How do you make a disciple? If you don’t know how, you may be living in disobedience. Jesus in the Great Commission told us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV). This is one of those passages we’ve read so often that we don’t really think about it anymore. It’s become, “Yada, yada, yada” to us. Let’s pause for a minute to answer our question about how to make disciples. If we share the Gospel with someone, and they pray to receive Christ (or whatever vernacular your theological tradition dictates), have you made a disciple or a convert? Are they the same thing? It seems that a disciple must be a convert, but could a convert not be a disciple? Let’s look at the “recipe” for making disciples. Baptism is in there. Whether you dunk, sprinkle, or pour is determined, again, by your theological tradition. Get them wet. Step one. Now, here’s the kicker, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Notice the wording here. Jesus did not say, “teaching them…everything I have commanded you.” He said, “teaching them to obey.” That just upped the ante. Just teaching them doesn’t guarantee obedience. When I studied Christian Education in seminary, we learned a lot about outcomes. Do we want the student to have a change in knowledge, attitude, or behavior? The default tends to aim us toward a change in knowledge. It’s easy to portion. It’s easy to measure. How many verses have you memorized? How many chapters have you read? Do you read through the Bible every year? How many classes did you attend? We can measure these things. But, if this is the sum of our disciplemaking, then we are either assuming what we are teaching is sinking in, or we are offering a placebo for making disciples. As D.L. Moody once said, “The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.” Why? The Bible tells us, “Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). If the end result of our Bible studies and classes is a group of people who are proud of their biblical knowledge, then we have missed the mark. Unless we have to win “Bible Jeopardy” to enter the pearly gates, what good is more information doing for anyone? After all, some students of the Bible are not longing for transformation, they are Bible connoisseurs searching for something new to learn. Howard Hendricks took things a little further when he stated, “In the spiritual realm, the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, it’s obedience.” Now, we go back to the words of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Discipleship is more than “book learnin’.” A disciple is more than just a brain. Sometimes we learn to obey when we serve. Other times we learn to obey by processing strong emotions. When was the last time you poured high voltage chemicals into a low voltage situation? Why did you react that way? Did it trigger something? Did you slow down long enough to process it? I’m not against education. I do have a few problems with how we make disciples. As a whole being, we worship and love God with our whole selves. Why can’t we learn to obey that way as well? In looking at effective discipleship methods, I have found something new that’s actually very old. Mizizi was brought over from Kenya by Kenton Beeshore and Mariners Church in California. Known in English as “Rooted,” it focuses on experiential learning. There are large group experiences, small group experiences, daily reflection, and dedicated times of prayer, serving, and celebration. The ideas practiced in Rooted go back to the First Century church, the Moravians, the Celtics, and the early Wesleyans. Rooted is a non-Western approach at making disciples, and it’s working. Mariners Church has seen 90 percent of their Rooted participants continue in on-going Life Groups. They are also serving more (70%) and have increased their generosity (82%). But, beyond statistics, the personal stories of life change are remarkable. There is something to the rhythms of a variety of experiences in making disciples and teaching them to obey. Making disciples could never be summed up in one blog post, not even close. There will be more. I hope you would leave a few thoughts of your own in the comments. Please understand often the way I state things is to provoke people to think, including myself. If I’ve provoked you, please let me know. For more information about Rooted, please attend one of the upcoming webinars: allenwhite.org/rooted
By Allen White Pastor Kenton Beshore and Mariners Church started something six years ago that intrigues me. I’m more than a little leery when a ministry presents a new strategy which they claim is the best thing since sliced bread. (I also wonder what the best thing was before sliced bread). I’ve been in ministry for a long time. I preached my first sermon 34 years ago. I’ve been part of the small group movement for the last 20 years. It’s not that I’m old — I’m only 51 and I have a two year old — I was called to ministry early in life. There have been so many faddish things over the years. Some of them produced temporary results. Some produced no results. Just a few produced lasting results. I’m talking everything from the launch of bus ministry to the introduction of praise music to the comfort of seeker services to the impact of church-wide campaigns. Each one of those basically claimed their own decade from the 1970’s on. People were saved. Churches grew. Impact was made. But, then they disappeared. Some strategies and ministry ideas had a much shorter shelf-life. So, now that you understand my jaded, skeptical point of view, you can certainly understand why I very rarely endorse anything. I want to see how it plays out. Is this just the next new shiny thing that we pastors tend to chase after? Is this an attempt to copycat what’s working somewhere else in hopes it will work here? Then, I get real honest — is somebody just out to make a buck?
My Introduction to the Rooted Experience.
About nine months ago, Caleb Anderson, Lead Pastor of Mariners Church, Huntington Beach, CA, introduced me to Rooted. I was blown away. It’s not a program. It’s not merely a curriculum. It’s a catalyst that produces dramatic transformation. He had my attention, but I did go to school in Missouri, so he needed to show me. Then, I began to hear story after story of transformed lives. People coming to Christ. Marriages saved. Addictions forsaken. Bodies and minds completely healed. Lives and finances surrendered to God. But, here’s the most intriguing thing — all of this was happening over a 10 week experience. Now, I really had to see this to believe it. I was part of the Rooted Training in November of last year and met churches of many denominations, sizes, and locations who were telling similar stories. I’ve spent the last month on the phone with pastors from across the country talking about how lives are transformed, congregations are emboldened, and communities are impacted because of a simple 10 week experience in Rooted. My doubts were quickly erased.
What a Kenyan Church Taught Kenton Beshore about Discipleship
In partnership with a Kenyan church, Kenton Beshore was introduced to a non-Western, experiential learning process which was seeing dramatic transformations in Africa. Having exhausted many means of discipleship, assimilation, and church growth in the U.S., Kenton thought, “Why not bring Rooted (or Mizizi in Swahili) to Mariners?” The results have been remarkable. After six years of leading the congregation of Mariners Church through Rooted, 90 percent of Rooted groups have gone on to become on-going Life Groups at Mariners Church with 90 percent of the group members continuing in the Life Groups. Rooted graduates have increased their giving by 82 percent and 70 percent have increased their serving. Now, imagine those kinds of results in your church. Here’s the thing about Rooted, if you just perused the curriculum, you would probably find it fairly unremarkable in and of itself. In fact, at first glance it appears fairly uncomplicated, and yet those who have completed the 10 week Rooted journey have discovered the experience is bold, focused, and powerful. They have seen health in their members, their churches, and their ministries unlike what they’ve seen before. Like I said, I am leery of new shiny things. But in Rooted, I have found something so remarkable and so special that I actually joined the Rooted Team for a season. And, I’m still a huge advocate. Need Help Launching Rooted in Your Church? We can take you through step-by-step. Before you get started with Rooted, read What’s Wrong with Rooted.
By Allen White This is my interview with Doug Fields, the author of Intentional Parenting. Doug serves as the Executive Director of HomeWord’s Center for Youth/Family at Azusa Pacific University, co-founder of downloadyouthministry.com, and the author of more than 50 books. He previously served on staff at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA with Rick Warren, and South Coast Community Church (now Mariners Church). Doug is currently a Teaching Pastor at Mariners Church, Irvine, CA with Kenton Beshore. Intentional Parenting is a resource for Couples, Small Groups, or Classes based on Doug’s 10 Actions for parents as described in the video). The curriculum includes a DVD teaching video, an individual workbook, and a downloadable discussion guide. As of March 2016, we are looking for churches willing to pilot the Intentional Parenting curriculum with groups, classes, or groups of friends. Space is limited to the first 50 churches who register. For more information on the pilot: allenwhite/org/ip-pilot Please forgive the recording. It did not come out quite as well as I had hoped, but the Doug’s content is solid. So, maybe listen to this and not watch it!
By Allen White Recently a friend passed along an article titled Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups by Brian Jones, founding pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley, Royersford, PA. The article was published in the Christian Standard in 2011, so I’m a little late to the party here. Maybe the issues Brian raises have already been hashed over. But, just in case, you also missed the party too, let’s dig in. The premise of the piece is that small groups don’t produce holistic disciples and never have. Pastors apparently have been sold a bill of goods by experts that has resulted in “Well-intentioned Christians, armed with the latest insights in organizational theory, let their pragmatic and utilitarian hearts delude them into thinking they could organize, measure, and control the mystical working of the Holy Spirit in community in order to consistently reproduce disciples in other contexts.” While I am unsure how much a person could actually control the Holy Spirit, the author raises a good point. While pastors wish to guarantee that the church’s efforts, ministries, and groups are bearing fruit, the metrics are tricky. I suppose the reverse of quantifying the impact of groups is not to measure anything or to eliminate groups completely so there is nothing to measure. Brian Jones offers an alternative. He writes, “Every small group I’ve ever been in that helped me grow as a disciple started by what appeared to be an accident. I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t interested in joining a small group in the least. And in many respects, I didn’t even feel a need to grow spiritually.” His ideal was back when he was 18 years old and a few friends came together spontaneously and started hanging out with one another. Now, I will be honest, I am all in favor of this. According to the article the group “grew to 10 to 12 friends. We laughed together, prayed together, studied the Bible together, ate together, evangelized together, and served the poor together. Even though we had no leader, no real set meeting time, no agenda, and no plan or focus, it was through these friends that I made incredible strides toward becoming a holistic disciple of Jesus…And it all happened by accident.”
1. How well do “accidental” non-groups make holistic disciples of Jesus in most churches?
My dream is for groups of believers to gather together and do the exact things Brian describes in his article. If every Christian would spontaneously get together with other believers to encourage each other, apply God’s Word, serve together, pray together, and win others to Christ, it would be a big win. In fact, groups would no longer need to be organized. We wouldn’t need to call them “small groups.” Instead, we could call this “Normal.” I would love it. The problem is most Christians in America are very distracted. As Francis Chan says regarding the Parable of the Soils, “Most Christians in America are not good soil. They are thorny ground.” The cares of this world have taken over. When do they slow down enough to read God’s Word, pray, meet with other believers, or even think about God? Most don’t unless they are in a weekend service. But, can our efforts to motivate and organize believers into doing something intentional about their spiritual growth also go too far? The author makes a valid point, “I wasn’t participating in some superficial churchwide small group sign-up initiative the senior pastor dreamed up to jack up small group attendance because he heard church analysts say you should always maintain a certain ratio of worship attendees to small group participants.” If pastors were to offer their members the choice of joining a group of strangers or meeting with a group of friends, I believe most people would prefer to meet with their friends, just like Brian Jones prefers. I have written on group formation many times before. The question I have asked for a long time is Why Reconnect People Who are Already Connected? Everyone has friends, neighbors, co-workers, family, and others who are open to spiritual things. As I wrote in the first line of my book, “Everyone is already in a group.” If given the opportunity, they would actually do something intentional about their spiritual growth. On their own, they probably would not. I am all in favor of the “organic” nature of the group Brian Jones enjoyed. I’m not so sure about his label of “accidental.” If we surveyed Brian’s congregation or anyone else’s, I wonder how many people have been or currently are a part of an accidental group that is helping them become a holistic disciple of Jesus. I haven’t studied this, but my educated guess is most churches would only have a handful at most.
2. Aren’t all Christians disciples?
In the article Brian writes, “When I attended my very first church growth conference in 1992, a nationally known small group ‘expert’ stood up and said, ‘The way we say it at our church is, If you can read, you can lead. If a Christian can read questions in our study guide, he can lead a small group at our church.’ “‘That’s easy,’ Brian thought. ‘Too easy, in fact. And ridiculous.'” But, here’s the thing, by his own admission, Brian’s accidental, organic group had “no leader.” So would his motto be, “No leader is better than a reader”? He goes on to explain, “Small groups don’t create disciples; disciples create disciples. And modern-day small groups are led, for the most part, by people who have attended the church, had a conversion experience, led a reasonably moral life, and can read the study guide questions, but are not disciples themselves.” I guess the question I must ask here is: What is a disciple anyway? This is perhaps a bigger question than we can answer here, but if every believer has chosen to follow Jesus and has the Holy Spirit working in them, are they not disciples? Or is a being a “disciple” a certain mindset? Granted every believer’s faith is in a different place. While some people are able to trust God for great things, others maybe don’t even think to pray about their needs. While some are ambitious is showing God’s love to others in their communities, others are busy and distracted raising their families and working their jobs, which are not necessarily unspiritual endeavors. Is discipleship a destination or a continuum? If it’s a continuum, then wouldn’t it be far to say all believers are disciples, but are in very different places in their growth toward Christlikeness? Or, is there an elite class of believers who are serious disciples who leave the rest of us in the dust? The author’s beef is: “The common argument against small groups is flawed. The problem with small groups isn’t that they pool the group’s collective ignorance; it’s that they pool the group’s collective disobedience. And it’s not the small group leader’s fault. It’s the fault of the people who installed the leader and convinced him he could lead their group to a place where they themselves have not gone.” Brian makes a good point. None of us can lead others beyond what we have truly lived and experienced. But, they can lead people who have less experience than they do. This is why I gave up on signing people up for groups, advertising groups, or sending people to groups years ago. If on a spiritual scale of zero to 10, (Zero being a non-believer, and 10 being a saint), a spiritual “three” who decides to lead a group gets into big trouble if sixes, sevens, and eights signs up for that group. But, if the same spiritual “three” invited his or her friends to the group, more than likely the group would be made up of other threes, twos, ones, zeros, and negative twos. A spiritual “three” can lead this group. In fact, as John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.” If new leaders gather those they have influence over, then the group is off on the right foot.
3. Forming more well rounded groups.
The last issue I will take up here is what the group does. If as Brian Jones says, “Christians…sit in circles and talk to one another inside a building…read and comment on the Bible…rant about how they long to ‘get out there’ and do something that matters…people go home unchallenged and unchanged.” He goes on to say, “In my humble opinion, the Americanized small group is a remnant of an impotent religious institution that can’t transition effectively into a post-Christian, postmodern world.” He certainly makes some good points here. In my experience, groups will accomplish what is expected of them. If groups are formed around hobbies for fellowship, they will hang out and do their hobbies. If groups are formed around Bible studies, they will do Bible studies. Where the church leadership directs groups is where they will go. So, why not direct them differently? There are some great holistic approaches to discipleship that involve experiences and outreach projects and not just academic exercises. For instance, Rooted created by Mariners Church, Irvine, CA and their partner, Mavuno Church, Nairobi, Kenya, developed a group experience through community, study, focused prayer, breaking strongholds, and serving others. (And, I’m probably oversimplifying this.) This group approach through experiential learning over the last 6 years at Mariners has resulted in 90% of their Rooted Groups becoming on-going Life Groups. Of the Rooted graduates, 82% have increased their giving, and 70% have increased their serving. For more information on Rooted, go here. The direction given to groups will make a big difference in the outcomes of the groups. While some folks may be unmotivated or possibly will join a group out of obligation, look at how we’ve grown over the years. The most profound growth came through painful circumstances with other believers to support us. Now, marketing that growth plan would be very difficult. But, a church can prepare their members by helping them to experience biblical community before their next problem comes. I am always in favor of books and articles that make me think. Just check out my review of Joseph Myers’ The Search to Belong. I think it’s good to question the status quo rather than reading the same small group books over and over with a different cover and a different author. But, Brian Jones is throwing the baby out with the bath water, except he’s not. Apparently euthanasia didn’t work for the groups at Christ’s Church of the Valley. If you browse over to the church’s website (props to PlainJoe Studios — nice site), you will find a dozen or more small groups listed in the church’s groupfinder. Huh? I suppose the euthanasia didn’t take.