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.

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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? 

 

Excuses for Discipleship

By Cailey Morgan

Last time, I wrote about the how being citizens of God’s Kingdom means growing in our understanding of our heavenly Father’s economy of abundance and how exclusion from the Canada summer grants program provides an opportunity to disciple our folk in this Kingdom way.  

Another opportunity that this shift in summer grant funding provides is the excuse to stop and reflect on why we do the summer day camps or other outreach programs that these government grants often pay for, and how, with whom, and what we do this summer now that Canada’s taxpayers aren’t footing bill for our the interns’ wages. And this leads me to the second aspect of Jesus’ life on earth that we need to pay attention to: Jesus used every moment as an opportunity for discipleship and leadership development.  

 

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Sometimes, Jesus had planned times of teaching where He would cast the vision of God’s Kingdom to His closest followers. Other times, a woman would interrupt by touching His robe, or children would run up, or the Pharisees would come looking for trouble. In all these situations, Jesus took the opportunity as a teaching moment: a chance for discipleship of the crowd and for leadership development of His core team. 

So for us, I’m asking a simple “why” question: Why do we do day camps? Why do we do programs? 

This isn’t a rhetorical question. What’s your answer?  

Day camps are obviously a great way to show hospitality to kids in our neighbourhood. But we need to ask the bigger questions of what the long-term purpose is? I’ve personally been guilty of helping run camps in order to feel like I’m busy doing “God’s work” and to check off my “evangelism” box on my to do list. There is so much more potential.  

Let’s think seriously about what excuses we can come up with to disciple our people into the next level of growth in their love of God, each other and neighbour this summer. Maybe day camps aren’t the right connection point for those in your neighbourhood who don’t know Christ yet–and the lack of internship funding this summer will help force your congregation’s hand towards a different plough.  If so, that’s awesome. But before you throw summer day camps out the window, I want you to consider the revelation I had on the other side of the world a few weeks ago.

I was in Albania in preparation for a summer youth leadership development program in which teens from the Canadian and Albanian congregations of our church will be learning about and practicing Christian leadership. Between church leadership meetings, visits to the elementary school we hope to engage throughout the summer, and scoping out accomodations for the summer team, I sat down with the neighbourhood pastor of our Sauk village congregation to talk about the potential of running some day camps for neighbourhood kids as part of the LTD program.  

My initial bent was that the Albanian congregation is perfectly capable of running day camps–why should we wait until the Canadian youth arrive to do this ministry? Every time we visit from Canada we help run camps, and it can seem like just a program to keep the Canadian team busy and feel like we’ve accomplished something. But as the conversation continued, we were both struck with a deeper vision: the discipleship pathway. 

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Why Day Camps? Because they’re a chance to disciple young people and leaders at every level.

Every person in the world is on a discipleship journey. Some are running the path as fast and hard as they can. Others do not recognize that God is at work in their lives and are wandering in other directions. Summer day camps are an excuse for discipleship all along the spectrum. At one end is the wide-open door of invitation for kids who’ve never known the love and peace of Christ to draw near to Him through these camps. Super important.  

At the other end is the church leadership, who are building into young leaders and working hard to pass the baton and share the keys whenever possible.

Eexcuses for discipleship–camps not for the sake of camps but for the twofold sake of evangelism and a chance to develop leaders out of our wiling and energetic young people. We’re taking the leadership development angle of camps very seriously this summer, using the excuse to have youth and adults train in leadership skills and practice those skills in our neighbourhoods.

I share this example of camp leadership because the levels of discipleship are easily defined and you can see a clear path of growth into leadership over time. But this path is true for discipling anyone–adults, church leaders, we’re all on a path of growth and all need to be simultaneously being discipled by someone further along in the journey and discipling those newer on the path. Any excuse for people being together can be an excuse for discipleship.

What excuses for discipleship are taking place in your congregation? 

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.

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.

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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?

Jim Putnam’s Discipleship Scorecard

By Shannon Youell

Our church has visitors every week. They come, they go, they shop and some even stay.

I, and others in our community, are always watching to greet these visitors, which is what I did a few weeks ago when one caught my eye. I welcomed him and introduced myself, then asked him what brought him here this morning. He told me that he has spent his adult life living in close relationship with God; that he found Jesus through the Salvation Army Church, attending and serving there many years. He said he prayed, worshiped, read and meditated on Scripture every day, though he had not attended a corporate service in seven years since the Citadel removed the pastor he loved.

By measurement of his spiritual life, we may conclude this man was discipled well. He tried in every way to live a good Christian life and was devoted to God. On the other hand you may disagree that he was discipled well since he doesn’t “attend” worship services. Yet, in reality, he was discipled into exactly what many of us consider a disciple of Christ to be: one devoted to God and living a life of integrity and character and attends church services. He and many, many of us are discipled into individual relationship with God and service within the church programs as being the outcome.

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Indeed, this is central to us having relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters. But does this describe fully what Jesus discipled his followers to?

Jim Putnam and Bobby Harrington, in their book Discipleshift, draw our attention to how we “keep score”—how we evaluate success in our churches and in disciplemaking. I quoted Putnam a few months ago on his definition of a disciple:

If that definition does not end up looking like one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus, then our definition has holes in it.  The bottom line is that a mature disciple of Jesus is defined by relationship. We are known for our love for God and one another.”

Often, I hear pastors and leaders lamenting that their good and faithful folk don’t do relationship well. They are kind and generous, but keep to themselves in everyday life. How then are we “known for our love for God and one another?” And how do we reflect being “committed to the mission of Jesus”?

In Discipleshift, the authors walk us through how we need to change our scorecard, the way we evaluate “from attracting and gathering to developing and releasing.”

“Deploying (releasing) means that people in your church are equipped and motivated to demonstrate God’s love and share their faith with the lost wherever they work or live or go to school—any place they interact with other people. They are also able to do life with other believers in relationship connection. They understand that they are ministers who serve wherever they go in the world. They are becoming people who make disciples at home, love a lost and hurting world, and win people to the Lord as they serve as missionaries in the communities where they live. That is the new scorecard for success.” (pg. 214).

They emphasize that our goal in being the church, or starting new churches, isn’t to gather a crowd and give them information, but rather to “raise up biblical disciples and deploy them into the world so they can raise up other disciples. These disciples are to grow into accurate copies of Jesus who rightly deliver his message in his ways.”

I know in my own church, there are many different ideas of what a disciple of Jesus is. Which creates part of the problem we have with being credible witnesses to those who do not yet know Christ or have decided they are good with their own personal life of worship and devotion.

Could our challenge be to relook at this and teach into what the Bible says about discipleship in the gospels? Here are several questions the book challenges us to look at with open minds and hearts:

  • How does the Bible define discipleship?
  • What does the Bible say a disciple look like?
  • What is the discipleship process as we see it happening in scripture?
  • What are the specific phases of discipleship, as seen in the scriptural models?
  • How will everyone in our church come to know this process?
  • What characteristics (values) must be present for real-life discipleship to occur in our church? (values include love, acceptance and accountability.)
  • How will our church (at every level) emphasize the discipleship process?
  • How will our church practice keep the focus on discipleship by making church “simple” and “clear”?
  • How will our church raise up, reproduce, and release disciple-making leaders?
  • How will our church serve as an attractional light on a hill?
  • How will our church send people out to serve incarnationally in the community?

I am going to start with the first three questions. I will do my best to put aside my already conceived ideas of this and honestly look at this. If I can’t do this, then what am I testifying about what Jesus mandated the Church to do? Who would like to travel this journey with us? Could we begin some dialogue about it? Then we can ask ourselves, our leadership teams the next questions and prayerfully begin to redevelop some of our methodology that has perhaps grown stale and ineffective to mentor and apprentice all those who choose to gather with us for services to participate more comfortably in God’s mission out to the world He loves.