I am not a strong golfer. I love to watch golf, at least I have it on television while I nap, but there is little resemblance to what I have seen the pros do and what transpires when I am on a golf course. It’s probably due to the overwhelming difference in talent and ability, but a lot of it comes down to strategy—or the lack of it. When Rory McIlroy steps up to the tee, he has a well-rehearsed strategy of what he is going to do next. He has visualized where the ball is going to go. His preshot routine is exactly the same every time he approaches the ball. He has practiced his swing so many times that each shot looks almost identical in form. He has spent hours and hours planning his strategy and practicing before he even steps onto a golf course.
My approach to golf is simple: I swing hard, close my eyes, and hope for the best. This strategy works about three or four times a round, at best. The rest of the time it’s just awful. I could probably be a decent golfer if I would work on a strategy to hitting the ball, but I have not put in the reps on the practice range to make it happen.
This is the same strategy a lot of churches and pastors follow for a discipleship plan. We don’t really understand what it should look like, so we swing hard, close our eyes, and hope for the best.
You may be a pastor who believes a disciple of Christ should possess a lot of biblical knowledge. In their book Transformational Groups, Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger found that 56 percent of pastors with a discipleship plan list biblical knowledge as their first priority. So you add more discipleship classes to pass down volumes of information. Once attendees have made it through all the classes, they should have enough knowledge to be called a disciple. This approach, however, often results with people who are educated far beyond their level of obedience.
Or you may decide a disciple should always be on mission, because knowledge will come through doing the work. The training is based on active ministry outside the walls of the church, not in its classrooms. This strategy can lead to a group of eternal baby Christians without the foundation needed to defend their beliefs.
After looking at these options, you may conclude that starting a bunch of small groups is the answer to discipleship. But groups are just a tool for creating disciples, and they will never be an effective one without an intentional plan to measure spiritual growth. According to Stetzer and Geiger, “Only 43 percent of the pastors surveyed said their church regularly evaluates discipleship progress among their congregation.” The rest are swinging hard, closing their eyes, and hoping for the best.
If we look at Jesus’s example for creating disciples, we see that it was simple but intentional. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fish for people” (Matthew 4:19). Jesus was calling very common men to spend time with him on mission. The disciples were gaining knowledge by spending time with Jesus and one another. There was intentionality and movement in Jesus’s strategy.
Before you implement a strategy to make disciples, you have to first define what a disciple is. Just like a professional golfer, you have to envision what the end result of a shot will be. Finish this statement for your church: A follower of Christ is __________. What will a fully devoted follower of Christ at your church be like?
*This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Small Groups For The Rest Of Us, releasing September 29.