My church doesn’t have a discipleship program.
But we disciple people.
For a couple years, we adopted a well-known step-by-step discipleship program that many of you would be familiar with. It started amazingly well. Almost everyone in the church went through the first step of it together and the positive feedback we received was overwhelming.
But fewer people signed up for the following steps. By Step 4, I was having one-on-one meetings in a coffee shops, struggling to get through material that was designed for a classroom setting.
If you pastor a Small Church, you may have experienced similar frustrations.
I’m grateful for the people who have put their wisdom, time and energy into writing good discipleship curriculum. But nothing is perfect. No program can meet every need. Here are a few reasons why.
Some Limitations of One-Size-Fits-All Discipleship Programs
- One size never fits all
- They tend to be more academic and less hands-on
- They tend to replace personal interaction with downloading facts
- The goal can become more about finishing the program than becoming more like Jesus
- Many people just don’t learn or grow that way
- Most are designed by large churches to work best within a large church setting
- They can give people the idea that, once the program is over, discipleship is over
When you factor in the cost of many of these programs, many Small Churches are scrambling to fulfill this essential element of the Great Commission, with little success.
For many Small Churches, discipleship just becomes one more item on a pastor’s already full agenda. Most Small Church pastors are unhappy with the way discipleship is being done (or not done) in their church.
But it doesn’t need to be so hard.
If you pastor a Small Church without a discipleship program, or with one that’s not working well, I have some good news. You don’t need an expensive, staff-heavy discipleship program to do great discipleship. And it doesn’t need to kill your already-over-busy schedule either.
After a few hit-and-miss attempts, our church has discovered a simple 5-step process that can work for any Small Church. And it looks suspiciously similar to what Jesus, Paul and many other early church leaders did.
1. Meet With Every New Believer
Pastors of big churches can’t do this. That’s not a slam on them, it’s just the way it is.
But it does point out one of the advantages of pastoring a Small Church – the personal touch.
2. Determine How They Learn and Grow
I recently met with a new believer who had no bible knowledge whatsoever.
I learned about his schedule, his temperament and his learning style. I determined that the best way for him to start growing in his newfound faith was to read the Gospel of John. I told him to start by reading one chapter a day, then chew on it. If he wanted to re-read the same chapter the next day, do that until he was ready to move to the next chapter.
When I followed up on a Sunday morning about 10 days later, he was only on John 5. “I sat with John 3 for a few days”, he told me, with great joy. “That conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus was really good!”
I smiled. He was getting it. God’s Word was doing its work.
Since then, he and I catch up regularly. He read through Acts the same way. Now he’s moving slowly through Romans. I answer questions when he needs help.
I’ve never met anyone else for whom I’d recommend that style of discipleship. But it’s the best way for him, for now.
People learn and grow in different ways. Let’s use the personal touch that we get from being in a Small Church to help people in the way that suits them best.
3. Connect Them With a Mature Believer and the Right Resources
Right now there are a handful of new believers in our church who meet regularly with mature believers to learn, grow and be discipled. Each one of them does it differently, depending on their circumstance.
One of those discipleship/mentoring relationships is between two people who enjoy book clubs. So that’s what they do. I recommend a good Christian book to suit their needs. They read it at the same pace, then meet once a week to talk about it. I take a few moments about once a month after Sunday service to hear how they’re doing. When they finish reading one book, I recommend the next one. They’re both growing in faith and their relationship.
4. Help Them Plug Into An Active Ministry That Utilizes Their Gifts
This is the most-neglected step of most discipleship programs. We fill people’s heads with bible knowledge, but don’t activate that knowledge within real-world ministry. That is dangerous. For the believer and the church.
The longer I pastor, the more convinced I am that the #1 reason for pastoral stress in the church is people with a lot of bible knowledge but who are doing little – if any – practical, hands-on, outside-the-church-walls ministry.
It’s never the new believers that drive us crazy – it’s the know-it-all saints. They always seem to know how to run the church, but never lift a finger to help do it. Then they leave because they’re “not being fed”.
The best solution to that? Teach people how to pick up a spoon and feed themselves!
The Apostle Paul taught us that, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” That’s what happens when we cram bible knowledge into people’s heads without helping them activate it with their hands and feet.
5. As People Mature, Call On Them to Start Leading Others
Discipleship is never finished. Even the most mature believer has something to learn.
The best way for a mature believer to keep learning is to teach others as they do ministry together.
Start With One
One of the great side benefits of these steps is how little time it takes from the pastor’s schedule. Instead of putting in endless hours of discipleship myself (though I still do some of it) I often hear about great results after-the-fact.
I recommend starting with one person. That’s what I did. I walked a new believer through the early stages of discipleship myself, including letting them know that they’d be doing this themselves some day. Then, when another new believer came along, I showed them how to adapt what we’d done with this new believer.
Believers discipling believers.
Your church doesn’t need a program, a curriculum, a classroom or a certified teacher. We just need to do it.
So what do you think? Do you have any ideas for discipleship to add to this list?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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