Last week I introduced you to the eight strategic principles I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. Today I will begin to discuss them in more detail. I would caution you to not think of them as being discussed in order of priority, but think of them as integrally intertwined. I would go so far as to suggest that if you are not firing on all eight cylinders then you will not experience the fullness of what God can do in and through your church.
1. Relational—Leaders of disciple-making churches understand that God’s work is not accomplished in a vacuum or by Lone Ranger types. These leaders understand that deep discipleship cannot take place in a worship format alone and that God (who Himself is a relational being) does His work best in a relational environment: small groups and one-on-one. If a church body expects to have a significant impact upon its community, both its leaders and individual members must be willing to invest in the lives of those who are far from God.
My observations are that disciple-making is more caught than taught. You can read all the great books on discipleship—and you’d better begin with the Bible—but unless you have been intentionally discipled by others, you will probably not be willing to invest the relational capital required to make a disciple. Proverbs 14:4, which has become one of my life verses, speaks to this reality: “Where there are no oxen the stall is clean, but great gain comes through the strength of an ox.” A modern paraphrase might be, “Life isn’t as messy when I don’t have to deal with people, but life is ultimately better when lived in community.”
There is an old adage that says, “If you want to go fast, then go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Another with a similar meaning is “Do you want to grow squash or oak trees?” The latter has particular application in a world where speed and size are celebrated above character and quality. My experience is that when you sacrifice quality and character, your speed and size will simply create a bigger and more spectacular crash—and it WILL HAPPEN. If you need proof, I would again refer you to the current podcast series being done by Christianity Today entitled The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church.
All of this means that relational evangelism must be the norm for the life of every believer. There might have been a day when there was enough basic Biblical knowledge in our culture for us to see fruit from “hit and run evangelism,” but those days are gone. Gallup recently reported that for the first time in the 80 years they have done polling, church membership has fallen below 50% in America. If that isn’t bad enough, they also indicate that Americans who report no religious affiliation has grown from 8% to 21% in the last twenty years. AND 33% of those under 30 years of age say they have no religious affiliation.
If we are relational in our disciple-making process it means that we are willing to “fight for healthy relationships.” We don’t write off someone because they are going through a tough stretch. We don’t let bad behavior go unaddressed, and we don’t address bad behavior in an unbiblical manner. Yes, it takes time and energy to do things the right way, but it’s what God expects us to do. Let me suggest some general Biblical principles that make my point:
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.