by John Hall, Executive Director, MissionsFest and Missions Central
I’d like to thank readers for their support of Missions Fest Vancouver/Mission Central. It was great to be together again this year at the Conference and explore the topic of Discipling. Now we’re asking, “What were the take-aways?”
We feel strongly that every Christian needs to consider their personal journey as a disciple and their role in discipling others carefully. In Canada we’ve never seen such a decline in the measurable characteristics of discipleship in the church.
Shift in mission, from go to disciple
One of the most popular verses in the Bible associated with mission is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). To paraphrase: “In your going, make disciples.” Our goal at Missions Fest this year was to help shift our attention from the “go” of the verse to the “make disciples” part. Realistically, this is the part of the verse that people find most daunting. After all, how many of us have gone on a short-term mission trip? Buying the ticket to go was easy, but did we make disciples? This shift in the way we think about mission is essential to the church growing and being healthy. Discipling is the engine of mission. God, in his wisdom, chooses to do his work through us.
As noted in a previous article, the EFC study on mission provides some insight into a challenge we face: “Most respondents believed the Great Commission is a personal responsibility and a local church responsibility, however, they also tended to believe local congregations did not have the capacity to carry out this responsibility.’” (EFC Long-Term Mission Report, p25)
Unpacking the quote a bit, we see that an individual and a local church “lack the capacity” to send missionaries overseas. It’s also clear that, in this context, the emphasis of the interpretation of the Great Commission is on “going”. This interpretation needs to be challenged. In our Canadian culture, we need a renewed emphasis on “make disciples”.
I’ve heard tragic stories of churches who have sent people overseas because they have said, “I feel called to mission.” Often these missionaries return disillusioned because their investment fails to produce fruit. They have no experience growing disciples here that they can draw on overseas. The question that should have been asked before they entered a process of becoming a Global Worker (missionary) is, “Are you discipling people now?” If people with an interest in mission lack a vision for discipling at home, it is highly unlikely that it will develop when they go overseas. Thankfully, this mistake is being made less and less, but we can safeguard ourselves further if when thinking about the Great Commission our focus is on discipling.
Jesus leads, we follow
The Church can make this shift in emphasis more easily if we have a more robust picture of what a disciple is. At Missions Fest we worked on a definition and came up with this: A disciple is a follower of Jesus who lives in submission to Him, who strives to do the things that Jesus does, say the things that Jesus says, believes the things that Jesus believes within a community of love, to be a blessing to the world. That type of disciple will be where Jesus wants them. The going therefore, becomes much less important compared to being an authentic mature disciple.
With that said, having a vision for discipling is really difficult for the average believer. We struggle (at least I do) because a culturally-informed mental image of discipling puts the weight of making a disciple onto me and my efforts or my church and their programs. Lifeway Research author Jason Hayes writes about the three biggest obstacles to discipling others that their research identified. They were: lack of time, lack of trust, and lack of connection. While I agree these may be the three biggest obstacles for an individual already taking steps to disciple others, I would argue that there is one obstacle that’s bigger and that we face earlier. That is our lack of faith.
Lack of faith can express itself in an unwillingness to start something we are unsure will succeed or that we are unsure we can complete. In our results-oriented society, this is big. The solution is to learn to follow Christ. Following Jesus isn’t a solitary exercise. We mature in following Him through things such as: being part of a worshiping community, the work of the Holy Spirit, knowing the Bible, spiritual disciplines, and participation in the traditions of the church. When combined, these pieces shape a Christian lifestyle and refocus our attention on Jesus, reminding us that as we are being formed, as He is forming others into his image.
A people driven by love
We’re all called into the process of discipling as children of God. Discipling flows out of our deepening experience of abiding in Jesus (John 15:1-18). Only a passionate love for Jesus will inspire others in their journey of discovering him. A worshipful heart overflows into expression. This is what turns our love into mission. We must be willing to express the good news we’ve received in word and deed.
From that perspective, discipling is low barrier, but more importantly it’s naturally inclusive, because the journey towards abundant life in Jesus that we’re on is, after all, “life” and not an activity. If discipling flows out of our experience of abiding in Jesus, then in some ways it has a lot in common with worship. In worship we are simply declaring the glory of God, particularly as we experience it. Worship doesn’t have a start or finish but is tied more to the reason that we’ve been created. The potency of worship lies in two things. First, what we worship must be worthy of our worship. Second, we must be transparent in our worship, both with the object of our worship and with others. I suppose we’d call that “authentic”.
This year, please keep our churches in prayer as they work to raise up passionate followers of Jesus who will bring transformation to the world around them!