By TD Smith
As we contemplate the future horizon of church planting in North America, it is imperative for us to consider one of the main ingredients for these efforts – the planter and core team members. Inevitably, we must ask the question, “Where will these discipled leaders come from?”
It is increasingly the case that we inadvertently “recruit” planters like colleges recruit football players. We woo them with our superior coaching, highlight the need and opportunity, and inspire with stories from the field all to get the best players to join our team or planting network. This current practice of recruiting and bringing in from the outside to send out is sluggish and additional rather than exponentially multiplicative.
Jeff Christopherson contends, “Multiplication has always been the highway to advance the Gospel in any geography. New, evangelistically-potent congregations always seem to materialize as churches take personally their commission to multiply disciple-makers. This natural order is at the very nature and reflex of the Great Commission and is being internalized by God’s people. Multiplication has always been the fruit of New Testament disciple-making.”
Rather than vying for a smaller and smaller number of people who are called, equipped, and ready to plant, imagine raising up our own from within. How can we increase our passion and intentionality to prepare disciples in larger numbers for the harvest? How can the church effectively become its own missionary sending agency?
Churches are awakening to a vision of cultivating homegrown church planters and teams to go and live their lives on mission; there is an increase in churches, both small and large, implementing a purposeful system and strategy to develop missional disciple-makers to be sent out to plant churches. As a church makes a shift to embrace the strategic core value of being a missionary and disciple-making hub, then the natural outcome will be transformed communities, increased evangelistic impact, and growth in numbers of church plants and revitalized churches.
Here are a few key areas to consider to develop a system to cultivate homegrown leaders:
Vision – The vision to grow, develop, and send out missional disciple-makers must become infused within every fiber of the church. This compelling vision must be intentional and tenacious. The missional aspect of our identity is an undercurrent reflected in the gathering, in language (both on and off the platform), in music and worship, in what we celebrate, and in how we serve one another and the community; it is the purposeful mission of the church to go and make disciples who make disciples – and then they are sent out as ambassadors of Christ. The leadership of the church will cast this vision and lead the church to develop and implement a strategic process of raising homegrown missional leaders.
Simple – Functionally, this developmental process needs to have a simple implementation that will be practical for those who are coaching/training as well as for those who are being discipled. Consider what structures, processes, and resources the church needs to effectively develop disciples who are then sent out. Though it is vital to focus upon desired attributes of growing disciples, it is also integral to include church planting models, methods, and missional principles foundational for evangelism and church planting. Like any missional expression, even these systems of development must be contextual, relevant, and reproducible.
Height – We typically assume college students and adults are the focus when developing the next generation of leaders to be on mission. But, what if we took a step back to consider how God is already shaping children to become missional disciple-makers. Let’s expand the height of our missional development to include children and empower them with strong foundational tools in their “toolbox” for diverse missional contexts. Imagine the manifold fruit that would result by intentionally developing a system that incorporates children, students, and adults to live their lives on mission!
Width – A common practice is to hold a programmatic view of missional development that takes place over a period of a few good years as an intern while in college or seminary. What if we expand the width of our vision beyond this narrow window to incorporate a long-range view? Discipleship and development are much more than a program. We will need to lay aside our 21st century inclination toward instantaneous results to embrace time-tested principles of cultivation – seed, plant, water, fertilize, mulch, and eliminate weeds through the seasons over a number of years. Patience, endurance, and tenacity are key elements in this process.
Depth – There is a proliferation of disconnect between profession of faith and actual reorientation of life around belief. Barna research found that fewer than one in five born-again adults has any specific and measurable goals related to his or her own spiritual development. Barna interviewed hundreds of people, including church leaders and pastors, and yet, shockingly, he concluded, “Not one of the adults we interviewed said that their goal in life was to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ or to make disciples of the entire world—or even their entire block.”
Missional discipleship must move beyond accumulation of knowledge toward living out one’s faith in a way that impacts and navigates our hearts, minds, souls, homes, workplace, attitudes, desires, relationships, convictions, social justice, and moral decisions. The goal is not to know, but to live our faith in an outward movement which permeates every aspect of our lives – into activated being.
To advance the conversation of cultivating homegrown missional disciples who are ready and equipped to be sent out for future generations, we can expand the height, width, and depth of our current realities to venture into a new frontier of exponential cultivation. Let us begin to embrace a broader Kingdom mentality that encompasses building pipelines or developmental systems which exponentially produce disciple-makers living on mission planting churches beyond the horizon into future generations.