4 Steps (& 4 Resources) that Transform Churches | By Darrell Stetler II


Pastors of thriving churches understand the importance of spiritual maturity. They prioritize discipleship ministry, which includes in-depth Bible study, outreach to the community, and Christian evangelism.

Years ago, I went swimming on a beach for the first time. I grabbed a body board and decided to try to bodysurf some waves. I had no idea what to do, but I went in expecting a great time anyway. As I entered the water, the surf was up, and I was as well…for a few seconds. But before I could get stable on the board, I got hit by a wave, and slammed to the sand. What felt like most of the Atlantic jetted into my sinuses, and I scrambled to my feet spewing and sputtering. But a few seconds later, I looked up just in time to see the next wave that knocked me down.

Every church leader knows that our mission from Jesus himself is to make disciples. But let’s be honest: It’s easy to spend a lot of time distracted by “shadow missions” and overwhelmed by busywork.

For the first 10 years of my pastoral ministry, my relationship with discipleship was essentially bodysurfing waves of busy-ness. I’d try to get a clear discipleship plan established, only to get knocked down by a wave of church overwhelm, or family responsibilities.

Maybe you can relate to this:

I didn’t have time to create a good discipleship strategy, but I definitely had time to feel guilty about it.

Usually, it would be late at night, while I was trying to get my mind to shut down and allow me to sleep. That’s when all the things I wasn’t doing well would come back and purchase prime real estate in my mind.

The problem? My discipleship plan was always the same: I was winging it. I was trusting in my teaching gifts and my Bible knowledge and theological education. I made a few disciples, but I couldn’t make a discipleship system that multiplied.

Starting a few years ago, my mindset on discipleship began to change.

I realized the best discipleship plan is only possible when it’s backed up by the disciple-making mindset.

There are four keys to making the mindset shift to a disciple-making mindset.

1. Realize discipleship is the main thing.

I start here because a lot of pastors think there are 100 things they must do.

There are not. There is only one thing you must do.

Maintenance is important. Administration is important. But you can have a mowed lawn, and manicured shrubs, and not be making disciples — and that’s called failure.

Marketing is important, sure. But to gather a crowd, and not make disciples is failure.

I’m not making this up. Discipleship is the main point of the Great Commission.

Matthew 28:19 says: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The words “go…baptizing…teaching” are all participles, which are subordinate to the main verb. The main verb here? “Make disciples!”

When my wife and I got married, we rented a church in a nearby town. After the ceremony, over the exit where the bridal party walked out, someone had placed a large banner that read, “Goin’ Out to Do the Main Thing.” It was unrelated to our wedding, but our friends thought it was simply hilarious.

I have no idea what that church thought the “Main Thing” was. But here’s something all church leaders should remember.

The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing.

And the Main Thing is discipleship.

2. Realize the potential, even when you start small.

If you’re going to care about discipleship, you’re going to have to decide not to despise small numbers.

Let’s imagine: What if you started with 1 person, discipled them for 1 year and equipped them to make 1 disciple the next year? What if each person you discipled had only 1 mission: to make 1 disciple every year?

Discipleship Visual

I was introduced to this concept by Leroy Eims’ book “The Lost Art of Disciple-Making.” I still remember reading this, and it blew my mind. If you just succeeded at making 1 disciple per year, who each made 1 disciple per year, do you know how many years would it take to reach the entire world, all 8 billion people?

35 years.

So, let’s not get too frustrated with small numbers when we start in discipleship. Remember, Jesus spent 3.5 years with 12 guys, and he had that God thing going for him.

3. Realize your church may not get it right now.

I know, churches don’t always appreciate change, and they don’t always see the vision right away. And that’s OK. You can move forward anyway.

One of the most impactful statements I’ve ever heard is one that I learned from Seth Godin’s book, Poke the Box. Here it is:

“Don’t wait for someone to pick you. Pick yourself.”

Jesus didn’t wait for your church board to give you permission, he gave you a Great Commission.

Sure, I’d encourage you to

⦁ Present discipleship to your church board 

⦁ Preach to your congregation the importance of discipleship 

⦁ Ask your governing board for a budget line for discipleship

But don’t wait for permission to start discipling your 1st or 2nd or 3rd disciple! Pick yourself!

4. Realize the solution to your disciple-making problem is not always spiritual, it's structural.

Sometimes, Christians are bad about assuming that the solution to every problem is only spiritual. We assume that if we pray harder, God will do all the work and zap everyone around us with holy, disciple-making feelings.

Clearly, prayer is important. But I’ve found that solution is not always “pray harder.” The reason you’re struggling with making disciples might be structural instead of spiritual.

It may be more about structure: putting resources toward discipleship.

“I don’t have resources.”

Sure, you do! Here are 4 types of resources you have:

⦁ Time

It might be only 10 minutes per day. But you have at least some time. If you don’t, then we’ve definitely found a structural problem you can fix. You’ll have to lengthen your “to-don’t” list and stop doing something to find at least 10 minutes per day.


Your ability to focus the powers of your mind on a task is a huge resource. Many people never think of it, and they soak up all the latent power of their mind on secondary things, and never focus it on the main mission of disciple-making.

⦁ Money

Your ministry probably has at least some money. It might be only $10/week. But you have some. Find a way to leverage that resource. And, if you simply don’t have it, or don’t have access to it, then put the other 3 resources listed here toward disciple-making, and eventually, you’ll have finances to put toward the mission as well.

⦁ Influence

There is someone who listens to you and counts your opinion as weighty. Start with that person and invite them along.

Action steps:

⦁ Pray that God will help you develop a disciple-making mindset. 

⦁ Devote 10 minutes per day to discipleship thinking & actions. (Pro Tip: Set an alarm on your phone.)

⦁ Schedule to preach about the importance of discipleship and ask the Lord to give you 1 person who was interested in knowing more. Then, invite anyone who is interested to join you for lunch. (As good as an altar call!)  


If you are interested in discipling new Christians, download a free copy of the NewStart Discipleship Journal or take Darrell Stetler’s free training on how to make a discipleship plan. This article originally appeared here.

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