When discussing ministry efficiency and effectiveness with church leaders, the conversation often begs the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?”
Thankfully, Jesus gave us the answer.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Often salvation is mistaken for a finish line. In reality, it's simply the first step on the journey of discipleship.
And while there is no particular scripture that specifically outlines and defines discipleship, there are a few shared ‘realities’ among church leaders. Here are seven such ‘realities:’
1. Discipleship is not as simple as it sounds.
How do you know if your church is making disciples? (Feels like a trick question, right?) Because even if someone is going through the motions doing everything expected of a disciple, you can never really know the true impact that God has had on their heart; there are no metrics for spiritual growth.
It is so subjective and so intimate, so a church’s process for defining discipleship – and subsequently creating a discipleship strategy – may be nebulous at best
2. Discipleship never ends.
Often – and understandably – salvation is mistaken for a finish line. In reality, salvation is simply the first step on the journey of discipleship.
Much like life, there is always a ‘next step’ – something new to learn, something more to which we can aspire, something else to accomplish. We may be happy with where we are and how far we’ve come, but we will always have farther to go.
Because as long as there is any discrepancy between our life and Christ’s example – and there will always be – there will always be a ‘next step.’
3. Discipleship requires intentionality.
Just as salvation is mistaken for the summit of a faith journey, discipleship is often viewed through a stagnated lens. Many churches are narrowly focused on intentional discipleship from the first ‘Welcome!’ to baptism, but soon thereafter, discipleship gets lost in the everyday shuffle.
But discipleship demands intentionality because life gets busy. Life gets hectic. Life gets hard.
And that’s when – at its most challenging – discipleship needs to be an intentional, active choice; it’s when church leaders need to be fervently committed to guiding congregants through their journey and toward their ‘next steps.’
4. Discipleship is about spiritual growth, not numbers.
As much as we love metrics at Church Community Builder, we realize there are instances when the numbers just can’t be counted upon to paint a realistic picture.
Increased attendance and small group participation is wonderful – and can certainly suggest congregation growth – but without knowing and considering each individual, one cannot definitively draw the conclusion that increased numbers translate to increased discipleship and spiritual growth.
5. Discipleship is about spiritual growth, not doing Christian stuff.
As a church leader, we tend to count the ‘big four’ when evaluating our congregation and its disciples:
- Are they attending?
- Are they giving?
- Are they serving?
- Are they in community through a small group?
And it feels good to be able to check those boxes. But again, those metrics don’t provide an accurate assessment of discipleship; they are very finite accomplishments: sitting, giving, serving and attending.
But what fuels the heart of the individual? Are they continuing forward progress in their journey with Christ? Are they growing spiritually? Are they actively seeking ‘next steps?’ The answers to those questions offer a much more telling view of their discipleship.
6. Discipleship requires a clear next step.
Sound familiar? Because again, so long as there are discrepancies between your life and Christ’s example, there is work to be done, steps to take, and spiritual growth to seek.
If you serve, maybe you can lead. If you participate in a small group, maybe you can host. If you give, maybe you can give more. If you regularly attend church, maybe you can bring others with you.
There’s always a ‘next step.’ Again, faith and discipleship is a journey, with countless steps in innumerable directions to get you closer to Christ’s example.
7. Discipleship produces stories.
When we share stories – stories about answered prayers, redemption, struggles and successes – and you see real life change and how God has guided our ‘next step,’ you realize that discipleship creates stories.
And those stories need to be shared; they need to be celebrated. Those stories breathe life and humanity and reality into an otherwise quiet, internal and intimate process of spiritual growth and discipleship. And when we share our stories, we share the tie that binds us all – our faith.
These seven ‘realities’ – shared by many church leaders who strive to create an Ephesians 4 church – help remind us that these challenges serve as steps for each of us toward intentional discipleship.
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