This is a follow up to yesterday’s post on the book WikiChurch: Making Discipleship Engaging, Empowering, and Viral by Steve Murrell. Here are a few of the things I loved about that book:
- Steve Murrell is humble. He doesn’t portray himself as some kind of mastermind who came up with this great strategy. He describes himself as an accidental missionary and details how he really stumbled onto his success in discipleship out of necessity and by accident.
- Steve does not even tell you how Victory does discipleship. He doesn’t give you a model. That is not what this book is about. But he doesn’t do it because he realizes that the model you use for discipleship must fit your individual situation. He encourages churches in their movement to adapt their own model. What works in Manila may not work in the provinces and certainly won’t work in Dubai. He says that some of their pastors have even contextualized what they do for specific sub cultures in Manila. I’ve read too many “This is what worked for us and you should do what we do” books. This is not one of them.
- Steve takes a very long view of things. He is not into quick fix. He seems to be a plodder. But he has focused on the single most important thing.
When it comes to making disciples, creating the right culture is much more important than using the right language and material. I wish I could tell you it’s easy, but changing and maintaining a healthy discipleship culture is the most difficult and elusive part of ministry.
One of my typical comments to leaders formulating their own process of making disciples is that the details of their system are not as important as how committed they are to the process. Even if you had the perfect disciple-making process for your community, it would not work automatically without commitment and consistency. We have been updating and adjusting our methods for decades, not because we had nothing better to do, but always because some aspect of our process was not working as well as it should. Even though we have gained momentum through the years with the Victory discipleship process, it does not fuel itself. Focused hard work is required to keep it running. What enables us to keep putting in the effort, fixing the problems, and seeking God about how to do it better? It is that we have committed ourselves to making disciples. We are not committed to getting big or to staying small. We are not committed to reaching politicians, athletes, or actors—rich people, poor people, or smart people. We are not committed to prosperity, political influence, popularity, or fame. We did not set out to formulate and implement a discipleship strategy to see whether it would work. What keeps us at it is not merely a long-term commitment but a lifetime commitment to the Great Commission. We are here to honor God and make disciples. We have no plan B.
Disciple-making churches are fueled by a discipleship culture, not by a magic “silver bullet” method. When the culture is right, almost any method will work. When the culture is toxic, even the best method will fail. Here’s the challenge: changing methods is quick and easy (some leaders change methods monthly), but changing culture is hard work and takes years. Do the hard work and build a discipleship culture; don’t just import a discipleship method.
- The whole point of this book is about the thoroughly Biblical concept of making disciples. He says,
“Jesus told His followers that He would build His church. Then one of the last things He told them to do was make disciples. It’s that simple. We make disciples, and He builds the church. We do not build the church, and He does not make disciples.”
“Jesus told us to make disciples and that He would build the church. Instead, we try to build the church and continue to neglect making disciples.”
- He rightly emphasizes that “making disciples” is not primarily about leading existing believers to maturity. It may include that, but when Jesus gave his command in Matthew 28 he was clearly not talking about setting up classes or accountability groups for new believers. He was talking about making disciples of lost people. Much that has been written on discipleship (including the current stuff like Robby Gallaty’s Growing Up) misses this.
Discipleship, in our understanding, is not a mentoring program to help encourage Christians to become better Christians. The discipleship process starts with introducing nonbelievers to the gospel and person of Jesus Christ…. When we separate the Siamese twins of evangelism and discipleship, we kill both. The biblical starting point of discipleship is evangelism, and the whole point of evangelism is to make disciples.
- Steve’s approach to numbers is right on target. He does not glorify bigness, but recognizes that the whole point is to reach lost people, and if lost people are being reached, then there is growth. He has an extensive discussion about the soil, and how if the soil is not right things won’t grow. In other words, he is saying that his situation in Manila is an environment where the soil has already been prepared. He said that success in Manila may mean thousands coming to Christ, but for their church plant in Dhaka Bangladesh it may mean 100. But he also says,
As long as there is one unsaved person on my campus or in my city, then my church is not big enough.
- However, even though he does not idolize growth and numbers, he recognizes that much growth and effectiveness is sacrificed in order to maintain control.
Growth is not always easy to control. Every church or ministry is either organized for growth or organized for control. At Victory–Manila we gave up on control a long time ago. It has been many years since I could approve or even know about every decision. These days I do not even know the names of many people on our staff, let alone the thousands of discipleship group leaders. To avoid losing control, some pastors decide to stay small. The reverse is more often the reality. When pastors determine to control everything, their ministries remain small as a consequence. We cannot force or require people to make disciples, nor would we even try to do so. Likewise, we cannot control the speed and extent of our growth. We do not control people. However, we work hard to maintain and control the training system and process of making disciples.
- It is that willingness to let go and trust the Holy Spirit that I love about his approach. You have to be willing to let go and let other people make mistakes, and trust the Holy Spirit to work in them and through them. Speaking to Church leaders, he said:
“If you’re not experiencing the kind of fruitfulness you desire, it’s not because you are too lazy to minister. Quite the contrary, it might be because you minister too much.” I went on to say that ministering too much will prevent many church planters from getting to the next level of growth or will prevent disciple-makers from seeing their small groups grow and multiply. Next, I posed a question to them, the same query I constantly ask the leaders I work with: “Do you spend more time ministering to people or preparing people to minister? Do you spend more time preparing messages or preparing people?”
OK, enough writing today! More on this subject tomorrow.