“What’s your discipleship plan?” I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked that question and overheard others give their own answers to it. The problem is that the question we really are answering is; “How do you keep your church people busy?” Most churches today are not short on things to do, the question we need to ask is; “are we doing the right things?” Busyness doesn’t equal effectiveness, and activity doesn’t equal progress. As the church today, God is calling us to be the living and active body of Christ on earth. He has entrusted us with His mission and calls us to carry on the work that Jesus and the apostles began. Our calling is not to entertain the church people, but to make disciples of all nations – beginning in our own backyards!
Being the church today seems to be more about creating better programs as opposed to facilitating spiritual growth in people. Wether it is the fear of losing another member or wanting to be bigger than the church down the street, I believe we may have been focused on the wrong things. If we, as the church, are called to be the Body of Christ where God has placed us, then what would it look like if Jesus was our model for actually getting it done?
The Discipling Jesus
The disciples hit a critical point in their relationship with Jesus in Mark chapter 6. Up to this point they had been following Jesus around. Watching Him do His thing while they just watched. They got to be there. They got to see the action from the best seats, but their discipleship had been for the most part, a spectator sport. That was about to change. Jesus came to them. Jesus spoke to them. Jesus sent them out, saying; “Go! Don’t try to prepare for everything you think you might face. Take no food, no luggage, and no extra cash. Strap on your sandals, but don’t bother with the extra jacket. You’ll be okay. You are going on a mission, my mission, and you will have everything you need. Don’t worry about where you are going or how long you’ll stay – you’ll know.” Jesus called His disciples to action.
Jesus was discipling those He called to follow Him. It was not a random set of activities, but an intentional process of transformation. The church today has the responsibility to carry on this same work of Jesus – making disciples. Not just followers. Not just congregations. Disciples. This is something we are aware of. We talk about it, and know it is important, but we come up short in actually doing it. I believe that Jesus gave the church the responsibility of carrying on the earthly mission of calling, making and sending out disciples. This is not exclusive to the work of the church on earth, but it is foundational. Unfortunately, where Jesus was about calling, making and sending out disciples. The church, by contrast, seems to be more about attracting, teaching and trying to hold on to members. Allow me to explain more of what I mean by these terms and what the church seems to fall into in comparison to what Jesus did.
Calling vs. Attracting
Jesus called. He did not wait. He did not hope. He plainly and boldly proclaimed; “you there, with the net, drop it. Come and follow me, and I will make your life different.” Jesus knew that He had a life better to offer those who would come after Him. So He told them. He called them to follow. He did not look for what the world would consider “the best.” He called everyone. No cherry-picking, and no waiting for the little more qualified. “Sinner. Fine. Come follow me.” “Just a fisherman. I don’t care. Come follow me.” “Not so bright. I’ll walk you through it. Come follow me.” Jesus didn’t care how qualified the candidate thought they were. He called them. Not because of what they could offer Him, but because of how He could change and use even them. And if Jesus, working with the unqualified, uneducated, sinner outcast could build His church, then why shouldn’t the church seek to build itself with the same Spirit and confidence?
In comparison, the church attracts. It waits and it hopes. It fails to move with the same plain boldness that Jesus showed. We say things like; “I sure hope people come this Sunday,” and ask questions like; “what do we need to do, to get more people to our services?” Instead of boldly calling people to come and follow, we wait and hope for people to show up. Now, don’t get me wrong – there was a natural attraction to Jesus. As He went, he healed, he taught, he performed miracles. People were curious to find out more and would come to see for themselves. But when He had the opportunity, Jesus challenged people to follow and change. His number one concern was not to be more attractive or palatable to the new believer, it was about making it known that He had something to offer and they needed to receive it.
What if the church moved with the same bold confidence that Jesus showed? What if the church challenged and called people to be a part of something bigger than themselves? What would it look like if we began to call people to follow the same way Jesus did? What would our message be? What would the hearers hear? What would it look like for your church?
Making vs. Teaching.
Jesus made disciples. He did not teach weekend seminars, multi-day conferences, or new-disciple classes. He made them. It was a process of their watching and then doing. In Mark 6, Jesus is in this process of making disciples. There is a reason he sent them out the way He did. He is shaping how they see the world and themselves. He is affecting where they find confidence and security. He is shifting their view of the future. He is shaping. He is molding. He is creating.
By comparison, the church teaches. It holds classes and seminars. It seeks to get people out of their lives and into a seat where they can hear about things that may or may not connect with their life. Jesus starts with where people are at, the church calls people to come to where it can be found. How many times have you seen or heard an announcement like this; “Thursdays at 6:45pm, in room 206b of the Christian Life Center, Pastor Bob is teaching the class; Finding Freedom from the Bondage of the Will – Childcare is available by reservation.” Assuming you were aware that your will was under bondage, it must be nice to know you will at least have freedom from the kids for an hour and a half on Thursday night.
Teaching is good and important, but it is time for the church to not just teach discipleship, but to start making disciples. Making doesn’t settle for people just showing up. Making is a process that includes doing. Making shapes. Making molds. Making challenges. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve read the Bible, how many verses you can quote from memory, or every stop of Paul’s third missionary journey – you need to know the difference it has made in your life and how you have been challenged to do something because of it.
Sending vs. Keeping
Jesus sent. He was about deploying His people into the world to multiply what they had received from Him. He called his disciples to follow. He shaped and made them, and then He sent them out. The sending was the result of everything that had gone on up to that point. It was time to apply and do what had only been witnessed and talked about. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He validated everything they had learned from Him and the affirmative response they gave to His calling. Jesus was willing to send before the sent were even completely ready to go. The sending was not the end result of being discipled, it was part of the process of becoming a disciple.
The church holds. The church gathers. The church seeks to keep for itself. Perhaps that sounds a little cynical, but to be completely honest, it seems we are more concerned with keeping those who are already here happy as opposed to having a desire to send even more out to those who are lost. The church’s primary concern needs to be on those who are not yet found, not on those who are no longer lost. Jesus sent His disciples out to make a difference in the world, to make more disciples, and to share with others what they had received from Him. Jesus gave them what they needed, His Spirit, and sent them out with authority. This shifted their role from just being present to actually having purpose. What would happen if we stopped counting how many came last week, and instead counted how many people went out in the week following?
So, what’s your discipleship plan? No, the answer isn’t how your church keeps people busy. What is your discipleship plan? What does it mean to join together as the body of Christ where and how God has placed you? You are uniquely gifted and called to carry-out and carry-on the mission of God. Recognize your unique calling, accept the challenge of being the church, and wrestle down what it is going to look like for you. And above all else, may the Spirit of God guide you as you answer these questions!