Discipleship is one of the most difficult challenges most pastors and church leaders face. And while it is the central simple thing Jesus commanded us to do, simple doesn't always equal easy.
The grid below (download a free pdf here) was an attempt we made with our leadership team years ago to identify the typical stages of spiritual development. Of course it's generalized and simplistic, but it was helpful for us to identify the various phases a person goes through in pursuing Jesus and what their needs may be...or their questions...or the way we respond...or even their potential roadblocks along the journey. And it wasn’t completely linear. That is, if a person’s circumstances radically change or they aren’t getting what they particularly need within a specific phase or, well, whatever…(we carbon-based bipeds are complicated), it can send them backwards or cause them to totally spin out. For a period of time, we used an assessment process to help people self-identify where they were on the LifeStage chart and offer help on how to move to the next stage. As you might guess, it was trickier that we thought and always came down to juxtaposing behaviors and motivations, not to mention the “raw material” (to borrow a C.S. Lewis phrase regarding our individual choice-making) that makes assessing anyone’s moral and spiritual progress challenging. Regardless, the real advantage of developing our church’s processes for discipleship was simply that it forced us to think about it. And think hard about it. It also gave us a clear ultimate target of the process: “Reproducers”…that is, disciples who would help replicate other disciples. Even pondering the unique needs at each phase was helpful. For instance, we don’t expect a toddler to tie their own shoes. Nor elementary kids to understand calculus. Suprisingly, the admittedly simplistic “practical metaphor” at the bottom was helpful to the typical churchgoer: those phases of movement from “Someone gets the food and feeds you” to “Someone gets the food and you feed yourself” to “You get the food and feed yourself” to “You get the food and feed someone else”. It was the identified journey from consumer to provider that caught their attention. Even the basic idea that there was movement within discipleship was actually a “light-bulb” moment for some. Here’s an idea: download the chart, sit with it with some leaders in your church, debate and discuss it, and then create your own path and process for your church. Make a better one than this. It can be über-organic, but you still need to identify it. Just know one thing for sure: if you don’t have any discipleship process, it won’t happen. Something—even an imperfect something—is better than nothing. And not having anything is a problem you’ll have to take up with Jesus. Dave Workman | Elemental Churches