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It was a very humble admission by a senior pastor. Along with about 200 other leaders, he and I were attending a Spirit-Formed Life Seminar with Jack Hayford.

During one of the breaks, we discussed our reasons for attending the seminar. Though it was 15 years ago, I’ve never forgotten the pastor’s words: “I’ve tried all of the church-growth models out there. I’ve spent years working the angles, but our numbers only moved so far, and then they settled back. Not only that, but I’ve seen the difference in Pastor Jack’s congregation, too. My congregation doesn’t know how to cast out a demon or lay hands on the sick with authority, but the people at The Church On The Way do; I’ve seen them. My focus has been on numbers. I’m here because I’m coming back to my roots and I want to disciple my people.”

What a powerful confession! And a decision like that likely changed hundreds of lives.

We’ve heard it many times, but it bears repeating: Jesus did not send us to build large churches; He sent us to make disciples.

In more recent times, I was sitting with a pastor who leads a church of about 5,000. He seemed to be “in the know” about “what works” and was sharing how his church was going to explode to yet another level. When he finished, I asked him, “How do you disciple people?” Without hesitation he answered, “Small groups.” He continued, sharing how many groups his church had (it was quite a lot) and their creative process for steering people toward groups. Then, I asked him, “What content do you cover in your groups?” And he replied, “Oh, we let group leaders do whatever they want.”

If I had seen even a hint of openness in his heart, I would have shared with that pastor what I am sharing here.

Church-growth-driven ministry models can be very appealing because a dramatic increase of numbers seems to promise rewards. Rewards could be esteem from my congregation, more respect from colleagues, more credibility from local government and community leaders and, yes, higher offerings and personal income. But didn’t Jesus consider all of this when He chose to call people to sacrificial discipleship and commanded us to do the same? Is it possible that we merely call something in our ministry model “discipleship” without actually discipling people? Is it also possible that our preferred ministry model could be “preferred” because of the rewards it promises us as leaders, instead of what it offers our people?

Having been personally transformed and delivered from bondage through Jesus’ simple model of discipleship, I bought into discipling people as my ministry model more than 30 years ago. It boils down to Jesus’ own words: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free'” (John 8:31-32, NKJV). Psalm 1 further clarifies that, if a person cuts off the counsel of the ungodly and instead meditates in God’s Word day and night, he’ll be very fruitful, and whatever he does will prosper.

What would happen if we asked people to reduce their secular entertainment and replace it with high dosages of God’s Word, and they did it? Transformation.

In fact, what would happen if I intentionally made choices such as limiting my own secular entertainment and replaced it with a saturation of God’s Word? Transformation. And, as leaders, our personal transformation affects the lives of everyone we lead.

Prayer Points

  1. Pray that the Lord Jesus will lead you into a new season of personal discipleship.
  2. Pray that He will strengthen you to follow Him however He leads.
  3. Pray that He reveals and/or confirms His chosen ministry model for your ministry.

Share your thoughts. See comments below, and add your own.

is senior pastor of The Rock (Anaheim Foursquare Church) in Anaheim, Calif.