You know John. God did a great work in John’s life after graduation from high school. He had been a typically rebellious teenager who had heard the gospel but was not truly converted. But God, in His kindness, reclaimed John’s prodigal life and brought Him to a point of repentance and faith in his college years. He immediately connected with a group of Christians from the local church adjacent to his home and poured himself into its ministry. His life was marked by an insatiable hunger for the Word, a longing for relationships with other Christians, a humble desire to serve, and a genuine pursuit of a life that honored God.
Before long John found himself overseeing a group of middle-school boys and assuming increasing levels of leadership within the church. While John was honored to be asked to lead, he knew that there was a problem.
He had never been discipled.
Sure, he attended the church service each week, went to the classes offered by the church, and occasionally listened to his favorite preacher via podcast. However, no one assumed spiritual responsibility for him or walked with him through a process of understanding and applying the gospel to his life. Even worse, he was now being asked to make disciples without having been discipled himself.
John felt trapped. He knew that he was ill-equipped for the task. It was exposing all sorts of sin in his heart and he knew that he lacked the maturity and training necessary to lead well. Not only that, but the stress of leadership in the church was having a negative impact on his family. On most days, he masked this insecurity behind sheer, white-knuckled will power. He worked hard and pretended that he knew what he was doing. But he didn’t. And he, his family, and the church were suffering as a result.
The church felt trapped, too. The pastor was busy and the never-ending needs of the church always seemed to crowd out meaningful time to train John. And what’s worse, he really didn’t have a good plan for discipling guys like John anyway. He had never been discipled either. So, on a good week he might share a meal with John and ask how he was doing or give him a book that had proved valuable in his own ministry. What else could he do? The only other option was to send him off to seminary and run the risk of never seeing him again. Young leaders were too rare and too valuable to the church to make this choice.
Our churches are filled with people like John. They love Jesus and the church, and they are looking to the church for discipleship. They are not all college aged men. Some are teenage girls, some business professionals, and some elderly church members. They need the church to create a intentional plan to take new converts and disciple them towards maturity and leadership in the church. This task is not optional for the church. Paul reminded Timothy that his task was to take “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Tim 2:2).” Churches have a responsibility to create a culture of disciple-making and multiplication.
The church desperately needs an intentional plan for taking new believers, discipling them to maturity, and entrusting them with intentional leadership within God’s church.
If the task of discipleship is neglected the results are predictable. The developing disciples will have to do the following things on their own:
- Understand the gospel message and how it shapes their own spiritual formation;
- Apply the gospel to their lives and the lives of others through intentional disciple-making;
- Develop the fruit of the Spirit and the character of a leader in the church;
- Learn how to practice key spiritual disciplines and grow in the grace and knowledge of God;
- Make key life decisions, such as a spouse or a career;
- Join a healthy church and become a meaningful member;
- Discern their own gifting and calling;
- Find a leadership role that fits that gifting and calling;
- Learn how to care for fallen and broken people.
This is a weighty task that cannot be accomplished through simply shuffling people off to a new class in hopes that they will grow. More often than not the potential disciple will end up frustrated, burned-out, and stagnant in their own spiritual formation, because they are being asked to do in isolation what is meant to be done in the community of the church.
Churches who lack a strategy for disciple-making and leadership development will also have to do the following in isolation:
- See a host of their members fall away due to sin or neglect that results from a lack of maturity;
- Lament the lack of trained and skilled leaders for the ministries that God has entrusted to the church; such as, small group leaders, Sunday School teachers, or future staff members;
- Depend on classes and programs to do the arduous work of disciple-making;
- See new believers come to faith in Christ and yet lack any strategy for nurturing them to maturity;
- Fail to equip the church to do their most important task – make disciples;
- Place people in leadership roles that may exceed their maturity;
- Determine a good fit for staff positions in the church based on a resume alone;
- Depend on seminaries or parachurch agencies to train its leaders in the hopes that this feeder system will consistently produce enough leaders for the church’s needs;
- Remove leaders whose calling, character, or competence do not match the leadership needs to which they are called.
The result is wasted potential, immature church attendees, poorly led churches, and thousands of unreached men, women, and children littering our nation. The surpassing riches of God’s grace in the gospel, and the vast lostness of the world, compel the church to reproduce theologically robust, missionally active, and Spirit-led disciples (Eph 2:6-10). The development and deployment of future disciples in the church and for the church is vital for the church to thrive in the coming generation. This is a stewardship that we must not neglect.
Churches can train leaders—but most need tools to aid them in this task. Aspire is written in an effort to not only motivate churches to engage in this vital work but also to provide them with the basic framework for developing disciples and leaders in their context. There is no such thing as a plug-and-play model. What works for us in Greenville, SC may not work exactly the same way in an urban context on the West coast. Aspire can, however, provide a vital tool to mobilize the church to implement a pathway for discipleship that uses the tools provided here and yet supplements and applies these ideas with additional resources that are needed in their context.
Matt Rogers is the pastor of The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, South Carolina. He and his wife, Sarah, have three daughters, Corrie, Avery, and Willa and a son, Hudson. Matt holds a Master of Arts in counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary as well as a Master of Divinity and a PhD from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt writes and speaks for throughout the United States on discipleship, church planting, and missions. Find Matt online at www.mattrogers.bio or follow him on Twitter @mattrogers_
Adapted with permission from Aspire: Part One: Transformed by the Gospel. Receive a discount on orders of 10 or more here. Aspire is a 15-week study, written in two parts, designed to be used to disciple believers in the local church. Each week's study combines rich theological content and clear practical application in a journal-based format. Ideal for one-on-one discipleship relationships, Aspire guides believers toward life-long transformation.