One day, a woman came to see me to seek some help from her pastor. After a few minutes, she made a request. “I’ve been attending some of Heather’s Bible Studies, and it’s been really good.” (That sounded like a good start to me. Heather is my wife.) She continued, “I feel like I’ve grown a lot. And so I’ve been praying about what to do next, and I think what I need is a mentor—a woman who is a little older than me who has been walking with Christ.”
I loved what I heard. “Wow. That is a great request. But I don’t want to just throw names at you. Let me take a little time to reflect on this and pray about it and I will get back to you.”
After she left, I pulled out the church directory and began to pray through it and search for those mentor candidates. Now, it was a mid-sized church: 200 members and about 300 people in the directory—and many of them were women who were a generation ahead of her. But the more I looked, the more concerned I became. Really, there was no one to whom I could entrust this relationship. The church was more than twenty years old, and counted among its members a number of good-hearted people, but it had not produced the kinds of disciples who were motivated, let alone equipped, to help another disciple walk faithfully with Christ.
And I had been the pastor for four years.
I reflected back on the other churches I’d served as a pastor, elder, and youth leader. I couldn’t think of many equipped, motivated disciples in those churches either. God is so gracious! We had made some disciples– but it was by accident and making disciples by accident had to change. My church—moreover, my city— needed deeply surrendered disciples of Jesus. And in the Bible, Jesus made it clear that the number one job of churches is to make disciples of Jesus. Head bowed, I confessed to God I had not been doing my #1 job very well.
Feeling a holy discontent, I started fresh learning about discipleship and learned that I had lot to learn. And I wanted to get steadily better at it for the rest of my life. (And I hope that never changes!) Accidental, mediocre disciple making was no longer acceptable to me!
As I searched for effective ways of making disciples, what I discovered was not encouraging. First, my church was hardly alone in failing to make disciples who are equipped and motivated to make more. Second, there was a lot of confusion about discipleship (most commonly, confusing it with conversion, education, or fresh theological insight.) Third, a related problem: the programs for discipleship tended to follow an information-based classroom approach. Jesus made disciples by doing life intentionally with people and ministering with them along the way. His approach was highly relational and example driven. I saw very little of that in churches. Fourth, Jesus’ approach was repeatable. What he had done the disciples could do and he told them so (see John 14:12). His disciples became like their master and helped others become like the master. Church programing seemed to shoot a lot lower.
When I shared these sorts of things with my colleagues in ministry, many resonated with my plight. They recognized the problem, too and would say, “Let me know what you find out.” To make a long story short: passing on what I’ve been learning is the purpose of this web site. I haven’t found a new book or a hot program. I found tools for discipleship and a mentor who could show me how to use them. I feel God led me to them.
The tools came first. I was coming back from a church planting seminar with my soul stirred up praying for direction. I was looking for a new way to do church that would equip people for discipleship and release them for mission. As I was praying and driving (eyes open) I remembered part of a book I’d read called the Shaping of Things to Come by Alan Hirsh and Michael Frost. I remembered something innovative about clusters of small groups gathering for mission in a church in Sheffield, England. I thought, “Maybe I can look that up when I get home.” I decided to listen to a podcast to pass the time. When I hit play, the voice of a woman with a nice English accent came out of the speakers, “Hello, I’m Sally Breen and this is Jo Saxton, and we’re from Sheffield, England…” I was blown away. So I began learning about their story, the birth of 3dm, and about employing missional communities as places for equipping people for discipleship and releasing them for mission.
Most of the tools for discipleship you will find here were developed by the team at 3dm led by Mike and Sally Breen. I’ve added some: the Spiritual Graph (Randy Pope), the Canyon and the Cross (Bill Hybels), the BELLS Star (about sustaining a missional lifestyle – Michael Frost), and Steps for Healing Prayer (Francis McNutt), and one about God’s peace: shallom. Very little of this is original. It is other people’s work contextualized for use where in context: suburban Jacksonville, FL.
The mentor came later. I could sense how helpful and powerful the tools were, but I was struggling to apply them. I was like a kid who had wandered into a carpentry shop for the first time and decided to make something with what he found there. The result showed promise, but there was much waste. GK Chesterton is right that “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly,” but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get better at it. So I searched the internet for a mentor in Jacksonville who was using the tools I’d found—but to no avail. I resolved to pray and wait. A few months passed and I went to a 3dm training seminar in Orlando where they were introducing the helpers. “And in the back we have… Wayne Bauer from Jacksonville.” I turned around and there was a Nazarene pastor from a church six miles from my house. We’d been in the same ministerial fellowship. We’d prayed and shared meals together for six years. At the first break, I walked up to Wayne and said, “We’ve got to talk.” Wayne is a pastor with an incredible heart. Since that day, I have had the privilege of watching him disciple and lead his people with grace and love, and gained a wonderful friend.
Lastly, the Lord has led me to some wonderful people who have joined me on this journey and have become family. And I am grateful that they have allowed me to work with them, hung in there with me, and given so generously of themselves! It is really for them that I have prepared this web-site and the discipleship tool kit and am happy to share it with others.
If you have read to this point, I want to conclude with a prayer for you and me: May the Lord lead us both into the life Jesus has in mind, and may he do amazing work in us and through us to advance his kingdom! Amen!
Jesse our church had been looking for just such a program. In fact we have been praying for it. Will you be able to send someone to help us in our quest to become disciples? More information please. We are contemplating a name change for the church and also wanted to really reach our community as Christ and the disciples did! Totally blown away with this!!!! Jennifer WHISENANT Clerk of Session St. Andrews Presbyterian Church
Jennifer, I’d love to hear more about what’s going on at St. Andrews. Lets have a conversation.