Discipleship Checklists: Which Way Do We Need To Head?

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In their book, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath share a fascinating story about Dr. Peter Pronovost, who developed the holy grail of “checklists” in the medical community. Patients in ICU units have intravenous lines put in to deliver medications. Pronovost observed that when lines are not properly established, nasty health complications resulted in infected lines. This was tragic because all of this is preventable. By introducing an easy five-step checklist before inserting the lines, Pronovost revolutionized ICU treatments. Over an 18-month period, Michigan ICU units nearly eliminated line infections, saving hospitals an estimated $175 million dollars, and in the long run saving about 1,500 lives. The Heath brothers’ assessment of this story is simple:  Checklists can be game changers that save lives.

Whatever your primary discipleship environment is (Sunday school, small group, huddle, etc.), you need to begin to ask: What is your checklist?  If you do not have one, how will you determine if your present environment is healthy and working to its God given capacity to further the kingdom of God? In my present ministry context, our checklist can be defined in what we call three core directions. We want our groups to be moving upward, inward, and outward. These directions have been greatly influenced by Mike Breen’s work found in Building A Discipleship Culture. So why these directions?  These directions guide us to the destination of what it means to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.

Upward

In our quest to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we must consistently direct our lives upward. Everything Jesus did in ministry flowed from His intimate connection with his Father. John’s Gospel tells us “the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:19) Jesus’ upward rhythm with the Father should be our model. Therefore we must we ask ourselves: Is my group developing this same upward rhythm?  Do we allow spiritual disciplines such as prayer, study, worship, etc. to draw us to these two pivotal questions:  “What is Jesus calling me to do?  And what am I doing about it?” When we faithfully walk into those two questions and respond, the kingdom of God naturally advances, and disciple making occurs.

Inward

A small group is an ideal context for our emotional and spiritual health. The early church was a compelling example of this truth: Great investment in a few equals greater kingdom impact.  Jesus had twelve disciples, and these twelve not only impacted one another, but those around them and eventually, the world at large. In particular, the “inward” rhythm of small groups directs us to sincerely invest and care for each member of our group. The inward checklist challenges us all to care for two of the greatest words found in the New Testament over fifty times: “one another.” Do our groups consistently strive to love, accept, serve, encourage, forgive, etc. “one another,” just as Christ has cared for us? We must never forget that our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35).

Outward

A disciple not on mission is an oxymoron. Our identity is as ones who are sent (John 20:21-22). Most of us have heard this call, desire to fulfill it, but often question how to do so. Being in community is key.  As Alan Hirsch states, “the most vigorous forms of community are those that come together in the context of a shared ordeal or those that define themselves as a group with a mission that lies beyond themselves-thus initiating a risky journey.” Every small group has to determine how they are going to proactively and reactively serve those around them. Jordan Elder defines proactive mission “as mission by design,” whereas reactive mission can best be understood as “mission in the moment.” With whom are your groups proactively partnering? Are you partnering with a local missions partner, a school, or neighborhood? Likewise, each group must evaluate how they are reactively responding to the spontaneous needs that arise around them. When groups take seriously the call to proactively and reactively be on mission, the Gospel will fill our lives and be on display (Col 3:16-17).

Take The Time To Check The List!

From both experience and conversation with my small group leaders in the trenches, I often find that most groups are only able to live into 2 out of 3 of these directional rhythms.  When this happens, we are out of balance and will wobble though life according to Breen. So the question should be asked:  Which direction is your group not heading towards, and how can you start moving that way?  Checklists are beneficial because they challenge your group to move in new and unique ways–in ways that breathe new life thorough them! When groups choose to periodically grab the checklist, and intentionally walk in the rhythm of Christ (upward, inward, outward) they will observe life change naturally happening. In the end, they will begin to notice disciples being made. And when this happens, we can easily agree with Dan and Chip Heath’s assessment that checklists can be game changers that save lives!

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