Maturing & Multiplying Disciples
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
Jesus' Great Commission or "co-mission"—because we are partners with the Holy Spirit—is the primary purpose of the Church and should be the priority of anyone who claims to follow Jesus. To be a disciple is to be called to make disciples. At Oakdale Church, we use this simple definition:
- A disciple hears, obeys and shares Jesus.
Churches in the West typically view "evangelism" and "discipleship" as separate and sequential: First, a few "gifted" believers go out and share the gospel with non-believers, invite them to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and come to their church. These spiritual infants are then discipled in Bible studies, and grow in knowledge and fellowship with others in the church. Few actually ever go out and evangelize. This convert-to-disciple, attractional, information-based strategy is often depicted as a linear path with discipleship steps or "stages."
Jesus, however, modeled a "go and grow" strategy that is simultaneous and symbiotic: Disciples (laborers) hear and obey Jesus' command to "go" into the world (harvest field) and disciple non-believers into the faith (helping them to hear, obey and share Jesus). Thus, disciples mature as they make a new generation of disciples. This disciple-to-conversion, missional, obedience-based strategy is more like a cycle that repeats itself over and over again--thus multiplying, rather than merely adding, to the Kingdom.
This graphic attempts to illustrate this latter strategy in an existing church like Oakdale: Disciples (green) must gather together as a community to be encouraged and equipped, and then scatter as individuals, pairs or small teams called Missional Communities to engage non-believers (gold) by being "spiritually obvious without being spiritually obnoxious." This includes having conversations that progress from casual to meaningful to spiritual; meeting needs through actions AND words that point to Jesus; and inviting people to discover God in the Bible, all of which are described in more detail below.
Both of the strategies described above can result in more disciples coming into the Kingdom here on earth and bowing before the throne in heaven (Revelation 7:9-12). However, the first is an addition strategy; whereas the second is a multiplication strategy. Multiplication matters for two reasons: 1) Jesus wants His disciples to bear "much fruit" (John 15:8) not just a little. And 2) While there are more Christians in the world than ever before in history, the global population is growing significantly faster. We are losing ground when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission.
That is why Oakdale Church is focusing on a proven set of principles and practices that can lead to Acts-style multiplication--known as a Disciple-Making Movement (DMM). These seven elements roughly correspond with the graphic above.
Some of them we can continue (or should start) doing regularly—regardless of our circumstances. With others, we have to be creative and adapt as the result of social distancing due to the pandemic. But we believe COVID-19 is an unexpected opportunity and not an obstacle to making disciples, especially as people are more open and spiritually hungry in times of crisis.
Words in italic below have been added to reflect ways we can make disciples even amidst COVID-19.
FOCUS ON GOD’S WORD: In addition to a daily practice of reading and meditating on the Scriptures, focusing on God’s Word also involves obeying and sharing what you hear with other people, especially with non-believers. Jesus expects His followers to “Go and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is the foundation for Obedience-Based Discipleship.
MULTIPLY EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER: Your prayer life now (or lack therof) is ordinary for you. Add something to it to make it extraordinary for you. Then when that becomes ordinary, add something again to make it extraordinary. Keep repeating the process. Here are goals that disciple-makers should strive to practice (pretty extraordinary, right?):
- 1 hour of individual prayer at least 5 days each week
- 1 hour of corporate prayer with a group each week (Note: Even if groups cannot gather physically in the same place, they can still gather in cyberspace using free social media or video conferencing tools.)
- 1 hour of prayer walking in your neighborhood each week.
Ask God to allow you to meet and serve people as you walk. Tell people you are prayer walking in the neighborhood and then ask if they have anything you could pray for them about and/or if there is a need you could meet. In addition, pray that God would lead you to the “person of peace” (Luke 10/Matthew 10) whom He’s prepared in that neighborhood to receive the gospel. (Note: Take time NOW, while we are still able to walk freely outdoors and the weather is nice, to walk and pray with a friend. Talk at a safe distance with people you pass by. Ask if there is anything you can pray for and if there is anything they need.)
GO OUT AMONG THE LOST: In short, this means breaking out of our Christian bubble. Of course, you should spend time loving, serving and sharing with your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. But we must also go out among the lost, which means we intentionally leave our physical and social comfort zones (churches, homes, relational networks) and spend time interacting with people we don’t know in order to make connections with non-believers. An often repeated DMM principle is, “Expect the hardest places to yield the greatest results.” What’s the goal here?
- First, we look for opportunities to meet people's needs/serve. That includes prayer, as well as offering to run errands or do yard work for neighbors who are more vulnerable to coronavirus due to their age or health conditions.
- Second, talking with the same people repeatedly increases the likelihood that our conversations will move from casual, to personal, to spiritual. If your conversations turn toward spiritual topics, it suggests they are a "person of peace" (POP) who is open to going deeper.
SEE GROUPS START: Rather than simply offering to meet with a person of peace one-on-one (this is the "addition" approach to disciple-making), ask if they would be interested in inviting their family and/or friends to get together to discover what God has to say about life (this is the "multiplication" approach to disciple-making).
- These informal gatherings of households or existing social circles, hosted by the POP, are called Discovery Groups (DGs), which are led by the Holy Spirit! Your role is not to lead or even attend this group, but to encourage and coach the POP outside the group. (Note: During the COVID-19 outbreak, families can still meet together as a group within their homes, while others can join them via free social media or video conferencing tools--or an entire group can meet this way. Think creatively!)
- The prayer is that as the Discovery Group journeys through a series of Scripture passages together, everyone in the group would eventually repent of their sins and profess faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. We then can lead them through getting baptized together and forming a simple church!
ONGOING COACHING: The importance of ongoing coaching/mentoring for those facilitating Discovery Groups cannot be overstated. All believers should simultaneously be mentoring others while also being mentored themselves. Both require relationship and accountability on top of knowledge building.
- "Believers of Peace" who start and facilitate groups (whether with other believers or non-believers) need coaching not only to make sure they understand and are instilling biblical "DNA" in Discovery Groups but also to help them mentor Persons of Peace (non-believers).
- "Persons of Peace" who start and facilitate groups with people in their social network need coaching not only to ensure they are instilling biblical "DNA" in Discovery Groups but also to help them mature spiritually from pre-believers to disciples who make disciples.