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
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.