Tag Archives: new year’s

What’s Keeping Churches from Discipling?

Feb 08, 17
JMorgan
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4 comments

Part 1 – Internal Factors

As we showed last week, discipleship expands the Kingdom, changes your community and grows your church.  So why do only 1% of church leaders surveyed believe American churches are discipling well.  Why wouldn’t more pastors emphasize discipleship and implement a discipleship track that goes well beyond sermons and small groups (which aren’t making many disciples)?  Why don’t many churches utilize more intensive and effective discipleship methods?

It’s not for a lack of understanding that discipleship is important.  Most pastors list discipleship as a priority.  Few deny its Kingdom-building potential.  The story of Jesus’ ministry cannot be told without reference to how fervently He invested in, empowered and released disciples into service.  For all those reasons, discipleship is addressed in sermons at least on occasion at nearly every church.

4 Discipleship “Pump Fakes”

However, today pastors seem more willing to preach discipleship principles than the corresponding actions and expectations that true discipleship entails.  Too many pay lip service to discipleship and fall short on execution, anticipating few churchgoers will go beyond dipping their toes in the discipleship waters.  In other words, in football terms during this Super Bowl week, in one of 4 ways pastors “pump fake” the congregation and hand off rather than throwing the ball downfield:

  1. Preaching without Principles – Not revealing the full costs of discipleship outlined in Luke 9 and Luke 14.  This isn’t restricted to prosperity or “name it and claim it” churches, but applies to any church that fails to disclose that following Jesus may mean losing everything.  Jesus’ high standards for His followers stand in stark contrast to the life improvement plan touted in churches that not only tolerate but cater to “consumer” Christians.
  2. Preaching without Programs – Fearless presentation of what challenges may await those who take a full-fledged leap of faith, but not offering a discipleship plank off which to leap.  No company would rely solely on a weekly lecture and an optional weekly forum led by untrained employees as the full extent of its training program.  Likewise, it is unreasonable for churches to think sermons and small groups should suffice as adequate discipleship training for those intended to be the personification of “church”.
  3. Preaching without Practicing – Sharing a hard message with a soft landing.  So often Biblical truths passionately introduced throughout the first 25 minutes don’t seem to match the action items laid out in the last 5 minutes.  You’ve seen it before – right message, wrong conclusions.  A demanding sermon that seems to push the limits of life transformation (e.g. discipleship, evangelism and community impact), but ends with the same old Invite/Involve/Invest institution-building requests (e.g. invite friends, sign up for “church chores”, join a small group, give to the church).
  4. Preaching without Progress – Even with appropriate principles, programs and practices, real progress in disciple-making requires some form of accountability and tracking, either personal or corporate.  A discipleship-driven church seeks to know whether its congregation is living out the Great Commission.  It lays out a discipleship path and measures degree of life change as people move down that road.  It may even abandon internally-focused “nickels and noses” metrics, replacing them with externally-oriented metrics like lives touched and impacted by its members.

Preaching with Power involves not only unveiling the costs of discipleship, but instituting an intensive 1-on-1 or triad discipleship program, deploying disciples into personal ministry inside AND outside the church, and expecting life transformation in line with what Jesus asked of His disciples.

Discipleship Works…so Why Not?

There are powerful INTERNAL forces (next week we’ll discuss EXTERNAL factors) at work within the current psyche of church leaders that deter all but a few from implementing full-scale, Biblical discipleship:

  1. Graduation – Churches provide different levels of Biblical “education”: Elementary School (“milk” Paul spoke of in Hebrews 5:13); High School (beginning to eat “solid” food); College (in-depth Bible study); and Grad School (deep personalized discipleship).  Few churches provide all four levels.  Yet I’ve never come across a church who admits that and refers members to another church once they’ve exhausted all the depth it can supply.  A church who simply doesn’t have enough senior, mature leaders to start a “college” or “grad school” level discipleship program should either commit to fix that problem, or congratulate and bid farewell to those ready to earn their “bachelors” or “masters”.  Instead, nearly every church tries to hang on to every person.  That’s a disservice to those churchgoers and the Kingdom.  Some may argue that those senior, mature leaders should stick around to disciple others, but their skills are likely underutilized by elementary and high school level churches where serious discipleship isn’t a priority.  Regardless, truly transformed disciples probably won’t be content for long in a church that subscribes to conventional growth models – eventually leaving for a church with a higher “ceiling”.
  2. Centralization – Some pastors even get upset when members step away from church responsibilities to engage in community or world-changing external ministry.  Leaders whose aim is to transform and release (build disciples) versus attract and retain (build an organization) would be excited for them.  Serving on a finance committee or as a greeter builds that church, but serving in an external ministry that equips and unites many churches may do more to build the Kingdom.  However, as pastors and staff have gradually come to be viewed as the “professionals” and “church” as a place to go to on weekends, the need for member engagement and loyalty has increased.  A centralized concept of “church” is far more labor intensive and expensive to maintain than a decentralized church model.  Discipleship decentralizes as members increasingly function as the embodiment of “church” between Sundays and more actively seek ministry opportunities outside the “4 walls”.  A cycle of institutional dependency revolving around a single organization slowly gives way to a wider view of one’s personal responsibility to impact the community for Christ.  In that respect, discipleship threatens a church’s viability by releasing its most valued resources.  In fact, some churches have even asked me whether all external service opportunities that conflict with their internal volunteering needs can be eliminated from Meet The Need’s database.
  3. Expectation – The tables have turned.  The “balance of power” today has tipped in favor of members.  The law of supply and demand has given churchgoers the upper hand.  A large number of churches, each carrying fixed expenses that have to be covered, are going after a shrinking “pool” of frequent attenders, each of whom donates less on average.  The landscape is also filled with more “Walmart” churches, making life difficult for “mom-and-pop” churches who are unable to provide the same weekend “experience” for adults and children.  Meanwhile, seminaries are producing significant numbers of aspiring new pastors every year.  The math will only get worse – fewer people and funds to spread over the remaining base of church facilities and pastors.  As a result, churches too often choose the path of least resistance to cling to members.  As we discussed, they’ve reduced Worship, Compassion and even Salvation to events.  Expectations have flipped – emphasis previously was on leaders expecting members to “perform” (e.g. life change; community impact) but now members expect pastors to perform (e.g. entertaining worship; availability for counseling and family events).  Pastors are more hesitant to regularly make high commitment (and high Kingdom “payoff”) requests for discipleship, local missions, and evangelism – instead offering lower commitment alternatives (with lower Kingdom “payoff”) like serving on the usher,  greeter or parking team.

It’s Your Turn…

Stop pump faking and throw the pass downfield.  Get beyond words and put in place a life-changing discipleship program at your church that transforms people into the image of Christ.

Then, utilize Meet The Need’s software to point your members to opportunities to follow Jesus’ model of evangelism – letting loving acts of service open the door to presenting the Gospel message.

Finally, encourage your members to live Prayer, Care, Share lifestyles by introducing our new initiative #MeetAnEternalNeed.  #MeetAnEternalNeed is a challenge to Christians and churchgoers everywhere to be intentional about:

  • Bringing help and hope (found in Christ alone) to a friend, neighbor, coworker or complete stranger
  • Posting a pic and telling their story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #MeetAnEternalNeed (and #WWJB, #WhereWouldJesusBe) to inspire others
  • Specifically challenging 3 friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”

Maximizing Kingdom, Community & Church Impact

Feb 01, 17
JMorgan
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6 comments

Gone fishing sign at weathered doors

Jesus selected an odd cast of characters to be His disciples.  If you were asked to pick a team of 12 people to change the course of history, I’m guessing you wouldn’t head straight to the local marina or IRS office looking for candidates.  Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did.  In fact, the Old Testament, New Testament and the annals of church history are riddled with stories of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”.  God gets all the glory when those least capable achieve the seemingly impossible.  Maybe those who truly understand they are powerless without the Holy Spirit are most qualified to receive the Holy Spirit’s power.  Maybe those who’ve heard “no” most often are those most willing to say “yes” to whatever God asks of them.

Yes, disciples are those who are transformed from ordinary to extraordinary – and leave an indelible mark on the world around them.  Life transformation through discipleship is so powerful and important that Jesus invested heavily in a small band of average Joe’s – knowing a few fully committed followers is all it would take to spark a wildfire that would circle the globe.  So when only 1% of church leaders today say American churches are discipling well, is it any wonder why the Church is declining in growth, impact, influence and perception?  As we discussed last week, when asked about discipleship, most pastors are quick to cite “Small Groups” – yet a church where Small Groups are the primary discipleship vehicle isn’t very serious about discipleship.

Maximizing Kingdom, Community and Church Impact in America hinges largely on resuming intensive, personal discipleship within and outside of our nation’s churches…

Discipleship Expands the Kingdom…

…As You Follow God’s Growth Plan

Only disciples can make disciples.  It “takes one to make one”.  Disciples look like Jesus.  They act like Jesus.  Jesus was loving, selfless and compassionate.  As a result, He attracted a large following.  So did His disciples.  Nothing has changed.  Disciples are still the key to expanding the Lord’s Kingdom.  God’s math remains the same – a few followers on fire for Him have an exponential impact as they disciple a few others, who in turn each disciple a few others, and so on.

…As You Invest in Disciple-Building, Not Institution-Building

If disciples are the means by which Jesus intends for people to come to Him, then the most critical function of the church should be to make disciples.  Seek to grow disciples and you’ll build a church; seek to grow a church and you’ll build an institution.  Our contention in this blog series that churchgoers are too often treated like “customers” doesn’t mean churches should pay less attention to them.  In fact it’s the opposite.  Churches should focus even more on members and attenders but spend that time quite differently, shifting from attracting and retaining to discipling and deploying.  Rather than measuring “nickels and noses”, pastors should measure life change and the resulting ripple effect on those around them. 

….As You Turn Your Church Inside Out

Those in the pews are the definition and embodiment of “church”.  They are the conduit through which the Church accomplishes its objective in the world – the Great Commission.  Therefore, they are “insiders” who should be trained much like a company trains its employees.  The company’s revenues decline if the customer service and sales staff isn’t adequately prepared to “care” and “share”.  Likewise, churches aren’t maximizing returns for the Kingdom if they’re not effectively training disciples to be Jesus’ workforce – His hands and feet.

Discipleship Changes Your Community…

…As You Confess

Are our hearts broken for the helpless and hopeless around us?  A pastor once told me, “I’d love to have a church full of Nehemiahs who weep for the lost and poor in our community.”  That should be our response too, but is it?   As we become more like Jesus, our hearts meld with His and compassion begins to outweigh comfort.  Churchgoers will lack the impetus to radically shift their priorities if leaders are reluctant to challenge and train them to truly become disciples of Jesus Christ.

…As You Commit

There’s a clear, compelling linkage between discipleship and local community missions.  Why would a church teach people how to share their faith if it doesn’t send them out to do so?  Conversely, if a church is going to put people in position to “share”, it needs to prepare them to be effective evangelists.  As you’d expect, churches that pull away from discipleship typically pull away from local missions as well.  If churches aren’t highly focused on the one, they won’t be focused on the other.  Churches who don’t feel at liberty to impose the commitment and costs of discipleship on the congregation are likely equally hesitant to request they step out of their comfort zones to follow Jesus’ model of evangelism – opening the door to sharing the gospel through loving acts of service.

…As You Coalesce

Signing up for an occasional service event or mailing out a check is not the full extent of a disciple’s responsibility to impact the world around them.  Discipleship provides the inspiration and motivation to do more, but uniting around a common cause can provide the direction.  There are pressing social issues all around us.  How can your church respond?  In the absence of an outside cause around which to unite, many churches make themselves the “cause”.  How frequently do you hear requests from the pulpit for volunteers to serve inside the church versus to volunteer for community activities to reach those outside the “4 walls”?

Discipleship Grows Your Church…

…As You Abandon Conventional Wisdom

Bucking current trends entails convincing Christians that church is not a place, it’s them.  As the Church, reaching the lost and poor with the Gospel is in their job descriptions, not just the pastor’s.  The starting point for revival in America and at your church will be when churchgoers undergo a discipleship-driven transformation in their thinking about their role and responsibilities between Sundays.  Expectations must flip from evaluating what they’re getting out of church to what they’re putting into becoming church personified.   As members “grow” then “go” through discipleship, your church releases more powerful advocates for Christ into their circles of influence, vastly increasing your church’s leverage.

…As You Pursue Church Health, not Size 

The healthy way to go wider (i.e. grow) is to go deeper.  Unhealthy churches go wider by allowing members to wade in the shallow end.  The waters are calm and no dangers lurk beneath the surface.  Churchgoers dip their toes in the water, knowing they’ll never drown or become “lunch”.  They’ll never be compelled to head into the deeper waters of real life change and discipleship.  Yet that’s where Jesus demands we swim.  Healthy churches are ones that pursue “organic”, not “acquisitive”, growth.  “Acquisitive” attracts Christians from other churches – offering facilities, sermons, music and programs that others can’t match.  Acquisitive growth without discipleship leads to internal turmoil you’d expect of churchgoers who aren’t fully committed disciples – squabbles, splits and consumerism.  However, “Organic” growth actually increases the size of the “pie” by making disciples who lead others to Christ – adding a face who didn’t simply come from another church.

….As You Take Big Risks

The Organic model involves great risk in today’s acquisitive world, but has a much higher upside.  Yet disciple-building has always been a high-risk venture.  At the height of His popularity, Jesus did the unthinkable.  He preached His most controversial, challenging sermon.  In fact, He knew few would be left standing beside Him after telling the crowd of followers to drink His blood and eat His flesh.  Imagine the pastor of a large church in the midst of rapid growth preaching the most demanding, difficult message members had ever heard, knowing with near certainty that few of them would come back the next Sunday.  Imagine that same pastor pulling all the members aside and laying out the full picture of discipleship costs and expectations, knowing it was a pill few of them could swallow?  That’s exactly what Jesus did.  He preached it down to a select few.  But through those remaining, sold-out disciples the early church grew at an astronomical clip.

It’s Your Turn…

People retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they discuss with others, 80% of what they personally experience and 95% of what they teach others.  In other words, the best way to fully absorb what it means to be a disciple is to live it out.

Meet The Need is about mobilizing disciples at your church into action…year-round!:

  • Software – Go to www.meettheneed.org to get your church started using all of our FREE tools
  • Coaching – Visit our website and blog for posts and eBooks with tips and best practices
  • Campaigns – Learn more about how to encourage others to live prayer, care, share lifestyles at #MeetAnEternalNeed

A New Year’s Resolution for Your Church

Jan 25, 17
JMorgan
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6 comments

Blog Post 85 - Discipling (iStock_000005549171_Small)

Several weeks ago, we provided a simple answer to a difficult question – “Are You a Disciple?  A Surefire Litmus Test”.  Disciples of Jesus Christ assume His attributes, and foremost among those is that of a humble servant.  In 2017, we all have a fresh opportunity to show we truly are Jesus’ disciples.  One of the most important ways we can serve the Lord and advance His Kingdom is by following His final marching orders – to “go and make disciples”.

That clarion call to incessant action stands in stark contrast to the passive event orientation that epitomizes most churches and Christians today.  Disciples see the Great Commission as a way of life, not as participation in a series of religious events:

  • Salvation – More than a one-time profession of faith, but life change exhibited by a radical transformation in Eyesight, Empathy and Engagement.
  • Church – Not a place we go on weekends, but acceptance of personal responsibility to be the embodiment of “church” and fulfill the Great Commission all week long.
  • Compassion – Rather than “checking the box” during the holidays, living Prayer/Care/Share lifestyles because countless people are still helpless and hopeless year-round.

Why Aren’t We Making Many Disciples?

Church members and attenders are the conduit through which the Church accomplishes its objective in the world – the Great Commission.  Yet, we’ve seen previously how few in today’s congregations can be considered disciples, exhibiting the key attributes of Jesus.  Somehow church leaders aren’t providing an adequate level of depth necessary to build a sanctuary full of disciples.

What should they be doing differently in 2017?

As we’ve discussed many times, the fundamental flawed assumption behind the Church’s decline in growth, impact, influence and perception is the re-definition of “church” and its “customer”.  Biblically, “church” is a gathering of Individual believers, yet most churchgoers today treat church as a place or set of activities in which they participate each week.  Church leaders would love to build disciples, asking members to endure all that entails, but realize the future of their church depends on people coming back, knowing few today have the time and willingness to stomach the costs of discipleship. (Luke 9 and Luke 14)

Because members ARE the “church”, they should be treated as “insiders”, much more like employees of a company than its customers (“outsiders”).  When a company hires a new employee, training is the first priority.  Would a company consider a 30 minute presentation each week to be adequate training?  What if it added weekly group discussions with fellow employees for a few months each year?  Would the combination of those two be enough?  Of course not.  Companies know that proper training for employees entails 1-on-1 mentorship, intensive classes and on-the-job (OJT), in-the-field experience.

However, church leaders are careful not to challenge congregations to the point where they may leave, thereby treating them more like “customers” (outsiders) than “employees” (insiders).   Since discipleship is hard work, costly and risky, pastors don’t push it on them.  Pastors understand that 1-on-1 and group training classes led by professionals work best in business, but most consider those too demanding and risky to employ with members/attenders.  On-the-Job Training (OJT) is also poor at most churches because they know few members are committed to living out Jesus’ model for evangelism (i.e. regularly serving others as a door opener to sharing the gospel).

Instead, church leaders provide “lite”, easier versions of discipleship like Small Groups, and nudge them toward those options.  As a result, most members and attenders are improperly trained to be effective ambassadors for Christ.  

Disciples must be well-trained, but churches are not training members well.  And churches are feeling the effects – collateral damage from pews full of folks who are generally under-equipped to fulfill the Great Commission (i.e. to pursue the real “customer” – the lost in the community).

Small Groups Should Not be a Church’s Primary Discipleship Method

The discipleship process is:

  • Connection – Engendering trust through personal relationships, living in community with other Christians.
  • Conversion – This is just the starting point. It’s someone else in heaven, but it’s not a disciple.
  • Cultivation – Intensive training necessary to grow believers into disciples of Jesus Christ willing to undergo the requisite costs and undertake the Great Commission mandate.

Small Groups are good for Connection and possibly for Conversion, but aren’t intensive or personal enough to be the primary vehicle for Cultivation.  Yet if you ask 100 pastors today about their discipleship program, nearly all will begin with “Small Groups”.  Again, no effective organization would rely on occasional group gatherings led by untrained individuals as the primary means for delivering the intensive training required for “insiders” (“employees”).  Successful, healthy organizations know 1-on-1 and OJT training are required.

It’s no wonder the Church isn’t growing, in number or impact.  It’s not surprising that more members aren’t taking on more of the attributes of Christ.  As long as pastors don’t fully buy-in to “members ARE the church” they won’t dare challenge them to train at the same level of a corporate employee.

So Why Do Churches Push Small Groups So Hard?

Given all this, we have to ask that question.  Do pastors really believe Small Groups are the best method for discipleship, or is there another explanation?  As we’ve discussed the most common church growth model today is “Invite, Involve, Invest.  In that model, Small Groups are the predominant method for the “Involve” phase.  Small Groups do help bring people somewhat closer to the Lord, but they also build relationships and relationships are “sticky” – increasing the likelihood they’ll come back next Sunday.

Each church should examine its own heart – is it promoting Small Groups more to get people Involved (more loyal to the church) or more to turn them into disciples (more loyal to the Lord)?  Presumably, pastors understand that Small Groups, most done only a couple semesters per year and with a fraction of the members participating, should not be the main strategy for discipleship.  A church that’s more concerned with building disciples and not building an institution would certainly have additional, deeper methods of discipleship than just Small Groups.  Therefore, our contention is that a church leveraging Small Groups as its primary means for discipleship can’t be that concerned about discipleship.

All pastors say that building and sending disciples is key to their mission, but is that reflected in how they spend their time and in how willing they are to prod members in that direction?  In business, when goals and intentions often don’t line up with a company’s allocation of resources, that misalignment adversely impacts the bottom line.

Why 1-on-1 (or Triads) Work Best

Discipleship will scare off many of those who don’t view themselves as “insiders”.  Preparing for and leading a series of meetings with another person over a long period takes a lot of time, studying and effort.  And what’s the outcome of discipleship – possibly being called to bear the costs Jesus outlined – like leaving those you love and being homeless?  None of that is pretty when you present it as an “action plan” to the congregation!  Yet if pastors know 1-on-1 (or triads) is the best method for discipleship, then any hesitancy to promote it is further evidence of the tendency to cater rather than challenge, treating members as a “customer” and not as the personification of “church”.

1-on-1 and Triad discipleship are more effective than Small Groups because:

  • The process of becoming a disciple is personal
  • The best mentors in our lives were those who interacted with us personally, whether it was a teacher, a coach or some other role model
  • People won’t say in public environments that they would in private, intimate ones
  • One of Jesus’ favorite methods of discipleship was personal questions, allowing for self-discovery, not just telling them the answers but letting them figure it out for themselves
  • Sermons can only cast vision around what it means to be a disciple and encourage people to take the next step

How to Achieve this New Year’s Resolution in 2017

  • Pastor disciples leaders 1-on-1
  • Those leaders then disciple a couple people each 1-on-1 or in triads
  • Encourage all discipled members to disciple others (i.e. OJT)
  • Sunday School – Consider resuming this dying tradition, making sure it’s taught by disciples
  • Small Groups – Facilitated only by discipled leaders
  • Immersion Bible Study – One night a week (several hours)
  • Greater emphasis on private devotion – The fundamental blocking and tackling of Bible study, journaling and prayer
  • Lay out a discipleship track for members

This approach will quickly and exponentially grow a base of disciples who can make more disciples.  This is a significant part of the turnaround strategy for today’s churches.  It was Jesus’ model.  However, are we willing to chase members this far out of their comfort zones, knowing many will head out the back door to a church down the road that will cater to them?

It’s Your Turn…

Have you seen churches where deep discipleship took hold to the point where it was truly part of the DNA of the church?  What other effects have you seen from churches reducing “insider” training to Small Groups led by “untrained” members?