Creating a Disciple Making Culture
Last year, we completed a huge research project on discipleship and I had the privilege to coauthor a book on the subject. Recently, my friends at Facts & Trends Magazine posted some of the interview process we had on the subject with two friends: Steve Murrell and Jon Ferguson. I hope you enjoy the article on how these leaders are creating a disciple making culture in their churches.
Essentials for Creating a Disciple-making Culture in Your Church
“Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus’ familiar charge in Matthew 28:19 is reinforced throughout the New Testament by scriptures exhorting believers to build up one another in the faith. Our entire mission as believers and churches is to “make disciples.” The fundamental reason the Church exists is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
As part of LifeWay Research’s Transformational Church and Transformational Discipleship study, we interviewed several thousand pastors and church members about the spiritual growth of believers. One of the conclusions of the project: transformational discipleship doesn’t happen without intentional effort on the part of both church leaders and church members.
As church leaders, we long to see transformation in the lives of people, our church, our city and our world. Alton Garrison, assistant general superintendent of the Assemblies of God says, “Our mission is not complete until we have seen people have life change.”
Discipleship within the local church takes many forms. But the purpose is the same: Christ-centered discipleship that brings about true transformation.
Pastors Steve Murrell and Jon Ferguson describe how their churches foster spiritual transformation in others.
Steve Murrell is founding pastor of Victory Fellowship in Manila, Philippines. Victory Manila is a 70,000 person, multi-site church with more than 7,500 small groups, which is the church’s main method of discipleship. Murrell and his wife, Deborah, first went to the Philippines in 1984 for a one-month summer mission trip that never ended. After living in Manila for 24 years, they now split their time between Manila and Nashville, Tenn. Steve also serves as president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries.
How would you define discipleship?
A disciple is simply someone who follows Jesus and fishes for people. Discipleship is the process of helping someone find and follow Jesus.
When does discipleship begin?
I think the discipleship process begins long before someone starts following Jesus. When Jesus issued the Great Commission, he said, “Go into all the world and make disciples.” None of the people who initially heard “go make disciples” thought Jesus meant to go find people who were already following Him and help them do it better. For Peter and John and James and Andrew, making disciples meant finding lost people, helping them connect with Jesus, helping them pick up a cross and follow Him. One of the biggest mistakes in the modern church is the separation of evangelism and discipleship.
How would you describe the process by which disciples are made at Victory?
We built a discipleship process around the four Es—engage, establish, equip and empower. So for us, the discipleship process starts with learning how to engage your culture and community with the goal of preaching the gospel. As soon as someone responds to the gospel, we establish biblical foundations—the Word, repentance, faith, baptism, the Holy Spirit, church community. Then we equip every disciple to minister. The last part of the process is to empower all believers to make disciples.
Are discipleship principles or models transferable from culture to culture?
Principles are universal and timeless. Whether I’m training believers in China, the Philippines, Nigeria or Nashville, the principles are the same. But the models change. There’s not one model that will reach all of Nashville. Models change. Principles don’t.
What are the healthiest approaches to discipleship?
There are a couple of the things about the way Jesus discipled that have marked what we’ve done. One is the small group concept. Jesus did small group discipleship. If you asked Him who He was discipling, He could list 12 men. I think the small group concept, not that 12 is the magic number, but the concept of the smaller community is key. The other one was that it only lasted a few years. From the very beginning Jesus would engage and establish, equip and empower. They would go out. They would succeed or fail. And He would have a debriefing with them. We also learn from Paul that God can use brand new believers in amazing ways.
At Victory, small groups are our front door. I don’t know the exact stats now, but at one point about 80 percent of those we baptized first encountered our church through a small group. Typically they were in a small group for four weeks before they ever showed up at a worship service.
What kind of actions are you expecting out of someone who’s maturing as a disciple?
Obviously, one would be that they’re reading and studying the Bible consistently. But another important catalyst for maturity is when a believer starts making disciples by engaging the un-churched, de-churched and anti-church people in their community.
Jon Ferguson is one of the founding pastors at Community Christian Church, a multi-site church in Chicago. He serves as network leader for their Chicago Campuses, teaching pastor and provides leadership for all community ministries (small groups for children through adults). The church has grown to a congregation of more than 8,000 attenders with more than 400 small groups meeting throughout Chicagoland. Their method of discipleship is through small groups and apprentice relationships.
How would you describe your process of discipleship at Community Christian Church?
We place a high value on leadership development, and we don’t distinguish much between what most people would probably refer to as discipleship and what we refer to as apprentice development or even leadership development. Part of that comes from a bias that being a Christ follower or a disciple or an apprentice of Jesus means that you are sent—you are on mission. We recognize the apprenticeship process is one of the best places for a person to be discipled.
We have three key experiences that help us grow in our relationship with Jesus, and that’s celebrating, connecting and contributing. Each one of those experiences is focused on a particular relationship. So when we talk about celebrating, that’s the relationship between us and God. Connecting is the relationship between us and the church. And contributing is the relationship between us and the world.
We believe in a strong relational view of the gospel, a relational view of discipleship and a relational view of leadership development. We try to focus on how you can grow and develop in all three of those relationships. The growing apprentice will experience greater depths of those experiences as he or she continues to grow as a Christ follower.
If a pastor had a limited amount of time, what is the most basic step you would tell him to take to start the discipleship process in the congregation?
I would say start a small group, identify an apprentice and set the expectation that everyone is hearing from God daily through prayer and Bible reading, as well as living a life on mission seeking to bless the people who cross his path every day.
Is discipleship something that should happen through one-on-one relationships, in small groups or both?
Definitely both. Most of the development of a person’s spiritual journey occurs in the context of community, in the context of a small group on mission. We also encourage people to seek out relationships in the context of their small group where they can get together one-on-one or form a sort of subgroup where you’re asking more of the tough questions of each other and holding one another accountable at a deeper level.
What do you think are the most effective common practices of discipleship?
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but if we can help people build meaningful relationships with other Christ-followers and recognize that the mission of helping people find their way back to God is something we are all to be about every day, then we are well on our way to practicing effective discipleship.
How are you teaching believers to be disciple-makers?
It’s everyone’s responsibility to be on mission, and that includes disciple-making. Our goal is not for someone to simply be fed or even to learn to feed himself, which is the correct next step. But eventually, the real maturing Christ follower is someone who has learned to feed others—reaching, restoring and reproducing. That’s what mission looks like!
This article first appeared in Facts&Trends magazine. For more information visit LifeWay.com/factsandtrends.