While I was serving as an associate pastor at our mother church I helped to develop and implement a discipleship system that was quite intricate and served as the primary discipleship plan for the entire church. The same system was also used as the primary process for leadership development in the church. There were advantages and disadvantages to doubling up on the purpose of the system; however, in our church plant I wanted to use this system primarily for leadership development.
The way I approached discipleship in our plant was to implement traditional small groups and a version of our mother church’s system for developing leaders. When we launched our small groups were “traditional” groups based on video content and conversation and implemented as our primary discipleship and community building system. The groups run on semesters so we take a break about every 3 months and have a chance to launch new groups. In addition to those groups we have a year-long intentional discipleship process called “The Path.” The Path is our adaptation of the discipleship process from our mother church. We took that system, made some tweaks, and then oddly enough we downsized it. We took a church-wide system for discipleship and leadership development and shrunk it down to a single group that would meet with the Pastor for a year; and what we have found is that it has worked wonderfully.
The keys to The Path are these: you can only enter The Path once a year, in September. You commit to a minimum of 75% attendance in each session. The sessions run each semester (Fall, Winter/Spring, Summer) for 10-12 weeks each. The group meets in my home and it is the only discipleship group that I lead. Going through The Path does not mean you will (or even want to) be in leadership in the church, but the prerequisite for leadership is having been through The Path.
When we originally implemented The Path we kept the content as close to the original system as possible thinking that was the important part. I have since altered the content for a few reasons, the largest of which is that I now understand that the important part isn’t the content per se, it’s that the folks participating are spending one year being directly discipled by the pastor of the church. When they are done with The Path they know me, they know my vision, they know my strengths and weaknesses, and they know what I’m trying to do with our church. At the same time I now know them, I know their giftedness, their personalities, their history in the church (or not in the church). Therefore, when it comes time to start selecting leaders, and placing people in positions in our church I’m not looking for warm bodies – I’m choosing from a group of people I know and have personally discipled.
While I was on sabbatical this Summer I saw the fruit of this labor. In my absence the church didn’t miss a beat, our leaders knew the direction of our church, they knew the character of our church so they were able to simply keep going while I was out. I never had to worry about our giving, our mission, our small groups, etc; we have developed leaders that know and are committed to our church and our way of ministry.
Pay attention to your discipleship process, you need small groups and places for people to study the scriptures, pray for each other, and be in community. But don’t assume that this will automatically develop leaders. Find a way to highlight the specific theology and ecclesiology that your church operates under. Find a way to develop people in understanding your church’s unique calling and vision. Find a way to disciple people in a way that allows you as the pastor to get to know them and allows them to get to know you. You will reap huge benefits from doing this and the Kingdom of God will have that many more folks equipped and ready to be used in moving forward.
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