“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12 (CSB)
So many times in the church-world we can get myopic in our understanding of what Jesus has called us to do. Between the church calendar, specific event planning, budgeting, counseling, and preaching/teaching, many church leaders can fall into the trap of only focusing on their area of responsibility or specialty without considering the bigger picture of disciple making in the church.
Many years ago, a worship pastor I served alongside asked our staff to do an exercise relating to guest services in our church. He asked us to walk with him out to the curb at the front of the church. At the church we served at that time, the “curb” was on the other side of our main parking lot. The walk took us a good distance from the building. His instructions were to walk toward the curb and not look back until he directed us. I’m sure to passersby we looked like some kind of 30-40-year- olds gang hanging out on the street corner. Regardless, we followed his instructions and once we got to the curb he said, “Now, when I count to three I want you to turn around and pretend you are a first time guest coming to our church. As you do, I want you to evaluate what you see.”
When we turned around, we saw what we had seen every day, but in a new light. All of a sudden we saw three entrances to the church with no well-defined signage pointing us to where we should go. As we walked across the parking lot, we realized that we didn’t have any designated guest parking. After choosing a door to enter, we realized that the inside wasn’t any better than the outside. We lacked intentional internal signage, the building was a little confusing to navigate, and there was very little information available about the church and its ministries anywhere. We immediately took notes and began to address our guest services problems, creating an intentional strategy including developing the Host Team, refreshing our signage, and producing helpful information pieces about the ministry of the church. This exercise and these changes helped us to see more clearly and more holistically how to connect with and love on the guests that were visiting our church.
In essence, our worship pastor was leading us to cure our ministry myopia, or “nearsightedness, lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight” (Oxford Languages Dictionary), regarding our guest experience. In the same way, ministry leaders can suffer from ministry myopia when it comes to disciple making. They can see disciple making as simply an element of what they do in church. Making disciples is relegated to a timed program, a one-on-one relationship, or a general ministry theory. But making disciples should be, and is, much more than any of these singular elements.
Let me ask you a question. What would happen if you “walked out to the curb,” “turned around,” and evaluated your disciple-making strategy from the perspective of someone who either was just taking first steps in the faith or someone who has been at your church for a long time? What do you think you would see? Many of us would be confused. We wouldn’t know what “door” to enter, where we should go once we did, or what the final destination actually is. That is why a holistic view of disciple making is so important for any church or ministry organization.
So, what is a holistic view of disciple making? Here is a simple definition: A holistic view of disciple making centers everything we do and say around the idea of making disciples in the context of the local church. This includes such things as…
A STATED “END-GOAL” OR TARGET FOR YOUR DISCIPLE-MAKING STRATEGY.
If you don’t know where you are leading people and they don’t know where they are going, neither of you will get there.
WORKING TO ESTABLISH COMMON LANGUAGE.
We may be saying the same words, but do we mean the same things? Coming up with common definitions will help lead people toward your desired goal. For help with this see the book Dan Leitz and I wrote, The Language of Disciple-Making (Bonhoeffer Press).
EVERY AREA OF THE MINISTRY WORKING TOGETHER TO BUILD INDIVIDUALS, FAMILIES, AND THE BODY OF CHRIST AS A WHOLE INTO MATURING DISCIPLES.
From preschool to mature adults, we should be crafting a strategy that leads to discipleship. If each area, or even several areas, of the church are operating on their own agenda apart from the overall disciple-making vision, there will always be division, resistance, and failure to reach the goal. This does not mean that each area in your ministry won’t have its uniqueness. It should. You simply do different things in Kids Ministry that you do in Student Ministry. But, however each individual ministry is set up, the overall goal for the church should be applied to those ministries. Think of an umbrella (the big picture, disciple-making vision) and every ministry operating under it.
HIRE AND RECRUIT BASED ON VISION.
One of the things I changed when I became a Senior Pastor was how I hired paid staff and recruited lay leaders. Instead of just hiring based on Christian character, position competency, and team chemistry (which I still use to this day), I added a fourth criteria: common vision. Whenever I hire staff, especially pastors, our discipleship strategy is front and center. If a prospective pastor does not understand or have a vision for making disciples, it is a non-starter for me. Even if there is a need for some growth in understanding and praxis regarding disciple making (which there is for all of us), they have to be far enough along the pathway in both knowledge and experience before I will put them in charge of our discipleship strategy in a certain area. Recruiting lay leaders (or retraining lay leaders) is a little different. Most will not come with knowledge or experience in disciple-making (but some may). As such, when we recruit, we should look for those who already have a background in discipleship or who get the vision of our church and are teachable. We should then be intentional in our weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual training of leaders to become effective and productive disciple makers who multiply disciples.
TEACH AND PREACH DISCIPLE MAKING.
There may be a need for another article (or even a new book) on this element, but it is critical to mention here, nonetheless. I have heard it said that you can’t disciple from the pulpit. I wholeheartedly disagree! Well, sort of. I do agree that if you think that preaching is the only way to make disciples, then you have severely limited your ability to do so. But if preaching/teaching, both from the pulpit and in every area of your church, is part of a holistic disciple-making strategy, then such preaching/teaching can be the “jet fuel” for a movement of disciple making in your context. By faithfully and consistently preaching/teaching the biblical and theological call to discipleship, every area of ministry is enhanced and every relationship put in proper context. If the disciple making stops at the end of the message, then don’t expect a disciple-making movement in your church.
So, it’s time to evaluate. It’s time to “walk to the curb.” If I’m honest, such an exercise can be terrifying. It will reveal several things. First, it will reveal the holes in your disciple-making or ministry strategy. Second, it will reveal a need for personal and corporate growth regarding disciple making. Finally, it will cause you as a leader to have to humble yourself, learn or relearn how to lead your congregation through change, and then challenge you to take some bold steps of faith to actually implement a new vision.
But here is the good news. Once you walk, turn around, record what you see, and take intentional steps to make corrections, you will find yourself on a path toward holistic and healthy disciple making that will transform you, your church, and, I pray, the world around you.
Some resources for holistic disciple-making:
- Conversion and Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without the Other by Bill Hull
- The Disciple-Making Leader: Discover Jesus’ Strategy for Raising up Leaders, Growing the Church, and Multiplying a Movement by Craig Etheredge
- The Language of Disciple-Making by Dan Leitz and Jim Thomas
This post originally appeared at: Holistic Disciple Making: Curing Ministry Myopia — The Bonhoeffer Project