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Life on Life Discipleship

Mar 26th, 2009 | By | Category: Coaching and Discipleship

Chuck has pastored his church for five years. Over that time, he has implemented a home group ministry that has reenergized fellowship in the church. But Chuck senses that something is still missing. Small groups were supposed to be the spiritual growth vehicle for the church, and, in fact, many people say they are growing. However, Chuck is not sensing much depth in that growth. So he brings in another pastor friend of his to do an assessment of the spiritual maturity of the people in the church. After an extensive survey, several interviews, and a few focus groups, the pastor reports to Chuck that there is very little
difference in spiritual maturity between people in the home groups and those who are not. Home group people are experiencing some very important ministry to each other and some are learning the Bible better. But true spiritual growth in any depth has not happened. Chuck is wondering what in the world he can do now.

As I work with churches all over the country and internationally, one of the things I help them do is figure out how to intentio

nally move toward becoming more effective at their calling. To that end, they develop what I call a Ministry Plan, consisting of a Purpose, Vision, Core Values, and Mission.  Next they must work on their “Strategy” for how they will actually move the church toward that “target.

In almost every single case, the church identifies making “mature disciples” (regardless of how they say it) as a core issue, either because it’s a foundational part of the Plan or because they realize they must have mature disciples in order to accomplish every other part of their Plan. Usually, they decide that both are true.

Then they typically ask themselves, “What are the things we do that we need to do better to accomplish this?” I then point out that they are missing a key element, a definition of the “mature disciple.” So they brainstorm various definitions until they arrive at one or a few potential definitions that they can pare back later. Next comes the big question, “What are the things you are now doing that are accomplishing or that you would hope would accomplish this?” The church leaders then list Sunday School, home groups, Bible studies, and sometimes leadership classes. I ask whether these are producing mature and equipped believers by their new definition, and the answer is always, “no, not really” or “they are maturing them some, but not producing what we described.” Then we examine whether new and improved versions of the same vehicles will produce them. Usually, the leaders are skeptical about that.

So we seem to have a gap between what we hope to produce in the Church and our methods and vehicles to produce it. Why is that? Well, we have four major competencies in the church — worshipping, teaching, fellowshipping, and discussing. Worship services do worship and teaching, Sunday School classes do teaching and fellowshipping, and small groups do fellowshipping and discussing.  The question is whether any combination of these activities will produce mature and equipped believers. What is the limiting factor here?

There are several ways we can look at what we are missing. One is the concept of the head, heart, and hands. Teaching and discussing put information into our heads, but don’t get much into our hearts which then can lead to changes in our behaviors (hands). Another view is the behavioral change principle that change must be supported to be effective, and none of these vehicles include real and effective support. A third way to look at this is demonstrated by the key personal growth principle that I teach, which is that “we grow from evaluated experience through intentional relationships.”  None of our typical church vehicles aim at this.

Most importantly, we should ask how Jesus discipled the twelve. When I ask this at workshops, I get the following answers:  He spent time with them, He modeled, He asked questions, He told stories, He taught from the Scriptures, He sent them out, He debriefed, He prayed, He showed them how to pray, He sacrificed for them, He worked with them individually, He brought them with Him, He chastised them, He loved them, He selected them, He washed their feet, He ate with them, He showed them how to tell people about Him, etc.

How many of these things do we do in the church? What’s missing is what we call the “life-on-life” stuff. It’s what gets to the heart and hands and supports change in heart and behaviors. It is intentional relationship helping people evaluate their experiences as they live them.

So what we need in the church is a life-on-life approach that emulates the things that Jesus did. That approach is taking a small group of men or women (not both together) and doing intentional things that include all of the elements above. One on one time is a part of it, but Jesus showed us that the small group will be more effective because there is “more iron sharpening iron.” (In fact, Iron Sharpening Iron is the title of a book by Howard Hendricks, who is one of the best known disciplers of our age. Dr. Hendricks told me that only late in his life did he realize that discipling in small groups is more effective than one on one, and the statement in quotes is his stated reason for that.)

Discipling a small group of men or women requires a fundamentally different set of skills than what we utilize to lead other types of small groups. And  “Discipleship Leaders” will most often be effective and successful if they have coaches in their lives to provide support, encouragement, and accountability to do those different things.

Pastor Chuck from our opening story brought his leaders together to address the challenge. First they defined a vision for the church that included making mature believers. Then they defined a “mature and equipped disciple” for the purpose of clearly targeting what they wanted to build in their church. Finally, they developed a life-on-life process for doing that building. Now, two years later, they are identifying growth in spiritual maturity that is happening in these “Discipleship Groups.” It hasn’t been easy and it hasn’t been quick, but it has been a satisfying voyage that they have begun.

©  2008, John Purcell

John Purcell is a Leadership Coach and Church Consultant who lives in Atlanta, GA. He assists churches in ministry and strategic planning and coaches them to disciple believers and develop leadership coaching cultures.

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2 Responses to “Life on Life Discipleship”

  1. barnman49 says:

    Your speaking my language. Out of curiosity, I have searched mens ministries on church websites.
    It appears that except for a select few, mens minsitries are weak, dormant or even non existent. I believe this is due to a lack of discipleship between men. Since becoming a christian I have often wondered about this apparent deficiency within many churches. Most men have a wider sphere of infuence than they realize. Spiritually mature men can have an impact on the world around them. As men we can support each other in furthering the Kingdom of God. One on one relationships between men offers the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships that serve as fertile ground for spiritual growth.
    I am an aspiring life coach in training. I believe that God is calling me to coach primarily men. Men who have a desire to disciple other men as brothers in Christ. I believe God is calling me to cause and I am excited about the idea of participating in what God wants to do in the lives of christian men.

  2. John Purcell says:

    I just returned from Spain where I had the opportunity to visit with a missions team there. Their vision was to create a church planting movement in their city and eventually the country. What we discussed turned out to be very similar to my discussions with churches in the US. We must begin by loving and serving the people that God puts around us. We share the Good News with them in a relational, conversational way over time. Then we have to disciple them in an intentional way, as I am describing in the article. And the key here is that we have to be reproducing ourselves so that they then disciple others; i.e. this must be a process that GROWS ORGANICALLY if we want to impact a men’s ministry, a church, a city, a region, or the world. Then we continue to invest in them as leaders (see my article on Leadership Coaching) as they disciple others and some eventually do plant churches that have this discipleship as a core competence, as well!
    So the core of this whole process has to be life on life missional discipleship.

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