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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Discipleship Plan: Getting Started Right

Updated: Feb 9

Welcome to "Getting Started with Discipleship." My name is Darrell Stetler II, and I will be guiding you through this 10-part blog series on establishing and implementing an effective plan for making disciples in your church.


This is a free chapter of my book Getting Started with Discipleship.


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If you prefer to learn in a “Workshop” format or via audio/video, you can purchase the Getting Started With Discipleship Ministry Workshop here. Or see the index of all the posts here at the Getting Started with Discipleship Ministry Index page.

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Discipleship Plan Vs. Waves of Busywork


Years ago, I went swimming on a beach for the first time. I grabbed a body board and decided to try bodysurfing some waves. I had no idea what to do, but I went in expecting a great time anyway. As I entered the water, the surf was up, so was I…for a few seconds. But before I could get stable on the board, I got hit by a wave, and slammed to the sand. What felt like most of the Atlantic jetted into my sinuses, and I scrambled to my feet spewing and sputtering. But a few seconds later, I looked up just in time to see the next wave that knocked me down.


Reminds me of my relationship with discipleship for the first 15 years of pastoral ministry. For years, my relationship with discipleship was one of guilt and frustration. I felt guilty about not doing it well, and my guilt would often resurface at inconvenient times, making me frustrated that I had not improved. I’d read a book or an article and resolve to do better. But then, the next wave of busyness would come, and I would struggle to find the time to focus on making disciples.


Here’s the one thing I want you to get: I didn’t have time to fix it, but I definitely had time to feel guilty about it.


You’ve been there, right?


I was doing okay, I suppose. I made a few disciples. Sometimes I would lead someone to salvation and customize something for them, but I was always winging it, relying on my gifts and Bible knowledge to reproduce discipleship. I could make a disciple, but I couldn't create a discipleship program that multiplied.


If you're in that same spot right now, I believe this series will help you.


THE VALUE OF A CLEAR DISCIPLESHIP PLAN


Clarity is your friend. I love Simon Sinek's book, "Start With Why," which emphasizes the importance of understanding the purpose behind what we do. Sinek argues that the critical question is not "what" we should do or achieve, but rather "why" we should do it. He believes that people buy into the "why" rather than the "what." For instance, if Apple had started by saying, "We make beautiful and functional computers," it would not have been as effective as starting with "We want to challenge the status quo and think differently."


Sinek argues that Apple's marketing strategy is different from other companies. Instead of focusing on the "what" (making computers that are beautiful and functional), they focus on the "why." They believe that everything they do should be easy and disrupt the status quo. By starting with the "why," people buy into their message before they buy their product.


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Your discipleship plan must start with the "why" before we can get really clear on the "how."


Before we get into the “what actions to take,” there are several realizations that you need to come to right up front that will form the foundation for everything else we talk about.


1. Realize that discipleship is the main thing.

Many pastors believe that there are 25 or 125 things we must do to have an effective church. The world around you will shout this message, and you'll hear from numerous authors and bloggers that there are many specific things you must do to achieve effectiveness. A new article comes out every week, claiming “this is the secret, the one thing you’ve been missing!”


But the truth is, there is only one thing you must do: make disciples who make disciples. While there may be other activities or tasks that support this goal, making disciples must remain the main focus.


Making disciples is the main thing, and if you're not doing it, you're failing.


While marketing and social media have their value, gathering a crowd without making disciples is a failure in the eyes of Jesus. This is not just something I'm making up. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus gives us the great commission: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all the things I've commanded you." This may sound like 4 different things to do:

  • Go

  • Make disciples

  • Baptize them

  • Teaching them to obey the commands of Jesus


But in Greek, the main verb is not “go.” Instead, the main verb is “make disciples.” The other three actions are participles, basically subcategories of the main verb. In fact, the verse really should be translated, “While you’re going, make disciples.”

Jesus already knows you’re going to go! You’re going to go to the store. You’re going to go Lowe’s, the hardware store. You’re going to go to school, or go to work, or go to a family reunion. You’re going to go to the park and walk your dog.


And while you’re going – make disciples!


Even “baptizing” and “teaching them to observe/obey” are not the main ideas, even though they are important. They are subcategories, things that flow out of the main command, which is (everyone say it with me!): MAKE DISCIPLES.


Don’t just:

  • Build a website… make disciples.

  • Gather a crowd… make disciples.

  • Pay the bills… make disciples.

  • Serve the poor… make disciples.


Everything has to serve the mission!


We’re going to have to preach this, and drive it through leadership. Encourage your congregation to prioritize the main thing: making disciples. Remind them to keep the main thing the main thing. I keep this phrase on the homescreen of my phone, and I encourage you to use it a LOT:

main thing is discipleship phone wallpaper

The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing.


And the main thing… is discipleship!


2. Realize the potential, even when you start small.


If you’re going to care about discipleship, you’re going to have to decide not to despise small numbers.


Everyone wants to blow the doors off with their opening service, to find that one outreach event that will change everything and pack the building. But this mindset makes us look for “hacks,” shortcuts to gathering a crowd, instead of pathways for making deeper disciples. We tend to look down on gatherings of 12 people, and respect gatherings of 1,200.


Discipleship thinking invites us to a different way.


Let’s imagine: What if you started with 1 person, discipled them for 1 year and equipped them to make 1 disciple the next year? What if each person you discipled had only 1 mission: to make 1 disciple every year?

a discipleship plan that compounds

I was introduced to this concept by Leroy Eims’ book “The Lost Art of Disciple-Making.” I still remember reading this, and it blew my mind. If you just succeeded at making 1 disciple per year, who each made 1 disciple per year, do you know how many years would it take to reach the entire world, all 8 billion people?


35 years.


THIRTY. FIVE. YEARS. *blown mind*


You might be thinking: “That’s impossible to sustain, some people are going to fall away. t’s just not realistic.”


OK, fine. But are you going to look for the exception, or aim to be exceptional?

My main point here is not to be frustrated with where you are NOW. Remember, Jesus spent 3.5 years with 12 guys, and he had that “being God” thing going for him. But, 30 years later, Paul was writing that “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.” (Philippians 4:22)


They had no helicopter egg drops, no amazing outreach events. (Except being eaten by lions in amphitheaters, that was pretty popular at the time!)


Yet, they went from 120 Jewish believers on the day of Pentecost to the household of the most powerful man in the world, 2,400 miles away in 30 years. Why? The power of the Holy Spirit, and a rugged commitment to making disciples who were copies of Christ.


3. Realize your church may not share your vision at first.

I know, churches don’t always appreciate change, and they don’t always see the vision right away. And that’s OK. You can move forward anyway.


One of the most impactful statements I’ve ever heard is one that I learned from Seth Godin’s book, Poke the Box. Here it is: “Don’t wait for someone to pick you. Pick yourself.”


Jesus didn’t wait for your church board to give you permission, he gave you a Great Commission.


Sure, I’d encourage you to

  • Present discipleship to your church board (I even have a chapter on this!)

  • Preach to your congregation the importance of discipleship

  • Ask your governing board to create a budget for discipleship


But don’t wait for permission to start discipling your 1st or 2nd or 3rd disciple!


Pick yourself!


You don't need permission from anyone to fulfill the great commission that Jesus gave you. He already gave you all the authority you need. So go and make disciples while you go about your daily life. Pull the trigger!


4. Realize the solution to your disciple-making problem is not always spiritual, it’s structural.

Sometimes the problem that’s preventing your church from disciple-making is not a lack of commitment or maturity, but rather that the structures and systems in place are not conducive to effective disciple making.


This can include things like

  • lack of intentional discipleship programs

  • ineffective small group models

  • overemphasis on Sunday services instead of relational discipleship


So, it’s important to examine the structural aspects of your church and ministry and see if there are changes that need to be made in order to facilitate better disciple making. This might involve implementing intentional discipleship programs, creating more opportunities for personal relationships and mentorship, or reevaluating the way small groups are structured and facilitated.


By addressing these structural issues, you can create an environment where disciple making can flourish and grow, and where people can truly become mature and committed followers of Christ.


Christians are bad about assuming that the solution to every problem is only spiritual. We assume that if we pray harder, God will do all the work and zap everyone around us with holy, disciple-making feelings.


Clearly, prayer is important. But I’ve found that solution is not always “pray harder.” The reason you’re struggling with making disciples might be structural instead of spiritual.

It may be more about structure: putting resources toward discipleship.


PUTTING RESOURCES TOWARD YOUR DISCIPLESHIP PLAN


You might protest: “I don’t have resources.”


Sure, you do! Here are 4 types of resources you have:

  • Time

It might be only 10 minutes per day. But you have at least some time. If you don’t, then we’ve definitely found a structural problem you can fix. You’ll have to lengthen your “to-don’t” list and stop doing something to find at least 10 minutes per day to focus on discipleship actions.

  • Attention

Your ability to focus the powers of your mind on a task is a huge resource. Many people never think of it, and they soak up all the latent power of their mind on secondary things, and never focus it on the main mission of disciple-making.

  • Money

Your ministry probably has at least some money. It might be only $10/week. But you have some. Find a way to leverage that resource. And, if you simply don’t have it, or don’t have access to it, then put the other 3 resources listed here toward disciple-making, and eventually, you’ll have finances to put toward the mission as well.

  • Influence

There is someone in your world who listens to you and counts your opinion as weighty. Start with that person and invite them along. If they need discipled, do that. If they need to be called to be a disciple-maker, do that!


BUT ISN’T THE SOLUTION REVIVAL?

We definitely need revival.


But revival might be just when the church starts actually doing what the church was always supposed to be doing. Charles Finney once said, “The church is more at fault for not being revived, than sinners are for not being converted.” He’s right. Let’s not fall into the trap of waiting for something to happen that makes obedience easy.


Sometimes we get so caught up in waiting for a spiritual breakthrough or revival that we neglect to focus on practical solutions and changes that can make a significant impact in our disciple-making efforts.


We need to strike a balance between “relying” on the power of the Holy Spirit (which sometimes means “not doing anything”) and being proactive in structuring our resources and efforts toward obedience to God's call. This means taking a critical look at our church's systems and processes, as well as our own individual practices, to see where improvements can be made to more effectively make and disciple new followers of Christ.


TWO EXAMPLES FROM SCRIPTURE


Jethro comes to Moses in Exodus 18, when Moses is overwhelmed, working 80 hours a week, and nearing burnout. Jethro offers a solution. He tells Moses to delegate his responsibilities to other capable leaders who can help bear the burden of caring for the people. This would create a more structured and efficient system of leadership, allowing Moses to focus on what he was called to do.


Note well: This solution was not a spiritual one, but rather a structural one.


Moses didn’t need to pray more, he needed to listen to wisdom, obey, and restructure. By empowering others to lead, he allowed for more people to be equipped and trained in leadership and decision-making, which was essential for the growth and sustainability of the community.


Another example can be found in Acts chapter 6, where the Hellenistic Jews were complaining that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The apostles recognized that this was a problem and could potentially hinder their mission of spreading the gospel. They decided to appoint seven men to be in charge of the distribution of food, allowing the apostles to focus on preaching and teaching. This again was a structural solution to a problem, allowing for the efficient use of resources and delegation of responsibilities.


And, take a look at the results: “...a great number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7) The spirit was already moving (spiritual problem), but the apostles needed to adjust the sails (structural problem).


So, sometimes the solution to a problem is not just spiritual, but also structural. By rethinking and reorganizing how resources are allocated and responsibilities are shared, we can better serve and make disciples in our communities.


Sometimes, it's not about praying harder or being more spiritual, but about finding the right structure and resources to support the work. This can involve reorganizing roles and responsibilities, creating new teams or departments, or implementing new processes and systems. By doing so, churches and ministries can free up their leaders to focus on what they do best, while empowering others to take on new responsibilities and grow in their own discipleship journey.


Action Steps for discipleship planning:

1. Pray that God will help you develop a discipleship mindset.


2. Devote 10 minutes per day to discipleship planning & actions.

Best way: Make it an appointment, and set an alarm on your phone.


3. Schedule to preach about discipleship.

Brainstorm some ideas for preaching about discipleship. Make it a series of sermons, actually! Think through these ideas as you’re preparing sermons on discipleship:

  • How would I pitch this in a sermon to my church family that already attends?

  • How would I preach this to the audience that has been in church forever, but doesn’t see disciple-making as their “job”?

  • How would I preach this to the newer Christian who doesn’t yet see discipleship as the next step after salvation?



A video course to guide you into creating a discipleship plan:

getting started with discipleship course graphic on a laptop

Do you prefer to learn in a video workshop format? Purchase the workshop instead! Featuring:

  • an instantly downloadable 36-page workbook

  • print copies for other key leaders in your church

  • 10 practical video coaching sessions

  • specific action items for each session

getting started with your discipleship plan workbook image




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gitenen310
May 10

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