Messy Disciple Making

5 Jul 2020 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Formation and Discipleship Resources

Messy Disciple Making – Key to Your Church and to Fresh Expressions of Church


From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister- Congregation Futures


A recent training morning for Mission Shaped Ministry in our Presbytery began to focus our attention on the importance of discipleship in fresh expressions of church (in fact, in all expressions of church). The training included this attention-grabbing quote in relation to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20:
“In Matthew’s Gospel, the making of disciples was the prime objective given to the followers of Jesus. In Matthew 16:18 we find Jesus saying to Peter, ‘I will build my church’. It is Jesus’ job to build the church and ours to make disciples. How often do we assume it is the other way round?”

Perhaps this quote grabs your attention as well, causing you to weigh up how much of your energy goes into building the church compared with making disciples. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that disciple-making comes up wanting in such a comparison. We tend to put most of our energy into building (or maintaining) what we think church is meant to be, and often the main focus here is on what happens on Sunday mornings.

Much is expected of that Sunday morning timeslot. We want it to do everything, and have it done in no more than 60 minutes. The list of expectations might include pastoral care; fellowship; teaching; bringing comfort and challenge; encouragement; inspiration; age specific engagement; singing (the songs I like – when it is OK to sing again!) …. and making disciples.
It would be great if it worked out that way. It would be great if we could tick the ‘making disciples’ box by attending our Sunday worship services. That would be a great package. It would be neat and tidy and efficient. It would be very convenient.

But this is not what works. Sure, our usual Sunday gatherings may be a part of making disciples. However, more is needed for disciple making than the neat and tidy 60 minutes once a week. Especially when that 60 minutes is divided up amongst the list of expectations mentioned above.

One of the points that Graham Cray makes in his video for the mission shaped ministry session on discipleship is that making disciples is messy. It is not neat and tidy. It is not efficient. It can’t be confined to 60 minutes on Sunday mornings, or to a five-week course. It is messy. It is inconvenient. It is an interruption to your life.

That all sounds very discouraging. Let me offer you some encouragement.

In his handy little book “Surprise the World – The Five Habits of Highly Missional People” Mike Frost offers a simple framework that can be used for disciple making. The weekly DNA groups (Discipleship, Nurture, Accountability) of three people aim to embed the five missional habits as part of our DNA. This is helped by keeping each other accountable to the habits by asking these kinds of questions in the weekly meetings:
  • Whom did you bless or eat with this week (habits 1 and 2), and what questions, issues or learnings arose these habits this week?
  • What did you hear from the Holy Spirit this week? (habit 3)
  • What did you learn or relearn about Christ this week? (habit 4)
  • Share two or three journal entries about how you alerted others to the reign of God. (habit 5)
Groups like these could be a key part of disciple making in your church. Imagine the discipleship of your group of three growing through your DNA group and through practising the five habits. Imagine it for other groups of three in your congregation.

Groups like this could also be key to the beginnings of fresh expressions of church from your congregation. Imagine blessing and eating with people who are not part of your church. Imagine them being drawn to Christ by the Holy Spirit, and as part of that wanting to join a second DNA group with you. Imagine you being part of disciple making with them like you already are in your first group. Imagine this multiplying by them starting new groups, and those new groups starting more new groups. Imagine all these disciple makers getting together occasionally to celebrate the work of Christ amongst them and in the world. What a beautiful fresh expression of church all of this would be.
Imagine …