-cultural than in the way it practices community. There are few things in which the church can manifest its missional nature more than in the way it pursues community.

Community matters.

It’s a biblical non-negotiable. Transformation is not an individual task. No Christian is an island. The model Jesus gave us for disciple making is one of shared experience and learning in community. Christ did life together with his disciples, and he expects us to undergo life transformation as a community.

Community matters.

Churches that are serious about developing and cultivating authentic community are going to have congregations that are involved in transformational small groups. There’s no getting around the fact that any church that wants to make an impact on its people and a difference in its neighborhood will pursue and cultivate small groups.

Transformational Groups Matter

Transformational groups matter. Small-group ministry is essential to the health of any church. These small groups take a variety of forms: cell groups, Bible studies, life groups, Bible fellowships, discipleship classes, home groups, Sunday school classes, and other gatherings that promote relationships within the community.

The question is: what’s the primary reason for having small groups? It’s important to note that all groups have three purposes:

  • All groups have a connecting function.
  • All groups have a formation function.
  • All groups have a mission function.

Depending on the makeup of your congregation, your overall discipleship plan, and/or your small group strategy, you’ll find that one function will become predominant over the others. And that’s okay. You can actually structure accordingly to accomplish all three functions.

Decide on a Purpose

The first question we have to ask: what is going to be the primary function or purpose? Connecting? Formation? Mission? The answer depends on several different factors. The discipleship strategy of your church is a pre-condition that is the most important question to decide which function will be the focus.

If the preaching and teaching in your church is predominantly characterized by biblical exposition, it would be wise to consider the connecting or mission functions for your small groups. This doesn’t mean your small groups won’t study the Bible. It’s just that their intended purpose will be along the connecting or mission trajectories.

Conversely, if the preaching and teaching on Sunday is more topical and intended as a front-door experience for those who wouldn’t be considered the core of your community, you probably want to consider small groups centered on Bible study and spiritual formation.

Decide on a Structure

The next question to consider is how will you structure your small groups to carry out the primary function?

For example, let’s say that you’re focusing on missional communities. Missional communities are communities that are intentionally mission focused. These communities are engaging and serving those around them as an outgrowth of the gospel.

This doesn’t mean that missional small groups are not a place for congregational members to be building meaningful relationships with one another. They are connection points. And it also doesn’t mean that missional small groups do not seriously engage in spiritual formation in the lives of its members. It’s just the opposite. Missional small groups are strongest when all three functions of a group are present, with mission being the primary focus.

Cautions

There are a couple of cautions I need to point out.

The first, I’ve alluded to above. Focusing on one function of a group alone is not healthy. Transformational small groups thrive when they are practicing all three functions with one as primary. A solitary focus on missions tends to be unsustainable to groups that are not primarily college students. Groups that are solely focused on formation tend to lead to a spiritual deadness in the lives of the people and in the life of the church.

This is why the Sunday School movement has seen a lot of decline over the past few years. Many Sunday School classes are focused on knowledge formation. There’s really not enough else happening within the dynamic of the small group that would rise to the level of spiritual formation. The recitation of knowledge without any connection or mission leads to a sense of dryness.

On the flip side, if we’re developing a small group as a connecting point for friendship and social interaction only, the result is pretty shallow spirituality. In fact, people will hang for a while and enjoy the relationship building. But since there’s nothing more to the group, after a few weeks or months, they simply won’t stick around.

Our research shows people believe there must be a purpose for their gathering. That’s why they’ve come to church. Not simply for connecting, but for something bigger than themselves. And I’ll suggest that something bigger is found in the Word. Small groups that are serious about transformation will have some kind of Bible study or spiritual formation component to them, even if it is secondary to the connecting or mission functions.

Holistic Approach

Every small group should have all three elements of the purpose and function of groups, but one element will be predominant based on the overall discipleship strategy of the church. And that’s the sweet spot.

Transformational small groups that are going to serve the church well are going to flow out of the church’s strategy for discipleship and mission. And they are going to be most effective when they augment, rather than duplicate the weekend services.

If you’d like to explore more in depth about the role of small groups in the life of the church, my colleague Eric Geiger and I have published a helpful book, Transformational Groups: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations.

How is your church doing with small groups?

> Read more by Ed.


 Would you like to learn more about the power of small groups? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

You Mass Produce Cars, Not Disciples

Disciples Need Leaders

I wonder how many church leaders don’t even realize the success of ongoing discipleship depends partly on how well they develop leaders.

God didn’t design the church to have one person lead everyone else in spiritual formation—far too often the model of evangelical churches. Throughout the New Testament, we see leadership development and delegation—or mass participation—of discipling others.

Paul repeatedly told young pastors to entrust the ministry to spiritual people who could then pass it on to the next generation.

I’m convinced one of the reasons we struggle with discipleship is because we aren’t raising up leaders to make more disciples.

You don’t need a priest because you are a priest.

Most people who are reading this are going to be Protestants of some variety. Protestantism was in part a rediscovery that individuals do not need a priest to communicate with God.

This is a key theological issue. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:9 that we are a “royal priesthood” who are to proclaim the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness. We correctly assert that we don’t need another human as a priest for us to have access to God.

Protestantism universally holds this axiom—it’s a defining biblical view.

What’s interesting is that while it may be a universally held theological understanding, in practice most churches have a talented leader who explains the Bible. Otherwise, we can’t understand it. The congregants, who are supposedly priests themselves, end up asking this person what God is trying to say.

Functionally, we have adopted a very non-Protestant idea of a priesthood, as if we can’t approach God ourselves. We function as if God’s people cannot engage God’s word.

No Christian should think that.

Leadership Deficit Knows No Boundaries

Oddly enough, this problem doesn’t just exist with Christians.

Anthropologically speaking, religion is a universal constant. Every culture in the world developed with religion, and such religions tend to create rituals where they ceremonialize their religious obligation and hierarchies so they can outsource their religious obligation. The natural human experience is to turn your faith responsibility over to a ritual and religious hierarchy.

I know those reading this are from different traditions. I’m not talking about the beauty of worship that can be in liturgical form. I’m not speaking against the biblical office of pastor. This topic is about the tendency in human nature to ritualize our devotion and look to religious hierarchies.

We create rituals and priests, often so we don’t have to have personal devotion to, and a personal relationship with, the Lord.

So we shouldn’t be surprised about the trajectory that churches tend to follow. I call that “clergification,” the point when acts of faith center on clergy.

The problem is remarkably unbiblical. Some might say, “Well, I believe in clergy. I believe in biblical offices in the church, such as the distinct role of pastor.” That’s fine. Actually, so do I—but invariable someone reads into what I’ve written. Let’s try not to.

Some denominations have what we call lower ecclesiology and liturgy (low church). Other denominations have a higher ecclesiology and liturgy (high church). Some with a high ecclesiology may believe pastors are necessary to partake in the sacraments. Others with a low ecclesiology may believe anyone can engage in these things together, under the auspices of a local church.

If you are Lutheran, Baptist, Calvinist, or Pentecostal, you really do agree that clergification is a bad thing, even if you hold to the role, office, or function of a pastor (as I do). And, you really do think that the Protestant Reformation emphasis on direct access to God was just a reflection of the biblical teaching that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man.

Centralized Spirituality Is Unhealthy

Regardless of where you come down on these issues, my guess is that if you were to think about it, you would agree that too much of the ministry and mission has been centralized around the clergy. Some would even agree that it is actually hindering the life and ministry of your church.

Whether you’re a high-church Anglican or a low-church Brethren, and everything in-between, clergification has damaged all of us. This shift in missional responsibility causes clergy to become religious shopkeepers, providing the religious goods and services to the customers. These customers never get to the point where they serve as co-laborers.

God did not plan for one person to disciple an entire church, and He didn’t design us to grow via mass discipleship.

There are things that a good pastor can and should do and I will not list them all there. In the context of this article, a good pastor can lead a culture of discipleship. A healthy culture of discipleship recognizes that everyone is not only a priest, but also chosen and empowered by God to lead others into a deeper walk with Him.

Being priests does not mean we can go the walk alone. We follow those who went before, and lead those coming behind. Others led us so that we could lead. This kind of leadership development does not occur in a culture of clergification. Because of that, many churches throughout the world are addressing the challenges it presents.

Discipleship Thrives in Spiritual Small Groups

There are plenty of hurdles impeding the discipleship process. But we don’t want just to point out challenges. Many like to point out the crises and sell books, but they don’t solve problems.

So how do we move forward, if there’s a challenge, even a crisis, of discipleship and community in most churches? How do we move people from the crisis to actually some solutions?

The research behind Transformational Groups, which I wrote with Eric Geiger, demonstrates that small groups are being effective. People will mature spiritually in small groups with personal, godly leadership.

To experience effective group ministry there needs to be a de-clergification of the way you do church. This change will require the empowerment of a new band and breed of leaders throughout the church. Developed leadership differs from centralized leadership, but ultimately one of the keys to effective small-group ministry is going to be the development of leadership. We need to explore what leadership development looks like, and what kind of leaders help produce healthy group life in a church.

Have you experienced the difference between centralized spirituality and leadership development models of discipleship? How would you characterize the kind of disciples they produce? What do you think keeps pastors from developing solid leaders so they can disciple others?

> Read more from Ed.


 Would you like to learn more about the discipleship process for your church? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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COMMENTS

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John Gilbank — 01/18/17 7:03 pm

Challenging and very good

Grant — 10/13/16 9:49 am

I think you have misunderstood what the author is trying to communicate...

david bartosik — 10/10/15 6:59 pm

Priesthood of all believers....I believe it, but if its not, in your unhelpful words, the "talented leader who explains the Bible" who does? Who is explaining the bible to the priesthood? If its not the pastor, then fire him and hire the other guy.... You may answer, "the priesthood should be reading the bible for themselves"..."the priesthood is able to go directly to God"... TRUE, BUT many, including many clergy, aren't interested in God or if they are feel stupid that they cant read the bible or know how to see and hear from God for themselves thru his word. Where does that leave us? Who helps these people? Thats what discipleship is...clergy leading a deliberate pursuit of a few and helping them see God for themselves in scripture and see it transform their lives...and multiply into the lives of others. But you seem to argument against that..... 1. You hate Centralized Spirituality saying its Unhealthy: The big idea you seem to be driving at was the "de-centralizing" of clergies role while simultaneously asking for a discipleship system to be constructed....who is responsible to construct this system if not the clergy whom the church has entrusted with that role? 2. You dont think that "God planned for one person to disciple an entire church, and He didn’t design us to grow via mass discipleship." So if not one person ( a church that budgets for one pastor) or a staff of vocational pastors (a church that allocates rescues for multiple pastors) who drives this? of course there are other leaders but who is at the center? 3. Seems obvious, but you said Discipleship Thrives in Spiritual Small Groups...yes but how is this small group system managed? There is no way you say, just go do small groups and see what happens right? Study what you want, who cares who leads, who cares who comes, figure it out by yourself...youre a priest good luck! There is a checks and balances system that would be helpful right? There is support, there is direction....Who is the gatekeeper determining the quality of the group and supporting, encouraging and driving its health? all questions that I hope are helpful for the church, the article seems like its trying to give easy answers to an incredibly challenging idea. It seems to be attacking clergy rather than helping them see the enormity of what the people of God and God himself have entrusted to them. Help pastors step into the role of discipler, being supported by the elders, and investing their lives and conversations into helping people see God thru scripture deliberately and consistently...unwavering to any fad or program that may distract us.

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Don’t Stop Until Your “Decisions” Lead to Discipleship

One of the most exciting moments within the life of a church is when someone comes to know Jesus Christ as Savior. We celebrate having new believers in our churches, but are we leading them to become lifelong disciples of Jesus?

Are we helping them continue through the transformation process or are we leaving them in convert mode?

Conversion is not the end. It is the glorious beginning.

We have become masters at getting “decisions.” Conversion is a powerful event in the life of the believer. It is a great moment. But it isn’t the end of the game. Converting those decisions into disciples must be part of the church’s purpose.

Sometimes we put such an emphasis on that moment, we make people think that is all we are after. The not-so-funny joke is that some people are willing to receive Christ just so the pastor will leave them alone. Our goal is often for conversions. But God’s goal is for transformation, which really just begins at conversion.

Paul remarks in his letter to the Philippians (1:6), “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Conversion is central to the beginning of new life, being relocated (spiritually) to another kingdom. Colossians 1:13 tells us that we are “transferred through the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son He loves.”

They have been born again, Jesus says in John 3. So there is now a spiritual life present now that was not present before. The Spirit of God dwells in them. They have new life. They are a new creation in Christ even as Christ in them is the “hope of glory.” But that event is not the end. It is a taste of the ongoing transformation that will come.

Spiritual growth should always follow spiritual birth.

How do we follow up for spiritual growth?

It’s a really bad idea to give birth to a baby and leave them on their own. We call that abandonment. People go to jail for that—and rightfully so. But I think sometimes we do that in church.

I call people to trust and respond to Christ every week in our church service. We ask them to share that decision through a card. Others use an altar call where new believers are connected with an established believer.

Whatever you use, it is at this point the process of partnership in spiritual growth is now stewarded to you and your church. We need to prioritize the discipling of anyone who has trusted Christ in our church.

When our church had ten people, I would meet with that person the same week. Now that our church has grown, I am not necessarily the person who meets with that new believer (unless they are in my neighborhood).

But in our context we’ve grown now where we have dozens of groups who become the “under shepherds,” leading people into the spiritual growth process. These groups are made of small group leaders—lay pastors in a sense—who are empowered to do the disciple making.

It is essential that someone connects with that new believer. As a matter of fact, I would say that there is no more important person in the life of the church, my church and yours, than the person who has just called upon the name of King Jesus for Salvation.

Spiritual mentoring creates a pathway to stabilization

Why is it so important to connect a new convert with someone who will walk through the spiritual growth process? More often than not people respond to Christ because they are in a life crisis, not just because they wake up feeling the need to be closer to Christ.

Adults who become Christians usually do so because of a challenging situation of some sort, and that means they probably need some help, and often need it fast.

A person who responds to Christ in a crisis then needs three types of stabilization, as I first heard from my friend Dan Morgan. And a journey companion can help with each of these.

Personal Stabilization – Most of the adults who I see trust Christ are doing so as their marriage is in trouble, or they’ve just had a drunk driving incident or whatever it may be. They need personal stabilization. Their personal life is spinning out of control. They are facing and making some crazy decisions. Becoming personally stable is part of what happens during spiritual transformation. So we have people in our church who can help with that.

Relational Stabilization – Now that they’ve become a believer they’re probably leaving behind some things and certain people behind who aren’t on board with their new life. These are usually people with whom they used to get into trouble, and some who helped them into the crisis God used to reach them. Losing friends and family can sometimes be part of following Jesus—not because that is our desire, but sometimes because the old friends aren’t too keen about that new life. But, either way, it isn’t easy. So they need people who can help with relational stabilization.

Doctrinal Stabilization – The unregenerated person does not think properly about God, life, truth, etc. So part of the discipleship process is renewal of our mind. We know “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) So the convert will definitely need to exchange their belief system for God’s truth. However, most follow up only focuses on doctrinal stabilization.

Yes, let’s teach them what they need to know, but there may be some other stabilization that needs to take place first. Eventually good doctrine will help sustain them through crisis. But in a crisis, a whole new set of truths is not the only thing that is needed.

Spiritual mentoring is follow-up that encourages following.

This piece won’t answer every question, but I mainly want to remind us all that we need to immediately help people grow—and to do so through a process.

Every church needs a pathway which will provide direction for their discipleship plan, and also show how they grow together as a church. So we want them to travel on the pathway—maybe through classes, intentional relationships, a workbook, and more. But particularly when they’re older we want to recognize there’s probably a lot of instability we need to engage.

Part of that process has to involve people. The best thing you can offer a new believer is an older believer. It doesn’t have to be someone older in age, but rather someone who has been walking with Jesus for a longer period of time and experienced ongoing life-transformation themselves.

> Read more from Ed.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.