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January 8, 2014

Is There a Secret Sauce to Making Disciples?


What is the smallest unit of disciple-making?

We typically think of congregations as the primary context where people meet Jesus, mature and are sent out in mission. I’m curious if that’s where you see disciple-making happening. Or, for instance, missional communities are emerging as a significant approach to becoming and making disciples. A missional community is a sort of tweener group – smaller than a congregation but larger than a small group. Or is the most effective context for making disciples even smaller? Some advocate 1-on-1 mentoring relationships. Neil Cole’s answer is a triad – a group of three men or three women who meet weekly to focus on Scripture, confession and prayer for unbelievers. He calls these little groups “Life Transformation Groups” and has seen them grow and spread virally. Or what if we simply focused on our families with parents discipling their children into the ways of Christ? If our families aren’t disciple-making entities, then how can the church be?

I don’t believe there’s a Goldilocks size (not too big, not too small, but just right) for making disciples, but I do believe that there ought to be an organic relationship between all the things we do to make disciples. The basic building blocks of discipleship (for instance, gospel, prayer, Scripture, community, etc.) ought to be present wherever God’s people gather, whether large or small, Temple courts or house to house, formal or informal.

In his book, Building a Discipling Culture Mike Breen writes,

“If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church you rarely get disciples.”

In other words, Breen says that if disciple-making is happening in any particular context (and the Great Commission commands us to do it), then the people of God will emerge and form His body. But putting on a church service does not necessarily make disciples, though it sure does take up a ton of time and energy. So the question remains, where and how are we making disciples?

Re-examining What I Thought I Knew

I’m at a place in life and ministry where what I thought I knew about disciple-making doesn’t feel like it applies. It’s making me ask questions and re-think my assumptions. Part of this is motivated by my struggles as a parent – my desire to form healthy, safe, smart and godly kids isn’t producing evidence of deep discipleship. It reminds me of hearing Floyd McClung speak back at Urbana 1988. Floyd had taken his family to do missions work in the red light district of Amsterdam. When questioned as to why he would expose his children to such dangerous influences, McClung responded by asking whether the influences of suburban consumerism and apathy were any less dangerous. Ouch! As the parent of suburban kids, I can now testify that these dangers are alive and well.

Part of my questions about disciple-making come from the fact that normal congregational life does not seem to be consistently producing disciples either – or at least in any sort of recognizable pattern. I am even going back to reflect on my own life to try and discern inflection points where the life of Jesus took root more fully? The point is that life and ministry in post-Christian America requires re-examination.

I know that blog posts are supposed to provide answers but I find myself with more questions. And so as a disciple, a parent, and a pastor, I find myself humbled, reflective, and repentant. Maybe you do too. Let’s pray for one another and accompany each other on the journey to be and make disciples. At the end of the day, Jesus promised to build His church and I trust him for that. I’m just waiting for the next instructions.

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