Disciple Making Bottlenecks

“I’d like to be discipled.  What do I do?”

How ready are you for that question in your ministry?  What next steps do you give someone who’s seeking discipleship?  Who do you have waiting in the wings to be tapped for a new discipleship assignment?  Is discipleship a pastoral staff responsibility alone?  You have to work through these questions if you’re going to create a disciple making culture in your ministry.

We’ve heard the “What do I do to be discipled?” question a few times since we started asking members to invest in each other through discipleship relationships.  We always knew we wanted to be a community with a strong disciple making culture but the logistics of “who disciples who” can be a challenge. Preexisting, organic relationships are always “plan A” but sometimes they aren’t present.  If someone finds your ministry on their own or through a flyer, mail-out, or social media ad, there may not be a clear choice of who should disciple them.  Who do you connect those people to?  We made a decision early on in our ministry to address this problem.

We decided we were going to widen some bottlenecks in disciple making.

Bottleneck 1– Leaders-Only Disciple Making

“Disciple making is everyone’s job” said many a ministry leader with no plan to train others to make disciples. Ouch!  Either by default or design, pastors and staff often find themselves in charge of disciple making in a church usually because there’s no system to train and let others do it.

We made it our goal to have people within our congregation discipling one another while pastoral staff shepherd those relationships without leading them. But we had to design our29133693_10214091052603016_6677812566250487808_n-2 ministry to work that way.  It’s why we use STAGES.  If you see it through, the end result is people discipling people. Many leaders hope this will happen naturally but it doesn’t.  When people talk about “natural” or “organic” growth, don’t forget that nature and organisms are full of very intentional systems installed by a very intentional designer.  What they are really saying is that they want discipleship to happen on its own without leadership taking an active role.  In our experience, bottlenecks are what happen on their own.  Overcoming them happens intentionally.

So one bottleneck that exists in disciple making happens somewhere in the congregation/staff divide.  Having and working a plan to train and release people in your ministry to make disciples widens the bottleneck. 

Bottleneck 2– Needing To Be An Expert

We’ve written about people who feel they’re not ready to make disciples but we need to dive into leadership’s role in shaping that attitude.  Intentionally or not, many leaders communicate that a certain level of expertise is necessary to start investing in others.  To be sure, a standard is needed when it comes to disciple making (good article here).  You need to know that standard in your ministry so you can openly communicate it.  If you don’t, an unspoken standard will still exist but no one will be clear on it. Look to Scripture for clarity on what it takes to be a disciple maker.

For evangelism the standard is tied to what you’ve “seen and heard” (Luke 7:22, Matt 11:4, Acts 4:20). Once you’ve “heard” the gospel and have “seen” God keep his promises through it by forgiving you and giving you new life, you not only have the license to evangelize but the command to.

In discipleship the standard gets more complicated.  If you default to the standard for pastors and elders (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, etc.,) to be a discipler then you end up with the bottleneck described above.  Only your highest level of leadership will ever do what we are all commanded to do…make disciples.  It also means someone could end up a pastor or elder before they’ve ever made any disciples.  That doesn’t make any sense.

I find the word “faithful” to be a useful standard for a discipler.  So does Paul when it comes to releasing new generations of disciplers in 2 Timothy 2:2.  Jesus also mentioned that the faith of some “non-experts” eclipsed that of supposed experts (Matthew 8:10, 15:28).  If someone is faithful and faith-filled you have a disciple making candidate.  Do they have to be perfectly faithful?  No. No one but Jesus ever was.  But the fruits of faithfulness should be there.

Aside from being faithful, a disciple maker has to be willing to genuinely care for, pray for and spend time with the person they’re working with on a regular basis.  Faithfulness and willingness have to be there with no exceptions or short cuts.

MEET-UP GUIDEBut what about competency?  Is competency important in disciple making?  Of course. But what you ask people to do affects the required level of competency.  We ask our disciple makers to use our STAGES site to find their material and then stick to our format just for that reason.  It’s not “silver bullet” material or the only good material out there.  We just want to reduce meet-up prep to “click, print, and read” so that more “faithful” people will start meeting with more “faith-starved” people.  People develop higher competencies along the way.   Most of the “click, print, and read” lessons actually teach people how to develop in areas like Bible study, prayer, and making disciples.

Faithfulness, willingness, and competency are a good standard for potential disciple makers.  Remember that competency requirements are raised or lowered by what you’re asking them to do.  Simplifying the mechanics of disciple making widens the bottleneck. 

Practical Tips For Widening Bottlenecks

  1. Use a Discipleship Tree to show the needs and the bottlenecks that exist in your ministry to your people.
  2. When it comes to who’s qualified to make disciples, define…
    1. Faithful– faithful in what?
    2. Willing– willing to do what?
    3. Competent– competent to do what?  If you don’t define these standards, others will and it could keep a lot of good people from discipling others.
  3. Start with preexisting relationships whenever possible.  Who does the person who needs discipling already have in their life that is faithful, willing and competent?
  4. If no preexisting connection exists, add the person who needs discipling to the best matching existing relationship in a mixed session. Eventually your “disciple maker in training” can meet with them on their own.
  5. Keep a close eye on new discipleship relationships and ask how its going often.

Remember that pathways, models and materials aren’t the answer but they are also not the enemy.  Disciple making is made possible by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit and the accomplished work of Christ.  It also involves the humble but intentional leadership of those who are called to shepherd discipleship relationships.