I remember hearing something Bishop T.D. Jakes said once. He said we’re called to be fishers of people, and some churches catch with a rod, others catch with a net. If you catch with a rod you can take more time and care over the person, but the return on your labour is less than when you catch with a net.
I find it fascinating, then, that the context of Jesus calling the disciples to be fishers of people was in the context of catching with a net. Indeed, the times when the disciples were fishing, it was always with a net. When Jesus tells the disciples to cast the net on the other side of the boat (John 21). The net is so full of fish that it almost bursts.
When it comes to discipling people in church, our paradigm has always been the rod – one on one – sitting down and explaining about Jesus and Scriptures over coffee. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, except that we care called to catch with a net, not a rod.
This, of course, brings us back to the purpose of why the church exists. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus makes the purpose clear, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In Matthew 28:19 Jesus shows us how that is to be achieved – making disciples. When we look into the early days of the church too, the book of Acts shows a group of believers who devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2). They were disciples. Jesus’s commission was already in motion, only weeks after he spoke it.
This has profound implications for your church. If the whole purpose of the church is discipleship, why do we relegate discipleship to a part of the church, not the whole church? It’s time for us to put down the rod and pick up the net.
The key question that arises from this is, how do you turn your whole church into a disciple-making organisation? Here’s a few things to think about:
If the role of the church is to develop fully devoted followers of Christ, then we need to create a pathway so people can take their next steps. Traditionally, we’ve treated our programmes like a menu at a fast food restaurant, picking and choosing what you like... More! More! More! In Eric Geiger & Thom Rainer’s now seminal book, Simple Church, they show how to turn your church into a disciple-making net. This involves creating environments where people can take their next steps towards Christ. Crucially, Geiger & Rainer recommend that you eliminate any programme that is not helping people on that journey.
You’ve managed to work out a pathway for your church programmes. It follows that people should graduate from step 1 to step 2, and then step 2 to step 3 and onwards, until the end, when you graduate from the whole process, right? Wrong.
Daniel Im, in his excellent book No Silver Bullets, rightly points out that the pathway isn’t about destination. You can’t graduate from a discipleship pathway. Rather, each step is about direction. On each step of your discipleship pathway you are creating ongoing environments where people can become more like Christ. As they progress along the pathway they get introduced to a new environment, enriching their discipleship journey.
I have an apple tree in my garden. I now make a habit of pruning any new shoot that will get in the way of the fruitful branches. I’ll also prune any branches that have grown in the wrong direction. Pruning isn’t just about cutting what’s not working, it’s about giving room to what is working.
When you’re creating a pathway, it’s very easy to be too clever by shoehorning programmes into your pathway so you don’t need to cut things. However, pruning is necessary. If creating your pathway doesn’t lead you to seriously look at pruning back what you currently, your programming will lack focus and you won’t see the benefit of creating the pathway. If you’re just starting out it should do the opposite, it should start to show you areas that you’re lacking for people’s discipleship journey.
When you’re putting the discipleship pathway together, think about the programmes or events that on-board people to the discipleship steps. That could be something like a New Person’s course, or even community events. The trick is to balance it with the number of steps. If you’ve got 5 steps, you may want to lay off the on-ramps, otherwise it will all get too complicated and difficult to remember.
In the post-COVID world, there is one on-ramp that is non-negotiable – Online Services. Your online services won’t replace gathering, they will lead to it. That means that Online Services are the new front door to your church.
It’s very important that you balance things in your diary. The starting point is working out how many times per week you want someone engaging in a church-related activity. Think about the lives of your church, their work, family and friends. Make sure your programming is not too much, but enough to be beneficial. If you want people to only engage twice a week, but have a 5-step discipleship pathway, you can’t run every step every week, so think carefully about scheduling it so you don’t overload your congregation.
We understand that creating a discipleship isn’t simple. Think of it like an iPhone. It’s simple to use, but not simple to create. There’s a plethora of physical parts, the operating system has millions of lines of coding, all to create something simple to use. Creating your discipleship pathway is just like that. The other thing will be that when you’re making this with your team, you will want to contribute, rather than leading a meeting. At thinking.church we provide on-site facilitation. Which means we’ll guide the process, but you bring the content. If you’d like to find out more, book a FREE 1-hour consultation with us.