I had a text message a couple of weeks ago from one of our guys who’s been walking with the Lord for a few decades. It seemed that he felt it right to give me a run down on the Church service that he’d been at as I wasn’t there. The text message read: “Really good this morning with Ash and Kerry, they have a definite anointing and especially for releasing peace in the midst of troubled waters.” I felt particularly good that day to know that we had made way for someone to move in their gifting and anointing.

At Ignite Church our vision is “that none should perish”. Taken from Peter’s letter to the early Church I couldn’t think of any other ultimate goal that I see from Jesus. Our main strategy to seeing this fulfilled has been to pioneer new Churches in as many communities as we can so that our net can be wide. Over the years we’ve found that across our Church communities there’s always numerical growth somewhere.

As you know however, the number of disciples isn’t the only thing to consider when we are contemplating making disciples. The quality of our disciples is also really important too. So how does pioneering new Church communities help to produce better disciples?

First of all, I guess that we should discuss what a disciple is and how one might be better than another. A disciple is essentially an apprentice. They are being trained how to do what the mentor does. I guess one of the questions we should ask ourselves is who the mentor is. I’d suggest three options: (1) Jesus, we are all apprentices to Jesus; (2) The Church leader, this makes a lot of sense as most Church leaders are trying their best to make disciples; (3) Individual congregation members.

We should also ask what is the end goal of the apprentice? Maybe I’m a little sceptical but sometimes it seems that Church leaders are really keen to make disciples but they’re not so keen to take on apprentices. What I mean is that having a big Church with lots of bums on seats really scratches the itch of our insecurity regarding success, but a proper apprentice will at some point want our job or a job like ours which certainly won’t help my mental health if I’m feeling anxious about my position and believe it to be linked with how many people are sitting in my pews.

I’m only a young minister and I’ve come to realise that success is reaching heaven with a pat on the back and a crown that I can give back to the one I love, and the most successful way for me to succeed in winning another soul next week is to release a few more apprentices into communities where they might reach one more. My hope is that one day there will be hundreds of little Darrens doing stupid things for Jesus in hundreds of communities around the UK, and maybe the world, and I’ll be adding hundreds of souls to my tally from afar. When Ash led a guy to Jesus the other month, I celebrated with him because it was my fruit as well as his.

So, what makes a better disciple? I’d say that my Bible doesn’t highlight that Jesus attended Church every week, or that he was a good tither. It literally never says that he sat patiently listening to the preaching of another seasoned preacher week in week out. Neither do I do those things as a Church leader. So, I have no idea why we’d expect that stuff to be at the top of the list of qualities for a good apprentice. Surely a better apprentice would do the things that I do, that Jesus does. Surely my job as a disciple-maker or mentor is to raise up people to preach or to lead the Church, maybe even to take my job. To be fair, if I don’t raise someone up to take my job all my hard work in building up a Church with Jesus will go to waste. We’ll have to send all of those people that I’ve gathered, to join my club, off to other Churches that have succeeded in raising up apprentices.

I think a better disciple is one who has had the lid raised on their opportunities. In a huge congregation the majority of people sit there with no aspiration at all for being more like Jesus or the preacher. Those that do have aspirations tend to aspire to be a small group leader or in the worship choir. If we were working on percentages, I’d say that a very small percentage of people, maybe even 1% might aspire to lead a Church of their own. To actually finish their apprenticeship.

Our Churches are very small. Between 15 and 30. Our youth Church has a core of about 15 young people, and some of them are finishing school or entering college. One of the most exciting things for me as the mentor for those young people is that at least 3 of them have approached me about leading their own Church. One of them is taking things very seriously and comes in every Monday for a couple of hours of one-to-one mentoring. Two of them have talked about studying theology for under graduate degrees, and another has asked about becoming a kids Pastor. That’s like 20% or more in that little Church who know that I’m keen for them to complete their apprenticeship with me and move into doing what I do.

It’s the same across our Churches too. I’ve had two single parents who only got baptised this summer, from our Birchwood Church, quizzing me about studying at our Bible College. When we lift the lid on discipleship and allow people the chance to complete their apprenticeship, more people are willing to invest their aspirational thoughts into the Church, but we need an open door too which can only come from pioneering new Church communities.

If the question is: what is a better disciple? The answer is an apprentice with the space to succeed in becoming the same as their mentor.

If the question is: How do we do that? The answer is either step down when they’re ready to take over or pioneer a new Church community, and it has been my experience that when we declare the open door to a full apprenticeship more people tend to want to walk through it.