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When I talk to pastors or sessions and I hear about the challenges they face, I often hear things like, “our giving is down” or “we don’t have enough volunteers” or “we are getting pushback to our worship change”. It’s partly my personality and partly my training to want to dig beneath the surface of a presenting challenge. I have learned to ask the “why” question. “Why are people giving you so much pushback to worship change?”
The answer might be, “because the congregation doesn’t like the new music…or order of service,” or some other element. Then I probe deeper. “Why is that concern a driving force?” It doesn’t take too many probing questions to get to the point that the fundamental issue is a lack of discipleship. That lack of true discipleship can manifest in a consumer-driven attitude that church is here to serve my needs and desires instead of, for example, giving the work of the Lord financial priority, or any number of other challenges.
When I come to the point with pastors or leaders where there is a fundamental recognition that there are church people who aren’t actually seeking their own discipleship, it can be very discouraging. However, through such recognition, we realize that we need to go back to the basics of focusing on developing mature and flourishing disciples.
In ECO, one of our measures of a flourishing church is that it “Expects Disciple Making”. The components of this measure include that every person who is a part of our churches will be growing in their own discipleship and helping others do the same. It is expected that the leaders of our churches will be those who have exemplified their own discipleship and are active practitioners. It is expected that the ministries of the church will be making disciples and will be evaluated and changed accordingly. It is unfortunate that this expectation needs to be articulated when it should just be a given, but the reality is that we are often surprised when we run across a church that is truly a disciple making church.
It is easy to point fingers at various places where this lack of discipleship might have originated on a macro level or on an individual church level. While there is some value in identifying the source or sources, a more productive conversation will center around changing our church culture to have a greater discipleship focus. Our Flourishing Disciple material is one of those processes that helps change the culture. It gives people the skills to help one another identify where God may be calling us to grow as disciples and to begin developing a personalized plan to gain maturity in Christ. It also begins the hard work of changing the culture to move toward expecting disciple making, rather than being surprised that it’s happening when it does occur!
While it is challenging and frustrating to need to return to the basics of disciple making, it can also be extremely powerful in addressing the additional presenting challenges that church is facing. If people are strong disciples of Jesus Christ and know that discipleship is the aim and the purpose of the church, they will be willing to:
- give up personal preferences for the sake of mission
- give of their time and finances for the sake of the mission
- be spiritually mature enough to take leadership positions in the church
I encourage you to take some time with your session, staff, lay leaders or even your entire congregation to reflect on questions associated with our “Expects Disciple Making” below. As you conclude, you may find it helpful to ask, “What is just one next step that we can take to increase our effectiveness in this measure?”
Expects disciple making
• Our covenant partners can name at least one person who is mentoring them and holding them accountable.
• Our covenant partners have at least one person in whom they’re investing intentionally to encourage their growth.
• Our people throughout the congregation can name a specific area in which they’re seeking to grow in their generosity as a follower of Christ.
• Our leaders use defined processes to evaluate, change, or eliminate ministries that are not effectively growing people as disciple makers.
One of the things I appreciate most about our ECO congregations is the willingness to admit our strengths and our weaknesses, even if our weakness seem to be in an area that is core to what it means to be a church. I believe as we are honest and make the appropriate changes, we will see an abundance of fruit and become the flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ that we have prayerfully set out to become.