This is part 6 of our ten part series on The Fundamentals of building a Community of Discipleship. Here’s the other parts:
So far in our series we’ve looked at why we disciple and we’ve looked at what discipleship is. Before we can move on to how we have one more foundational question.
Who is responsible for Discipleship? Who has the authority, ability and obligation to do the act of discipleship?
If you’ve been following along through the first half of this series you will not be surprised, I suspect, to hear that both the authority and responsibility lie with the members of the community, and not with the pastor, or other leaders of this community alone. But you might question whether truly releasing the work of the church to your members is a little like my picture above of my two little super twins granting them more authority and power than they actually have. Truthfully though, God has empowered your members already. All you are doing is releasing them and equipping them.
Consider again, the great description of discipleship in Ephesians 4. Here we saw that discipleship was in no small part about the church building itself into the church. We see also that it is the community of believers which are to do that work themselves as each member does its part.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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
Note that this passage, far from discrediting the institution of the church in favor of a more ethereal view of a community of people with core values engaged in random service, gives us both a purpose in the service (the community building itself into the body of Christ with a unity of faith and knowledge, achieving maturity to the whole measure of Christ’s fullness), and a structure, so far as defining roles. There are people who are given to the church, leaders in various roles of pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so on, who are integral to the work of discipleship. But these leaders are not called to do the bulk of the work of discipleship. They are instead given the work of equipping the rest of the community for this work.
Discipleship is seen as nothing more nor less than the works of service that at the members of a church community engage in with one another. The training, encouragement, and environment for doing this service appropriately and effectively is the responsibility of these leaders. There is much to be said about how this equipping works, but notice that our how question has now changed. As a pastor, the question is not How do I disciple my members, but rather, how do I equip all my members to disciple each other. How do I teach them, motivate them, and provide the environment for them to do this amazing work?
As usual in this series, my desire is not to answer all of these questions, nor can I, but instead to stimulate the questions themselves, to affect a possible adjustment in what discipleship means to you and your congregation so far. It is in the habit of fallen man to seek to disempower others in order to increase their own power. Even in the history of the church we can see the reformation being, at least in part, an attempt to return power to the congregants by returning the scripture to them. But it shouldn’t stop there. According to Peter, not only the scripture belongs to every Christian, but ministry, even priesthood, as well. There is a distinct role and calling for pastors and leaders, but the glory of this exhortation is that in your calling you get to empower others to great work. You get to call the people in your church to greater authority, not less.
Consider Hebrews 3
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
This is a crazy obligation God lays on us. We are not to merely encourage certain behaviors, credal recitations, affirmations of faith, and good deeds, but we are challenged to see to it that no one among us has an unbelieving heart! This is of course impossible in one sense, but it is exactly the call of the Christian community one to another and as the call, God empowers us to serve in a way which impacts the very hearts and faith of each other.
It is not your job as pastor to prop up the faith of every member of your church once a week. It is the church’s job to encourage the faith of each other, not just weekly, but daily. While, in your sermons and life, you no doubt do encourage the faith of your church members, you are more effective when you preach and lead in ways which equip them to encourage each other daily. Daily sounds so…well, daily.
How do we encourage such time when our congregations are all so busy already? The hardest thing for a church to do is to trim programs. Like the government, once we begin a program it becomes very difficult to turn it off. We often layer program after program on our churches trying to fill in gaps in discipleship, but because we never remove old programs we end up with less and less time and energy for the new programs. Even more importantly, the very areas where discipleship often does occur organically are given very little encouragement, support or time.
Here’s some questions to think through with your leaders:
- How much time do you spend training your small group leaders to disciple?
- How much time do you spend training the parents in your congregation to disciple their kids?
- When a small group leader misses Sunday Morning (or Saturday night) you notice right away, but what if they miss several small groups in a row? Would you know?
- What if they are not present to disciple their own families? Would you be aware?
- What can you do today to help your church members do a better job of encouraging one another daily to believe God.
- What can you do today to remove the hindrances which make it harder for your church to focus on discipleship.
For a little glimpse into the how of discipleship, as it relates to this question of who, consider the following passages.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithfulstewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.( 1 Peter 4)
Consider the authority being given here by God to people: stewards of God’s Grace! What does that even mean? How can you encourage and free people to exercise such amazing authority? How does it relate to the idea of discipleship?
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. (Romans 12)
What does this say about the acts of service in discipleship? There’s the word Grace again. How does it relate to the gifts and service here?
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12)
What does it mean that the Spirit distributes the works as He desires? How might this impact the way you structure discipleship in your church?
I would encourage you to talk through these four chapters on spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4, Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12) with your leaders. They are integral to discipleship. The truth is God calls you to empower your church by giving them clear authority and room to exercise the power God has already granted them to bless, serve and build others. You cannot disciple your church. You are not empowered to do that. You can empower your church to disciple; you are obligated and called to do that.
As always, I would be delighted to help you in any of these discussions. Comment below or contact me directly. More specifically I want to recommend two resources I offer.
The Hidden Life is a conference for your congregation which helps support the atmosphere of discipleship in Grace that you are building. It will help challenge their understanding of the Gospel as it relates to them; A greater understanding of Grace, Identity in Christ, Faith and training in the church leads to a greater understanding of healthy positive accountability and their authority in discipleship. This is my most popular conference and no church has ever regretted the investment in it.
I also offer small group leader’s training, (Building Grace Groups) to better equip them to facilitate groups where members are empowered to serve each other.
Next week is right here.
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.)