How Our Understanding of Discipleship Impacts our Ministry


As I look at the landscape of the church today. I wonder if due to our declining numbers we have shifted our discipleship practices to respond more out of fear and less out of a sense of mission. Have our discipleship methods created more silos because we are returning to the increasingly less Christian culture around us? Instead, should we be viewing discipleship more as an opportunity to equip followers for the challenges of this unconnected to God culture? The German Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred at the hands of the Nazis once said, “the Church is the church only when it exists for others” what he meant was for outsiders.

Silo Thinking

In one of my former congregations sometime in the fall was time for the pastor to trick and guilt (00ps I mean encourage them to take on this opportunity to serve our Lord on our various dysfunctional boards and committees) members into filling positions of leadership in the church. I remember one time when I had decided gain some history as to how things had been done in the past, thinking that maybe there was a method that proved useful. My research uncovered a troubling bit of information when I inquired of my then 80-year-old Financial Secretary how he got the opportunity to serve. He described a sad, but I would discover a recurring tale of woe. The current Financial Secretary went on vacation and asked him to cover for him while he was gone, but the guy never returned. So this poor fellow had been stuck with this job for over 20-years. Me being who I am said to him so, “I guess you haven’t been able to trick anyone else into taking your place, eh?” This congregation was in the Rust Belt and upper a Midwestern culture.

To be honest, I fell into this trap of trying to get people into God’s Word to show them how they are called to serve in our congregation’s current congregational needs only. I fell into silo thinking. Silo thinking caused me to spend most of my time trying to keep the current institution alive and functioning.  Our ministry had become far too internally focused on our thoughts and practice. It made sense at the time we only had 54 in worship and were on District welfare. We needed to change our focus. We were creating silos and part-time low commitment disciples. We thought that asking for a higher level of engagement would only drive people away. We were not equipping the saints to share their faith, and the congregation suffered.

Silo thinking produces part-time disciples, and part-time disciples are:

  • More concerned with what people think. Gal. 1:10
  • More concerned with their public image. Gal 2:6-9
  • More concerned about bringing people into the church.

lightstock_788_small_byrene_haneyA significant shift took place in how we equipped our members for ministry. Our members spend only a few hours in church, but the majority of their other time trying to navigate the hard realities of the world that was becoming less and less Christ-centered. The challenge for us became how do we prepare them for being sent every single week into an ever increasingly hostile mission field. The answer was shifting to a sending mindset. Allow me to share this story, once my congregation made from silos to disciple-making, God blessed us with an increase in membership from 54 to 74 in worship in 18-months.

Sending Thinking produces disciples who are:

  • Concerned with what God thinks. Gal. 1:10
  • Worried about their private devotion. Rom 12:1-2
  • Concerned with the Glory of God. Rom 10:14-16

How Does Jesus Defined Discipleship in Luke 14:25-35

Jesus stated, at least, four critical elements for becoming His disciple:

  1. Jesus talked about the priority of a relationship with Him.
  • If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26).
    • A question to ask your leadership in response to this is: How do we grow in our love for Christ so that it becomes passionate? I don’t define passionate as solely an emotional response. I define passion as what is that ministry or cause of Christ’s that will tug at your heartstrings and moves you to let that tug of faith cause you to act.

2. Jesus discussed having the right purpose.

  • Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:27).
    • A way to evaluate this in your local congregation is by asking this question: In what specific ways could you use faith stories and parables to help the church feel the tension of being off-course and too internally focused?

3. Jesus told prospective disciples that their commitment must be long-term.

  • Christian discipleship addresses every dimension of life. It is concerned not only with doing the right thing in every circumstance but also with doing the right thing for the right reason.
    • “Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together, to remain faithful to the gospel.” Phil. 1:27
  • Christian discipleship is a work of grace. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms life, not someone who tries to be good. The term, disciplined grace describes this process. While God changes, a believer’s spiritual practice creates the transforming environment in which the Holy Spirit works
    • “But stay away from the godless myths that are passed down from the older women. Train yourself for a holy life! 8 While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has the promise for this life now and the life to come.” 1 Tim. 4: 7-8.

4. Jesus stated that the disciples must be willing to practice generosity.

  • Christian discipleship was intended by Christ to be reproductive. Those who follow Jesus’ life and teaching will be prepared to share their faith experiences eagerly and to invest themselves in the spiritual nurture of others with their time, talents and treasures.
    • “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. “A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles.” Acts 2:42-43

We can look at the challenges of this age and try and circle the wagons and hide away until Jesus returns, but is that the mission Jesus gave us to do? I am reminded of the message Jesus gave a frightened bunch of disciples hiding in an upper room. He appeared to them and said, Peace be with you and then this interaction. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”  Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22. It is about equipping our people to be sent with the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the mission of God is a world that at times is hostile to the Truth.

More in this series:


Community Outreach

How to Connect with the Vulnerable Among​ Us



When my ministry began in Milwaukee our Christian day school was just embarking on a new chapter in our educational adventure.  Seven years before my arrival on the scene the state of Wisconsin passed the school choice bill.  School choice was: “Pioneering educational freedom: The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was created in 1990 to provide educational freedom and choice to low-income parents in Milwaukee who did not have the financial means to send their children to private schools.  Grassroots growth: as the first school choice program in the nation, Milwaukee is a pioneer in educational reform. Beginning with seven schools and 300 students, the program reached its 15,000-student enrollment cap in 2005. Bipartisan legislation begun with a grassroots effort increased the enrollment cap to 22,500 and introduced standardized testing and accreditation requirements for schools.”[1]


Sounds like a great program, right?  Who would not want equal educational opportunities to all families? School choice was not without its detractors and even its abusers.  However, the greatest threat to our church was the attitude of the families whose kids attended the school before.  These were not bad people nor unchristian people.  The concern became one of safety.  All of a sudden, we were adding a foreign element into our once small, contained, safe school environment.  Our Lutheran trained teachers were not used to the kind of developmental issues we were suddenly facing, nor the discipline issues.  One by one we lost more and more tuition-paying customers replacing them with school voucher students.  We got all kinds of reasons for why they were pulling their kids out but, in the end, the culture and environment changed. It was no longer as safe.

The importance of a safe environment.


I covered this issue in a previous post but want to revisit the safety issue.  It is the number one issue for parents.  For those current parents and for future prospective ones as well.

The Barna research says,” A safe environment is the most essential feature when choosing a school for parents of both current (98% essential) and perspective (94%) Christian school students. Safety can mean anything from a toxin-free building or a padded playground to bullying prevention. However, it can also include “cultural safety,” such as feeling safe to ask questions or express doubt, learning to work through differences or a general sense of belonging and respect.[2]


With our new students, we struggled to regain our footing when it came to safety for our current parents.  For the prospective parents, our school was a huge upgrade over their previous public school situation.  But that issue of safety was one we continued to work on improving.

The Mission is coming to our Front door.

In August of 2017 Illinois made history with the passage of a Tax Credit Scholarship (TCS) program. This law which passed with both houses of the legislature under Democratic control has enacted an educational choice program. The law has the highest scholarship funding cap ($100 million) of any first-time TCS program.

Empower Illinois is based on a simple notion: every child has just one chance to get a great K-12 education; there are no do-overs. We seek to empower community members to assist parents to choose the best school for their child.

We support access to great public and private schools and educational opportunities. [3]

The question is how do we make use of the opportunity God has placed at the front doors of our churches engaged in Christian day school ministry?  One thing we need to do is overcome our fears.  Our fears can lead us to miss the opportunity to see these families as a threat to our need for safety vs seeing them as families who share a common goal, they too want to give their children every opportunity to grow and develop in a safe and loving environment.  Our schools offer that kind of safe, loving, and nurturing environment that after all is why we chose them.  Imagine seeing this as a mission opportunity to reach people and families that normally could never afford to take advantage of what you have worked so hard to build.  You have the opportunity to be salt and light those in need of grace and love.

This is our calling! 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45, NIV).

A bit of context here. What does the phrase “least of these” mean? It is often mistranslated.  It does not mean that these poor souls are of less value than others.  Jesus is not promoting some hierarchy of worth as far as human values are concerned.  He does not lift the wealthy and self-sufficient to the top, while the poor or the materially and financially dependent are at the bottom of the totem pole.

The phrase “least of these” is better translated as “however humble” (New English Bible). The least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus are those persons who are vulnerable. They are the socially, psychologically, or economically disadvantaged, such as the sick, the poor, the mentally and physically disabled. Jesus cares about the needs of the poor. As God brings the poor, the parents in need to our doors, Jesus says, “Whatever you do the humble among you, do you it for me.”  How you will make use of the opportunities God is placing at the doorsteps of your school?


[1] https://www.chooseyourschoolwi.org/history/

[2] https://www.barna.com/research/parents-look-christian-schools/

[3] http://nidlcms.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Empower-Illinois-Overview.pdf

Shifting Sunday School Models

Four Modern Sunday School Strategies


Since my first post went viral on, “Have Sunday Schools Lost their Missional focus?”  My readers have been clamoring for the follow-up post.  Two observations struck me regarding Sunday School ministry.  Some followers recognize that Sunday Schools may have run their course.  Many who felt that way understand that the numbers of involved families required to sustain the structure are not showing up in our parishes.  Many readers offered several observations to account for this lack of interest.  Several believed the content of our Sunday School curricula are not applicable to the shifting culture our parents are facing.  Other readers think we need to stay the course and push harder to make Sunday School meaningful again.  While still others are lamenting we are still talking about this issue.  Then there are those who blame parents for not taking their parental duties seriously and taking their children to Sunday School.

In my research on this topic, I have run across four primary strategies to family ministry.  Notice at this point we are leaving the term Sunday School and shifting to family ministry.  I am doing this understanding that many don’t offer a traditional Sunday School program anymore.  You can take these insights and apply them however to your Sunday School program.

To challenge your rationale today we will explore four different family ministry models, and their distinctions and their similarities within the local church.

The first thing to point out for this discussion is that family ministry is an emerging term in modern churches.   What is a family ministry and how do you use it effectively to minister to parents, youth, and children?  So, let’s dive into the four models.


Model 1: Integrated Family-Friendly Model.

This model does not separate children in different age groups.  Instead, families are in an atmosphere where they are encouraged to worship, study, and grow together. Parents are called to disciple their children.   The church is friendly to the needs and desires of the family. By bringing all generations together, you don’t add to the already chaotic schedule of families.  By limiting the activities, the demand on the family is reduced. Families do things together.

For example, a family picnic or a family retreat. Events bring the church together as one big Christian family. This model puts the emphasis on creating a fun environment for families.  The purpose is to draw families and parents outside of their regular daily lives and provide a break from their busyness and crazy schedules to play and laugh with their children.  One caution in this first model, where is the opportunity for discipleship? My guess is your goal is to build relationships with those families and integrate them into the life of the church.

Model 2: Family-Based

The second model is a family-based. This model appeals to the smaller congregations.  The smaller church tends to operate more as the family system already. In this setting, the foundation of the church is the family unit.  What is gone is the age appropriate classrooms or Sunday school divisions.   Everyone is together and functions as a family. The teaching emphasis is entirely intergenerational, and the whole church experiences spiritual formation together.

Model 3: Family-Sympathetic

The third model is a family-sympathetic model.  The church is very aware of the complexities of today’s families. One revelation of urban ministry and now nearly every community is that there are many different family structures and needs.  The breakdown of the family has led to dysfunctions within our households in the 21st century.  The church has an opportunity to take on the role of assisting these complicated new family systems to become spiritually healthy.

This ministry will be challenging because ministering to those needs will take on different forms than those of our traditional ministry models. You may find your church starting ministries such as divorce recovery and not just for the parents but also for the children. Or a 12-step recovery program for people and families struggling with addictions. Many will have financial classes like Peace University to help people to become financially healthy and better stewards with their money.

If your church has a passion for guiding people through life’s treacherous highway, this is the model for you.  The church comes alongside, counsels, guides, encourages and supports families where they are in life while being an advocate to bring spiritual, mental, and family health.

Model 4: Family-Equipping 

And the final model is the family-equipping model.   This is the model where families and parents are empowered to be the spiritual leaders in their home. You might say this goes back to the model that our spiritual forefathers championed, where the primary people responsible for teaching their children the faith were their parents.  In this model, there may be different age groups on Sunday and they may worship separately from their parents.  The primary focused is on equipping and encouraging parents to take leadership roles in their children’s spiritual development. While there are still opportunities to have fun and there are activities and programs of the other three models, this one is focused on parents becoming equipped to be disciple-makers of their children.

The pastor’s role in this model is to guide, encourage, train, and equip these parents as they take on the role of primary spiritual leader.

In conclusion, I know I have given you a lot to process and think about here.  It is my goal to get the brain juices flowing so that we can truly reclaim the church’s impact on this generation of families.  Let’s keep the conversation going.  Feel free to share with those seeking to join the conversation.  Stay tuned, more to come next week.


The first post on the topic: