Moses tells the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “The Lord, your God, the Lord is one,” and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”
We know these were the significant guiding values for the people of Israel. It was the centerpiece of their faith, detailing their orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
How would they pass this on to the next generation to ensure fidelity to their faith? Moses goes on in verses seven and eight to say, “Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home, when you are on the road, when you are going to bed, and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
In other words, talk about this all the time in the everyday stuff of life.
Notice, however, that some of these appear to be more “in the moment,” like, when you’re on the road and it comes up. Some of them appear to require a greater degree of intentionality, like having to figure out how you’re going to wear these commands on your hands and your forehead or what font you’re going to use on your doorposts!
You could say some of these are more informal and some of these are more formal.
Jesus doesn’t have one standard way through which he commits to disciplemaking those who follow him.
Fast-forward a few thousand years and you see that Jesus doesn’t have one standard way through which he commits to disciplemaking those who follow him. In places, like Matthew 13, Jesus uses parables to teach the crowds. In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples come to him “along the road” and he begins to teach them. He takes advantage of the moment to communicate to truths about the Kingdom of God. In Luke 21:37, we see Jesus had an intentional rhythm of teaching in the Temple each day and on the Mount of Olives each night. We shouldn’t read too much into this text, but you can imagine that whatever happened in the Temple surely had a greater level of formality than what would have happened in the olive grove.
What about Paul? His early rhythms show us that he went to local synagogues to teach (Acts 14:1), and then sometimes, as in Acts 16, he would find the God-fearers like Lydia on the side of the riverbank and talk to them about the Kingdom – which led to her entire household being baptized. By Acts 19, Paul is in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, teaching daily for two years.
Whether it’s Moses laying down the foundational rhythms in Deuteronomy, Jesus in the middle of his ministry, or Paul during the early years of the church, we see a pattern of informal and formal environments, tools, and methods incorporated into their rhythms of disciplemaking.
Yet, for many of us, our primary experiences related to our formation with Jesus came only in formal environments through the method of condensed and prepared teaching by a trained expert. How replicable is that?
In some ways, we made progress by incorporating in-home small group environments into the conversation. But these were often led by a few “high-capacity leaders.” Ask your community groups pastor how easy it is to find new leaders. Still, we wonder why we’re not seeing a multiplication of disciples.
We didn’t follow the pattern set for us in Scripture. We locked in on one aspect and pointed all our resources in that direction.
Our paradigm must shift, which will be difficult if the weekend teaching continues to be the centerpiece of our faith expression.
If we want to create cultures where the potential for viral disciplemaking becomes a reality, we must consider the tools and environments by which we empower everyday leaders. Our paradigm must shift, which will be difficult if the weekend teaching continues to be the centerpiece of our faith expression.
The Kansas City Underground is a decentralized network of disciplemaking leaders and the microchurches that emerge out of that disciplemaking. Rather than starting from a position where we point people to a weekend experience filled with highly-skilled leaders, we assumed disciplemaking must happen on a continuum of informal moments that lead to formal environments that can be reproduced by all kinds of people with different levels of education and background.
Normal people don’t have an extra 20 hours each week to write a sermon for every situation.
We anticipated that ordinary people would need simple tools at every point on that continuum to aid them. After all, normal people don’t have an extra 20 hours each week to write a sermon for every situation. Furthermore, most of our disciplemaking doesn’t require a 25-minute message. Moses anticipated this when he taught us to incorporate spiritual conversations into all the moments of the day. Jesus demonstrated this when his disciples forgot the bread and he took the moment to let them know that he was the bread of life.
So, what does this look like practically? Here’s the image we use:
As we coach everyday people to be effective disciplemakers, we show them an image like this and encourage them to think about all the potential disciplemaking relationships they have developed. If most of the relationships are low in spiritual interest, we coach toward the informal end of the continuum. That is, how can you use a tool like the 4H Conversations to get to know more of the story of your friends, neighbors, or co-workers? In this tool, you learn more effective ways to be a better listener, learning about the history, hurts, hopes, and heart passions of people.
Or, if there’s a good deal of spiritual interest in one of your networks of relationships, we might coach toward an invitation to a Discovery Bible Study. DBS are simple and reproducible, discovery and obedience-based environments where people learn to hear the voice of God and respond in obedience. As we have tracked disciplemaking movements globally, some form of Discovery Bible Study method has been a primary catalyst in multiplying disciples and leaders.
People usually are not ready to move from highly informal to highly formal too quickly.
Whether it’s a simple conversation on a driveway or a DBS on a lunch break, these tools are found at the informal end of the continuum. Anyone can use them at any time. The more we use tools like this, the greater the potential that we will help new disciples move toward more formal environments. What we’ve discovered in the KC Underground is that people usually are not ready to move from highly informal to highly formal too quickly, however.
This is why we have developed other tools like what you see in the middle of the continuum. Tools like Story Diamond can be explained in five minutes or less, helping new followers of Jesus learn how to understand the framework of Scripture and how to understand their own story within that framework. Tools like Prayer Circles can be explained in a short amount of time, helping new disciples orient their prayer life to look more like Jesus’.
These same tools can also be taught in a longer format in more formal environments. In addition, we’ve developed these tools in such a way that an extended spiritual family (microchurch) could spend six weeks or more doing an in-depth study on the ways Jesus prayed and how we can be more intentional in our own prayer life. Every disciplemaker learns with experience when it’s time to take the tool from a five-minute overview to a six-week deep dive.
As disciples mature, there are moments when we realize we never graduate from Discovery Bible Study, where we discover more of who God is within Scripture and become obedient to him. Rather, there is always room to develop in our journey in more structured and specific ways. This is where the formal environments enter the conversation.
We label this formal end of the continuum intentional disciplemaking environments or IDEs (to learn more about IDEs, visit disciplesmade.com). These environments, which range from four months to a year, are designed to move a disciplemaker toward specific outcomes. For example, in Missionaries Made, we aim to help a leader understand how to live with a greater incarnational presence in a neighborhood or network of relationships. There are training videos, articles, and facilitated discussions, along with specific habits and practices that support a leader in these cohorts. These cohorts, as with everything else we produce, have reproduction built into the process. Once you’ve made the journey through an IDE, you’re qualified to lead someone else.
We want to follow the pattern that has been set for us in Scripture of seeing disciplemaking happen not only in the temple courts, but from house-to-house in the everyday stuff of life.
As a decentralized network with an aim to fill our city with beauty, justice, and the Good News of Jesus, we cannot only commit to formal environments. Doing so would cost too much time and money, and the speed of reproduction would never lead to viral multiplication. We also cannot only commit to informal environments as it would neglect the gift of the teachers and potentially leave new disciples in an infant state.
We also want to follow the pattern that has been set for us in Scripture of seeing disciplemaking happen not only in the temple courts, but from house-to-house in the everyday stuff of life.
As you examine your own disciplemaking rhythms, which way do they lean on the continuum you see above? Are they purely formal? Are they too informal? What are the tools that you might use in these different environments that can be reproduced by another leader? These are the types of questions we must ask if we want to create systems and structures that will lead to multiplication and sustain the types of movement we long to see.
If you’re thinking you want to do a deeper dive into this conversation, check out chapter 18 in The Starfish and The Spirit by Rob Wegner, Lance Ford, and Alan Hirsch. To access a few of the tools mentioned in this article, visit kcunderground.org/toolkit. The KC Underground continues to populate this page with new tools that support disciplemakers along the five phases of the missionary pathway. To explore more about the resurgence of microchurches in the west, visit leadnet.org/microchurch-next.