What is it, how is it cultivated and what is the impact? Perimeter Church Pastor Randy Pope shares his church’s journey toward developing mature believers.
If you were asked to name three or four of your church’s best offerings for the spiritual formation of your people, what would they be? If you’re like most leaders, you’d list sermons, seminars, Sunday school classes, small groups. But are those programs really helping people become mature and equipped in Christ? They weren’t at my church. So we went on a discovery process that led us to a startling, yet simple solution. Notice I said simple—not easy!
For most of my 35 years of ministry, I’ve taken an annual study leave to evaluate my life, family and ministry. While I was away one year assessing the ministry of Perimeter Church, I began to realize that while we had been applauded and recognized for doing good things and being successful, in reality we were drawing a target around an arrow once it had been shot. We had been lauded for how far we had been shooting our arrow. But how foolish we had been to celebrate an aimless shot where the target is determined by the shot.
So while we might have looked successful to someone observing, we began to define what our target would be so that we could determine if we were hitting the mark. After much prayer and many meetings, we developed a definition for a mature and equipped follower of Christ, and we have been aiming at that target ever since.
Here’s our definition of a mature disciple.
A mature and equipped believer is someone who:
1) Is living consistently under the control of the Holy Spirit, the direction of the Word of God and the compelling love of Christ.
2) Has discovered, developed and is using his spiritual gifts.
3) Has learned to effectively share his faith, while demonstrating radical love that amazes those it touches.
4) Gives evidence of being ...
5) Demonstrates a life characterized as ...
While I realize that no one would fully meet this description, we believe that everyone should be moving more and more toward it in each area of their lives. And as we looked at this description, we knew we had a problem because only a small percentage of the people at Perimeter would be considered mature and equipped based on these values. Worse yet, we had no effective plan to get them there!
The quest for the answer to how we could hit that target led to a discovery that altered my life and our church’s ministry. What we discovered is Life on Life Missional Discipleship, which we define as:
Laboring in the lives of a few with the intention of imparting one’s life, God’s Word and the gospel in such a way as to see them become mature and equipped followers of Christ, committed to doing the same in the lives of others.
We do this through what we call Journey groups—men meeting with men, women with women. In these groups, our leaders are not just facilitators, they are men and women who view themselves as disciplers. They want to take the time necessary to mentor those younger in the faith who need their experience, understanding, support and coaching. They are there to equip the members of the group, hold them accountable, challenge them to be missional and pray for them on a regular basis. And each person in the group is investing in the lives of those in the group—“one anothering.”
As we put time and energy into moving our congregation toward becoming mature and equipped, we became healthier and we grew more leaders—leaders who are not only impacting our congregation, but our city and even cities around the world.
I talk to leaders of nonprofits in our city and hear over and over, “We are so thankful for the people of Perimeter Church. We get more leaders and volunteers from there than any other organization.” I don’t say that to brag about Perimeter but as a testament to God working in individual lives and each person moving toward becoming a mature and equipped follower of Christ.
I believe that spiritual formation through life-on-life discipleship is one of those topics that will never go away. It’s just too biblical. It may not be on your to-do list today, or even in the future, but I challenge you to look closely at it and consider doing what it takes to do life-on-life discipleship. It doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work and a defined plan, but it’s worth it when you see lives transformed.
Paying close attention to this at Perimeter took us down the road less traveled. We knew it might not produce results that others would call “success.” But opting for healthy impact turned us into a people who would settle for nothing less than making an impact in our church, community, city and the world.
Randy Pope planted Perimeter Church in Atlanta in 1977. Since then, Perimeter has helped start six global church planting centers and 28 churches in the greater Atlanta area. Pope has recently established Life on Life Ministries, committed to establishing life-on-life missional discipleship in churches worldwide. To learn more about life-on-life missional discipleship or The Journey, a three-year missional discipleship curriculum, visit perimeter.org/lifeonlife. Pope’s new book, Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local Church, releases in early 2013.