Why Your Lows Can be Highs When It Comes to Making Disciples

When you grow up in Texas, as I did, you were schooled up in the stories of the Alamo. It’s legendary – a small group of freedom fighters that took their stand against incredible odds in the small mission in San Antonio (of course, I only later found out that these “heroes” were not quite the upstanding patriots I thought they were as a kid, but I digress…)

Stories of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and William Barrett Travis were the stuff of legend. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who petitioned his or her parents to, at some point, jump in the car and make our way down to San Antonio to see the real Alamo. And one year, we did.

I was… disappointed. I don’t know what I expected, but it was certainly a little more than what was there. Just a few crumbling walls. Right in the middle of the city. In fact, the only real part of the tour I remember was that they had Davy Crockett’s actual razor.

That’s sort of picture of life in some ways, isn’t it? You get yourself worked up over something – some vacation, some promotion, some relationship, some next stage of life, and then that “thing” happens. The vast majority of the time, it in no way lives up to the expectations you had for it in your mind. Or even worse, it doesn’t happen at all, and you are crushed under the weight of what might have been. What should have been. At least in your mind. But in the end, the result is the same:

Disappointment.

And yet here again we see the truth that the best school of discipleship is life. Real life is where our faith is honed, grown, and proven. And moments of disappointment are moments ripe for discipleship. If you’re experiencing some measure of disappointment today, then consider for a moment that this disappointment is actually a chance for spiritual growth for at least these four reasons:

1. Disappointment reminds of the only lasting satisfaction.

Ecclesiastes is a book all about disappointment. Solomon tried everything, and he tried everything to the extreme. But no matter what he devoted himself to, no matter what it was that he soaked the marrow from, he came up empty. His constant refrain through all his attempts at satisfaction was “Vanity! Meaningless!” There was nothing under the sun for him that offered true and lasting satisfaction.

It’s still true. All these things on which we hang our greatest expectations will in some way come up short. The disappointment we feel is a cue to remind us again and again that true satisfaction can only be found out from under the sun. Take heed not only from Ecclesiastes, but from the prophet Isaiah in this:

“Come, everyone who is thirsty,
come to the water;
and you without silver,
come, buy, and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without silver and without cost!
Why do you spend silver on what is not food,
and your wages on what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and you will enjoy the choicest of foods.
Pay attention and come to me;
listen, so that you will live” (Isaiah 55:1-3).

2. Disappointment exposes the truth in our hearts.

We have an incredible knack for self-deception. Often times, we don’t actually know the depths of our own hearts. We don’t know just how much of our hope, how much of our joy, how much of our self-worth and value we have invested in a particular thing until that thing goes away. The level of disappointment we feel is more than just painful; it’s revelatory. It shows us the truth about our own hearts. And the truth is always a good thing.

It’s a good thing for us because we have an incredible capacity for self-deception. We can talk ourselves into thinking that we are loving Jesus, treasuring Jesus, valuing Jesus above all things. In fact, the only way we might know that it’s not true is through our level of disappointment. So when we are disappointed, it’s a great chance for us to have a window of clarity in our own hearts so that we might repent and then continue forward with Jesus. So says the prophet Jeremiah:

For my people have committed a double evil:
They have abandoned me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug cisterns for themselves—
cracked cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

3. Disappointment is a chance to grow in perseverance.

It’s really not a question of whether or not you will be disappointed; it’s only a question of when, and to what level. So if it’s a certainty that we will experience disappointment, then we ought to be asking ourselves what will happen next. Disappointment can either crush us, paralyzing us into inactivity, or we can carry on. Keep moving. Keep showing up.

If we choose the latter, then we find ourselves in a posture ready for discipleship, for that willingness to doggedly move forward, despite disappointment, is about perseverance. And perseverance is an essential component to growing in Christ:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).

4. Disappointment reaffirms our faith in God as Father.

Finally, disappointment is an opportunity for discipleship because it’s a chance for us to remind ourselves of God’s goodness as our Father. Jesus taught His followers about the good Fatherhood of God in Luke 11:

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13).

Jesus’ point is pretty simple here: God is a good Father. And a good Father knows how to give good gifts to His children. That doesn’t mean He gives His children everything they ask for; this would, in fact, make Him a weak, insecure Father. He’s better than that. He only gives fish. He only gives eggs.

Sometimes from our perspective, it might look as if God has given us a snake or a scorpion because we did not receive what we wanted from Him, and we feel disappointment. But in that moment, it’s a chance for us to remind ourselves that despite what His answer looks like, He has given us a good gift. We can move forward in confidence, even if we are disappointed, because by faith we trust our Father.

Friends, you will be disappointed soon. Remember, disappointment might be painful, but it’s also an opportunity. Don’t waste it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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What Gets in Our Way When It Comes to the Church’s Mission to Make Disciples?

What gets in our way when it comes to the church’s mission to make disciples? Let’s look at the things we do at church and they way we spend our time as pastors:

  1. Preparing a sermon or teaching message in a given week without spending time in disciple-making relationships.
  2. Spending time meeting with staff and church leaders in a given week in lieu of spending time in personal disciple-making relationships.
  3. Designing a worship experience in a given week without a prior design of a clear disciple-making strategy.
  4. Managing a weekly money gathering process from people without having a clear disciple-making vision that will be used to steward the money.
  5. Recruiting people to volunteer in ministry environments without any knowledge of their involvement in disciple-making relationships.
  6. Providing for the care needs of others in the church without a system for care to take place in the context of disciple-making relationships.
  7. Creating any content (worship guides, newsletters, social media, curriculum) without a prior definition of disciple-making outcomes.
  8. Training any small group or Bible study leaders without a prior training in the church’s disciple-making strategy and outcomes.
  9. Developing and launching programs that do not fit into a clear and cohesive disciple-making strategy.
  10. Putting out fires with or for people who could care less whether they have or you have any disciple-making relationships in life. 

What would you add? What do you think pastors do that does not make disciples?  Help me write the next 10!

> Read more from Will.


Would you like to learn more about the obstacles to discipleship in your church – and how to avoid them? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of VisionRoom.com and the author of God Dreams and Church Unique.

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Rhonda — 10/03/16 9:39 am

This is a great, thought provoking post. My only addition is this: as I lay leader, I am also responsible for making sure that all my actions are centered in intentional disciple-making activities. If there is no disciple-making involved, I am wasting time and energy - both mine and that of the other members involved in the activities/ministries I am leading.

Myron Williams — 10/03/16 9:24 am

making discipleship a program other staff are responsible for designing and implementing

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— Bolstering your Leadership Armoury-Part 2- Leadership series – Toyer M–All things testing
 
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
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— Mike
 

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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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— Bolstering your Leadership Armoury-Part 2- Leadership series – Toyer M–All things testing
 
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
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comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
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Three Practices to Help Reframe the Heart of a Disciplemaker

When asked, there are many reasons church leaders give for lack of effectiveness in making disciples. Here are a few common responses:

“We have uncommitted volunteers”

“We reach many distracted families”

“We suffer from ineffective curriculum”

“We find ourselves with unavailable leadership”

“We are experiencing diminishing giving”

“We need to get beyond our under-performing staff”

“We are stuck through over-complex processes”

While the above may be resonant, they are likely not the actual reason your church continues to struggle to make disciples. From observation of hundreds of churches over the past few years, disciples are not made for one singular, and strikingly simple, reason:  actual, biblical discipleship takes much more time than expected and produces very little immediate return on investment.

Herein lies the problem. Rather than thinking long-term process, and setting expectations five to ten years down the road, we lead through short-term programming. We lead by constantly changing the discipleship curriculum, schedule or structure every few months. We lead with the expectation that discipleship requires only a season, rather than years of nurture and growth.

The approach and practice of making disciples is more like running a tree farm than tending a backyard vegetable garden.

Vegetable gardens, while taking some time – maybe a few summer growing months – yield a rather immediate harvest and tangible results. Within weeks, seeds germinate, vines grow and blooms emerge. Soon after, windowsills and countertops are overflowing with vegetables and fruit, ready for eating, canning and freezing.  And as the cool mornings of fall consistently make their annual appearance, plants are removed, soil is turned and beds are prepared for a new, fresh season of production.

Tree farming requires a completely different process and outlook. Saplings take root – not with an expectation of months-long nurturing – but years of grooming, tending and shaping. The average 8-foot Christmas Tree takes seven to twelve years to mature and be ready to stand proudly as the centerpiece of holiday celebrations. Running a tree farm requires a commitment to think long-term and necessitates a patient discipline for measuring results in observable quality, through the health of the plant, rather than numeric quantity.

When we treat discipleship as a seasonal activity, expecting immediate results we produce undernourished and unprepared followers of Christ. We then blame volunteers, travel baseball, or ineffective systems for our own misunderstanding of the nature of discipleship.

Here are three practices for 2017 to help reframe the heart of the disciplemaker through the mind of a tree-farmer.

  1. Mark time in seasons of a life, not seasons of the year… because discipleship takes more than two or three semesters of study. What would we develop in a young married husband if we pictured a healthy tenth anniversary? How would an incoming sixth grade girl be biblically prepared for the upcoming challenges of high school? What are the spiritual habits of a senior adult that develop a next generation of Christ-likeness?
  2.  Measure health of each individual, not the number of individuals who appear healthy… because not all growth is spiritual growth. What are the marks of a growing disciple in your context? What are the daily habits and practices of growing followers that produce and reproduce dependence on Christ? What small indicators can be identified that build to big steps of growth
  3. Celebrate annual multiplication of a few, not seasonal addition of the many…because what is celebrated gets replicated. How might you point beyond collective programs toward individual development? What rites of passage in your culture would mark significant progress in spiritual growth? What consistent language can you develop to encourage participation from every church member?

Want to learn more about developing disciplemakers? Connect with an Auxano Navigator.


> Read more from Bryan

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> […] source: https://www.visionroom.com/leadership-and-the-power-of-listening/ […]
 
— Bolstering your Leadership Armoury-Part 2- Leadership series – Toyer M–All things testing
 
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.