This is an article from the January-February 2011 issue: Discipleship Revolution

A Discipleship Revolution

The Key To Discipling All Peoples

A Discipleship Revolution

In the 2000 years since Jesus came to Earth we have made great strides in technology. Our ability to communicate the gospel to huge numbers of people all over the planet has never been greater. We have a greater wealth of resources than ever before for proclaiming the gospel to every person, tribe and tongue. Yet many unreached peoples still await a fair opportunity to know and follow Jesus. At the same time the Church in the West is at best stalled. In Europe the Church is in serious decline. We are forced to ask ourselves, "Have we missed something? What is keeping us from making the progress we would all like to see?"

For 32 years now Mission Frontiers has been identifying the systemic problems and obstacles that hinder us from bringing the gospel to every tribe and tongue. We have sought to highlight the mission strategies that can help us overcome the obstacles and bring the love of Christ to every person regardless of their location, language or culture.

In this issue of MF we focus on one of the most troubling obstacles to world evangelization facing us today: the failure of the Church (especially in the West) to equip most followers of Jesus to reproduce their faith in the lives of others. The vast majority of Bible-believing followers of Jesus are not regularly sharing their faith nor investing their lives in helping to bring others to maturity in Christ. And those who are concerned about this donít seem to know what to do about it. We are not simply pointing fingers here. Both the guest editor for this issue and I are convicted that we need to figure out how to be more successful in this area ourselves.

Tom Nelson of Denton Bible Church in Texas wrote (see p. 21 of this issue), 

If we as a church succeed in every area, but fail to make disciples who can spiritually multiply, then ultimately we have failed. Yet if we fail in every other area, but succeed in spiritual multiplication, then ultimately we have succeeded.


Our churches in the West seem to be succeeding at lesser things while failing at Jesusí core strategy for world evangelization. We are succeeding in collecting tens of billions of dollars each year to gather large crowds into beautiful and expensive church buildings on Sunday. We have succeeded in putting on a great show and developing programs that attract people to our churches. In the process we have put an unbearable burden on our pastors to do nearly all the ministry while failing to activate the laity. As a result many pastors are skating on the edge of burnout, while the majority of church members do not see that God has any other role for them except as spectators.

In short, we are largely failing to develop mature followers of Jesus who are able to make disciples who can make disciples.

The people in our churches are not growing to spiritual maturity where they are able to carry on the work of spreading the gospel within our own culture, not to mention cross-culturally to every tribe and tongue. This is having a devastating impact on our ability to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.

The dirty little secret of missions is that we are sending missionaries all over the world who have not demonstrated the ability to make disciples who can make disciples. Most have not seen or participated in effective models of church-planting or discipleship at home, but we send them out in the hope that going cross-culturally will turn them into effective church planters and disciplers. This is wishful thinking at best, and it has to change.

We must learn from and refine effective biblical models of doing church and discipleship, both at home and abroad, where the focus is on spiritual reproduction and multiplication of mature disciplers and discipleship teams. The often overlooked secret of Christian maturity is that we learn and grow the most when we are involved in sharing our faith and discipling others. Until believers have demonstrated their ability to produce reproducing disciples, we must provide mentoring and peer coaching aimed at helping them learn to succeed in this fundamental task as we deploy them into ministry here or abroad. Otherwise we are only sending people out to replicate a failed model of doing church. Overcoming this failure of the church to equip believers to make disciples who can make disciples is one of the most critical needs in the church today. What we need is a ìDiscipleship Revolutionî that transforms the way we do church and mission, and vastly multiplies the number of disciplers who can disciple all peoples both near and far. This will require effective disciplers to go cross-culturally to every people to begin a discipleship movement within each people.

In this issue we present some foundational principles and models of discipler multiplication that have shown great promise for equipping people to make disciples who can make disciples. The Discipleship Revolution starts on page 6 with the story of Avery Willis and his last dream to change the way we do church. His dream has become reality in the discipleship model of Real Life Ministries. They are effectively transforming thousands of average Americans into disciples who are making disciples.

On page 17 of this issue, Jim Downing, a close friend of Navigators founder, Dawson Trotman, explains why he feels Real Life Ministries is the best model of church-based discipleship he has seen in his 75 years of discipleship ministry: ìReal Life Ministries has identified the stages of Christian growth, from infancy to maturity, and has innovated a plan and resource to meet the need at each stage of growth. They have mastered spiritual parenting.î See the chart on page 8 describing this process by which disciple-makers move people forward towards spiritual maturity. Real Life Ministries makes the personal fruitfulness of each person a priority, and has trained and equipped a large portion of their members to lead others in learning to be fruitful. With this model, spiritual growth is not a haphazard process but one that is deliberate and focused on maturity and spiritual reproduction. For more information on their monthly training in their model, go to RealLifeMinistries.com/immersion-one.

The good news is that all of us have the potential to become ìreproducers.î On page 11 we present the incredible discipleship training model called T4T (Training for Trainers), which started just ten years ago from the passionate dream of one church-planting couple to reach a people of 20 million. To date T4T has baptized 1.7 million people. And this model has proven its reproducibility in a dozen similar movements it has stirred and informed.

The models we present in this issue demonstrate that all of us have the potential to become disciple-makers and to have multiple generations of spiritual descendants. We just need the conviction that this is Godís will, and the determination to learn together how to do it.

Simply working harder at the current model of church will not succeed in bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth. Godís strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission requires reproducing disciples.
Why Not Use the Model Jesus Gave Us?

Jesus preached to crowds, but didnít leave the fruit to rot. He balanced public ministry with roughly equal attention to the development of 12 individuals, rather than simply attracting larger crowds. During the latter part of his ministry, He withdrew increasingly from public proclamation to change the lives of 12 men. Eleven of them would go on to change the world, even without modern technology. Jesus was intentionally relational in discipling the Twelve. He shared His life with them and used stories and parables to embed the truths of His Kingdom in their hearts. His focus was not on simply communicating a message or filling their heads with knowledge, but on guiding them to maturity as spiritual reproducers. That should be the focus of our churches today as well.

We will never bring the gospel to every tribe and tongue if we continue to rely on professional clergy to do ìdisciplingî as a transfer of knowledge. As followers of Jesus, we must all aim to become disciples who can follow Jesusí example in making disciples. None of us is excused from active duty in the service of our King.

A Special Note:

I want to extend a special word of thanks to our Guest Editor, Robby Butler, for all of his help in putting this issue together. His efforts were invaluable to me as I have prepared for cornea transplant surgery. Your prayers for my recovery would be appreciated.

Also please take note of our greatly expanded website with many new features that will allow you to interact with us more effectively. Come join the discussion, at missionfrontiers.org
 

Comments

author

Cheryl

Thank you so much for your comments. Your prayer is my own. I pray that somehow this issue of MF will be the spark that will ignite a renewed passion and commitment within the church to make disciples who can make disciples. May Avery’s Last Dream be his greatest. It is up to us to make it so in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. Thank you also for your prayers regarding my cornea transplant. My doctor says everything is going well and is much improved over what it was the last time I saw you. Thank you for your encouraging words to trust God with this.

I plan on doing an issue of MF on reaching Oral Peoples so keep in touch.

God bless

Rick Wood
Editor
Mission Frontiers

author

Dear Pastor Lustig

I agree with you that we have gotten so distracted from our main purpose as the church: to make disciples who can make disciples. This has to become our main focus as the church not the Sunday morning sermon or other good things. I also loved your word picture of birthing a child and leaving it to fend for itself. This is the exact same analogy that Dawson Trotman used in his article, Born to Reproduce which has been distilled on to two pages in this issue with the title Maturity that Reproduces. Take a look if you haven’t already. As you correctly said we must be relational with people. I would add that we also must be intentionally relational with the purpose of leading them to maturity. The ministry grid that Real Life Ministries has developed is very helpful in understanding this growth process and seeing where people are at and helping them to move forward. Discipleship should not be haphazard process. Thank you for your comments. See Avery Willis’ Last Dream for this grid.

God bless

Rick Wood

Hi Mission Frontiers Staff,

I must say I was definitely inspired by this issue of Mission Frontiers. It came in the mail today and I have already read it cover to cover. This is the first issue I have ever read (I guess I got on the mailing list through the Perspectives course?) and I was blessed and encouraged by the high-quality articles and exciting reports of what God is doing to bring the church back to discipleship.

In my church experience, I have seen good evangelistic programs, and I have seen good teaching for Christians who are already mature, but I have never witnessed firsthand a discipleship process that takes a person from “New Believer” to “Mature, Self-replicating Disciple.” The information you presented about Real Life Ministries and T4T was new to me. I am excited to look into it further.

Thank you for doing what you are doing to advance the cause of Christ and extend the gospel throughout the world!

In Christ,
Rebekah

Rick and Mission Frontiers,

Thank you so much for devoting a whole issue on this very important topic.  I relished every page.  One facet of this issue that was never discussed was the Gospel message.  For the Western church, the typical Gospel message (say this prayer and you get to go to heaven when you die), is a key contributor to our problem.  The problem is boiled down to a debt to God, and the solution is a “prayer of faith”.  Therefore, discipleship is not needed.  The prayer fixes the whole problem, supposedly.

Obviously, the Gospel message is not one simple sentence that all cultures can put in a sound-bite and use.  But I think it would be worth our time as missionaries to seriously consider what Gospel message we are preaching.  It must align with the Scriptures, and not just selected verses from Romans.  It should naturally lead people to follow hard after Christ.  It should meet people where they are.

Thanks again.  May God increase the vision of Himself in each one of us.

Yours in Christ,
Jason

I may have missed it but even the Idaho Church did not define a “Reproductive Disciple.”

We need a clear definition of a “Reproductive Disciple” at 18 years of age (1st attempt):

A Reproductive Disciple

1.Can articulate God’s MISSION
2.Has identified their passions and talents,
3.Partners with God’s mission in a transforming project in their high school venue
4.Has discovered and refined their LIVE-VOICE
5.Experiences effective prayer and resourcing their project through God’s networks of people

What is your definition?

Dear Mission Frontirs

I like to say thank you so much for sending Discipleship revolution we need this time in our church
not only my church all over in Ethiopia I can see God is using your ministries all over the world.

many God Keep Bless you


Dawit Endrias

from Ethiopia

Need more information on radical discipleship ,please

How do we make this more interactive?  Your initial article is provocative but you constituency does not seem to want or know how to interact and extend the conversation?

Is the church in Idaho the only model???

What does radical discipleship look like???

How can I connect with Lisa Sells who was mentioned in the article on Discipleship Revolution.  My church is interested in learning more about Real Life Discipleship and the Real Life Discipleship Training Manual.  Any other contacts or information on this approach to discipleship in the church would be greatly appreciated.

author

Friends:
For all of those who want to learn more about the Real Life Ministries model of discipleship, I suggest you read the books, Church is a Team Sport by Jim Putnam, Real Life Discipleship and the Real Life Discipleship Manual by Jim Putnam. All these books are well worth the expense. The other option is to contact the church In Post Falls Idaho. Their Immersion training is well worth the time and expense. I have been though it myself and found it life-changing You can learn more about the Immersion training at: RealLifeMinistries.com/immersion-one

We featured the church in Post Falls ID because people like Avery Willis and Jim Downing who have been in discipleship ministry for over 75 years have recognized the value of this model as being the best they have ever seen.

Thanks

Rick Wood
Editor

I’ve always been a loser but I’ve never realized it until a few years ago. Never was good with people, and until very late in life I thought the only way to make friends and please people was to do and be everything they wanted us to. I shaped my personality on that of those I wanted to be friends with. I wasn’t myself. So I was bullied, beaten, mocked, taken advantage of and such. 
 
Then there were the parental units. Work took them away a lot, and the little time we spent together was them saying constantly I behaved like a lunatic and if I didn’t behave properly I was to be commited to an institution. What a great thing to say to a child, right? My whole family, though small, started to see me this way. I was the crazy one, the child that never said anything that made sense, the child who always had to be watched lest he break, stole or severely damaged anything. Well, movin’ on… 
 
Let’s see…School: Check; Parents/Family: Check; Work - Check my other story “damned if you do…”; That leaves married life. 
 
I don’t have to tell you about my love life, use your imagination under these circumstances. I met my future wife and eight years later we got married. Best and fastest day of my entire life.  I later found out that my marriage isn’t a partnership, but a domination. She’s the dominating one, I’m the dominated one. 
 
So at this point I really start thinking like that famous Demotivator poster with the picture of a sinking ship that says «It may be that your goal in life is to serve as a warning to others.». I looked around and realized that no one respected me, people saw me as a child of 5 in a 30 year-old body, the lunatic mad prankster who never took anything seriously and never did anything right. I had one last chance to prove myself to the world: to have children of my own, to make others around me see that I too could make something right, something beautiful. Then the Doctor told me I couldn’t have children. I was sterile. No chance in Hell.

[...]  With the dsreie to serve my readers better, I have setup a page in The Disciplers that talks about Christian Discipleship. This will be the gateway of the materials that I have made so far and those books that I highly [...]

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