Groups Don’t Make Disciples, Disciples Make Disciples

When leaders realize that their churches aren’t consistently producing disciples of Jesus, they often begin to search for a new technique they can implement that will solve the problem.

They think that if we could just learn how to do missional communities, or LTGs, or huddles, or triads, or T4T… THEN we’ll be on our way. THEN we’ll be making disciples.

I’ve been through a couple of these phases. I have a tendency to fall in love with ideas, and then try to make reality conform to the idea in my head. “If you people would just do it like I see it in my head, it’d be great!”

Groups don’t automatically make disciples

But it just doesn’t work that way. The hard truth is that groups don’t automatically make disciples. The kind of group you use is way less important than the kind of people you’re producing.

The vehicles doesn’t matter nearly as much as the leaders of those vehicles. Programs don’t automatically make disciples. Techniques don’t make disciples. Methods don’t make disciples. You can’t automate discipleship.

People make disciples. Disciples make disciples.

Disciples make disciples

You can’t get around the fact that you reproduce who you are, not what you say or what structure you put in place.

This is why the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Thessalonica, “We were glad to share not only God’s good news with you but also our very lives because we cared for you so much” (1 Thess 2:8).

The life lived in the gospel witnesses to the veracity of the message of the gospel.

Nothing can ever replace the actual training of people, in wisdom and love, to become more like Jesus in character and competence. Wise, adaptive leaders who are full of love for those they’re discipling.

A lot of our energy and money goes into trying to bypass this reality.

I know my tendency is to try and design groups in the “pure” environment of my idealism and then “roll out” the program with the predetermined steps.

But if there’s anything we can learn from the way the Apostle Paul did this, it’s that there is no program that works. There is no one perfect “model,” in that sense.

It’s about people more than programs

Making disciples can’t be just grinding people through a program. That might make us feel better. It might give us a sense that “something’s happening,” but it won’t mean that we’re making disciples.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t paradigms, postures, and practices that are simple and reproducible (our coaching is built on these kinds of things).

But it does mean that underneath all the reproducible principles, you need to train people in the way of Jesus, to love others from a pure heart, to know themselves and God.

Grounding your disciple-making efforts in this deeper place, in who you are becoming, is a process we call Finding Your Center. Your leadership can never really become transformational until you find the center of your leadership in your life with God.

How to start at the beginning

If you find yourself frustrated with your church’s inconsistency in disciple-making, here are a few steps you can take to get moving in the right direction:

  1. Relax and realize God’s not frustrated. This first step is the most important. We aren’t getting discipleship right so God will show us his favor. He is already smiling, and working with us to make us more effective in discipleship. He cares about this more than you do, and he’s with you to empower you to do this!
  2. Write out what a disciple lives like. Many times, the reason we don’t know whether we’re doing well in disciple-making is because we simply don’t know what we’re aiming for! Take some time and list 1) the character qualities of a fully-formed disciple of Jesus, and 2) the competencies of a fully-formed disciple of Jesus.
  3. Evaluate the effectiveness of your current vehicles. Take stock of your worship services, small groups, Bible studies, classes, etc. Be ruthlessly honest about what the consistent results are (good or bad) in the lives of people who participate in them.
  4. Begin to dream about what it would look like to train people into discipleship. After you notice the gaps in your current vehicles, begin to think about what people would need to know and experience if they were going to grow in the character qualities and competencies you listed earlier. (Hint: they’re going to need way more than teaching!)

Then invite others to join you

Once you’ve got a sense of vision for discipleship, then you can begin to reach out to see who might be able to help you in that pursuit. That way you won’t fall for the pipe dream of believing that adopting some new kind of group will solve all your discipleship problems!

The leaders who make the most progress in our coaching cohorts are those who have at least some clarity in the kind of leaders they want to become, and the kind of disciples they want to produce.

How about you? Leave a comment below and let us know where you’re at in this journey!

This work by Gravity Commons is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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  1. Bo Riley on January 24, 2017 at 9:39 am

    Yes man! Helpful for me to hear this perspective shift from developing programs to developing people! Needed that today, Ben! Thanks!

  2. Ben Sternke on January 24, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Really glad it was helpful, Bo!

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