Today in our three-author panel, authors R. E. Clark, Paul Juby, and myself offer our thoughts on discipleship, practicing faith, and serving as missionaries. I’m excited to post the Missionary section below and hopefully begin a discussion among readers. Please leave comments below and visit the other two authors’ blogs to read through the rest of the panel.
1. What does it mean to you to be a disciple?
Lewie: One who patterns her/his life after Jesus. One who loves.
R. E.: The simplest definition for the term disciple is one that is a learner. Where most people make a mistake in defining discipleship is in assuming that being a disciple is a static position of faith. It is in truth a dynamic identity where the disciple oscillates from one of four levels: the novice, the apprentice, the journeyman, and the master-teacher.
Paul: Totally dedicated to Jesus. Prepared to serve Him in any way.
2. What importance does your church place on discipleship? Do you think this is an effective amount of importance?
Lewie: For us disciple-making is the first things. It was C. S. Lewis who said, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in; put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” When we make disciples first it will result in kingdom communities of faith and love.
R. E.: My position as an associational missionary allows me the privilege of seeing discipleship programs at work in 71 churches. The importance of discipleship is evident at some level in each of these churches, however there is a distinct difference between a perceived value placed on discipleship and an actual value of discipleship. Everyone will claim discipleship at work in their church, but often it is just a verbal assent with no real plan in place to produce or promote discipleship.
Paul: Very sadly in the “Circuit” of 22 churches with 3 Ministers I have never heard any preaching on discipleship. There is rarely if ever encouragement to be “do-er”
3. What methods do churches use to create disciples? Are these methods the ‘right’ methods?
Lewie: I’m often asked to coach groups on their disciple-making efforts. Much of the time I come away with the same two feelings: (1) deep appreciation for their intent and (2) disappointment over their approach. Western Christianity seems to be enamored with programs and curricula while giving lesser attention to the heart-and-soul matters of relational connection. If we’re not effective, we assume our methodology is what’s broken.
R. E.: The most common method used today is to require a new believer to attend a series of membership classes ranging from six to thirteen weeks. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of these classes these new converts are simply placed into the life of the church with little or no further discipleship. As stated before, discipleship is not static, it is dynamic. Disciples simply are not molded like toy soldiers and then placed on the field of battle. Discipleship is messy and the maturation process varies with each individual disciple. There is no right method because of this.
Paul: Very sadly I see no methods to create disciples by our ministers. If I had a church I would create an “A Team” of dedicated members to buttonhole each member separately to encourage each to take on a ministry, each one to attend an organic weekly prayer meeting.
4. What is the most active generation in your church community? What is the least active generation in your church community? Why do you think that is?
Lewie: Those in their twenties and thirties. The millennials (those born 1981 or after) desire relationship and are disillusioned with Western culture values which has also influenced Christianity in America.
R.E.: I am going to answer this question by redefining the term generation. Where the intent of the question is to look at generations as groups of people formed around ages, I think that generations are really formed around the groups of people that are joining the church. You will find lots of activity in nearly every age group in the church. Of course, for the most part the activity is based around that age groups needs; i.e., parents with children, youth groups, ladies or men’s groups, and then senior groups. But the fact is the youngest generation of new believers are usually the most active in each of these groupings. Therefore, activeness is not age-based, but time-based. The longer a person remains in the church their intensity of involvement wanes.
Paul: Ninety per cent senior citizens. There are no Sunday Schools, no Youth Fellowships and one kindergarten.
5. What, if anything, will happen to the church if we can no longer develop effective disciples?
Lewie: As it has been said, “Christianity is always a generation from extinction.” Although my trust is in the Lord and his advancing the gospel his kingdom, I am concerned for state of Christianity in America.
R. E.: There are two outcomes when discipleship fails: First, you find a church that has a large population of immature believers; second, and ultimately the church (the local church body) will eventually begin to decline as the mature believers die, immature believers depart through the back door, and those remaining are overcome with discouragement
Paul: The churches will die, they will close. I have seen five of our village churches close. One of the 22 still in operation is down to 4 members.
To read what we have to say about Practicing Faith, visit Paul Juby’s blog. To read about our thoughts on Serving as Missionaries, visit R. E. Clark’s blog.
Thanks for following along!
Thanks for being a part of the panel, Lewie! I enjoyed getting some new perspectives. It was a great way to reach out to new readers. I hope we can work together again soon!
Great observation (above) that discipleship is dynamic, not static.
Programs do not create disciples. “Churches do not make disciples. Disciples make disciples, and disciples make churches.” (Can’t remember where I got that quote, but will give Mike Breen credit until I learn otherwise).
One of the best examples of the dynamic nature of discipleship is the life of Peter. One moment he is declaring Jesus to be the Son of God and the next he is denying that he even knew Him. One moment he is asking to walk on water to meet Jesus and the next he is sinking in the waves. Indeed, discipleship is messy and the discipler must match his teaching style to the disciple’s status at any given moment. The master-teacher can revert to being a novice under the right conditions.
It seems to me that within American Christianity the strategy for multiplication has churches starting churches. The problem is the church planting (in the traditional sense) is expensive, complex, and not highly relational.
The question we have been wrestling with is how to multiply the kingdom without church planting.