By Chris Surratt
The final instructions of Jesus before He ascended into heaven were that His followers should:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The disciples stood on the mountainside with their friend, and now their acknowledged Lord, and got their marching orders.
What they had seen done they would now do. What they had been taught they would now teach. What they had experienced they would now pass on.
And so the chain goes throughout history: the story of Jesus and what it means to be His disciple has cut through the generations despite every attempt to stop it.
And here we are today, in our own generation, recipients of the same charge Jesus delivered on the mountain that day:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”
But now we have a mountain in front of us called COVID-19. Our current methods for finding and making disciples have to adapt to our new reality.
We can no longer just rely on a group leader gathering people in a living room or a classroom to pass on what Jesus started.
Those physical environments will still exist to some extent, but if we want to continue this charge to the next generations, we have to exponentially multiply the disciple-makers in new ways.
Here are five ways to continue the discipleship chain:
1. Redefine the disciple-making environments.
I have often used the mantra that discipleship happens best within the context of community. While that’s still true, we get too locked into what that community looks like.
It can be a group of believers and seekers sitting in a living room, or it can be two or three people on a weekly Zoom call. Or it could be two friends meeting up in a park in the neighborhood.
Discipleship can happen anywhere any number of people are physically or digitally gathered together. It doesn’t always have to be in a classroom on a Sunday morning.
2. Expand who the disciple-makers are.
Just like congregants sometimes believe pastoring can only be done by the official clergy of the church, we can get locked into the idea that group leaders are the only qualified disciple-makers.
Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
It starts with Paul discipling Timothy, and then expands exponentially to “faithful men.”
Our group members need to be instructed that they are being equipped to disciple the people in their circles of influence, and then release them to carry it out.
3. Equip the disciple-makers with training.
Properly training leaders has always been important, but it’s especially vital now as disciple-making has to be expanded beyond the normal group environments and classes.
The training has to be immediate and ongoing. Leaders need to know the basics of starting a disciple-making group or relationship, and they will need ongoing training for the constant changing world we live in.
I would suggest scheduling something at least monthly for disciple-makers and potential leaders to attend.
With the wide acceptance of Zoom and Facebook Live, training doesn’t have to be in a specific location or at a specific time anymore.
4. Release control of disciple-making.
We love to control things as church leaders. Part of it is for an assurance of quality and depth, but part of it is fear of the unknown.
We fear how disciples will be created if we are not in charge of the environment. We fear losing control of the whole process. We sometimes fear not getting the credit in the end.
But the only way 2 Timothy 2:2 will be ultimately fulfilled is if we let go those fears and encourage our leaders to disciple outside of the box.
5. Create a disciple-making pathway.
As church leaders, we need to give followers of Jesus a pathway to walk as they become more like Jesus and advance His kingdom.
In this confused and divided world we live in, we need a clear pathway now more than ever before. People need the resources, training and encouragement to take their next spiritual steps wherever they currently are on the journey.
Let’s not let a pandemic stop discipleship; but instead, let’s use this time to creatively multiply our efforts.
Chris is the discipleship and small groups specialist for Lifeway, a ministry consultant and coach with more than 20 years of experience, and the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group.