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.


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

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