What changes can you make to be more effective at making and releasing disciples?
Are we making disciples surrendered to Christ and His Lordship? Though very few concrete statistics on our overall effectiveness currently exist, it’s difficult to argue in the affirmative.
What then can we do to get better at the Great Commission? Based on his considerable experience with starting churches from disciple-making small groups, Real Life Ministries founder Jim Putman has identified five paradigm shifts church leaders can make to become better at accomplishing the mission of the church. We asked him and Dave Ferguson, who also leads the church-planting network NewThing, and Community Christian Church in Chicago, to help unpack each shift and its potential impact.
Shift 1: From Reaching to Making
The first paradigm shift moves churches from defining ourselves by what we do to what we actually accomplish, Putman says. “We need to shift our focus from reaching people with the gospel in an effort to convert them to making disciples.”
Making this shift requires us to agree on the definition of what a mature disciple is, someone who Ferguson says is “apprenticing in the ways of Jesus.”
“As humans, we know what a mature person ends up looking like and doing. What does a mature disciple look like then?” Putman asks, adding that often, church leaders don’t define it for their people—which in turn gives each person carte blanche to come up with his or her own definition. “This is a real problem if we are going to be a team that works together to complete the mission of Christ. We need to ask the question together as a body.”
Shift 2: From Teaching to Modeling
This shift calls for leaders to change their focus from preaching/teaching (informing) to modeling and coaching (equipping). Too many church leaders today equate discipleship with imparting knowledge.
Putman points out that Jesus discipled people in relationship, not in preaching to thousands of people. “I used to be a teacher and coach,” he says. “Teachers know that the larger the classroom, the more you’re forced to lecture and the less learning. Why is it that every good teacher would hate what every pastor thinks they want?”
Ferguson agrees, adding that the job of leadership is not to just get up on Sunday and talk about following Jesus. “I have to be apprenticed in the ways of Jesus and bring people alongside me and apprentice them in the same way. That’s how you get people who are on mission.”
Shift 3: From Attending to Participating
This third shift challenges leaders to shift their mindset from discipleship as a program in their church that people attend to discipleship as the center and purpose of everything the church is and does, Putman explains. He adds that leaders must let people know that discipleship is dependent on participating in the endless process of following Christ.
Ferguson simplifies things: “We start to transition our thinking from discipleship as a class or program we attend on the weekend or one night a week to something every believer actively participates in Monday through Sunday.”
Shift 4: From Connecting to Transforming
This shift calls for churches to move their paradigms from activity-based to relationship-based. Beyond just classes and sermons, discipleship must be based on friendship and time together. To cultivate the kind of disciples Jesus did, we have to shift our paradigm from activity and surface connections to deep, accountable relationships.
Putman also refers to this shift as the “alignment” piece: Everything in a church must be shifted to divert the focus from activity and align it with relationships (for discipleship).
Shift 5: From Attracting to Deploying
The final shift helps churches define, articulate and implement a new scorecard for success that celebrates and places more emphasis on the release of an army of ministers and priests into a lost and hurting world than on how many people we attract to our services.
“If we’re honest, we know we’re celebrating many of the wrong things,” Putman says. “I’m all for numbers of converts, but those aren’t the right numbers alone. We should be counting and asking the question, How many disciples have I made who can make disciples without me?”
The 2013 Exponential conference theme, DiscipleShift, will explore in-depth what it means to be a disciple and how we can continue to improve at engaging people with the mission of Jesus. Exponential will be held April 22-25 in Orlando, Fla.
Lindy Lowry serves as the general editor of Ministry Today and editor for Exponential.