Jesus Gave His Church a Job…

…To “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything [he had taught and] commanded.” This was the Risen King revealing God’s mission to the world, through the gathered disciples. In many Bible translations we’ve aptly titled it the Great Commission, because of the clarity of vocation for the church, those gathered together under Christ. 

On this blog we’ve often written about discipleship in connection with church planting, defining church planting as the fruit of disciples who make disciples who can also make disciples. Disciple-making is the call of the Great Commission. In other words, the mission of the church isn’t evangelism, it’s discipleship.  

In an interpretive misunderstanding of the “go” in Jesus’ Commission, we’ve made the “going” the mission. The more literal translation in the Greek is not an imperative “go,” but rather a descriptor of how we make disciples: as the disciples are going (back home from the mount in Galilee), and as followers of Christ we each go about our lives (our witness), we make disciples of all the people we encounter, baptizing them when they recognize they have a need to travel a different road (repentance and salvation). Then, they begin the lifelong journey of intentional and accountable discipling of one another. 

Before we go further, I do want to say that I am thoroughly convinced that all humans are always being discipled by others, and therefore are witnesses of that discipleship. My Grandmother discipled me to view the mentally challenged adults she worked among with respect and honor. My Great Grandparents discipled me to care for the frail and elderly when I served tea and talked with those in their old age care home. Culture and societal values have certainly discipled me to a variety of worldviews and ideas, many of which I still find myself needing to submit to Christ. Everyone is being discipled, and by the way we speak, form opinions, act or don’t act (our witness), everyone is discipling others whether they realize it or not. 

With that in mind, every person we encounter and are in some form of relationship with, are being discipled by us before we even mention Jesus/church/God/salvation. What we are discipling them to, is another matter.    

Here, we are talking about the kind of discipleship that shapes us towards being image bearers of God’s character, by living lives increasingly reflective of Christ’s kingdom point of view. That’s a lifelong, relational journey, putting all our heart, mind, soul and strength increasingly under the Lordship of Christ. When we are on that kind of journey, evangelism is what naturally happens “as we go” as demonstrative witnesses of Christ where we live, work, play and pray. 

Somewhere along the way, discipling one another in intentional, relational communities has become something many leaders yearn for, but are wary to lead into, knowing many church-goers like going to church, but are not particularly interested in being in accountable discipleship relationships with the group of people they worship with on Sunday. We compartmentalize different aspects of our lives and justify and rationalize that because Jesus has saved the world and we’ve accepted that gift through baptism, God’s main requirement of us is that we “go” to church and possibly serve in the church’s programs and activities. 

Evangelism, then, has morphed into being a task/program of helping people make a decision for Christ by telling them a particular aspect of the gospel and encouraging them to come to church. Disciple making – on the level Jesus made disciples – became something optional as long as we could keep people attending our worship services.  Thus the creation of what is popularly known in the West as “consumer Christianity,” and our current non-discipleship crisis. 

As Dallas Willard is famously known for saying, “non-discipleship is the elephant in the church.” 

We’ve long known the elephant was there.  We thought that we could solve our current declines in church attendance with more evangelism, more “witnessing” while our own witness to the world in word and deed, both as individuals and as corporate entities, looked not a lot different from those who did not profess to be followers of Christ and tragically, worse. Conferences, books, lectures and missional and church planting networks rose up to help us with increasing our evangelistic impulses, whilst ignoring the elephant taking up the majority space in the room with the solution written across its body: discipleship. 

To be clear, if we do not refocus our time, our budgets, our energy, and our mission, toward making disciples who make disciples and so on, there will be little evangelism (witness). Evangelism happens because we are making disciples who are then making disciples who also make disciples.   

Matthew commentarian Rodney Reeves says it like this: “When these disciples make disciples of all peoples, then the reign of Christ is present. And when those disciples make other disciples, then the unstoppable kingdom of heaven will continue to extend all the way to the ends of the earth.”1 

You might think this is just hair splitting, but just looking around us, we can see that making people into church-goers has not been as effective as we would hope in changing the lens through which they see the world. We all have multiple, and often opposing, ideas on politics, culture, social issues, entertainment, the poor, the marginalized, the homeless. That’s normal, of course, we aren’t talking about uniformity where we all think, act, vote or even necessarily interpret scripture the same way. But we are talking about sanctification, where our worldview, with the guidance of the Spirit and one another, begins to be reshaped so that we look, speak, behave, and love more and more like Jesus, living life by the examples he taught and by obeying his commandments of loving God, self and neighbour with all we are and all we have as we participate in God’s kingdom of peace, joy, righteousness and love towards all humanity. 

In the following posts that look at the crisis of non-discipleship the church faces, we will examine some things we need to rethink and some things we need to lay down next time. In the meantime, ask for God to help us be open for all our hearts, minds, soul and strength to be shaped like Christ “as we are going”…


  1. Reeves, Rodney, Matthew: The Story of God Bible Commentary

Why Shared Practices?

By Shannon Youell

I was listening to classic rock today and heard this song lyric: “Your own personal Jesus; Someone to hear your prayers, someone who cares; Your own personal Jesus.”

The song bothered me. Not because I don’t have a relationship with God-With-Us that is quite personal in that I can talk with him and walk with him. Jesus is present with me, he saves me. But the lyrics bothered me because the prevailing god of our culture—in cahoots with the gods of consumerism and materialism—is individualism, the idea that my apprenticeship with Jesus is solely a personal journey that is all about me. Individualism leaves the church in the place where we no longer need one another to be Kingdom people.

lisa-emanuel-w5KJCocKSag-unsplash.jpg

Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, tells a different story. He tells of a body that is “joined and held together by every supporting ligament.” He tells of how, as each part or individual works with the rest, the body grows and is built up. That “body working together” is what matures the whole and, thus, the individuals of the whole.

We certainly struggle with Paul’s teaching today because we place a high value on our personal journey with Jesus as the ultimate intent of our being Christ’s disciples. Mark Roberts in his commentary on Ephesians says this about 4:7-16:

The growth of individual parts is only implied. But verse 14, by use of the plural “infants,” shows that corporate growth and individual growth go hand in hand. If the body of Christ grows, then individuals will no longer be spiritual babies.i

Brad Brisco and Lance Ford in their workbook Missional Essentials have this to say about it:

Living in the 21st century presents a unique set of challenges for those of us in the developed world. Modern conveniences and technology certainly make chores and routine tasks easier, but they also coincide with a lifestyle of disconnectedness from others around us. For the most part, our lives are compartmentalized in such a way that we live with a lack of integration. We speak of our work life, recreational life, family life, and spiritual life. The result for many of us is a disintegrated life.

Many in the church are realizing that in order to counter the gods of consumerism, materialism and individualism that haunt and disintegrate our lives we must rediscover the ancient ways of living life together on mission. Many churches have discovered that rhythms of Shared Practices have made huge differences in the lives of their church community and in the discipleship of their members.ii

In my own church community, we have been perplexed—if Christ transforms us, why are we not seeing transformation in so many who are still stuck in the same cycles of spiritual immaturity? After several years of praying, discerning, and wrestling, we came to realize that all our good leadership, our good programs, our good teaching was designed to feed people. Jesus and the early church shaped communities of people, and in that shaping, needs were met and transformation of hearts, minds souls and strength were evident to one another and to those in the world they lived, worked and played in.

God created us to be community, in continual communion with one another, as he himself, is community: Father, Son, Spirit. Tod E. Bolsinger says this:

My primary thesis is that the change we most yearn for is available to us only through the Triune God who transforms his people within the divine community, the church—The People of the Table. I believe and want to convince you that “it takes a church to raise a Christian.

Here’s a caveat to keep in mind: we are not engaging in Shared Practices for the sake of doing something good together. We are engaging in Shared Practices so as to become more and more the image-bearers of God, in Christ, thus living lives both inside and outside the church that display the good news of God’s Kingdom life here on earth as it is in heaven. Shared Practices help many churches become counter-cultural and discover life in Christ in deeper, transformative ways.

 


 

i. Roberts, Mark: The Story of God Bible Commentary: Ephesians

ii. There are so many resources, ancient, classic and new to help us lean into this. A few favorites are The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Church by Kent Carlson and Mike Luken, BTW by Derek Vreeland, It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian by Tod E. Bolsinger and books by Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, Mike Frost, Mike Breen, Brad Brisco, Preston Pouteaux, David Fitch and so many others.

We Live From Our Heart: Easter Reflection

By Shannon Youell

We live from our heart.

This phrase from Dallas Willard’s epic Renovation of the Heart, gripped my heart like winter’s icy grasp as I huddled under my beach towel on a rain-drenched beach in Kauai.

If I live from my heart, if we live from our hearts, what does how we live, act, interact, think, obsess over things, say about my heart?  About your heart?

Paul prays that believers would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, (so) that they may be filled with all the fullness of God. ”

Peter writes about “how those who love and trust Jesus “rejoice with indescribable joy” (1 Peter 1:8 NRSV), with “genuine mutual love” pouring from their hearts (1:22), ridding themselves of “all malice, and all guile, insincerity, and all slander” (2:1 NRSV), silencing the scoffers at the Way of Christ by simply doing what is righ t (2:15), and casting all their anxieties upon God because he cares for us (5:7).”

“Our life and how we find (view) the world now and in the future is, almost totally, a simple result of what we have become in the depths of our being–in our spirit, will, or heart.” 

 “The greatest need you and I have–the greatest need of collective humanity–is renovation of our heart. That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed.”

What is in our hearts, the things that motivate us, propel us, fill up our head space, cause us our deepest consternation and confusion, matters more than anything else we can do, say or display to this world.

joshua-earle-12689-unsplash.jpg

So much of Jesus’ teaching, His discipleship, focused around the hearts of His hearers.  He was constantly challenging their thinking to move from matters of the law to matters of the heart. Why? Because when our motivations come from keeping the law, but our own hearts are corrupt and compromised, we engage the world from a position of self-righteousness and judgement, rather than from the place of loving God and others as we (should) love self.

Living from the law, even the law of grace, without the transformation of our hearts to love what God loves, leaves a trail of broken relationships with others rather than a path of reconciliation that restores relationships to God, to others and, yes, even with ourselves.

As we wrestle with engaging as missional disciples in our current cultural landscape, we must be asking ourselves where our heart is towards those to whom we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors. If our hearts are already biased towards people or particular groups of people, this will be evident in our engagement (or lack of engagement) with them. We approach them from a position of self-righteousness (I am not like you) and judgment (as though I am without my own rebellion and sin towards God, Jesus’ teaching, and others), and it is evident. We present as confrontational, even in our best intentions, because we do not first love others with God’s love through Christ.

As I have reflected on my own attitudes and actions to those around me and those I cross paths with, I have found myself thinking about Jesus’ encounter with the expert of the law in Luke 10:25-28:

He asked Jesus what was necessary to inherit eternal life (meaning life with God both now and into all eternity).  Jesus asked him what is written in the Law and how he interprets it. The expert answered with the Shema and the Leviticus add-on of loving neighbour as self.  “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied.  “Do this and you will live.”

Here we find a neatly tied bow called “matters of the heart.”

The question was asked by someone who had long gone to Saturday school as a child, knew and could recite parts or all the Torah, did all the “right” things in giving to the needy, praying and fasting.  He was faithful to attend services and other community gatherings.  He even answered his own question very correctly (marrying the Leviticus verse about loving neighbour with the Shema).

Jesus commends him that he knows this and then challenges him with the ouch factor:  Now go and do it.  That is how we find ourselves in the midst of the kingdom of God both in our present circumstances and lives and throughout eternity!

So why is it so hard for us sometimes to love others, especially those who we perceive as difficult or unreasonable, or who’s opinions grate on our nerves?  What is it in my heart, in your heart that we are “living from” when we dismiss, ignore, condemn and judge others?

Dallas Willard suggests that it comes to a common mistake that Christians fall into:

(We)….  “assume that we are supposed to do all the glowing things mentioned in such passages (of godly living) without loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. In fact, (we) think we must do them while our heart, soul, mind, and strength are still strongly inclined in the opposite direction, against God.

Willard’s premise is, of course, that if we ourselves are not continually in the process of being spiritually transformed daily, then we attempt to do great things for Jesus while disliking or even hating what God so loves.

It may seem a fine line to some, but for me, as I have pondered on this, it is exactly what the early church wrested with in the discourse around faith and works. If our works are lacking daily transformation of our own hearts conformed more and more to God’s heart and what he loves, then we are trying to do things ourselves, though, as James wrote, if our faith is lacking works, it also speaks of the degree of transformation we ourselves have allowed in our own hearts.

As I continue to work my way through Willard’s book, I am being struck time and again with how he hits the nail on the head when it comes to our own underestimated self-righteousness and God’s call on our lives, as witnesses of His great love, to live from a heart transformed continually by Christ our Lord and our Savior.

As Jesus commends, when we begin with loving God with all our heart and all our mind and all our strength and souls and love our neighbours as we have (proper) love for selves, we will find, as Peter states, that scoffers will be silenced. If we live, act, speak, behave and love from a heart transformed rather than from matters of the law, we will see the presence of kingdom among us ripe for harvest right where we live, work, play and pray.

What a way to be distinguishable to the world with Christ’s message of hope! As we walk through this Holy Week, finding ourselves living into the story as it unfolds, let us remember Jesus our Christ, who pours out His love for us while we were (are) still sinners in rebellion in our own hearts.  Jesus’ life poured out for all is an indicator of Himself living from His heart, the very heart of God.


All quotes from Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Navpress: 2012).

What IS discipleship, really?

By Ben Hardman, gravityleadership.com

Dallas Willard famously said that every church that seeks to be faithful to its calling must ask two questions: 1) What is our plan for making disciples? and 2) Is it working?

Willard’s questions have haunted the Western church for the past two decades since he proposed them. They’ve certainly haunted me.

daniel-hering-468274-unsplash.jpg

But when I talk with pastors about these questions, I’ve noticed that the answers to the questions depend almost entirely on what we mean when we say “discipleship.” So it’s probably worth adding a third question: “How would we know if our plan is working?”

In other words: What IS discipleship, really?

Discipleship isn’t programs

At a recent event, I talked with a lot of pastors about discipleship. I noticed that most of them talked about discipleship in terms of programs they had started at their churches. Here are some of the responses I got:

  • “Our small groups are great! People love them.”
  • “We have a six-week on-ramping course for new believers that gets them up to speed on what a new believer needs to know.”
  • “We have a ton of book studies, Sunday school classes and teaching environments where people can learn more about the Bible.”
  • “We encourage everyone in our church to read through their Bible every year.”
  • “We have weekly discussions about the sermon in our small groups.”
  • “We have a mentoring program where we connect new believers or younger believers with older more ‘seasoned’ leaders.”
  • “We have an accountability structure with our men’s group: we meet monthly to pray and weekly to confess our sins to one another.”
  • “We have an assimilation process that moves people from sitting in the seats each week to serving at our church.”

All of these things are probably great programs. But none of them are necessarily descriptions of a plan for discipleship. Or rather, most of them assume a definition of discipleship that might not be all that helpful.

Discipleship starts and ends with people

True discipleship doesn’t start with a system or a program, it starts with a person. It begins with us. We often want to transform our churches before we ourselves have been transformed, but it just doesn’t work that way. We reproduce who we are, not what you know.

Programs may be necessary to connect people in discipling relationships, but it’s important to locate the actual definition of discipleship in the relationships and not in the programs that facilitate the relationships.

Now that we’ve deconstructed discipleship, we’ll hear three key ingredients for healthy discipleship next week, in part 2 of Ben Hardman’s article.

This article by Ben Hardman was reposted with permission from Gravity Leadership’s blog: gravityleadership.com/blog

Is Our Plan Working?

By Shannon Youell

Dallas Willard said that “every church should be able to answer two questions: First, what is our plan for making disciples? Second, does our plan work?”

Is what we are currently doing shaping disciples who live out the gospel in such way that others are drawn to them and are discipled by them? When I say “gospel” I am referring to everything Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God present on earth, and what that looks like in our everyday living…and that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life into it.

Our last post left us thinking about these two questions. Willard’s second question, “does our plan work?” assumes we understand what “working” implies. Our ingrained understanding is that in teaching people to read their Bible, pray, tithe, engage in good works both in the church community and the greater community around them, that we are making disciples. I believe the church has mostly done a very good job of doing these things. But have we made disciples?

In last week’s blog, I observed that the good and faithful folk at my home church were reluctant to engage in the 77 Days of Prayer because they felt they didn’t know how to pray, how to engage with the scriptures, and were uncomfortable being with folk they didn’t choose themselves to meet with! So have we made disciples as Jesus made disciples? We certainly have made good and faithful church folk.

nik-macmillan-280300-unsplash.jpg

So is our plan working? Well, yes, if the above is what we planned to make – good and faithful service attendees. Perhaps now is exactly the time, then, to revisit our plans. Not because we shouldn’t be pastoring, leading, teaching, guiding people to discover life in Christ and the tangible ways it shapes how we choose to live our lives, but because Jesus encouraged this and then pushed us out a little further (or, depending on your particular context, a lot further).

From what I read in the Gospels, Jesus’ method of making disciples was less about corralling the sheep in a safe place, and more like inviting them out of the boat without floaties. He sent them into the leper colonies without vaccines; He sent them into the world purse-less and with no outward protection to face wolves disguised as sheep.

Jesus’ method of making disciples was life on life: take a risk, get out of your comfort zone, practice/make mistakes/learn something more/go try again until that demon listens, that mountain is thrown into the sea, that challenge is met and the Kingdom of God reveals itself right in front of our sometimes-unexpectant eyes!

When Jesus gave His disciples some of His final words while on this earth, He commanded them to make disciples devoted to and covenanted with God, and to teach those disciples to listen to and live by everything He had been teaching to the current batch of disciples. Those first disciples, upon doing that, likely told their disciples to do the same when they were ready to be sent out, since they would have been doing and saying what Jesus instructed them to do. And so on. Disciples make disciples who can make disciples.

This was what Jesus Himself called His followers to do. He commanded us to make disciples and stated He would build His church. In our current evangelical model, we usually build the church and bring those we’d like to be disciples to someone else to disciple.

So is our plan working?