Dave: Today we wrap up our thoughts on discipleship and its significance for the church that wishes to be missions-minded. Not that we have run out of material! But there are so many other issues that pertain to the missions-minded church.
Joe: I have to say I am terribly embarrassed by the topic of discipleship. You see, I have been terrible at discipleship and that may have something to do with not having been discipled myself. That’s not intended as an excuse, it’s just what is. Think of the institutional church and how it typically functions. It is unfortunately to be expected that the American church thinks of discipleship in terms of a program. Creating programs is our default mechanism for tackling most any problem. As the saying goes, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
Of course disciple-making is happening here in the west in different places. We all have run into people here who are serious disciples of Christ. But we would wish for more widespread and obvious examples of disciple-making, wouldn’t we? I imagine many people reading this might have similar feelings and frustrations, which leads us to ask the questions: Where is it really working? Where do we see real discipleship happening? Is anybody hitting a home-run when it comes to disciple-making?
Dave: As if in answer to Joe’s question, I just today received this report from a mobilizer who returned recently from Asia – “Hi Dave, I see discipleship-making at its best with the young church planters I serve with there. One woman I witnessed to on my last visit a year ago had been a prostitute living on the streets but is now part of the church-planting team. I didn’t even recognize her when I saw her on this visit but she recognized me…She was changed physically and spiritually…It was a beautiful sight.”
Joe: The one place where I am hearing of success in disciple-making is also a place where I hear, not surprisingly, of success in evangelism. As a matter of fact, those people would be a bit surprised to hear that I made such a distinction. It’s a bit blurry because they disciple to conversion as opposed to making converts and then discipling them. And it’s happening, ironically, in the Muslim world.
A book that came out a year ago – “Miraculous Movements” by Jerry Trousdale – talks about how discipling is happening in some really dramatic ways. A quick summary won’t do it justice but I’ll attempt it just the same. The main elements are seeking a person of peace (see Luke 10) and asking them if they want to learn more about God by studying His word. Rather than starting with the Gospel, they just start with God’s Word, relating different Bible stories starting in Genesis. They ask the participants to restate the story, share what it tells us about God, what it tells us about man, discuss how they are going to put it into practice in their lives this week, and indicate who they will tell. Seems a bit too simple for my tastes but tens of thousands of Muslims are becoming true disciples who are, in some cases, dealing with intense persecution.
So where does that leave us? I can’t say for sure, but one thing is certain: if we aren’t seeing the results that we hope for close at hand, it might be worth looking at other places where things are happening.
Dave: In the western church, take a look at “Real Life Ministries” in Post Falls, Idaho. I first stumbled across this church when reading the January-February 2011 issue of Mission Frontiers magazine (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/avery-willis-last-dream). This is an example of a church that is worth knowing about. Rather than having small groups and discipleship as a program, RLM builds their entire church around discipleship. In a small town in rural Idaho, RLM is an example of how the Gospel spreads through taking the Great Commission seriously and concentrating on simply making disciples.
We hope this barrage of ideas and questions about discipleship has helped you assess your own “missions-mindedness” and given you insight for your church to begin to think more strategically about the Great Commission.
Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz