4 disciple-making paradigms
By Tim McCarthy, North Langley Community Church
In his letter to the Colossian church, the apostle Paul expressed his mission with these words: “Christ in you, the hope of glory… is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:27–28 NIV).
In the church where I serve, leaders have been working to map out our own vision for this mandate in a way that is true to the uniqueness of our church’s story. The challenge is to develop a paradigm that is both simple enough for an ordinary person to understand at a glance, and rich enough to capture the many layers of spiritual formation that we know to be part of what it means to be mature, complete in Christ.
Even more, we want to equip our community to not just speak it or know it, but practice it as part of its DNA.
I have finally dried myself off after a nearly overwhelming attempt to drink from the firehose during the first set of TED-Style talks. These talks featured Phil Wagler (MB Mission), Rob Loane (VantagePoint3), Jean Milliken (4 Chair Disciple-making), and Randy Wollf (MB Seminary) sharing their paradigm for developing disciples of Jesus. Each paradigm approached the question of disciple-making from a slightly different, but complementary angle. Together, they provide a rich, multifaceted vision of how to increase the likelihood that people will make a genuine move from being disciples of someone or something else (as Darrell Johnson reminded us) to being disciples of the one who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.
Phil Wagler explained how effective discipleship involves both a framework and a set of “family values” that provide an environment most geared toward success. The MB Mission framework and family values were a great reminder that fruitful discipleship/formation always involves far more than listening to one person speak out information (or even reading a good book). It always includes the opportunity for learners to discover, experiment, attempt, fail, reflect and discuss with reference to their own story and in interaction with other’s stories. As any effective teacher knows, there is no other way to know whether the seeds we are planting are actually bearing fruit. It is essential for us to not just measure success according to attendance or volunteer involvement. If the activity of our church is going to bear long-lasting fruit, it must invest time, resources and training to provide this kind of formative experience for people.
Rob Loane’s talk focused on correcting a couple of errors in thinking and methodology. We were encouraged to abandon the mindset that formation is a human endeavor. Rather, we are called to be “detectives of divinity,” paying attention to the work that God’s Spirit is already doing in people’s lives. Similarly, we were challenged to correct what Eugene Peterson calls “a lack of leadership by companionship”; relational ends (e.g. loving God and loving others, the fruit of the Spirit, the NT “one-anothers”) can only be achieved by relational means.
Having been engaged for two years in developing a “map” for discipleship that is unique and relevant to our church, I need to receive the challenge to take that map and now become a “mountain guide” who accompanies people on their journey into the great wild of following Jesus.
I found Jean Milliken’s visual 4-Chair representation of maturity in Christ very encouraging, because it affirmed some of the direction that we have taken in our own church’s discipleship process. At the same time, I was reminded not to aim too low. Based on Jesus’ call,“Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19), and aiming for a level of simplicity, we have described our process with three words: Connect, Equip, Multiply.
The 4-Chair approach takes one more step: Whereas the 3rd chair, “Fishers of People” (corresponding to “Multiply”), could be seen as speaking to particular assignments given by Jesus, the 4th chair, “Go and Bear Fruit,” is a reminder that true maturity is exhibited in a natural and automatic responsiveness to the opportunities God brings into our path, moment to moment. In other words, a mature Christian doesn’t need to be given assignments; he or she can be trusted to carry the heart and priorities of God into every situation, and act naturally out of that internal orientation.
With Randy Wollf’s talk on a strategic approach to discipleship, the firehose was turned on to full power, and space does not permit much reflection on all that he covered in his short time. One valuable tool that I am looking forward to checking out is the church discipleship assessment provided by MinistryLift. Tools for assessing effectiveness in spiritual formation are difficult to develop, and Christians who want to guard the gospel of grace are often hesitant to “evaluate” spiritual progress for fear of promoting a merit-based spirituality. But this hesitancy is unfounded. The apostle Paul reminded the church in Corinth, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Tools like this are essential to getting a snapshot of the spiritual health of our church, an excellent way to spark fresh conversations about how we grow together in Christ.
Pastor Jim Putman, author of Discipleshift and The Power of Together, writes about three essential components to making disciples: an intentional leader, a relational environment, and a reproducible process. This paradigm has been instrumental in helping our church think about our preferred future as a disciple-making community.
Listening to the four paradigms presented in these TED-style talks was like having that amazing feature so often used in spy and detective TV shows; we were zooming in and enhancing the 30,000 ft view that I’ve already enjoyed in Putman’s writings. I look forward to finding ways to express these valuable insights in a way that works in our church.
–Tim McCarthy is a husband to Cyndi, father to 5 amazing kids, songwriter, and pastor of discipleship and community life at North Langley Community Church in Langley, British Columbia. His passion is making disciples who treasure Christ and embrace Christ’s mission for the sake of the world.