How Do You Measure Discipleship?

by New Church Starts

 by Philip Brooks Path 1 NCS Assistant

"The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2008, p. 87


I wonder if the General Conference knew what they were doing when they decided to express the mission of the church in these terms. As anyone will tell you, we Methodists are known for being very “methodical”, which among other things means we like numbers. We love to set goals we can measure and strive for tangible results. We like things to be simple and easy to understand. We are only human, after all. But you’ll never see a chart titled, “Number of Disciples Created Over [insert number of years]”. Making disciples is the most important and central mission of the church. It is also impossible to measure in this way.

We can measure the number of new members, number of professions of faith, the percentages of apportionments paid, the number of new churches started, the number of incoming clergy candidates, number of laypersons who took part in a foreign mission during a given year, etc. All of these things suggest that we are making disciples and earnestly doing the work of the church, but we’re only reading the signs, looking at the clues disciples leave behind. Maybe this is all we can do. We read the signs and we have faith.

We can’t take a poll or do a study in order to find disciples. Instead we have to look at the opportunities for disciples to reveal themselves. The literal definition of disciple is “one who follows.” In the case of Christianity it means one who follows who Jesus, trusting him as savior and looking to him as teacher. For Wesley this meant following three simple rules to the best of our ability:

1. Do no harm

2. Do as much good as possible

3. Follow all the ordinances of God

The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church-2008, pp. 73-74 (Adapted)

These are the barebones essence of discipleship and all of these require ongoing practice. You don’t apply for a license, pass a seminary course, pay a membership fee, or do a certain number of service hours in order to be a disciple. This is so different from the ways we define occupations today that depend on degrees, licenses, or official documents saying we’re qualified for a profession. Being a disciple means you’re always a follower and never a professional. We can't take a count of disciples, but we always know them when see them in action praying daily, serving faithfully, loving deeply, and acting boldly. They don't stand up to be counted, but they stand when it counts.

So when asking a new church to tell us about their progress in disciple-making, we won’t get membership roles or records. What we will hear are stories about how people feel they belong at the church and have gone from seeing church as a spectator sport to seeing it as a life of service. We’ll hear about communities being transformed as members are living out the Gospel among their neighbors and those neighbors become aware that there is a God that loves them unconditionally always. We’ll hear about visitors shocked by the amount of love they were shown the first time they walked through the church doors. We'll hear about small groups inspiring their members to reach higher and reminding them God still We’ll hear about lay and clergy members being called to bold and new ministries.

It’s stories rather than numbers that will tell us how we’re doing in our mission to make disciples, and if you ask me, stories are a lot more exciting. What’s your story?