A few years ago, a leader of a large, influential church sent me an email asking, "In one or two sentences, how do you define a fully devoted follower of Christ?" I thought about that question for two days. I wanted to answer with something simple yet profound. The problem is that the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the entire New Testament was written to answer that question. Somethings just can't be simplified.
Making Disciples: Connect, Grow, Serve, and Go
Four years ago we planted Christ Centered Church, and like many church plants, we implemented a simple discipleship process: Connect to God through worship gatherings, Grow in faith through small groups, Serve through Dream Team, and Go through Love Louds. Does that sound familiar? Maybe your church has a similar process.
Four Years of Disciple Making
Over the past four years, we've watched God use a simple discipleship process to bring people to faith, make disciples, and help Christ Centered Church become a healthy and growing church in Miami. As we approach our fifth year, we are still pursuing a simple discipleship process, but recently, something has been bugging me.
It's About to Get Complicated!
It is possible for someone to attend our worship gatherings, participate in a small group, serve on our Dream Team, and even volunteer at our Love Louds yet stay spiritually immature for years or even be lost! Not only is it possible--it is happening. My gut tells me that it is happening at other churches too, but I know it is happening at Christ Centered Church.
Is it possible, or even likely, that there are many people who are all in at your church--they are doing everything you've asked them to do (worship, groups, serving, missions), and you've told them that doing so will make them mature Christians--but they are no more mature this year than they were last year? While no discipleship process is guaranteed to produce committed followers of Christ every time (remember Judas?), if we look below the surface we will find that many of our discipleship processes just don't pass the smell test.
Should we abandon a simple discipleship processes and look for something better? Of course not. It would be foolish to replace simple processes with something that you can't understand unless you've been to seminary. One of the hallmarks of Jesus' discipleship method was it's simplicity--"Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." That's straightforward and easy to understand. The problem is not the simple process--the problem is the lack of serious, prayerful, Bible saturated reflection and intention in the development and evaluation of the process. Jesus statement was simple, but it was also loaded with meaning. While the resulting process must be simple, developing and redeveloping the process should consume us.
Prayer: A Test Case
Consider prayer. Certainly we can agree that a mature follower of Christ should know how to pray. If someone came to your church as a baby Christian, where, when, and how would that person learn to pray and be encouraged to develop a vibrant prayer life? If your discipleship process is like ours, then it might happen through a sermon or sermon series on prayer, it might happen if they attend a small group that just happens to go through a study on prayer, or it might not happen at all. Be honest, is it possible, or even likely that someone could fully participate in the discipleship process at your church for a full year yet never really learn how to pray? Even if there's a mention here or there about prayer in a sermon, is it possible that they would still be very confused about how to pray? What if the group they've joined spends the year in a study of the book of Romans that never really discusses prayer?
A Way Forward
It's not just prayer--maybe you lucked out in the example above because your church just finished a major emphasis on prayer, but what about other key elements of following Christ? Can we honestly say that we have a systematic approach that teaches others to observe all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:20) if our approach is to plug them into a group, get them to volunteer at church on weekends, and provide opportunities every few months for them to meet physical needs in the community in the name of Jesus?
What would it look like if poured through the New Testament and listed everything we could find that a mature follower of Christ should know, do, and be, took our discipleship processes apart, found a regular, ongoing home for every aspect of discipleship, and then put the process back together? It would be time consuming, hard, messy, complicated, AND transformational! That's what we are working on at Christ Centered Church. Pray for us, and I will keep you posted.