Dear Discipleship-first Friends,
When you have been a Christian for a long period of time it can be hard to make the shift to making disciples. When you have ministered in churches for decades it can be exceptionally hard to make adjustments to your ministry to focus more on making disciples.
Significant shifts in our thinking require a journey that can take years or even a lifetime.
Understanding this journey can help us conceptualize where we are at in the process of change, where we have been, and where we are going next.
In Wolfgang Simson’s book “The House Church Book,” he outlines a five-stage journey from traditional church to house church. Simson’s outline of the journey is true of any major shift of paradigms and cultures including the shift from the traditional view of what it means to be a Christian to changing to a view of seeing yourself as a disciple who makes disciples.
The shifts that Simson talks about are focused on House Churches, but our Discipleship.org team believes that they also apply to traditional or legacy churches. We can all learn from the stages that he describes, regardless of our church setting.
Let’s take his stages of the journey and apply it to changing our thinking from a traditional church paradigm to a disciple making church paradigm (again, there are various models).
Stage 1 – You are on the mountaintop of traditional church. This is all you have ever known. The programs of the church are enjoyable and they have helped shape you to be who you are. You just cannot imagine church any other way.
Stage 2 – You begin to notice some discrepancies between your experience of church and church in the Bible and it doesn’t sit well with you. Jesus said to go and make disciples and rather than seeing a church on the go you have seen a church on the stay. You have begun the descent down the mountain. You are in a process of deconstructing what you once knew. As you slide down the mountain you end up in Stage 3 – the wilderness. Deconstruction, from one position to another, regardless of the setting, is typically a difficult time.
Stage 3 – In the wilderness everything in you is being tested. The longer you were in the traditional church mindset the longer you will be in the wilderness. In Simson’s version he says if you were on staff, the wilderness journey will take you twice as long. There is much to unlearn but one thing you must learn in real time is that there is no way through the wilderness without relying fully on God because you cannot make it through this on your own. You are switching paradigms of how to do church.
Some things have to die in the wilderness…you cannot carry on without shedding some old views and re-conceptualizing things in new ways. It is in the wilderness that a new identity begins to form. It becomes evident that the deconstruction descent down the mountain isn’t an end unto itself. Instead, it is the beginning of a lengthier process of reconstruction. Like the 12 spies going into the promised land, the wilderness can fill you with doubt and despair. Many never make it out.
God will be with you.
Stage 4 – Crossing the Jordan – It is here that you finally put the wilderness behind you and begin your ascent up the mountain toward stage 5. Reconstruction has begun. You have shed many of the things that kept you from embracing life as a disciple who makes disciples in a new paradigm.
This is exciting stuff.
Stage 5 – You have reached the new mountaintop in the promised land as a full-fledged disciple maker in the new paradigm. Your disciples are making disciples and you cannot imagine going back to the old way of doing things.
A new culture has been set and a new identity has been formed.
The wilderness did its job of emptying you and readying you to be formed by the Holy Spirit into a more effective disciple maker. Few make it this far and you can see why. In the study that Discipleship.org did in 2019 there were remarkably few churches that were effectively reproducing disciple makers. Less than 5% of churches in the USA had established this kind of culture (watch the video summary of this report by clicking here and read the report by clicking here) Hopefully, understanding this process can help you make it successfully to the promised land!
As you probably noticed, this path is the path of the exodus: leaving Egypt, entering the wilderness wanderings, crossing the Jordan, and entering the Promised Land. It is also paralleled in the life of Jesus to a degree – baptism to wilderness to ministry. It is paralleled in our lives as well!
If you want to live in a church culture that is serious about making disciples it might help to understand where you are on this journey so that you can understand what God is doing in your life and what the critical next steps are to get to the other side. Again, the house church model is a good one, but there are others too.
As you make this journey there will be plenty of people who want things to go back to how they were. This is the “take us back to Egypt” crowd. It is imperative that you avoid homeostasis (our propensity to revert to our past way of being). Some would rather go with the old comfortable route rather than face an unknown and uncertain future in the wilderness.
I honestly can’t say that I blame them. The wilderness stinks!
Not many people make it through the wilderness…there is much that has to die there and it is far easier to turn around and go back to the traditional programmatic paradigm than to keep pressing ahead to create a culture where making disciples is normative. Like Moses you will get angry…you might just be tempted to take your people back to Egypt! But you cannot do that!
You know what God said and you must stick it out through the wilderness even if it means that you, like Moses, will never make it all the way … but a generation after you will inherit the land of a new reality, culture and identity!
Where are you on this journey of switching to a new paradigm that focuses on making disciple makers? How might the knowledge of the journey assist you in not giving up?
God is with you and is fighting for you so be of good cheer! We serve the One who has overcome the world!
For King Jesus,
Matt Dabbs, Bobby Harrington, and the Discipleship.org Team