Through the Surge Network, I recently had the chance to hear from Randy Pope, from Perimeter Church in Atlanta, GA. I had never heard of Pope before so I didn’t know what to expect from his talk. I was very pleasantly surprised as he emphasized the importance of disicpleship in the life of the local church.
I’m afraid that “Discipleship” has become one of those “Christian-ese” (language specific to the Christian sub-culture) words that we use a lot but when pressed, we’re not really sure what it means or what it should look like. We know that Jesus commanded that His followers reproduce themselves (Matthew 28-18-20). For some, this has simply meant “evangelism”; sharing the Good News about Who Jesus is and What He has done. For others, it has come to mean lots and lots of studying the Bible. Still for others, it has meant getting together to talk about our struggles.
And, while none of these are wrong, they don’t seem to be complete. In fact, if we had to measure how well/poorly the typical North American church has done at making/growing disicples, it doesn’t look too good, does it? We typically organize ourselves around a Sunday morning gathering and spoke all of our ministries from there (with the implied intent that when/if those other ministries reach people, it is to filter them back into Sunday morning because we measure success or failure in ministry by the very pragmatic notions of the 3B’s; butts in the seats, budget and building). It is not uncommon in many large churches for literally hundreds of hours to be poured into making sure Sunday morning is “excellent.” This has led us to people like Perry Noble saying that, if you have to get up during service, don’t come back in because you’re now a distraction, but has it really produced/nurtured/matured disciples who lay down their entire lives for Jesus?
Pope mentioned how influential the work of Ken Blanchard has been to his understanding of discipleship; particularly the notion of “situational leadership”. I was only familiar with Blanchard as a business/leadership guy, so I was intrigued by Pope’s statements. He then asked us to imagine the following diagram:
Start in the bottom-right corner with “Directives.” When you start a new job, the first thing they typically do is dump a bunch of information at you; what’s expected of you, your duties/responsibilities, etc. Then, a trainer will oftentimes let you shadow him while you gradually begin to take on the responsibilities for yourself. Gradually, the trainer will withdraw and move into a support role. They are available for questions and assistance as needed, but you are beginning to take on more and more of the responsibilities yourself. Finally, the responsibilities are delegated fully to you and you are on your own in the workplace.
One of the most frustrating things you can do is give someone directives and then immediately delegate to them. And yet, for many of us, that is exactly how we approach discipleship. In sermons or Bible studies, we tell people what they should do/how they should live and then basically send them on their way saying “Now go do it!” This simply leads to burnout, anxiety and legalism.
But what’s missing in many church contexts is the actual process of helping others learn how to do what the Bible says. Jesus’ ministry was primarily to the Twelve who lived with him, ate with him, followed him, mimicked him, gradually learning to what He did (you know, as best they could not being God and all).
By no means to I claim that we do this process well at Church of the Cross where I pastor, but this is our heart, and, I pray, where we are heading. This type of discipleship seems to happen best, not on a Sunday morning or in the classroom or even in traditional small groups but in the context of Gospel-centered community living on Mission.
It is leaders equipping believers to take responsibility for their own spiritual development and for that of others (Ephesians 4:11-13). Discipleship actually begins at the point of relationship, not conversion. As we live life with one another, we learn from each other, we correct one another, we speak the Gospel to one another and live it out in self-sacrifice. I desperately want Church of the Cross to be a family where people are becoming equipped and reproducing themselves. Please pray for us to this end.