Discipleship As a Web of Relationship and Why This Is Important In Leading People in the 21st Century
Discipleship, Part 1
By Jared King
Discipleship…discipleship….discipleship. A word every church talks about and yet it seems like one of those elusive ideas that we all struggle to put our finger on. Every few years the church world hangs onto a new buzz word or idea. Books are written about this idea. Conferences title their big events after it. And churches seek to make themselves more focused on it. It’s not uncommon for “discipleship” to be one of these buzz words or ideas that pops up in christian and church culture every few years. Yet for all the ink that has been used writing about it and all the classes taught on discipleship, it seems, at least to me, that we still wrestle with what discipleship is, how our churches participate in it, how we as individuals make it a part of our lives.
Why is this?
We all know discipleship is important. Then why do we struggle to be disciple makers or to be disciples ourselves?
Laura and I had the opportunity this summer to build a “1 to 1 Discipleship” course for Lipscomb’s Hazelip School of Theology. It was a great experience. To build it we looked back at the seven years we have lived in Seattle working to start a new church. We are now several years into the life of our church and are discovering what we feel like is a useful, healthy, and effective understanding of discipleship. In the next few blogs we will share a bit of this discovery and, hopefully, it will serve you as you seek to be both a disciple of Jesus and to be a discipler of others.
How Do We Define Discipleship?
At its most basic understanding discipleship is an intentional relationship that encourages both parties to be WITH Jesus, BECOME like Jesus, and DO what Jesus did. John Mark Comer has been instrumental in helping us better understand some of the simple language of discipleship. At his church in Portland, Bridgetown Church, he taught a series with this framework of being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing what Jesus did. I’d encourage you to go listen to those teachings as they are excellent.
With this simple definition in mind we can begin to piece together some of the major elements of discipleship that are important for our 21st Century world. Namely, that discipleship is an intentional relationship with another person where both you and the person you are discipling are growing toward Jesus.
One of the greatest flaws we have committed in churches is teaching that discipleship is a top/down relationship where you sit on top and you are imparting your wisdom and knowledge of Jesus onto another person. This top/down kind of discipleship relationship has 2 main failings, that we will discuss in a couple weeks, which are narcissism and burnout. But beyond those two failings, the top/down model does not accurately describe the nature of two people walking together toward Jesus. But if it’s not a top/down model that is the best for discipleship, then what is the best model?
Discipleship As A Web of Relationships
The model we have used to describe discipleship is, what we have been calling, the “Web of Relationships.” If you draw a straight line and on one end write your name and the other write the name of a person you have a relationship with. The line between your two names is Jesus. What happens in discipleship is not that you pull someone else up to where you are in your relationship with Jesus. But rather it is Jesus pulling the two of you closer to him. As Jesus pulls the two of you closer to himself then the two of you actually grow in your relationship with one another as well.
This is the beauty of discipleship. Discipleship will bring you and another person closer together because Jesus is standing between each of you pulling each of you closer to himself. This means that each of you have something to bring to the discipleship relationship that Jesus will use to teach, develop, and grow you. In the top/down discipleship model discussed above, often the person who is the discipler is taught that there is either nothing for him/her to learn from the disciple, or, there may be regular everyday life things you can learn, just not spiritual things.
However, a discipleship relationship with you and another person on an even plane, with Jesus in the middle pulling each of you closer to himself, will naturally assume that, while one person may have been a Jesus follower for longer, both have something to learn about being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing what Jesus did. Fundamentally discipleship is about you, another person, and Jesus working to be WITH Jesus, BECOME like Jesus, and DO what Jesus did.
What Does a Relationship Web Look Like?
With this focus on the 3 relationships that make up discipleship (you, another person and Jesus as the connector between you both), we can begin picturing what a web of our relationships can look like. If this discipling line is one relationship, let’s begin to draw out all of our relationships in this way.
If you were to draw out a web of your relationships, you would start with your name in the middle. Then think of mentors and people who have discipled you in your life. Draw lines out from your name and at the end of the line write their names. They may or may not be currently discipling you. But somewhere along the way they served in that role for you. Then think of peers you have. Draw lines out from your name and write their names at the end. These peer relationships will have a lot of give and take in them. Some seasons you will more actively disciple them. While in others they will disciple you. Finally, think of people who see you as their mentor. Draw lines for them and write their names down. Hopefully what you begin to see is your web of relationships. And each line on this web, connecting you to some other person, represents Jesus as he is pulling both of you closer to himself.
How This Helps in the 21st Century
There are two really important points to consider about this Web of Relationships. First, this web should not overwhelm you and cause you to stress about all the people you have to disciple and make plans for their formal discipleship. There will always be people you are formally discipling with a greater sense of intentionality, planning, and teaching. However, with practice, what I hope you will find is that all your relationships will naturally become these mutually beneficial discipling relationships. The web of relationships should not cause you to feel overwhelmed but rather feel empowered.
The second important aspect of this web is to begin to see beyond your own web and realize that each person who is connected to you on your web has a web of relationships of their own. The more interconnectedness we have the more evenly the burden of discipleship is spread out. This is what discipleship is supposed to look like. Unfortunately, our church and Christian culture has created an unhealthy structure where the pressure to solve the problems of both the church and the individuals in the church rest primarily on the shoulders of the pastor. The pastor then not only has to carry all of his own struggles but all the struggles of the people in the church. But as you model your relationships in this discipling web you’ll begin to see people learn to do the same. And when you’re called away from your dinner table to help someone in crisis you’ll find that someone from your church has already invited them to dinner to listen, and someone else sent them an encouraging text, and so on. And there is nothing like the joy in seeing your people disciple one another.
Why This Matters
Changing our understanding of discipleship from a top/down model to a Web of Relationships matters a great deal. It means that we will accurately see ourselves as people who can learn from the person or people we are discipling. There has been a deeply troubling trend of narcissistic pastors and leaders in our nation. Again, we will talk about the major failings in a future blog. But this Web of Relationships will help us create less narcissistic pastors and leaders. It also helps eliminate burnout by sharing the burden of discipleship with more people. We have seen how effective this is numerous times in our ministry. When we allow people to be discipled by a plethora and diversity of individuals, we are setting them up for a lifetime of following Jesus. Churches, at times, have forgotten that discipleship is not a short term endeavor. Nor is it something you will be able to stick with for the entirety of a person’s life. Which makes helping people see their relationship web so valuable as you teach people to rely on a host of discipling relationships rather than one.
This also matters as it helps weed out the types of things that cause Christians to NOT look like Jesus. If we are to truly become like Jesus then we need a plurality of voices who help us see more than just a single (American, male, white, etc.) way of relating to Jesus.
Next time we will look at Jesus as our Guide to Discipleship.
Ways to Make the Ask
As a culture, we've become wary of making the ask. We're afraid of offending someone or pushing too hard, but often the response is, "I would have done it sooner, but no one asked me." Below are some ideas to help you make the ask to call people into life with God.
Ways You Personally Can Practice Reaping
Ways to Reap as a Small Group
Pick an activity that everyone in the group enjoys. This could include:
Consider who to invite to your small group reaping party. (Open Your Eyes to people around you.)
The evening of the activity, Open Your Ears. Listen to hear where people are coming from.
Take care of the people who come. Open Your Hands.
Reaping as a Large Group
There are, of course, many ways you can use large group events to pull people in and help them experience the love of God. Here is one example, what we called the Anybody Thirsty? Worship Gathering. Below, I've laid out a sample schedule for the gathering.
6:00–6:30 p.m. Meet & Greet Time
Gathering room with seeker friendly environment. This could include:
Whenever you're in reaping mode, asking someone to respond to what God is up to, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Be tactful, but not timid.
It is true that when Jesus interacted with people, He carefully controlled the volume of truth He shared in portions that matched the individual’s capacity to receive. Most people tend to err on the side of being overly cautious about just the right timing and delivery. So, don’t be overly concerned about tactfulness. Be bold in proclaiming the Good News about Jesus.
Spend less time talking about evangelism and more time actually sharing Good News.
Jesus knew that talking and training versus action could be the tendency of His followers. So he gave his disciples opportunities to share what they had seen and experienced.
“Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and . . . they went out and preached that people should repent.” Mark 6:7, 12
If we are faithful in proclaiming, God will be faithful to draw people to himself..
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6
Reaping Whats, Whys, and Hows
In the last two blog posts, we covered cultivation and planting. Next comes reaping. Simply put, reaping takes place when you challenge friends to respond to the truth of God's Word. It is the natural result of cultivating and planting. If we cultivate in love and plant in God's truth, the result will be the challenge and joy of the harvest. (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2, 2 Corinthians 9:6, Galatians 6:9)
Reaping a response to God’s truth involves an understanding of the difference between our job and God’s job in the reaping process.
Our job in the reaping process of evangelism is to:
This partnership with God calls for bold proclamation with prayerful dependence.
Skills That Need to Be Developed to Do Our Job
To fulfill our part of the reaping process there are two skills that can be developed to enhance our effectiveness.
Enhancing Our Reaping Skills—Presenting the Gospel
One of the hindrances to reaping is best expressed by this statement: “I would love to tell my peers about Christ but I don’t know how to share the essential elements of a Gospel presentation.”
I suggest starting by memorizing Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Do you believe it? Then, live it!
Enhancing Our Reaping Skills—Calling for a Response
Jesus was a master communicator when it came to getting individuals to respond to spiritual truths. He would often paint a word picture and then ask people questions that caused them to evaluate their spiritual condition. He always made space for their response.
Calling for a Response in Practice
You can use the same two steps to call for a response. First, paint a word picture, like this:
Then, ask these questions:
In my next blog post, I'll show you a variety of ways reaping might look.
5 Simple Ways to Plant God's Truth
We can begin to plant the seeds of God’s truth into the cultivated hearts of our spiritually lost peers using any of the following five simple ways.
1. Share What You Learn
For the next 30 days every time God teaches you something, share it with a Christ-following friend. As an overflow of your walk with Christ, you will soon find it more natural to share the same truths God is teaching you with your spiritually lost friends.
2. Share It Again
Maximize every opportunity for your friend to hear God’s truth and meet other Christ-followers. Remember, most people need to hear the Gospel seven times and know several Christians before they are ready to trust Christ.
We can plant seeds of God’s truth as we live out genuine Christianity by confessing our sins and seeking restoration in relationships.
Get to know where your friends are coming from… what’s their story?
“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:15–16
Sharing what God has done in your life is a persuasive tool for communicating God’s truth.
Revelation 12:11 affirms the power of personal experience: “They overcame [the accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”
Establishing Gospel DNA Throughout the Body
God’s mission is to restore all things to himself in and through the work and person of Jesus Christ. He chooses to accomplish that mission through the church. As God restores us to himself, he is also restoring us to be who he intends us to be. This restoring work does not happen in isolation, but rather in and through our relationships. We do not do it alone. We need each other. One way to purposefully cultivate these relationships is through DNA groups.
What is a DNA Group?
A DNA (DNA stand for Discipleship, Nurturing, and Accountability) Group is made up of three people—men with men, women with women—who meet together weekly to be known and to bring the gospel to bear on each other’s lives so that they grow in and live out the values of mission of Christ. Groups are not about seeking the approval of people; God’s approval—the only approval that matters—is already ours because of Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection.
Once formed, a DNA group focuses on the following:
PATHWAYS INTO A DNA GROUP
Recently a group from our church attended the Discipleship.org conference. We engaged with about 1,400 other “Discipleship First” folks to be encouraged by brothers and sisters from around the world and to hear the ways they grow disciples who make disciples.
Here are 5 key points that I walked away with from the conference:
2. The Word of God is powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrew 4:12). Make engagement with the Bible a central feature of your discipling process. What scriptures will you memorize together and why? What biblical readings will focus your attention?
3. The discipling leader sets the stage. As a discipler, you are inviting others to learn from your life. You determine the time, place, and the content. If they’re not willing to work with your schedule, they may not yet be ready to engage that level of discipling.
4. Discipling is best done in groups of 3 to 5 people of the same gender. The focus is on obeying scripture and reflecting on the interaction between scripture and doing. Being small in number and gender specific allows a greater flow of interaction, confession and accountability.
5. Any plan is more effective than no plan. There were 18 tracks at the 2018 Discipleship Conference, each led by a group with disciple making as their goal. Here are 3 of the plans presented:
There’s a lot of interest and activity surrounding discipleship today, and that is good! As I hear and read a lot of this discipleship talk, it often seems to be in the context of maturing those who are already believers—often lifelong believers. We need to continually remind ourselves that the discipleship journey includes life from unbelief to mature discipleship.
When we follow Jesus’ ministry we see a fairly seamless process as he meets people where they are and moves them from unbelief to active believer. Look at the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42. When Jesus encounters her at the well she’s not a Messiah believer. Jesus begins by establishing relationship. Then the two engage in a series of back forth questions and statements. Ultimately, Jesus gets to the heart of her life,
Jesus: “Go call your husband” Woman: “I don’t have a husband”
“You’re right, you have 5” “I see you’re a prophet”
“Believe me woman” “I know that the Messiah is coming”
“I am he” “Come, see. Could this be the Messiah?”
By the end of this story the woman is confessing her commitment of belief to her towns people, who by this time are ready to go and see for themselves. I believe this is a classic story demonstrating how Jesus met this woman on her terms, then deliberately led her to conclude that he was the Messiah of promise and worthy of discipleship.
Here’s the question you need to answer: Do the activities your church provides give people a clear, well-defined pathway to faith in Jesus then growth towards active discipleship?
Here’s a simple, effective five-step system that you can use to create a discipleship funnel to help your church create disciples while it grows in numbers and health.
Step 1: Encounter. If we believe that God is searching for and gathering people to himself, how do we meet these people? You must learn to turn encounters into meeting events. Your church needs specific meeting activities where you get to encounter people. Good meeting points often include one off events such as neighborhood parties, Vacation Bible Schools, and holiday activities. What truly characterizes a meeting point is you have to collect contact information, at minimum first and last names and their phone number or email. If you don’t get these, you can’t follow up. Not only do you leave people stranded, but all that energy you expend doesn’t do you any good. Your goal for encounter is to get to know people, listen for their spiritual story, and provide them opportunity for a next step. What are your most effective encounter activities that help you meet new people?
Step 2: Engage. Engagement is where people have opportunity to hear the gospel, ask questions, consider the gospel’s implications for their lives, and see how they fit with you, God's people. Good engagement activities are short-term, well-defined studies such as the Alpha course, Story of Redemption, or Let’s Start Talking. What I think makes these some of the best engagement activities is because they occur in small groups where there are multiple seekers. These small groups allow discussion and question asking; people get to think and process together so they gain a multi-dimensional look at the gospel. The believers in these engagement groups act as guides and gospel illuminators; they’re not teachers. The goal of engagement activity is to provide seekers the opportunity to make a valid decision about the lordship of Jesus in their lives. What activity do you repeatedly use so people can engage the gospel?
Step 3: Commitment. People need to have the opportunity to make a specific commitment to Jesus. Even more than that, they need people who care for them to ask them if they are ready to give themselves to Jesus. Good commitment activities include events like baptism days, special preaching series, and weekend retreats or summer camps. It's always important to give people the opportunity to respond to God's big ask in their lives. The goal of commitment is for people to make their confession of faith in Jesus and give themselves over to him in baptism. When and how do you ask people to make their commitment to Jesus?
Step 4: Essentials. When people are new Christians they need specific information, ideas, and guided experiences that help them integrate their new belief into practical life. In Kenya we had a year of specific teaching that oriented new believers to the Bible and we guided them through the basic practices of Christian life. Specifically prepared Bible classes and small groups for new believers provide good opportunities for new Christians to grow in an environment designed for their needs. The goal of the essentials period is to give new Christians the essential insights into Christian faith and life so their newly acquired faith can grow. What activities do you provide at your church where new Christians can be oriented to both scripture and their new life in Jesus?
Step 5: Experience. Again, in Kenya, we found it took several years of experience and growth for faith to become firmly rooted in people's lives. There was often a trial during this time where their faith would be tested. Sometimes they would make it, sometimes not, sometimes they would succumb then later return. Our role was to help them consider the possibilities and consequences of their decisions. Good preaching series, ongoing small groups, solid Bible classes and accountability groups are all good activities that allow experienced Christian living to form. How do you support your people through the trials of life that test their faith?
If you think of these five steps as a funnel, you want to always be putting new people into the wide end of the funnel where they can move down through these five sequential steps. The structure of such a process gives everything you do intentional purpose that creates movement. Without such structure, most churches find their activity becomes a hodgepodge of ever repeating events that simply maintains what they have. We find ourselves very active but without much movement or results.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you as you obey God’s great commission and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
In 2012 my wife, Katie, and I went through a Discovery Lab, our assessment event for potential church planters. Since then I’ve learned some about how other networks assess planters. It’s been interesting to see how much we have in common.Most assessment processes start with Chuck Ridley’s Church Planter Profile. He pinpointed 13 characteristics of successful church planters. He refers to the first six as “knock out factors,” or non negotiable.
I’ve always been drawn to church planting even though my training and most of my experience is in campus ministry. Really, it’s amazing how much overlap there is between the two. You see it when you get into Ridley’s competencies.
Church planters are missionaries. Campus ministers should approach their work with the same mentality. In fact, I think the six non-negotiables for church planters exist for campus ministers as well.
1. Visioning CapacityIf you’re a church planter you’re an entrepreneur. You’re creating something new from scratch. You have to be able to see it before it exists.
If you’re a campus minister you’re an entrepreneur. You may not be creating from scratch. But, if you’re going to reach an entire campus you’ll have to create some new things.
It all starts as a dream in the leader’s heart.
2. Personal MotivationNo one tells an entrepreneur when to go to work. They motivate themselves. In fact, getting church planters to work isn’t the problem. It’s often getting them to stop.
Since campus ministers function like missionaries they need to be able to motivate themselves. They need to be driven by their God given calling to reach the campus. You don’t have to tell someone with a calling to work.
3. Creating Ownership of Ministry/Building a Core TeamYou reach the many by impacting a few. Jesus modeled this. He spent three years with twelve men and really focused on three. It changed the world.
You don’t have to have a big personality to reach a city or a campus. But, you do need to invest deeply in the lives of others. You have to be able to build a team. This is the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-13)!
4. Reaching the UnchurchedChurch planting is an evangelism strategy. Plain and simple: it’s a way to reach the lost and expand the borders of God’s kingdom. Yes, it takes a core of committed disciples to do this. But, too many churches drift from this mission.
It’s the same with campus ministry. We want to help Christian students grow in their walk with Christ. But, we’re also called to penetrate the darkness of our campuses.
5. Spousal CooperationThis one applies to church planting, campus ministry, or any other type of ministry. If you’re married, ministry is a team effort. None of us will maximize our impact without the support of our spouses.
In the case of church planting, or any kind of ministry for that matter, if your spouse isn’t on board, don’t do it.
6. Relationship BuildingMinistry is people work. It’s all about relationships. This is true in church planting, campus ministry, or any other type of ministry. Long term effectiveness is tied to building healthy relationships.
Campus ministry is an important part of the church planting process. I love what Tim Keller said about church planting movements...
You have to have a leadership pipeline developing and that usually happens through campus work. You have to have really dynamic college ministry...you have to have a campus leadership pipeline other wise the church planting doesn't continue.
obert J. Clinton, one of my teachers and thought mentors at Fuller Theological Seminary drilled into my thinking the idea that developing leaders is both a central purpose and a critical skill of leaders. Yet it's disturbing how few churches and church leaders I observe practicing either.
This month five churches met in our SoCal Multiplying Church cohort to work on Developing A Leadership Pipeline. One question we addressed was how do we identify emerging leaders?
Drawing upon some of Bobby Clinton's material here is a quick tool set of ideas you can use to identify emerging leaders in your church:
1. Acts. Look for men and women, particularly those in their late teens and early twenties, who do leader acts. These may be simple things such as calling a group's attention to the activity at hand, organizing people, or giving a nudge to someone that engages them more deeply in the life of the church. Leadership acts are identifying markers of leadership potential. When you see someone doing leadership acts regularly you probably have an emerging leader at hand.
2. Tasks. Once you spot a potential leader the next step is to give that leader a leadership task to accomplish. A leadership task is a short activity that has a defined beginning, end, and a specific purpose to accomplish. A leadership task is not just doing something. It must be about leading others to do something. This is critical. Remember, leaders don't just do things; leaders lead people. The leadership task is not nearly as critical as how the potential leader addresses the task, engages others in doing the task, and how they process what they learn about leading others from the task. As a leader developer you should be able to observe the leader as they engage this task and once it's completed talk with them about it. How did they think it went? What did they observe, learn, gain from a leadership perspective? It's this debriefing conversation that turns the leadership task into a learning experience that helps potential leaders grow into actual leaders.
3. Stretch Assignments. Finally, if your emerging leader is making progress give him or her a stretch assignment. A stretch assignment is a longer, more complex expectation than a leadership task. A stretch assignment will often give the emerging leader responsibility for solving some sort of problem, like "would you organize a service project for our local school" or "would you lead a team to do follow up on guests from our Easter activities?" The emerging leader will have to evaluate the problem, come up with a solution, organize people to carry out the plan, and report on the outcomes. Stretch assignments tests an emerging leader's capabilities, skills at leading a team, and their willingness to take responsibility for something important.
With these 3 leadership items you can identify, test, and train emerging leaders who have the potential to be vital, life-giving leaders in your church.