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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

What I Learned from Andy Stanley about Discipleship Strategy

Updated: Feb 21

If you're evangelical , you know that one name that will spark some controversy is Andy Stanley – and often, for good reason. I've certainly had my disagreements with his philosophy or statements.

But I do make it a point to read after people I disagree with... and I'd argue you should as well. Often, you can find genuinely helpful insights from people that you would completely disagree with in other areas.

A few years ago, I read Andy’s book called Deep and Wide: Creating Churches that Unchurched People Love to Attend. Today I want to share with you some things that I learned from that book about discipleship that I thought were really helpful. I’ll share them here as part of my ongoing effort to think creatively and broadly about discipleship strategy in the local church.

The 5 Faith Catalysts as a Discipleship Framework

The premise of the section of the book was this: If you asked 100 mature Christians, “What were the key drivers of your spiritual maturity? What was it that transformed your life into a mature disciple of Jesus?”... then the answers you got would contain common threads. What would those threads be?

Andy Stanley thinks they would be what he calls the 5 Faith Catalysts:

  • Practical Teaching

  • Private Disciplines

  • Personal Ministry

  • Providential Relationships

  • Pivotal Circumstances

Is Growth of Faith a Good Measurement of Discipleship?

Stanley argues that growth in faith is a better measure for defining discipleship than “knowledge.”

In Deep and Wide, he says, “Big faith is a sign of big maturity. We concluded that the best discipleship or spiritual formation model would be one designed around growing people’s faith. The model most of us had grown up with was designed around increasing people’s knowledge.”

This is a worthwhile point! Knowledge is certainly a portion of discipleship, but is inadequate to express all that Jesus meant when he commanded us to make disciples.

I do think it’s arguable that faith itself is also inadequate to express a full-orbed definition of discipleship (which would include obedience, holiness, character, fruits of the Spirit, mission, etc.).

But for purposes of this blog post, we’ll work with that, and overlay this framework onto our discipleship process.

I'll give you a short list of key takeaways:

1. Pastors should value preaching as a discipleship tool.

Some folks are tempted to de-value preaching as a discipleship tool, but it shouldn't be so. Think back about your spiritual development. If you were to write an article describing it, and had to identify key moments... I bet you'd point to a sermon at some point during that story. Of course, it might not be a sermon alone, it could be:

  • Sunday School lesson

  • Small group curriculum

  • A Conference speaker

  • A conversation with a mentor

Discipleship strategy in preaching

Do you value preaching as a discipleship tool enough to CREATE ALIGNMENT between your preaching and your discipleship plan?

For more info on how you can do this, consider checking out this upcoming training on discipleship planning for any size church.

2. Pastors should make their preaching practical, not just theoretical.

Practical teaching impacts real situations in your life. It shows the relevance of Scripture to your work life, your relationships, your attitudes, your health, your parenting. We should preach the behavior that goes along with sound doctrine, as Titus 2:1 says, "But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine." (ESV)

We ought to teach deep and powerful doctrine, but somewhere back there in your spiritual development, someone preached or taught a lesson to you... and it impacted you eternally, because you knew what you could do about it. Don't ever leave that out of your preaching!

3. Pastors should never trust only to preaching for discipleship.

One of the reasons we are having a crisis of discipleship in the local church in the USA is that we have trusted for too long in just 30 minutes on Sunday to create mature, well-rounded Christians.

While church attendance is crucial, it is also not sufficient. While sermons are formative, they are also not enough.

So, I'll be talking about this again, going on to discuss Andy Stanley's other "faith catalysts" and their place in a local church discipleship strategy.

By the way, if you're needing a better plan for discipleship in your church, click for a free copy of the NewStart Discipleship journal.

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