Maturing Disciples Yield New Churches

McDaniel Phillips - Trans World Radio Canada

As an expectant parent, the season leading up to the birth of my children was exciting. The births seemed prolonged and one was complicated; but when each girl arrived, everyone celebrated. However, the new normal then began. As newly minted parents, we were commissioned for the daunting job of raising up the children we had been entrusted with. Birth launches the work of parenting; it is not the pinnacle of a job well done. My daughters are now grown and independent, but looking back on the work of parenting, birth was the easy part.

Within the Church, there has been much emphasis on spiritual birth – on evangelism. And much like the anticipated arrival of a new child, spiritual conversion is exciting and worthy of celebration. But after the excitement wanes, the real work of the Church begins — the life-­long growing and maturing work of making a disciple.  

After I spoke at a local church in Indonesia, the pastor asked if I would spend a year walking with him to teach him how to be a “father to his church.” Sadly, I was unable to do that. I subsequently learned he was not alone in his request; many pastors in various countries have asked for similar help from me over the years. Even those pastors and church leaders with education or seminary training desire an older saint to “walk with them.” They crave discipleship.  

How can pastors and leaders prepare a “baby” to become a trained, mature Christ-­follower?

Pastors and other Christian leaders have rightly focused considerable time and energy on preparing their people to share their testimonies. They invested in the evangelistic programming and training that created an environment for many healthy, spiritual births. But now what? The new normal is that they are now commissioned for the difficult work of taking that new child in Christ and discipling them through adolescence into adulthood. But how will they prepare that “baby” to become a trained, mature Christ-­follower who, as an expression of his love for Jesus, evangelizes and disciples the next generation of church and Christian leaders? In many parts of the world, they don’t have an answer.

Leaders and pastors we are working with in Egypt faced this question. They realized the importance of  making sure a new spiritual life is grounded in Biblical knowledge, but also in teaching that person how to apply that knowledge in day‐to-­day living in the community. The leaders requested training to use the media-­assisted resource called Discipleship Essentials. From that training, the leaders devised a three-­part small-­group strategy, effective for their culture and context, that led to church-­planting  through obedience-­‐based discipleship.  

As the groups matured and evolved, they reached out to their communities in genuine relationship. Every disciple makes a disciple. The small groups reached out and discipled others in their community, and then they reached out to other communities. The objective was making disciples and, without intentionally seeking it, the outcome was new churches being planted. They were intentional about teaching obedience to Scripture and living right before God, and that became contagious.

“[A Church Planting Movement] is the result of obedience-­based discipleship that sees disciples reproducing disciples, leaders reproducing leaders, and churches reproducing churches — in other words, a Disciple‐Making Movement,” writes David L. Watson and Paul D. Watson in Contagious Disciple-­Making. “If these things are not happening, it is not a CPM. True DMM methodology is about being disciplined in educating, training, and mentoring people to obey all the commands of Jesus, regardless of consequences. [But] The results are not quick.”

Being intentional about discipleship created an environment for new churches to emerge in Egypt and this model is entirely replicable. The focus should be on helping a church to understand their calling from God to teach obedience, to find the blessing in knowing God personally, and to make disciples (2 Timothy 2:2). Ministries and organizations can offer help with strategic planning and small group and leadership training, but the responsibility for discipleship remains with the local church. An outcome of this disciple-­‐focused strategy is the organic growth of small groups and new church plants.

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