What is a Real Disciple?

By Shannon Youell

“First, we’re asking the question, “What is a real disciple?” And we’re making a distinction between a convert and a disciple…..We need to ask the question and define it together as a body. 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.” Jim Putnam

In my last blog, I started with a statement from a quote from J.D. Payne. You will note that this blog entry also starts with a quote.

In our current series of blogs we are looking at some smart things that smart people have already said and trying to find our place in them. No need to reinvent the wheel by reframing things so we look smart! I am grateful to all the people out there who are smarter than me and have said great things for us to reflect on, consider and learn from.

All Church Planters?
In our last entry we were left with the idea that disciples of Jesus plant churches. Nothing new there…of course disciples of Jesus are the people who plant churches!

We were also left with the idea that since we are disciples of Jesus, then we are all also, ultimately, church planters. Now that’s a statement that many, if not most, of us would like to disclaim! But as Jim Putnam states, a disciple is “…one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus…”.

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I like the observations that a disciple is both following and being changed by Jesus, but we get into all sorts of tangled understandings of what is the mission we are to be committed to as disciples of Jesus. If we hold to J.D. Payne’s quote from last time, then we would define what Jesus did as making disciples who then made disciples and so on.

Living it Out
What did those disciples do? They told people about the good news of the in-breaking kingdom of God among them; of the work of the cross so that all may join God in His work; of being delivers of God’s righteous justice, mercy, grace, healing, love, and shalom; equipped and released those people to go do likewise in their own places and spaces. And they gathered and told stories of when, having believed, people were changed by the faithful presence of Jesus in their lives, of God at work, and of the faithful presence of the followers around them. And the new disciples did the same. And churches were birthed.

What they didn’t do was start a Sunday meeting and teach new forms of worshiping God. Worshiping God looked like changed lives, living out of and into God’s redemptive, reconciliatory, restorative kingdom that brings shalom and this gathered people together to praise and bring worship and remember the God who sent Jesus to usher it all in and make it all possible for you and for me and for our neighbors.

In my own journey in following Jesus, the more I followed and obeyed what Jesus did as He dwelled among us, the more I was changed in my thinking, my grace and love towards others and my understanding of God’s mission for the gathered ekklesia (the called out people who pray for and seek the welfare of the city) and scattered church, eikons (image-bearers of).

So if what we are doing in our current discipling practices isn’t moving people from self-focus (what’s best for me) to Christ-focus (what’s best for the world God so loves) which looks something like what Putnam described: “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. Because the ones doing the looking are the ones who Christ has placed in our area of influence where we live, work, play and pray.

 

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The Bible doesn’t say “plant churches” ?!?

By Shannon Youell

“The Bible does not tell us to plant churches.”

Say What?
If you read this quote and–confused–scrolled up to indeed verify you are on the Church Planting Blog, have no fear. You are! If we look at the thing Jesus commissioned His newly minted Church, His “ekklesia” to do, it was disciplemaking, not church planting.

The above statement from J.D. Payne’s book Apostolic Church Planting, continues thus:

“Throughout the Bible, we read of the birth of churches–after disciples are made. Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches. Another way to consider this concept is that it is evangelism that results in new disciples, who then gather together and self-identify as the local expression of the universal body of Christ. Churches are supposed to be birthed from disciple making.” ( p.17-18).

Though I may be totally wrong, I suspect that there would be little disagreement with Payne’s statement; “biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches.” And I am equally as certain that most of us would say a hearty “amen” that churches are “to be birthed from disciple making.” But what may get some pushback is in the defining of what is disciple making.

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Defining a Disciple
Often, we define a disciple as one who has decided to convert to Christianity by confessing their sins past and by professing their faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord of their lives for their futures. That is certainly the crucial initial step to being a disciple and we should more accurately say that person had a conversion experience that brought them into saving knowledge of Jesus.

There seemed to be many of those folk woven into the gospel stories. People who encountered Jesus, recognized Jesus as Saviour Messiah, perhaps experienced dramatic healing and/or deliverance through that encounter and professed Him as from God, the Son of Man, the One who saves. Paul addresses several of these groups when he is consternated that they are still infants needing milk when they should have been matured to chew on meat. They are converts but not necessarily disciples.

In the gospels, we see a disciple of Jesus as someone who was taught all about Jesus and then lived it out; disciples obey everything they are taught. Jesus schooled them to be disciple-makers. And the task He gave them was to be disciple-makers who make disciple-makers who make disciple-makers. And as more disciple-makers were made, communities were formed, churches were birthed.

An Upward Spiral in the Grand Story
This model is one that assembled people together to be gospeled–to hear and celebrate and remember the Grand Story together–as the telos, the goal of the Story. The commission was towards the telos of becoming disciples so that we could make disciples who tell and enliven the Grand Story to those who have not yet heard or entered into the Story. And the upward spiral continues over and over and over again.

The outflow or result of following what Jesus called the early disciples to do was that, out of necessity, new communities were required to accommodate and facilitate the new disciples who were now being trained to become disciple-makers. And once a week or more, those new local communities would gather to hear, to celebrate, to remember the richness of the Grand Story, the glory and goodness of God who so loved the world He entered into human form to capture our hearts to love the world the way He does. A circular mission of disciples making disciples who gather in local neighborhoods to make more disciples.

So to go back to Payne’s quote, we see that telling the people we encounter in our lives the Grand Story and inviting them to see themselves into the Story and showing them the entrance point, creates a need for new churches to disciple them so that they can tell their story to others.

“… church planting is evangelism that results in new churches.”

 The conclusion we can draw from that is that church planting is something disciples of Jesus do. So what does that mean for you, for us? Let’s explore that next.