Christian leaders are constantly grappling with how to make disciples who will go on to do the same. How are we to understand that journey so we can help facilitate it?
The process of embedding a multiplying discipleship model in a church can be broken down into steps:
Step one is to define “disciple”, so we know what it is we are supposed to be making. More on that here.
Step two is about knowing how people actually grow and what might be the elements of transformation that need to be included. More on that here.
Step three would be to put in place the elements of a framework: people, pathways, programs, experiences etc. More on that here.
Step four (a long one) is to transition into a church-wide culture of discipleship. That's a change-management issue and a different challenge for every setting.
This post addresses some of the issues in step three - particularly about the pathway of growth.
The journey of discipleship is not as predictable as a plug-and-play series of steps and learnings. Spiritual maturity isn’t a linear experience of growth. Nor does it stop when a person learns to read the bible and share their faith.
In the absence of a fuller understanding, however, that's how we tend to portray it.
This may be the result of adopting simplistic methodology to the well-researched Engel Scale and other models. These models show the markers of people as they grow in awareness of God and response to the gospel as seen below.
And whilst these models represent well the outworking of the discipleship experience – they do not portray the journey to maturity itself which is far more organic, even chaotic.
In reality, someone might display fruitfulness by an obvious ability to reproduce another believer through evangelism - yet still struggle deeply with an experience of freedom in some area of life. We have all probably seen incredibly fruitful leaders fail because their personal life was shallow.
A productive discipleship model can encompass the realities of progressive growth in all four post-salvation stages: Faith, Freedom, Following and Fruitfulness. These happen to be the same four elements that Jesus emphasized and promised in His time on earth – more on that here.
Stages become cycles.
A disciple can be ready to multiply very quickly – immediately sharing the gospel with their friends and leading them to faith. However, that needn't imply they are spiritually mature.
They have proceeded up the scale in a narrow sense only. The breadth of fruitfulness will, however, be no broader than the foundation of the other stages. Indeed, a greater experience of fruitfulness requires greater breadth in faith, freedom and followership.
Cycles become spirals.
This dynamic of growth is better represented as a cyclical path of steps - or seasons which each lead inevitably to the next.
For example, as we grow FAITH (a reliance on God’s grace and truth) we find ourselves ready and wanting to grow in FREEDOM from old addictions and constraints (the flesh) because we are relying on His Spirit, not our flesh.
This internal filling of our heart overflows to fuel our mission. We grow capacity and awareness of our calling and giftedness, FOLLOWING God’s path for us. This ultimately becomes FRUITFUL as we multiply our influence.
And so whilst we grow in a circular way, the seasons take us ever higher in our Christian maturity – perhaps better illustrated as a spiral.
Know the seasons.
With this circular view of growth we can begin to understand the various seasons we all seem to experience.
Autumn (Fall): A season of change, transition, and falling away of old ways. As we cease to rely on self, we grow FAITH in God as He prepares us for future fruitfulness (John 15:5)
Winter: A season of retreating within, wilderness and final cutting off of the past. This is our key time of transformation and new FREEDOM, just as a chrysalis morphs in the private place into a butterfly.
Spring: New buds of growth and capacity begin to show themselves. Our new freedom spreads its wings in a greater desire and ability to work in the Spirit – FOLLOWING God’s calling.
Summer: A time of multiplication and FRUITFULNESS as our new growth brings multiplying impact in our world. However, even this season requires an end, lest we become exhausted or complacent. God leads us to find new faith in an autumn time of pruning.
Discipling the seasons.
An effective discipleship culture will consider and be able to facilitate each season. Applying the four dynamics of transformation will maximise the effect and also catalyse movement from one season to the next in its due time.