Discipleship is the engine that drives the mission of the church. We are called as Christ-followers to make disciples. A disciple is one who follows Jesus, learns from the life of Jesus, and then goes on mission to minister in both word and deed. But how can we know if we are being successful? Most companies have measurables that convey how they are doing. These measurables are often centered on profit margins and an increased customer base. So how do we measure individual spiritual growth and impact? Is it based on church attendance, visible sin, or mission trips taken? And how do we know if our churches are being successful? Is “success” determined by the number of people in our worship services and/or the amount of money placed in the offering plates? While attendance and giving can be good indicators of spiritual health and maturity, being successful as a disciple and in discipleship can remain ambiguous.
In light of our missional community strategy, we want to clearly define the measurables of first, being a disciple and then of our overall discipleship strategy. Discipleship always starts with individual disciples. It starts with reaching someone who has not yet turned from his or her sin to Jesus. Disciples are formed in the context of relationships.
Pastor and Church Planter Tim Brister says that in order to make disciples, we have to go after strangers. He defines strangers as those who are far from God and who are, more than likely, disinterested in the things of God. These people must be pursued because they are not pursuing God. The goal is to move people from being strangers to being missionaries. How does this happen? According to Tim Brister, it looks like this:
- Strangers need to become neighbors through missional intentionality;
- Neighbors need to become acquaintances through incarnational integrity;
- Acquaintances need to become friends through relational investment;
- Friends need to become family through evangelical invitation;
- Family needs to become missionaries through practical instruction;
- Missionaries pursue strangers through intentional approach through everyday living.
As disciples of Jesus who are learning to live like Him, we get to take people on a journey long before they know it. If you read through the steps above, you will see that living as disciple-makers requires intentionality and integrity. People are not projects that we move through a production line, hoping that they transform from strangers to missionaries. They are people God loves deeply and for whom He sacrificed His Son to pay their sin debt. We get to be the ones to tell them this great news as we spend time with them on life’s journey. We can tell that we are being successful in the disciple-making process when we see people join the family of God and then begin to build relationships with Gospel intentionality and integrity. If our focus is on making disciples, we will know that we are having a Kingdom impact.
With regard to discipleship as a whole, discipleship happens when individual disciples bring someone into God’s family and then that person begins to pursue the strangers in his or her circles of influence. We should see the following happen in the context of missional communities where every member is on mission to make disciples:
- People will become Christ followers.
- People will be raised up as leaders to start new missional communities.
- The Kingdom will grow as current groups give birth to new groups.
Church success is measured by people repenting and believing in Jesus. It is measured by the number of leaders raised up to go on mission together. It is measured not by addition, but by multiplication. This kind of measurable success doesn’t happen overnight. We can’t just gather as many people as we can at some event, get them to pray a prayer, count the number of hands raised, and declare ourselves successful. It takes missional intentionality and integrity to reach people today on a personal level. More than likely, people will come to faith in Christ because they watch our lives and do life with us – up close and personal. It’s time we pursue strangers and lead them to become missionaries right here in our own city.