Several Options for Creating a Disciple-making Centered Church…

If you are in church leadership, I would ask that you to carefully consider the information within this post. It may give you some insight into why your church struggles to make disciples of Jesus (who make more disciples of Jesus).
 
We have previously written about the complexity of making disciples of Jesus in the immediate culture and context around His Words His Ways Fellowship due to the unique historical and current social and economic conditions of the area which has produced groups of people whose interactions between one another can be prohibitive to making disciples.
 
One of the more challenging aspects of this cultural climate is dealing with true believers who are so busy with church and cultural Christianity, that they don’t have time to commit to following and imitating Jesus as His disciple.
 
In our immediate culture and context, churches (meaning the local organizations comprised of members who may or may not be true believers) exist primarily as social organizations; and therefore, not primarily to make disciples of Jesus. (I realize that churches are supposed to exist primarily to make disciples, but my argument is not what they are supposed to be doing, but rather what they are actually doing.)
 
While these statements may be offensive, they can be confirmed by the fact that even if the pastors and leaders of these churches are committed to making disciples of Jesus; they are having to convince and cajole the church membership to be committed to making disciples of Jesus as well.
 
If the churches primarily existed to make disciples of Jesus; then the leadership wouldn’t have to work so hard at to convincing them to do so. Therefore, the churches seem to exist primarily to do something else; and the most obvious conclusion then is that they primarily exist as social organizations.
 
I also realize that being and making disciples of Jesus is an inherently social activity (we have written about it here). But clearly you can be social at church without making disciples. And as we have previously argued, you can even make disciples using Scripture in relational environments without making disciples of Jesus (just as the Pharisees did in the first century; Matthew 23:15, Mark 2:18, Luke 5:33, Acts 22:3). Therefore, a church having a positive social climate doesn’t mean that it is making disciples (at least not disciples of Jesus). And the problem with primarily social organizations is that they require a lot time and energy from their members to maintain.
 
Therefore, given that we all have a limited amount of time and energy; after working all day and taking care of family and home responsibilities; most people will not have the time and energy to both maintain the social aspect of “church” and maintain the social aspect of being and making disciples of Jesus.
 
And given that most churches exist primarily to be a social organization that do not make disciples of Jesus (remember if they were already making disciples of Jesus we wouldn’t have to be convincing them to do so); in order to be accepted by the church at large, most members will devote themselves to the social aspect of church without making disciples of Jesus; if for no other reason than just to avoid going against the grain and rocking the boat.
 
But, every so often a pastor or church leader comes to the realization that their church should be making disciples of Jesus, who can then make more disciples of Jesus; and they determine to attempt to change the primary focus of their church from being a social organization to actually being what the church is meant to be. What then are they to do?
 
There are few options that we have observed for correcting the situation. We will list them from most extreme to least extreme:
 
Option #1: Completely abandon social-centered church and start/plant a church centered around making disciples of Jesus who know and keep His words, teachings, commands and example (and can make more disciples). This is what we did and why His Words His Ways Fellowship exists. Some of us had previously been involved in churches that had attempted to shift to being disciple-making centered and therefore had seen first-hand how much of a struggle it can be to change a church. As a result, we decided to take the most straightforward option. However, we also realize that this is not the option that most people want to take. This leads us to the other options…
 
Option #2: As a pastor or church leader, issue an ultimatum that the church will become a disciple-making church. This is of course the most direct approach while remaining at your current church. It also runs the risk of getting you fired from your current church. Basically, you are putting your job on the line in order to find out if the church is going to be and make disciples of Jesus or not. If they refuse to do so, then you know if for a fact and you can move on to another opportunity.
 
However, there are two different ways to do this. The first is to make the ultimatum without clearly explaining why we are to be disciples of Jesus and what it actually means to be a disciple of Jesus. This will usually cause mass confusion within the congregation and will most likely lead to you looking for another job within a couple of years if not months. And in reality, the members may not have actually refused to be and make disciples of Jesus; they just didn’t really understand what they were being asked to do, and became frustrated at being constantly asked to do something they didn’t really comprehend.
 
The other way go about this is to issue the ultimatum with the understanding that an extensive amount of time will be devoted to first explaining why they should be disciples of Jesus, and exactly what a disciple of Jesus is (and is not). At the end of having explained these things, the church then decides whether it wants to commit to being and making disciples of Jesus; or continue on being primarily a social-centered organization.
 
This of course raises the question as to what exactly needs to taught in order to explain why we are to be disciples of Jesus and what exactly a disciple of Jesus is (and is not). At His Words His Ways Fellowship, we distilled this information down to Four Principles of Discipleship (there will be another link at the bottom of the page) that we use to explain these things. The Four Principles in and of themselves are nothing, they are just a tool to outline and organize the scriptural information that clearly answers these questions. You can begin reading about them here.
 
What we would recommend (and what we did) would be to take several months and preach through the scriptural information in these principles (and you don’t have to call them the same thing we did; it doesn’t matter to us what you call them). If you would like to see an example of these being taught, you can view our Discipleship Seminar here.
 
The first four sessions cover the Four Principles of Discipleship. Each session is made up of two one-hour lectures (I apologize that we are not necessarily the best preachers or speakers out there). Therefore, if you were to split each session into four 30-minute sermons, it would take around 16 sermons to go through all of the information. Basically, you are looking at about four months’ worth of sermons to cover what exactly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and why we should be disciples of Jesus.
 
If the church is going to have an ultimatum set before them that they are going to be a disciple-making church or else, we believe they also deserve to have the best explanation set before them as to why and how.
 
Option #3: Sneak it up on the church. If setting an ultimatum before the church seems too dangerous of a thing to do, a pastor or church leader could always set the same information before the church without telling them exactly what they are doing.
 
In other words, preach the same four months’ worth of sermons to the church without giving the ultimatum and see if they figure out on their own what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and why they are to be disciples of Jesus. This would take a little more patience and time on the church leadership’s part, because there would not initially be an open discussion about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and if the church was going to make the shift to be a disciple-making centered church. Instead, church leadership would be waiting to see if that conversation developed or not.  And without the conversation being explicit, church leaders would have to make a judgement call as to whether the church understood what was being taught or not.
 
Since this option is playing the long-game, after the initial set of sermons on the why and what of being a disciple of Jesus; a pastor should follow with a sermon series that focuses on the words and ways of Jesus to see if the church membership is going to actually commit to being disciples of Jesus. Here is a good example of what that could look like from different church than us. This example is really playing the long game because they took about 3 years to go through the teachings of Christ in order to literally keep the Great Commission of “make disciples […] teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). But if as a pastor or church leader you are not in a hurry to find out if your church is going to be a disciple-making centered church, this might be a good option.
 
Option #4: Start an underground/grassroots disciple-making movement within your church. If you are not a pastor or church leader and you begin to understand that you need to be and make a disciples of Jesus, but your church leadership doesn’t seem interested in leading the church to do so, and you don’t want to leave your church; you can simply begin to be a disciple of Jesus and begin to make disciples of Jesus and hope that it catches on. The danger in this approach is that your leadership or the rest of your church will ultimately oppose the movement you attempt to create. But, you never know unless you try.
 
Option #5: Don’t do anything directly; just pray that “Magic Jesus” shows up and fixes your church. If you are unfamiliar with “Magic Jesus” you can read about him here. In short, “Magic Jesus” is the church equivalent of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny; he “magically” shows up just because you believe in him.
 
The difference between “Magic Jesus” and the real Jesus is that the real Jesus gave an explicit example and explicit commands as to what His followers and His church are to be doing. Therefore, the real Jesus works supernaturally through His church when they do what He explicitly commanded and exemplified. In contrast, “Magic Jesus” shows up and fixes churches even if they refuse to do what the real Jesus explicitly commanded and exemplified.
 
The problem with “Magic Jesus” is the same problem with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny; he doesn’t exist no matter how much you believe in him.
 
Option #6: Do something completely different. The great thing about living in the USA is that we have religious freedom (for now) and you can do and preach whatever you want (just look at the prosperity gospel preachers). You can just wing it and “preach the word.” You might even come up with something that works better to make disciples of Jesus than what we have suggested. If you do, we would love to hear about it. But please remember that for proof; we will want to see disciples of Jesus who know and keep all of the words, teachings, commands, and example that He gave during His earthly ministry; and who make more disciples of Jesus who do the same. Whatever you do, we really do wish everyone the best and that ultimately every church is a disciple-making centered church.
 
 
To understand why it is so imperative that we imitate Jesus as His disciple, and what you need to teach people to do so; start here and follow the links at the end of each page:
 

 

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash