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I first heard the term ‘Core Process’ fifteen years ago in the business world. When you asked, “What is your core process?” of a business executive, you would hear about the one thing that his firm must do with great excellence, to set themselves apart and gain a sustainable edge. Steve Jobs’ cutting edge design work emerged as the core process at Apple. Walmart built the most cost-effective supply chain to consistently maintain both profits and low prices.

What would you say was the core process in your church? What is the central facet that is most critical to the ongoing health and impact of the church? Most of the churches I’ve seen in the Lutheran tribe would name worship as the core process. It is clearly the central focus.

I’ve coached mission developers planting a church, and as soon as weekly worship begins, it seems to take center stage. It rolls around every week. It is the most visible expression of the church. It is the core process in so many places.

I saw Mike Breen lead a 3DM Discipleship and Mission Workshop recently. By way of background, Breen is an Anglican Priest. He told  the group that in seminary he was mostly trained for Temple duty, not disciple-making. The focus was on maintaining and growing the church.

Then he made a startling point for those trained in our seminaries. “For most pastors, the operating system is not discipleship, but the church,” Breen proposed. He continued, “The problem is this: the church is not the operating system of Jesus. Discipleship is the operating system of Jesus." He went on to say, “The church is the effect of discipleship, not the cause of it." He claims that the operating system of discipleship is unstoppable. These were profound words that shake the very foundation of seminary training.

So, Breen proposes that equipping disciples, and multiplying leaders who can make disciples as the core process for the church. He went on to describe how Jesus, through an equal mix of invitation and challenge, spent three years doing life-on-life discipleship with his disciples.

I’ve spent twenty years in small groups, both men’s and couples’ groups. They have been wonderful places that have inspired and supported my spiritual journey. But, they rarely brought the challenge that I’ve come to realize is essential to discipleship.

I’ve also learned from friends who are pastors that they were cautioned during seminary about letting people from their flock into their private lives. In preaching, many were admonished not to tell too many personal stories, or share too much of their personal journey.

I think that is sad. I was brought to faith by a Lutheran pastor who did not heed these cautions and admonitions, and through him, I could see that God was still working in the world today. His willingness to share his life, and where God was showing up each day were signs of authenticity that drew me in and brought me to faith.

Is that the model my pastor friends heard of in seminary the model Jesus presented to us of discipleship? For three years, the disciples ate, slept, and journeyed together with Jesus. How much privacy did Jesus seek? Often, he would withdraw to a quiet place to pray and commune with God. But, he would immediately enter back into his life-on-life journey.

I am in my second year in a Spiritual Formation Group at City Church Eastside. I am journeying with a small group of men for a year. We are modeling these groups on three elements of discipleship that I heard articulated by Mike Breen’s partner, Steve Cockram, at a 3DM Taster event.

Their discipleship model looks like the image below. You begin by giving Information, sharing the Gospel with people. Then you invite them into apprenticeship through joining a huddle. As Steve Cockram said, "Imitate those parts of me where you see Christ. The rest of the stuff, don't imitate." So, imitation is the next step. Through the huddle process, people are formed into disciples.

The final step is innovation. As people, through prayer and meditation, become fluent in the ways in which God has gifted them, they can discern a calling of God in their lives. This calling will take them on a path unlike anyone else's. That unique path will take us through the stage of innovation, as we figure out and live out our unique calling. For more about Gifts and Calling, look here.

At City Church, we provide information through shared readings of things like Tim Keller’s Prodigal God. These resources help us focus on where we are placing our identity, and challenge many of our assumptions. Both of the groups I have attended have quickly reached a place of deep transparency and vulnerability.

This safe environment emerges through a storytelling process led by the group leader. Each participant is told they will share their story with the group. The leader sets the tone, and I have seen an extremely high bar set by the leaders. They talk of their brokenness, struggles with sexual fidelity and pornography in ways I never heard in the best of the small groups I experienced. By opening in this way, it becomes hard for others to hide and dodge the tough issues in their lives.

When we create groups that see this deeply into each other’s heart and soul, incredible things happen. Seeing how others have moved from brokenness to health through their walk with Christ inspires deeper change than I’ve ever seen emerge from small groups.

As I heard recently in a coaching session for counselors, transparency means being open. Vulnerability means putting bullets on the table. That means I trust this group enough to tell you things that you could use to harm me significantly. This environment of trust and honesty is where real discipleship happens. I’ve seen several degrees of transparency in other small group experiences, but not this kind of vulnerability. Here at City Church, I see everyone challenged to put bullets on the table.

I recently spent a day with City Church’s two pastors looking at strategy and vision going forward. I spoke to them briefly about core process during the day. I suggested to them that while our worship is critical to our Kingdom work, our core process is what goes on in the room at Spiritual Formation Group. If that is done well, everything else will follow. We can do excellent worship and many other aspects of church. However, if making disciples is not the core process, we are not living in the operating system of Jesus.

See other posts on 3DM here:

3DM: A Taste of Discipleship

3DM Discipleship & Mission

Learning Circle: Accountability in Discipleship

Person of Peace

What's your Church's Core Process?

Healthy Community: Community Built on Discipleship & Mission

Healthy Community: Community of Transformed Hearts & Souls

Churches need Pioneers and Settlers