Maria Ovando-Gibson, PhD
Assistant Director of the General Conference Stewardship Ministries
and Editor of the Dynamic Steward
Summary: The author examines more closely the making of disciples and its implications for our church ministries. She does so in light of Ogden’s discipleship model and work as she turns our attention to Jesus and the method that he used to make disciples as portrayed in scripture.
Thanks to the Lord two years ago our church had a successful evangelistic campaign. We baptized over 200 new members! This year we exceeded that by 75 baptisms. However… I reluctantly admit that we are struggling not to lose almost half of those new members….”
“From all appearances I had been called to pastor an active, community recognized congregation…. My first church finance committee revealed that only twenty percent of the congregation is tithing and supporting the ministries of the church. The world offerings are embarrassingly low! I have tried preaching sermons on stewardship however nothing has changed; it still is a low percentage that is faithfully returning tithes and offerings….”
What do these two statements have in common? A closer examination reveals that they both express concern about the ‘end product.’ Bill Hull observes that, “The crisis at the heart of the church is a crisis of product.”1 This is supported by many statistics verifying that in terms of lifestyle there is not much difference between the church member and unbeliever in convictions and practice. Pollester George Barna reports that, “interestingly, the stumbling block for the church is not its theology but its failure to apply what it believes in compelling ways. The downfall of the church has not been the content of its message but its failure to practice those truths. Christians have been their own worst enemies when it comes to showing the world what authentic, biblical Christianity looks like.”2
With many years of experience, Executive Pastor of Discipleship Greg Ogden takes note of this description as he remarks that as pastors we “are not producing people who are a whole lot different in conviction and lifestyle from the rest of society.” Consequently, the most important question for a pastor to answer becomes “what kind of people are we growing in our ministries?”3
Merging circumstance and question, Ogden says, “Jesus made it crystal clear that there is a singular product that He equates with the mission of the church—“Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Every church’s mission is the same. There is only one mission: making disciples of Jesus.”4
Therefore, let us examine more closely the making of disciples and its implications for our church ministries. We will do so in light of Ogden’s discipleship model and work. As we turn our attention to Jesus and the method that he used to make disciples as portrayed in scripture.
Traditionally, a would-be disciple would inquire and research a teacher or rabbi and then choose with whom they wanted to form a discipleship relationship. However, the Gospels portray that it was Jesus as Master and after spending a night in prayer chose and made the selection as to whom would become his disciples. Thus, the call to discipleship was on his, that is Jesus’ terms. This is an integral principle of discipleship.
Let us pause and consider how critical the choosing of these twelve men was for Jesus. As their leader with a goal in mind, these ordinary common men were called to spend three years of their lives ‘being with’ Jesus and as a result come to know fully and in depth his person and mission so as to carry it on, after he returned to the Father.
Jesus gives evidence that it would take this kind of relationship to grow mature disciples that would transcend his earthly ministry and carry forward the work of the kingdom. His life and mission could only be internalized in the lives of his disciples by “purposeful proximity” to himself. The method chosen by Jesus for these first disciples to become “self-initiating, reproducing and fully devoted followers”5 was established by intentional investment of his life and time in their lives and becoming.
Scripture also indicates that Jesus in his selection of a few disciples considered the outcome. For there are two essentials for following Jesus: cost and commitment, “neither of which can occur in the anonymity of the masses…discipleship is fundamentally a relational process.”6
With this we take into account the programs that many churches employ in ‘making disciples.’ Jesus’ living example defined that ‘come be with me’ (the call of discipleship) meant a discipleship that requires personal attention, modeling and time. Leroy Eims explains, “Discipleship cannot be mass produced. We cannot drop people into a program and see disciples emerge at the end of the production line. It takes time to make disciples. It takes individual personal attention.”7
Jesus lived and displayed the method for making disciples. It was not a curriculum or a program rather is was a life-to-life investment of time and relationship. The words ‘to be with him’ express intimate and intentional relationship. It is out of this contact, involvement and participation between Jesus and the disciple, that transformation takes place.
The first disciples had a continuous consistent exposure to the life of Jesus. This was the foundation and core with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that made it possible for twelve ordinary men to carry forward the work of Jesus after he returned to the Father. At the end of three years they had become disciples that reflected their Master in life and mission.
Note the process, “Jesus appeared to rely on two means to carry his life and mission forward: the Holy Spirit and the Twelve. His life was transferred to their life by his Spirit and by his association with and investment in them. The irrefutable legacy Jesus wanted to leave behind was the transformed lives of ordinary men who would carry on his work after he returned to the Father. Internalization occurred through intense association.”8
The words of Mark 3:14: “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him” therefore take on a necessary significance in the definition of biblical discipleship.
Conclusively, scripture portrays that discipleship takes place only through personal investment in the life of another. While sermons, classes, and church activities are beneficial, it is in the context of an intentional discipleship relationship that disciples are made. Ogden notes, “I believe we have a crisis of product in large part because pastors are not following the model that Jesus gave us. And we are missing out on a most joyful and fruitful opportunity.”9
While Jesus called a few to become his disciples and thus formed a small group, it is vital to note that he called them to relationship and not a program. Discipleship is not an eight or ten week small group program rather it is the process of transformation and becoming like the Master Discipler in life and mission.
Therefore, small groups have two very important functions. First, within in the context of relationship, a group of three to four individuals who meet together with the purpose of growing and maturing in Christ will find life changing opportunity to grow together in discipleship. There will be the goal of becoming self-initiating, reproducing disciples that will continue reproducing disciples. Community will become a natural experience of discipleship open to all within the local church.
Secondly, forming small groups for the purpose of teaching and learning pertinent subjects is a powerful tool in the local church. However, it needs to be defined that this is not discipleship rather a program that is focused on information for those attending with the possibilities of transformational learning.
The end product
In reference to our beginning reflection on ‘product,’ what if every pastor were to adopt Jesus’ model of discipleship? That is of investing time and life into the training of a few, chosen disciples?
How would our ministry be different if we invested our time in relationship with a few, shaping mature leadership and committed disciples of Jesus?
In terms of stewardship, how might we best learn about the ownership of God in all of our lives? Would it not also be in the context of discipleship and sharing our life with one another? Learning by close proximity with a few other mature disciples about the mission of Jesus, would create a foundation that could be lived out in the practical day-to-day life. For example, how best to learn how to budget, tithe, and return offerings than by observing a living example?
Stewards are disciples that are living out their faith and commitment to Jesus, and have also assumed the great commission of reproducing disciples.
I pose the challenge to those in ministry and leadership, slot time this week to meet with two or three others for the intentional purpose of reproducing disciples within the life-to-life investment method that Jesus evidenced. You can be assured that your end product will be different in quality, quantity and moved from church crisis to bountiful blessings. Our ministries having become environments that are growing disciples who are reflecting the Master in the world, while living as passionate stewards awaiting his return!
1Bill Hull. The Disciple Making Pastor (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1988), 14. Quoted in “Making Disciples Jesus’ Way: A Few at a Time” by Greg Ogden Knowing and Doing (Fall 2008): 4.
2George Barna, The Coming of the Church (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1998), 5.
3Greg Ogden, “Making Disciples Jesus’ Way: A Few at a Time” Knowing and Doing (Fall 2008): 4.
5Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time. Downers (Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 65.
7Leroy Eims, The Lost Art of Disciple Making (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1978), 45. Quoted in Transforming Discipleship, 67.
8Transforming Discipleship, 68.
9Knowing and Doing (Fall 2008): 4.