Creating a Culture of Shared Practices

By Shannon Youell

I know, I know, when you read today’s title, some of you are already thinking we already share practices in our congregation: each week we faithfully gather together to worship, fellowship, pray for one another and hear teaching on Sunday and, often, we gather in smaller groups during the week.

Yes, we do already share these rich times together. So good! We also encourage one another, rightly so, to spend time daily with God in prayer, meditation, scripture reading, confession and reflection for our own personal growth when we are not together. 

Yet, we believe there is a thicker definition of what it means to embody this kingdom life we’ve been called to. When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he is always talking about a community of people who are 24/7 citizens of that kingdom participating in the practices, the devotions, and the mission of the kingdom together. And he frames it all in the midst of discipleship, something that one does not pursue individually, but rather in relationship to others. 

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Like many of our human innovations, the proliferation of published books/information has both enhanced humanity immensely and also fed into the disconnection and fragmentation of community.  There are so many amazing and wonderful devotionals, spiritual formationals, Bible studies, theological reflections and any other genre of book written, and we celebrate those and continue to encourage disciples of Jesus to pursue knowing God deeper, enriching people wherever they live, work, play and pray.   

However, partnered with our western-world philosophical adherence to individuality and self-help, and distrust of anyone telling us what to think or do, our endless Kindle reading lists can actually separate us from the ancient practices that built and sustained communities of the faithful, which made those early disciples distinguishable in the places where they were embedded and participated in the new kingdom community marked by the Jesus way. In our current reality, discipleship itself has become optional, an add-on for those who are wanting more than the service on a Sunday morning or who are viewed as more religious. 

Both Jesus and the early church demonstrated a journey of discipleship that was done within a community. Putting the idealized Acts 2 church into perspective, the people did not sit on the temple steps 24/7, forgoing work, family, civic duties and all the other components that make up humanity’s days.  I believe the point of that passage in Acts is that they were intentional to gather and be discipled together and that they were equally as intentional to continue these practices when scattered, resulting in a community that were being both shaped and influenced together.   

They were building a culture of discipleship that incorporated shared practices while scattered and that also enriched the shared practices of their gathered times. 

We like to say this is a thicker understanding of what it means to be church together because it expands what we do, say and confess as a people together into the other six and half days of our lives.  It takes our theology of what we believe and understand about God and his people to the place of praxis – what does that look like lived out? 

Dallas Willard calls nondiscipleship the elephant in the church.  He continues to say that the elephant is not the “much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing similarity between Christians and non-Christians.” 1 Rather, nondiscipleship is the underlying problem to those failures. It’s the thing that everyone knows fills the room but nobody really talks about, especially when challenged with the part of discipleship that makes us accountable to a community of fellow disciples.   

It is much easier (and safer) to just do whatever one does by oneself.  The barrier the church finds itself up against is that we’ve done a good job of making believers but a dismal pass on making disciples who make disciples, who are on God’s mission together to bring his kingdom shalom into the world. 

The good news is that God is waking up the church to this reality! In fact, it has been the Baptist historical ethos: whenever the church became too involved in self, God stirred up his followers to look around and see what is missing from their life together.  Those who yearn to see the church become distinguishable from the rest of culture recognize that what is missing in our life together is the together part—a people who are devoted to the journey of discipleship that actually continues to transform us more and more to Christ-likeness! The together part is bigger and richer and more formational and thus tranformational, enhancing all the other wonderful rich things we do when we gather for a service.  It is about shared practices—things we do together even when we are not togetherthings we do together as we engage being on mission with God to make disciples of all peoples and then teaching them to do the same. 

In this next series of blogs, we will be sharing what we’ve learned ‘as we go’ in the rich pathway of shared practices, including stories of our own congregations as well as those of other lovers of Jesus who knew there was more to this life as church than what we have been engaging in.   

Our purpose is that all of us as people who are faithful in our lives to God’s work in the world desire to see the culture around us be infiltrated with God’s goodness and kingdom. The reality is that before we can really see that happen, we must first shift our own internal culture into that of disciples on mission with Jesus. 

Follow with us, comment, email us, and let’s share this journey of going deeper and wider together by creating a culture of shared practices. 

Living Like Citizens

By Cailey Morgan

What does it mean to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom?

We’re in the middle of a series on Gospel, Kingdom and Justice. In some ways, Gospel is the biggest picture—the story of God with us throughout history and the reality that He is for all who will receive Him. Kingdom zooms in a little to explain that God is King, so living out the Gospel (aka, living in His presence with Him) means we are citizens of His Kingdom: the realm in which what God wants done gets done.

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In coming articles we will dive into Justice—an even sharper focus on one of the key ways that the Good News of the Kingdom is enacted on earth and in heaven. But today, let’s look at one of the ways the Tangible Kingdom Primer describes God’s Kingdom on earth:

“We believe that whenever you see a group of people who find a rhythm or balance among communion, community and mission, you will always find the Kingdom. It will be tangible!”i

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Communion represents ‘oneness’—those things that make up our intimate connection and worship of God. Community represents aspects of ‘togetherness’—those things we share with each other as we live our lives together. And mission represents ‘otherness’—the aspects of our life together that focus on people outside our community.”ii

I can quickly give mental assent to this description of the Kingdom. It’s chock-full of missional-incarnational-community language that I’ve been steeped in as an apprentice of Cam Roxburgh over the years. But a life of communion, community and mission—living as a citizen of King Jesus’ realm—is not just a proposition I give a nod to, or a neat box for explaining a spiritual truth.

Choosing citizenship means action. It means intentionally striding toward the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14). And it means shedding all other attachments and allegiances in order to squeeze through that hole in the wall.

The authors of the TK Primer explain it this way:

“Nothing good ever comes easy. For sure, nothing of God’s Kingdom comes without resistance from our personal kingdoms or the world’s kingdom. Nothing of the Spirit of God comes without a good ol’ fashioned bar fight from our flesh….

God’s ways are natural, but they aren’t easy—especially at first. New ways of life must be formed in us through hours, days, and years of intentional practice. The future of your own faith and the incarnational presence of your community is ultimately about letting the Spirit of God re-orient everything about you.”iii

A Picture of Citizenship
This citizenship process is difficult, but not impossible. In Acts 2, we get a clear and beautiful glimpse of what happens when God’s people surrender to His Spirit and His Kingdom way; the Good News that God offers Himself to all is proven when He empowers those who say yes to respond by offering their all.

 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:37-47).

The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Wow. Yes please, Lord! So how does the Kingdom advance in this passage? Notice what begins to happen when hearers of the Good News let the Gospel take over in their own lives. It infiltrates every area of their devotion and action, and soon other people start to notice. And then those other people begin to surrender their all to living in the Good News of the Kingdom and the Spirit-led cycle continues.

Peter shows us the need for clear preaching and admonition, but this movement exploded because people believed what he said about Jesus with not only their minds, but their hearts and voices and wallets and calendars and homes and refrigerators. That’s evangelism.

Devoted. Everyday. Everyone. Everything.
I’ve read and prayed through this passage so many times over the years because it’s this type of abundant life that I covet for my family and my church and my neighbourhood. But when I opened again to Acts 2 the other day, God’s Spirit nudged me to consider whether I myself am living as a devoted citizen of God’s Kingdom. The conversation went like this:

Spirit: “All the believers were together.”

Cailey: “You mean, like, in the-same-place-spending-time-together type of together? Or emotionally together—like a shared purpose?”

Spirit: “All the believers were together. Every day they continued to meet together.”

Cailey: “I can dig it! With a few people. I’m kind of introverted, as you obviously know.”

Spirit: “All the believers were together.”

Cailey: “Like, the ones I get along with?”

Spirit: “Nope. All.”

Cailey: “How about the ones I know I can trust?”

Spirit: “Nope. All. Trust Me.”

Cailey: “How about the ones who have the same core value statements?”

Spirit:  “They had everything in common.”

Cailey: “You mean like they lent each other their stuff?”

Spirit: “Yes. And they shared their pain. And their joy. And their love for the place where I planted them. That’s why they sold property to give to anyone as they had need.”

Cailey: “As in, when they could afford it they gave offerings to support people who were trying to get back on their feet.”

Spirit: “No. I mean they sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

Cailey: “What if they don’t deserve it?”

Spirit: “What do you deserve?”

Cailey: “Touché, Lord. But what if they misuse the gift?”

Spirit: “If you’re asking that question, it wasn’t a gift.”

Cailey: “I don’t think I can do this.”

Spirit: “That’s why you have them! And Me!”

The Gospel news of God’s presence, His reign, and His constant, all-out search has been the reality since the beginning of time and is the reality today. Yes, one day we will have fully-realized heavenly life when the darkness of sin and separation from God no longer seeks to block out the warmth and light of Christ and the radiance of His Bride (us living together in the unity of the Spirit). But the Kingdom is already among us, as Jesus declared and His people have been declaring for twenty centuries.

When we—the citizens of that Kingdom—submit ourselves to the reign of the King, aligning our will with His, our very lives will point to this Good News, and our “evangelistic” declaration of truth will no longer be a hollow and awkward statement of beliefs, but a simple and natural explanation of why and how our lives are marked with contagious and brilliant Light. Sounds like good news to me!

Next week, we’ll jump into Advent by taking a look at some of the Old Testament promises and prophecies about Jesus, and the strong thread of a Kingdom of Justice that winds its way throughout history and Jesus’ teachings while He was here on earth.


i. Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom Primer: An Eight-Week Guide to Incarnational Community (CRM Empowering Leaders: 2009): 202.

ii. Graphic and quote from Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom Primer: An Eight-Week Guide to Incarnational Community (CRM Empowering Leaders: 2009): 201

iii. Ibid: viii.

My Gospel Questionnaire Part 2: What’s Good News to You?

By Shannon Youell

When I pick up my newspaper at end of my driveway each morning, I walk back glancing at the headlines to see what catches my attention the most. Those are the stories I want to read first. What is the story underneath the headline?

Were I to pick up my newspaper and see the headline: “Good News! Becky Morgan found her lost hamster,” I would think, “well that’s nice.” And indeed, it is good news for Becky. But it doesn’t affect how I approach the rest of my day, let alone my tomorrows.

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Or how about the headline this summer announcing that Canada had just purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline? That was good news for some, but not such good news for others who opposed it.

However, if the headline read that scientists had discovered the cure to eradicate all cancer, this would indeed be good news for many—if not all—of us. This story changes everything in regards to the ravishing of these diseases. This news gives hope for those who have the disease and relief for those who may find themselves or their loved ones in this place in the future.

Good news is something that has happened that impacts what is happening to them/around them, and will change what is yet to happen.

The Good News of God’s “Is-ness”
Those of us who have heard and believed good news that changed everything can likely pinpoint the aspect of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God that penetrated to the depths of our very souls. For some, it was the release from guilt and shame that the good news offers forgiveness into. For others, it was the aspect that God loves you; that God has always been looking for you; that you are not abandoned.

Others found the good news first in emotional, psychological or physical healing–  demonstration that God truly is, and, in his is-ness, God is actively stepping into the darkest places of our souls with a holistic healing that begins to transform thinking, actions, motivations and the lens through which life is viewed.  Some who have lived in rejection intersected the good news by being accepted, welcomed, given dignity, value and voice regardless of what separated them from both community and God.

These are but a few spaces where the good news intersects with God’s beloved image-bearers.

In Jesus’ encounters with people throughout his ministry, he found the intersection between the story of the person he was engaging and the Big Story of God. To the thief on the cross, good news was that he was forgiven, absolved, and entering with Jesus into a transformed reality of both an immediate and a future of restored relationship with God and with God’s community. God had not forsaken him after all, no matter what lies he had accepted and lived by.

For the cripple, the blind man, the woman with the issue of blood, the good news was that because Jesus had healed them, they could now be included by a community that treated them unlovable. This because was the catalyst for those to have their eyes opened to see Jesus as Lord and Savior as they recognized that only God-with-them could deliver them from the darkness of their world.

Fluency In the Good News 
I believe our world is hungry for good news. Even as we lament the growing secularity in our nation and our world, the hunger for connecting with something greater than ourselves, that has the best interest and future for humanity does not wane. In fact, it seems to increase.

To engage in conversations with our not-yet-followers-of-Jesus family, friends and acquaintances, we must increase our fluency in the amazing good news that God is looking for us?  Can we develop our listening skills and our care for, the stories we tell one another and listen to, always opening up the space of inviting Jesus as Lord into the very stories themselves. Can we thicken our understanding of the Gospel to see where Kingdom and salvation are co-existing aspects of God’s very good news and are both being realized here on earth as in heaven?

How we share the good news, and which aspect of the gospel is any one person’s entry point, requires us to be good listeners to truly hear where people’s stories, the place they find themselves in their current reality, intersects with God’s kingdom plan of Shalom of flourishing humanity that reflects God’s heart in how we love God, love others and love our world and submit ourselves to inviting Jesus into the situations where we see the miracle of Jesus is Lord reach deep down to connect with us in the midst.

On a personal note, I came to faith because I experienced God looking for me. The realization that, a) God was real (which was the initial question I asked “to the air”) and b) that this real God was looking for me was incredibly good news to me. It was this aspect of the gospel that then drew me to Jesus.

Those door-to-door evangelists had no impact on me with their “do you want to spend eternity in heaven or hell?” tracts. These were not things that concerned me. But the very existence of God looking for me was the perfect entry point for me.  That doesn’t mean that those approaches are wrong or obsolete. Rather, if we desire to be sharers of the thick gospel of the Kingdom of God through Jesus, we need to listen well for natural entry points. Everybody believes in something; even if their belief system is “nothing,” that’s still a thing!  It is here that we look to the Big Story for the intersection with that and begin.

Again, good news is something that has happened that impacts what is happening to them/around them, and will change what is yet to happen. 

Why do I write this on a church planting blog?  Because churches are planted as people who did not previously follow Jesus hear the good news in a way that connects them to God and the big story of God interacting with humanity. From there, discipleship communities grow into the places and spaces we live.

The Thick Gospel

By Shannon Youell

In the prayer of Jabez, the line that I’ve oft heard prayed when church folk gather to pray, about growth, evangelism and engaging their communities is the prayer for God to bless and enlarge our territory, our areas of influence in our neighbourhoods, schools, workplaces and cities.

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As Christ followers, this cry should become part of the DNA of our new person selves and the communities we gather to worship and serve in. Though this verse is not exactly prayed in the context of sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom among us, uttering it in those prayer meetings is full of that intention. We do sincerely long to see God’s Kingdom light shine where darkness still holds people prisoner in its grasp of deception and isolation from the Creator of all things.

Where we get stuck, though, is how do we do that? Most of us would honestly acknowledge that our usual methods of evangelism are not received as good news to many in our current world.  In this fall series we want to expand our language and understanding around our concept of gospel, Kingdom and justice. These are not three separate aspects but rather intertwined within the good news story that God Himself has fulfilled in and through Jesus our Lord.  As we experience a renewed “thickening”  of the Gospel, we may be surprised how that expansion naturally leads us to activity in God’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven where God’s shalom, His ministry of justice, peace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration becomes the prayer on our lips daily.

You may wonder what this has to do with church planting, since this is the church planting blog. The one word answer is EVERYTHING.  The early Christians formed communities that grew to established communities of disciples by sharing the amazing good news that Jesus is Lord and Savior, and those hearers well understood the implicit and explicit implications of that good news in their lives and circumstances. We plant new churches to receive new believers, to disciple those new believers and one another (I like the phrase “to gospel one another”), to celebrate God’s goodness to His creation and to invite others to find how their story intersects with God’s story and completes them and the community they are welcomed into.

Resources
One of the resources we are recommending is a bundle of primers that, though they are specifically targeted on particular aspects of gospel, kingdom and justice, have been helpful for many pastors/leaders in beginning to explore deepening our understanding and our level of engagement in the Good News. These primers are meant to be used as group discovery, utilizing story and dialogue, scripture and prayer, confession and repentance.

The Gospel Primer helps frame what is the story we should be telling, how do we tell that story in such a way that our listeners ‘hear’ it, and our own understanding of the dynamic of the Gospel in our own everyday lives and choices.   Concepts include the idea of apprenticeships that move us beyond what we know about the Gospel into greater engagement in action with the Gospel; Gospeling as an action and something faith communities do with one another and those who do not yet know God is looking for them; Gospel Fluency in which how we “speak and display the gospel…leads us to transformation and restoration; Identity as those who trust in Christ; Gospel Listening which is where we learn to actively listen to the story of others and discern what is Good News for that person in their story; and patterns and rhythms to help us move away from separation of our faith life and our world life (sacred and secular divide).

The Tangible Kingdom Primer helps our faith community view our calling to be on mission with Jesus—joining the family business, as Cailey likes to say. It takes us through such reflections as What is community; Living Out and Inviting In; What is incarnational; and What is missional. This is not a primer with a model or program of evangelism that we do to people. It is ways to create room and pathways so that the gospel touches into the real lives of people in such a way as to draw them into relationships with God and with others and restored to a community where God’s shalom—His healing, salvation, love, justice, peace are evident and active.

The Justice Primer is an eight-week guide to serving through community. It serves to build on our understanding that living a Gospel life includes action oriented towards those within our faith community and those in our neighbourhoods, schools and cities. The idea is how we “become good news” to the people in our community by living fully the mission Jesus calls each and everyone one of us to. This is not just about social justice and action but how it apprentices us to grow in Christ likeness and mission.

We will have a copy of each for you to take a look at during the Banff Pastors Conference, and you can purchase them online from the publisher here or at some Christian book retailers.

Thinking Right-Side Up

By Cailey Morgan

A New Identity
In the apostle Peter’s beautiful letter to the church scattered throughout Asia minor, he presents a sometimes-poetic, sometimes-stark picture of the diverse and persecuted people of God as the new Israel: God’s family. Christians are the new children of Abraham, the new temple, the new priesthood. It’s a new way to live—a life direction opposite to the Roman culture they lived in.

If you’ve got 8 minutes, check out this visual walk-through of 1 Peter below to see how all these Old Testament pieces fit together with Peter’s New Testament definition of the church:

We can quickly find parallels between our context in 21st-century Canada and that of the God’s people in Peter’s time, not to mention the transient and exilic days of the Israelites, as Ontario author Lee Beach writes in The Church In Exile. So as you read this verse, picture yourself, surrounded by your congregation, when you hear the word “you” in Peter’s statement here:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). 

You have been called out of darkness and into light—an absolutely opposite experience from the life you used to have. And being this holy nation together not only shows up in the language we choose to employ or the “bad things” we try not to do, although that’s part of it (as a witness to God’s glory, 1 Peter 2:11-12).

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In His Kingdom, the last shall be first. In His Kingdom, there’s a new definition of success. In His Kingdom, the way we treat people is transformed. Power is perfected in weakness.

Right-Side-Right Right Here, Right Now
Some of this right-side-right thinking will come up against global power and cultural influence: Peter calls Rome “Babylon” in his letter in recognition of the pervasive, abusive corruption of political and military power throughout history. But foremost, right now, the way of Jesus confronts insignificant me and little old you. It confronts the root of pride I carry, and that hidden anger cycle in your heart, and that nasty little “me first” impulse that pops up seemingly before we can stop it and pulls our minds into making decisions that leave us with the credit and someone else with the suffering.

Living in the way of Jesus is something we simply can’t do on our own. We can’t see rightly without His lenses; we can’t think rightly without His thoughts; we can’t live rightly without His Spirit.

When His Kingdom comes in full, we’ll finally grow into the holy and beautiful Bride Christ is inviting us to be. But until that day, we pray “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And when we say those words, we’re asking the Lord to flip us right around, and give us the humility and the perspective to join Him in making the world around us more like heaven.

These next articles will be a study in opposites: how the Kingdom-of-God definitions of power and congregational success and leadership and conflict resolution contrast what we see around us (and even what we see in our own hearts), but how these ways of Jesus are in fact the key to being the chosen people and holy nation that we’ve been striving to become all along. I pray that you will see your identity as God’s set-apart sons and daughters and your life’s mission to “declare the praises of Him who called you” in every situation, every day.

Ministry Priority 2: Investing in Relationship

By Shannon Youell and Cailey Morgan

Investing in Relationship is our CBWC second ministry priority: a shared mandate to foster intentional connections between churches towards shared mission in their context. CBWC staff invest in relationship by providing opportunities for shared meals, times of learning, inter-church communication and storytelling, churches are able to forge new connections in the network and hear from each other. It is always such a joy in these settings when we witness people discovering people within the CBWC family who have some experience in areas we are trying to minister and serve in and ideas to share. IMG_4026.JPG

It is within a supportive and integrated atmosphere of invested people, connected together that  makes church planting a real possibility. Church Planting does not happen in a vacuum, it always comes from investment in relationships. The best resource we can give each other is…each other!

Pioneer church planting or multiplication is no longer reliant on the charisma and resilience of a person or single team; rather, the vision can be birthed from within a congregation or a group of churches who can share the vision with our larger family, who then commit what they have to offer—prayer, time, money, people, facilities, leadership, gear, mentoring, curriculum….take a look around and you’d be surprised what you have to offer.  As we do this work together, as we invest, we are investing in lifelong relationships with one another in places where we once were strangers.

We, as the Canadian Baptists, are a network rich in diversity, giftings and skills. Having one another as resources of encouragement and abilities, wisdom and friendship, fosters flourishing for us all.

As the early Church demonstrated, churches connecting with churches and sharing Kingdom work has always been the way the gospel was extended beyond any one congregation. Without one another and the relationships established with the apostles and with Jerusalem, and with each new community of faith, it is unlikely that the message of the good news of the Kingdom of God would have gone very far, or survived very long.  Our Father, who is community, created community here on earth.  He calls a people to be a blessing to every nation; to bear witness to His faithfulness to all He has created; to build communities of faith who live faithfully wherever they are planted.  So, it is of no surprise that relationships are crucial in the ethos of the kingdom and the work of its citizens!

You can read more about this ministry focus here on our website.

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.