Community Built on Discipleship and Mission

The second theme of churches that are built to last is that they are communities built on discipleship and mission. I heard Neil Cole speak at the Exponential New Church Planting Conference. Neil said it this way, “First you multiply disciples, then you multiply leaders, then you can multiply churches.”  In the church, we often skip step one and start by trying to multiply leaders. In the absence of step one, a membership church grows, because those chosen for leadership positions have not personally committed to discipleship.

In my own coaching of mission developers, I see them become so anxious to recruit people to help share the load of starting a church, that they try to recruit leaders before they begin to multiply disciples. When our leaders are not first disciples, we will inevitably end up with a membership church instead of a discipleship community.

Mike Breen and the 3DM team have created the most effective operating system for discipleship that I have seen. According to Breen, “The church is the effect of discipleship, not the cause of it. For most pastors, the operating system is not discipleship, but the church. The problem: the church is not the operating system of Jesus.” He goes on to say, “The Gospel was meant to be simple, but hard. We’ve made it complicated, but easy. "
3DM offers a simple church model based on a triangle: up, in and out. The top of the triangle is the Up. We can best worship God (Up) as a gathered assembly, raising our voices together in song, prayer and praise, while hearing the Gospel proclaimed.

The bottom right of the triangle is the In, symbolizing our efforts to go deeper in our personal relationship with God. The In is lived out in small discipleship huddles, where you can know and be known deeply. This is the place of deepest transparency and vulnerability, where you do discipleship life-on-life. Here each is invited into a loving relationship, and challenged to share what God is saying to each individual, and being accountable to do something about it.

I never experienced this level of openness in any of the small groups I’ve joined, even gender specific groups, where it is easier to open up. As I heard recently in a coaching session for counselors, transparency means being open. Vulnerability means putting bullets on the table. This environment of trust and honesty is where real discipleship happens.

The third corner is the Out, our mission in the world. Huddles are limited to no more than eight people to allow trust and vulnerability, a safe place for everyone. In the 3DM model Missional Communities are formed out of the missional passions that emerge in the leaders during the early huddle with the Pastor. These communities are 20 to 50 people who organize as an extended family on a mission.

They share a passion for a place or a people, and serve the deep needs they encounter. This authentic Christian service draws others who desire to give back. They also share meals and fellowship together. Relationships form in Missional Community that help draw people closer to a true discipleship community. Most people will have their first contact with the church not through visiting a worship service, but by encountering this extended family on a mission, and wanting to help out.

Typically, discipleship huddles are formed within these Missional Communities so the deep relationships being formed help create a contagious flame out of the sparks of faith in each of these lives. So, rather than creating multiple programs, this path calls people into a rhythm of invitation and challenge, opening doors to an abundant life in Jesus. In this model, everyone who is leading a huddle or a Missional Community is also being huddled, allowing a high accountability, low control culture to develop.

TAKE A MOMENT  Have you entered into life on life discipleship, opening your life to disciple and be discipled? Have you experienced places where the flames of faith can be kindled into a fire, and become contagious? Are there opportunities for that in your faith community?

The key element to this discipleship movement is to create healthy DNA and multiplication. Missional leaders create a healthy, discipleship DNA at the core of the church. It radiates outward, replicating the DNA as it spreads through networks of friends and family. Each family that moves takes the DNA into its next community. The DNA is no longer dependent on one leader, but is the culture of the Body of Christ. Now, the community has the strength to cope with the worst firestorms that might pass by, because at its very core is the DNA of discipleship.

Building a discipling culture starts with spiritual leadership. You see, effective leaders live out the values of the organization. You can't expect church members to embrace discipleship if their leaders haven't. So, if you are trying to plant a vision of discipleship in an existing church, you must start with your leaders. When the leaders begin to model discipleship, the people will follow and a culture of discipleship will emerge.

TAKE A MOMENT  Are the formal leaders of your church modeling a personal commitment to discipleship? Are the spiritually mature visible to others in your church, discipling and mentoring others out of their gifts?

I find that discipleship happens best in gender-based groups. As I’ve seen the men in discipleship groups share struggles with pornography and other issues of sexuality, I am aware that I never heard such things shared in mixed gender groups. Creating a safe space where such transparency and vulnerability can happen is key to effective discipleship. The willingness of the group leader to go to those places him/herself sets the standard for others in the group. I am amazed at how quickly deep bonds form with this level of intimacy.

For discipleship to work, we must embrace the blessing of accountability. I saw Mike Breen speak to a room full of fellow Lutherans. He said, “Lutherans are great at invitation, but terrible at challenge.” He then describes the rhythm Jesus lived out with his disciples, a mix of high invitation and high challenge. There can be no accountability without challenge.

In the decade years since I sold my business, I've been coaching and consulting with churches and leaders trying to create healthy Christian communities. One of the stark differences I find in the church world versus the secular business world is accountability. Businesses that do not measure the important things and hold people accountable for accomplishing agreed objectives do not last long. Churches take so long to die that they can persist for decades without accountability or adapting to a changing world.

I learned accountability as a sales person. I was getting a small base salary, less than a quarter of my total earnings. The rest came from commission on sales of equipment. My first couple of years went well, then we hit a recession. I called it the sliding scale of unemployment. I had a job, but if I did not sell equipment, we could not pay our bills. We had a very unpleasant year until the economy began to improve. We couldn't make our mortgage payment for a couple of months. There was no one to bail me out. If I did not produce results, I did not get paid. I learned time management, and improved my sales techniques, worked long and hard, and dug myself out of the hole. It was an invaluable lesson, accountability helps you learn and grow.

In most denominational churches I've seen, there is very little accountability. It's sad, because where I see strong leadership and high accountability, it usually correlates to excellence. Typical council/committee structures in denominational churches are control structures. People are not empowered, and micromanagement by the council and pastor is common. When people do not perform, no one talks about it. Whole committees and programs suffer entropy, a slow deterioration of function and capability as the passion of whoever started the program wanes and no new leader steps up. Yet, councils do not ask what's gone wrong, because we wouldn't want to make the person feel bad. They are a volunteer after all. So, we see very high control/low accountability systems at play in many churches.

I have observed what almost seems like an unholy agreement between pastors and the business leaders in the congregation. It goes something like this, pastor won't hold the business leaders accountable to do more than write checks, and the leaders won't hold the pastor accountable for actually accomplishing anything. "I won't hold you accountable to be a leader if you don't hold me accountable to be a disciple," describes the unspoken sentiment. Nothing is measured, no one is held accountable, and mediocrity ensues. I've heard many a pastor say, "You can't measure the important things, like spiritual growth." So, they refuse to give credence to any of the proxies, like worship attendance.

TAKE A MOMENT  How willing are you to be in accountable relationships? Does your church create and encourage accountability?

By equipping and empowering people, we can create a high accountability/low control organization. The quandary is that empowered organizations inevitably fail if there is not high accountability. I was a Lutheran for over 20 years before I was ever really challenged to discipleship. To serve at the highest levels of leadership did not require such a commitment. I was President of my congregation, and no one held me accountable as a disciple. In my consulting work, I rarely found expectations that leaders on Council also be spiritual leaders of the congregation. If the formal leadership of a church is not committed to discipleship, everyone is off the hook. Without accountability, there can be no real discipleship.

So, the major shift is from high control/low accountability to low control/high accountability. True leaders love accountability. They will measure themselves even if no one else is measuring. They abhor committee meetings where nothing is accomplished and no progress is measured.

My spiritual director, Mark Ritchie, helped me understand the blessing of accountability. So, how do we teach accountability as a blessing? Mark suggests that we start with what is going on in the big picture with the individual. If we seek to follow Jesus' model, we start with: whatever you've done, I forgive you. With Jesus, first we offer love and forgiveness, before admonition. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster's order of meeting is all about accountability. The meeting begins by recognizing all the ways I am called into serving and stating all I plan to do in the next week or two, then coming back and reporting what I have done.

It is a very nonjudgmental form, it is individual accountability for a Godly life well lived. So that is different from accountability to a group or a board or an organization. The situation is different when you have to hold others accountable for their commitments to the organization.

In dealing with holding others accountability, begin with 'this is where we are, now where do we go?' Begin with forgiveness, and give permission to walk away if the person is not ready to do that which is committed. Perhaps, without shame the person can see something bigger than the circumstances that bring about the conversation. It would be very easy for the person to feel attacked in this conversation. Defensiveness leads to denial and excuses and blame, and ignores the essence of the issues.

Given the lack of resources in nonprofit ventures, even greater accountability is required. How do we build accountability into a volunteer team? Through the lens of Christ that starts with forgiveness, not blame.

Here's how Mark unpacked it. From the standpoint of our Christian walk, it is best for me that I be accountable, not best for others. We will be better served in our Christian walk if God holds us accountable. Even in the Garden, the lesson is God holding Adam and Eve accountable. Without a strong accountability process in place, we will never achieve excellence. We must help others understand why accountability is a blessing, that it is best for us.

The world does not teach us this. We don't like to get caught; it brings too much shame. But shame can be a blessing, if it turns us back to God, not away from Him. So, these are some simple lessons that are quite a challenge to get right. True leadership, even servant leadership as Jesus taught us, requires accountability. We will never achieve what God intends in our lives and churches without accountability. It requires we speak the truth in love, and surround ourselves with truth tellers who speak into our lives. In organizational leadership, recognize that when we have people in roles that they either do not have the gifts, the passion or the commitment to fulfill, we are doing them and the body of Christ a disservice.

TAKE A MOMENT  How willing are you to surface and deal with performance issues with co-workers, team members, or those you lead? How will you disciple others without accountability?

Find the rest of the Themes of Healthy Community here:

Community built on trust, not fear

Community built on discipleship and mission

Community of transformed hearts and souls, growing mature in Christ

Community built on shared leadership

Community built on multiplication and sending

Conclusion: Circling the Drain, is your Church among the Walking Dead