KEEP IT SIMPLE : Developing a Discipleship Pathway


The’s number 1 Business Book of 2016 was, KEEP IT SIMPLE: Unclutter Your Mind to Uncomplicate Your Life written by Joe Calloway. The book challenges us to resist the temptation to overcomplicate things and to boil things down to the essence of what matters most. It confronts our natural almost unnoticed tendency to drift towards complexity or away from the purpose for which we exist. It takes some continued resolve to keep it simple and focused.

Calloway’s advice is to boil things down to three simple rules, like the large national trucking company that reduced things to three simple rules:

  • Pick it up when you said you would.
  • Deliver it when you said you would.
  • Deliver it intact and all there.

Or there is the successful drive-in restaurant that has clarified its purpose with these simple rules:

  • Give customers the freshest, high quality foods they can buy.
  • Provide meals with friendly service.
  • Serve in a comfortable, sparkling clean environment.

Sir Peter Blake led Team New Zealand to successive victories in the America’s Cup yacht competition in 1995 and 2000. The key to this success was that Blake focussed the team on one question, which they asked about everything they did: “Will it make the boat go faster?” Similarly, the British eight man rowing team in the 2000 Sydney Olympics adopted the same strategy of: “Will it make the boat go faster?” and it drove them to change everything about their strategy and daily activities. They credit the gold medal to this singular focus.

In 2006 Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger wrote a book called, SIMPLE CHURCH : Returning to God’s Process For Making Disciples. They conclude, “Simple is in. Complexity is out. Out of style at least. Ironically people are hungry for simple because the world has become much more complex.” In their extensive research of more than four hundred evangelical churches, they discovered the simple church revolution. They concluded that, “in general, simple churches are growing and vibrant. Churches with a simple process for reaching and maturing people are expanding the kingdom…….. Conversely, complex churches are struggling and anaemic. Churches without a process or with a complicated process for making disciples are floundering……… Unfortunately, the over programmed and busy church is the norm. The simple church is the exception, yet our research shows that should not be the case.”

Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger in SIMPLE CHURCH present a few helpful definitions that describe keys to becoming a disciple making church.

  1. A SIMPLE CHURCH is a congregation designed around a straight forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.
  2. CLARITY is the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people. Clarity precedes commitment.
  3. MOVEMENT is the sequential steps in the process that causes people to move to greater areas of commitment. Movement is what happens between the programs and is what causes a person to get to the next step.
  4. ALIGNMENT is the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process. Alignment assures that everyone is moving in the same direction. Without alignment, complexity and drift will occur.
  5. FOCUS is the commitment to ABANDON EVERYTHING that falls outside of the simple ministry process. If you aim at nothing, you are sure to hit it.

In an article called HOW TO IMPLEMENT A DISCIPLESHIP PROCESS FOR A HEALTHY CHURCH, Brandon Cox suggests there are two significant weaknesses common to struggling churches.

  • They have never discovered or clarified the Biblical purposes for which they were founded.
  • They have never clarified or provided a basic strategy for making disciples.

He continued, “Healthy purpose driven churches have made these two issues very core to their existence. They understand that discipleship happens best through an INTENTIONAL PROCESS.”
One recent report regarding churches in Australia concluded that it takes 60 Christians one year to reach one person for Jesus Christ. Less than 5% of churches are growing by conversion growth. These figures should concern us and challenge us to review the way we are doing church, particularly when we will ultimately give an account to the Lord regarding the clear purpose He has entrusted us to do. “So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due to them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade people……  For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”     2 Corinthians 9-11, 14.

The following questions provide a foundation upon which we can proceed to develop a Discipleship Pathway, to keep the main thing the main thing.

It is not our church. we are not free to do whatever we would like to do. It is Jesus’ church. He is the owner. He said, “I will build MY church……..” Matthew 16:18

“……… go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded you to do.” Matthew 28:19-20. We are to use all the resources available to us, people, finances and properties, to help make disciples. These resources are Jesus’ resources and are to be used for His purposes.

We can develop a “straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.” This is to be our servant and not our master and is to be continually reviewed in order that it is helping a church to maximise its potential to make disciples.


  • It helps us to be intentional and focussed on the goal that has been entrusted to us and avoids the danger of drift and complexity.
  • It helps us to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us. One of the reasons why we can sometimes lack resources is that we are using some of them for the wrong purpose.
  • It prevents us from confusing busyness with effectiveness.
  • It helps us to review how we are making progress with that which has been entrusted to us.
  • It helps us to see that it is not what we do, but what we do with what we do.
  • It keeps the main thing the main thing.
  • It helps us not to assume that just because we tell people what to do, that they will do it. We are to do more than tell people, we are to equip people.
  • It guards against ministries becoming traditions and programs passing their used by date, or justifying what we are doing because “we’ve always done it that way.”
  • It keeps everyone on the same page and helps everyone learn the game plan and the reason for which we exist.
  • It helps to prevent good things getting in the way of the best things.

We start with the end in mind. We first of all need to develop a picture of what a mature disciple looks like. I had the leader of a five year old Sunday school class draw up a profile of what a discipled five year old would look like after spending a year in her department. She had twenty eight characteristics of a five year old disciple and everything she did contributed to these goals. Consequently, she was focussed and intentional in developing her program whilst at the same time sensitive to the issues that were going on in each child’s life. Another leader I have been working with has developed a Discipleship Pathway in a jail where he works as a chaplain (see annexure A). He starts out by leading people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and they then start a series of discipleship Bible studies and on their release from jail they are then assigned to a mentor who will meet with them weekly for a year and integrate the person they are mentoring into the life of his church.

The effectiveness of developing a discipleship pathway will largely rise or fall on those in leadership. Leaders need to be able to model to their followers what a disciple will look like because followers ultimately become like their leaders. Followers never usually rise to a level above that of their leaders. Therefore people are promoted to levels of leadership not because of their years of service,             their titles or even their qualifications. They are promoted to levels of leadership based on their growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Leaders will be responsible for equipping the saints for the work of the ministry and their growth in Christlikeness.

In the book SIMPLE CHURCH, two types of pastors were identified; the Programmer and the Designer. The Programmer runs programs for the sake of programs (terminal thinking), whereas the Designer creates a process that provides opportunities for spiritual growth that is focussed on the end result (relational thinking). The Programmer believes that more is better, the Designer has grown to understand that less is more. The Designer creates a pathway which contains opportunities for spiritual growth with each step of the pathway.
Some examples of Discipleship Pathways are:

(1)  LOVE (community)
(2) GROW (seekers)
(3)  SERVE (believers)
(4)  LEAD  (followers)    

(1)  WIN
(2)  BUILD
(3)  MINISTRY and
(4)  MULTIPLY LEADERSHIP                                                                                                          


(2)   THRIVE

The activities of the church are then listed under one or more of these Discipleship Pathway steps.

New Zealand won successive America’s Cup yachting competitions by focussing on the question, “Will it make the boat go faster?” The British rowing team won the rowing eights in the 2000 Olympics by focussing on the question, “Will it make the boat go faster?” The early church penetrated the world in which they lived by focussing on the great commission of Jesus. May we in the church of the twenty first century capture the challenge and excitement of making disciples as did the church of the first century. “Jesus life was ordered by His objective. Everything He did and said was part of the whole pattern. It had significance because it contributed to the ultimate purpose of His life in redeeming the world for God. This was the motivating vision concerning His behaviour. His steps were ordered by it. Mark it well. Not for one moment did Jesus lose sight of His goal.”       Robert Coleman   Master Plan of Evangelism

And neither should we !  


Annexure A


What does a disciple of Jesus look like?

  • Increasingly displaying the fruit of the Spirit/growing in maturity.
  • Has a hunger for the Word and makes prayer a priority
  • Loves the church, and is accountable to it. Increasingly understanding hi/her gifts and is actively using them.
  • Always looking for what the Father is doing and making him/herself available.
  • Is reproducing (making disciples).

3 Step Discipleship Pathway at the ………………… jail.

(A)  Before Christ

  1. Identify those inmates whose hearts are genuinely hungry for God.
  2. Lead them to a commitment to follow Jesus and make sure they understand what that means.

(B)  Inmates who have come to Christ.  (Not necessarily in this order)

  1. Pass on a Bible and a copy of “Word For Today” devotional (has yearly Bible reading plan) and teach how to use both.

4. Teach them to SOAP journal and develop a simple prayer life.

5. Share about identity in Christ. Significance and security

6. Encourage them to understand the importance of fellowship with other inmates   and attendance at chapel on Sunday mornings.

7. Encourage entry to “Crossroads” Bible correspondence Course (designed for longer term prisoners)

8. Teach on growing as a believer (abiding in Christ)

9. Teach on sharing your faith (write out a simple testimony)

10. Discuss plan for release. Linking up with a local church and the “Prisoner Release Program”. Clearly a need to carefully match a local church and a mentor with the inmate concerned.

(C) After Prison (Prison Release Program

Focus : The PRP is an intentional discipleship based ministry  directed at Christian ex prisoners, who are intentionally embraced by the local church using a relational mentoring model.

Specific Goals : (1) Assisting ex offenders to make a successful transition back into the community. (2) Creating an environment of acceptance and nourishment.
(3) Committing to the care of the whole person (physically, emotionally. mentally).
(4) Faith and character development.