The goal of the Church is making disciples. Each individual congregation pursues that goal in a different way and there isn’t even much agreement on what “disciple” means. This has resulted in a scatter shot approach to “doing Church” – we’re not quite sure what we’re aiming for, but we think it is “that way, over there”, so we throw a handful of programs and projects in the general direction of our beliefs and hope something sticks. I’m not here to answer for the Church what “disciple” means. I’m hear to articulate what “disciple” means for my congregation and how we are going to go about making them.
For me, a “disiple” is someone who knows God like Jesus does. When we know God the way Jesus knows him, as Father, we begin to see things the way Jesus sees them and everything in our lives comes into alignment with Reality and our transformed lives are an overflow of our relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. That still feels rather nebulous, so please bear with my while I unpack it.
Let’s say I am making dinner plans with some friends and my wife isn’t present. I have a pretty good idea of how to put together an evening she would enjoy because I know her and I’ve spent a lot of time with her. I know what kind of food she likes and doesn’t like, I know what kind of activities she enjoys and what kind she will only tolerate. I know her love language and can craft an evening with friends where we can have undistracted quality time and talk about core life issues for several hours in a comfortable environment. So, even though I am making plans and Dani isn’t present physically, she is present in me and we can plan as though she was physically there to offer her opinions. It is the same way with God.
When you know God, his likes and dislikes, his taste, the activities he enjoys and the ones he doesn’t, the environments he feels comfortable in, his thoughts on the world (et cetera, et cetera) it becomes really easy to represent him to the world. Jesus is such a perfect representation of God because he knows him. When we begin to know God like Jesus does, we will begin to speak like Jesus speaks and do the things Jesus does. As we cultivate imtimate, mutually self-disclosing relationships with the Trinity, we will gain a good understanding of what they would say or do in a certain situation – then we do it. Discipleship = Intimacy + Action. We obey Jesus’s commands because we love him and trust him. That love and trust, the knowledge of his character, is what allows us to obey even when we don’t understand or initially disagree. It is in obedience to our Lord that we discover more of his wisdom, affection and desire for our wellbeing.
I could try to add a lot more to the definition above, but that simple definition sums up everything I believe a disciple should be. Knowing what God thinks and feels about things like poverty, racism, sexuality, government, business, education, the environment, abortion (and so on) gives us a clear map to follow. At least, what we believe to be a clear map.
The tension of Humility and Certainty
Knowing God begins with the Bible. Our God is a self-revealing God who desires to be known by his creation. God is so unfathomably Other that it would be impossible to understand his character, thoughts, desires and emotions on our own. Sure, we would have a general sense of his existence, but to know him as a person requires him taking the first step. He is the one that had to bridge the gap. He had to be the first to speak.
Both the Old and New Testaments document the thoughts, words and actions of Our Father. It was he who created. It was he who promised redemption after our rebellion. It was he who made covenant and brought it to fulfillment centuries later. It was he who showed us what life is like under his influence. The Bible is the recorded work of God in human history. It is God’s self-expression, how he wants to be known. We can never know God fully, but we can know him truly – that Truth is found in the Bible.
One problem with our understanding and relating to that Truth is that we are several thousand years removed from its initial revelation. We must rely on the integrity of countless human beings throughout the ages in their attempt to accurately convey the essence of these matters to us. While we primarily rely on God’s steady hand to direct the transmission of Truth and information, when we open up a Bible we are getting a product filtered through countless historians, theologians, translators and pastors. That does nothing to dimish the authority of the Bible, but it does remind us that we need to be in relationship with the Living Word as well as the written word.
Even with God’s self-revelation in the Bible and God’s indwelling Presence through the Spirit, there is still tremendous disagreement within the Church about who God is and what he is like. It boggles my mind, really, and the zealot in me longs to charge into the fray and do battle, but Wisdom says no. Wisdom says to live transparently before my flock and to let them see the fruit of my life and beliefs as I live them out day after day, month after month and year after year. It is my hope that the abudant harvest of righteousness in my life, proven over decades, will convince them of the Truth – for it is all I can offer.
I am absolutely committed to knowing God, better and better each day if I can. That allows me to speak and act with a degree of certainty, yet I am also aware that I make mistakes. The accuracy of my beliefs can only be shown over time. Perhaps, if I am correct, the Lord will help me steward the Church in a greater way in the years to come.
Our goal is to make disciples – men and women who know God and are, therefore, able to share God’s heart with those around them and able to demonstrate his superiority over the world through their lives and actions. How best to do that?
If our relationship with God began because he first took the initiative to enter into our world and show interest in us, then that seems like a good place to start. God did not say, “First, show interest in me and then come to find out more about me.” But you would think he did from the way we “do church” in America. Through our structure and programming, the Church in America basically says, “If you’re interested in God, here we are. God only lives in our box and has nothing to do with the outside world. But he is pretty cool…” That worked for awhile, but I think there is a better way.
In Mark 3, we see Jesus select a group of 12 men from a larger crowd. He creates a community with them with this express purpose, “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority over demons,” (emphasis mine). Jesus’s ministry model was to form a community for the purpose of ministry, not community itself. We see this several times in the Gospel and Acts. First, it is the core community of the Twelve. Once they are up and running, Jesus expands to a group of Seventy-Two. Then it is 120 after the Resurrection and finally 3,000 at Pentecost. Each group had the same DNA – gather, grow, go, regroup.
The disciples gathered together for friendship, encouragement and refreshment over a meal. They grew as Jesus (and later the Apostles) taught them about the Kingdom of God through Bible study, personal revelation and practical application. Then the disciples went out to do what they had just been taught. Finally, they regrouped to share stories of victory, to troubleshoot problems and to pray for increased power and effectiveness. This sequence of events created impressive momentum within the community because it caught the disciples up in a virtuous cycle of intimacy, revelation, exertion and refreshment. These meetings were filled with joy, comradery, praise, thanksgiving, revelation, power and answered prayer. It was life-giving to the disciples and the larger community and it resulted in a rapid multiplication of those willing to surrender their lives to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
This is the kind of community I hope to create. This is the kind of community I would want to be a part of. It is also the kind of community that produces the kind of fruit I am after. I want to produce people who know and love God in an ever deepening way and that can only happen as we submit our lives and schedules to times of worship, prayer, praise, encouragement, exhortation, equipping, serving and rest personally and corporately. I’m looking for as many “on ramps” onto the highway of intimacy that I can find. I know God reveals himself to me personally, I know God reveals himself through his word, I know God reveals himself through others and I know God reveals himself in the world. Therefore, I need to intentionally look for him in those places – that is what being “on mission” is all about. Figure out what God is doing in a certain place, look for how he is revealing or wants to reveal himself, and then partner with it. That is how we extend God’s Kingdom to others.
My dream is 100% participation in Missional Community for every regular attender on Sunday morning. It would make my heart sing to see everyone getting together twice a month or more to eat, worship, talk, learn, be equipped and go out encouraged to do what God has called them to do. I’m committed to beating this drum for the next two years and then taking some time to evaluate. We’ll adjust, continue or scrap it once we get a good feel for how this works in our community.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to send them my way.
As always, thanks for reading.