Over the last several years, we have had the opportunity to talk to literally thousands of different pastors. By far, the most repeated conversation that continues to come up is around the issue of discipleship. It represents both a pastor’s biggest hope and biggest fear. Let me explain.
When most pastors go into ministry, their greatest desire is to make disciples. Years into ministry, whether they are making disciples or not seems to be their greatest doubt. They know they are doing lots of discipleship stuff. Most of them are preaching their hearts out. They are running church programs. They attend conferences where they are reminded of the discipleship imperative. They’ve made their commitments. But the doubt still remains.
They’ve tried different approaches. Time after time silver bullet solutions are offered only to be tried and found wanting. This is because most of the time the solution to the discipleship dilemma seem to be answered as a change in strategy.
“Use this vehicle!” “Take this approach!” “Start this program!”
But while strategic adjustments will most probably need to be made, the discipleship dilemma will never be solved by a change of strategy alone. This is because the best vehicle, approach, or program can’t actually help you make disciples in your context if you haven’t taken the time to first identify what a disciple is.
What kind of disciple of Jesus is your church designed to create and why is that kind of disciple necessary for your community?
The problem in most churches is not that this question is not being answered. It’s that it is not even being asked.
We’re told to multiply disciples – and rightly so – but how do we know if what we are multiplying actually is a “disciple” and not something less than that? After all, multiplication on its own is not holy. You can multiply a sickness and that is called a pandemic.
As Dallas Willard reminds us, “Instead of just counting disciples, we should weigh them.”1 So how do we know if we are multiplying disciples or not?
Here’s What We Know
Discipleship is difficult. Organized discipleship is even harder. But maybe the thing that is most challenging of all is for a team to have shared disciplemaking clarity around what a disciple is and what she looks like. Discipleship is just simply one of those words that becomes a catch all. It’s not that it means nothing. It’s that it means so many things that, in the end, it means nothing.
Having worked with hundreds of church teams over the years we can attest that in most places if we ask what the definition of a disciple is, we will get as many different definitions as there are people in the room. Press a little further about what a disciple looks like or what a disciple does and people will use the same word, “disciple,” to mean so many different things that there really is no shared picture of a disciple at all.
However, just because teams don’t have shared clarity around what a disciple is or what he/she should look like, doesn’t mean they don’t have strong opinions. This creates an even greater dilemma.
The Game Changer: Define Your Dream Disciple
Like we said earlier, most every church we engage through Clarity House expresses a commitment to the Great Commission and the desire to make and multiply disciples. However, when we inquire about their shared definition of a disciple, we often encounter a long, silent pause.
If the point leader has a definition of a disciple on the tip of their tongue, most will admit that they are not confident this is shared by their staff and leadership.
Here is the problem: If you have not defined what a disciple is, then success on mission tends to shift toward the transfer of information and engagement in church activity. It’s very easy to create great church men and women and not make disciples of Jesus.
In the Gospels, Jesus makes clear distinctions about what makes someone his disciple (see John 13:35, Luke 14:26, John 8:31-32, Matthew 10:38). So, have you defined what a disciple is?
My (Shane’s) simple definition of a disciple is one who is learning to live with Jesus and for Jesus in all of life – and is helping others do the same.
If you don’t have a definition, feel free to borrow this one. But, while a general definition is helpful, we go a step further with teams by helping them identify what we call their “Dream Disciple.” This is the type of disciple your church intentionally seeks to develop and deploy that your local community desperately needs more of. And for us, this is the biggest game-changing reality that we have seen when it comes to organizational disciplemaking.
Instead of identifying the practices of a disciple, we help teams identify four roles a disciple lives out in the places where they live, work, and play. These roles form a gospel-shaped identity. They move from boxes to check to a way of life to live.
Coupled with each role the team crafts two, codified discipling questions. These questions are dynamic, orienting, and catalytic. They provoke both introspection as well as action.
By clearly articulating this target, churches can both count and weigh the disciples they are creating. Then once the target is set, we can now go back and evaluate the church’s current strategy and vehicles and work to shape the strategy in a way that helps the church hit its target.
For example, one of the roles of a disciple at City Hope Church is “First Responder.” In regard to this role, one of the discipling questions they ask is: “How did you see the unseen and respond with God’s help?”
As a Gulf Coast city, Mobile is familiar with hurricanes and tropical storms. In their context, residents commonly have to become first responders. As a church, they are repurposing this contextual reality to describe a kind of follower of Jesus who actively responds when the storms of life crash on the shores of the people in their relational sphere of influence.
At a different church that we are currently working with, one of the roles of a disciple they are beginning to identify is to be a “Thoughtful Witness,” and they ask, “Who are you praying for, investing in, and inviting into your life?” Their context, situated in Silicon Valley, is diverse and educational.
In the San Francisco Bay area, where there is a plethora of both ideologies and PhDs, there is a need for disciples to be thoughtful rather than simplistic when they speak the gospel and live out its implications.
Once a church names its Dream Disciple, the benefits emerge almost immediately. Just naming what a disciple looks like in the culture puts flesh and blood to what many people have heard but never seen (what a disciple is and looks like). But even more than that, by naming your Dream Disciple two other important things begin to come into focus.
First, now that a Dream Disciple is named, the church becomes ready to evaluate and shift their strategy. Many of the things that they have learned at a strategic level from the conferences and workshops they have attended – the approaches, the vehicles, and even the programs take on new shape and focus. The Dream Disciple helps the church move from just measuring how many people attend their environments (Input Measures) to actually being able to measure whether or not their environments are creating the kind of disciples they hope they will (output measures).
Second, the Dream Disciple helps churches gain a clear vision for what their church can accomplish years into the future. If these kinds of disciples are multiplied in the church’s local context for 7-10 years, what could be the expected result in the community that clearly needs this kind of disciple to be present? In other words, the output measures of the Dream Disciple help the church imagine the scope of its potential impact (impact measures) in the community.
Find Out More…
At Clarity House, we help churches name their Dream Disciple through a process that is both challenging and life-giving for the teams that we work with. The process combines biblical exegesis and exegesis of your church’s personal history to identify the character traits and competency traits of a disciple while looking at your community to identify why this kind of disciple of Jesus is necessary. If naming your Dream Disciple is something you would like to know more about, check us out at the Exponential Conference this spring for our workshop or find out more at clarityhouse.us/dream-disciple.
- Dallas Willard and Dieter Zander, “The Apprentices,” interviewed in Leadership (1 July 2005).