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

Planting the Gospel

At the recent Church Planting Canada Congress, Missiologist Alan Hirsch spoke this word to planters and catalysts across the country: “Plant the Gospel, not churches.”  

You may be wondering, “aren’t they the same thing?” Not necessarily. At CBWC Church Planting, we’ve long advocated that church planting is the making of disciples who make disciples. From that increase of disciples comes new communities of gathering: churches. Jesus sent us to make disciples; He didn’t say “go and make churches of all people.” Churches are a result of disciple making. Maybe this seems like a bit of a chicken-or-egg conversation. Does it really matter which came first? 

We think it does.  

It all comes down to fruit. Which is the intended fruit of the Gospel: an organization, or the disciple who is committed to the work of the Spirit in transforming them to reflect God’s love and character into the world and make more disciples? This is the outworking of discipleship. Thus, the clarification from Hirsch: “Plant the Gospel, not churches.”  

Measuring by this metric also shapes the dynamic of how we view success and failure. If the Church, beyond the period of the Epistles and Letters, were to view success and failure the same way we do now, mass discouragement would have probably wiped out the establishing of new faith communities. Paul and others planted churches in communities throughout the diaspora that are no longer in place. Does that mean those planters, those churches, failed? 

What if instead we would ask, “where do we see ongoing evidence of the Gospel planted in Ephesus, in Europe, in my city?” We could point out evidence of the Story of God and His people, of Jesus as the Son of God who ushered in God’s kingdom dynamic, of people pursuing lives as God’s image bearers and ambassadors, as being still active and present. Thus the Gospel was successfully planted. Even if the number of believers in a specific location have diminished, they are the fruit of the seed long-ago planted, nurtured and going through life cycles.  

How we measure, or by what metric we use to deem success or failure, will vary greatly on what we determine the goal is. If the evidence of a successful church plant is ownership of a building, the number of folk engaged with the ministry of that church, and financial stability, then it is a natural progression to see the decline of people, funds and ability to hold on to a building as a “failed” church plant. 

But if the metric is planting the Gospel, then a plant dying to the ground and scattering seeds with the Gospel DNA embedded would still be success. People came to faith in Christ, grew and flourished in a particular community and then scattered to plant Gospel wherever they find themselves. Thus the church plant is a successful Gospel Plant! 

In our world today and even in our own church communities, we are experiencing a decline in church attendance, and some churches have just aged out. But does that make them failures? Can we celebrate with what has been planted and scattered even if the particular location of gathering is no longer on the geographical map? 

Isaiah’s beautiful recounting of God’s words in chapter 55 reminds us of the invitation for people to come to the well of God’s goodness: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” 

A no-longer-gathering worship location does not return void. There is seed that has been and is still being scattered. It has accomplished far more than we understand with our human limitations. Perhaps we see closed churches as fails because we have been planting churches, when we were meant all along to plant seeds of the Gospel in our gathering and our scattering. Perhaps we view this as just a nuance of the same thing, but what if it isn’t? 

Can we ask ourselves these, and questions like them, without feeling like we’ve somehow failed? I don’t think we have failed. I think we may need to simply, in a variety of ways, realign ourselves with the reality that any planting at all is “…for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.” 

Failures in Disguise

By Shannon Youell

The North American church is filled with passionate Jesus-following people. These people desire to join God at work in revealing the Kingdom among us through the message of Jesus our Savior AND our Lord–to realize the redemptive, restoration of community relationships: God to human and humans to humans.

Because we are humans, our best attempts can fail. And sometimes, our successes are failures in disguise when it comes to reproducible practices of disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

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We all love the success stories because we want to be one, but the reality is that because mission is contextual and cultural, methodologies are only replicable in like contexts and cultures.  Often, though, it is the stories of those who tried and failed that help us the most when it comes to our own missional work in our own communities.

For the next three weeks we will be re-posting a series aptly titled Killing Missional Culture. 

In reading this blog we were impressed with the honesty and insight that these leaders demonstrate. Each post is applicable to our ongoing discussions about creating a discipleship culture both within our existing congregations and our new expressions of gathered community.

3 Ways We Killed a Missional Culture 

  1. First, We Assumed the Gospel
  2. Second, We Cast Vision without Practices
  3. Third, We Didn’t Love Consumers

Read the introduction here so you have the context. Then, check out the first way they killed a missional culture here.

 

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?

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.

 

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?”

 

Summer Video Series 6: God’s Mission and the Places We Live, Work and Play

by Cailey Morgan

Shannon, Joell and I are thankful for so many resources that are available for us as we seek to evoke and resources CBWC churches and members towards our shared mission of making disciples who make disciples.

Today’s video is another from Forge America. Brad Brisco: God’s Mission and the Places We Live, Work and Play is the longest of the resources we’ve made available here, because it actually includes a story of a group of people who’ve been contextually living out the stuff we’ve been talking about here on the blog.

God's Mission & The Places We Live, Work, & Play – Brad Brisco from Forge America on Vimeo.

We saw one example of how to live and work missionally. But what are some other ways we can be a light in the places we live, work, play, in our Canadian context?

Summer Video Series 5: Incarnational Evangelism

by Cailey Morgan

Shannon, Joell and I are thankful for so many resources that are available for us as we seek to evoke and resources CBWC churches and members towards our shared mission of making disciples who make disciples.

Forge America’s resources include several videos available online, one of which is Hugh Halter in our video for today, Incarnational Evangelism.

Incarnational Evangelism – Hugh Halter from Forge America on Vimeo.

Have you ever been in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation but knew that it was the place God wanted you to be to share His good news? Share your thoughts here or by emailing me: cmorgan@cbwc.ca

Summer Video Series 4: What is a Missional Church?

by Cailey Morgan

At CBWC’s 2017 Gathering in Calgary, we were able to share several short videos we thought were particularly helpful for our context. Over the summer, we will be sharing those videos here on the blog in hopes of continuing the conversation, and hearing from you about these important topics.

In today’s video, Alan Hirsch: What is a Missional Church?, we consider the Sending God and His call for us as a Missionary People. What could missional look like in your context?

Summer Video Series 3: Living as Ekklesia

by Cailey Morgan

At CBWC’s 2017 Gathering in Calgary, we were able to share several short videos we thought were particularly helpful for our context. Over the summer, we will be sharing those videos here on the blog in hopes of continuing the conversation, and hearing from you about these important topics.

In today’s video, our very on Shannon Youell shares Living as Ekklesia, a call to consider the history of our language around the church and the ways in which we have exchanged Kingdom values for earthly values without even noticing.

Living as Ekklesia – Being the Church from Online Discipleship on Vimeo.

What do you have to add to the discussion on Ekklesia? In what ways do we as the church today need to change our perceptions and language?