Have We Got ‘Equipping’ Right?

Church Planting, Discipleship, Equipping, Philadelphia, Urban Ministry, Urban Poverty



Within my denominational affiliation I serve on a team called E-Net. The purpose of the team is to shine a light on the need for pastors and churches to better understand and implement the biblical mandate to ‘equip the saints.’  A recent summary communication from our E-Net team says, “Equipping grows directly out of Ephesians 4:11-16, one of the most significant passages of the New Testament, yet one of the most neglected. Why is it neglected? One reason is that too many people do not realize that in this passage the terms “apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher” refer to functions in the church, and not positions.

“Another reason is that adopting an equipping culture represents a huge paradigm shift. Our [pastoral] training emphasizes preparing us for doing ministry, rather than for equipping others in ministry. We can do ministry better and faster than having to equip others to do it, and much of our identity comes from doing it ourselves. Too many think that equipping and training are synonyms. However, the root meaning of katartismon (equipping) is to bind or to join. Though you cannot equip without training, you can train without equipping. Equipping incorporates joining believers to ministry opportunities. Equipping transforms ministry consumers into ministry participants.”

E-Net’s position is this:

  1. Every church is to fulfill each of the five ministry functions of Ephesians 4:11.
  2. The Lord sends gifted people to every church to serve as “joints and ligaments,” the mid-level leaders committed to helping join the members to ministries.
  3. To equip is to identify both the ministry needs and the available people, seeking to bring them together, usually through involvement in ministry teams.
  4. Through equipping the entire church grows up into Christ, the Head, from whom the whole body is joined and held together by every supporting ligament.
  5. As a result, the church grows and is built up in love, as each part does its work.

I serve in Philadelphia with MetroGrace. We believe God has called us together to raise-up followers of Jesus who help release neighborhoods from Satan’s strongholds by starting gospel-centered and community-based churches. Last year Anecia (my wife) and I had this sense that we could be part of God’s answer to the cries of the the city, and especially those of the urban poor. We relocated our lives to focus our best attention on loving God and neighbors in need in Philadelphia.

While it is easy for our MetroGrace team to be overwhelmed by what is in front of us each day, we sense a call to multiply ourselves and to see more light shine in dark places. We have no desire to help build a mega institution as a vehicle for our own benefit. Rather, we seek to raise-up teams of Christian workers able to go and pioneer, reproduce and multiply strategic neighborhood mission churches throughout the city, and especially among the urban poor. This means that we must get equipping right!

One of my core convictions is ‘organic growth’ which for me means using reproducible models of nurturing, equipping and raising-up of new teams and leaders as the means of growing workers and local Jesus-centered (gospel-centered) movements from within our communities. Responding to urban poverty, helping spark Christian movements in neighborhoods, seeing real transformation requires us “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  (Ephesians 4:12 NIV). We cannot depend solely or primarily on outside help. We must equip the saints!

We are committed to assisting MetroGrace to become a gospel-centered, community-based church planting movement. This will have the greatest opportunity for success as we follow the five-point recommendations of E-Net. We must train our folks, and future church-planting team members, to grow new believers into Jesus-centered workers, serving together in teams, to impact their neighborhoods for real community transformation.

Your thoughts?


Unique Challenges Facing Urban Church Planters

Church Planting, cities, Discipleship, Equipping, Notable Blogs, Other Authors, Philadelphia, Urban Ministry

Unique Challenges Facing Urban Church Planters
by J. Allen Thompson

Paul G. Hiebert, a keen observer of the mission of the church worldwide, pinpoints the unique opportunities for witness in the urban sphere. He notes that in the age of globalism, in contrast with other periods in history, we face both secularism and postmodernism. Secularism, a view that denies the existence of God, marginalizes those who continue to hold religious convictions, because it relegates religion to the private sphere of personal opinions and feelings. Postmodernism, in contrast, affirms spiritual experience but views it as pragmatic and relative.

The basic religious debate in city culture, therefore, centers on the uniqueness of Christ and his claim to be the only way to salvation. In dialoguing with non-Christians to help them discover and appropriate truth, church planters need to examine their approach carefully. For non-Christians the usual form of gospel communication may be totally unfamiliar, like learning a foreign language. Also, postmodern people may require a different approach because of their method of making personal decisions.

Tim Keller has extensively studied ways to address postmodern non-Christians in both one-on-one and worship contexts. He believes the best context for worship is a mix of Christians and non-Christians together. In a mixed group, when the preacher speaks somewhat more to non-Christians, the Christians present learn how to share the faith; on the other hand, when the preacher speaks more to Christians, the non-Christians present come to see how Christianity “works.” Keller adds that more deeply secular postmodern non-Christians tend to decide about the faith on pragmatic grounds; they do not examine it in a detached, intellectual way.

Also, they are more likely to make their commitment through a long process of mini-decisions. They will want to try Christianity on to see how it fits their problems and how it fleshes out in real life. The process may fol- low a pattern such as this:

+ Awareness: “This is it.” Clearing the ground of stereotypes. Distinguishing the gospel from legalism or liberalism, and distinguishing core truths from peripheral issues.

+ Relevance: “I need it.” Showing the slavery of both religion and irreligion. Showing the transforming power of the gospel and how the gospel “works.”

+ Credibility: “I need it because it’s true. ”Reversing the modern view, which says, “It is true if I need it.” Seekers must see the gospel’s reasonableness, or there will be no endurance to their faith decision.

+ Trial: “I see what it would be like.” In group life and in service ministries, they try Christianity on, often talking like Christians or defending the faith.

+ Commitment: “I take it.” Sometimes this is the point of real conversion. This may have already happened in the past; or it may happen later on.

+ Reinforcement: “Now I get it.” Typically, a period of follow-up is the time when the penny drops and the gospel becomes clear. We will now examine some of the more specific challenges using New York City as a case study.


Primarily through attracting new immigrants, New York City is the only U.S. northern industrial city with a sustained net population gain in the last one hundred years. While the population grows, the city also experiences a large turnover in population, which creates change in the social and demographic makeup. Tony Carnes, president of the Values Research Institute, articulates the following concerns.

+ Migration is a catastrophe for newcomers to the city. It disrupts marriages, children, and families. Newcomers will either accept new customs and habits or reject, synthesize, fall apart, or go another path. During the first two years as they are seeking assimilation, immigrants tend to be open to the gospel.

+ Newcomers struggle with income and education: 35% have incomes below $22,000; 52% are ages eighteen to thirty-four, but only 17% have college degrees; 46% are single, and 33% are single mothers; and 39% attend religious services regularly.

+ New immigrants include 30% Caribbean, 26% Asian, 25% European, 5% African, 4% South American, 2% Central American, and 1% Canadian individuals. These new immigrants represent dozens of languages and cultures.

+ The Hispanic population is 27% of New York City’s residents, which is larger than the African American population. Most are from Puerto Rico (38%) and the Dominican Republic (27%).

To plant churches in this city, we must develop great sensitivity to the ethnic groupings mentioned above, as well as to their social networks. Communities in the city are a patchwork quilt of neighborhoods, representing a large mix of people from various nations. Odd as it may seem, since identities are unknown there is a great deal of intimacy among strangers; however, they relate in distinctive ways, depending on their education, occupation, wealth (or lack thereof), and language preference. For example, Hispanics and Asians possess the commonality of entering into a white world; yet individuals’ social standing will make them comfortable in some groupings and uncomfortable in others.

To design the model of church that will reach these communities effectively, church planters therefore need to do extensive demographic and ethnographic studies. Assumptions should be avoided and conclusions must not be drawn too quickly, especially not until people profiles of particular neighborhoods are completed.


Missionaries entering a new culture abroad often realize the necessity of learning the language, customs, and lifestyles of the people with whom they will live. Because New York City is in North America and the major language is English, church planters from within the United States sometimes fail to realize the importance of “putting on the missionary hat” and learning new ways of thinking, acting, and relating. This is a significant mistake.

Paul Hiebert describes the “bicultural bridge” as the quality of interpersonal relationships between human beings—between missionaries (church planters) and the people they serve. The biculture is a new culture that arises in the interaction of people from two different cultural backgrounds. Church planters coming to New York City from other parts of North America bring with them their own cultural maps: they have ideas of how to dress, what to eat, who should raise their children, how to worship properly, and many other things. No matter how hard they try, they cannot “go native” in New York City. They cannot fully erase their child- hood culture, even if they attempt it, and they are also influenced by the new culture they enter—the culture of New York City.

New Yorkers who interact with the church planter also become part of the biculture, adding their own ideas about child rearing, family values, worship preferences, etc. In relationship with the church planter, however, they are also exposed to new ideas and beliefs. To relate to one another productively, the church planter and the New Yorkers must create new patterns of working, playing, and worshiping—a new culture, or biculture.

Consequently, the first months of the church planter’s life on the new project must be spent in learning the ways of those he seeks to serve and in developing a bicultural community. Questions he may seek to answer will range from personal habits to ministry values:

+ What type of apartment should I live in?
+ What types of clothes should be worn?
+ Where should the children go to school?
+ What values should the new church demonstrate?
+ What should be the philosophy of ministry for the new church?

This process of learning culture—and the incarnation that results—is called “identification” in cross-cultural lingo, but the process does not deny who we are originally. It is a bipersonal state we choose in order to be- come one with the people we seek to serve. The months of learning the local culture will be rewarding and will yield benefits for the future church-planting project. Don’t skip this process or attempt to downgrade it; it is not minority people engagement but urban culture engagement.


Based on an understanding of Christ’s incarnation (he “made his dwelling among us,” John 1:14), church planters should live in their ministry’s target area. In all global cities, the cost of living is high. For example, a small (800 square feet) two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan rents for more than $3,000 a month. Purchasing facilities for worship is unthinkable; renting adequate places for worship (schools, churches, synagogues, theaters, community centers, etc.) is always challenging and costly. This means a church planter and his family may need upwards of $100,000 to $250,000 a year for living and ministry expenses.

Churches and individuals helping to support a church plant in the city need to understand and accept these budgetary challenges. As they begin the support-raising process, church planters should develop a well-prepared Church Plant Proposal document that includes the following components.

+ an executive summary of the vision
+ a brief demographic profile of the target area
+ a biographical sketch of the church planter
+ a summary of the proposed budget

Donors will respond to a compelling vision of a ministry that meets the needs of people, versus a bland financial presentation.


The church planter’s action plan may envision a start-up congregation of seventy-five to one hundred, with ample room for growth. Finding a corresponding meeting place in the city at the right hour on Sunday be- comes a difficult chore. Often goals and projections will require modifications because of venue constraints. Flexibility and creativity on the part of the church planter (CP) to enhance a poorly designed meeting place is often required. For example, renting a theater on Sunday morning may be feasible but also tricky, as a dark and windowless site will require additional lighting. Clever use of the large screen, however, could result in a well-lit space.


Church planters are often impressed by what they have seen other planters do in a new situation. The self-talk goes like this: “That’s impressive; it would not be too difficult to duplicate; I can do that.” The rush to borrow methodologies and neglect the learning stage may result in tragic contextual misjudgments.

To develop the appropriate model, the CP should move to the target area as soon as possible, do a walking tour of the area, begin networking in the community, gain information in the context of relationships, and then summarize and analyze the data providing implications for the right type of model.


By “going public,” I mean moving from the informal meetings of small-group Bible studies to the full-blown meetings of a Sunday worship service. The timing of the public launch is critical for any church plant, but for church planters in the city, the importance of right timing is heightened by greater financial constraints and sponsor expectations. This pressure can be intense, as missteps at this critical juncture will have serious con- sequences for the church plant.

In addition to gathering enough people to create momentum, the CP must prepare for the many activities and logistics necessary for setting up a site and welcoming people. This takes time and careful planning, with the added pressure of having only one shot to get it right. People visiting for the first time will make up their minds quickly whether or not to return. Thus, the CP needs to make sure he is ready both physically and spiritually for the public launch.

During this time, the CP will benefit greatly from having a coach. Together the CP and the coach must develop a well-crafted plan for the first twelve months of the project, identifying how people will be reached, how often they will meet as a emerging core group, and so on. Before the public launch takes place, the CP must have a solid core of leaders to assimilate, new believers to disciple, and several small groups operating with their own leaders.

Whatever is planned for the life of the church must be in place from the beginning. With the first fifty or seventy-five people, attention is focused on gathering as a congregation, developing an infrastructure, and building a sense of momentum. With emerging momentum and a clear vision for the project, the CP is ready to strike with the public launch!


Church planters in the urban context face the added challenge of working in a highly fluid environment. The rapid turnover and high attrition rate of city dwellers poses a major challenge to the CP seeking to develop committed leaders in his nascent congregation. Often the core leaders assume the burden of the many tasks required in a new church, and some burn out. New people are not helping out yet, but the work needs to be delegated to others. The following are some ways to involve others.

+ Take more risks. When you need something done, give it to somebody new instead of relying on old standbys.

+ Learn to recruit. Start compiling a list of workers—bookkeepers, greeters, ushers, social organizers, a setup crew. Among those who take on these types of jobs you will find those who want to go deeper in their responsibilities.

+ Establish apprenticeships. In all areas of leadership training, instill in followers the concept of every leader having an apprentice. In this way, leadership is multiplying and replacements are being trained.

+Develop a leadership training plan for the long term.

What are some of the unexpected challenges that you’ve faced planting a church in a city?
How have you prepared for the unexpected in church planting?

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in The Gospel and Life conferences of 2004 and 2005 and is posted here from Redeemer City to City with permission. The image used was taken by Ecstaticist.


Church Planting, Discipleship, Equipping, Rambling Thoughts, Uncategorized, Urban Ministry


It is the greatest need in the world today. It is the most fundamental command that Jesus ever gave us. Yet the Church as a whole is not doing it. The Church and the world are suffering greatly today for our disobedience to His command to make disciples. Jesus said in Matt. 28:19, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.” This verse has been widely misunderstood only to mean evangelizing individuals.

Discipling peoples involves far more than just evangelizing or “getting people saved.” This is an essential first step but it involves so much more. It is not just about planting churches, as critical as this is to the overall process. It involves developing specific strategies and approaches for each community (or even neighborhood in the case of multi-ethnic neighborhoods) that will take into consideration their specific cultural and historical backgrounds and the environment in which they live so that believers within that community are discipled in a culturally relevant way. A one size fits all approach to discipleship will not work.

I believe the Church in the United States is failing to adequately disciple its people both young and old. The unbelief we see in the younger generation is also present in the Church as a whole. It is only becoming more pronounced in each succeeding generation. We must seek to obey the command of Christ to make disciples if we are to succeed in reversing this ominous trend. We must disciple our people so that they not only can defend their faith, but also become cultural change agents as they follow Christ and seek to make disciples of the people around them.

Again, the purpose of discipleship is not just to get people saved and going to heaven. It is to glorify God in all that we do and to show to the world what God is like. Our job as followers of Christ is to be agents of change within our respective cultures. Every people group and every culture on Earth has been impacted by the forces of evil and needs to be transformed by the power of Christ. This societal transformation takes place as people come to faith in Christ and begin to obey His commands to love their neighbors as themselves; by meeting the real needs of people who are suffering and by standing for biblical values as representatives of the King of righteousness; and, by equipping other believers to do the same. Unless we are developing our church, especially our young people, of sound doctrine and solid spiritual disciplines, who are able to defend a biblical worldview and its values and beliefs, we will have nothing to offer the world as pastors and missionaries. Effective discipleship is the essential element in the future of world evangelization.

Needed: A Massive Movement of Everyday People

Church Planting, cities, Equipping, least reached, Philadelphia, Uncategorized, Urban Ministry

stock-footage-new-york-circa-june-crowd-of-people-commuters-walking-crossing-street-at-a-busy We believe one the best ways we can advance God’s purposes among the nations is to think beyond ourselves and serve the church-planting movement in Philadelphia through partnerships. The task is too big for any one person or organization to complete. Partnerships are key to seeing breakthroughs in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia and other urban centers.

MetroGrace 1) Gathers, 2) Trains and 3) Sends. Our goal through these efforts is to send urban church-planting teams to start new churches. Yet, we recognize that the role of sending is continually changing, and must continue to change in order to honor and serve what God is doing through churches and other sending movements in our city.

As MetroGrace looks to the future, we recognize that the Great Commission will only be accomplished through a massive movement of everyday people from all walks of life and all nations—all with an extraordinary passion for God’s glory to be known among all peoples. Since we cannot do it alone, we need partners to join us in this endeavor:

  • College graduates who want to work and live in urban places that are walkable, bike-able, connected by transit, and hyper-caffeinated.
  • Second-career people who sense God’s call on their lives to serve Him in new and significant ways in an urban context;
  • Retired people who want to use their gifts and talents to train, equip and mobilize a younger generation; and, who want to evangelize people who need the Lord.
  • Churches who have a desire to mobilize their people to help the Gospel to be proclaimed in Philadelphia.
  • Returning missionaries who could relocate in Philadelphia to reach the tribe, tongue, people and nation God has called them to reach.
  • Extraordinary financial partnerships for extraordinary opportunities.
  • And more…

Making disciples of Jesus is the most important job in the world. It not only transforms the lives of people here in this world but also for all eternity in the next. Few jobs are as difficult as this one—we have a powerful adversary who is working against our every effort. If this is true, should we not employ everyone we can to the most densely populated places on earth (major cities) to spread the gospel, to gather new believers into new churches, to prepare every believer in Jesus to accomplish the mission of making disciples who are able to disciple others? Does not a mission of such critical importance demand our very best combined efforts? Literally, the eternal destiny of millions of people hangs in the balance.

Jesus’ strategy for revealing Himself to the whole world was through successive generations of disciplers. Rather than being consumed with meeting every need He could in His own generation, He foresaw that the greatest fruit for all generations would come from a movement of everyday people from all walks of life and all nations—all with an extraordinary passion to work together for God’s glory to be known among all peoples.

We are always looking for new partnerships. Would you consider partnering with us? You may be asking how. Well, ask the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, that question. Read His Word. Pray. Expect an answer. You might also want to contact me for some ideas. I can be reached via email at kurt@metrograce.org.

JOIN THE TEAM! #metrograce www.metrograce.org

Ten Commandments of Equipping

Church Planting, Equipping, Other Authors


The following was developed by my friend and mentor, Tom Julien:

Ten Commandments of Equipping

1. Infuse dependent prayer into all aspects of the ministry.

2. As leaders, get your value not by how well you perform, but by how well you equip others in effective ministry.

3. Move people from being ministry consumers to ministry partners, seeing potential in every member.

4. Transform elected committees into open-ended ministry teams in which each member can exercise creativity in his responsibility.

5. Equip your “mid-level” leaders; the joints and ligaments that hold the body together, by giving them the responsibility as ministry team leaders.

6. Identify ministry leaders by function, not by position, making no distinction between paid staff and volunteer workers..

7. Help people discover their spiritual giftedness by involving them in ministry rather than merely taking spiritual gift inventories.

8. Combine ministry instruction with ministry involvement, meeting the felt training needs that grow out of ministry experience.

9. Never let the process of equipping become more important than its purpose and product.

10. Motivate the people to “grow up” In all things into the Head, Christ, from whom the whole body grows and builds itself up as each part does its work.

The Critical Role of Evangelism and Discipleship in Church Planting

Church Planting, Other Authors

Evangelism and discipleship does not automatically happen in a new church. That is unfortunate for some aspiring planters. All of us struggle with our view of lostness no matter how long we have been in the faith. Too many planters think that the reason lost people have not come to Christ is because they have not found the right church yet. Thus, a mythological equation is formed: lost culture + relevant church plant service = instant harvest.

So, they sincerely set out with a new formula that will fill the local middle school gymnasium or movie theater with lost people. They have a vision of lost people streaming en masse through the doors on launch Sunday shouting, “I found it!” No wonder that planter will spend the majority of the week getting the production ready. The band, slides, movie clips, coffee and donuts, are all a part of an environment that helps people feel at home. But at the end of the day, the demanding grind of an attractive church can potentially take away from the pursuit of those far from God. Simply put, when you have an attractive plant it can end up solely with an attractional strategy. The end result will be that you “sell” a new and better church (product) to consumers of religious goods and services.

It is possible (and even common) to spend too much energy focused on only one aspect of the church plant: the Sunday morning crowds. There are many solutions, including opening up new lanes to all kinds of church planting, something Warren Bird and I discuss in Viral Churches.

One solution is to personally invest significant time in relationships with lost people and new believers. The sermons may need to be simpler with less “special effects.” The band may need less programmatic direction and more relational investment with you. At the end of the day, the core team and lead planter must personally invest heavily in the harvest. Not only is that great for the moment (for those lost people, etc.) but it creates the culture for the future of every person who connects with your church. The long term future of the new church is in the harvest, not a Disneyfied Sunday morning experience.

Most planters I know start new churches to reach lost people and grow disciples. Planters we talked to highlighted five challenges to evangelism and discipleship:

(1) Multiple time demands detracted from time needed for evangelism and discipleship.

(2) Discerning how to practice faith (James 1:27) in a way that represents all God is doing in world not limited to direct evangelism only. Examples include hunger relief, assistance and adoption efforts.

(3) Living incarnationally and engaging in today’s culture.

(4) Implementing a deliberate evangelistic and disciple-making strategy.

(5) Making small groups work.

Here are two observations that will help you work through these challenges to evangelism and discipleship:

Distracted by the Planting Process – The paradox for the planter is that what drives to plant — a heart to reach lost people — is often hindered by planting the church. Challenges cited by planters in this area appear connected to the first five issues in this report. Specifically developing leaders, mobilizing volunteers, building teams, financial resources, and building healthy systems all divert a planter’s focus to things other than evangelism and discipleship.

They are a part of making disciples but can be programs executed with a focus on process rather than on people.

The desire to engage people incarnationally and build relationships is met with the reality of the challenges that tug on the planter’s time, energy and focus. Yet as previously mentioned, these values must be lived out. Difficult decisions need to be made about what will really be important. It is essential to keep the unchurched before you and your team. Keep the issue on the table for everyone in your core team — make yourself accountable to them as well as making them accountable to you.

The Internal Scorecard – A nagging sense of falling short of the dream in the area of evangelism and discipleship can significantly contribute to a planter’s discouragement. The planter’s tolerance level for the pressures and disappointments of planting is higher when lives are being changed.

In some ways, it’s like parenting. When our kids respond by grace and through faith to Jesus and live for Him, it’s easier to deal with disappointment over less important areas of their lives. Evangelism and discipleship are core values for most planters and should bias the internal scorecard more than many other factors.

Church planter networks that value reaching people provide great environments to help. The tension planters feel to get it all done and invest in lost people is common (thus Top 7 material). The great news is that in every region, somewhere there is a planter being used by God to get it done. Time with someone like that will give you insight on how to stay focused and work toward gospel impact.

This blog was written by my friend, Ed Stetzer. His partner, Todd Wilson (Director of Exponential), also helped on this project. http://www.edstetzer.com/2011/02/7-top-issues-church-planters-f-3.html

4 Essentials for Creating a Disciple-Making Culture

Church Planting, Other Authors

4 Essentials for Creating a Disciple-Making Culture Lindy Lowry — October 4, 2012

When Winfield Bevins planted Church of the Outer Banks in Nags Head, N.C., a creative beach community on the North Carolina coast, discipleship quickly became one of the biggest challenges facing the new, rapidly growing church. Out of his efforts to address the problem came what Bevins calls an “organic discipleship process for the 21st century–the focus of his free eBook, “Grow: Reproducing Through Organic Discipleship”, Bevins says that organic discipleship rests on four essentials. In this interview, he breaks down these four areas, sharing practical ways his church carries them out and ultimately has implemented a discipleship process that has the 7-year-old church growing both deeper and wider, spiritually and numerically.

When did you realize you had a discipleship problem?

We parachuted into the community, didn’t know anyone, literally started with five people meeting in a home. Within a short time, we grew to several hundred people. Discipleship quickly became one of the biggest challenges facing our new church because we were growing so fast and needed to raise up leaders, which we weren’t doing very well. I began to see that numbers don’t necessarily equate to good spiritual health. So we made the decision to focus on growing from the inside by developing disciples instead of just growing our church numerically. We realized that for us to be healthy and survive, we would need to develop a discipleship process that would 1) encourage new believers and 2) develop them into fully devoted disciples of Jesus. Out of that beginning and some of the books I was reading, these nuggets began to come out of the trial and error and the grit we were experiencing as we planted and built the church. That’s how the organic discipleship process originated.

How would you define organic discipleship? How do you distinguish it from other discipleship processes?

Organic discipleship is about learning the natural rhythms of discipleship within your church context and developing a discipleship process unique to your own setting. It’s not a program or curriculum. When I started to study what Scripture says about discipling others, I realized just how much the Bible uses organic metaphors to describe spiritual growth: sowing and reaping, planting and watering, growing, bearing fruit. That resonated with me, and I began to think about the differences in “programming” discipleship vs. natural, organic growth that happens over time. We’re on an island and what might work in New York city or a larger city was not going to work for us. So we really tried to get back to the basic essentials of the Christian faith and focus on getting people to grow in their faith by getting them in the Scriptures. The simpler the process, the easier it was to make disciples. I’m not against programs per se. But programs end up kind of replacing the natural development of essential disciplines like reading Scripture and prayer. Programs are our manmade efforts to do what. The Holy Spirit does what only God can do. That’s actually kind of one of the exciting things about discipleship. You never know what God’s doing in someone’s life in that time. When we first moved to the Outer Banks, I took a busload of people to a baseball game. I was the designated driver, and 10 of the people out of the 15-passenger bus eventually became Christians. One of them became our youth pastor. I led him to Christ about six months after that trip. The Lord, if we’re sensitive to His leading, will actually lead us to people whom he’s already working on. And so it becomes not us trying to save people and make something happen. Instead, it’s really us partnering with God in what He’s already doing in people’s lives, which if you think about it, is really exciting because God’s already at work around us. So the organic approach is getting people back to just the simplicity of the Gospel, getting them back to the simplicity of just getting in the Bible and growing through the Word of God and fellowship.

Take us through the four essentials you say are integral to developing an organic discipleship process:

1) Gospel-centered. Being “Gospel-centered” means we are “grace-centered.” It means loving the people Jesus loves and reaching out to those rejected. A Gospel-centered church not only preaches the Gospel, but the Gospel must saturate every part of our church’s life. Each stage of our discipleship process should also be Gospel-centered. From assimilation to preaching and teaching, to counseling, to leadership development, the Gospel must be central. Even our worship should be Gospel-centered. Being Gospel-centered means that we focus on the simplicity of the message of Christ, keeping Him the center of all we do. Without the Gospel, discipleship will become works-based and will eventually dry up and die. Church leaders can use church growth principles to add people to the church, but only the Gospel can grow people into disciples of Jesus Christ.

2) Mission. Mission is the outreach impulse of making disciples in community. Without it, discipleship would be inward-focused. Our mission begins with understanding that God is a sending God, with a desire to see humankind and creation reconciled, redeemed and healed. Many Christians and churches teach and preach that missions are something we support or do, such as sending or supporting missionaries in other countries. This was the case 30 years ago. However in the 21st century, the mission field has come to us. We live in a post-Christian world where people simply don’t know the Gospel anymore. We are all called to be missional and share in the mission of God. How does your church carry out the value of mission? Our church has taught me the powerful meaning of being a missional community. In seven years, our church still doesn’t own a building. We are very much a community-oriented church. Keeping our members on mission is just a vital way to keep people growing and moving forward and sharing their faith.We’re currently involved in several community outreaches to reach unchurched people. We’ve adopted beach accesses that we clean once a month to show the community we care about the beaches. We began an art mentoring program that has reached hundreds of at-risk youth in our community and in South America. We’ve also hosted quarterly art shows that infuse art, music and coffee, and we opened an art gallery that hosts art shows and concerts to build bridges between the church and community.

3) Connectivity. The third element of the organic discipleship process is to develop pathways for people to build authentic Christ-centered community. The church community is the organic context in which disciples grow. Our role as leaders is to help facilitate connectivity and make sure it happens. As the church grows, it needs to shift from one to two leaders doing the ministry, but rather ministry should happen in community groups as people gather where they’re able to pray for each other and care for one another. If we’re going to make disciples for Christ in the 21st century, we have to discover, or rediscover, the power of biblical community.

4) Reproduction. There is no happier time than when a family is getting ready to have a baby. Likewise, churches are full of excitement and energy whenever they’re reproducing because they’re fulfilling their God-given purpose for existence. Reproduction is the ultimate goal of discipleship. We are called to select, train, and send missional disciples of Christ out in the world who will be able to repeat the process of discipleship. Experts say that church planting is the No. 1 way to reach unchurched people and make new disciples for Jesus Christ. Church planters are modern-day missionaries to North America.

Are there other ways churches can get involved with planting aside from daughtering a church?

One of the ways we’ve been able to reproduce as a church is to encourage and sponsor and help coach other church planters as they’re planting churches. Planting a church can be a lonely business. Nearly 80 percent of all church plants fail within their first year. One of the primary reasons is a lack of emotional support. Meet with a church planter, pray with him and take him to lunch or coffee. You also can help financially support a church plant. You can help pay a church planter’s salary for a year or partner with other churches in your region or community to plant a new church. You can also join a church planting network and get involved there. If you’re really brave, you can encourage people in your church to be part of a new planter’s launch team or part of the core group when the church launches—basically releasing people on mission. Finally, you can get involved through replanting or church revitalization. Very few churches have the honesty and humility to admit that it’s over and even less have the courage to do what it takes to replant. I tell leaders to pray and ask God if He may be leading you and your church to help a church replant.

You say that one of the contributing factors to the lack of authentic, Gospel-centered discipleship in North America is evangelism at the expense of discipleship. What do you mean by that?

With the rise of the North American modern evangelical movement in the 20th century came an over-emphasis on evangelism at the expense of discipleship. The goal of evangelism is disciple making. When Jesus said, “Make disciples,” the disciples understood it to mean more than simply getting someone to believe in Jesus and they interpreted it to mean that they should make out of others what Jesus made out of them. We need to bring evangelism and discipleship together. They’re really two sides of the same coin. We absolutely have to share our fatih with people but as we do, we’re discipling the people we’re winning to Christ. Christians have viewed discipleship as something they do on one hand and evangelism on the other.

I think that’s another helpful discussion: When does discipleship actually take place?

The discipleship process actually begins even before someone comes to Christ because you’re establishing and building relationships with people–many times, long before they even come to church. We need to rediscover the integration of evangelism and discipleship to fulfill the Great Commission and make 21st century disciples of Christ.

Lindy Lowry serves as Exponential’s editor and communications director. To submit ideas for articles and news coverage in Exponential’s weekly enewsletter, Church Planter Weekly, contact her at editorlindy@gmail.com.