If your church is like mine, your mission or vision or purpose probably includes some aspect of the Great Commission. Many of us have even gone a step further and proclaimed that we are in the business of making disciples and we'll know we are succeeding when we make some amount of more and better disciples.
So ... if we're all trying to hit the same target, why are so many of our discipleship strategies missing the mark?
Any theories? I have a few and before you think I believe I have it all together, I'm actually guilty of a few of these myself!
Here are 6 reasons our discipleship strategies miss the mark:
1. We don't actually have a strategy. We really have more of a theology of wishful thinking. We spend time planning everything from our weekend services and special events to staff retreats and the updated vacation policy, but we don't get around to developing a discipleship strategy. In the place of a strategy we are hopeful. I love this line from Winston Churchill. "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." If you don't like your results, change the strategy. See also, 5 Signs You May Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy.
2. We don't have a viable strategy. We don't acknowledge the connection between results and design. We are testing the definition of insane and often do the same things over and over again, expecting a different result. We've never stopped to ask, "What would have to be true for that approach to work?" See also, 5 Signs Your Ministry Design is Inadequate and Great Question: What Would Have to Be True?
3. We have an outdated strategy. We do have a strategy but it's designed for an entirely different era. Although virtually everything is different (pace of life, attention spans, biblical literacy, etc.), we are using a strategy that was tailor made for inhabitants of the 20th Century (or earlier). Ed Stetzer has pointed this out saying, "If the 1950s came back, many churches are ready." See also, 3 Steps to Take When the Flux Capacitor Fails.
4. We don't actually know what we will call success. We can't describe what a disciple will look like or how we'll know when we've produced one. I am amazed at the simplicity of Dallas Willard's words: "A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him." See also, How to Make Disciples in Small Groups and 6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group Ministry
5. We position discipleship as an extra credit endeavor. Bill Hull points out in his excellent book, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ: "We evangelicals accept and even encourage a two-level Christian experience in which only serious Christians pursue and practice discipleship while grace and forgiveness is enough for everyone else."
6. We believe discipleship is a curriculum to be completed. We think discipleship happens in rows and is largely learning information and skills, while discipleship is "fundamentally about the choice to follow Jesus." We think discipleship happens in 12 weeks or 36 weeks or 2 years, when as Bill Hull points out, "Discipleship isn't for beginners alone; it's for all believers for every day of their life."
Mark Howell is the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, committed to helping churches launch, build, and sustain healthy small group ministries. He's also the pastor of Discipleship Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church. Having served as small group pastor at Woodlands Church and Lake Avenue Church, Mark is a seasoned veteran with experience in both the contemporary and the traditional church. In addition, he served as a consultant with Lifetogether and as a host for the Purpose Driven Campaign Coaching programs. You can read Mark's blog at markhowelllive.com or follow him on Twitter.
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