By Robby Gallaty
This generation, as with every generation, has a fresh opportunity to reclaim this ancient pattern of ministry. Today’s church leaders are not like the generations immediately preceding them. Church in a box is outdated like Cavaricci jeans (you only know about these if you’re older than thirty), canned sermons are frowned upon, and more leaders understand their need for a comprehensive disciple-making strategy—the crux of the Great Commission. What is missing from the equation, unfortunately, is a measurable method for tracking effectiveness.
MARCS of a Disciple
“Create incarnational principles, not duplicatable processes for people to implement,” was the advice of Will Mancini, author and visionary, in an hour-long phone conversation I had with him about disciple-making.
Mancini is talking here about a common phenomenon among ministry leaders. Many churches will experience success in a particular area of ministry and then attempt to repackage a step-by-step process for duplication in other churches. In the 1990s, many churches adopted the “Purpose Driven” model for ministry, which was very effective at the time.
But after years of implementing it as a nicely packaged, sure-fire disciple-making strategy, it began to fade. And some of this is due to the need to contextualize each strategy to our local culture. What works in Nashville, Tennessee, may not work in San Francisco or in Quito, Ecuador. The Word of God and the principles it teaches are timeless and transcendent, but man-made curriculums developed in a particular cultural context are not.
When God determines the maturity of a church, he doesn’t count the Christians—he weighs them, and the weight is measured by how deeply his teaching has penetrated into a person’s life.
Depth is more important than width; the transformation of a single person can have a greater impact than hundreds of shallow commitments. And Jesus instituted this principle in his own disciple-making ministry. His plan for reaching the world was not through massive evangelism conferences, though they have their place, but by investing in people who would then invest themselves in discipling others.
Depth is a hard thing to measure, is it not? How do you measure the maturity of an individual? Are there certain elements that are essential for determining whether or not a discipleship group (D-Group) is healthy? I believe that there are and I elaborate on them in great detail in Rediscovering Discipleship. I call them the M.A.R.C.S of a healthy discipleship group. The basic summary of the M.A.R.C.S are as follows:
- Missional – Disciples should be living out the Gospel in their homes, workplaces, and communities.
- Accountable – Disciples are accountable to Christ and fellow believers.
- Reproducible – Discipleship is not complete until the mentee becomes the mentor.
- Communal – Disciples live and thrive in community with other believers.
- Scriptural – Disciples are rooted in God’s Word through study, journaling and memorizing Scripture.
Imagine that you are asked to keep score of a football game for a local high school. You arrive early at the field, make your way to the press box, and prepare to document touchdowns and turnovers. But you immediately notice a problem: you forgot to bring a scorecard. You search your pockets and find that all hope is not lost. You still have an unused scoring card from a round of golf you played earlier. What luck!
Shortly into the first quarter, the home team scores the opening points. You ask the official in the booth next to you, “What did they shoot?”
“What did they shoot?” he replies to you, somewhat quizzically. “The team scored a touchdown and made the extra point for a total of seven points.”
You write down a seven, which is three strokes above the allotted par of four for the first hole. As you can imagine, you’ll quickly find out that you cannot record football stats on a golf scorecard. In the same way, we cannot judge church success by the standards of another model.
Many church leaders today easily fall into the trap of gauging success in the church by the ABCs of growth: Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. However, there is a serious problem with this scorecard, namely, that Jesus never gauged effectiveness by these criteria.
Read the Gospels. Jesus didn’t draw large crowds for the sake of counting heads or logging attendance. Although he did speak to the masses, he consistently left them to be in the close company of the twelve in his inner circle. Acts 1 records that after Jesus ascended into heaven, only 120 disciples gathered together to pray for God to empower them through his Spirit. This approach stands in stark contrast to most modern church growth standards of success. Jesus spoke with unprecedented authority. He raised the dead. He gave sight to the blind. He healed the sick. These miracles constantly drew increasingly large crowds, yet after his departure, only 120 people met to continue his work.
By referring to them as “only 120” I do not wish to discount the miraculous work of our Lord, but rather to point out that Jesus was not interested in expanding out at the expense of growing miles deep. Rather, he focused on developing mature, faithful disciples who carried a revolutionary directive: go make more of you. This does not mean that you should try and kill your church, only that numbers often give a false sense of accomplishment. So whether your church draws 50 or 50,000, depth is the goal.
We should also keep in mind that during his earthly ministry, Jesus never owned anything. The Bible tells us that he didn’t even have a place to lay his head, much less a regular meeting place for his “congregation” (see Luke 9:58). The acquisition of buildings for meeting together was not a priority on his to-do list. Buildings are not evil, but they shouldn’t be our primary model for trying to make disciples. Anyone can fill a building with people, but not everyone can make them into disciples.
Finally, it is good for us to remember that Jesus was not impressed with cash or finances. Yes, he taught on money more than on heaven and hell combined, but he never put much stock in the size of the traveling treasury. Again, this is not to say that a large or small ministry budget is good or bad—money allows most ministries to exist; rather, we must remember that it was not an ultimate focus of Jesus and should not be an ultimate focus of ours. Consider whom Jesus appointed to head up his ministry funds: Judas, who betrayed him for a meager thirty pieces of silver.
The key, is to focus on the growth of the disciple, not the number of disciples. Mature disciples will continue reproducing their lives into others because they understand Jesus’ command to make disciples and because they are a product of discipleship.