Training Disciples - Part 3

What is the church’s typical plan for spiritual formation, and is it working? (part 3)


Randy Pope

President of Life on Life Ministries



In this video, we address the question: what is the typical plan the church is using for spiritual formation? And, why is that plan not working?

That night, as I was in that mountain cabin trying to think through this whole idea of making mature and equipped followers of Christ, I knew we were missing the target. At the same time, as I mentioned, we were seeing our people growing in commitment to Jesus and knowledge of the Word of God. As I look back now, I understand why that is. It’s because we were using what I might call the typical plan used by most churches. I’m convinced more and more, and I could be wrong, but I am convinced that it’s an ineffective plan we have been using for the most part. And it’s what most churches I think are using.

It’s the idea that we would be giving a lot of good, solid biblical directives, and then encouraging our people to believe what they’ve heard about God, who He is, what He has done for us, and what our response to that is, and what we need to do in light of that. So it’s directive and directive and directive with the hope that our people are going to run with what they hear. As important as directives are, I knew that something was wrong with that. Maybe a story will shine a little light on this.

A group of pastors that were pastoring the same time that I was, about my same age, were gathered together. It was after maybe our first 10 years of being pastors. Some of the pastors would now be known nationally by many, at least many of them would be. And some that I respect immensely and have had incredible ministries in terms of touching so many people. I knew that we were all kind of following the same pattern as other times we had gathered together. Once or twice a year, we’d meet from all over the country for two or three days just to talk and interact and learn from each other.

One of the pastors, that most of the country would know, was the one that initiated this gathering. We were at his place in the country, and so he was moderating the gathering. In doing so, we put up down all kinds of things on a board that we would like to talk about. We put up all the different subject matters up, and then this leader would take them, organize them, and put them in an order that he would like to address. Then, one at a time, we would take them and talk about them. He would just speak briefly to it, his thoughts to kind of prime the pump, get everything going, and then we would all jump in on the subject matter. Well, when it came to me, what do I want to talk about, this is where I was living, this idea of spiritual formation. And I’ll never forget. I put forward the topic of how do you today help people go to strong spiritual formation?

Well, he went away. He put them in order and when he came back, I found it interesting that the last of maybe 30 or 40 questions was my question. And so, it made me wonder, will we even get to my question? Well, we did, but it was in the last 20 or so minutes of the three-day period. We did get to it. And when we did, this is how this pastor introduced it. He said, “I guess you notice that I have put this question as the last question. There’s a reason, because on all the others, I think I’ve had something to say about it, but this one, I don’t know what to say. In fact, how in this day and age, would you help people in strong spiritual formation?”

Wow. When he said that, he then followed it by saying, you know, “If you can get people to come to worship on a weekly basis and you can get them to share their faith with other people, and get them to serve someone else or just volunteer—if you can get people to do those things today in this culture, I consider that a pretty big win.”

Then he said this, “How many of you guys around the table there (must’ve been 15 of us all about the same age. And I would say at that time, probably in our early fifties) how many of you guys, when you were coming along spiritually had somebody in your life that was kind of like a coach or a mentor or whatever. Somebody who would kind of push you when you needed to be pushed and pulled you when you needed to be pulled and hugged you when you needed to be hugged and gave you some instruction. How many of you had somebody very significant like that in your life?”

Do you know, every one of us raised our hand? Every one of us. And then he looked at us and he said, “How would you do that in church today?”

Big question.

Well, that’s what we want to address in the next video. But one other story may help prepare us for that. As I have gone out to pastor’s conferences, I’ve done this exercise many times. I’ll say as I’m introducing the subject matter, “Let’s talk about spiritual formation in our churches.” And I’d say, “Let me just ask you to write down the five best offerings that you have in your church that help people in their spiritual formation. Just write them down.”

And so, we take a minute of quiet, and everybody writes down their five. They include their sermons, Sunday school, seminars, small groups, or whatever they may have. They put their list together. Then I introduced the idea of mature and equipped followers of Christ. And I say, “Let’s do an exercise. So that it’s not my description, I want you people here to help me.” I have a big white board and say, “When you’ve got something you think is a description of the mature and equipped follower of Christ, would you tell us and I’ll put it up. And so I’ll work on that until we get enough.” And I say, “So let’s take away this one. This is saying the same thing.” And so on, until finally we’ve come up with a fairly good description. That’s not exactly the description that I have, but it’s, in my opinion, a good description.

And then I say this, “Now I’d like for you to pull out your list of five offerings, and I want you to ask this question: With what you offer, do you see that there is a large minority, doesn’t have to be majority, but a large minority of people that meet your description that you’ve just come up with collectively. Do you think that your people are hitting that description? If you do, I will rejoice, but I’d like to know, honestly, what do you think? Raise your hand, if you think in some significant way your people are truly being described like that. Raise your hand.”

And you know what? I may not see a single hand go up, and it tells me this. We as pastors know that as we would describe what a mature and equipped follower of Christ is and ask ourselves this: In our church, is what we’re doing really taking people there? And there are many pastors that might say, “Yes, it is.” But I’m just saying, those that I’m addressing and meeting with seem to agree with me that the typical plan is just not working.

So, with that, there’s good news. And the good news is that there is a workable plan, and that plan can be expressed a lot of different ways. In fact, it’s really nothing novel. It’s as old as the New Testament. In fact, it was modeled by Jesus.

So, in our next video, we’ll try to tackle the big question. And that is, what is that plan for making mature and equipped followers of Christ?


If you would rather read this series, you can download the Making and Training disciples booklets here.