When we follow Jesus Christ, He leads us into places we’ve never been before. He’s doing that right now at Hope through the Essential 100 Bible Reading Challenge. About two thirds of the worshiping congregation are encountering God in scripture; growing in faith, understanding, and relationship with God and other Christians in small groups; and becoming more and more aware of the fact that God’s love for us in Christ is meant to be shared with the world outside our walls.
E100 is “just a program,” it’s true. But it’s a program that is giving us a taste of what it would be like to become a disciple making church.
Wait a minute! Aren’t all churches disciple making churches?
No. Some churches just make church attenders. Disciple making churches make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Prior to the First Great Awakening that swept through Britain and the Thirteen Colonies in the 1730s and 40s, the Church of England was making church attenders. They warmed the pews on Sunday while the world around them sunk deeper and deeper into the mire of sin, cheap gin, grinding poverty, and violence.
What John and Charles Wesley did was design, implement, and maintain a process by which newly saved believers in Jesus Christ could be held accountable, mentored, trained, and equipped to live transformed and transforming lives in the world outside the walls of the church. The Wesleyan “United Societies” provided a place for people who did not know Jesus to experience the prevenient grace of God (“grace that goes before salvation, drawing us to Jesus”) through gospel preaching and powerful public worship services. The “Class meetings” encouraged people who had newly entered into relationship with God through faith in Christ (God’s justifying grace) to establish patterns of holy living that would keep them growing in relationship with God and other believers. The “Bands” encouraged maturing believers to rely on the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit to lead them into loving and serving God and their neighbors in holy living. This system intentionally moved people forward through stages of growth. Born again believers became Spirit-empowered followers of Jesus in the world. Congregations that put Wesley’s process into practice didn’t make church attenders. They made disciples. And those disciples changed the world.
A “disciple making church” is simply a church that is ”designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth. The leadership and the church are clear about the process and are committed to executing it. The process flows logically in each area of the church” (Thom Rainer, Simple Church, p. 68).
A disciple making church makes disciples. A healthy congregation of Christ followers produces one product: healthy, mature, reproducing disciples of Jesus Christ who, in turn, produce more, healthy, mature reproducing disciples.
That doesn’t mean that a disciple making church ONLY makes disciples. But it DOES mean that everything the church does is part of a process intentionally designed to partner with God to make, multiply and send disciples of Jesus into the world.
You can’t legislate a disciple making church into existence.
You can’t just pray it into existence, either.
It requires the time, effort, and commitment of people who are not only willing to learn what Jesus means when He says, “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 obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20)—but who are also willing to do whatever it takes ensure that the local church actually does what Jesus commands.
It doesn’t just happen.
It only happens when the people of a congregation come to agree with God and each other that making disciples is the very reason for which the church exists.
Chuck Watson and I recently attended a presentation by Aaron Bouwens, head of the Vital Congregations Task Force for Upper New York Annual Conference. The topic was “Developing an Intentional Disciple Making System.”
Bouwens made a persuasive case that there is nothing more important than a congregation organizing itself around making disciples. But he also told us that for a long time now, most United Methodists just haven’t see it that way. The Wesleyan movement was ALL ABOUT making disciples, but somewhere along the way, we stopped focusing on discipleship and began to focus on membership.
So when church leaders start talking about “making disciples of Jesus” instead of just trying to get people to “come to church,” it feels to some of us like we’re “changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
Bouwens urged us to remember that it takes time for people to grasp new ideas, and that we need to patiently teach what the Bible teaches about discipleship and keep inviting people to be a part of what God has always been doing through the church: making disciples.
Do you like where the Lord is leading us? Will we follow Him into the next step in this journey?