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What’s Holding Back DiscipleMaking?



What’s Holding Back DiscipleMaking?

What’s holding back the acceleration of disciplemaking movements around the world? Someone asked me this question recently and I thought hard about the answer. Here are some notes I took on some of the obstacles I see holding back the acceleration of disciplemaking movements around the world.

Lack of a reproducible process:

We need structures that can support a movement—simple, easy, reproducible ways to keep making disciples at a grassroots level. Without structures, even the most powerful movements of the Spirit fade over time and lose their apostolic edge. A good structure can come alongside people to keep the movement going forward. 

Becoming inwardly focused:

All disciplemaking movements begin with an outward focus—loving people and sharing their stories of faith. When those movements fade is often when they shift from an outward to an inward focus. We can help maintain an outward focus through coaching relationships where we ask each other questions about serving, using our gifts, and sharing our faith.

Lack of structures for compassion movements:

On the flipside, some movements can become so overly focused on external compassion ministries that they lose the heart of discipleship—the why for why we’re serving. When this happens, we have care ministries but with no disciplemaking going on. Discipleship leads to compassion and serving, but it doesn’t end there. By creating structures for both discipleship and compassion ministries, you can ensure they run alongside one another, both moving forward.

A relational approach to discipling younger leaders:

Although there currently seems to be a greater sense of interest in the discipleship of younger leaders, the approach taken with that needs to be more relational and personal. Younger leaders don’t want to be pressed into anyone else’s mold. They want to be developed to focus on what God has called them to do particularly. The only way to develop leaders in this way isn’t through classrooms, but through intentional relationships and real-life ministry experience.

What other obstacles do you see holding back disciplemaking?

Did you find this post helpful? Check out these resources:

The Discipleship Difference- This book lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship that is individualized to meet each person wherever they are.

The Leadership Difference- This book focuses specifically on key leadership skills you need to be effective as a leader

Finding the Flow- This book helps small group leaders experience the power small groups have to allow members to wrestle with questions, create a space where people know and are known by others, and to open people up to encounter God more deeply.

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9570815657?profile=originalFor discipling people, I like to use the analogy of rubber bands and shoelaces. People need both enough stretch (rubber bands) and enough support (shoelaces) to be able to move forward. One without the other is incomplete. People need to be stretched and challenged in order to grow. They also need the connectedness of being tied in with others for support.

The writer of Hebrews outlines the dual needs of stretch and support in the context of community:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25, NRSV)

Let’s unpack this rich passage, as it has a great deal to say about how we are to disciple one another:

  • “let us consider…” The word consider implies intentional thought about how to help another individual. We are to take our time, sit down and consider the best way to spur one another on, recognizing that it may look differently for different people.
  • “how to provoke one another…” This phrase speaks to the very nature of community. Some translations use the phrase “spur one another on,” which implies both challenge and encouragement. Community is designed so that we might encourage one another on toward growth. That growth happens in the context of community, and we help move each other toward it.
  • “to love and good deeds…” And toward what end are we spurring one another on? To love and good deeds. Not just love, not just good deeds—both. Here we see the highlighting of both the internal and the external, the being and the doing. That’s holistic discipleship.
  • not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…” Consistent meeting together speaks to the intentionality of the relationships. In any community of people, relationships can fade out if we’re not careful. We need to be intentional about maintaining our discipleship community.

Too often when we think of discipleship, we think of the practices of an individual. Yet Jesus never intended discipleship as something to be done alone. What are some of the specific ways we can support one another in community—as rubber bands and shoelaces—as we go about our journeys of living as disciples of Jesus?

I personally think of three categories: relationships, environments, and processes. As leaders whose goal is to make disciples of Jesus, our work is to create the kinds of environments, relationships, and processes that facilitate discipleship.

  • What kinds of environments facilitate discipleship?
  • What types of relationships facilitate discipleship?
  • What kinds of processes facilitate discipleship?
  • And lastly, what can you do to make these types of environments, relationships, and processes readily accessible to anyone touched by your ministry who wants to grow in their walk of discipleship?

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9570814687?profile=originalOften churches send their people out on mission trips. The purpose is to serve others and reach out with the gospel—to be a light in the world. Yet there’s a secondary purpose we often miss: How can we use mission trips as an opportunity for discipling the people who are going? Ideally, mission trips accomplish both.

Missions is Discipleship

To make disciples doesn’t only mean the people you’re serving: it means those on your team as well. Mission trips can be a critical time of discipleship for them, with rich opportunities for growth and development. Missions is discipleship. It's about making disciples and growing as disciples at the same time. There’s a dual benefit.

We see this reality reflected in Jesus’ earthly ministry as well. He made disciples on the go. As he was working to advance the Kingdom he also used every opportunity to shape his followers along the way. Consider his questions and statements to his disciples in the midst of everyday ministry situations: “Some say this, some say that... who do YOU say that I am?” “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven" (after they had just seen a real life example), and “Let the children come to me.” In fact, many of Jesus’ recorded teachings were underscoring realities the disciples were running up against. 

So your role leading a missions trip is as a discipler… not just as a tour guide who gets people there safely. Your role is not just the logistics and service, but also have a discipleship hat on so people come back as better followers of Jesus than they were before. As a mission leader, you are serving as a discipler for your team members.

Here are a few concrete ways to naturally integrate discipleship into your missions endeavors:

Things happen while you’re on mission

Mission trips put people under stress: everyone is tired and jet lagged, sometimes dealing with culture shock. More conflicts arise as people have fewer filters under stress and the team members are spending a lot of time together, often in close quarters. Team dynamics sometimes results in conflicts that are misinterpreted as spiritual warfare. On the plus side, these conflicts provide an opportunity for character growth if people are guided through dealing with them well. People need to ask forgiveness, deal with unmet expectations, flex with changing plans, learn to trust God in the midst of unexpected difficulties. All of these things are discipleship opportunities for you team. Consider how you will handle these challenges as they arise: difficulties, conflicts, unfairness, relational stress, changing plans.

Take note of in-the-moment teaching opportunities

Use the circumstances you and your team are facing as learning opportunities: "You ran into X today? What do you think is going on there?" Sometimes situations lend themselves to illustrations of spiritual truths or guideposts to what God may be up to. To do this, you'll need to keep your eyes and heart open... listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit and look for what he may be up to.

Be intentional about reflection

Set aside time for people to reflect on their learnings. Do this both individually and as a team, as different people process in different ways. Be sure to schedule reflection time and processing time in advance. The following five questions can start you off in the right direction:

  • What's working?
  • What's not working?
  • What are you learning?
  • What needs to change?
  • What's next?

By taking some time to focus on the discipleship of those on your team, you will not only be on mission serving others and making disciples, but you’ll be serving your team members and helping them develop in their own discipleship journey as well.


Guide for Discipling- Take the next step closer to Jesus and bring others along on the journey. Each section of this discipleship study is packed with scripture and questions designed to inspire thoughtful reflection on your relationship with God and how it spreads into daily life.  Click here for a FREE Overview.

Becoming Barnabas- A Barnabas creates a ripple effect, empowering others and spreading outward into the broader community. Becoming Barnabas focuses on practical – how – questions: How can you serve as a Barnabas – a son or daughter of encouragement? How can you disciple, develop, and support those around you? How can that relational investment lead to a powerful impact on the church and on the surrounding community?

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Digging down to the roots of leadership problems

9570814883?profile=originalSometimes there's a disconnect in ministry between what we say and what we do. For instance, I have always said compassion ministry is important-- but the question is what am I personally doing to engage in it? So I began praying to ask the Lord for some guidance. The turning point for me came when an opportunity surfaced to lead an anger management class at the Salvation Army. I engaged in that, and it led to several other avenues of involvement as well. The greatest impact of those involvements was the character changes in myself. It's not that I was so spectacularly great at serving in that role, but more that it helped me immensely and helped shape my character. As leaders, we can be tempted to talk beyond our experience, saying things that may be true but that we haven't personally engaged.

Most leadership issues are actually discipleship issues. We need to be more genuine in recognizing the gaps between what we say and what we do.

What can that look like in real life? It looks like…

  • The leader who won’t admit it when he doesn’t know the answer
  • The team member who always shows up late
  • The supervisor who is micromanaging others
  • The admin who is subtly correcting everyone

I’m sure you could come up with a dozen more examples. Each of those instances, while certainly having bearing on a person’s leadership capacity, is primarily a character issue. It’s an issue of discipleship.

That’s why we need to take discipleship seriously if we want to do all we can to address leadership shortcomings. First, we need to develop leaders only from among those who are already disciples. That doesn’t mean people who are perfect, but it does mean people whose hearts are open to change and repentance and are actively focused on character growth.

Second, it means continuing discipleship practices and guidance among leaders. That means discipleship doesn’t end when a person becomes a leader. In fact, it takes on even more importance because the stakes are higher. Consider your leaders. Who are their coaches or mentors? What peers can they share freely with? Who is holding them accountable? How are they setting aside time for reflection and listening to God? What discipleship practices are they currently engaging in?

Make sure you create an environment in your organization where discipleship is a priority. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever run into leadership problems—you will. But you’ll have a much better basis for addressing and resolving them.

If you found this blog post helpful, you may also be interested in my books The Leadership Difference and Becoming Barnabas.

Photo by Doran Erickson on Unsplash

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