Most of the churches receive both good and bad marks from God—an indication that behavior and church life is complicated. But one church—Laodicea—is completely wrong in their self-assessment. To the church in Laodicea, God says, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
Of course, the big difference between this assessment by God, and our ability to assess our local churches, is that God has all the information needed for a completely accurate measurement, while our knowledge and resources are limited. But given our limitations, what should we measure or know in order to assess our local churches as accurately as possible?
One of the best known discipleship assessment tools may be Rick Warren’s baseball diamond diagram.1 By using this baseball analogy, Pastor Warren tracks the discipleship process from a seeker starting in the batter’s box, then getting to first base (commitment to church membership), then moving on to second base (commitment to maturity through Bible reading, prayer, and spiritual growth), then running to third base (commitment to ministry within the church), and finally sprinting to home plate (commitment to mission and evangelizing others). Each commitment builds on the previous one(s). None of the earlier commitments expire, once a person reaches the next one. At each base, the disciple is asked to sign a written covenant, which demonstrates their commitment and makes it possible to track their progress through the discipleship process.
Pastor Warren’s baseball diamond isn’t the only method that can be used to produce disciples,2 but it does illustrate a few essentials necessary for making and measuring Christlike disciples:
- A definition or description of what a disciple looks like (commitment to membership, commitment to maturity, commitment to ministry, and commitment to mission).
- A series of achievable goals and a way to measure achieving those goals (a series of classes and signed covenants).
- An easy-to-communicate process that is understood by current and potential disciples (the baseball diamond illustration).
How would you define or describe what it means to be a Christlike disciple?
So, how would you define or describe what it means to be a Christlike disciple? Does your definition include beliefs, practices, personal qualities, and/or attitudes? Having been a Nazarene for some time now, I would include holy living in my definition of Christlikeness, but as a sociologist, I have to ask myself how I would operationalize holy living. Defining what discipleship looks like will be the most difficult part of establishing a discipleship process within your local church. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the root word “disciple” as a noun and “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.” However, being a disciple feels a lot more like a verb to me.
Perhaps the best Scriptural description of being a disciple is found in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus instructs his disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Go, baptize, teach, and obey all seem action-oriented to me. However, the best part of being a Christlike disciple is the promise of Christ to participate with us in our actions: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
A central ingredient for making disciples is relationships: relationships with both God and the people of God.
A central ingredient for making disciples is relationships: relationships with both God and the people of God. When Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin, they took note of a relationship. Acts 4:13 says, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” People new to the church will only grow in their relationship to God if they have positive relationships with the people of God. Running around Pastor Warren’s baseball diamond has the effect of creating relationships. Can you identify ways in your congregation that new people can enter into relationships with other new people or with existing members? Can you think of new ways to create relationships within your church and to the community?
Relationships take time. Sometimes it’s the person being discipled who doesn’t want to put in the time necessary to develop as a disciple—they may not want to spend time in daily Bible reading or participating in a weekly small group, prayer meeting, or service project. But all too often it’s the church that doesn’t invest in the development of relationships. We don’t take the time to develop new groups and leaders, so that it is easier for new people to participate. (Sociological principle: The longer a group has been together, the more tightly knit the group becomes, making it more difficult for new— unknown—people to enter the group. The solution isn’t to dismantle existing groups; it’s to create new groups).
We don’t take the time to connect with the community around the church. As Yogi Berra once said, “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours”3 (I’m sure there’s a sociological principle in there somewhere). We don’t take the time to communicate how much time it takes to be a Christlike disciple. However, if your church has a definition or description of what a disciple is and the process you are using to make disciples, communication becomes much easier.
Many pastors and churches do seem to be interested in taking the time necessary to penetrate their community. A recent ANSR Poll survey4 included an open-ended question asking, “What information do you think should be reported that is not now included in the annual pastor’s report?” Here are just a few responses:
[Ask about] what is being done outside of church to impact the world. How many Christians are being discipled, not just marked on the attendance roster?
The report should be less statistic focused and more ministry focused. Focus on what the church is doing to enter into its community, not just to get more people in the doors.
I would like to see us include some type of rating from the pastor to signify how he views the church—or how the Board views it—in terms of spiritual vitality, openness to outsiders, and other indicators to track the true health of the church.
How is your church and pastoral ministry improving the quality of life in your church’s neighborhood?
While it may be difficult for the General Church to develop a universal question that precisely measures qualitative ministry, the APR does try to get a consistent set of measurements at various stages of the discipleship process: the number of members, the number of attendees, and the number in small groups. But the local church must develop its own measures, based on its definition of Christlike discipleship and effective ministry. If your church has developed a definition of discipleship and a plan for making disciples, please consider sharing what you are doing with your peers. How do you define or describe discipleship in your local church? How do you communicate your church’s discipleship process? What do you count or measure to know if what you are doing is bearing fruit? In what ways are you seeing God at work in your church’s discipleship process? We look forward to hearing about it.
1. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 144.
2. See also D. Michael Henderson’s books, A Model for Making Disciples: John Wesley’s Class Meeting (Nappanee, IN: Evangel Publishing House, 2005), and The Ladder of Faithfulness (Longwood, FL: Xulon Press, 2009).
3. See online: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/y/yogi_berra.html.
4. Fall 2010 ANSR Poll conducted by Research Services, Church of the Nazarene Global Ministry Center. ANSR is an acronym for the Association of Nazarene Sociologists and Researchers, the sponsor organization of the ANSR Poll. Some results from the Fall 2010 ANSR Poll were presented in a paper titled “What Pastors & Laity Say We Should Measure and Why” by Richard Houseal to the Annual Meeting of ANSR in April, 2011.