The beauty behind simple and organic churches is the belief that every Christian is called to participate in the life and mission of the church. It revolves around the notion that the laity encompasses a greater capacity to minister than we give them credit for. With that conviction in mind, we implement strategies that allocate more power to the average disciple. We encourage more people to lead, baptize, preach, prophecy, evangelize, etc. As Neil Cole puts it, “We lower the bar of how we do church and raise the bar of discipleship”. I’d say that lines up pretty well with my way of thinking.
However, what I’ve realized over the past few years is that a simple church must eventually face complexities. The only thing simple about this particular ministry process is the initial stage or front end of discipleship. Evangelism can be pretty easy and getting someone baptized doesn’t take a lot of know how and expertise. The problem with a simple reproducible model is the moment it faces the mid-game, the half way point of growth. It’s the moment we encounter the complexities of discipleship and pastoring. We see church planting movements all over the book of Acts, but we also read about the messy reality of church growth in the Epistles. Discipleship goes far beyond a Philip and Ethiopian eunuch encounter.
Think about it. What happens when a couple in your group breaks up? What do you do when your bible study plateau’s? What happens when the answers to questions aren’t found in the collective voice of your community? How do you deal with members in your group who have depression or a bipolar disorder? How do you resolve conflicts within your group? These are all very real problems that do not have simple solutions. Deliverance doesn’t always get rid of the mental illness, prayer doesn’t always heal a broken heart, and correcting a brother doesn’t always resolve the disunity. I’m not saying that the leader needs to have all the answers or that we’re aiming for perfect communities, but leadership does require a level of wisdom that knows how to adapt to such situations. So the questions is, how do you deal with complex issues in a simple system?
I ask this question because I really like the simple system. I get the necessity of reproduction and a model of leadership that can be emulated by the masses, however, in training my leaders, I’m realizing how important it is to prepare them for the hard realities that follow the honeymoon stages of ministry. We mustn’t ignore the necessity of maturity when it comes to leadership and mentorship. I want every single member in my church to be a disciple-maker, but simply teaching them inductive methods of studying the Bible with another person is not enough training to help them overcome the inevitable plateau’s that take place in the discipleship relationship. They need a strong character and an intimate relationship with God. We need versatile leaders who know how to adapt as changes come their way.
However, in the books and blogs I’ve read and in the teachings I’ve heard in this missional renaissance, you either get people dumbing the discipleship process down or you get others who clergisize (I literally JUST made that word up) or raise the bar of who can lead to an unnecessarily high level. Both sides are reacting to one another, and it’s doesn’t help me very much.
I’m hoping to unravel some ways in which to maximize the number of disciple-makers in my church without compromising the sustainability of their discipleship relationships. I realize that I need to trust God to guide each disciple-maker as they minister, but I also acknowledge my responsibility to equip the saints for the (long-term) work of the ministry.
Anyone out there want to take a crack at dealing with this dilemma? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ve only got a few of my own that I’m attempting to articulate in a future (part 2) post.