Archives For Discipleship

I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14,

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.

This is the season we sing of the coming of the new born King – Immanuel, God with Us.

The shocking concept that the creator of the Universe comes as a babe to be with us — to be in our midst — he moves into, and grows up in our neighbourhood.

And when he grows up, he is accused by both the religious authorities and the occupational rulers of conspiring to overthrow their power — conspiring with his disciples.

Coffee Chat Discipleship Conspiracy

Conspire, as stated in the previous post, at its latin root means to “breathe together”. Jesus and his disciples in deep relationship with one another, ‘conspired’ — they ‘breathed together.’

Discipleship, in its truest sense (as practiced by the One we claim to follow) is life lived together in conspiracy — ‘breathing together.’ There is an intimacy that is not reflected in the Western pedagogical sense of classroom with teacher/pedagogue, and multiple students listening at their desks.

Jason Blair tweeted this, this morning:

American discipleship has a lot of ‘talk’ and ‘study’ but not a lot of ‘do.’ Why do we expect anyone to listen to us, and why do some?

I often read of pastors/church leaders conducting Sunday morning “discipleship classes.” I believe they are mistaken. Perhaps these are catechism classes — which some might be shocked to know I believe are important.

But. Discipleship cannot be taught in a classroom setting, it can only be caught from lives lived together.

As “discipleship” begins to replace “missional” as the subject du jour, I think it critical we look at how Jesus discipled.

And ask him to help us ‘conspire’ to build his kingdom.

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And it wouldn’t be Christmas at the Kinnon abode without a little Rob Mathes Music – When The Baby Grew Up

Over the course of the last two years when I’ve deigned to write, I’ve written a fair amount about discipleship. In one of those posts, one of the commenters TimD, wrote of his experience of discipleship as that of command and control. For him, discipleship is a scary word.

Discipleship meant encouraging the newbies to buy into the program. To believe all the right doctrines and theologies and to become convinced that we were the right ones and the Baptists, Pentacostals, Catholics, etc were all wrong (to a greater or lesser extent). And any practical expression of discipleship in that context was focused on one of two things: 1) converting others to think the same we did, and 2) complying with the shallow morality checklist (church attendance, no sex or smoking, while ignoring greater issues of justice because there wasn’t a verse for that). The Bible study, teaching historicity, etc. all served these pathetic ends.

Discipline ≠ Discipleship

As I skip from node to node on the interwebs, I see lots of concern from church leaders on how to effectively practice church discipline. It reminds me of reading and reviewing the book, Why We Love the Church, where DeYoung and Kluck pontificate on the importance of discipline, i.e. Obeying Leaders!

Rather than a thoughtful and engaging book on Christ and His Church, this book’s title could just as easily have been “Why We Love Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them.” Kluck and DeYoung (who write separate chapters in the book) both quote this verse and approvingly quote other writers who say things like, “Without church membership there’s no place for the important role of church discipline (page 162).” My note scrawled in the margin screams “versus discipleship?

Discipline and discipleship may have the same root but are worked out in a person’s life in very different ways. Below is the common (dictionary) understanding of the word, discipline:

• the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience

• the controlled behavior resulting from such training: he was able to maintain discipline among his men.

When you add the not necessarily accurate translation of Hebrews 13:17 — submit/obey leaders —to discipline being understood as the above, it becomes easy to see how church discipline defaults to command and control. (UPDATE: See Lance and Lin’s contributions on this in the comments.)

When discipleship and discipline are conflated you get what TimD describes at the opening of the post.

Jesus, in the Great Commission, tells us to go and make disciples. It is simply not debatable that the model for doing this is Jesus himself.

And what do we see in the Gospels; Jesus living and focusing most of his energy over a three-year period on his band of followers. It wasn’t him building a large platform from where He could gather the multitudes to discipline them — with new rules and regulations — but rather it was Jesus pouring his life into a small group of people. People who would go on to turn the world upside down after Christ’s ascension.

He actively demonstrated the kingdom come, while walking hundreds of miles with his followers at his side, eating together, laughing together, in Luke 10 sending his disciples off in twos to return to him with their wonder-filled stories. He, to paraphrase the instructions of many of my writing coaches, showed them rather than told them.

In fact, he discipled them, didn’t he.

Were there times when he was incredibly frustrated with them and rebuked them?

Of course.

But, because the Jesus model of discipleship is fully relational, even when he rebuked his disciples they never doubted he loved them. His discipling was the furthest thing from command and control. (If your confused on this read Matthew 20:28 again… or even for the first time.)

So, I ask you, in the way Jesus made disciples, how do we conflate what far too many church leaders excitedly call church discipline with discipleship?

In this post, what I’d like to do and is riff a little on Imbi’s post from yesterday—one prompted in part by conversation with our now 21-year-old daughter, Kaili. (Happy Birthday, Kaili!)

Kaili has been reading books by J.I. Packer and John Stott on catechesis and discipleship, respectively. In her discussion with her mother, she said the word that is most important to her in this, is the word “transformation.”

Pres. Obama campaigned under the rubric of “Change You Can Believe In.” It’s truly questionable how successful he has been, and I guess our American cousins will decide that later in 2012. But I’d like to talk about “change you should be able to believe in.”

One of the standard rejoinders from mega-church pastors to any critique is to mention the size of their church and the number of people they have baptized. To them the sign of the effectiveness of their ministry is simply in the numbers and the numbers baptized. (Note that in the UK Interview by Justin Brierley, Pastor Mark makes a point of mentioning the size of “his church” and the size of Acts 29.)

And now I’ll probably offend a large number of people when I question this kind of reporting.

Allow me to chase a rabbit for a moment or two. Certain organizations, fraternities, clubs, etc have weird initiation rites that one must perform before one can join them. Otherwise intelligent people are willing to swear blood-curdling oaths or perform silly or even danagerous actions in order to join… to belong. The need to belong, wired into the human psyche, will often allow us to suspend our better judgment while swearing oaths or performing meaningless actions in an effort to join a community.

What can this possibly have to do with “change you should be able to believe in”? Especially in light of baptisms.

I’d like to posit that for many people getting baptized is simply their initiation into fellowship with other people. They have a natural longing for community and baptism is their initiation rite into that community. It may be done for spiritual reasons. But in mega-churches where there is little to no emphasis on discipleship, baptism is simply your way in.

Let me say that I hold the sacrament of baptism in high regard. But I confess that I don’t see that this “high regard” is particularly the case in many Celebrity–Driven, consumer-focused mega-churches.

So, when I hear of the great numbers being baptized in North America mega-churches I ask this question, “Where is the fruit?” Is it simply in bringing more members into the mega-church – more butts to fill up the pews or comfy theatre seating.

John Wesley said, “The Church changes the world not by making converts but by making disciples.” He was known for rigorously examining people to discover whether they had really become believers. It could take up to two years of intense discipleship before Wesleyans actually accepted a person’s conversion. And though I come from a line of Wesleyan preachers on my mother’s side, and identify myself as predominantly Arminian in my theology, I’m not suggesting this kind of rigour.

But.

There must be more than simple crossing a line from darkness to light and then sitting just past that line for the rest of one’s days.

I am suggesting that we should and must have an expectation of real transformation in the lives of new believers. This doesn’t happen by having them sit on their butts in comfortable pews listening to sermons on Sunday morning and, perhaps, occasionally on Wednesday evening. It happens with older-in-the-faith believers walking alongside younger-in-the-faith believers —teaching them the historicity of the faith, the power of prayer, the longing for the infilling of the Holy Spirit, what the fruits of the spirit are, compelling them to read the Scriptures and become like the Bereans who Paul lauded, and to learn to be makers of discipler themselves. (Note that the older and younger references are not meant to suggest chronology but rather people who have been Christians longer than the new believer.)

Let me point you to a post from Andrew Jones earlier this month, Practices of a new Jesus movement. And what are those practices; Bible study, open houses, fringe focus, simple habits, good business practices, a system for rehabilitation, native flavor, daily rhythm, not outreach TO others but outreach WITH others, something for the whole family and prayer — with the ministries characterized by Grace. Andrew says,

…they were wonderfully generous. Being poor, they made many rich. Including our family who were treated like royalty. We left with our backpacks filled with gifts and our hearts filled with a sense of overwhelming debt of gratitude.

Also, the intentionality of the movement was focused on impacting people’s lives with the gospel and NOT on creating community or starting churches which they saw as a natural outgrowth.

Sitting in pews, staring forward (or off into space) is not high on the list of the new Jesus movement – where the fastest growth of the Church is taking place in the world. Make a point of reading Andrew’s post.

This post is from Imbi Medri-Kinnon (though the title is from Bill).

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Discipling / Catechesis, depending on your faith tradition, are words that are out of fashion. The church is seemingly into all things missional in this generation. (Even if “missional” means a hundred different things.)

Yesterday’s sermon reminded those of us gathered that indeed the Acts 1:8 call is to each of us – we ARE witnesses (because of the Holy Spirit in us).

But of what?

Substance has been an ongoing discussion in our household, and last week Kaili used a phrase and particular word that is still resonating – conversion is (necessarily) followed by TRANSFORMATION… Discipleship / Catechesis ….

What we are becoming matters!

I’ve been encouraged by various writers including Richard Foster, and the classic Oswald Chambers, but also John Stott, NT Wright and Dallas Willard among others who are calling us back to integrity, indeed transformation. And Christopher Wright who reminds us that we ARE disciples, before all else.

For far too long in the evangelical North American church, we have offered a form of cheap grace where simply saying the sinners prayer, or reciting the creed(s) on a Sunday morning is apparently enough. But 1/2 way around the world, in Kenya, the phrase ‘Christianity in this country is a mile wide and an inch deep’ came up several times in conversation with local brothers and sisters, suggesting that it is not just a localized phenomenon, but rather a generational issue.

Rich Mullins wrote one of my favorite song lines ever, saying “Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing, 
It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine”
. What a rich image, summarizing such depth, (no pun intended). (Watch song. May need to go to 4:28 in on iPads, iPhones, etc.)

Roy Williams, quoting Christopher Isherwood, says relevance (does this matter?) and credibility (is it true?) are essential to actual communication with this generation. Persuasion follows.

Who are we persuading, and to what?

Does our relationship with Jesus matter? And is He real, in my / our life?

Discipleship / Catechesis — TRANSFORMATION — is necessary. And more than possible with the Spirit and seasoned believers invited to speak into our lives, on an on-going basis. Indeed transformation goes far beyond what we hear in sermons and say on Sunday mornings.

We are witnesses.

Without on-going transformation, we simply live out ‘a form of godliness’ in any number of ways, making us irrelevant and incredible to a world longing for truth and integrity …. about as ‘useless as a screendoor on a submarine’ ….

I know I need to be being transformed – especially on Monday mornings, not to mention Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday …

Let me just say, right up front, I’m pretty sure the Devil made me write this post. (In fact, he almost made me wright “right” for “write” just to discredit me further. So. All spelling and sintax errors are the devil’s fault.)

William Blake once beautifully asked,

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

But no rich poetic metaphor from our brother, James MacDonald.

No. For him, simple hyperbolic prose, “Congregational Government is from Satan.”

He advances his argument under the sub-headings, “Congregational Meetings are Forums for Division,” “Voting Is Not Biblical,” “Eldership Is Sometimes Unpopular,” “Congregationalism Crushes Pastors,” and “Priesthood Not Eldership of All Believers.”

And, of course, what “biblical” argument for authoritarian leadership structure would be complete without a quick prooftext shout-out to Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them…

Searching his blog, it appears that Brother James is not quick to exegete Mark 10/Matthew 20 – no doubt that whole “servant leadership” thing is so social gospelish.

I have neither the time, nor the inclination to take apart what appears to be a largely proof-texted eisegetical argument on James’ part but perhaps an “…is from Satansynchroblog might be in order.

Let me suggest some possible titles – all biblically prooftext provable,
The American Megachurch is from Satan.
The Executive/Business Pastor Position is from Satan.
Celebrity Church Leaders are from Satan.
kinnon.tv is from Satan

I’m sure you can come up with more.

In my never humble opinion, the bottom line problem with the church in the West is not church governance. As I have pontificated here ad nauseum, the problem is discipleship and the lack thereof in the church.

The Great Commission is to “go and make disciples.” It isn’t to build big churches or large platforms for big egos. Nor is it to command and control the congregation for the “sake of the church.” Disciples are made in direct personal relationship with the discipler. If the church was creating actual disciples I wonder whether we would need to worry about church governance.

And. Just for the record. In my late middle age, I would have to say that, assuming real discipleship, I'm most comfortable with an episcopacy.

UPDATE: Please read what is effectively Part 2 of this post, The Devil's Advocate.

UPDATE 2 : Please read WTH's post on this James MacDonald story.

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For further reading of my thoughts on some of what's covered here, you might like (or intensely dislike):
Jesus & MegaChurch Pastors, A Few Questions
Why Aren't Big Name Christian Leaders Decreasing
Confronting Idols & Making Discples (video with Chris Wright) 
More Disciples, Fewer Leaders, Please
More Disciples, Fewer Volunteers, Please
Leaders Lead, Disciples Disciple

via Jared Wilson

The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren . . . Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers to the authority of the Word.   [emphasis added - bk]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I find this quote particularly helpful in light of the apparent offense I’ve caused some with my previous post.

As I've reread my More Disciples posts along with the recent Leadership posts of Dave Fitch, Geoff Holsclaw and Bob Hyatt as well as Ben Sternke's Volunteers or Bondservants, I've been struck by the rather simplistic thought in the title of this post – Leaders Lead, Disciples Disciple.

The question I want to ask is how many leaders in what we call the church have truly been discipled? And when I say discipled I mean in the manner in which Jesus lived in the midst of, and in intimacy with his disciples.

I know I haven't been discipled like that. Have you?

How can we expect to raise up disciples when few of us have actually experienced being discipled?

What has been modelled is that leaders lead. I'm bold (or stupid) enough to suggest that that happens whether the church claims to be missional or attractional.

But I'm convinced what the Body of Christ needs are disciples who disciple rather than leaders who lead.

Thoughts?

One of the more popular posts from this tiny corner of the interwebs was one I wrote in September of 2005, A Better Word than Volunteer. In that post, I wrote this:

The American Heritage Dictionary definition for volunteer is "To perform or offer to perform a service of one's own free will." [Emphasis added]

That sounds noble and selfless, doesn't it. So why does the word "volunteer" bother me as much as it does when it comes to the church.

At a very basic level, those of us who profess to be believers in and followers of Jesus are called the Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul uses this imagery to explain how we function.

A body isn't just a single part blown up into something huge. It's all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, "I'm not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don't belong to this body," would that make it so? If Ear said, "I'm not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don't deserve a place on the head," would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it. (The Message)

If our understanding of who we are is that we are all a part of (rather than a part from) a single living entity, how do we invite different parts to volunteer to be involved.

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January, 2011

In October of 2010, Jamie Arpin Ricci wrote a post called Disciples, Not Volunteers. Jamie speaks more powerfully to the impact of the word "volunteer" on how we function (or don't function) as the Body of Christ.

Volunteering has become the primary way in which Christians are invited to participate in the work and mission of God & His Church in the world. While much good has come of this (and I am not suggesting the eradication of Christian volunteerism), I truly believe that we have crippled and compromised our missional capacity by making it so central and foundational to our approach to mission/ministry.

It has been since planting a church that I have seen it most clearly. Initially, the passion and vision for a new missional community in our inner city context was received with great enthusiasm and participation. However, as the initial fervour cooled, as it inevitably must, we realized that discipline and commitment were then necessary to keep the community healthy and growing in maturity. Again, all of this is expected and natural. However, despite how many affirm that we want to be a community of leaders who share the responsibility of the work of mission equally, functionally people still assume hierarchical leadership, leaving it to the few (or the one) to get things done when they are not able.

As I’ve dug deeper, I began to see a common thread: we all too often view our involvement in missional church community through the lens of volunteerism. In other words, we love the vision and reality of ministry and want to be involved, as long as it fits. We have discipled entire generations of Christians to see missional engagement as a voluntary opportunity they can add to their lives when it works or isn’t too demanding. This isn’t to say that many people don’t live sacrificially, but rather that the general trend reflects an attitude of optionality. [Emphasis added]

Let me unpack my thoughts further with a family example.

One of our three adult children is considering "volunteering" for the kids ministry in the church we attend. He is particularly gifted with kids – he loves them and they love him back. He has had this gift for as long as I can remember.

This church loves its kids and does a good job with them on Sunday mornings. And I know they could use the assistance my son would willingly provide.

But.

I also wonder whether the need for making disciples of the childrens' workers ever enters into the equation. Is part of the focus of the ministry leader(s) on discipling the ministry workers – or is that seen as a responsibility of the ministry that is focused on adults. (And when, how and where does that take place? I don't ask this in accusation – I have great love and respect for the leadership team at this church. )

I could have used the example of another one of our children who works with the teens ministry at another church in town. And I can guarantee that there is little to no focus on discipling the ministry workers in that example.

In a volunteer culture, I would strongly suggest that making disciples of those engaged in whatever ministry of the church is not even on the radar. Most volunteer-driven church ministries are happy with warm bodies. And those warm bodies are committed to "that ministry" for as long as it is convenient.

With Jamie, I believe we need to move away from asking for volunteers and move towards calling people to be the part of the body that they have been designed to be – and then to intentionally disciple them as they function in their calling, by walking with them in the manner that Jesus walked and taught his disciples.

As Eugene Petersen paraphrased Paul,

A body isn't just a single part blown up into something huge. It's all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together.

The call to discipleship is a recognition that we have been God-designed to be a functioning and fruitful part of the Body of Christ – and we must be discipled into that fruitfulness.

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More of my posts that work their way into this discipleship discussion:
Confronting Idols and Making Disciples – Chris Wright interview excerpt
More Disciples, Fewer Leaders, Please
Diss-Missional Discipline or Missional Discipleship
Sermons Don't Make Disciples – Missional Discipleship Part 2