Discipleship Framework

The power of catalytic programs

Churches that try hard to actually do the job of discipleship can sometimes be dismissive of powerful programs. I have found that we do so at our peril.

I didn’t write the courses I have because I had lots of spare time or because it was part of my job description – I have never had that luxury. I did it because there is such a desperate need for God’s people to experience a life-changing dynamic in their growth.

That is so hard to do when they are locked in the routine and pressure of life.

People need a circuit breaker. They need a space to to disengage from existing habits for a time so they can engage with God in a new way.

By undertaking in a well-constructed, short-term, intensive, and accessible program, we find that unique breakthrough is possible, and growth is catalysed.

Courses such as Alpha; re:FORM; and re:FOCUS are intentionally created to provide a spiritual tipping-point at key moments of the discipleship journey.

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Neither “just programs” or “no programs”

Courses are not a total discipleship strategy, but they can play a huge part – especially if the participants come out of them into a community that understands their journey and is equipped to consolidate gains. DNA Groups are great for this.

True, Jesus never took people through a course, but neither did He live in our context or with our specific opportunities and challenges. With so much against us these days, why would we reject any credible help we can get!

What Jesus did do in discipleship is take people on a whole-person journey of growth. Through proportional use of instruction; relationship; stretching experience; and the power of the Spirit He managed to grow them in a way that our seminaries can’t.

Good courses use the same four dynamics. What’s more, they fit into key stages and seasons of growth to bring real impact when needed.

You can see that there is a difference between using courses to grow people and using them for growing the church. Feel free to do church-wide campaigns, or even use a 4-step integration process (I know I do!) – just don’t call it discipleship. Building church alignment and numbers does not equate to growing spiritual maturity.

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A discipleship debt to pay

I believe the western church is now required to pay a 30-year debt that has been stored up by churches calling their integration flight-path their discipleship flight-path. Teaching about how to get into a small-group or find your ministry space through a gift-survey is a smart and proven tribe-building method. But it does NOT form Christ in people – it just helps them integrate into a local church body.

The debt we have incurred is: 1) a generation of leaders who can’t find a space in their strategy to integrate deep discipleship, and 2) a cohort of Christians who are largely biblically illiterate and spiritually shallow. To change tack now is just too hard for many churches – it would be too big of a bait-and-switch to reform the culture into an intentional disciple-making community.

In response, discipleship and missional movements have stepped up to focus on our true mandate, but in doing so many have too radically stepped away from the valid human dynamics and rhythms that the complex and attractional churches cater for so well.

Many people crave a day of the week where they can gather to enjoy the synergy of faith that large numbers and quality church services provide. They benefit greatly from the critical mass, leadership giftings, and resources that the more fluid missional models lack.

We should commit to bringing the best that both ideas provide. The symbiosis of a powerful and integrated discipleship model with well-run and produced programs is massive.

The key is facilitating the integration of both relational discipleship and programs. A purely life-on-life model or small community emphasis lacks the moments of catalyst that a passion-building 6-week program can bring. And yet a great course presents the participants with a daunting cliff at the end as they contemplate returning to life as normal in a sleepy group that “doesn’t get where I am now”.

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An integrated model

To integrate both ideas there needs to be intentionality in the structure. Programs should feed into small-groups that are aligned and committed to the same ideas. Those groups should have an inescapable requirement for the participant to both grow & go.

A group full of powerful people is the only type that will have sustainable outward impact. If the people within it are transformed and genuinely compelled by love, they have something to draw from, and won’t suffer the too-frequently seen missional overreach – a dynamic where they are engaging the world without means of supply.

The image at right shows how such an integrated approach can work.

By running these programs regularly, people are free to apply the principles whenever they are in that season. Whether they are new to the faith (on the first time around) or incrementally building on existing maturity, there is still huge benefit.

Check out the resources on this site for more clarity on where they fit in the discipleship journey, and the impact they can make.

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