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Creating A Discipleship Culture In The Local Church

Albert Einstein wrote, “Out of complexity, find simplicity.”

This quote was the basis for the immensely helpful book Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. At one time, it seemed as if every pastor was not only reading the book but also implementing the four-fold elements: clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. After extensive research, the authors uncovered this simple process among vibrant churches.

Before a pastor can cultivate a culture of discipleship, he must clear up any ambiguity with the term. Sadly, we have many people using the same discipleship terms but speaking a different language. Rainer and Geiger define clarity as, “the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people … If the process is not clearly defined so that everyone is speaking the same language, there is confusion and frustration.”¹

Define What You Mean by “Making Disciples”
Churches, according to Bill Hull, author and disciple-maker, throw “the word disciple around freely, but too often with no definition.”² New Testament Professor Scot McKnight supports Hull’s claim: “If one understands discipleship as ‘daily routine,’ then one will produce those who have daily routines. If one understands discipleship as ‘evangelistic ministry,’ then one will produce evangelists. If one understands discipleship as ‘Bible study,’ then one will produce biblical scholars. If one understands discipleship as ‘effective operations,’ then one will produce administrative geniuses.”³

Furthermore, a quick survey of the Christian landscape will uncover various definitions of discipleship from different people. For example, Francis Chan, whom I have had the privilege of dialoguing with on two occasions, defines discipleship differently than Bill Hull, author of The Disciple-Making Pastor. Jim Putman, pastor of Real Life ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, suggests a different approach than Alan Hirsch, founding director of Forge Mission Training Network, or even Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church and author of Limitless Life.

Fortunately, Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, did not prescribe a model; rather, He gave us a mandate: make disciples! He didn’t suggest a process; he left us with principles, which is why Robert Coleman’s book The Master Plan of Discipleship is timeless.

Ultimately, Jesus left the size of the group, the length of the group, and the particularities of the group up to the disciple-maker. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. Rather than using your freedom as a license for laziness, you must decide on a system and faithfully follow.

Allow me to answer the question by explaining what discipleship is not.

  • It’s not a class.
  • It’s not a seminar.
  • It’s not a degree you earn.
  • It’s not a program.
  • It’s not a 12-week Bible study.
  • It’s not a 40-day home group.
  • It’s not a quick process.
  • It’s not a quick fix.
  • It’s not reserved for super Christians.
  • It’s not hard.
  • It’s not an option!

5 Components of a Discipling Relationship
We could say that discipleship is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ. When people become disciples, they learn what Jesus said and live out what Jesus did (Matthew 28:19).

Did you catch the five components of a discipling relationship?
A disciple is:

  1. Intentional about equipping others for the work of ministry
  2. Studying/obeying the Word of God
  3. Accountable to other believers
  4. Empowered by the Holy Spirit
  5. Reproducing what he was taught with others.

One last word on this subject: It’s important to contextualize the process. A “one-size fits all” approach will not work. Discipleship in Chattanooga is very different than discipleship in San Francisco or even the Dominican Republic.

After preaching an evangelistic crusade, D.L. Moody was met after the service by a man who disapproved of his evangelistic strategy. Moody responded, “It’s evident that you don’t agree with my evangelism method. What’s your evangelistic model for winning the lost?” The man replied, “I don’t have a particular method.” Moody said, “I think I’ll stick with mine.” Regardless of which model, material, or manner you affirm, decide on a plan and stick with it.

¹ Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 1996), 113.
² Bill Hull, Disciple-Making Pastor: Leading Others on the Journey of Faith (Ada: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 54.
³Brad J. Waggoner, The Shape of Faith to Come (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2008), 12.

Dr. Robby Gallaty is the senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was radically saved out of a life of drug addiction on Nov. 12, 2002. He is the author of Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes DisciplesUnashamed: Taking a Radical Stand for Christ and Creating an Atmosphere to HEAR God Speak. He holds a Master of Divinity, a Master of Theology and a Ph.D. in preaching from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Robby is married to Kandi and they have two boys, Rig and Ryder. He enjoys reading, golf, watching the UFC and playing with his boys.

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