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The 2013 Exponential conference is underway. This year, Exponential expects more than 5,000 church planting leaders to come together in Orlando, April 22-25. The conference will focus on the theme DiscipleShift—five shifts we can make to become better at making and releasing disciples. All 15 of the Main Session speakers will explore in-depth what it means to be a disciple and how we can continue to grow and get better at engaging people with the mission of Jesus. Each of the sessions will focus on one of these five shifts. Recently, Exponential released an article tackling each shift in-depth. Based on the insights of Exponential President Dave Ferguson, who also leads NewThing and Community Christian Church and Real Life Ministries  Founder Jim Putman–who in his upcoming new book DiscipleShift, has identified these shifts–the Exponential gathering will again be packed with an abundance of “aha” learnings for planters. Check out the shortened version below. (To read the full thing, go here). Shift 1: From Reaching to Making The first of these five paradigm shifts moves churches from defining ourselves by what we do to what we actually accomplish, Putman says. “We need to shift our focus from reaching people with the Gospel in an effort to convert them, to making disciples.” The end goal is not that a person “accepts Christ” or prays a prayer or comes to church but rather that he grows spiritually, becoming more like Christ. Making this shift requires us to agree on the definition of what a mature disciple is who Ferguson says is “apprenticing in the ways of Jesus.” “As humans we know what a mature person ends up looking like and doing. What does a mature disciple look like then?” Putman asks, adding that often church leaders don’t define if for their people, which in turn gives each person carte blanch to come up with his or her own definition. “This is a real problem if we are going to be a team that works together to complete the mission of Christ. We need to ask the question together as a body. If that definition doesn’t end up looking like one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus, then we have a definition with holes in it.” Shift 2: From Teaching to Modeling This second shift involves an inward look at how transparency and genuine discipleship is produced and modeled from the top down. This shift calls for leaders to change their focus from preaching/teaching (informing) to modeling and coaching (equipping). Too many church leaders today equate discipleship with imparting knowledge. This shift to coaching emphasizes the ministry of “equipping” (based on Eph. 4:11-13). Instead of primarily viewing themselves as a CEO, or even a teacher, senior pastors view themselves as a player-coach who equips (or coaches) others for ministry to ultimately grow the Kingdom. Putman points out that Jesus discipled people in relationship, not in preaching to thousands of people. ‘I used to be a teacher and coach,” he says. “Teachers know that the larger the classroom, the more you’re forced to lecture and the less learning. Why is it that every good teacher would hate what every pastor thinks they want?” Ferguson agrees, adding that the job of leadership is not to just get up on Sunday and talk about following Jesus. “I have to be apprenticed in the ways of Jesus and bring people alongside me and apprentice them in the same way. That’s how you get people who are on mission.” Shift 3: From Attending to Participating This third shift challenges leaders to shift their mindset from discipleship as a program in their church that people attend to discipleship as the center and purpose of everything the church is and does, Putman explains, adding that leaders must let people know that discipleship is dependent on participating in the endless process of following Christ. Ferguson simplifies things: “We start to transition our thinking from discipleship as a class or program we attend on the weekend or one night a week, to something every believer actively participates in Monday through Sunday.” Shift 4: From Connecting to Transforming This shift is a call for churches to move their paradigms from activity-based to relationship-based. Beyond just classes and sermons, discipleship must be based on friendship and time together. To cultivate the kind of disciples Jesus did, we have to shift our paradigm from activity and surface connections to deep, accountable relationships. Putman also refers to this shift as the “alignment” piece: Everything in a church must be shifted to divert the focus from activity and align it with relationships (for discipleship). A church’s primary mission is always discipleship, cultivated in a relationship-driven environment. The end goal of this shift, he says, is to create relational spaces, like Jesus did, where people help each other to trust and follow Him. Ferguson adds, “It’s not enough to be in a holy huddle. I’ve had long conversations about the fact that it’s not enough to get people into a small group. A small group community was designed to also implement and live out the mission of Jesus.” Shift 5: From Attracting to Deploying The final shift helps churches define, articulate and implement a new scorecard for success that celebrates and places more emphasis on the release of an army of ministers and priests into a lost and hurting world than on how many people we attract. Putman offers a list of telling questions for church leaders: What is success to me? What is success to our leaders? How did they learn that definition? What are we celebrating? What do people in our churches aspire to? “If we’re honest, we know we’re celebrating many of the wrong things,” he says. “Or we’re celebrating just some of the right things so our people are aspiring to, especially our young leaders, a church with thousands of people. I’m all for numbers of converts, but those aren’t the right numbers alone. We should be counting and asking the question, how many disciples have I made who can make disciples without me? “I love how Rob Wegner [pastor of life mission for Granger Community Church] talks about mission for Granger,” Ferguson says. “They want to be seen as an airport. Nobody goes to an airport to hang out there; you come to an airport because you’re going someplace. That’s how our churches should be, too. We’re not just attracting people to hold you here. We’re sending you somewhere because God’s on the move and He’s sending you somewhere.” Missional people + Multiplying churches = Missional movement The collective impact of each of these paradigm shifts leads to developing people who are on mission, a key factor in the church as movement, say both leaders. Ferguson explains why discipleship is integral to a reproducing movement of disciples by offering a simple equation: Missional people + Multiplying churches = Missional movement. How church leaders get every person engaged with and excited about living out Jesus’ mission is at the crux of the discipleship conversation that Exponential is championing and helping to shape. “Biblically, discipleship is a non-negotiable part of Christ’s mission,” Putman asserts. “In Christ’s teaching, as well as throughout the epistles, we are consistently instructed to proclaim, baptize and teach—all toward the end of making lifelong, die-hard disciples of Jesus Christ who obey His commands. This type of discipleship needs to become the filter for everything we do in church. This year, Exponential is April 22-25. If you’re thinking about or planning to attend the conference, the deadline is coming up to get the best rate possible–$99 registrant/$49 spouse. After Sept. 7, the rate goes up. So you might want to register in the next week or so. To register, go here.
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