Disciple-making disciples

It is amazing how God can use the most mundane of activities to bring something to your attention. Very recently I was collecting the waste material from some of our horses, and I got talking to a dog walker as they passed. They are local to our village. Our brief conversation turned quickly to the topic of prayer, and the church and this dog walker (who I previously knew only on a nodding basis) recommended a book to me called ‘Spent matches’ by Roy Moran. I was intrigued by the title, and their brief synopsis of the book, which in short was all about disciple-making, something that God has been placing on my radar.

The author has hope for 'the church’, as indeed I have, but critiques its current state in terms of the complexity that we have placed on what essentially is a straightforward task Jesus left us with - to make disciples. Jesus didn’t say, ‘Go plant churches’. In fact, I seem to recall that when it came to the topic of churches, Jesus suggests that he would be the builder, not us. You and I, as followers of Jesus, are called to 'go and make disciples', or perhaps a better understanding is to ‘go and make disciple-making disciples.’

I need to be clear; I trained as a church planter, and I do believe in church planting. Our country needs vibrant communities of Jesus followers and, in some places, these do not exist, so we need to either regenerate what is there or begin something new, perhaps alongside the existing. My question is about how we go about assessing the effectiveness of these communities. For too long we have used the metrics of who is attending, who is part of a group, who is in and who is out, rather than asking the question, who is journeying towards and becoming more like Jesus, i.e. discipleship.

We can be good at talking about disciple-making, and we even plan for it, but as Roy Moran helpfully challenges through his book, the energies we often invest in disciple-making follows a knowledge-based approach; whereby Sunday by Sunday, or house group by house group, we download knowledge into those attending, and perhaps do little to ask about what is now changing in us, what new posture we might take because of what we have heard. It seems to me that we are in danger of calling ourselves Christians without applying our faith to every aspect of life.

One of the features of the rural context is that learning tends to be less book centred and more experiential; people want to see it in action before they will necessarily take it on board. I wonder if this perhaps offers us an opportunity in terms of disciple-making disciples? The emerging culture is yearning for authenticity, and I am yet to be convinced that authenticity is best demonstrated by being a passive audience member at a weekly event.

The book sights seven basic questions that could be used in groups, and I have slightly adapted these (below) and offer them to you as a basis for your home groups or community gatherings. I would be fascinated to hear how these work out for you, so do please get in contact and let me know!

  1. What did you do with what you learned last week?

  2. What are you thankful for? What can you celebrate?

  3. What is causing you stress at this time? What is keeping you awake at night?

  4. Do you have a need, or does someone you know have a need, that this group could meet?

  5. What does God have to say today? (This will be in response to a passage of scripture)

  6. If this is God speaking, what are you going to do about it? What are we going to do about it?

  7. Who could you share with this week what God is doing in your life?

This is not the final word in disciple-making, nor will this automatically create loads of disciples where you are; you may already be using a similar approach which is far more effective than these questions. Nevertheless, for many, this could well be a first much needed step to making disciple-making disciples.

Taking them with you

The King James translation of Proverbs declares, ‘Without vision, the people perish’ which is a verse that has sometimes been used out of context by leaders to highlight the importance of vision in the church; invariably to justify a particular direction of travel that they feel others are slow to sign up to. Certainly, much has been written about the importance of vision over the years; however, some are now beginning to wonder if vision is, in fact, overrated and questioning if it has a place in God’s church. I am not sure that the problem lies solely with vision; too often I have observed leaders who have spent time and energy on communicating the vision to a passive congregation and a sea of blank faces. The problem is perhaps that the very same leaders while passionate about the vision, have invested little time on taking others with them on the journey or implementation of the vision; it has simply been “here’s the vision, let’s do it.” If our vision remains just a compelling idea or an alluring dream, we have failed. Vision is about creating a preferable future and taking people with you.


Perhaps one of the problems with implementing vision is when we as leaders think, “If I didn't invent it, it's not worth considering”, so we rule it out. I would advise that we should never pretend that we have it all worked out already; one of the best ways to get others on board is to collaborate with them, ask for their advice, perhaps beginning with something like, “this is what I see, these are the challenges, and these are the benefits, what do you see and what have I missed?”

Less is more

Sometimes we can use too many words; if we speak for an extended period, we may find that the vision gets lost. People won’t get on board unless they understand. I still remember a presentation of a visionary budget by a church treasurer back in the 1990s, who offered a very brief vision coupled with the largest chocolate cake I had seen for a while. While he spoke, he cut up slices and began to hand them around. There was not enough for everyone, which was his point. Unless we as a church gave more, we could not give to all the different initiatives that we were planning to support.

Deal with their concerns

When we as leaders begin to share a vision, we need to prepare ourselves for four areas of concerns that people often have. The first is ‘can I ask questions?’, in other words, is this a fait accompli or do you want to hear from me? The second concern is ‘will I fit with this, and what am I going to lose?’ People are invariably bothered about the potential loss, so we may need to spend time reassuring them that they still matter. The third concern is ‘How is this going to be done?’ People might need to see some form of an action plan so that they can begin to understand how the dream might become a reality. The fourth concern is, ‘what is the benefit?’ Invariably it is not until the first three concerns are answered do people care about the benefits. That means a leader cannot announce a change and explain its advantages and expect people to support the change. When we ask people to do something different, they regularly focus on what they have to give up, not on what they are going to gain.

Have an action plan

Finally, a well communicated, and widely owned vision statement is a ‘bridge to nowhere’ without an action plan. An action plan converts dreams into decisions and reallocates the resources of your church to undergird the new vision. A key pitfall to avoid is creating a bold vision and then continuing with the church the same as always. A fresh vision calls for new activity. Consider putting together an action team. Ideally, the same people that helped develop the vision in the first place is an excellent place to start, but consider adding to it with key volunteers who will help live out the vision action plan.

If you would like to learn more on the topic shaping and sharing a vision, then do book into our Leadership development conference in April. We think that vision is such a crucial topic in church leadership, that we have extended the early bird discount until the end of February, which offers you a saving of £25 per person. Why not join the many who have already signed up, and let's learn together how to be people of vision who take others with us?

Planning to fail

Planning to fail?

My wife is a Christmas planning ninja; no sooner has summer drawn to a close, she gets the Christmas card list out and begins to calculate who should receive a card from the ‘Mattholies’ this year, adding those who sent for the first time and removing those we have not heard of for two years (we work on a one year grace period to ensure the forgetful are not excluded!). She has lists of present ideas, potential present ideas and meal planners. I’ve come to somewhat rely on her planning abilities. You see I am not a natural planner; I love to go with spur of the moment ideas and just try stuff out, but because I know I am bad at planning, I have become super focussed on planning better utilising my calendar as a to-do list, marking up things to do in advance as appointments, relying on action lists and undertaking a weekly review to see what I need to do in the coming weeks and pick up anything I might have otherwised overlooked. It is not a full proof system, and I still miss things, but it certainly helps.

As leaders, many of us are familiar with the saying, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. Perhaps a better quote is “plan for nothing, and you’ll be sure to achieve it”. My suspicion is many leaders within the Church are not natural planners; perhaps they feel that planning is primarily a management tool, and as such ‘not for them’ and yet some of the worst services and groups that I’ve attended were not bad because the leader wasn’t gifted to share or teach, nor because she or he was not fully capable, but primarily because the person leading hadn’t taken the time to prepare.

I think God is a great planner; Christmas for me is a beautiful reminder that the incarnation was something that God had planned ever since the fall; God didn't send his only son on a whim, or spur of the moment idea – it was intended from the beginning and was very much intentional. I think Jesus, in teaching his followers the cost of being a follower in Luke 14, gives the nod to the importance of planning; he uses the illustration of the foolishness of beginning a tower-building project without assessing the resources needed - surely this is a good example of the need for careful planning in ministry?

So, in this e-news, we include a link to a couple of helpful resources. The first is a year planner available through our friends at CPO that might be a useful prod to your year ahead in terms of planning for particular services and events. (For a FREE A3 paper version, simply spend £3.85 or more at CPO and use the promo code RURAL at checkout.) The second is a resource I discovered to help with planning for services, but I think it could be equally used for events. It can be tailored for your context and can be downloaded free of charge here.

Let me finish with one last piece of advice; our families deserve our undivided attention. Christmas can be an incredibly busy period in ministry, where much time is given to creating various services and outreach initiatives. In your planning, please do ensure that you include ‘family time’; a time where you can give those around you your full, undivided attention. It might just be the most missional thing you do this Christmas!

It’s leadership Jim, but probably not as you know it

It’s leadership Jim, but probably not as you know it

Being a leader in uncertain times is challenging, ask any of the current leaders of our political parties during the Brexit process. Uncertainty can result in people becoming more cautious in their attitude – not taking action or not making decisions because of the lack of clarity about the future. In uncertain times there is a tendency for people to feel increased levels of anxiety and even fear, either because of the perceived loss of control or loss of a routine or perhaps because they feel threatened that they may be unable to cope with what lies ahead.

Within Christian circles I am observing a growing unhealthy expectation for ‘church leaders’ to know what to do in every situation, perhaps suggesting that we may have modelled church leadership more on Captain Kirk than anything else; after all, did he not always know what to do? Certainly, there is a growing level of uncertainty in ‘the church’ because we realise that the old ways of doing things no longer seem to bear the same fruit as before.

But I would want to argue that uncertainty isn’t all bad; the motive behind many a pioneer and explorer is that there is something to be discovered that we do not yet know. The opening lines of ‘Star Trek’, if you forgive the split infinitive, is to ‘boldly go where no man has gone before.’ The five-year mission of the USS Enterprise and her crew was to explore, discover, seek out new things - inevitably this involves uncertainty?

So, are there any lessons that those of us in Christian leadership can take from Captain Kirk, as we lead in times of uncertainty?

  • Listen to a wide range of opinion, not just those who think the same as you. Consider how many times the logic of Spock, the ingenuity of Scotty and the linguistics of Uhura got the Enterprise out of a scrape. Ask for the input of others, as consensus builds confidence in the face of uncertainty.

  • Communicate clearly. Andy Stanley says, “You can't always be sure, but you can be clear.” Remind everyone of the mission you are on and the eternity which is at stake in those we seek to share Jesus with.

  • Be positive. Keep your fears to yourself but share your courage with others. There were numerous moments when the brevity of Kirk carried the crew through uncertain times.

  • Don't rush a decision. How many times was Kirk et al., able to see beyond the immediate knee-jerk ‘Fire all phasers’ and instead broker a peaceful solution?

  • Create small wins. Identify small wins that the team can achieve quickly and easily; these quick wins need to be meaningful and celebrated, as that will help to boost confidence, increase morale and create momentum.

  • Finally, and I am not sure this has anything to do with Kirk, remember God has not retired, grown hard of hearing or lost interest in the church. When it seemed there was no hope, God saved a baby called Moses who would one day lead His people out of captivity. In a time of war, when there was a struggle for national identity, God called Deborah to lead a military campaign. When a ruthless, godless culture opposed to God’s people, God acted using Daniel and a faithful few to influence and change an entire nation. I could go on. God is the same God who spoke a word and galaxies were formed – there might be a supernatural solution that you haven’t even dreamt of, and you never know, it may involve you going on your own ‘five-year mission.’