Marks of a Disciple Making Culture: A Core Team

“Making disciples has never been enough for me.”

I thought I’d misheard him. I must have misheard him. I greatly respected this disciple making leader more than twenty years my senior. How could he say disciple making wasn’t enough? After all disciple making is the final command of Jesus, the greatest opportunity we have to impact eternity, and a major piece of how God intends to satiate the desires He’s woven into each of us.  What else could there be?!

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After I stammered out a very sophisticated, “huh?”, he continued, “When I look at Jesus’ life he was never about making individual disciples. He was intentionally creating a movement of disciple makers.”

I’d never looked at it that way, but he was right.

Jesus’ goal wasn’t twelve disciple makers. It was a movement of disciple makers. It was a culture developed among those twelve that would be a catalytic force strong enough to transform everything it touched. It was a big goal and to the amazement of historians and social scientists, it worked.

As I work with pastors and churches in Dayton, Ohio, individual disciple makers aren’t the goal. The goal is a disciple making culture, a movement of disciple makers within a local church. It’s the goal because a disciple making culture will spin outward, casting out disciple makers into all sectors of Dayton’s – neighborhoods, workplaces, and associations. A disciple making culture will impact not only a city, but over time it will impact a region, a country, and eventually the whole world. This isn’t hyperbole, Jesus’ disciples, The Navigators, and other movements have proven it. 

I’ve written previously about how disciple making cultures have God-sized vision, are relationally driven, intentionally focused, and are aimed at the lost, but there’s more; all disciple making cultures have a team of disciple makers at its core.

This probably isn’t a surprise to you. After all Jesus’ core team was the twelve. Paul’s core team was Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. On some level all pastors understand that teaming together is important and lone-ranger Christians are routinely lifted up as an example of what not to be.

Still, most pastors and churches don’t understand what it takes to build a core team or what characteristics such a team possesses. The result is frustration and failure in their quest to build a disciple making culture.

So what does a core team look like in the wild? To function as a powerful disciple making force a core team must be aligned in at least four commitments:

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1.  Members are committed to being a disciple before making disciples. We start with a simple, profound, yet frequently discarded truth, living and growing as a disciple must always precede making disciples. Team members are unwilling to sacrifice their own growth for the work of ministry. They are deeply committed to their own basics and seek to be a model for those they seek to influence. Movements are fueled by the heat emanating from the living sacrifices of those on the team.

2. Members are committed to the mission. Discipleship is a dangerous, rusty word. Disciple making is a bit better, but still most churches assume a common understanding where there’s deep misunderstanding. Disciple making movements aren’t primarily about programming, church growth, or even helping believers grow. The mission of disciple making is to glorify God by making disciples who make other disciples. Just as teaching isn’t the same as learning, communicating the mission isn’t the same as knowing it. Most falter here because clarity is time consuming but the absence of missional clarity leads to both dysfunction and disunity.

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3. Members are committed to each other. I encounter church after church who tell me they have a disciple making team. Yet, after asking a few questions I quickly learn the reality is the church has a few players, but not a team. Others have a group that discuss disciple making, but no real players, let alone a team! A team is different from a group. Teams know who is on the team and who isn’t. Teams work together to accomplish the mission. They encourage and challenge one another. Players on a team are interdependent. Individual players and groups lack the commitment and coordination necessary to build a disciple making movement.

4. Members are committed to a compelling vision. Vision motivates. While a mission defines the what, the vision defines the why. In sports terms, the mission is to score more points or to win the game, but the vision is to become champions. A God-sized vision keeps a team focused on the big why and motivates the team to sacrifice. The vision of disciple making is to make disciples who will make other disciples to reach the nations, so that God’s kingdom will be fully built for His glory. Upon completion, Jesus will return and every tribe, tongue, and nation will gather around the throne praising God together for eternity.

Making individual disciples is difficult. Growing a movement is even harder. Disciple making movements begin when a team is committed to these four things. It’s not easy, there’s tremendous joy in co-laboring with those of like heart. A core team of disciple makers get to be used of God to advance the Gospel into the world…and into eternity. It’s an indescribable experience.

If you’re a pastor or church leader, don’t be content with simply making individual disciple makers. Ask God for one, then for another, and then plead with him for wisdom on how to develop a core team that will give birth to a movement of disciple makers!