Five Ingredients For Intentional, Disciplemaking Environments

May 6, 2024

We all exist within different types of relational environments every day where we live, work, learn, and play. 

Even within the life of our microchurch families, we experience different relational environments such as party spaces, equipping or training spaces within our networks with other leaders around our city, triad spaces, or microchurch family gatherings around the table and the Word. And these are only a few of the environments we could list. 

Here’s a critical question about relational environments to consider as a disciplemaker:

How do relational environments become intentional disciplemaking environments? 

Perhaps you’ve seen one triad (or microchurches in your network) that seems to be forming and reproducing disciples exceptionally well while the rest of the triads (or microchurches) lag behind.   

You’ve wondered, “What is going on there? Why is that relational space/group so effective at making disciples?”   

Maybe you had a season of life where you experienced a community that was highly effective at disciplemaking and you look back and wonder, “How did that happen? Was that just lightning in the bottle? Or can that be intentionally reproduced?”

What ingredients, when mixed into a relational environment, cause that to become an intentional disciplemaking environment?    

Maybe it was a short-term mission trip experience. Maybe a week at camp. Maybe a group or club you were in. The Spirit was moving and new disciples were experiencing transformation and multiplication. 

Consider again: 

What ingredients, when mixed into a relational environment, cause that to become an intentional disciplemaking environment?  

We want to offer five ingredients for an intentional disciplemaking environment for your consideration in this article, and then provide an assessment tool to help you get a sense of what ingredients are present in the mix of the relational environment in which you’re making disciples, and which might be missing or need to be increased. 

If you’d like to do a deeper dive, you can dive into chapters 10-14 of The Spirit and the Starfish, where we go in much deeper detail. Let’s start with a summary of each ingredient we are seeking to “mix” in. 

Ingredient #1:  Outcome-Focused: How well are we focused on the Spirit’s work and outcomes?

The ultimate outcome of disciplemaking is transformation into the likeness of Jesus, not just information transfer. Through the work of the Spirit, disciples increasingly embody the life of Jesus, reflecting Christ’s joy, love, and completeness. 

We advocate for two essential outcomes: Character (fruit of the Spirit) and calling (gifts of the Spirit). Character involves becoming like Jesus (BEING), attributes like mercy and faithfulness. Calling focuses on joining Jesus on mission in making disciples and making the Kingdom tangible (DOING), all of which comes as we learn to be with Jesus in the everyday stuff of life. Character x Calling = Impact! All disciplemaking energy and conversation is about the Spirit’s outcomes. 

Ingredient #2: Habit-Fueled: How intentional are we at developing habits that are focused on the Spirit’s outcomes? 

Practice makes permanent. Habit formation and rule-of-life is key in transformative disciplemaking environments. Repeated practices shape our neural pathways and form our souls. Spiritual habits are crucial in partnering with the Spirit, fostering holistic well-being, nurturing character development, and energizing mission. There is a synergy between God’s work within believers and our active participation in spiritual practices. The focus shifts from external religious behaviors to internal character transformation and calling application, where spiritual habits become a means of cooperating with God’s grace. 

Brian Phipp’s concept of “habits to outcomes” (H2O) encapsulates engaging spiritual practices as a pathway to transformation by the Spirit in character and calling. Ultimately, Jesus serves as the exemplar of a habit-fueled life, demonstrating the power of intentional practices in aligning with the Spirit’s outcomes.

Ingredient #3: Community-Forged: How well are we activating and integrating life within five key social spaces? 

In the quest for effective disciplemaking environments, ingredient #3 emphasizes the indispensable role of community. Community is the vessel in which disciples are held and formed. Without this container, the transformative potential of spiritual habits and the Spirit’s outcomes remains unrealized. We are seeking a particular type of community, which Alan Hirsch calls communitas, highlighting the role of fostering shared mission, risk, vulnerability, authenticity, and mutual support. 

Through shared experiences and a common mission, disciples find themselves immersed in a profound sense of togetherness, transcending mere friendships to become an extended spiritual family on mission. 

Furthermore, intentional diversity within community settings is necessary, enriching the communal experience and contributing to the overall flourishing of discipleship. There are five social spaces needed in disciplemaking, all of which are exemplified in the life of Jesus (see Discipleship That Fits by Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom): 

  1. Divine Space: This is the intimate, personal relationship with God where identity and destiny are found through shared experiences.
  2. Transparent Space: Characterized by deep vulnerability and intimacy, this space involves sharing with a small, trusted group (in this case, Jesus with Peter, James, and John).
  3. Personal Space: Involves a broader circle, such as the twelve, where there’s support, challenge, and closeness, though not as deep as the transparent space.
  4. Social Space: A larger extension of the personal space, where a sense of tribe or extended family exists. In Jesus’ case, this includes the 72 disciples on a mission.
  5. Public Space: The widest circle, where Jesus interacts with crowds, sharing experiences and resources, living out his mission.

Each of these spaces serves a distinct purpose in nurturing spiritual development and discipleship, with the full flourishing effect realized when all five are actively engaged.

Ingredient #4: Mission-Fixated:  How deeply are we embedded incarnationally on mission? 

Jesus plunged his life into the world to fulfill his mission. Mission is not an optional activity but an integral part of disciplemaking and identity. Mission isn’t confined to occasional volunteering or specialized activities but permeates every aspect of life. Mission is both a directive from God and an expression of his character. 

God’s heart for redemption pulsates through every disciple, compelling them to engage with the brokenness and alienation in the world. Just as God sent himself in the form of Jesus, disciples are called to embody the same incarnational presence in their communities. Helping disciples to recognize and embrace their unique missional contexts, whether it be their neighborhood, workplace, or social circles, is essential. Through intentional engagement and identification with those they are sent to, disciples can live out their mission with purpose and impact. 

Ingredient #5: Content-Flavored: How does the gospel flavor all we do, and are we engaging the right content for this stage of spiritual development? 

All disciplemaking must be Scripture-saturated.  However, we also need wisdom to know how to flavor disciplemaking with the rich, substantive framework of the gospel, with a focus on the person of Jesus and his lordship. 

The proclamation “Jesus is Lord” becomes the central theme, echoing throughout Jesus’ teachings and the early church’s mission. This simple, yet profound declaration encapsulates the essence of discipleship, emphasizing allegiance to Jesus above all else.  Within that framework, we seek to discern the right content that intersects the particular needs and challenges of those we are discipling right now.  As we engage the Bible as our curriculum, we teach disciples how to allow the Holy Spirit to be the teacher through prayerful discovery, discernment, conversation, reflection, and immediate obedience. 

With this summary of those five ingredients of an intentional disciplemaking environment in place, consider the relationships and relational environment in which you are making disciples. 

You can start making small, intentional changes to that relational environment by intentionally increasing the five ingredients in that relational environment a little at a time. 

The following assessment is designed to help you evaluate a current relational environment for its intentionality in disciplemaking by “measuring” how much of the five ingredients are present “in the mix.” 

Once you assess the strength of each of the five ingredients of an IDE in that context through the assessment, then you can identify the next steps to increase the amount of the IDE ingredients that are lacking. May the Spirit strengthen and guide you as you do! 

Rob Wegner

Rob Wegner

Rob is a ragamuffin who lives to love Jesus, his wife, his daughters, and his extended spiritual family in his neighborhood. He’s also one of the founding leaders and directors of the Kansas City Underground, a mission agency and decentralized network of microchurches and missional leaders committed to filling Kansas with the beauty, justice, and good news of Jesus. Rob also serves on the Global Leadership Team of NewThing, a global tribe equipping movement-makers in every nation of the world who believe in networking around the Jesus Mission. The Starfish and the Spirit: Unleashing the Leadership Potential of Churches and Organizations is his latest book, which he co-wrote with Lance Ford and Alan Hirsch.
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