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3 Ways to not Become A Team Without Athletes

Small Town USA

Small Town USA

Our partnership exists to help church planters and churches effectively plant new churches in small towns. When we think about “doing the stuff,” we think about participating in kingdom work in rural America. Two of our goals are to (1) strategically work together to effectively plant healthy churches in small town USA and (2) equip, empower, and resource church planters heading into rural communities.
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You’ve probably been watching an NFL game and heard one of the announcers comment about one of the teams, “there just aren’t enough athletes for that team to win”.  Amazing! So much has gone into making the team – millions of dollars on a stadium, a large payroll, a whole coaching staff, jumbo trons, TV contracts, glitzy logos and jerseys, and yet someone forgot the most important thing – to get some athletes who can compete at a high level.

A few weeks ago I was at a gathering of pastors from our town. We were bemoaning the current state of the church in general when one of the pastors said ‘its like we’ve created a team but we have no athletes’. Amazing! We’ve spend millions on church buildings, have staff on payroll, big screens, sound systems, great logos and t-shirts, and yet someone forgot the most important things – to make disciples who can make disciples.

DiscipleshipThis obviously was not what Jesus had in mind when He created the first church ‘team’. He made statements promising championships going as far to say that the gates of Hades itself couldn’t stop the Church. And yet time and time again we find church teams who simply don’t have enough disciples to win. Why is that?

Here are 3 ways to Become a Church with Disciples

1. Focus on making disciples not services

Bob Logan is fond of saying that we were never called to plant churches but we were called to make disciples. He makes the case that if you make enough disciples then you’ll automatically have a church. But the opposite isn’t true. You can make a church, even a church with lots of Saturday and Sunday services, but you won’t automatically have disciples.

If you want to be a team without athletes then focus on making services instead of disciples. But if you want to make long term impact and see sustainable life giving personal and community transformation then focus on making disciples. These can’t just be any ol’ disciples. You’ll want to make disciple making disciples. Then the impact becomes exponential and the gates of Hades won’t prevail in your local context.

2. Focus on substance over style

If you want a church without disciples just make sure you have a more well thought out lighting, video, and social media strategy than a discipleship strategy. It’s easy to fall into. I can craft lots of cool things for Sunday. I can make Sundays look better, feel better and see the results THIS Sunday. But discipleship? That’s more of a slow burn. I can’t control the other person nor do I see results on a weekly basis. So I tend to gravitate towards style over substance…to my and my church’s own detriment. If I were to keep on that track then I’d quickly have a team without athletes, a church without disciples.

Focusing on substance means I have to think through how I will make disciples. It starts with pre-conversion, to how I explain the good news of Jesus, and then onto how I will train them to do what Jesus did. Will I use classes, groups, or one on one relationships to disciple people? What material will I use? Will the material and the process be reproducible so they can be a disciple making disciple themselves? These are just some of the questions of substance that must be asked and answered if we’re to become a team with athletes, a church with disciples.

3. Focus on the basics instead of the “Sportscenter moment”

My sons’ best baseball coach was my brother-in-law Bob who coached their peanut team. Peanut ball is a coach pitch league for 5 through 8 year olds. With the advent of Sportscenter and video games kids come in ready to make the highlight reels. For the first couple of days of practice they came ready to impress the coach with their homerun swing (modeled after their favorite player) or show off how far they can throw. Bob would begin every year the same way – throwing and catching with some base running fun at the end. He did this for 3 weeks. The kids didn’t even start to hit until they got the throwing and catching fundamentals down. Why? Because Bob knew little league games are won and lost not on number of home runs hit but on number of errors committed. When he finally did get around to teaching the kids how to hit he didn’t let them swing for the fences. Much to the kids dismay he had them hit off the t. “Hey this isn’t t-ball. That’s for little kids” they’d exclaim. Bob simply explained how major leaguers, all the ones they were trying to mimic, spent hours hitting off the t in order to get their form right.

A team with athletes, a church with disciples, will train folks in the basics: how to say no to sin, how to share Christ with their friends, how to read the Bible, how to do the works of Jesus, how to disciple others, and how to have an ongoing conversational prayer life with God. Once Jesus sent out His team and they got cranked about their Sportscenter moment of casting out demons. He told them to rejoice in the basics – they belonged to God and He saw fit to share these hidden basic things to them. These 72 disciples had their Sportscenter moment because their Master Teacher had them well schooled in the basics.

Earlier this year (2014) the New England Patriots were written off after a week 4 embarrassing loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. I heard several announcers and sports talk show hosts spout off “this is a team without athletes”. The pundits gave up on them – they shouldn’t known better. This past week they rattled off their sixth straight win. A no name back went from practice squad in mid-October to setting NFL records in mid-November. How could this happen? Coach Bill Belichick has widely been praised of having a system that his players buy into to the point they don’t care who gets the credit nor even where they play. He’ll teach a lineman or line backer to catch a pass and a receiver how to play corner on defense. How? He is intentional in his methods, he focuses on substance, on the basics, and on making better athletes and not just resting on his laurels. He has decided he’s not satisfied with just having a team. He wants a winning team, a championship team and that requires having athletes. And if the Patriots General Manager can’t go out and hire athletes then Bill takes it upon himself to train the ones he has to do what he needs them to do in order to win.

This is what the church has been called to do – to make disciple making disciples. Make enough of those and we’ll not only have a church but one that wins at personal and community transformation.

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About the author
Joel Seymour is beloved child of God, the husband of Kristi, the father of 3 great kids, and the lead pastor of the Lancaster Vineyard. Although Lancaster is a mid-sized town, his first church plant was in a town of 5,000. He serves on the team of the Small Town Vineyard Partnership and as an Area Leader for Vineyard USA. His particular Area is mainly comprised of villages, small towns, and rural areas. He can be reached through Twitter @JoelSeymour or via email [email protected]

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