Ministry no longer fits into a neat little rectanglular box. The challenge is – if you build, they may come. Then what? How do we move people beyond our rigid functions and forms? How do we free people up to be the missional people of God?
It’s not about the weekend. Our mission is to make disciples. Sure, people may attend a weekend service as disciples or not. Some will gather with their spiritual families in homes, storefronts, bars, taverns, and coffee shops throughout the week. Regardless, if we make it simply about the weekend, we ultimately turn our boxes into temples of idolatry that feed the narcissistic nature Jesus came to transform.
It’s not about form. Form is often a contextual issue. In China churches most often meet in homes and are led by women. Why? Because the church has been driven underground by the government. In my Bible belt community churches most often gather in brick and mortar structures. Why? Because it’s the Bible belt! It’s what happens within those homes, brick and mortar, taverns, bars, schools, offices, and storefronts that really matters.
I’m sure that regardless of Jesus’ context he always had his disciple-making mission on his mind. When he sat around a fire, debriefing his disciples after a long day, he was focused on making disciples and when he spoke to God Fearers in the temple courts he had making disciples on his mind.
Being the church involves several things as it relates to discipleship.
- Recognizing we all have the same mission. Jesus was really clear when he said, “…go make disciples…” We have a disciple-making mission. The question we should ask is, “What do we want to happen beyond our gatherings?” This question should be answered before we gather if we have any hope of something happening beyond the box.
- We have to be a disciple in order to make disciples. We are going to reproduce who and what we are. If we get it, we will help others get it. If we are misdirected, we will lead others down the wrong path. If we view discipleship through a programmatic lens, we will disciple a group of people that will see discipleship through the lens of “I’ve attended a worship service, a small group, greeted people at the door of the church building and given a little offering, so now I’m a disciple”. If we see discipleship through a moralistic leans we will disciple a group of people that see discipleship through the lens of “I don’t drink, smoke, dance, or chew so I must be okay”. The list of distorted or incomplete lens goes on and on.
- Making disciples is a lifestyle, not a program. One of the reasons I think we have a difficult time with understanding what it means to be a disciple and make disciples is that we have it all wrong. Jesus didn’t come to stunt us and keep us from having a relationship with him. We are so lost and blinded by well-intended leaders, pastors, denominations, and churches that we miss it all together. In my book Detox for the Overly Religious, I address this by reminding us, Jesus’ priority wasn’t a curriculum. His priority was spending his life in intimate relationships with others. He chose those he wanted to be with. We know them as his disciples, but they were much more. They were his friends, and he chose to spend his life with them. He didn’t take them through an intense Bible study or a twenty-six week study course; his life was their study course. This approach is radically different from the non-relational approaches to making disciples I find inside the box of institutional religion.
- Disciple making happens best outside the institutional church. Historically in the institutional church our discipleship process began with our conversion and club membership. In a world where everyone already knows everything they need to know about God and the church to be a disciples, that may work. However, nothing could be further from the truth in today’s anti-church, post-Christian world. Making disciples involves inviting people into a whole new way. It requires a conversion of worldviews. Worldview conversion takes time and happens in the context of community. If we continue down the path we are going we only reach those who want to become like us or are already like us. This may explain our tendency to compete with one another by focusing on bigger and better. The competition intensifies as the traditional church market grows smaller. Missional expressions of the church are often best suited for this relational engagement. As a missional people we are called to follow Jesus as he goes into the world meeting people in their context, transforming them through a relationship of redemptive love.
A pastor friend of mine, who suggested I had no missional engagement in the world, recently challenged me. At first I though maybe he was right. I had no organized place where I went for intentional evangelism. However, what I did have was many relationships with people who weren’t followers of Jesus. I have meals with these friends. I have them over my house. Some of them stay in our home and go to church with us when they are in town. Most weeks someone in my relational network is meeting us for our weekend worship experience. God is changing their lives. It’s easy to miss simply because I’m not taking them to a church event or through a study course. Our life is their study course and what happens as we sit around a fire or table.
Nothing is wrong with a box. It can be a useful resource if used properly. However, if what happens in the box replaces relationships and what happens on the outside, it can be dangerous to the Gospel.