The Missing Link In Disciplemaking

Dave Rhodes | August 6, 2019

Let’s start with the obvious: church leaders want to do better at making disciples than they are right now.I have conversations with pastors every week, and I rarely hear one of them say, “I think we’re doing pretty well making disciples of Jesus . . . I don’t think we need much improvement in that area.” It is a testament to the integrity and commitment of church leaders that they are constantly looking to more fully obey the Lord’s commission to make disciples of all nations.

But it is also a testament to a widespread sense that we’re missing something. Some point to shifts in culture and say that what used to “work” in ministry doesn’t work anymore. Others say that society’s changes expose that what churches did in the past never worked as well as they thought—that churches made good churchgoers a lot better than they made faithful disciples.

So what is the problem? What is the missing link in our disciplemaking?

What’s wrong with our method?

Whatever variations it might have, the conventional ministry model inherited by most of us has to do with convincing people who already know they want some spiritual benefit to come to one of our gatherings and absorb biblical information. We expect information transfer itself to change the people who hear the message.

Let’s give the model some credit: it assumes faith in the power of the word of God. It assumes that the word is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12 ESV), that it is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16 ESV), that it will “not return to [God] void . . . but it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11 NKJV). So the information-transfer model isn’t all bad. The problem is that it has faith in the message of Jesus without following the method of Jesus.

Before we look closer at Jesus’ method, let’s look at what the information-transfer method assumes about the people we want to reach:

  • It assumes that they recognize that their problems have a spiritual solution.
  • It assumes that they associate spirituality with Christianity instead of a consumer-friendly remix of Eastern religions and occultism.
  • It assumes that they expect to go to a physical location to get spiritual solutions. 
  • It assumes that they associate spirituality with group activity in addition to private learning and practice.
  • It assumes that they see the church as a trustworthy institution that “delivers the goods” to spiritual seekers.

It should be obvious by now that none of these are safe assumptions in our day and age.

In order to reach a new kind of lost person, believers need to be a new kind of disciple—actually the kind of disciple that Jesus made 2,000 years ago. They need to be living a new life that not only hears the word but does it. They also need to have the motivation and the means to transfer that new life—not just new information—to the people around them who will never walk into a church.

Information transfer alone does not make the kind of disciple who makes disciples outside the walls. Therefore, I believe that the single greatest missing link in most churches’ disciplemaking process is a codified toolkit that bridges the gap between received information and real-life transformation.

Jesus’ disciplemaking toolkit

A superficial reading of the Gospels can make it seem like Jesus made disciples by simple information transfer, and a superficial reading of Acts can make it seem like the apostles ran the same playbook. But a closer look shows us that a lot more was going on.

We could multiply examples, but let’s focus on one: Jesus’ favorite teaching device was parables. Some were full-length stories; others were figures of speech no longer than one or two sentences or even one or two words. But the parables were more than a nifty way to deliver a message. They were key tools in Jesus’ disciple-making toolkit.

In his book Preaching and Teaching with Imagination, Warren Wiersbe writes that a parable is a picture, a mirror, and a window: “First there’s sightas we see a slice of life in the picture; then there’s insightas we see ourselves in the mirror, and then there’s visionas we look through the window of revelation and see the Lord” and where he wants to take us. So in Jesus’ mouth, a parable did more than convey information. It was information that led to insight and a moving picture of what the disciple was to do next as he or she took new perspective into daily life.

Jesus’ teaching was more than information transfer; it was transformation transfer. His parables and metaphor-rich sayings were memorable and incredibly sharable. A disciple could easily pass them on to someone else. If they lodged in that person, the sayings would begin transforming that person from the inside out also.

Jesus’ parables and figurative sayings, then, were more than teachings; they were tools. They moved his followers from hearing to doing—from good thinking to good living—and they enabled his disciples to pass the transformation to others even when Jesus was not present. They were more than a library; they were the reproducible equipment of a disciplemaking movement.

How to build your toolkit

The truth of Jesus’ parables is infallible and eternal, which is why we have them in the Bible. But they are also time-bound, because they use figures of speech that had more tangible punch in his place and day. Jesus did not only give his disciples a toolkit, however; he also gave them wisdom from the Holy Spirit to innovate new tools for the people they were to reach living in other cultures. For example, Paul’s epistles give evidence that he invented metaphor-tools as he needed them as he went through the cities of the Roman world.

The most effective disciplemakers throughout history have crafted their own revelation-rooted tools to grow people in Christ. Not only that, but toolmaking itself changes from culture to culture. Jesus’ culture was an oral culture, so he painted pictures with words. We still must do the same in our day, but because we live in an intensely visual culture, our tools should involve actual pictures as well.

At Younique we take this task seriously. One of our tools, for example, is the personal Vision Frame, which ties together the Five Irreducible Questions of Life:

  • What am I called to do?
  • Why am I doing it?
  • How am I doing it?
  • When am I successful?
  • Where is God taking me?

The five questions themselves are the picture—a basic truth about life. The Vision Frame is a mirrorbecause it invites a person to consider whether they know how to answer those questions for themselves. And the tool is a window, because once a person learns how to answer those questions, they have a new and better way of making the decisions Jesus would make if he lived their life.

At Younique, we know that the church has the answers to the problems people are facing, including their questions about their purpose in life. We aim to make the church the hero by supplying it with tools like the Vision Frame to enable people to discover the answers to those questions and to pass along the wisdom to still others.

Dave Rhodes

Dave is the Pastor of Discipleship and Movement Initiatives at Grace Fellowship Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the co-founder of Younique and Wayfarer, and a collaborative partner for 100 Movements, 10,000 Fathers. Before coming to Grace Fellowship, Dave served as the U.S. Team Leader for 3DM and as Lead Strategist for Wayfarer. Dave has authored several books and resources including Redefining Normal: An Open Invitation for Ordinary People Wanting to Become Extraordinary Disciples. Dave graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic University and went on to graduate from Beeson Divinity School with Master of Divinity. Dave is married to Kim and the father of 3 fabulous children—Emma, Izzie and Frankie.