he crisis at the heart of the church is a crisis of product,” writes Bill Hull.1 Is there any more important question for a pastor to answer than “what kind of people are we growing in our ministries”? According to pollsters such as George Barna and George Gallup, we are not producing people who are a whole lot different in conviction and lifestyle from the rest of society. This has been well documented, so I will not bore you with a recitation of the bad news. I will get right to what I consider the solution.
Jesus made it crystal clear that there is a singular product that He equates with the mission of the church—“Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Every church’s mission is the same. There is only one mission: making disciples of Jesus. We may prefer to express it in a fresh, contemporary way, such as “to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ,”2 but it will still just be a restatement of the Great Commission.
When I have had opportunities to speak to pastors on the subject of disciple-making, I have taken an informal poll: “Raise your hand if you have a few people in your weekly schedule with whom you meet for the purpose of helping them to become reproducing disciples of Jesus.” Sadly, I get minimal response. It would seem to be a natural expectation, since Jesus modeled for us the way to grow disciples. He called twelve “to be with him” in order to shape their characters and transfer his mission to them. I believe we have a crisis of product in large part because pastors are not following the model that Jesus gave us. And we are missing out on a most joyful and fruitful opportunity.
In this article I will describe an embarrassingly simple, yet reproducible way to grow disciples of Jesus who will leave your practice of ministry forever changed and your church populated with self-initiating, reproducing disciples of Christ.
Here is the model: Disciples are made in small, reproducible groups of three or four (triads or quads) that cultivate an environment of transformation and multiplication.
In my experience, the following three elements form the necessary building blocks to grow disciples, which, in turn, address our “crisis of product”:
• the model for multiplication
• the priority of relationships
• the environment for accelerated growth.
The Model for Multiplication
I call it my major “aha moment” in ministry. It has shaped my approach to growing disciples more than anything else. Frankly, it was a discovery breakthrough that I stumbled on.
I had been frustrated that I was not seeing a multiplication of disciples. The one-on-one model was the paradigm that I had assumed was the way to make reproducing disciples. After all, wasn’t the Paul-Timothy relationship the biblical pattern? Discipling meant to give myself to one other person for the purpose of seeing the life of Christ built in them, which would then lead them to do the same for another and so on. The only trouble was, I wasn’t seeing them doing the same for another. In other words, there was no multiplication.
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