July 3, 2012 Tony Morgan

3 Components of a Healthy Discipleship Strategy

Lecture HallOne of the reasons why I love the leadership coaching networks that I facilitate is because of how I’m stretched in my own leadership. One of the key principles we talk about in the coaching networks has to do with implementing healthy systems and strategies. After teaching on that topic a few months ago, Robin, one of the senior pastors who is participating, reminded me of this verse:

“Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, NLT)

You’ve probably heard me share in the past that teaching has the potential to shift someone’s thinking but systems have the potential to shift behaviors. In other words, teaching by itself does not equal a discipleship strategy. Teaching is only part of the discipleship strategy. As this verse confirms, we also need to model what we’re teaching and we need to encourage people to put what they learn into practice. That’s where healthy systems and strategies are critical.

Let’s take student ministry as an example. We can’t just gather a bunch of students together on Sunday or Wednesday evening and teach at them and assume discipleship is going to happen. We also need to engage students, particularly student leaders, in relationships where they can see the teachings being modeled. And, we need to create opportunities for them to put what they’re learning into practice. Our strategy needs to offer opportunities to for students to make disciples.

Are you avoiding “The Funnel of Doom”?

The same principle applies over every area of our ministry. Unfortunately, though, churches tend to invest most of their time on events rather than creating healthy strategies for discipleship. When we gather people for those events, we lean too much on teaching them (“The Funnel of Doom”) rather than modeling or creating systems to help them put what they learn into practice. The win becomes gathering as many people as possible to the event rather than helping as many people as possible become who God intended them to be.

According to Philippians 4:9, a healthy discipleship strategy needs to include:

  1. Solid biblical teaching for people to hear the truth
  2. Mentors who model what they are teaching for people to catch the truth
  3. Systems to encourage spiritual disciplines and mission engagement for people to practice the truth

Does your church or ministry have a discipleship strategy? If so, how does your strategy encourage engagement at all three levels? Join the conversation by sharing your comment.

And, if you’d like to join the upcoming leadership coaching networks, make sure you submit your application before the July 31 deadline.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

Comments (7)

  1. Awesome post, Tony. I have been saying this for a long time and have fought the battle for an intentional discipleship strategy. Gathering people on Sunday and expecting discipleship to “just happen” is like laying bread, ham, cheese, and mayo on the counter and expecting a sandwich to “happen.” Far too many churches are too busy counting people to invest in guiding them. Discipleship doesn’t happen in an event; it happens over a lifetime.

  2. I completely agree. I am yet to see a church that sees discipleship as more than a program to take people through or an event to take people to. You make very good points about mentors and systems. I believe these are key for the teaching to really sink in. Good post.

  3. Steve Howell

    Excellent post. Philippians 4:9 is a great verse on discipleship. Another verse to consider is Mark 3:14: “He appointed twelve – that they might be with him – and that he might send them out to preach.” Christ’s discipleship process seems very intentional in the “being with” component. Paul as well, could not have asked them to put in practice the “all” and “everything” unless they were “with him.”

    Healthy systems (relationships) are needed for churches to pull of effective discipleship. Could the system of intentionally sharing life be the best opportunity we can create? One way I have thought of Christ’s discipleship method (system) is to consider that the disciples were on a 3 year road trip “with” Christ. It is out of that “with him” that we hear the question – “teach us to pray?”

    What spiritual disciplines do you believe Paul practiced that are congruous to what we call spiritual disciplines today? Is it possible we are hoping our “westernized” spiritual disciplines will produce what best takes place with intentional “being with?” And that we at times downplay the necessary, “Follow me as I follow Christ?”

  4. Claudia Lavy

    Our church has developed a discipleship system based on the book, Deepening Your Effectiveness: Restructuring the Local Church for Life Transformation. It offers a scripture-based philosophy for spiritual growth then takes the principles of discipleship and translates them into a practical template/system/strategy for moving people forward toward spiritual maturity. It’s not a program,it’s a process. The steps on the discipleship pathway create opportunities for transforming encounters with God. People are invited into the Body of Christ and a personal relationship with Jesus, they exchange their secular worldview for a Christian worldview though learning opportunities and small groups, and they are given opportunities to live out their faith through serving both in the church and through community outreach and missions beyond the local community. We are actually seeing disciples being made and reproduced.

  5. Mike

    Tony, great post. I really have a passion for discpleship–helping people become growing healthy discples of Christ and fully engaged members of the church. Been reading some of your “Simply Strategic” books which have given me some great principles. In a smaller church setting with just one staff pastor what would you suggest to help create this kind of discpleship environement (system) (first steps)?

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