Understanding Today’s Missional Landscape Part 1

By Shannon Youell

When we start thinking more missionally, there is a lot of hard work involved! We must relearn what it means to be missionaries in our own culture and contexts. It may seem strange to suggest that we don’t understand our own culture and contexts, but that is often the case since we all approach life through a lens of embedded views through which we see, discern and make sense of the world. Many churches in the evangelical world still view the world around them through the lens of Christendom, a worldview that suggests everyone has some understanding of God, church, and the story of Jesus. But that is no longer the case in the Western World.

Therefore we are deeply appreciative of folk like Dr. Joel Thiessen and the many sociologists, missiologists, researchers and scholars who continue to study, analyze and give us current perspectives on how our society shapes itself and the influences around them.

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New Leaf Network/Forge Canada Event on May 29 in Surrey, BC.

Recently New Leaf Network in partnership with CBWC (in Victoria) and Forge Canada (in Surrey) presented a collated conversation on the growing front of Nones and Dones in Canada (Nones being those who have had no church experience and would tick “no religious affiliation” on their census forms, and Dones being those who had some church experience but still choose to tick that same box). Joel was one of the presenters and has very important things to say to the church.

Read his blog below on our Contemporary Missional Landscape in Canada.  This are crucial conversations for us as churches to be engaging in as we wrestle with what it means to be faithfully present to the world around us.


 

The Contemporary Missional Landscape

By Dr Joel Theissen (Reposted with permission. Find the original article here.)

Aspects of the “Missional Landscape” in Contemporary North America

I am currently involved in three collaborative projects: an interdisciplinary study on flourishing congregations in Canada; a book comparing “religious nones” in Canada and the United States; and another book, on millennial attitudes, experiences, and behaviors in Canada. (For my American friends, know that I also waded through the American literature on each of these topics). I want to pull strands from each project to help us think carefully about a few aspects of the “missional landscape” in contemporary North America.

Clear Self-Identity

Congregations that flourish know who they are and are not.  They know where they have come from, where they currently are, and where they are going. When North American church planters, for example, consider the “missional landscape” today, it is critical to grapple early and often with the purpose and mission for starting a new church and then filter all decisions and activities toward such ends. Congregations cannot be all things to all people. Thus, be clear on your mission and purpose; develop the structures and processes to help you toward such things, and evaluate your effectiveness against these values.

missional landscapeWhat is your church’s reason for existing? What would you like to see happen in and through your church? What demographics are you trying to engage and why – sociologically, theologically, and practically? Do you aspire to grow primarily from disenfranchised religious folk, “religious nones,” transfer growth, or another group?

How you tackle these queries will shape what questions you ask about the missional landscape, the conversations you have, and the steps you take in your ministry. Having a clear identity does not mean you will flourish; yet rarely do churches flourish without a clear self-identity.

Religious Nones

Those who say they have “no religion” are the fastest growing “religious” group in North America. They represent 20-25% of adults and around 30% of teens and millennials, depending on the region. As I outline in The Meaning of Sunday, religious nones are a diverse group, with a range of beliefs and practices regarding the supernatural, the afterlife, prayer, meaning and purpose, and so forth. Many “nones” in North America were raised in Christian families, though increasingly “nones” are raised by unaffiliated parents. Few “nones” say they are open to greater involvement in a religious group.

I hear of many church planters launching new initiatives for religious nones. Unfortunately, we lack good empirical data to track the effectiveness of such efforts. The best (and limited) data suggest most initiatives grow mainly due to transfer growth from other churches. I’m not here to dissuade such efforts. Rather, I want to pose a few candid observations and suggestions for reflection.

  • Like any good missionary, it is essential to study the culture and know your audience. If your core mission is to “reach” religious nones, then read social scientific research on religious nones to know how they actually think and behave in the world (not how you think or wish they view the world).
  • Form long-lasting and meaningful personal relationships with religious nones. Sociological evidence is clear that a lead reason for someone joining a religious group is because someone they know and trust invites them. Rarely do unaffiliated individuals “randomly” show up to church, regardless of a church’s best “outreach” intentions.
  • Be honest with yourself and others. If you want to be a church for religious nones, then anchor and measure your ministry effectiveness in this direction. If your congregation grows, be truthful about the source of that growth … and if religious nones are not filling your church, consider ways to pivot around this core identity in your church’s life.

Millennials and Adult Influences

Millennials (a third of whom are religious nones) today confront an interesting paradox: they are raised to embrace a wide array of choices in most aspects of their lives without being equipped in how to make good choices. Social scientific research reveals that the more choice a person has, the more likely they are to question their decisions.

missional landscapePerhaps more than ever before, the opportunity is ripe for intergenerational mentorship of young people. Research on millennials in religious groups reveals that they want adult influences to speak into their lives. One concept I have come to appreciate in the book, Growing Young, is “keychain leadership” – leaders who hand the keys over to younger leaders, and who equip and empower them in the process.

Are there ways for you to foster sustained and meaningful intergenerational interaction in your church? How might you strengthen and mobilize longstanding members to invest in younger members in your church? Are there areas where you can and should train and develop young leaders, to give them a seat at the table and a set of keys? What are the risks of not taking such steps, now and in the future?

Clear self-identity. Religious nones. Millennials. Distinct topics to be sure. Yet I believe these subjects coalesce in important ways as church leaders grapple with the missional context of North America in 2018 and beyond.

Dr. Joel Thiessen is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute at Ambrose University, in Calgary, Alberta. In addition to publishing several articles, he has written two books: The Sociology of Religion: A Canadian Perspective (co-authored with Lorne L. Dawson) (Oxford University Press, 2014) and The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015). More information can be located on his website, http://www.joelthiessen.ca.

 

 

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A Discipling Culture

By Shannon Youell

Hey friends, here is a resource that I am giving a good second look. It is quite pertinent to our ongoing conversation about discipleship.

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At first run through of Building a Discipleship Culture, I was excited about the way Mike Breen and the 3DM Team wrote about understanding discipleship and the challenges of making the cultural shift to re-engaging in disciple making. This makes up part one of the book. They use language and concepts that I’ve been developing and writing about in my own contexts.

The book’s back jacket contends that, “we don’t have a missional problem or a leadership problem in the Western church. We have a discipleship problem. If we make disciples like Jesus made them, we’ll never have a problem finding leaders or seeing new people coming to faith.”

Pretty strong words and promises! I believe they are bang on in regards to the discipleship matter.

Part two uses symbols, called LifeShapes, as our discipling language. When I went through this book the first time, I wasn’t that keen on the symbols and utilizing them. But then I ended up incorporating the first LifeShape into a discipling teaching I was doing with our church Leadership Team!

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It was so easy to explain the first shape—Circle—and helped us all understand a starting point to initiating deeper discipleship with one another and also as a place to start with our friends and neighbours to help them process an event—a “kairos moment” in their lives. This LifeShape teaches us to help us respond to the event rather than just stopping for a short “whoa” moment and then moving on.

The authors describe the kairos moment and discipleship engagement from it as follows:

“The Circle (the first LifeShape they utilize) shows us:

  • What it means to live a lifestyle of learning as a disciple of Christ
  • How to recognize important events as opportunities for growth; and
  • How to process these events.”

What I discovered when I gave this book a second chance is that the symbol did exactly what the authors claim it does! I first tried it just in a discussion group with Leadership.  I hadn’t planned on using it, but because symbols are memorable, when the opportunity arose during discussion when a person shared something God had revealed to them, the Circle came to mind, and I walked them through it in casual conversation. It was amazing where it brought that person and the others in the group observed!

The next week, I intentionally took the group through understanding what I had done and they were excited. It will take much repetition before it becomes natural of course, but the more often we do something, the more it just happens.

So the tool is easy to remember and to utilize, which excites me because we aren’t very equipped as members of churches, to actually disciple people—usually we leave that up to the pastors!

Watch a video here for an explanation of this first of eight discipleship tools.

I’ve often said that any of the people who I have been in relationship with that eventually came to faith discovered that I had been discipling them all along. So discipleship happens within the community of believers for believers and also beyond the believing community into the places and spaces where we all spend the majority of our time: amongst the world God so loves!

What disciple-making tools are you utilizing? It would be great if we could begin to share together what we are doing to help in the art of disciple-making and how we are equipping those we are discipling to be disciple makers themselves.

Ministry Priority 3: Engaging in Mission

By Shannon Youell

Over the past couple weeks we’ve been sharing our excitement over CBWC’s new ministry priorities that came out of an intentional season of discernment by our churches, Board and Staff. There are so many good things we could be doing as a family of churches in support of each other and in pursuit of God’s mission on earth, so we asked God to show us how we should focus our time, energy and resources in the coming years, and He responded by clarifying goals we already had and renewing passions for deeply rooted values of joining God at work around us.

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Engaging in Mission
Along with Cultivating Leadership and Investing in Relationship, Engaging in Mission will also be a priority for us as a body of churches in the coming years. We as CBWC see this as “Growing our CBWC family through fresh expressions and intentional implementation of the gospel.” And while it may be third on our list of ministry priorities, Engaging in Mission is absolutely core to our identity as God’s kids.

We are missionaries! Every one of us. Jesus invites us to join Him in the family business of making disciples of all peoples. We’ve written here often about engaging in the places and spaces we occupy in our everyday lives, building relationships, sharing life and stories and faith with those around us. When we gather in our churches we pray that we may be witnesses to our family, friends and co-workers. This is missionary work.

The good news is that God’s Kingdom of justice-making, oppression breaking, reconciliatory, restoration of humans-to-God and humans-to-one-another Shalom is among us.  The Kingdom is unfolding and Jesus is the King who—rather than reigning from a palace representing the power regimes of humans—chooses to be placed upon the cross, revealing God’s sacrifice for this restoration.

Moving Forward Practically
So how do we intentionally implement this gospel? How do we foster God’s love of the world among ourselves—the love that compels us to join Him on His mission to witness to the Father’s goodness wherever God has placed us? Here’s some of what we’re doing and planning towards:

  • Developing resources for congregational renewal, including re-planting. Are you revisiting your vision and mission statements? Are you asking the hard questions of what Jesus calls us to as missionaries in our own context and then evaluating if you are engaging in ways that help to foster missional work around you? We gather and share ideas for engaging our congregations in this conversation. This includes Sam Breakey’s work in Church Health Assessments, which helps a church down a path of self-discovery towards a place of “where-to-from-here.”
  • The call to discipleship is the formation of who we are as followers of Jesus.  We are gathering and developing tools to help our churches reimagine discipleship that makes disciples who make disciples—the mandate the early church ran with! Watch for upcoming learning events on discipleship, or check out some of our articles here.
  • Speaking of articles, our blog is one of our best resources for sparking conversation in your churches! Though it’s named the Church Planting Blog, we post many different perspectives, ideas and thought-provoking articles on discipleship, vision, and missional thinking. The purpose of this blog is to get us thinking, hopefully enough that we ask good questions of ourselves and our churches when it comes to engaging in church life from a missional perspective. We’ve gathered and shared—and will share again the stories and ideas of others who have stepped into the “missionary in our neighbourhoods” conversation. These practitioners help us to understand how to engage those who will likely never just wake up one Sunday and say to themselves, “I think I’ll go to a church today.” Our society is increasingly unchurched, so, like the missionaries we send overseas, we must also relearn how to be a missional people, which causes me to consider that perhaps God is in the shift all along to inspire us to reengage in local missionary work.
  • Providing resources for church planters and for churches looking to multiply. The reality is that churches plant churches and we help them!  There are many expressions of church planting but the mandate is always the same:  to multiply those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior and join in the mission of God!
    • Multiplication:  churches that make disciples who can make disciples grow into new expressions of church in their neighbourhoods, towns and cities. The healthiest thing a flourishing church can do is send teams of leaders/lay leaders well-equipped and trained to reproduce the good work of the mother church.
    • CBWC comes alongside to help you be your most successful selves in this endeavour, including the current development of a Canadian Baptist training/coaching program for teams, not just for planters.
  • Encouraging active participation in the national Canadian Baptist Church Planting initiatives. This is where we tie it all together.  Canadian Baptists are working on a national initiative for sharing even more resources, coaches, mentors and trainers to walk with planters and teams.  This Training Center will be fundamental in creating a dynamic church planting culture to support teams in developing healthy projects, and is developed by Canadians for our Canadian landscape. This is the basic training that includes Assessment, Coaching and Discernment in an culture of teamwork. It does not promote any one model but rather every team comes to discover together what their church plant should be and what they are capable of planting, what makes sense for them and the people they want to serve. Daughter, sister, missional, fresh expression, satellite, attractional, house: all models are open to consideration.

When you think of our CBWC family, what  examples of fresh expressions of the gospel come to mind? Do you have ideas for what God’s good news could look like in your community or a new community in Western Canada?

Intentional Discipleship Pathways

By Shannon Youell

“Discipleship is becoming proficient in the essentials in order to live into God’s in-breaking Kingdom. Your average Christian has not been discipled in the basics of following Jesus, living on mission, dwelling in community, being present in their neighborhood, and sharing the holistic Gospel. We often relegate the basics to children, yet the basics are the foundational moorings we need to recover for being human in the way of Jesus.”  Dan White Jr., V3 Church Planting Movement

Increasingly churches and faith organizations are rethinking their methods and purposes of discipleship. Most churches would certainly consider themselves as making disciples, but the indicator of discipleship needs to be measured with fruit-bearing.  What kind of disciples are we making?  Are these disciples able to: follow Jesus, live on mission, dwell in community, be present in their neighbourhoods and share the holistic
Gospel of the Kingdom of God?

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In my several decades of participating in faith, church and ministry, I frequently land back on the discipleship conversation, especially when I realize that the barriers to engaging and participating in the whole work of the kingdom is hindered only by our own lack of understanding and often ignorance of what that means and how we actually do it.  Thus we need to be asking ourselves, as Dallas Willard suggested, Do we have a plan and is that plan working? We then begin the hard work of shaping pathways to follow Jesus’ example of making disciples who can then join God on mission in their neighbourhoods and make disciples.

Read the rest of 5 Steps for Creating a Discipleship Pathway” and let us know what discipleship questions you are wrestling with in your own context?

What discipleship “pathways” do you and your church engage in?  Are they bearing the fruit you hoped for?  If the answer is yes, share it with us so we can share it with others! Or what journey have you begun that is reshaping, exciting and engaging you as a community of believers on a discipleship journey together?

If you’ve never had an intentional relational pathway to make disciples, then talk to us.  We’d love to encourage you and suggest some good resources to get you started.  In my own home church, we started by stopping.  Seriously.  And now we are on a journey together in which we are equally excited about how God is working in us and around us and frustrated at how slow we are to relearn what being a disciple looks like in our everyday worlds.

 

 

 

Discipleship and The Fruit of Perseverance

By Shannon Youell

“If you make churches, you will rarely get disciples; but if you make disciples you will always get churches.”

We’ve written about this several times. And we’ll likely write about it again. Jesus commissioned His disciples to make disciples and those disciples would then commission their disciples to make disciples.   

But it is hard work! And it’s work one must be invested in for years. For life! In our cultural milieu of result-oriented goals favouring immediate returns and strategically minimizing risk, is it any wonder that discipleship has taken a firm back seat? Often the returns are years in the making and require persistent perseverance. Discipleship as modeled by Jesus is risky business that includes minimal returns, slow growth inclines, sudden declines and sellouts along the way.

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Yet, the fruit, oh, the fruit of perseverance!  The fruit of investing deeply and walking intimately with others as we learn and grow and lean in, is so worth the labour, the frustration and the wait. 

Dhati Lewis, Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, writes about the “guardrails” the Apostle Paul offers to Timothy in regard to continuing on in making disciples.  He talks about these guardrails to remind us that the work is laborious and long, but is the work we are called to. The guardrails keep us from going off the road in our quest to grow and develop our churches faster and bigger.  When we lose sight of our commission of making disciples, we find we have church, but few disciples to engage in the work of the kingdom. 

Read Lewis’ article posted here.

Now ask the honest and the hard questions.  If what we are labouring in isn’t making disciples who make disciples, what indeed are we making?  How is that working for us as believers? For our neighbourhoods?  For the world God so loves and desires to draw back to His kingdom Shalom, where humans flourish in body, mind, and spirit? 

 

Am I a Disciple? Part 2

By Shannon Youell

“We must be disciples who make disciples.”

This statement caused me to ask myself some hard questions as I pondered Am I a disciple? In reflecting on this question I asked myself these six questions to help me discover areas on which I need to allow Jesus to work in me. We looked at the first three last week. These are in no way exhaustive, but merely the first six upon which to begin your own reflecting. The first three were around things that challenged my character and the next three my competencies as a ambassador of Christ.

4: Am I a Person who Loves Others?

Jesus tells us this in John 15:12-13 (MSG):

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.

Jesus also commands us to love our enemies. And love those who we consider unclean, sinners, outcasts. Jesus loves. He loves without boundaries or judgment. He loves because He is love.  If I love Jesus, and am His disciple, He commands that I love like Him. Yet, I am often appalled at how often I have to remind myself of that.  This, too, is the journey of a disciple. We are constantly being called back to that place of repentance at our shortage of love, care and our selective indifference for others.  How can we truly love our enemies if we are also praying for their demise! This is a hard teaching indeed!

5:  Am I a Servant?

I mentioned that my first disciplers did not lord it over those they were discipling–that they understood we were on a journey together and had much to teach one another. Often, in pastoral ministry, folk tell me they are a discipler and that I should assign them a disciple. Or a position. At our church, our response to those that move into places of teaching, leadership, pastoring, is that in these roles we actually lose “status.”  We become servants to those whom we are in community with.

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In my own life and ministry, I need to continually weigh my attitudes in the places where I serve by asking myself if I am taking a posture of status or a posture of servanthood.  Am I doing this to satisfy a need in my own self, or to truly love and journey with others as they discover their identity in Christ and in following Him?

As soon as I find myself feeling superior, wiser, holier, I have moved from a position of serving to a position of status.  Jesus was pretty blunt with the religious leaders of his day about this!

This is a hard one as sometimes it is difficult to self-determine when I’m “lording” and when I’m serving. It drives me back to question #3: Am I Accountable and demands that I, too am in a place of concurrently being a disciple and making disciples.

6: Am I a Sent-One who Goes?

Being a disciple also means I am willing to submit to His sending of me beyond my safe parameters and comfort zone, and being courageous to share stories of where God’s story intersects my story.

My secret of learning to be bolder? I, like most of us, am terrified, even when I can sense the Spirit strongly prompting me, to introduce Jesus into a conversation even when the door is so wide open it has fallen off its hinges! So to tackle that fear I took the challenge to just ask people if I may pray with them when they have shared something sad, or difficult, or something they struggle with. You might be amazed how quickly one can find out if the grocery cashier is having a good day or a bad day and why! It stuns me still.

And so I’ve tried to muster up courage and ask if I can quickly pray with them. I like the terminology of praying with rather than for as it invites them into the prayer. Most of the time they say yes! It is a very terrifying thing to do, and yet there is nothing more joyous than that 30-second prayer while picking up the grocery bags.

Being a disciple is always being attentive to that awareness that God is already at work all around me and I just need to join him.

Being a disciple means following close. Being a sort-of-follower, or most-of-the-time follower, will leave us confused as to where it is we are going because we will have lost sight of Him and walked our own path.  Jesus is our foremost priority. Everything else fits into that.

As I said earlier, this is by no means an exhaustive or even fully articulated list. What questions do you find yourself asking in regards to the overarching question of “Am I A Disciple?” Let us know as we learn and disciple one another! God created humanity as a community, placed us in community and Jesus taught us that we live, work, play, pray and disciple in community.

 

Am I a Disciple?

By Shannon Youell

“Seriously, me, a brand new believer with next to no church exposure, a discipler!”

Two weeks ago, I made this comment in our blog article “The Discipler’s Journey.” It seemed somehow wrong to me as a new believer that my teachers and mentors would say we disciple one another. I didn’t know anything! I had no understanding of how to read the Bible as narrative; what hermeneutics was; why it was important to always, always understand the context in which a particular verse was in; no clue as to whether I was pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, does-it-really-matter-trib, or will I be one of the surprised “left-behinders” (which gives you a bit of a clue in which decade I became a Christian)!

But then last week, Cailey, who works with me in Church Planting, read me something that caught my attention: “We must be disciples who make disciples.”

Fake it Til you Make it?

Years ago while in a doctor’s waiting room, I picked up a business magazine and was reading an article on the art of schmoozing. The author suggested that the way to get people’s attention in various fields is to have some sense of the ‘cultural’ language of the crowd: learn everything you can in a few hours about architecture for example. Not that you’d know how to draw, plan or design the Coliseum, but just enough language to sound like you do.

This idea of being a disciple who is able to make disciples made me think of that article. Often we use the correct language of how to make disciples without ever really being one ourselves.

So then I have to ask myself: Am I a disciple?

jon-tyson-520825-unsplash.jpgHere are some postures I believe I need to take to journey as a disciple of Jesus.

1: Am I a Learner?

“The illiterate of the 21st century are not those who can’t read and write but those who can’t learn, unlearn and relearn” (Alvin Toffler).

The Greek word translated “disciple” is mathetes and means “a committed learner.”

When I was growing up, my dad’s goal was to make me a committed learner, a life-long learner. He was and I am. Committed learners recognize there is always something to learn, something to unlearn and something to relearn. Indeed when Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be ‘reborn’, he was not, as Nicodemus questioned, suggesting he climb back in! It was a euphemism suggesting that he needed to unlearn what he was so sure he knew and relearn it by the Spirit and the waters of dying to self and emerging as learners of Christ.

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is are we learners? Are we willing to have what we think challenged, deconstructed and reframed? Sadly, often we are not. Those followers that eventually abandoned Jesus along the way usually fled because He challenged something in their understanding of God and His Kingdom—they weren’t willing to allow their thinking to stand the test of deconstruction and reframing. And to their loss, because the journey with Jesus is an unending unfolding of revelation, truth and wisdom.

Being a learner also means being humble enough and gracious enough to believe that every person I encounter has something to teach me, regardless of their status or education or tenure in the faith. That’s what my first disciplers and mentors were open to….they could say we discipled one another because they were willing to not be teachers who lord it over people but servants who journey alongside in the everydayness of ordinary life.

 2: Am I a Follower?

It may seem nitpicky to ask this. Some Christians equate being a convert to Christianity with being a follower of Jesus. Although that is part of our response to Jesus’ call to come and follow Hm, and is our entry point for sure, they are not exactly equatable.

Jesus’ call to follow Him had nothing to do with following Him to a church service. Jesus’ call to follow Him meant following Him as Rabbi/Teacher in every area of life and giving Him access to every area of life. As well as being a person who is willing to unlearn what I feel sure I already know, and be teachable, I also need to be a person who actually follows Jesus–meaning I am continually submitting to Him as not just Saviour but also Lord of my life and I am increasingly representing Him in my attitudes, behaviors and actions.

I once heard a speaker on discipleship who said that being a disciple meant that we look more and more like Jesus while still being ourselves.

The lyric that is running through my brain right now is from the  musical Godspell:

Oh dear Lord three things I pray/to see you more clearly/to love you more dearly/to follow you more nearly/day by day 

The nearer I am to Jesus in my following, the more I will understand His Kingdom vision and my place in it .

 3. Am I Accountable?

The discipleship model we attribute to Jesus was the common means in the Jewish-Rabbinic tradition of training, preparing and shaping people to continue living life in the Jewish-faith-way. He was not doing anything radical when He called people to follow Him and be His disciples. He wasn’t doing anything new and improved by spending most of His time with them, living among them, eating and drinking with them. Discipleship was done life on life. This means the good, the bad and the ugly; not the me that I present to others.

Disciples recognize the journey of sanctification is just that: a lifelong journey. Discipleship means an ongoing tension between the person we want to be and the person we are. Character needs to be shaped and developed over time by people who care deeply for us. Most people tend to shy away from that type of character development. And in our world today, it is very easy to dismiss those we trust and have walked with when they lovingly confront our own character weaknesses.

Jesus worked with His own disciples to shape and develop their character. Because they knew He loved them, they were able to get beyond what felt like criticism and see themselves through the lens of others; they were accountable. And they allowed the Spirit to do the work necessary for them to begin to form character that produces fruitfulness.

When I ask myself, am I a disciple, I must also ask myself if I am willing to be open, truthful and vulnerable with the people discipling me? Am I willing to allow them to speak into my life in the hard things, the closely-held convictions and seeming-absolute things, the fears and assumptions and worldview things, the not-quite-sin-but-not-good-for-me habits and the “you’ve got potential for bigger things” things?

I love King David’s prayer in Psalm 139 as a heart prayer of a disciple:

Investigate my life, O God,  find out everything about me; 
Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; 
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— 
then guide me on the road to eternal life (Psalm 139:23-24, The Message). 

Discipleship, then is as much a matter of the heart as it is knowing the Scriptures, praying and participating in church gatherings. These three questions test my heart, my character, and my understanding. Next time we will look at three more positions that grow us in our competency as co-workers with Christ.

 

 

 

So who does the discipling?

By Shannon Youell

We’ve been talking about discipleship as the commissioning to which Jesus calls His believers.

When I have conversations about discipleship with leaders and pastors I often get the same look, which I read as, “I know this is important but how do I find the time to disciple everyone?”

In our current church culture, it seems that discipleship becomes another job descriptor for the pastor(s), along with evangelism, counselling, administration, sermon planning, writing and execution, visitation and the multiple other roles that seem to default to the paid staff. Sadly, it often becomes demoted to the bottom of the to-do list as louder voices demand our attention.

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However, if the pastor is the one who is to do the discipling, then what do we do with the Scripture that designates all believers as the priesthood? As those who, together, do the work of the church? Peter’s first letter addresses not church leaders but “all of God’s elect,” to all those whom the sanctifying work of the Spirit is at work.

When Jesus commissioned His first disciples to go and make disciples, He was not saying that they were to be entirely responsible to do this work. In fact, in the book of Acts and beyond, we hardly see the disciples leave Jerusalem, yet the church spread throughout the empire. Why? Because disciples were being made who then went and made disciples (such as a Paul), who then leaves them to continue making disciples (such as Paul’s commissioning of Timothy).

Pastors are to train, equip and release. In other words, rather than the congregants being the pastor’s helpers in reaching the pastor’s vision, the pastor is the helper to the congregants to be equipped and trained in their role as the priesthood.

If this is not the norm in the place where you gather and worship, this requires a fairly significant culture shift. And not only for the pastors and leaders. This is a culture shift for the folk in the congregation as well. We have done a bang-up job of creating the cultures in our churches and change does not happen overnight. But we must start where we are to get to where we know we should be going.

The reality is that discipleship is not an option and being a discipler of others is the primary job description Jesus gave His disciples to engage in.

The question, then, for us, is are we willing to do the hard work of making the work of making disciples (who by definition can then also make disciples) our primary work in the places where we serve? Are we willing to have the courage to take the risk? To count the cost and head smack into the countercultural curve that ultimately trains, equips and increases the capacity of everyday people to live like Jesus and be salt and light in their world.

The shift must happen in us first. This is not a program that we implement and do “to” people. This is a journey that we enter into together–to be disciples ourselves and be disciplers of others.

Here are a couple of books to equip you for the journey.

If you’re interested in reviewing one of these books by June 2018–sharing on this blog how you believe the book may be helpful (or not) for movement forward in discipleship–be the first to leave a comment here, and we’ll send you the book for free.

 

The Discipler’s Journey

By Shannon Youell

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From the very moment I began to emerge into leadership and ministry, my central theme—the thing I kept coming back to regardless of how many other paths pursued in shaping life as church—is discipleship. So, too, in the church planting and church revitalization conversation. I always seem to land back on discipleship, possibly because it was intentional discipleship relationships that allowed my brand-new Christian adult self to ask endless questions, challenge many of the “pat” answers I received, test the waters, be put into positions of leading when I did not see myself as a leader or even ready to consider leading, and then gently corrected when I made mistakes.

Disciple-making Disciples
When I talk to some of those fine, fine folk now, I ask them how they managed my never-quenched thirst to learn and know and be everything I was learning, and they tell me I challenged their thinking and their theology in ways that had become latent or by which they hadn’t been challenged before. They tell me we discipled one another. Seriously, me, a brand new believer with next to no church exposure, a discipler!

In this blog series, we’ve been talking about whether the things we tend to consider as discipleship leave us perplexed when we ask if our plan of discipleship is working. We noted that often we are very good at discipling one another to be faithful service attendees, but yet find ourselves frustrated that often we have really made faithful consumers rather than Jesus-disciples. It’s not that discipleship isn’t happening; it’s just that the results are not fully what we hoped to see.

The reality of life is that discipleship starts from the moment we are born and really never ends. We learn how to be a family, what opinions we should consider, what biases and prejudices we will have, how we treat one another, how we view ourselves and our place in the world. We are all being discipled all the time and our biggest discipler is culture itself. So the question is not whether we’re being discipled, but what we’re being discipled to.

Directions of Focus
In church life, we are often reminded that we need to focus on upward, inward, outward expressions of life as Jesus’ disciples. Upward is the abiding on the vine, the quiet prayer times alone, practicing gratitude, singing songs, meditation, all building intimacy with Christ our King, God our Father, Spirit our comfort, empowerer and guide.

Inward are the practices we do together as gathered people and include praying together, worshipping together, learning together, practicing the fruits of the Spirit together, sharing tables together in communion and in community. This is our one another-ness.

Outward are the ways we move outside of our close circles with one another (using Banff 2017 Speaker David Fitch’s Faithful Presence language) and engage in the lives and activities of those who haven’t yet seen the kingdom of God realized in their life, and those who have rejected church life but perhaps not belief.

If we look honestly at our own churches, we will likely discover we are practicing and living well in one or two of these three focuses, though rarely will see all three being active together. It’s not that any of us are not doing discipleship, it’s more likely we emphasize one of these particular elements over another.

When we look at how Jesus discipled his disciples we can see that all three of these movements are evident.

Jesus’ Example
His disciples watched Jesus go away to quiet places to pray, would have heard Him praying in times together and when He was teaching crowds. They both saw and heard Him express His level of intimacy with the Father. And they were impacted. So much so, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray like He prays.

As a community of disciples they would have learned how to be together. Jesus addresses some of the interpersonal complications of close community with them. There was accountability for how they behaved towards one another, talked about one another, treated one another. They broke bread together. They learned to support one another in their mission and to uphold one another when things went awry.

And they hung out in all the wild and crazy places Jesus took them to. I’m not sure how comfortable Matthew the tax collector was at the house of the Pharisee…there was a level of animosity likely simmering below the surface there! Or the uncomfortableness when the disciples discovered Jesus engaging in conversation with a Samaritan (whom the Jews did not associate). On top of that the Samaritan was a woman (it would be entirely inappropriate for a man to be in the company of a woman not his relative while alone), and the Samaritan woman was viewed by her community and the codes of the day as sexually immoral as she has had several husbands and currently lived with a man without the benefit of marriage.

It was as Jesus and the disciples went outside their own cultural norms and were faithfully present in uncomfortable or unfamiliar places that the kingdom of God was realized in the lives of those resisting God’s rule and reign.

Self-Examination
If we are wrestling with how do we move from being church attenders to engaged disciples of Jesus, we need to wrestle with the culture we’ve created around what being the church means. What is the church’s purpose? And we need to wrestle with the idea that the church is multi-faceted, not singularly purposeful. Jesus challenged his followers on so many levels and pressed them towards understanding their journey with him as encapsulating the fullness of the kingdom in upward, inward and outward activity.

So today’s question? What might you need to rethink and relearn around the kind of disciples you are creating, whether intentionally or unintentionally by the emphasis in your context? Do you do well with inward/upward while weak or lacking in outward? Or very engaged outwardly in justice and mercy but weak on sharing the good news of the kingdom with the people we are serving? Or in the shared work of justice and mercy, find you have a closeness in community but are lacking spiritual maturity in their day-to-day lives?

Each of these questions should challenge us not to despair but to hope. Jesus took this ragtag gang of folk who had nothing much in common and through the trials and joys, the successes and failures, drew (discipled/apprenticed) them in a life-long transformation in worldview, culture, faith and personal self-focus to be vessels of God’s love, grace, reconciliation and restoration of his good creation.

“This is to my Father’s glory, that bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples…If you obey my commands (everything I taught you), you will remain in my love…I have told you this so that my joy may be complete in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:8, 10, 11).

Being co-labourers with Christ in making disciples who makes disciples can be challenging, frustrating and disappointing, yet the joy of seeing people transformed and thriving and the kingdom of light moving into the shadows brings life and joy to those who are engaged.

Teaching and Training

By Shannon Youell

“You have to invest time, energy, and money into training [your people] as leaders so you are truly multiplying the life of Christ in your ministry… (this was) one of the biggest ministry shifts I had to make when I was learning to make disciples. I knew how to teach people, but I had to idea how to train people. They are very different skill sets.” Ben Sternke

As we continue in this series of posts to take a hard look at discipleship, we are being challenged to evaluate whether our method of making disciples is working for us (defined by disciples who are being transformed by the presence of Christ in their lives and living out the things Jesus taught in our world around us who can then reproduce themselves by making disciples who can then make disciples).

I am not suggesting we look with despair on how discipleship happens in our churches, but that we should honestly ask the hard questions: are we seeing disciple making that produces maturing believers on a transformational journey in the presence of Christ in their lives? Are these disciples increasingly living out all the things Jesus himself taught? Are they then able to reproduce themselves by making disciples?

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Let’s look at what Ben Sternke has to say in the rest of his blog post that opened this post. Please don’t be distracted by the title; the article is not really about a celebrity trap–it’s more about understanding the posture of leadership in the disciple-making process. Oh, and note that this article is relevant to every person who is a follower of Jesus and who leads or is feeling tugged to lead. It is not specifically about church planters but in that category it is a great way to start a church!

Please dialogue with us on this disciple-making journey. Have you ever reached the point of releasing those you have been training? Do you agree in today’s world that “The kingdom of God is like a seed, not a building project?”