What does your congregation think when you encourage them to “go and make disciples” (nlt) like Jesus commissioned us in Matthew 28:16-20?
If they are like most congregations, their thoughts are a mix of That sounds hard and I don’t know how to do that. Or I’ll bring them to my small group. Or I don’t think I am qualified. For a variety of reasons, it seems like the people in our churches are content to leave disciplemaking to the “trained professionals.”
When people are insecure about their capacity to make disciples, it leaves pastors burned out and congregations sitting on the sidelines with underactivated giftings and callings. And it is definitely less than what Jesus commissioned us all to do.
Helping Pastors Release Disciplemakers
Disciplemaking is serious, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Pastors know that God will hold us accountable for how we disciple people. This brings a sense of accountability—and it should! But it can also bring a sense of fear that permeates how we decide who gets to make disciples. Rather than painting a picture of disciplemaking that is complex and scary, I believe Jesus gave us an understanding of discipleship that is simple and approachable.
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells his disciples to “make disciples, . . . teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (nrsv). Jesus is saying, essentially, “Teach them what I’ve taught you” or “Pass it on.” It seems to me Jesus is telling us that in making disciples, we are only accountable for teaching what we have been taught. This means that all of our people are capable of disciplemaking when they enter into a relationship with someone who is ready to learn the lessons of Jesus from them. Teach them what I’ve taught you. It really can be that simple.
Still, most people are scared of disciplemaking. Whether or not we’ve taught them to feel this way, it is in the culture of the church at large that only certain people know enough to be qualified. But Jesus did not call spiritual superstars to make disciples—he called and commissioned the everyday believer.
For disciplemaking to be accessible to the ordinary person, a few things need to be true of your church:
The discipleship curriculum is accessible enough to be taught by a teenager.
Most of the people who attend your church do not have seminary degrees. They need a curriculum that they can understand and confidently use. This curriculum should be more of a framework and less of a textbook so they can bring in their own testimonies of what God has taught them. Choosing something that even your teens can use means that your adults will be able to as well. Additionally, we are never too young to share with someone else what heaven has taught us. With this approach, a college student can disciple a high schooler and a high schooler can disciple a middle schooler. A disciplemaker only needs to be a few steps ahead of the person they’re discipling to share what they’ve learned.
Anyone making a disciple is in a discipleship relationship themselves.
When pastors begin to get a vision for every-person disciplemaking, the first fear that rises up is the concern that people will teach something misguided. These thoughts are usually accompanied by the faces of the people who make us nervous—and memories of cleaning up messes. These concerns are real. But if God is brave enough to commission us to make disciples—with all the things we know and don’t know—then we need to be brave also. This worry can be mostly addressed by (1) making sure each person who is discipling someone is also receiving discipleship, providing a natural pathway for receiving correction and developing understanding; and (2) encouraging each person to teach only what God has revealed to them through Scripture and the Holy Spirit. If they don’t really know it, they should not teach it to someone else.
Disciplemaking has been disentangled from church leadership roles.
Everyone who follows Jesus is called to be a disciplemaker. But not everyone is called to hold a leadership role in your church. Pathways to disciplemaking should be highly accessible. But leadership roles, whether staff or volunteer, should be gated. Since the two have been conflated for centuries, disentangling them will be new for most people in the congregation. The difference between disciplemaking and organizational leadership, and the different pathways for equipping people to serve in each role, will need to be clearly and regularly communicated.
Your church can turn the corner from having a discipleship pathway to having a disciplemaking culture where people are more connected, engaged, and growing. It is what many believers, including those in Gen Z, are looking for. When we lean into equipping the everyday person to be a disciplemaker, our churches will be marked with not-so-ordinary discipleship.
Jessie Cruickshank holds an MEd from Harvard in mind, brain, and education. She is an ordained minister and a nationally recognized expert in disciplemaking and the neuroscience of transformation. She has spent two decades applying neuroeducation research to discipleship, ministry training, experiential education, and organizational development. Jessie is respected globally as a leader in missiological thought and a church and denominational consultant, and is the founder of Who-ology. Jessie’s newest book, Ordinary Discipleship, will release on May 9, 2023, from NavPress. She lives and adventures with her family in Colorado.