The question of impact is one that never really goes away. Are our churches effective? Are our ministries making a difference?
And how do we measure such things? Attendance numbers? Offering dollars?
While it’s natural to define success in numerical terms, we must also make sure we’re counting the right things.
It’s challenging to observe that when Jesus commissioned His followers into the world, He didn’t prioritize finances or church buildings. He called them to make disciples of all nations. The obedient response of those first disciples would change the face of their communities, cities, region and, ultimately, the world. They actually accomplished the same things we’re praying for, serving for and laying down our lives for today.
Knowing the Great Commission is our calling, too, then, means we need to ask ourselves some questions:
Are we counting what counted most to Jesus: the number of disciple-making disciples engaged in the mission of God?
How many people are we discipling?
How many people in our churches/ministries are making disciples who make disciples?
It’s crucial we understand how Jesus discipled people. As with all the rabbis of the time, discipleship was not a weekly study or didactic class. A disciple didn’t want to just know what the rabbi knew; he wanted to learn how to be like the rabbi. The rabbi had to be open and accessible enough for the disciple to imitate. Discipleship was not a seasonal program; it was a sacrificial, time-consuming, incarnational process.
Jesus discipled people using an appropriate combination of invitation and challenge. He invited people into a close relationship with Himself. They ate, traveled and adventured together; He affirmed and encouraged them, and reassured them in tough times. Alongside this, Jesus didn’t hesitate to challege people to accept the responsibilities of discipleship, to take responsibility for their character, for their attitudes and for their actions, and to embrace their calling.
Using invitation and challenge, Jesus created a discipling culture where people could learn to imitate His priorities: a close relationship with the Father, authentic relationships with believers, and a relationship with the world around Him. They’d also learn to imitation His life: to speak as He spoke, to heal the sick, cast out demons, touch the broken, forgive the persecutor and even carry their cross.
This discipleship transformed lives, producing missional disciples who in turn would make disciples. Soon an entire community was sharing and living the Good News, healing the sick and casting out demons, whether you were an apostle like Peter or an administrator distributing resources like Stephen. In time, this discipling culture produced the Church.
But when you set out to build the church first, you don’t always get disciples. A church-planting pastor once said to me, “We don’t have a missional problem in the United States—we have a discipleship problem.”
The body of Christ today is innovative and creative, overflowing with talents, gifts, vision and missional strategies to impact our communities. Yet what my friend was driving at was that for all our resources, events and ideas, we struggle to produce (or, if we’re honest, to be) disciples with the kind of transformed lives and missional lifestyle we see in the men and women of the early Church.
What could it meant to get intentional with discipleship again? Perhaps, imitating the pattern of Jesus, it would mean seeking God about discipling a group of people who want to live like Him. It would mean inviting them into a closer relationship with you but also challenging them at times to take responsibility. It would mean learning how to offer both invitation and challenge appropriately, like Jesus did. It would include transparency and openness. It would offer an opportunity for them to learn how to follow Jesus through imitating the example of an ordinary life—your ordinary life, just as Paul encouraged the Corinthians to do (1 Corinthians 11:1).
People would see and learn how we spend our time and our money and how we handle our appetite and our stress. They would see and learn how we relate to our friends, spouses, children and enemies.
It would mean less privacy, but it would produce transformed hearts and lives. It would produce disciples who are, in turn, transforming their homes, workplaces and communities, too.
Disciples who are being the Church. Now that is worth counting.
Jo Saxton is a director of 3DM, an organization that trains churches and Christian leaders to do discipleship and mission in an increasingly post-Christian world. Jo is a popular speaker throughout the United States and England and the author of three books. She loves her husband and two daughters to pieces and lives in Southern California.