Disciple-making is not institutional or programmatic. It occurs when a Christian connects with a receptive, potential Christ-follower and relationally models the Christian life. A church is a community of people who have that relationship with Jesus, and have the potential to relate to another person.
Discipling is not like running a program or teaching a class. You can’t mass-produce disciples. You can mass-teach them, but not produce them – as in make disciples. Providing a Vacation Bible School, daycare, or preschool – any ministry – likely attracts those who are somewhat receptive. Meeting a need – doing the Great Commandment – is a wonderful way to tangibly demonstrate God’s love; and, in the process, it provides a platform for building relationships. The relationship is the bridge over which the Gospel travels best.
Making disciples is more like raising children. To do an effective job, it takes time and a lot of hands-on attention. You’ve heard the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it takes a loving parent to raise a child, too. It takes a sold-out Christian to make a disciple, and a community of disciple-making disciples to disciple many others. A ministry like a food pantry, daycare, preschool, elementary school, recovery class is a great place to begin that relationship.
Everyone in the church should understand the Resistance/Receptivity Axis. This is simply a way of understanding how receptive a person is toward meeting Christ. It is a known reality that if you are meeting a person’s need, they become more receptive. If they are in crisis or in a process of change (job, house, retirement, new child) they are more receptive. Anyone can learn this and every disciple-maker should.
It is also helpful to develop a “centered-set” approach to disciple-making. Some people are “closed set.” If you don’t believe everything I do, the way I do, you’re on the outside, and I will treat you that way. “Closed-set” people often believe that the only other way to live life is by being an “open-set” person. This is a person whose belief system is “anything goes”: it doesn’t matter what you believe about God, or any god, you’ll be fine. But the missionary mindset is not “closed set” or “open set.” There is a third alternative. It is a “centered set” worldview. Jesus Christ is at the center and anyone who shows receptivity is considered to be on a journey toward that center. This gives the missionary-oriented person (read “the disciple-maker”) a freedom of grace. It gives the disciple-maker a posture that is non-judgmental toward people who have aberrant ideas or behavior. The “centered-set” missionary recognizes that the potential Christ-follower is at a different place on the journey. That grace allows them to work with a person who is not yet a “polished Christian” (is there such a person?). This also provides the missionary attitude expressed by Paul, a willingness to “become all things to all people, that by any means some might be saved” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Christianity and disciple-making are seen as a process, not an event. Again, it’s like raising children. Parents who follow a “closed-set” or “open-set” approach to parenting often struggle to raise balanced children. It’s the same way with raising the children of God, making disciples.
Read more in the July/August 2012 Church Doctor Report.
Sign up to receive the free, bi-monthly Church Doctor Report.