I’m the President of Lifeway Mission, based in Nairobi. Kenya. I also serve as Director for New Generations East African region. I’d like to share about the importance of developing discipleship materials. When you make disciples, you need to have content that will help in that process. Many churches and mission organizations have attempted to obey Jesus’ command to “Go make disciples.” But some of these ministries are ineffective at making disciples because they lack fitting materials for making others into Jesus’ disciples. I want us to explore together the process of developing discipleship material that can help us make others into Jesus’ disciples.
I see three stages in developing discipleship material. The first stage is preparation. This stage addresses the things we need to know before we start developing discipleship material. The second stage is organizing our materials into sessions and topics that address the needs of new disciples. The third stage involves developing the content. We will look at principles for developing discipleship material, focusing in on preparation.
Preparation involves four activities that anybody who wants to prepare discipleship material needs to do. First is prayer. A disciple-maker needs to pray for God’s leading in developing materials that fit the new disciples. We need to know the mind of God, the leading of his Spirit. The Spirit will lead us to the best content – the best food we can give a newborn baby. Because a new disciple needs to learn new things. If we can’t pray effectively, we will not know God’s mind and the leading of the Holy Spirit in this area. So the first step is to engage with God in prayer.
Second is getting to know your audience or your target people group. In reaching unreached people groups, we can’t just feed them bowls of solid food when they’re newly coming to saving faith in Jesus. We need to get to know where they are in their spiritual journey. What do they know? What they don’t know? What is their level of education? What is their economic situation? What are their challenges? Are they from a Muslim background or Hindu background? How old are they? We need to know all these things before we start thinking of developing discipleship material. That is why any disciple maker who wants to develop discipleship material needs to understand their audience. I’ve seen too many people taking material from one place or group and thinking it can apply directly to a different group in just the same way. This will not work effectively. For example, we have people who are oral learners and others who have significant education. If you don’t really understand your audience, it will be very difficult to develop effective discipleship material. That’s why the second step in preparation is so important: get to know the audience we are discipling, as individuals and as a group. We need to know them very well.
The third activity is to develop a team that will work on developing the discipleship material. This team has to consist of people who have experience working among the target people group or community: the kind of people you want to disciple. This team can brainstorm, think together, and pray together. They can get to know the details of the focus group. A team is critical to the process because one person sitting alone cannot come up with all the issues that will need to be addressed in the discipleship of this focus people group.
I’ve seen people around the world going online and downloading material that sometimes doesn’t address or even fit a people group’s issues. We can sometimes borrow ideas from other tribes or other people groups, but that doesn’t mean the issues in that tribe are the same issues that this tribe has. That’s why it is critical that this team have knowledge and understanding of this specific people group.
The fourth activity is analysis. This team comes together to look at issues and start analyzing issues they need to address in the discipleship process of this people group. The team will collect information and look at all the issues and challenges the focus group has. What are their world view issues that the Scriptures need to address? What beliefs do they have that the discipleship process needs to work on?
That is how you can choose your topics and sessions in the discipleship material. If you are not able to collect and analyze information about the beliefs and practices of the people group, you will come up with something you think fits them, but it may not. Many discipleship materials being used today do not address either the spiritual needs or the physical needs of the people groups. That is why we need to have a team of people who can analyze and develop the topics needing to be addressed for each tribe or people group. These activities are important in this first step of preparing yourself to develop discipleship material. You don’t need to rush into this. The more time you take, the more you will understand the needs of this people group. This will enable the development of materials effective for making disciples of Jesus within their own context.