Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Missional Discipleship

In my previous post, I mentioned that many people see community and mission as competing values. The truth is, however, that true community grows out of mission.

Most church leaders are also convinced that evangelism and discipleship pull the church in different directions. They say that we must manage a “
balance between evangelism and discipleship.” But they warn us, “Finding and keeping God’s Biblical balance between in-house discipleship and outreach evangelism is always difficult.”

Many believe that evangelism is more important than discipleship. Their philosophy is to get as many people “into heaven” as possible.

John R. Rice is an extreme example. In his book, I Am a Fundamentalist,
reviewed here, he calls Biblical churches “great soul-winning centers.” He criticizes formal worship services and small churches. Rice says, “It is not a sin for a church to start small. It is a sin for a church to stay small.” He asks, “Who is greatest in the sight of the Lord? Evidently the man who wins more souls.”

A Southern Baptist Convention official sent out a letter (
quoted here) with this paragraph:

Numbers are important because they represent souls lost and headed for Hell that are now headed for Heaven. It is time that we get serious about baptizing as many as we can these next two weeks to close out the 2005-2006 year.
There are many pastors and leaders who think the very same way. They just don’t have the courage to say so.

There are others who believe that discipleship is important. But they think
a few reminders from time to time will encourage people to “follow Christ.” Or they see discipleship as “part two.” First we have to figure out how to get them saved. Then we’ll figure out how to disciple them.

Some believe that discipleship is more important than evangelism. They believe that healthy Christians will naturally share their faith and bring others into the kingdom.
They say, “Disciples naturally share their faith. They do relational evangelism on their own. They bring new believers into the church.”

But the problem is that the longer most people are Christians, the less contact they have with non-Christians. The more mature believers become, the less likely it is that they will find themselves in situations to “naturally share their faith.” And the more cloistered they are, the less they are able even to speak the same language as “the world.”

The sad reality is that most efforts at discipleship do not result in people “naturally sharing their faith.”

Here’s something most people haven’t thought about:
The early church did not have an evangelism program.

They didn’t have a visitation night. They didn’t pass out tracts. They didn’t memorize a “plan of salvation.” They didn’t set goals for baptisms. They didn’t go door to door.

Yet “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Evangelism was not some activity they did from time to time. It was something that “just happened.” Notice in
Acts 2:42–47 the things that the believers did:
  • They listened to the apostles’ teaching.
  • They “fellowshipped.”
  • They “broke bread.”
  • They prayed.
  • They “lived” together.
  • They shared their possessions.
  • They gave to the needy.
  • They met daily in the temple courts.
  • They ate together.
You don’t read that they “shared their faith.” In fact, there is no mention of the things we think of when we hear the word evangelism.

Yet, at the end of this list Luke records that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Unfortunately, the word evangelism has lost its value for us today. I would suggest that mission is a better word.

Some people just see mission as a more sophisticated word for evangelism. In
this article, the Director for Education and Evangelism in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said, “It is a balance between mission and formation.” He has simply adopted new words for evangelism and discipleship. He equates mission with evangelism and formation with discipleship.

The associate director (apparently his wife) says, “Within each congregation are two distinct but intersecting spheres of activity: evangelism and education.”

Mission is not just a more sophisticated word for evangelism or “outreach.” It’s an entirely different mindset.

We must replace “evangelism” with mission.

One reason churches need to have evangelism programs is because they have
completely missed the purpose of the church. They have lost touch with its mission.

But what about discipleship?

Some people don’t see the need for discipleship. They say, “Teach me what the Bible says about church, and get out of my way. My friends and family will wrestle with the cultural implications. Teach me what you understand to be God's directive concerning leadership, worship, gifts, and service; leave it to us and the Spirit to work out the practice.”

Some resist efforts to do discipleship because they are afraid that
it will result in legalism or moralism. Discipleship is about behavior, but it is not about legalism, moralism or even religion. Discipleship is about internal changes that are visible in behavioral changes.

Some think they are doing discipleship, because they believe it is nothing more than education or instruction. To them, discipleship is teaching people theology and doctrine. It is explaining the Trinity, the human-divine nature of Jesus Christ and the particular interpretation of eschatology to which their church subscribes.

discipleship is much more than that. Dallas Willard insists that the proper way to think about discipleship is as Christian spiritual formation.

And this formation must become our highest priority: “
If we do not make formation in Christ the priority, then we’re just going to keep on producing Christians that are indistinguishable in their character from many non-Christians.

True discipleship includes the practice of missional living. And missional living is what Luke is describing in Acts 2:42–47. Missional living results in the expansion of the Kingdom.

Missional living is one of the factors that the Holy Spirit uses to draw people into the Kingdom. Luke says, “Everyone was filled with awe.” It is tempting to think that this was a result of the signs and wonders done through the apostles. But the Greek suggests that the people were filled with awe because of how the Christians lived.

True discipleship is missional discipleship. And missional discipleship attracts people to the Kingdom. “Evangelism” and discipleship might be at odds. But missional discipleship inexorably leads to the expansion of the Kingdom.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”

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