By David Roadcup
I love the pioneering personality. Such a person can blaze new trails and find new horizons in education, business, the arts, and the church. A rare breed, indeed. They should be prized for breaking ground that many others would not attempt.
Micah Odor is one such pioneer. Odor serves as minister of spiritual formation with Whitewater Crossing Christian Church in Cleves, Ohio. A few years ago, he was a student in my seminary class, “Assimilation and Development of Church Members.” I had challenged students to come up with an approach to their ministry that would not only retain and involve believers, but take them to new levels of spiritual development, growth, and service. Odor has now spent five years working to do just that at Whitewater Crossing. He is experiencing an amazing level of success and effectiveness.
Pioneering in the Way of Jesus
By the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, the church’s goal is to make genuine, transformed disciples of Jesus by using the methods of Jesus. This biblical concept is important because our work over the last decades has not achieved this. While we have accomplished many good things, we are not accomplishing our ultimate goal. If what we have been doing is not working, we must look for new approaches . . . or actually to really old ones.
It’s time for a pioneering experience in our movement! It is time for leaders, paid staff, elders, and committed lay people to cultivate an openness to biblical approaches that may seem new to us. Here is an overview of what Micah Odor is leading; it’s simple, but not easy:
• In year one, Odor met with eight people to read the New Testament—one reading a day for 10 months.
• After 10 months, several from the first group began leading small groups themselves, resulting in approximately 30 people participating in the second round of groups.
• In the third year, approximately 60 people were in groups.
• In year four, 85 people participated in and completed the experience.
• The goal for fall 2019 is 120 people in groups!
A Rebirth of Biblical Disciple-Making in Our Generation
The exponential aspect of this kind of ministry—staff and lay people leading believers to spiritual transformation—is mind blowing!
Odor shared the process:
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Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make disciples. I’ve preached, taught, and burned a lot of midnight oil putting together small-group materials. I’ve done everything you’d expect a “discipleship” guy to do. And at the end of that time, I had some great sermon recordings, some really good class notes, and a lot of small-group curriculum. But you know what I didn’t have a lot of? I didn’t have a lot of disciples.
We’ve looked at a lot of disciple-making curricula, and the painful truth we’ve come to believe is that they don’t work. Curricula don’t make disciples. As Mike Mack is fond of saying, “Only disciples make disciples.” If a church is waiting for that one can’t-miss curriculum that will solve their disciple-making woes, they’re going to be waiting forever.
Think about it this way: If what we needed most was a curriculum, Jesus could have written that and distributed it. But he intentionally poured his life into a few who would go on and disciple others, who would disciple others on down the line. In 2 Timothy 2:2, we see that Paul’s vision of disciple-making involves (at least) 4 generations.
This fall at Whitewater Crossing, we’ll be starting our fifth generation of disciple-making groups. . . . They’re by invitation only, offered silently alongside our more publicly visible small groups. They run for about a school year, plus a second year of coaching as the members of our groups start leading their own groups. Laymen leading laymen. Jesus was able to disciple twelve, but we find that when groups get larger than four to six, then our replication rate actually goes down, not up.
Finally, we don’t have a curriculum in the normal sense (there are no blanks to fill in or books other than the Bible to buy). We have found that having some rails to run on gives our disciple-makers confidence and replicability. We think the approach we’re taking is working. Here’s what we’re doing that might be useful to other elders, church staff, and lay disciple-makers:
We start with Scripture. We say, “If you want to recognize the voice of God, you need to spend time in the Word of God.” Our lives are our curriculum, brought into focus by Scripture. We use a page-a-day plan that takes believers through the entire New Testament in 30 weeks. But we’re not reading for information, we’re reading for relationship. Every week we look back on the previous week’s reading, and in our weekly meeting [we] answer the question, “What was God saying to me through the pages of Scripture this week?”
We reflect in community. Jesus was constantly pushing beneath the surface of his disciples’ lives to get at the roots of their faith. We begin every meeting with a time of silent reflection as we look for God’s activity in our lives and try to align with what he’s already doing.
We train with tools. For years I talked about “equipping the saints” but never realized my people weren’t actually “equipped” to do the specific tasks they’d be faced with. In our groups we teach a series of conceptual tools for both the internal and external work of ministry.
This work is very old because it is the method Jesus used. It is also new because churches have not been using it. If churches today are not creating disciples, we must either change or add to what we are doing!
I would not refer to the method Micah Odor is using as “rocket science.” It has been used for millennia. This powerful approach is simply experiencing a rebirth in our generation.
May I ask two questions? (1) If your church continues down the path it presently is on, where will it be in 10 years? (2) If your church incorporates these “new” old methods of discipleship, what will it look like in 10 years?
The latter scenario is exciting to think about.
David Roadcup is cofounder and outreach director for e2: effective elders. He also serves as professor of discipleship and global outreach representative with TCM International Institute. He is also on the board of directors of Christian Arabic Services.