As lead pastor of Grace Covenant Church, I equip disciple-makers every week through preaching the gospel from the front (we call this our air-war). As a Christian, I make disciples in the every day through leading a gospel community from my home (we call this our ground war). Though known for being mildly thick in the head, if you give me enough clues I’ll eventually get it, with some help. One of the things I’m currently learning is the more involved I am in the ground-war work, the more affective I am in my air-war work. The ground war is hard, slow, messy, up-close, and personal. Daily being involved in the the ground war prevents my weekly air-war delivery from becoming cold, distant, impersonal, un-attached, and reckless. In other words, my involvement with both makes me more effective in both. Here are six lessons I’m learning as I lead my family to live in community with other people while making disciples of believers and unbelievers in the every day of life.
1. LEARN TO FACILITATE A SINGLE CONVERSATION
You're not there to teach them everything you know, you’re there to facilitate the Holy Spirit guiding them into self-discovery. Be intentional...don’t let 5 conversations go at once where everyone is talking over everyone else and no one’s listening to anyone. Instead, learn to facilitate a single discussion, where people are listened to, loved, shown interest in, and asked questions of. You’ll be blown away at what will happen.
2. MISSION IS MESSY, SO DON'T AVOID IT, MOVE INTO IT
If you’re not discouraged, overwhelmed, tired, hopeless, frustrated...you’re probably not making disciples. You’re just not. You might be attending a nice Bible study where people come, share polite observations and leave, but you’re not in anyone’s life. You’re not under the hood. You're not past the facade. So you’re simply not making disciples (although you may be disciplining people to hide their stuff and perform for other people’s approval?) Gospel discipleship is messy. Everything gets exposed. No on gets to hide. So remember, when the crap hits the fan, don’t dread it, embrace it. Thank Jesus for it. It’s prime opportunity for discipleship. Don’t see sin as defeat, see it as an act of grace through which the Spirit is exposing unbelief so we can all learn, grow, repent, and turn again to Jesus.
3. LEARN TO TRUST THE HOLY SPIRIT
Making disciples is an exercise in learning to trust the Holy Spirit, not be the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to trust the Holy Spirit listening to me preach a sermon. But when you’re out trying to make disciples, strap on. The water level rises quickly as your unbelief, lack of skill, and ungodly character get exposed for the world to see. Worse, you realize you can’t change anyone at the heart level. You just can’t. You might be able to strong-arm people to change a few external habits through the application of enough guilt and calls for more will power, but we all know how long that kind of change will last. So it’s discouraging and humbling all at the same time. And then it becomes freeing when you realize the pressure’s off. You can’t do it! Now you get to act like you believe that by trusting the only One who can to do the heavy lifting. Phew! What a relief. Unless Jesus shows up, this will be a waste of time. Guess what? Now you’re in a place of utter dependance upon the Spirit of God working through the power of the gospel. That is a good place to be when making disciples. It doesn’t remove any of the weight or urgency, it just removes the pressure. He is the one who can correct, teach, rebuke and encourage. You just have to listen to the Spirit and ask the right questions.
4. LEARN TO PERSEVERE
What I really mean when I say that is: show up. Just flat-out, every time, rain or shine, feel like it or not, show up. I say that because most people don't. Lots of leaders start strong with lots of enthusiasm, but in the long run bring little sticking power. And you just won't make disciples if you don't stay after it. Let me explain. Wednesday is the hardest day of the week for me. Every week. No exceptions. It’s also when our gospel community gathers for our “structured” time of learning (we share a meal and then dive in). Coincidence? I don't think so. There hasn’t been a Wednesday I haven’t been tempted to cancel. Long day, stuff at work, kids get sick, you name it. Wednesday is official crap-interface-fan day, because the enemy wants me to quite, to cancel, to make up excuses, to go home and veg. Maybe even hit the sack early for a change? Anything but open my home and invest in other people's lives.
My selfishness, neediness, idols and unbelief all come boiling to the surface about 4:30 every Wednesday afternoon. And it's what happens in that moment that determines whether or not I'm going to be a person who makes disciples for the long run. No wonder Paul said he beats his body (I Cor. 9:27). This is flat out work, and my flesh often rebels and just wants to take a break. So I have to repent of my dependance upon myself, of my desire to avoid discomfort, and push ahead.
By 10:00 that night I’m standing in my kitchen, amazed, saying “Dear Jesus, thank you for saving me from myself. Again.”
Because there just aren’t any “average” nights when Jesus is at work. Every night something significant changes for someone. A penny drops. A connection gets made for an unbeliever. A new believers shares a fresh insight into God’s grace that rocks all of us. An old believer get convicted in a new way. Questions get asked, wrestling takes place, sin gets confessed, grace gets applied, tears get shed, laughter c and my ripples through the house, and my heart is once again full. And I almost missed it to indulge my selfishness! And often times the best moments come from where I least expected, from those I don’t even think were listening or paying attention. So the simple lesson is this: don’t trust in how you “feel”, trust that the Holy Spirit that is working and just wants you to be obedient. So show up. And watch Him do his thing.
5. LEARN TO MAKE A PLAN, BE FLEXIBLE, EMBRACE THE UNEXPECTED
One night my entire GC canceled between 4 and 5:30. I came out of a meeting and had 5 texts, all with differing reasons why they couldn't make it (all legitimate by the way, no complaining here). Great, I thought to myself. A young gal who was a new believer in our group was bringing her unbelieving boyfriend over for the first time, and I was frustrated. This was supposed to be the night we would show him our "family" identity! We had talked about it, planned it, prepared for it. And now everyone had bailed and he’d show up and it’d just be me? Some family. Totally lame. When he showed up I did the only thing I could think of. I asked him if he wanted to help me do the dishes while Sharon put the kids to bed. We cleaned the kitchen for an hour, and in the process I got to hear his story. The night I had pegged for a total wash (no pun intended) turned into the ice-breaking relational-building event that motivated him to come back again the next week.
See what happened? I know, it seems small. But small is big in disciple making. We'd made a plan, it fell apart, we flexed, and I spent an evening hanging with just him getting to know his story. For him, that night I went from “the pastor” to a real person who cared enough to ask questions and listen to his stuff. And none of this could have happened had things gone the way I’d planned. Jesus knew what was needed. Make a plan, be flexible, and embrace the unexpected. (Oh, and by the way, we’ll be baptizing that young man this summer!)
6. LEARN TO PLAY THE LONG GAME
When you’re in community, and building relationships, and inviting people into your life, and really caring for them, it gives you freedom. You can have hard conversations, you can dig into to the real issues, and you don’t feel the weight of having to address every issue in a single conversation because you’re going to see that person the next day. You don’t have to hit a home run every time. You’re looking for base hits. And the accumulative affect of that will blow your mind. In one sense there’s urgency in our disciple-making; in another sense there’s patience, because I’m wanting to make a life-time disciple out of the men in my group, and I’m willing to stick it out.
It also means I don’t have to point out every little thing I see wrong with them. I love them, I walk with them, I ask lots of questions, I talk about the gospel, and before I know it...they’re confessing the sin that I saw a long time ago! But it’s not because I pointed it out and now they want to change in order to please me, it’s the Holy Spirit convicting them of their sin or unbelief and working in their heart true change.
So hear this...you don’t have to return the kick-off for a touchdown. 2 yards over the right tackle is progress. 4 yards up the middle is progress. Stack a few first downs together and after a series of plays, guess what, you’re staring at the end-zone. Disciple-making is not a series of hail-mary’s for touchdowns. It’s a series of well-planned and executed first-downs that regularly put you in the Red Zone for striking distance.
Making disciples isn’t a recipe. Neither is this article. These are ideas. These are components of a healthy group. These are disciple-making tools. Don't look for a recipe. If it doesn't work, change it. Make an adjustment. Make it your own. Just like a baseball swing...there are some mechanics that are a must. Every good hitter has them. But many of their swings look different. The fundamental mechanics are buried under their personal adaption of the basics. So make these your own, get on the field, try stuff out, scrap it when it doesn't work, tweak it when you get stuck, and make adjustments as you go. And above all, keep swinging!
Josh McPherson serves as lead pastor of Grace Covenant Church in Wenatchee WA, a church he helped plant in 2008. He is a member of Acts 29 and graduated from the Resurgence Training Center in 2010. He also holds an undergraduate degree in biblical studies and is currently finishing his graduate degree from Western Seminary. He and his wife Sharon have four children: Ella Mae, Levi Gregory, Amelia Claire, and Gideon Joshua. Twitter: @JoshMcPherson79