A Challenge to Congregations
All too often, discipleship has been relegated to elective programs on the congregational calendar. Yet Yeshua gave us a mandate to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). So how do we do it?
Congregation as Warehouse or Factory?
To begin the process of transforming a congregation, we must first understand what a congregation is and why it exists. It may seem like an odd analogy, but ask yourself, Does my congregation function as a warehouse or a factory?”
A warehouse’s function is to preserve material without any negative changes. The staff collects material into the warehouse, stores it in small rooms and tries to keep it there in good condition. The desired outcome is that the material inside does not change.
In contrast, a factory’s goal is to obtain raw material, process it into a more valuable product, and get it into the marketplace as quickly as possible. The managers in a factory lead, guide, and train the factory workers. Production efficiency and evaluation are expected and rewarded. The result is that raw material is effectively changed and becomes useful to the owner.
Consider the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Verse 14 reads: “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them.” In the same way, God has entrusted His creation to us in the form of unbelievers who need to be harvested and believers who need to be cultivated. We must decide whether we will behave like the two slaves who increased and improved what they were given (a “factory” mindset) or like the third slave who merely maintained what he had (a “warehouse” mentality).
God expects us to grow and He expects us to help others grow. We understand that intellectually but, as a practical matter, our congregations do not always reflect that understanding. Until discipleship becomes the thread that runs through our lifestyle and everything our congregations do, we cannot hope to accomplish Yeshua’s command to make disciples. The paradigm shift from “warehouse” to “factory” is an essential first step.
Yeshua’s Model for Disciplemaking
Yeshua is our consummate example of discipleship. Let’s look at four phases of His ministry:
- The first is the “come and see” phase (John 1:38-39) where the disciples watched what Yeshua did. Here, the disciples are told what and why. Their commitment level is low and their involvement is not necessarily consistent.
- In the “come and follow Me” phase (Mark 1:16-17), the disciples come alongside Yeshua as He ministers, both watching Him and participating with Him. They build habits, character, and spiritual disciplines. The disciples are constantly present and quite involved, although not in direct leadership.
- In the “come and be with Me” phase (Mark 3:13-14), Yeshua lets the disciples engage in direct ministry. They are growing deeper in the basic disciplines of the faith and begin to model the words, actions, and behaviors of Yeshua. At this point, the disciples are leading and their commitment level is higher. They are willing to give all of themselves as long as Yeshua is present.
- Finally, the “come and remain in Me” phase (John 15) focuses on the multiplication of disciples and on continual growth. The disciples are now discipling others and leading leaders. Their commitment is marked by a willingness to die for their faith.
Yeshua’s own ministry highlights the necessity for and the expectation of growth. Yeshua fostered a “factory” perspective. To help the disciples mature, He understood what they looked like when they entered each phase, what He needed to teach them in each phase, and how to identify when they were ready to move to the next phase. Studying these four stages of Yeshua’s ministry and writing a description of what a disciple looks like in each stage will help our own congregations begin the process of making discipleship their foundation.
Kiel Cooper is the spiritual leader of Olive Tree Congregation in Plainfield, NY. Olive Tree recently started a comprehensive training process to make discipleship the foundation of everything they do. Their goal is to intentionally structure the congregation to progress people through the four phases of Yeshua’s discipleship model. Kiel is joined in this ministry by his wife Tauna and their son Joshua.