The most important disciple-making shift we must make in our lifetime
A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?” Matthew 21: 28-31
You may have heard the statement, “We are educated beyond our obedience.” In other words, we know the right answers but do not follow through with the right actions. Jesus, in the parable above, makes it clear that having the right answer is not enough. Life is found in obedience.
I believe one shift in our disciple making efforts will turn this tide and lead more followers of Jesus “into the vineyard.” I believe it is the most important shift we can make in our lifetime. We must shift from content-focused disciple making to outcome-focused disciple making.
Focusing on Outcomes
The first question many ask concerning a small group or Sunday School is “what are you studying?” This question is a clue about the group’s focus. They are focused on the study, or the content. The term “Bible Study” is almost universal because most disciple-making environments focus on the content.
How would you answer a person who came to your group asking “How will my life be different when this is over?” They are asking a different question. They are not asking about content…they are asking about outcomes.
“Ambiguity in outcomes makes it difficult to inspire people toward them.” Financial Peace University is an outcome focused experience. Dave Ramsey starts the experience by telling you that FPU will lead you to pay off your debt, save for the future, and build a great decision-making team. Those are amazing outcomes! I believe Jesus has provided the most exceptional outcomes for disciple-making, and they are worthy of our focus.
The Danger of Outcome Ambiguity
According to Barna’s latest research, the goals of discipleship are very vague1. Barna’s research also suggests most Christians lack a desire for spiritual growth2. As in most situations, ambiguity in outcomes makes it difficult to inspire people toward them. I believe clarity in the outcomes is key to effective disciple-making. I have personally witnessed hundreds of Christians being ignited into spiritual vitality through one simple phrase: Character x Calling = IMPACT.
The Outcomes: Character & Calling
Jesus-like character is a primary outcome. Jesus encourages us to bear spiritual fruit, and Paul describes that fruit in Galatians 5. The fruit listed are all character traits of Jesus.
Our Jesus-given calling is a primary outcome. Spiritual gifts have been given to us by God to use for the building of His church. Ephesians 2:10 says we were created anew in Jesus for good works which God planned for us long ago. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, we see that we will be held accountable for using those gifts.
Here is my theology of transformation in a nutshell:
1. The Holy Spirit transforms us as He applies salvation to us.
2. The fruit of the Spirit is a transformation of character.
3. The gifts of the Spirit are a part of our unique calling.
4. The Spirit’s transformation causes spiritual impact in and through people.
I have seen it over and over again. Prioritizing the development of character and calling inspires even long-time believers into spiritual growth…rendering them into interdependent influencers in our world for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom instead of dependent consumers on church leaders.
What About Content?
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32
Sanctify them by your truth. John 17:17
In these verses Jesus implies that content is critical but is not primary. In John 8, truth is necessary for freedom, but truth is not the goal… freedom is. In John 17, truth is the tool used to sanctify, but truth is not the goal… sanctification is. Said another way, content isn’t the end, but it is a primary means to the end.
Make The Shift
Traditional disciple making environments have been content focused and have at least prepared participants to provide the right answers. See Illustration A. As we have seen, however, right answers are not enough to Jesus. Obedience is the standard. I do not believe providing better content will change this. A bigger shift is necessary.
If you desire to see more and more of the people you lead passionate about being a disciple and making other disciples, then make the shift; shift away from content-focused models and shift toward a more intentional discipleship environment. See illustration B
Intentional Discipleship Environments focus on outcomes, are fueled by spiritual habits (read about habits), and flavored by content. IDEs propel disciples “into the vineyard.”
1 Barna. The State of Discipleship. Navigators, 2015. Page 19.
2 Barna. The State of Discipleship. Navigators, 2015. Page 58.