In the Core of Disciple making we are going to take a look at three foundational components that are essential for developing a disciple-making strategy. Let’s face it we often talk about “what” a disciple is, and we even sometimes talk about the “why” behind the “what”. However, we seldom get to the “how” of disciple making.
I have to confess this has been a journey for me as well. I was invited to speak to speak at a pastor’s event a few years ago in the North East. The Pastor putting together the program said, “We want to walk away with a discipleship strategy.”
As I prayed about it God gave me this bottom line this statement, “We must become the disciple we want to become.” Then I spent the next 8 hours telling them what it meant to be a disciple. However, I’m pretty sure that I never got to the “how”.
Since then I’ve done many talks on disciple making, but like many I always feel short of putting it into a process, a system, or strategy.
Maybe you can relate. We know what we want, but yet we can’t quite get there. Today I want all that to change. I’m going to attempt to give you a way forward. What I want to do is give you three core components that are essential to building a disciple-making strategy.
When I’m done you I believe you will have what you need to begin putting in place your own disciple making strategy. Before we move on let me give you a word of caution. To move forward is likely to require some adjustments to way we live our lives and do church. As Einstein put it, “Insanity is doing the same old thing, the same old way, and expecting different results.”
So, what are these three core components that make up a disciple-making strategy? They are: gospel content, gospel communities, and gospel causes. The following slide depicts this and their relationship to one another:
Our temptation is to check these things off our list. We preach the gospel so we check it off our list. We have a small group structure so it gets checked off. We do an occasional community project or mission trip so gospel causes gets checked off. What I’m talking about here is so much more.
It’s not enough to have these three, but they must be strategically interconnected where they all happen at the same time creating fertile soil for making disciples.
I’m going to spend my time introducing you to these three core components. And at the end of our session I’m going to invite you into a coaching relationship for implementing this disciple making structure into your context.
Let’s begin with gospel content. To have this conversation we must understand the context in which Jesus gave us our one, and only one, mission of making disciples.
It is interesting to note that Jesus’ approach did not depart from the Jewish system of education He grew up with. Let’s take a really brief look at this system in order to frame and understand it as it relates to disciple making.
6 to 12
Reading and Writing of the Torah and Large portions of it was memorized.
13 to 15
Torah plus the Prophets and the other writings.
Learn Oral Interpretation.
15 to 30
Yoke (requested to study under famous rabbi).
Goal was to become like the teacher.
When a child reached 5 to 6 years old they would go to the Sefer in the local Synagogue where they learn to read and write from the Torah, memorizing large parts of it.
If the child was bright they would advance to the Midrash where they continued their studies in the Torah plus the Prophets and other writings. They focused on memorizing, learning oral interpretations, and making applications of the Torah.
At fifteen if a student was exceptional he went on to study the Talmud and became a Talmudah or disciple. A student would go to a famous rabbi and request to study with him. The rabbi would choose him based on his ability to pay the price and become like him. This was reserved for the brightest of all students. Jesus broke from this tradition when he chose his disciples.
The goal of the Talmudah or disciple was to learn the “yoke” of a famous rabbi of his choosing. The “yoke” consisted of his interpretation of the Torah including the 10 Commandments and 613 other laws, along with his hedges, which were smaller laws created by the rabbi to protect the Law.
While the “yoke” of other rabbis was heavy and imposing. Jesus came to show us a whole new way. This is what he was getting at when he told his disciples to, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
In the tradition of the Talmud the goal was for the disciple to become like the rabbi he was following. To do so they would:
- Follow in the dust of their rabbi in order to emulate him.
- They would prepare and eat the foods in the same way.
- They would sleep and wake the same way.
- They would take on the rabbi’s yoke and learn his way.
- Ultimately becoming like him in every way.
- Then becoming a rabbi who would have his own students.
In other words, the goal of the Talmudah student or disciple was to become fluent in the “yoke” of the rabbi.
As a rabbi, Jesus’ “yoke” has come to be known as the gospel. Our goal as His disciple is to become fluent in the gospel. For the disciple of Jesus the gospel unlocks all of scripture and life. This brings a whole new significance on The Sermon on the Mount he gave immediately after calling his first disciples.
When it comes to becoming a disciple we must interpret all of scripture and life through the lens of gospel. So, let me begin with a simple definition of the gospel:
The gospel is an announcement of good news, that in Christ, God did for us what we could not do for ourselves in that he redeemed us, is renewing us, and will ultimately restore all of his creation.
Therefore, as a disciple, we are followers of Jesus who are learning to live out the realities and implications of the gospel. In other words, we are gospel disciples. This definition of the gospel provides a framework for becoming gospel fluent.
When we become fluent with a language it becomes our primary language. We no longer have to translate from one language to another, but we speak it, understand it, dream in it, and comprehend in it. It becomes a way of life.
In our coaching we pay close attention to this definition and learn to live life through the lens of gospel redemption, renewal and restoration.
This leads us to the second core component of disciple making, gospel communities. The way we learn a language is by immersing ourselves into a culture that speaks that language as its primary language. The same is true of the gospel. We must immerse ourselves in relationships that live out the realities and implications of the gospel. In other words, they speak the gospel fluently.
It’s in this kind of community that we are safe to explore, experiment, and experience the gospel of grace and mercy. This community is not simply a small group that meets once a week. This is the kind of community where real life happens with all of its ups and downs and where the gospel of grace is applied in spite of our shortcomings.
Jesus modeled this type of community when He called the twelve.
“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (Mark13-19).
Notice that he called “those he wanted…and that they might be with him.” This even included “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” Notice this isn’t a perfect community, but rather is a community filled with grace and mercy. It’s where real life and authentic relationships happen. It’s where we see the gospel applied to the good, the bad, and the ugly. And through it all we still experience the redemption, renewal, and restoration of the gospel.
I describe this in a book I wrote called, “Detox for the Overly Religious”.
“Jesus’ priority wasn’t a curriculum. His priority was spending his life in intimate relationship with others. He chose those he wanted to be with. We know them as disciples, but they were much more. They were his friends, and he chose to spend his life with them. He didn’t take them through a study course, an intense Bible study, or a twenty-six week discipleship program. He simply lived with them. Jesus’ life was his study course.”
As far as we know Jesus never formed a small group. What Jesus did was life-on-life. He formed a community.
Now, I’m not against small groups. Forming small groups is a good place to begin, but it’s never a good place to end. A small group should be a means to an end that leads to authentic community where the gospel is lived out.
Steve Timmis with Crowded House defines a gospel community this way,
A gospel community is a group of people who are effectively a group of 10-30 people sharing their lives together. It’s about life-on-life, it’s about doing evangelism corporately. We share our lives together, we make friends with each other’s friends so we can show the gospel in action, we can tell them the gospel verbally, we disciple one another – just everything that the church is about we do in those communities. They are intentional communities.
He goes on to contrast gospel communities with small groups by saying,
Gospel communities see themselves effectively as a church, so they take upon themselves the privileges and responsibilities of a big church. A small group in a centralized structure basically just sees itself as part of the bigger church in the sense that a lot of the other stuff goes on centrally. These gospel communities have a very extensive expression of the church – so basically, if it’s church stuff, they do it. They teach the Bible to one another, disciple, they break bread together, they baptize in those contexts.
In a previous talk I gave on reaching The Other 60% I talked about shifting the power from the center to the edges. This exactly what I’m talking about here. This is not about de-empowering the big church, but it is about empowering the people to be the church where they live, work, and play.
This shouldn’t threaten existing churches with a small group structure. I think it’s simply taking on the popular notion of “every member is a minister” a step further. There is still value for the corporate gathering. It’s in that gathering that we should celebrate our many stories together, set culture, communicate vision, proclaim the gospel, and join together in greater missional causes.
This leads us to the third core component of disciple making, gospel causes. It’s impossible to be a gospel disciple and not participate in gospel causes.
God is not a God who simply does missions, but God is a missionary God. His very essence is mission. A disciple who refrains from intentional missions is no disciple at all. In the Gospels we see the gospel proclaimed (kingdom) and a community formed (disciples) all for a specific purpose (Great Commission) that is for the good of the world.
We are saved for a purpose. That purpose is to be formed into a people that reflect his glory. Jesus prayed for this in what we know as his priestly prayer.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20-23).
Here we see the relationship between community and cause. You can’t separate gospel causes from our primary identity. In this context, every disciple is called to live sent, in that he or she becomes gospel planters by planting the gospel where they live, work, and play.
As we come to understand the gospel this becomes second nature to us. In others words, as we become gospel fluent we overcome our personal and corporate barriers in order to live a missional life.
As leaders in the church we must begin to equip our people to be the primary planters of the gospel. We empower our communities to be the church and we disciple our people to be a kingdom of priest. This involves equipping them to 1) see the harvest, 2) pray for laborers, 3) plant the gospel, 4) make disciples, and 5) form new gospel communities around those disciples.
Let me encourage you to begin right where you are at. If you are planting a church, start by discipling your core to be a gospel community. The way we say it at Planting the Gospel is “slow down in order to speed up.”
If you are in an existing church, don’t blow it up, but start with your group and begin living out the gospel in and with your small group. Go from being a small group to a gospel community.
We have a new resource being released in January called The Gospel Disciple Journey. It’s designed to be used in the context of a gospel community. It will help you develop a gospel worldview, relate as a gospel community, and engage in gospel causes.
For more information contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org