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.
I was praying over you this morning, asking God to open up your church for new people whom God will bring to bless you.
I regularly keep my eye open for ideas and resources to help you. One of the resources I’ve been paying attention to lately are the videos from Pro Church Daily. These guys are worth listening to. They’re classic millennials. Working with churches is what they do. They keep things short, direct, and innovative.
This morning I watched their video “How to Reach People When You’re a Church of 50 or Less.” Here’s Brady’s phrase that caught my attention:
“If you want to get somewhere you’ve never been, you need to be willing to do things you’ve never done.”
Here are three statements we talk about within Kairos that help us take those steps that move us forward to growth:
Brady’s challenge is to make this year a year to try things out.
If you want to do it, but don't think you can go it alone, we're putting together a Spring Surge group to help each other through. Click here to download a Spring Surge Preview Calendar to see if it's something you're interested in.
Let’s do it!
5 Steps of Strategic Discipleship
Stan Granberg, PhD, Kairos Executive Director
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.
If they’re unchurched why are we talking about how far they'll drive to church at all?
That’s a fair question, so let’s talk about those who are becoming believers or who are new believers. When people cross that mental barrier of resistance and decide to explore faith they’re eventually going to attend a church worship gathering.
So how far will they go?
I’ve worked with church planters for the past twelve years, so I have a lot of anecdotal evidence, but I also have some research evidence that gives us a strong clue of how far people will go.
When I was teaching at Cascade College in Portland, OR in 2002, one of my students mapped the directories of people attending nine Churches of Christ congregations in the Portland Metro area. This is what he found:
Remember, these were highly committed Christians and highly committed to their specific, home church. When it came to people who are becoming Christians, the distances shrink dramatically.
People becoming Christians will typically live within 2.5 miles from where they will attend a church.
Remember, people who are becoming Christians are trying out faith. They want to see if faith makes sense in their life, if it fits their lifestyle. They don’t have strong attachments to any particular faith brand. “Becoming believers” will typically go to a church that:
To the person becoming a believer, one church is about the same as another, thus the 2.5 mile radius reflects the distance new people tend to travel to church.
The distance can go out to 5 miles when there are nearby connection points, such as neighbors who attend that church or a small group that meets nearby. These near-neighbor connections provide a conduit to the more distant worship gathering.
Beyond the 5-mile zone there has to be a strong, specific reason for people to travel that distance to church: brand loyalty, a specific worship experience or preacher, a family special need being met, etc.
If your church wants to reach new people, here are some ideas for reaching those who live near where you meet.
Hope these ideas help you think and act more carefully to those people who live close to your meeting place.
4 Keys To Preaching To Unbelief
Preaching to the context of unbelief has not been normal. Try to find a book on the topic. Google: Preaching to Unbelief. You won't find much. Yet in our country where the Nones (those religiously unaffiliated) are the fastest growing segment of religious identification if we don't learn how to preach to unbelief we will lose our voice in society.
I was thoroughly schooled to preach to belief: 1) begin with the propositional truth of the biblical text, 2) describe and explain that truth to the audience, 3) illustrate that truth in action. That was the bones of the sermon. Deeper than this sermon structure is the sermon purpose. In preaching to belief the purpose is to confirm the already existing belief of the audience. We want our people to leave the worship experience confident in their belief and affirmed that they are right. But what happens today when people do not believe our presuppositions about God, Jesus, or the Bible? How do we connect with them in a way that recognizes their unbelief and provides room for us to engage one another around the question of belief? This is where preaching to unbelief enters.
Here are 4 keys to help you explore the idea of preaching to unbelief:
Millenials on God
Almost every church I visit and talk with today is beginning to realize that if they're going to survive long into the future they have to become millenial oriented. Adjusting to a millenial viewpoint is not a simple matter of changing worship times, or seating, or adding a new song or two to the music repertoire. Millenials think about the world in fundamentally different ways. In this season of high school graduations here are some characteristics of this year's graduating class:
Finding Persons of Peace
When you enter a home, greet the family, 'Peace.' If your greeting is received, then it's a good place to stay. But if it's not received, take it back and get out. Don't impose yourself. Luke 10:5-6 (The Message).
The Person of Peace concept has become a significant strategy for entering into new communities with the gospel. It's particularly prevalent in US church planting and international CPM (Church Planting Movements) strategies. Sometimes the Person of Peace concept is presented like its the miracle bullet for evangelizing. Other times it is presented as a demand to make someone into your person of peace.
Here's some things we've learned about the Person of Peace strategy from ten years of mission work in Kenya and ten years working with Kairos Church Planting.
1. We meet Persons of Peace as we go on mission. Luke 10 begins with Jesus sending out 70 disciples, 2 by 2 with a mission: proclaim "the kingdom of God is near!" These disciples were on a mission. They were going. As they went into these villages and towns they would meet people. Some of these people would turn out to be persons of peace. We need to be on our mission if we are to expect people of peace.
2. Persons of Peace are gifts from God. Jesus didn't say "think about someone you know . . ." His command was go, do your work, and as you do it some people you encounter will accept the message. I see people of peace as gifts from God. They encourage us. They connect with us. They resource us. But they don't really do these things because of the close relationship they have with us (though often the relationship does become close). They support us because they connect with the message! They are God's gifts of provision so the mission can be accomplished. We should pray for these gifts of God because we need them so the mission can happen.
3. Persons of Peace drive the mission forward. The idea that the person of peace is someone who likes you and whom you like is quite attractive. But I've worked with some persons of peace with whom I didn't really resonate. We could work together. We respected one another. But we weren't really friends. In spite of this, these persons of peace really opened up relationship networks for the gospel in their communities. Despite the fact we were not really friends these people propelled the mission of the gospel forward.
This week a church planter and I were coaching on networking strategies. How do you go about entering into a new community and finding those Persons of Peace?
Here's some ideas we came up with:
1. Ask people who know your community to help you understand it. These are people like realtors, school principals (particularly elementary schools), and police officers. Tell them who you are, what you are doing (this is your confession of faith as a planter), and how they can help you. If they agree they've begun to show signs of a person of peace because they are helping the mission.
2. Invite people to work alongside you in service events for your community. There are many good organizations, non-profits, and already existing activities in a community that always need help. You can become a resource for them (i.e., you're their person of peace). As you invite people into the activities of these already existing groups you also let them know you are doing this because you are starting a new church and you believe a church is a helping contributor to the community. When you do this you are building an identity and giving the people you invite the opportunity to connect with that identity. So, when someone asks, "Why are you here helping?" you want them to be able to say, "I was invited by Joe who is planting a new church here."
3. Organize special events that gather people, then let them know what you're doing as a church planter and invite them to next steps. The key, again, is to not hide anything. Be up front with who you are (a church planter, a Christian, a Jesus follower) and what you are doing (starting a new church). Take the mystery out of the picture. Give clear invitations to learn more. This provides people the opportunity to grow into becoming Persons of Peace.
My experience has been that most of the Persons of Peace with whom I have worked didn't come fully engaged. They learned about me and about my mission over time and with exposure. God gradually formed them into Persons of Peace.
I pray you keep your eyes open for those budding Persons of Peace in your community, your life, and your ministry. Receive them with joy. They are God's gifts to you for His glory.