Marks of Discipleship and Effectiveness

I’ve been really fascinated with a conversation happening between Kevin Watson and John Meunier regarding measuring effectiveness in ministry.  Here are the basic premises for the discussion:

  1. Numerical growth is one way to measure effectiveness and faithfulness.
  2. Faithfulness and effectiveness do not always result in numerical growth.
  3. Drawing a crowd is not the same thing as gathering a congregation.
  4. Sometimes we can substitute winning praise and approval for faithfulness.
  5. Therefore, how do you measure faithful ministry?

Kevin suggests the means of grace (prayer, searching the scriptures, communion, fasting, and Christian conferencing/community) as a key to discerning whether or not a ministry is both faithful and effective.

On one hand, I totally agree with Kevin.  Living the faith is central to my life as a minister.  If I am not searching the scriptures daily, meeting weekly with my small group, praying faithfully, etc. then I am not the person I am called to be.  When I fail to do these things, I notice more frustration and confusion about the core commitments I have as a Christian and a minister.  These practices allow me to know the difference between faithfulness and going through the motions.

However, I think he’s even closer to answering the original question when he mentions trying to be more concrete about what faithful fruit looks like.

Here at Church of the Servant, we have recently started sharing the results of our vision work with the congregation.  Included in that work we have a series of “marks of discipleship” that are intended to help us discern whether we’re helping people down the road of discipleship or not.  We’re not interested in simply “drawing a crowd.”  We want people to actually become disciples.

Here are those marks, which are prefaced with the phrase, “A Servant:”

  • worships weekly
  • prays daily
  • gives faithfully
  • loves God’s word
  • embodies God’s love through service
  • grows through small group relationships
  • shares their faith with others

Of course we’re careful with how we teach and share this.  These are not the way to establish a relationship with God.  That only happens by accepting the grace of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  However, these are several of the places God has promised to show up and meet his people.  These are faithful ways to respond to and grow in God’s grace.

Over time, we will use these marks to determine whether or not we are succeeding at the call God has placed on our lives as a community of faith.  It’s one thing to just have more people.  It’s another thing altogether to have more and more people falling in love with God’s word, connecting in deeper spiritual relationships, and embodying God’s love through service.  While it’s a challenge to measure these things, we can actually count the number of people who are using the resources we provide (bible reading plans, small group involvement, missional participation, etc.) to make educated guesses that they are meeting God in these means of grace.

We’re convinced that can lead to both effective and faithful ministry.

Methodist Discipleship

My friend Kevin Watson has a great series starting over at his blog, Deeply Committed.  He’s looking at one of the tools John Wesley used to spark revival and renewal in the Church, the Methodist Class Meeting.

You won’t want to miss his insights, which he puts in accessible yet informative language – typical Watsonian style (I wanted to be the first to use that one before the academics beat me to it!). Go check it out:

Making Disciples: Assembly Line or Environmentalist

As United Methodists we’re given the task of Making Disciples of Jesus Christ.  Much has been said about this statement, but in my reading I haven’t seen much made of the word “making.”

Today, I was part of a terrific conversation regarding discipleship within our local congregation, and I realized something.  The word “making” assumes more of an assembly line mentality than the way I think disciples actually develop.  Much has been made of the REVEAL survey at Willow Creek and the findings that participation in a series of programs often fails to bring profound Christian transformation in people’s lives.  In my mind, this is clear evidence against the assembly line model.  And yet, it seems that even congregations who are influenced by the REVEAL survey refuse to move away from programattic approaches and simply switch to different or better programs.

And yet disciples develop in Churches around the world.  As we spoke today, I remembered some of the deepest times of growth as a disciple in my own life.  Although I did participate in programs (Walk to Emmaus, Disciple Bible Study, Mission Trips), there was never a sense of working through an assembly line process.  It was much more organic. This led me to suggest that our role as pastors is more like that of an environmentalist or a landscape artist.  We are responsible for making sure there is an environment (or landscape) within our congregations in which disciples can develop organically.  Notice, I didn’t say “naturally.”  I think discipleship requires a lot of input and effort.  It doesn’t happen accidentally.

Like most of my blog posts, I’m still wrestling with an idea.  Is organic discipleship  is an adequate model?  One can definitely argue that “making” disciples is adequate.  A person could easily say that Jesus himself uses this language in Matthew 28:19, however in the original Greek we could just as easily translate matheteuo as follows, “As you are going, ‘disciple the nations,'”  The process-oriented word “make” really isn’t there.  On the other hand, this is a two-fold activity for Jesus: baptizing and teaching.  However, this is overseen and empowered by Jesus himself who says, “I am with you always…” This makes me think more of apprenticeships within a community – again a more organic model.

So, what is our role in helping people experience transformation as Jesus’ apprentices?  How do we aid people in development as disciples?  Are we charged to “make” disciples, or is our task one of creating an environment in which discipleship can flourish?  What does that look like?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Great Questions, Commentary Guides, & Ministry Thoughts

Every now and then I like to share really helpful posts and thoughts that I come across, and today is one of those days.  Scot McKnight is one of my favorite biblical scholars.  He is very sharp without being inaccessible, and he is a clear communicator.  In my line of work, these are the kind of teachers I seek out constantly.

He has an excellent series on his blog right now asking thought provoking questions about the Kingdom of God.  Check it out here:

He also writes with pastors in mind, as in his series recommending his favorite New Testament commentaries:

Finally, I’ve been really interested in reading the shifts that have taken place in some of the more obviously successful new church endeavors.  Craig Groeschel from Life Church, right here in Oklahoma, has been making some interesting comments lately on his blog that have given me much food for thought.

A Blueprint for Discipleship

If you are interested in the unique gifts Methodism and the Wesleyan tradition has to offer the world, then you’ll definitely want to pick up Kevin Watson’s A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living.  He does a great job of offering a simple yet challenging description of Wesley’s General Rules and the Methodist “method” for discipleship in a way that can help Methodists understand the beauty of intentional growth in grace.  

The book is well-written, easy to read, and includes discussion questions at the end of each chapter.  This makes it perfect for leading a group of laypeople through a class to help them understand the rich discipleship tools we carry in our “Methodist tool-belt.”

Servant Walk Update

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a video curriculum since I’ve been the Minister of Discipleship at Church of the Servant.  Each week, since I can’t teach more than one class at a time, I film a short video teaching on the scripture that Robert uses in the main service.  On Wednesdays a team of dedicated and devout folks come together to pour over the passage and listen to me teach a bit.  We then work together to see how we think God might be wanting to lead our congregation through our “simple” process of discipleship: believe, belong, and become.  On Thursdays, we post the video, and send out the compiled study guide to all the Sunday School leaders who are using the curriculum.

Out of curiosity, I went back and checked our curriculum print list from October 26th last year – my second week on the job.   We were printing 105 copies for the five classes using Servant Walk at that time.  This week we will be printing 305 copies for 12 different adult classes! 

I’m definitely getting to reap a harvest that I didn’t sow.  Others came up with this idea, and the lay team was already in place when I arrived.  In fact, my first official meeting as a new pastor here was to teach that group on my very first day!  Their hard work and vision is simply coming together in a way that’s making a big difference in our adult discipleship communities.

Working in a mega-church is very different in some ways from being in a small town two-point charge, but much of what you do is the same.  I still teach.  I still study Scripture.  In a huge congregation, one of the most important questions is finding out how to do little BIG.  This curriculum is simply a wonderful way to do the little things in a way that affects a much larger cross-section of the congregation.

Minister of Discipleship

My official title is “Minister of Discipleship,” and when I share this with friends, family, and colleagues I am often asked, “So what do you do?”  I try to explain by saying I’m sort of like a teaching pastor crossed with a missions pastor.

As a staff, we are reading Len Sweet’s Aquachurch 2.0: Piloting Your Church in Today’s Fluid Culture. This morning, as I was reading, I came across an insight that helps me define my position.  Len reminded me, “…the very word disciple means “learner.”  In Greek, mathetes (which we translate as disciple) comes from mathano, which literally means “student” or “learner.”

In a sense then, I’m the Minister of “Learners.”  That means that I’m not only responsibile for sharing information or knowledge in the teaching aspect of my position, but for helping people integrate that into concrete acts of mission and love of neighbor.  In other words, I think the multiple aspects of my position will help me remember that true knowledge is not just a “head thing,” but a “whole life thing.”


Over the years I have often heard about the virtues of small churches.  On top of that, over the years I’ve experienced the virtues of small churches!  I am deeply indebted in my faith to the small churches I’ve attended and helped lead as a pastor.  Often, with appreciation for smaller congregations, megachurches get a bad rap in popular comparison.  People say they are shallow, they are impersonal, they are shrines to consumerism, and so on, and so forth.

Most of you know I’m beginning a new part of my journey as the new Minister of Discipleship at Church of the Servant United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.  Church of the Servant is a church of the mega variety.  On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of nine people who gathered to reflect on a passage of scripture and collaborate on a Sunday School lesson for this coming Sunday.  The discussion was riveting.  I was blown away, and even given chills at some of the deep insights from this group.  In one short hour, I saw nine contradictions to the assumption that megachurches create shallow, impersonal, consumeristic disciples.  Instead, I met nine folks who I found to be deeply faithful, incredibly personable, sacrificially committed disciples.

Don’t get me wrong, I have met these same committed folks in small churches too.  I just think it’s important to remind everyone that there isn’t a particular size of congregation that has a monopoly on producing faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  Needless to say, I’ve had a great first week.