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.
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.