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Synergy: Riverside's Discipleship DNA


We understand that the gospel is not just a starting point for discipleship, but must be central to all of the discipleship process.  We continually emphasize the truths of the gospel throughout the process. 


We recognize that the majority of the world is considered to be 'oral communicators;' that is, people who can’t, don’t, or won’t take in new information or communicate by literate means.  Stories are the most effective way to communicate to oral learners. Jesus was the master story teller!  He primarily spoke through stories to convey truth.  At Riverside, people tell their stories, they listen to the stories of others, and they discuss stories from the Bible.


We agree that we already know more than we practice.  Jesus said that if we love Him, we will obey Him (John 3:36, 14:15).  We stress obedience more than knowledge.  We encourage our disciplers not to move forward until practical application is demonstrated.


Jesus discipled effectively in the context of relationships.  He ate with, traveled with, and knew intimately His disciples.  The truths of the gospel, it has been said, are "more caught than taught" in the context of relationships. We stress the importance of "doing life" together in our discipleship relationships.  This guards against large informal classroom settings, which are not as effective in producing disciples who make disciples.  We agree that the most effective level of discipleship occurs in one-to-one relationships.  The next level would be one-to-five, then small groups of 15 or less, and lastly, through a worship service.  Here's a short excerpt from Jim Putman's book,  “Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches that Make Disciples”: "discipleship requires real teaching and real learning. It requires conversation, modeling, encouragement, debriefing, and practice, all of which need to happen in the context of relationship. Without relationship between believers, there is no model to follow, no authenticity, no accountability, no application, and no support for the journey. These things come through personal contact. And because of that relationship, each person is invested in specifically. This cannot happen in the worship service."


We expect much of those in whom are being invested.  We stress reproduction. Paul wrote to Timothy, "and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 2:2)  In this verse, we see four generations of discipleship: Paul to Timothy to faithful men to others.  As soon as someone learns something, they are expected to obey and teach someone else.  We encourage disciples to immediately disciple others as they learn and obey. 


We desire to move the spiritual infants to adolescence and adulthood - from dependent and immature to independent and spiritually mature.  We stress the basics as primary:

  • Intimacy with God - we stress the truth that God brings us into His family and we experience a love relationship with Him.  We teach new believers how to have a daily personal time of worship that builds this relationship
  • Bible - we teach new believers how to read, hear, study, memorize, meditate, and apply the Bible.
  • Prayer - we model and teach new believers how to pray effectively.
  • Evangelism - we train new believers to share their faith immediately and clearly with those who are not yet believers.
  • Sanctification - the process by which we are made more and more like Christ.  We teach new believers about sin, repentance, confession, forgiving others, the role of the Holy Spirit, assurances, and other aspects of progressively becoming more like Jesus.


We view everyone who progresses in obedience and maturity as a potential leader.  We attempt to train everyone, and those who "do" - "are"; those who "do not" - "are not."  When we look around, we should be able to envision future missionaries, evangelists, pastors, church planters, elders, deacons, and ministry leaders.


As people grow and share and share and form groups, rather than allowing them to grow large and bottleneck with a few leaders, instead we encourage them to start new groups with new people.  New leaders should stay in existing groups (learning group) while starting the new group (leading group).  Getting on the job training, but staying connected to their learning group and mentor/disciple.


Disciples who make disciples who make disciples are not an accident!  These fruit bearing believers must engage in an intentional and strategice disciple-making process.  We see this intentionality in the ministry of Jesus.

Here's a great excerpt from Jim Putman’s, “Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches that Make Disciples”: "It’s the job and privilege of every Christian to be a disciple of Jesus, and it's the responsibility of every church to make disciples. I also believe that the word tells us that it is the job of every pastor to develop a system that will equip and enable all of the people in the church to be in the relational process for discipleship. The simpler, more deliberate, and more intentional that process, the less time wasted.  I believe that Jesus was the greatest disciple-maker in history. As I study His approach, I see three keys to His success: 1. Jesus was an intentional leader in every sense. 2. He did His disciple-making in a relational environment. 3. He followed a process that can be learned and repeated.  In other words, "An intentional leader + relational environment + reproducible process = infinite number of disciples."  

"Great coaches do not leave the process to chance—they are intentional—and as a result, they develop winning programs. Jesus was intentional. when I look at Him, I see the greatest coach in history. He understood that His role was to develop players who could play, but more importantly coach. Jesus intentionally prepared His followers to go and make disciples. when Jesus returned to His heavenly Father, the disciples knew He had shown them what to be and how to accomplish what He wanted them to do. They were amazingly successful in reproducing an effective, fast-growing church."

In order to do this effectively, we need to do what an intentional coach would do:

Know the game

When I speak of intentional disciple-makers understanding the rules of the game, I mean they understand the basics of how this world works: where it came from, what will happen to it and to us in the end, and who we fight against. They know the goal or this life, the Christian's responsibility in it, the purpose of their family and the team (the church), the proper use of the rule book (the Bible), and so on. Intentional disciple-makers must understand these things for themselves, and then they must teach them to future players. They must strive to develop a biblical worldview and then teach others to have the same.

Evaluate the players

Time and proximity (like parenting) allows us to know our people and accurately assess where they are spiritually.  (more on assessment and evaluation below)

Create a relational environment for individual growth

(We have discussed the relational aspect above)


When we evaluate where a person is spiritually, we are NOT speaking about value!  Every person is valuable and loved at Riverside!  We are simply speaking to usefulness and readiness.  There are two tools we use to assess the spiritual level of maturity:

The first tool is from Jim Putman’s, “Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches that Make Disciples”It includes five distinct stages of spiritual growth. We listen for a "phrase from the stage" to help us discern where a person may be spiritually.  Here are the 5 stages in Putman's own words:

Stage 1: In the first stage, a person is spiritually dead, meaning that he or she has not been born again. This stage is characterized by the word unbelief.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:1 that we were all dead in our trespasses and sins. Without Christ, we are separated from God, who is life, so when we are separated from Him, we will eventually die a physical death. But this is not all. Without Christ, we are dead spiritually as well. Revelation 20:14 speaks of the second death, which will be experienced by all who enter eternity without receiving Christ.  

Born Again: When we accept the good news—salvation through Christ—we are saved. At the moment of salvation, we are born again (see John 3:3-5). The Holy Spirit moves in, and we start the process of growth as a spiritual man or woman. Yes, we will still die physically (until Jesus returns), but we will not experience eternal separation from God.  

Stage 2: Every new Christian starts out as a spiritual infant. As new believers, they are excited and eager to learn. They know something has changed, and they may even experience a spiritual high, which is great. Their unsaved friends often notice the difference, and infants are quick to announce their new faith to all who will listen. However, in many ways they tend to make messes. They are oblivious to what this new world is all about. They are characterized by the word ignorance. They might know many things, but they are ignorant of the rules in their new spiritual life.  

Stage 3: As they grow, spiritual infants move into the spiritual child stage of development. At this point, they understand the basic language of faith. They can be excited about their faith. and in many ways they are innocent and cute. However, they still act childishly and are often rebellious and self-centered in many ways. Spiritual children tend to do what they should only when they are rewarded or threatened with some kind of punishment. They may do the right thing, but it's usually to avoid an outcome they dislike or to get something they want.  

Stage 4: As spiritual children grow up, they mature into the spiritual young adult stage. At this stage, they have grown tremendously from where they started. They are eager to serve, think independently, and look much like adults; however, they still have much to learn about responsibility and about how to care for the spiritual needs of others. They are zealous for God and can be characterized as being “God focused" and “other-centered.” They are becoming intentional or strategic about sharing their faith and will see people converted, but they are not yet able to reproduce disciples who can make disciples. They serve intentionally but don’t make disciples intentionally. They want their independence, and in some cases they should have it, but they need continued coaching/parenting.

Stage 5: In the final stage of spiritual development. We become spiritually mature enough to reproduce disciples —we become spiritual parents. I am purposely using the term parent here rather than adult. As Christians we are called to make disciples—to do our part to reproduce our faith in another, Adults are able to reproduce but that does not mean they are reproducing. I know many Christians who have the ability to be spiritual parents but don't make it a priority. Though they would like to call themselves mature, I would say that they are not. Why? Because they have not prioritized their lives around the mission or Christ, which is to make disciples. Just as the human race continues because we physically reproduce, so Christianity continues on this planet because Christians spiritually reproduce or make disciples.

Note: I want to emphasize that assessment is not a way of designating one believer as more valuable than another. It's very important that disciple-makers and disciples understand the difference between value and usefulness. While a mature Christian is more useful to the purpose or the Lord and the church than a spiritual infant or child, he or she is not more valuable.

Riverside Assessment Tool: in addition to Putman's tool, we also employ a simple rating tool based on 17 categories.  The scale is 1-5: 1= NO, 2= doubtful/not likely, 3= possibly/maybe, 4= likely, 5= YES.  Here is a brief explanation about the categories:

Christian - are they a believer?

Natural Leader - do they demonstrate natural leadership ability anywhere in their life?

Spiritual Leader - are they leading spiritually anywhere? (family, small group, children's ministry, etc)

Committed - do they demonstrate commitment to conviction, to Riverside, to Christian principles, etc?

Giving - are they giving to Riverside?

Serving - are they or have they served in the past consistently?

Attender - are they committed to regularly attending Riverside?  a small group?  connection services? events?

Small Group - do they attend a small group?  do they lead?  participate? consistent?  is biblical fellowship important to them?  men's, women's, community groups, youth, etc.

Successful - are they successful in life, business, family, career, finances, etc.?

Discipling - are they investing in others intentionally?

Potential - does this person have potential to grow into leadership and maturity?

Character - is this person honest, hard working, have integrity, trustworthy, deceitful, etc?

Maturity - is this person childish, immature, irresponsible or do they demonstrate a level of maturity in life (hold a job, pay bills, dependable, etc)

Available - could you schedule a meeting today?  are they hard to get in touch with?  hard to meet with on a regular basis?  over-scheduled?

Teachable - do they respond to instruction?  or do they already "know it all"?

Passive or Active - passive = 1, active = 5.  in family, in marriage, in church, community, career, etc.

Assessment/Stage - this is from the Putman discipleship book - 1=spiritually dead, 2=infant (ignorance), 3=child (self-centeredness), 4=young adult (service, God-centeredness, other-centeredness), 5=parent (intentional, reproducing, strategic, mature)



Well, that's a long blog post that summarizes what we desire to see in every discipling relationship at Riverside.  The best way to absorb this information would be in a discipling relationship.  We also review this material at Synergy meetings, which happen at least once a quarter.

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