Tools for discipleship
In a church replant, discipleship is not optional. In fact, as we’ve discussed on the blog before, one of the things that often leads a church to decline to the point of needing to be replanted is a lack of discipleship. Discipleship, then, is a key to seeing a once dead or declining church come back to vibrant life.
So, we can agree on the importance of discipleship. But the question inevitably follows: How do I implement a discipleship strategy in my church?
While there are numerous tools out there, I’m going to suggest resources for three levels: 1) The congregation, 2) the small group, and 3) one-on-one. This list is by no means exhaustive; rather, it’s a sampling of some key resources that I’ve found through the years.
While we cannot mass-produce disciples, the weekly worship gathering of the body of Christ is key in the formation of discipleship. The weekly worship gathering is so important that the writer of Hebrews admonished his readers to not neglect gathering together (Heb. 10:25).
There are many things that happen in a weekly worship gathering, but the central part is still the preaching of God’s Word. While preaching cannot be the only way your church is making disciples, it is a key part of discipleship. There is no substitute for preaching God’s Word expositionally. I advocate for preaching through entire books of the Bible as the primary strategy for preaching in a local church.
One of the best resources I’ve found on this topic is the book Preach: Theology Meets Practice by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert. Among other things, Dever and Gilbert provide a systematic approach for planning your preaching calendar. Another great resource for expositional preaching is Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson.
Small groups should be the primary place where fellowship happens in the life of your church. It’s in these groups where deep friendships will form. The small group members should be the first calls that are made when a life crisis happens.
But small groups are not only for fellowship. They also are where in-depth Bible study can occur. Some of the best discipleship material I’ve seen is The Gospel Project, produced by LifeWay. Using a three-year plan, The Gospel Project walks through the entire story of Scripture. Our church uses The Gospel Project for all our on-campus classes on Sunday mornings. This means that if a family has a child in pre-school, a child in elementary, and a child in junior high school, all members of the family are studying the same passage on any given Sunday.
I also recommend the Four Fields evangelism and discipleship strategy. This strategy was developed on the mission field in Asia as a way to start a church planting movement. It’s can be easily adapted to develop an evangelism strategy and start new small groups within an existing church. If you’re looking to eventually plant churches out of your replant, this is an outstanding resource.
One on one
This is where the rubber meets the road in discipleship. One of the greatest joys I’ve had as a pastor is investing in the lives of young men in our church. As a church replanter, you will (prayerfully) be blessed with new and immature believers. Like newborn babies, they need to learn to walk with Christ. As you seek to raise up men and women who can pour into new believers, you’ll need a strategy to help them grow.
Some great resources I’ve used are The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman. This is a classic, and for good reason. This simple book explains evangelism and discipleship according to how Jesus modeled it in the lives of his disciples.
Billy Hanks, Jr’s “Becoming a Disciple-Maker” material is also excellent. This is a great resource to begin to train disciple-makers in your congregation who can then continue to train disciple-makers. If you are starting a discipleship program from scratch, this is a resource I highly recommend.
The point, of course, is not which material you decide to use. None of the resources I’ve listed are the “be all, end all” for discipleship. They are simply tools. Use them accordingly. In the end, the thing that matters is that we are diligent to obey Paul’s command to Timothy: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).