Organic vs. Programmic Disciplemaking

Last year, my organization published an excellent book entitled Organic Disciplemaking by Dennis McCallum and Jessica Lowery. This book is possibly the most important book I've read in five years because it provides an exhaustive look at the way the disciplemaking member-leaders at Xenos Christian Fellowship move a new believer into a disciple of Christ and a discipler of other new believers. The church has an impressive statistic: Over 80% of the church body is discipling someone or being discipled by someone. That, my friend, is an amazing find in North America.

I must say though, despite the excellent writing style, personal stories, and "no rock left unturned" attitude by the authors, the book has not sold as well as I hoped. After all, in a previous blog entry, I ranted about the complete absence of discipleship in many US churches today.

I must revisit this issue of making disciples over and over again, charging at the issue from numerous directions. Each church must discover their own unique way of moving every committed believer from spiritual infancy to adolescence to maturing believer to spiritual parent. It's not something one can hope happens on its own or it would have happened by now, right?

As I look at the history of Xenos, their seemingly "organic" culture of discipleship wasn't a naturally occurring chain of events. It began as a very determined, people-centered, relationally-driven program to equip a collection of house church members to do more than they'd ever done for Christ. The house churches wanted affiliation with other house churches, and they wanted the benefit of the excellent Bible teaching that a few of the house church pastors possessed.

[I won't go into the history of the church and how very differently it operates on nearly every single level of ministry and membership. If you want to learn this information, I highly recommend visiting the Xenos' expansive web site.]

I recently had a conversation with a pastor who is opposed to a programmic discipleship path to maturity, saying it's too lock-step. He commented that any curriculum driven process would be too mechanical for his church.

Of course, when I asked what he was doing to insure each member of the church was becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, he didn't have much of anything to share that was substantive. The new member class and existing programs every church member was encouraged to attend did not teach Bible basics, tenants of the faith, how to develop spiritual disciplines, etc.

I see a huge challenge to implement a discipleship program in churches that have none today. People are busy and many who have been small group members for a while or are currently leading a small group think they are disciples when they are simply faithful attendees. "Rolling out" a new discipleship program that every person in the church should move through immediately is going work as well as Moses telling a million Israelites to walk into the parted Red Sea simultaneously, which we all know didn't happen, right? [Moses stepped in first, followed by his family, followed by the leaders and their families, followed by others, and on it went until they were all in it and through it.]

Developing and implementing an organic discipleship process in a local church has even more challenges. A relationally-driven pathway where individuals see the need to become a spiritual parent and take a young believer through the stages of maturity required to achieve a level of maturity that produces more fruit is far more difficult to develop than widespread program involvement.

Yet, Xenos has done it, so I know it can be done! Churches can develop a culture in which the members of the church, who live and serve in Biblical communities (holistic small groups) and live out the mandate to make disciples.

What I would like from you, dear reader, is a comment about how your church and you are making disciples. Share as much as you can so others can learn what works in America. Is it a program or book-driven process? Is it relational and milestone or goal oriented? Is what you are doing working so well you're smiling right now? If so, the rest of us need to know what's working in your church.

[BTW, I am seeing others blog about this blog, but I sure would appreciate some sort of feedback from you as a reader if you got all the way down to this part of the post! Let me know if you're reading it through an email or comment!]


Heather Z said...

Thanks for addressing this, Randall. It's such an important topic and one that I feel newer, emerging churches (like mine) sometimes do not take seriously.

At National Community Church (NCC), we have adopted an approach to discipleship that is non-linear and customizable. We define a disciple as one who is seeking after God through spiritual disciplines, learning about God by reading and studying the Bible, influencing their culture through service, evangelism, and discipleship, and investing their resources into the expansion of God's kingdom. It operates within the fabric of our small group system and within the context of "core" discipleship groups that we feel every NCCer should go through at some point during their time with us (Alpha, Old Testament Survey, New Testament Survey, Holy Spirit Encounter, Theology 101, Leadership 101, etc).

I won't take up your whole blog comment section to describe it, but we've outlined it in more detail here:

Randall Neighbour said...

Thanks. I'll check out your church's web link.

Unknown said...

I know its a bit late (over a year) But i was just reading your blog and found it very interesting and so true. I am from Australia and we have adopted a model by Neil Cole called Life Transformation Groups. Its an organic model of growing as a disciple. we never launched this in our church but started it through ACTION. Our pastors started this and the leaders followed. It has been an interesting journey but I am finding as the small group team leader- that people who are passionate about growing as disciples are leaving the traditional way of small groups and are adapting to this new process. I encourage you to look it up.

UberGenius said...

Was a member at Xenos for 7 years and large majority of members attended small groups. In fact if you could only make one meeting in a week, the homegroup, rather than central teaching, was encouraged. Unlike many other implementations of homegroups at evangelical churches, Xenos leaders had great flexibility as to how to lead. And great responsibility as well, performing marriages, funerals, and church discipline.

One challenge with this organic approach that Xenos has never been able to conquer is problem of fast growth. Grow a homechurch from 25 to 60 members in 18 months and guess need to grow homechurch leaders in 18 months. Immaturity in ministry house and homegroup leadership has led to 1000s of abuse charges over the decades and it is often pushed under the rug.

Young leaders tend to be paternalistic and manipulative (especially under the age of 25). There were leaders of homegroups (not teen ministries)that were 19 years old when I attended back in the 1980s. As you can imagine, they were like monkeys only able to parrot what they saw older adult leaders do. No life experience equals no wisdom.

Older leaders need to focus on mentoring young leaders if Churches are to avoid the type of abuse Xenos is known for. And not all growth is good growth.

That said most pastors would be thrilled with half the participation in small groups that Xenos gets every year since the mid-seventies.