Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Do you know how to reproduce?

People who walk past our family (with four boys, and now a baby girl puppy) in our local mall will never ask us this question!! Our kids even like to form a line like "crack the whip" which makes us few friends among our fellow shoppers!

This questions haunts me when it comes to church and discipleship. Recently I've been gripped by the need and desire to see disciples made of our existing and future church community. Our church and presbytery is quite keen on reproducing churches to reach Canada for Christ. But it has been hard going with mixed results.

Over at World Changers I came across this stunning quote that I want to unpack in this post:

“If you can’t reproduce disciples, you can’t reproduce leaders.
If you can’t reproduce leaders, you can’t reproduce churches.
If you can’t reproduce churches, you can’t reproduce movements.”
Neil Cole
Our church has had both a dearth and death of leadership in its 18 year history. One of the reasons, I now believe, stems from the inability (for whatever reason) to reproduce disciples. In our small churches getting adherents is a thrill, adding members causes us to swoon, and to produce a disciple we would say "Beam me up Jesus. My life is complete."

In their book, No Man Left Behind, Patrick Morley, David Delk, and Brett Clemmer state "We pray for disciples and make workers" when instead we should "Make disciples and pray for workers." Trying to get our slots filled is deadly competition for our real mandate of the Great Commission that must and will be fulfilled.

As I've done a lot of reading about this phenomenon lately I'm convinced that it's possibly (how's that for humilty) a lack of a conceptual map of what a progression of discipleship would look like.

Dennis Bennett, Training Consultant at the PCA's EQUIP for Ministry mag offers this map:

Level 1 Searching: UNSAVED Being nurtured along and is very interested in spiritual things
Level 2 Believing: NEW CHRISTIAN Immature, needing nurturing
Level 3 Growing: ACTIVELY GROWING personally, but not involved in ministry
Level 4 Becoming: SPIRITUALLY MATURING needs now to be trained to disciple new believers
Level 5 Serving: SPIRITUALLY MATURE train to disciple to others ( A-C)
Level 6 Leading: SPIRITUALLY MATURE should be leading the Church (A-F)

A few questions might help us use this map and address the needs concretely:
  • How long will we let a person call themselves "a new Christian"?
  • What signs of growth would we be looking for? Regular attendance? Small group participation? Tithing? Witnessing? A fish sticker on the tailgate? Starting a blog on theology?
  • If discipleship becomes the "portal priority" or defining grid through which all ministry takes place, would discipling become a test case for leadership readiness? Which is the question "do you know how to reproduce"? This is a tad different than the "apt to teach" required of elders, but is related to it. (Check out No Man Left Behind for a definition of discipleship as "portal priority")
  • If we don't have a framework for training believers, how will we reproduce leaders who could nurture disciples?
This last question is one reason why many of our churches never move past the "one cell" level that Carl F. George discusses in Prepare Your Church for the Future. If only the pastor has the power/knowhow/woo to make disciples, the one thing each of them will have in common is the pastor. What this will produce is a small number of disciples, and will perhaps produce a groupie/clique dependence that they will never grow out of. The ego of the pastor and the dependence of the disciple will hamper the ability to go out and reproduce. He will not be free to" play the field" and shepherd the whole flock, and definitely not be able to seek and save the lost outside of the fold.

This is one of the most powerful but also deadly characteristics of the lead planter. If he is a winsome communicator, empathetic counselor, and a mediocre networker, he will start the church and perhaps never outgrow a group of needy, dependent "cling-ons." Humanly and practically speaking, our planters should be winsome communicators, occasional counselors, and rabid networkers that takes the shape of discipling disciplers who will also be networkers. The growth needs to be viral rather than architectural (see George's analogy of coral growth and yeast growth). By the way, I'm all for counseling and I'm taking training to correct this blindspot in my schooling, but we should look at counseling as short-term, focused discipleship rather than a long-term relationship that leads to a "forsaking all others."

So what does this look in terms of ministry for 2007 for me?
  • The current situation and future growth requires that I focus on reproducing reproducers (Bennett's Level 4-6). It's a painful admission to say that even though we are a small church and even though I'm a nice guy, I can't connect with everybody at a deep level. But other people in their God-given uniqueness can. This means I can and must identify people and their natural networks that are the perfect context for either peer-to-peer or mentoring style discipleship. Being intentional in this way monopolizes on the viral/biological power that we often ignore. (Natural Church Development has captured this powerfully and they have cool color diagrams!)
  • Getting out and meeting Level 1's.
  • Short term counseling and regular encouragement of Level's 2-3
  • Prayer! The stagnancy demons will probably only come out through prayer and fasting.

1 comment:

Clarkie said...


You have been reading my mind from a distance... Skype me man!