By Thom S. Rainer
Lifeway loves the church and wants to see every member become a growing disciple engaged in the mission of God. Unfortunately, it has become acceptable for churchgoers to sit in church week after week and do nothing but call themselves followers of Christ.
If the local church is going to be healthy and growing, it must be filled with people who are growing in and toward Christ. The Lifeway Research team discovered certain factors at work in the lives of believers who are progressing in spiritual maturity. But how, as church leaders, do we facilitate that kind of growth?
Here are six steps to help your church move forward on a path toward spiritual transformation.
1. Help those in your church assess where they are in the discipleship journey. Before you can plan an individual or church-wide discipleship growth plan, you need to know where people are in their development toward spiritual maturity. To help pastors, churches and individuals measure spiritual growth, Lifeway developed a questionnaire for believers, called the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA). This online evaluation delivers both individual and group reports on spiritual maturity using the eight attributes of biblical discipleship. The TDA also provides helpful and practical suggestions on appropriate next steps for spiritual development.
2. Discern your context. Before you can develop a plan for your church, you must understand your church is a unique expression of the Body of Christ in the host culture where God has placed you. Once you identify and understand those unique traits, you can develop and implement a discipleship model unique to your congregation.
3. Encourage Bible engagement. Time spent in God’s Word is a necessity for our spiritual growth. Transformational living comes from daily standing in the presence of God. As leaders we need to encourage those we’re discipling to spend time with God in His Word. Consider starting a Bible reading plan for the entire congregation.
4. Undergird everything with prayer. In our Transformational Church research, we discovered that 73 percent of transformational churches (i.e., churches that are helping people become more like Christ and communities that reflect the kingdom of God) agreed with the statement, “Seeing people praying together is a normal sight in our church.” God gave us prayer so believers—both individually and collectively—remain in close communication with Him. Prayer is our link to receive understanding about God’s Word and move forward in obedience to His mission.
5. Be intentional. Some leaders are passive in their approach to discipleship. They believe God is the one who transforms, and rightly so. But they wrongly assume zero responsibility for the maturation of those sitting in their pews. Consider the Apostle Paul. He trusted God to do the transforming while taking an active approach to discipleship. If your church doesn’t already have a plan for discipleship, get a plan together. Churches that are intentional with their discipleship process are intentional about moving Christians to a deeper walk with Christ with deeper teachings of Christ.
6. Be in it for the long haul. Discipleship that truly transforms takes time and can often be messy. In a world of texts and tweets, fast food and microwaves, we’ve grown accustomed to immediate gratification. When was the last time you chose the long way? Discipleship is never quick and concise. If we want to be engaged in transformational discipleship, we must accept the long road. Believers need leaders who will walk alongside them and serve as a guide on the path to spiritual maturity.
As church leaders, we must guide believers into a robust relationship with Jesus Christ and then unleash them to join the mission they’ve been called by God to accomplish.
Thom S. Rainer is the former president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources.