“What is a disciple?”
Last night our bishop asked our district pastors to answer that question. People responded in a variety of ways — many are tempted to say “I’m not sure, but I know one when I see one.”
But if our goal is to make disciples, we really need to know what one looks like.
I like to answer this way: a disciple is someone who hears the voice of Jesus and does what He says. Working on that assumption, our churches and our personal ministries need to focus on helping people learn how to hear the voice of Jesus and obey what he says.
It is vital we teach people how to hear the voice of God through the scripture. At Crossroads we advocate for the SOAP method popularized by Wayne Cordeiro. (Scripture, Observation, Application Prayer) If we daily read the scripture and process it in those pattern, we can hear from God.
It is also important to teach people to listen for God’s voice through inner promptings. When God speaks into specific situations in our lives he ometimes chooses to do so directly in our spirit. Teaching people to listen to God is a crucial first step in making disciples.
Every one of Jesus’ original 12 heard him say “Come follow me”. Jesus says in John 10:4 “his sheep follow him because they know his voice”.
Listening is the first step, but clearly if a person regularly hears from Jesus and then says “No, I’m not doing it”, I wouldn’t call that person a disciple or follower. Teaching people to obey quickly, completely and cheerfully is part of making disciples.
When we teach people to hear from Jesus and do what he says, everything else will fall in to place in their lives.
How are you hearing and obeying? How are you teaching others to do the same?
There is a lot of talk about discipleship in the American church today, and I believe it will heat to a boil within a few years.
Over the last few decades we have learned how to grow big churches — we have more mega-churches than ever in history. (The list of the 100 largest churches start at 8,000 attendance today, up from 4,000 in 2000.) But in the process we have discovered that it does not mean we have more disciples. The purpose of the Church Growth Movement (starting with Donald McGavran’s writing in the late 1960’s) was “to make make more and better disciples”. We figured out quantity, but not quality. As a result, we have many huge churches, but our society is not deeply impacted, and research shows attendees do not live much differently than unbelievers.
So, where to turn? The answer is probably not to launch a “church shrinkage movement”. Small churches are not better at making disciples, either. I am not bashing mega-churches; I think they have been a very positive development for the Kingdom.
The point is to focus on what makes disciples. The truth is, we have not built our churches, large or small, on a disciple-making foundation. The problem is our assumptions and starting points in our churches. We assumed that if we could get a lot of people in a room who sing and hear truth, then the kingdom would come. That didn’t happen.
Someone said “Start with disciples and you will always get the church. Start with the church, and you will rarely get disciples.” Wow, that’s a radical statement, and if true, it explains a lot.
We used to say that church planting was the most effective means of disciple-making. That may not be true any more.
Brian Hook, the church planting pastor at Northwood Church in Texas (where I will be for training again next month) said “…in the years ahead we will be talking disciple rather than church planting.”
This year is the 200th anniversary of Adoniram Judson leaving England for India (and later Burma) as a missionary. A lot has changed since then.
Researcher Steve Addison reports that in 1800 22.7% of the world self-identified as Christian. Today, 33% of the world does. More than 53% of the world is either Christian or Muslim, a figure that is likely to rise much higher by 2100 (some say to 2/3).
The Church looks a lot different today than it did in 1800. Two hundred years ago most Christians lived in Europe, today the epienter of the faith is in Africa and Asia. The number of Christians in China has grown exponentially in China over the last 200 years. Yet, the house church was unknown in the days of the early missionaries. Most missionaries were trying to reproduce the European form of church: organ, choirs, Western songs, dress, etc. The church would not have spread had it been limited to that form.
I believe faith in Jesus will keep growing across the world in the years to come, but we might not always recognize the forms the church will take. In fact, the Church is undergoing rapid transformation before our eyes, No longer is there a single established form. Today we see God working through cell churches, house churches, megachurches, missional churches, and more.
Let’s keep following Jesus, not our forms, and allow the Spirit to blow through our traditions as He will.
Steve Cordle is the founding and lead pastor of Crossroads Church, a small group-based congregation with five locations in the Pittsburgh metro area. He also leads a18movement, a non-profit dedicated catalyzing church plants globally. Steve is the author of three books: A Jesus-Shaped Life, Hear it, See it, Risk it, and The Church in Many Houses. He coaches pastors and church planters in the United States and Western Europe. He enjoys running, playing classical piano, and all Pittsburgh sports. Steve is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary (M. Div) and United Theological Seminary (D. Min). Steve and his wife, Linda, have three grown sons, three daughters-in-love, and three grandchildren.
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