This is part 3 of a ten part series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here
Last week we talked about three questions we need to answer as a foundation to building a thriving community of discipleship.
Today I want to help you explore the first of these questions: Why discipleship ? (The other two were what is discipleship and who is responsible for discipleship.)
If you watched the Simon Sinek video from last week you heard him explain the golden circle and that people buy your “why,” not your “what” or even your “how” (If you haven’t watched it, here it is, in last weeks post.).
This is true of your work in the church as well. Is it like pulling teeth getting your members to do the good work of discipleship? Are only a small percent involved in a small group, serving with their gifts? Are people excited about events but not the long slow work of discipleship?
No matter how well you explain the how and the what, they will be motivated by the why, not the what. If you are not able to articulate to yourself the reasons the work of the church is important how can you articulate it to them? And if you can’t articulate it to them why would they want to sacrifice time or energy to it?
I specifically mentioned three why questions last week.
- We should disciple because Jesus told us to, but why did He tell us to? Why is this important to God?Why not something else? (Why is God passionate about discipleship?)
- Why should the church focus primarily on Discipleship even to the exclusion of other good things?
- Why is the church uniquely ordained for Discipleship? Why not other institutions or groups?
Let’s take these one at a time. Like the Gospel itself this is a topic so deep there are possibly an infinite number of ways to define and articulate different aspects of the same truth, so let my thoughts work as a springboard for your own. I’ll try to stay broad and brief providing only a skeleton. (If you would like help fleshing these out, it would be my privilege and honest pleasure to work together with you on that.)
We should disciple because Jesus told us to, but why did He tell us to? Why is God passionate about discipleship?
This is the big question, clearly. Why is Discipleship the mission? Why does God call us to Disciple? Of course if the Lord of the church never told us why, we would still be responsible for pursuing the mission just as fervently.
The truth is that he does tell us why. God is passionate about discipleship and He wants to share that passion with us. He devotes much of the New Testament to explaining why Discipleship is important to Him.
Consider Ephesians 1. In the following passage I highlighted every instance of the words plan, purpose, pleasure and will. This is not to say these are the only important words of course and indeed many of the words I did not highlight come to the same idea. But I did want to show how clearly Paul intends to talk of Gods purposes right at the beginning of the letter.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory…”
Ephesians 1:1-14 NIV
1) one thing that is clear here and in the following three chapters of Ephesians is that there is a cosmic plan of God existing before the creation of the cosmos. This plan is to bring all things in unity under Christ and to magnify Gods glory in the process. It’s truly awe-inspiring to recognize that throughout this letter Paul directly connects discipleship in the church with this glorious plan. If you have not taken time to consider discipleship in such grand ways now is a good time to do so and Ephesians is a good letter to explore.
God is passionate about discipleship because it is an indispensable part of His plan for fulfilling this glorious cosmic purpose.
2) it’s important to note that in Paul’s description of this cosmic plan, he does not diminish the importance of discipleship to the individual.
For Paul, saying that God is intimately concerned for each of our tiny lives does not diminish His Glory but rather is at the heart of it. His incredible, deep and intimate love for each of us in the Gospel is a source of Glory and Wonder for the worshippers in Heaven.
We are repeatedly reminded by Paul that our life only makes sense and has any vibrancy in Christ. Apart from Christ, there is no life and to bring us life is one primary way Jesus described his own mission.(John 10:10) We are further reminded in all Paul’s letters that this life in Christ is given freely by the Grace of God (through Christ’s death on the cross) and experienced through faith.
God is passionate about discipleship because He cares passionately about people finding life in him and this happens most fully in a unity of faith in community.
3) You are probably already aware that the individual growth of the believer and the grand cosmic plan are integrally connected, not two distinct ideas of discipleship but two ends of the same “why.” In Ephesians 4, Paul ties these two ideas together, identifying maturity, at least in that chapter, as a communal, rather than individual, concept.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13
Notice that this definition of maturity has nothing to do with agreeing to a set of behaviors in the community.
Discipleship is not about building a unity of behavior among believers but building a unity of faith and knowledge in Christ.
The most striking point about this section is that the point of this discipleship is apparently no more (or less) than the church becoming, building itself up to be, the church.
God is passionate about discipleship because it is the way the Church becomes the Church.
Why should the church focus primarily on discipleship even to the exclusion of other good things?
It turns out that the three above answers to our why questions all tie to gather to answer this question. God’s cosmic plan for bringing all things back in line under Christ requires a very specific tool. That tool is the church. The church becomes the church by the discipleship of individuals within the community. This is an extremely important job, concerned not just with propping up a cultural institution but tied to the very plan of God for the universe. The church, therefore, should focus primarily (I might even say exclusively depending on how broad we end up defining it) on discipleship for two reasons. a) Discipleship by itself is a full time job and any time and energy we give to other good things means less discipleship. b) Any other needed things are accomplished best when we focus on discipleship: either because God can then wield the sword that is the church as we become the church, or because the act of discipleship itself, which is done in the midst of life, means serving and accomplishing other things along the way. In either case, it’s still important to understand that we disciple, not to change the culture or do these other things, but to become the church and then God uses the church to bring life to the culture and other good things. We are called to be light and salt, not to act like light and salt. God has chosen as part of His plan to use the church to light the world and salt the earth. It is our job to be that ready tool. If we focus on anything else we are risking not being as salty or bright when God comes to use us. In revelation Jesus talks about removing lamp stands when a community is no longer a lamp. In other words He reminds churches that no matter how many good things they do if they cease to be a light they cease to be a church and God cannot use them as such.
When we reclaim this understanding of discipleship as becoming instead of doing, it alone will revolutionize many of our churches as form follows function.
Why is the church uniquely ordained for Discipleship? Why not other institutions or groups?
If you’ve followed me so far, this answer becomes obvious. The church is the only entity which can possibly become the church, so if that’s the purpose of discipleship, then clearly no other entity can possibly do it as well.
Do these thoughts provoke more questions? I hope so.
Questions about how to define the church, are there necessary forms? To what degree can we abandon certain structures and still be the church? To what degree should we? Questions about what Discipleship actually is. Questions about how to best accomplish the why?
The thing I hope you see though is how these questions all change based upon our exploration of why. As I mentioned this blog is really to stimulate new thoughts or a new approach for you, or perhaps affirm the approach, if you already emphasize why before how. Many pastors just need permission to pursue why and create their how fully from that. Others need to rethink the entire proposition of church
What we’ve done here is just skim the surface of a very large and very deep lake. I am hopeful you will consider taking the time to explore this more fully with God, and your leadership team and come up with more context-specific, compatible answers to these questions, and, once you have answered them you have to go on answering them, rediscovering as your culture and community changes, and consistently articulating why for the benefit of your leaders and congregation.
This first question is foundational to creating, not just a church meeting, but a church, a thriving community of discipleship. Together we can create hundreds of thousands across this country, bringing light and life into the darkest corners. So, If the content in this blog intrigues you, please consider two things: When I coach the busiest pastors, they give roughly an hour a week to these ideas as we meet together. Would you consider giving this much time to contemplate what you’ve read here? Would you discuss it with your leaders, and pray about it for an hour a week. On the other hand, if you are just building or rebuilding a church perhaps it’s a great time for more exploration. Take a retreat or board meeting to dig into these questions. If I can be of help in this process, contact me at the information at the bottom of the post.
Next week we’ll begin to explore question 2, What is Discipleship? In many ways the what really flows well from the why so I would encourage you to take the necessary time with your community of leaders before trying to be too firm on your what or How.
For the sake of community, even here, I would be delighted to receive your ideas, questions, disagreements or affirmations in the comment field below.
See you next week!
Smiling at the future,
I founded Discipleship Matters to help churches with leadership retreats, pastoral coaching, guest speaking and conferences as another supporting voice in your work of discipleship. We can create a custom long term plan (anywhere from 6 months to 2 years) or arrange an al-a-carte conference. (If the information in this series intrigues you, I’d specifically suggest the Big Ideas conference where I help you and your leaders work through these important first questions on your way to a unique plan of “How” to build a thriving community of Discipleship. I value you and the work you do and want to help if I can in anyway. Call me at 505-393-5433(LIFE) or email me at Pastormac_@mac.com (put Discipleship Matters in the subject if you want to get my attention right away.)