In the last month more than two hundred and fifty people have come to Christ in our town. Some of this has happened in our gathered environments, mostly though, it's been through scattered servants. It has led to inevitable questions arising from both within our community and beyond. The most commonly asked/heard is, "how do you disciple those who are coming to faith and connect them into your church?" It’s a good question.
It’s among the questions we are asking but it’s not the main question. In truth, it doesn't make our top five.
It’s a good question because part of the discipleship process involves connecting people to life giving churches. However, since we want to do more than connect new believers with churches, (we want to create a movement of disciples that change communities), we keep returning to another set of questions: "How does living in Christ and living by the Spirit alter everything; what changes enter cities because disciples are present; how do we create the kind of disciples that change communities? Why are there so few of those around?"
Instead of asking, “how do we disciple those who are coming to faith”, we are asking, “how do we create more of the kind of disciple who relentlessly, repeatedly leads individuals and institutions into faith?” We call them disciples who change communities.
Disciples who change communities emphasise impossibility:
Discipleship is an exercise in self invention unless it is firmly rooted in the intervention of God. This is one of the key differences in Jesus’ approach to discipleship. All the other Rabbi's taught morality, Jesus trained people in impossibility. He did so intentionally, systemically and disruptively. He did so knowing that impossibility is the framework of the life of God. It's what He does. This is why the supernatural is not optional to the discipleship process, it is absolutely central to a faith founded upon the resurrection. Without emphasising impossibility we reduce discipleship to individuals instead of whole cities. Disciples who change communities emphasise impossibility.
Disciples that change communities speak the language of spiritual authority:
Spiritual maturity is inseparable from spiritual authority. It is impossible for individuals and industries to be introduced to their destiny without spiritual authority. Spiritual authority allows us to move beyond inner transformation to the journey towards the recreation of all things. This journey is essential to the discipleship mandate, "all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all NATIONS."
Without such authority we practice introspective rather than expansive discipleship. Without authority we make discipleship about our journey rather than His story. Without authority we fail to re-write the story of the city. All too often our methods of discipleship have practiced accountability without imparting spiritual authority.
Accountability is necessary but it’s a poor substitute for spiritual authority. If we endeavour to make disciples using the vehicle of accountability alone, (without authority), we convert people to our systems/structures but deny them access to life. Disciples who change communities know who they are and know what they carry. Disciples who change communities also know that without spiritual authority there can be no effective discipleship. Simply put, life in the Spirit cannot be accessed through systems and structures.
Disciples who change communities refuse to trade kingdom reality for human morality (frequently interpreted and defined through the lens of middle class Christianity):
Behavioural modification misses Jesus by too much. Discipleship is about kingdom abundance more than it is sin avoidance. As Dallas Willard wonderfully reminds us, "the gospel is not concerned with sin management." All have sinned and, as a result, fall short of the glory of God. God's goal for our lives is so much greater than morality. It’s a different story; a story that involves the restoration of glory. Jesus didn't die so that we could be moral, He died so that we could be His, filled with His glory. Morality is a poor substitute for glory, and disciples who change communities are those who resist the temptation to use discipleship as a mechanism to develop morality. Instead they press into kingdom reality, large enough to rewrite the story for the whole of humanity. We become fully His and in the process become fully Human.
Disciples who change communities embrace CONTEXT and content with a primary emphasis on the former:
The context of discipleship is vital to the quality of disciple. Sadly, much of modern discipleship emphasises the content of discipleship and ignores the context. However, throughout the pages of the New Testament, disciples are made among the people. Disciples are made in cities, not churches, or classes, or courses. We learn discipleship not through conference notes, or authors’ quotes, but in everyday, ordinary places where intervention is possible. Everyday, ordinary moments among the people. These everyday, ordinary moments are what make it possible to have an ordinary, everyday discipleship movement that disciples people anywhere and everywhere. It allows discipleship to happen as we go to others rather than others having to come to us.
Disciples that change communities resist the temptation to create scaffolding through structure that prevents people personally taking responsibility for their ongoing discernment of and immersion in the work of the Spirit of God:
After the outpouring of the Spirit in the book of Acts the first disciples devoted themselves. If I need someone in my life to help me stay connected to Jesus, then I have, in all probability, usurped the role of the Holy Spirit. My faith rests on others and I have inadvertently created an idol. Disciples who change communities deliberately practice intentional absence, ensuring that others’ faith rests on 'God's empowering presence' and not on their programs. “Lo, I am with you always unto the end of the age.”
Disciples who change communities have a vision for the whole community and proclaim a hope big enough to transform the city:
They do not separate spiritual formation from city formation. They love individual transformation and institutional transformation. They regularly practice being among the people and bringing life in a thousand small ways. They have a gospel of the kingdom FOR the world, understanding that Christ’s ascension means that everything, everywhere must be filled with His glory, majesty and beauty.
Disciples who change communities know that this is impossible, it cannot be learned in a classroom, it cannot be measured by morality, it’s more than numbers of converts, it’s rooted in the words and works of Jesus and the knowledge that He must have the supremacy in ALL things, in all nations and throughout all generations.
What if we did more than connect people with churches...
What if we created disciples that change communities.