As I have transitioned out of a role that served tens of thousands of churches a year and back to the local church, leaders have asked me what lessons I am taking with me. “What learnings from serving many churches are you taking with you as you go back to serving one church?” The first five of ten lessons are posted here, and today I am sharing five additional lessons.
6. Scaling discipleship requires simplicity.
Health professionals know that without a simple plan the vast majority of people will not exercise and eat healthy. In a church, a simple process and plan for discipleship allows for scaling. I have had numerous conversations with church leaders who have a robust plan for discipleship with very low engagement in their plan. If a church’s discipleship strategy is cumbersome or complicated, it likely won’t be scaled and the number of people who engage it will be very limited. Whether using groups or classes, wise leaders make their plan simple for the sake of the people in the church
7. Groups anyone can lead can’t provide the care everyone needs.
For a season a common phrase that church leaders used was, “If you can press play and make coffee, you can lead a group.” These leaders desperately wanted to recruit new leaders but they often made additional and contradictory statements about the groups in their churches. If that is true then the statement, “get plugged into a group so you can be well-cared for” cannot be true. Both statements can’t be true. If churches want their groups to disciple people and shepherd people then it can’t be true that leading a group is simply pressing play and making some coffee.
8. Risk and discomfort are key ingredients for spiritual growth.
If you have ever lifted weights you know that the only way to grow muscle strength is to overwhelm your muscles, to put them in a place of discomfort. In the same way, we don’t grow into Christlikeness in our comfort zones. The research projects I was involved in at LifeWay reminded me of several fundamental truths related to risk and spiritual maturation. For example, we discovered that those who adopt an outward perspective and serve others put themselves in a position where they must rely on God’s power to sustain them. We also discovered that those who are vulnerable and transparent in a group of other believers put themselves in a position to be matured in Christian community.
9. Church can’t “only be about the weekend.”
One of my mentors Brad Waggoner has joked that in the 1990s senior pastors broke up with their discipleship pastors and ran off with their worship pastors. His assertion (one that is often true) is that the weekend worship services became such the primary focus that discipleship outside of the weekend was neglected. Many churches are living with the unintended consequences of that move. The answer, however, is not to diminish the importance of the weekend worship services but to ensure they are not cul-de-sac experiences that end with themselves but that the weekend services constantly nudge people to other places of growth and connection.
10. The debate about “discipleship or evangelism” is foolish.
In one corner is the “evangelism is primary” group and in the other corner is the “discipleship is primary” group. While the two groups spar for a watching audience, the fight is useless and unfruitful. Not only are both important but they fuel each other. Those who are changed by the grace of God tell others about the grace of God. Those who have been effectively discipled have been discipled to share Christ with others or the discipleship wasn’t Christian. Simultaneously those who “evangelize” without inviting people into a new community of faith and a new kingdom aren’t really making disciples as much as they are “recording decisions.” Healthy discipleship results in evangelism and healthy evangelism results in discipleship. They must not be separated.