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How do you make missional disciples?

September 28, 2011

Yes. The term “missional disciple” is redundant, isn’t?! I wish we were in a world where when I say the word “disciple”, everyone understands that clearly means the word “missionary.” But we don’t. So to be clear…it’s about making missional disciples.

So maybe you’ve read the last two posts I did on “Why the missional movement will fail” (Part 1 and Part 2). And perhaps you think I’ve made some good points and you’d like to know THE HOW. How do we make missional disciples?  I think if we’re going to be serious about making missional disciples, it starts with us (clearly). We have to be discipling leaders. We need to invest in a small group of people (I’d suggest 4-10) who we’ve made an invitation to for that kind of relationship. If we’ve done that…what will this discipling relationship need to produce the kind of fruit we see in scripture?

Why don’t we start at the 10,000 foot level for this post.

In the past few years there has been a lot of discussion about the continuum of the ORGANIZED and the ORGANIC. Much of this has revolved around the book my friend Neil Cole wrote called Organic Church. From my viewpoint, as I’ve studied the scriptures and the great discipling movements (which, not coincidentally, would also be great missional movements) of the past 2000 years, I’ve noticed this continuum at work.

Rather than having a commitment to either/or, I see a pattern of both/and. I saw that there was a formal, intentional, organized time that was committed to investment into the life of someone. It tends to happen at the same time, the same place, with the same people. There was a kind of discipleship formality to it. There was a VEHICLE that this happened with (for instance, John Wesley developed “class meetings” as his vehicle of intentional discipleship).

However, this wasn’t it. There is also a commitment to the ORGANIC component as it relates to the discipling relationship. You don’t just relate to the people you’re discipling in the more formal time focused on discipleship and reflection. It’s not as if you aren’t discipling people and showing them the ways of Jesus when it’s “focused discipleship time.” It’s always happening. You are asking them to be part of your life, a part of the life of your family. So your lives become intermingled together. Dinners. Parties. Work days. Grocery store trips. Mission. Worship services. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Funerals. (Imagine how the disciples participated in the life of Jesus…that’s what we’re talking about). What we are really talking about is allowing the small number of people you are discipling to have ACCESS to your life that very few people get…the kind of access only the 12 had to the life of Jesus. You need a VEHICLE and you need people to have ACCESS to the life of the discipling leader. It must be both the organized and the organic.

This is what’s important to understand about the ORGANIZED and the ORGANIC: The invitation to someone you’re discipling isn’t to the vehicle. It’s not “Hey, do you want to be part of my Small Group? Triad? Class meeting? Huddle?” (or whatever you’re doing) The invitation is to your life. You are giving your life as something to be imitated, to do as Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” That word imitation is used over and over again in the New Testament and it’s not one we as Western Christians are terribly comfortable with.

But this invitation to discipleship, to our life, is essentially this: “I feel like the Lord is asking me to invest in you. And in the places you see in me that look like Jesus, copy those things. That things that don’t…scrap them! Don’t copy them.” Eventually they’ll be able to innovate the things in their own life they are imitating, but people need a starting point!

This begs an all-important question: If people imitated your life, would that be a good thing?

Do you have a life worth imitating? Would it be beneficial to have another 10 people like you running around? And there’s the rub, yes?

BUT…there is one other crucial component that is needed. It’s actually fascinating to see how this last piece plays out in the life of Jesus, the New Testament and every missional movement that has swept the known world in the past 2000 years. Each had an agreed discipling language that everyone used to shape their lives and the life of the community that embodied the teachings in scripture about life in the Kingdom of God. A few quick examples:

  • Jesus and the early church: Short parables about life in the Kingdom of God
  • Monastic missional movements: Rule of Life (think about the Benedictines with their 13 rules)
  • John Wesley: Twenty-one questions for his class meetings (my favorite is the last question: “Have I lied in any of the answers in the previous questions?”)
Having an agreed discipling language is one of those small, subtle things that makes all the difference in the world because almost every cultural anthropologist will tell you that language creates culture. The fact of the matter is that you have a culture in your church which means you have a shared language. But chances are it’s by accident and that means there’s a high probability it isn’t producing the culture you’re hoping for so it will produce missional disciples.

What language does is allow a fluid and easy way of traversing between the ORGANIZED (vehicle) and the ORGANIC (access). Eventually, over time, this scriptural discipleship language shapes the way you think, behave, live. It transforms you and the community that is also shaping you because it’s creating a culture. For me, I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life developing a language that would work in a post-Christian context, developing a vehicle called Huddle that would deliver those more organized, formal discipling times. So how about you?
  • Have you seen these things at work?
  • What does your organized time look like?
  • Are you being attentive to the organic times?
  • Do people have access to your life?
  • Do you have a dynamic discipling language, or is it happening by accident?
This blog post is part of a 6 week series related to the release of my new, re-written edition of Building a Discipling Culture: How to release a missional movement by discipling people like Jesus did, which shows how we made disciples in a truly post-Christian context. If you’re interested in picking it up, click here.
13 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2011 7:08 pm

    You continue to hit the nail on the head. I especially appreciate your connection between discipleship and missional. Thanks!

  2. September 28, 2011 7:26 pm


    Discipleship is totally sharing your life with another. It also forces the discipler to live a life worthy of emulating. Iron sharpening iron.

    I view the organized as our “commitment” while the organic is God’s part to do what he wants to do in the life of the disciple (in part, through us). The discipler then makes him or herself available to help the disciple interpret what God is doing in his or her life, guidance on decisions, etc.

  3. September 29, 2011 12:16 pm

    Provokes to thought and action. I do like your reference to Wesley but you jump straight to class and miss out band. Inspire Network (Phil Meadows, from Cliff College, Director) is seeking to restore the band to a 21st C context. The questions are the same but the group is more intimate. Three or four, mixed or single sex, taking time with one another to reflect into each others lives the walk with Jesus we all desire. Missional in the sense that we seek to take the walk to others and Spirituality because we are seeking intimacy with God through this time of mutual reflection. Do I present a suitable example to others in my band. I hope so but the real proof in the pudding is to ask them!

  4. Carolyn Byars permalink
    September 29, 2011 7:26 pm

    Reason is the natural order of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning. CS Lewis
    3D conferences speak to both our reason and imagination to help us understand the logos of God. Thank you, Mike, Steve, Eric and all others who work so hard to bring focus to the King and His Kingdom life!

  5. October 3, 2011 2:57 pm

    As always, I learn something as i read Mike’s posts on discipleship and mission. The connections between mission and discipleship in the last 3 blogs seem quite clear to me. I love the both-and between organized and organic too. In my opinion, there is too much typical American trendiness in the missional movement conversation as it is emerging here in the USA. This means that many pastors who know that they have to begin a process of change are hesitant because they do not want to jump from trend to trend. For example, these pastors hear that if your discipleship-missional emphasis is not strictly organic you obviously don’t get it. They know we Americans are too quick to jump on bandwagons and this really hurts the more widespread growth and influence of the missional renaissance.

  6. November 4, 2011 10:15 am

    Mike, thanks for these helpful posts. I have question around the organised ‘framework’ for missional community life. For a leader of a (fledging) MC, how would you recommend we divvy up organised time commitment (say a meeting per week) between huddles (closed, very focused disciple-making and “missionary-training” groups) and MC gatherings (inclusive community times)?

    Also, presumably huddles are not just for leaders? As a pastor, I can see you huddle leaders but they then cascade the approach across the church…

  7. November 12, 2011 7:53 pm

    SOme other threads of connection.
    Language creates culture. Yes. But practices maintain it. (What we do, especially as a matter of habit, and especially as those practices are communal and grow out of a social imaginary).
    Language creates culture. Much of that linguistic creation and maintenance is through story. “Leadership involves the creation of powerful narratives,” one scholar has said. “The skilled leader is one who can both articulate and embody a complex of stories.”
    And related, a familiar one that Hirschey is fond of — Ivan Ilich — “If you want to change a culture.. tell a new story.”

  8. March 31, 2012 2:09 pm


    Could you elaborate on how the Language becomes flexible? I understand the fluid part inside the organization/family. Would you say that the flexible part is for Contextualization? How would describe “Flexible”?



  1. Discipleship Unto Mission « Diverge
  2. Links of the Week | My World
  3. The Functional Church Blog
  4. NextReformation » discipleship and culture
  5. The Language of Participatory Church: Curation | | the online home of Steve Knight

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