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Equipping Your Reimagine Journey

Bt Thom Schultz on

The disciple-making machine is broken. Though most church leaders would say discipleship is a crucial part of their mission and ministry, they fear it’s not working.

A recent Barna study revealed that only one percent of church leaders say “today’s churches are doing very well at discipling new and young believers.”

The church’s role in discipling people was a major point of discussion at Group’s annual Future of the Church summit. (We’ll look at other major trends from the summit in future articles here.)

Churches typically view their work in “making disciples” to be largely a mass-production academic endeavor. The thinking seems to be if people just know enough doctrine, memorize enough scripture, accumulate enough Bible knowledge, sit through enough sermons, attend enough classes, they’ll become disciples.

That’s not working—for a number of reasons. People are spending less time at church, especially in academic programs. Fewer churches even offer an education hour.

And, the old academic model itself is crumbling. The concept of an all-knowing teacher lecturing a room of passive students produces few lasting results. Outside the church, academia is recognizing this collapse. Experts in primary, secondary and higher education are abandoning the old methodology. Eventually this epiphany will reach the church, and ministry people will reconsider the routine of monologue-based teaching in sermons and studies.

The church has attempted to propagate the faith as one more academic subject. But here’s the problem. Faith is not a subject to be studied. Faith is a relationship to be nurtured.

If we truly care about helping people grow a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we need to understand how relationships develop. Relationships—with people and with God—develop relationally, not academically.

Effective churches will relook at how the original discipling process worked. Following Jesus’ example, ministry people will approach discipleship with more relational emphasis, interactivity, dialog, question-asking, teamwork, risk-taking, participatory experiences, shared adventures, mentoring, and deep prayer.

Academic endeavors have their place. But discipleship isn’t merely about academics. It’s not merely about the transmittal of information. It’s about personal transformation.

And it’s about reaching that point, as did the original disciples, that Jesus no longer calls us mere servants, but calls us his friends. (John 15:15)

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In Mt. 28:19, 20 Jesus taught what we are to do to make disciples. The first part "go" must precede making disciples. Making disciples is the main verb which is modified by baptizing and teaching. At that time if one would have counted the cost of following Jesus and then decided if he wanted to make Jesus his Lord by being baptized and confessing Jesus as Lord. That meant that new followers could have been executed. Jesus taught his disciples about the kind of disciples he wanted them to make by teaching them to observe all he commanded. As parents we do not teach our children in a classroom nor do we allow them only to learn by experience. We teach them both intellectually and experientially. Teaching is not just an academic exercise nor just a learn by doing exercise. It is both. so why would anyone just teach a one size fits all approach. One who makes disciples well compares himself to what Jesus taught not what other churches do or do not do. We are to simply teach in such a way that 100% of those we are discipling are being taught to observe all Jesus commanded. That is not studying a program or pedagogy but simply making sure that we are helping people to grow in such a way that is thorough and 100% effective so they can make disciples and not just converts.

With a top down approach leaders only recognize that their approach to ministry is the only approach but when they take a look at Jesus they will notice how he led. He led his disciples in such a way that when he left they would plant churches with the Holy Spirit guiding them. Jesus trained his disciples and then after three years he left the Holy Spirit. Too many church leaders think they have the secret to success when it is just another top down approach. Then when they meet with what they call success they start writing books as though they have the answer. Eventually their approach is replaced with another approach that seems to work at least for awhile. Men can duplicate methods but not what the Holy Spirit does. When we encourage people to do what God puts on their heart it is like organized chaos. It is amazing what people become passionate about when they begin to seek God. One time a lady started teaching children how to cook and when she did the parents wanted to learn. We started seeing people come to Church and become believers. Some ladies cleaned an elderly lady's house and another organized a ministry in which the elderly ladies were called everyday. We started seeing people we didn't know who started coming to church and some who had been tired of church. When that started I got a phone call from a man about 180 miles away thanking me for what the ladies in the church were doing. He and his wife were kids when one of the elderly ladies taught in vacation Bible school.

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