Disciple Making Plan

Introduction

Due to the modern institutional church focus on the Sunday morning service, many churches face a significant challenge in carrying out the primary directive of the Great Commission–to make disciples. The question at hand is how to make disciples in light of the modern church structure and systems that currently exist. Without a plan to make disciples, modern Christianity risks becoming little more than a sub-culture of the entertainment industry with little life-transforming impact. This paper asserts that it is possible to not only create a disciple making plan, but to develop a strategy of deployment within the context of Lives Transforming Discipleship Coaching and Counseling (LT), a non-profit ministry that focuses on providing Christian coaching and counseling. The following analysis first describes a vision for discipleship, then identifies three core values that support the vision. The analysis then provides the methods that drive the discipleship process, defines certain key terms that pertain to the ministry, and finally, lists key quantitative and qualitative verifiers that assist in tracking the progress of the discipleship making plan.

Vision

The Great Commission is the foundational passage for the vision, the preferred future, that Christ communicated to the church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).[1] Any disciple making plan must seriously consider the implications and meaning of the Great Commission. R. T. France notes that the primary verb in the passage is “make disciples” (μαθητεύσατε) written in the imperative mood, which indicates a command, which his then followed by two participles, “baptizing” and “teaching” that explain the process of disciple-making.[2] Furthermore, the imperatival nature of the passive participle “go” (πορευθέντες) must not be overlooked as a necessary aspect of Christ’s vision.[3] Finally, making disciples must ultimately result in obeying all that Christ commands. In other words, lives must not just be baptized and taught – lives must be transformed to image God.[4] Accordingly, the foundation upon which LT exists is sharing to baptize the lost, teaching to grow the saints, and going to serve the needy. Succinctly, the vision of LT is to transform lives into image God by sharing, growing, and serving.

The focus of LT regarding demographics, ages, and people groups is quite broad. LT has discipleship coaches and counselors who specialize in working with children and adolescents, while others primarily focus on adults. The key to identifying which individuals to focus on is not the age, ethnicity, or demographics of the individuals, but the willingness of the individual. For example, in the letter to the Romans, Paul identifies people who are unwilling to engage in the process of transformation, and thus “God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (Rom 1:28). Furthermore, Matthew records Jesus’s words regarding those unwilling to receive His message: “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet” (Matt 10:14). Accordingly, the people that LT focuses on and are aiming to reach and disciple are those who are willing.

Values

Building upon the analysis of Matthew 28:19-20 allows for the identification of three distinctive elements that align with modern leadership vernacular. First, the vision of any ministry is what it aspires to – its preferred future, which in the case of LT is “to transform lives.” Next, the mission of any ministry is what it does, which in the case of LT is “to make disciples.” Finally, core values reflect the values and beliefs of a ministry that support the vision and mission by shaping its culture, which in the case of LT is “sharing, growing, and serving.” Jim Collins explains that high functioning organizations must preserve the core ideology (values) and simultaneously stimulate progress.[5] In other words, the methods by which sharing, growing, and serving occur may change or progress over time, but the core values of sharing, growing, and serving require preservation.

Several important biblical passages support the three core values, which assist in extrapolating the ideology into ministry work. First, before sharing can occur, the content of the message requires identification. Unfortunately, many modern Christians assume an understanding of the gospel without truly understanding its meaning. Tim Keller suggests the difficulty arises because the Bible does not provide one standardized approach to sharing the gospel, but instead, provides themes, such as the exilic, covenantal, and kingdom themes, which all may be appropriately utilized to communicate God’s message.[6] For the purpose of LT, the basic gospel message is “God’s developing and giving us righteousness through Jesus Christ” (cf. 1 Cor 1:30; cf. 2 Cor 5:21).[7] However, the Apostle Paul explains that the good news is not just a new righteous status, but a completely new identity where the “old self was crucified with Him” (Rom 6:6; cf. Gal 2:20). As Craig Keener explains, “We humans tend to identify ourselves in terms such as (naturally) our personal past, our family models, or our social embeddedness,” but “for Paul, this new identity is not merely a cognitive strategy but an affirmation of a new reality.”[8] In a world where emotional turmoil wreaks havoc on individuals identifying the self with the gods of performance, other people’s opinions, and external circumstances, sharing a new identity in Christ through faith is good news indeed.

The new divinely ordained identity provided to a believer as a gift by God (cf. Rom 5:15-17), with no contribution from humanity, is certainly good news. However, appropriating the individual’s new identity into life requires participation on the part of the believer–it requires growing. An important passage in appropriating the individual’s new identity is Rom 6:11, which states, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Keener explains that Paul insists that believers must consider or reckon themselves as God reckons them with a new identity in Christ.[9] Bauer’s Lexicon (BDAG) suggests that the word consider or reckon (λογίζομαι) means to cognitively count or determine something to be true through careful thought.[10] Paul also highlights the importance of cognition in the appropriation of a new identity in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Ultimately, transformation occurs by taking each thought captive (cf. 2 Cor. 10:5) and aligning the thoughts with God’s truth, and thus allowing the Holy Spirit of truth (cf. John 16:13) to transform the individual believer appropriating the new identity.

Once a new identity exists and is appropriated, the result is righteous living–serving. After Paul explains how the new identity is appropriated via reckoning in Romans 6:11, he continues by stating, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness…for sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:12, 14). In other words, a life of sin is no longer a master since believers are under grace because appropriated grace leads to obedience. For example, a husband whose identity, meaning, and value is wrapped up in his wife becomes jealous when she does not provide the attention demanded, but turns into care and service for his wife rather than selfishness when his identity is ripped away from his wife and appropriated in Christ (cf. Luke 14:26). The obedience that results from grace is not man’s doing, it is God’s doing; it is grace. Serving others occurs by living the new identity.

Vehicles

Ministry vehicles encompass both the structure of the ministry organization and the methods support the core values that drive the discipleship process. First, regarding structure, Rod Dempsey suggests four models: (1) traditional (“no” small groups), (2) attractional (“of” small groups), (3) organic (“is” small groups), and (4) hybrid (“with” and “of” small groups).[11] Although the organic church model is the most decentralized approach, each of the models identified by Dempsey assume an institution continues to exist in some fashion. Accordingly, the distinction between the structure of the organic model and the LT structure is that the former is a church that “is” small groups and the latter is where small groups are church. Each of Dempsey’s models continue a form of centralization, but LT is structured as a decentralized network. Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom explain the difference by comparing a spider to a starfish, where the former is centralized, has a body with legs, and if the head is cutoff, it dies; and where the latter is decentralized, has no head, and the organs are replicated through the arms so, when cut in half, it duplicates.[12]

Two examples of decentralized starfish may assist. First, Alan Hirsch explains that in the late 1960s Mao Tse-tung, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, “nationalized all church property, killed all the senior leaders” and “banned all public meeting with Christians with the threat of death or torture.”[13] The Chinese Christians would not be able to survive any model of institutionalized church; the only option was a decentralized starfish structure, and the result from 1950 to the late 1970s was an increase from 1 million to 60 million Christians.[14] A second example may be the most famous. With Alcoholics Anonymous, “There is no one in charge, everyone is responsible for keeping themselves–and everyone else–on track” and the “sponsor doesn’t lead by coercion; that person leads by example. And if you mess up…you’re always welcome to come back.”[15] The one thing that remains constant is the 12 steps.

The biblical support for the starfish structure is represented throughout the Gospels and the book of Acts. The New Testament focus was on movement dynamics as opposed to institutionalism, where the movement was held together by a common purpose and vision. Modern Christians have the special revelation of God in Scripture, but the New Testament cannon was not yet available to first century Christians. Accordingly, the only constant was the guidance of God through the incarnate Christ and through the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. The most famous example of movement dynamics led by the Spirit is Acts 2:1-47, where the Christian movement began and continued as a starfish that replicated in the face of unbearable persecution. Granted, at times, a certain amount of structure was necessary. For example, a system was necessary to feed the widows in Acts 6:1-7. However, as Tim Keller explains, although some institutionalization may be necessary, it must exist to support the movement dynamics and not the reverse.[16]

Second, vehicles must also encompass the methods that drive the discipleship process. The LT ministry method involves one-to-one discipleship sessions, which occur every day of the week, group discipleship sessions that normally occur weekly, and dozens of large group events each year sharing the gospel and encouraging discipleship groups to form across the nation. No budgets exist for paid staff. However, many coaches and counselors are supported by the participants, and the event speakers are supported financially by the venues. Individuals and organizations remit financial support directly to the coaches, counselors, and speakers. Curriculum consists of three books: (1) Minds on Fire: What Is Wrong with Our Thoughts and How to Fix It, which teaches the four steps of thought transformation, (2) FREEDOM: How Grace Transforms Your Life Now, which teaches the seven faulty identity beliefs, and (3) C4–Christian Convergence Coaching and Counseling: A Discipleship Training Guide for Coaches and Counselors (C4), which teaches disciplers how to disciple others in sharing, growing, and serving. The LT slogan is “Your Life. Transformed. Now.” The primary form of communication is the internet. LT utilizes a $10,000 per month non-profit Google Adwords Grant for online advertising, organic search advertising, Facebook Page communication, Facebook Closed Group communication, and Twitter messaging.

Views

With the identification of vehicles established, the definition of key terms can emerge with clarity and prevent confusion among participants. Accordingly, Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington suggest creating “a common language and definition of terms.”[17] The definition of key terms for LT emerge from its core values. Regarding the core value of sharing, the definition of the gospel is God giving and the believer appropriating and living his or her righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 3:21-24; 5:15-17). Accordingly, evangelism is the sharing of the good news of the new righteous status and identity in Christ. For LT, sharing the gospel occurs in an environment of conversation, inquiry, curiosity, and Scripture (cf. Rom 10:14-15).[18] The term saint is defined as an individual who has received God’s gift of righteousness and appropriates that righteousness into his or her life through faith.

The core values of growing and serving involve the terms church and discipleship. The general definition of the term church (ἐκκλησία) means an assembly (cf. Acts 19:39), a gathering (cf. Acts 19:32, 40), or a community of people with shared beliefs.[19] However, Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains that due to the crucifixion of the old self that results in a believer’s new identity in Christ, Christians “not only participate in his teaching but also in his body” (cf. 1 Cor 12:27).[20] In other words, for LT, church is not only where two or more gather (cf. Matt 18:20) in a relational environment of discipleship, but church is also each believer incarnating Christ by bringing the kingdom of God to earth (cf. Matt 6:10).  The term discipleship for LT is the process of personally sharing, growing, and serving, while simultaneously helping others share, grow, and serve in a relational church environment (cf. Matt 28:19-20).

The terms pastor and leader are distinct from discipler, not because it is less than discipling, but because it is more. In other words, everyone is called to disciple, but not everyone is called to shepherd and lead. The term pastor (shepherd) refers to an individual who “equips the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). For LT, the role of the pastor is critically important for answering questions, encouraging, and assisting (equipping) disciplers who get “stuck” when discipling others. According to BDAG, the Greek lemma for leader (προΐστημι) means to exercise leadership, show concern for, care for, and give aid.[21] Leadership is not about exercising authority (cf. Matt 20:25), but about being a servant. The Gospel of Matthew states, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt 20:26-28). Accordingly, for LT, leaders fit the modern definition of a catalyst more than the modern definition of a leader. Brafman and Beckstrom suggest that a catalyst is a great listener, wants to help, has a relentless belief in the vision, builds trust, does not attempt to control outcomes, exerts no coercion, inspires, and then most importantly…leaves.[22] In many ways, not only does the modern definition of catalyst fit the definition of the Greek lemma for leader, it also aligns with Christ’s ministry on earth.

Verifiers

Where the vehicle of the entity and the views of the participants exist in a highly decentralized autonomous environment, it is almost impossible to use traditional verifiers to track success. Last year, LT quantitatively tracked thousands of hours of discipleship coaching, counseling, and small group sessions and tracked that over a thousand individuals gave their life to Christ at the large group discipleship events. Although LT will continue to attempt to track this quantitative information, these numbers neither measure the success of the discipleship process nor provide empirical evidence of discipleship success. The quantitative statistics ultimately measure the wrong data to track the effectiveness of discipleship. The question that needs answered is whether individuals’ lives are being transformed. All the sharing, growing, and serving statistics mean nothing if lives are conformed to the world, and not to Christ (cf. 1 Cor 2:16).

LT utilizes two qualitative methods of tracking whether lives are being transformed. First, all individual and group discipleship sessions have an evaluation form in the back of the C4 manual that provides feedback to the discipler. The participant evaluates the discipler using a five-point scale regarding such things as whether they felt heard, judged, encouraged, and challenged. Second, Scripture provides several references to track the spiritual health of the individual. The most well-known may be Paul’s reference to the fruit of the Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23; see also 2 Peter 1:5-7). Accordingly, the C4 manual provides a fruit of the Spirit and a relationship satisfaction evaluation form for all individual and group discipleship sessions. Participants complete the forms at the end of each session. The fruit of the Spirit evaluations uses a five-point scale to assess such things as the level of joy, anxiety, fear, and anger. The relationships satisfaction evaluation uses a five-point scale to assess such things as the ability to build trust, resolve conflict, and serve others.  Both scales can be tracked and compared to previous sessions to track progress.

Although the verifiers are in place to empirically measure spiritual growth, LT is not currently utilizing the system to its full potential. First, the current scales may need expanded. However, an analysis would need performed to assess whether expanding the evaluations would decrease participation rate. Next, the statistics from the sessions need compiled to show progress and to assist in refining the disciple making plan. The final step is to create an online database system that allows each participant to input the results, compare results to previous data, and compare results to other participants using statistical analysis. By analyzing the data, LT will be able to further track the success of making disciples and refine the disciple making.

Conclusion

Without question, this paper has shown that is possible to not only create a disciple making plan, but also develop a strategy of deployment within the context of LT. The analysis first described the ultimate vision for discipleship, which is to transform lives to image God, and then identified three core values that support the vision–sharing, growing, and serving. Next, the research provided methods that drive the discipleship process, which include a starfish decentralized structure and the utilization of LT discipleship resources. Furthermore, several important key terms such as the gospel, evangelism, discipleship, and leader were defined to decrease the risk of confusion. Finally, an examination of current and potential verifiers ensued, which included not only traditional quantitative tracking, but also included qualitative verifiers of discipleship such as tracking the fruit of the Spirit. Regarding practical application, the opportunities appear to be endless as it is possible for the entire disciple making plan to be deployed in any environment where two or more individuals meet with the willingness for their lives to be transformed.

Bibliography

Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Discipleship. Edited by Geffrey B. Kelly and John D. Godsey. Translated by Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

Brafman, Ori, and Rod Beckstrom. The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. London: Penguin, 2006.

Collins, James C., and Jerry I. Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.

Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013.

Fay, William, and Linda Evans Shepherd. Share Jesus without Fear. Nashville, TN: B&H, 1999.

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007.

Heiser, Michael S. The Unseen Realm. Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2015.

Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2006.

Keener, Craig S. The Mind of the Spirit: Paul’s Approach to Transformed Thinking. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016.

Keller, Tim. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman. DiscipleShift. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007), 1115 (emphasis mine).

[3] See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 640–45. According to Wallace, πορευθέντες is an attendant circumstance participle, and thus picks up the imperative mood of the main verb μαθητεύσατε.

[4] Based on an analysis of Hebrew grammar the image of God is not considered an ability or property, but instead functions as a verb that images God. For further discussion, see Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2015), 40–43.

[5] James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 80–90.

[6] Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 39–44.

[7] Ibid., 63.

[8] Craig S. Keener, The Mind of the Spirit: Paul’s Approach to Transformed Thinking (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 33.

[9] Ibid., 45.

[10] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000), 597–98.

[11] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013), 229–37.

[12] Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (London: Penguin, 2006), 33–35.

[13] Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2006), 19.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Brafman and Beckstrom, The Starfish, 36–37.

[16] Keller, Center Church, 341–42.

[17] Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, DiscipleShift (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 220.

[18] For a full discussion regarding this method, see William Fay and Linda Evans Shepherd, Share Jesus without Fear (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1999), 29–55.

[19] Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 303–4.

[20] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly and John D. Godsey, trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 215.

[21] Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 870.

[22] Brafman and Beckstrom, The Starfish, 120–29.