Monday, December 04, 2006

Willard on Discipleship

Yesterday was such a good day! I LOVE gathering with my community of faith here in Decatur.

And the Cowboys won! Despite the $10 million dollar man dropping at least two crucial passes (Josh, I just had to mention that). And how ironic that they won on a 46-yard field goal -- the week that Parcells released "the greatest kicker who ever lived."

Maybe it is just because I am following college football a little closer this year, but can anyone remember a year when there were so many huge upsets? Once again, we are back to all the pundits talking about a national championship playoff. I guarantee: I would be watching! I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes more sense than having it.


Dallas WIllard is a current author who is writing books that challenge us to true discipleship. His stuff goes far beyond "church growth recipes," etc. He gets down to the basics. My son Josh is reading his new book on discipleship entitled "The Great Omission." Josh shared the following with me:

He begins his book stating that "disciple" is used 269 times in the Bible, while "Christian" is used 3. The goal of the Great Commission and the goal for us should not be converts or more people placing membership in a church, but it is to "make disciples."

Words from Willard:
"I do not know of a denomination or local church in existence that has as its goal to teach its people to do everything Jesus said. I'm not talking about a whim or a wish, but a PLAN. I ask you sincerely, is this on your agenda? To teach disciples surrounded in the triune reality to do everything Jesus said? If that is your goal, you will certainly find a way to bring theological integrity and spiritual vitality together. But as you do so, you will find both your theology and your spirituality refreshingly and strongly modified."

That is so what I want. I see my mission (calling) as being used as an instrument to strengthen the level of discipleship in myself and the faith community I serve. If God brings a numerical increase, that is great! But I don't want to buy into the American corporate mindset of trying to manipulate it though.


Jeff said...

I have always thought that a church that was spiritually growing would grow numerically and a church that didn't grow spiritually would see a decrease in growth. Naturally, some of that may be a factor of outside pressures such as the economy and whether people are moving in or out of a community. Yet, I still believe a growth pattern is evident based on the spiritual growth of the body.

I have long held the opinion that our desire to count heads in Bible class and worship is a bit misguided. I feel it causes a church to focus on symptoms and not problems. When the focus of a body is discipleship and it is played out in the lives of that body counting want be an issue because you won't be able to keep up with the growth.

Whether our church is filled with 1 or 1,000 is not relevant. Having a church filled with people on fire for serving God will say more than the roll ever will.

Josh Ross said...

I think that it is fair to say that we have often done a better job of converting people to our tradition and to our doctrine than we have at converting people to Jesus. Not that doctrine and traditions can't be good, but any time we emphasis something without pointing to faithful discipleship and obedience to the way of Jesus, we fail. We have fallen into the sinful trap of converting people to baptism instead of converting people to Jesus. (I write as one that has a very high view of baptism). Baptism doesn't save us. Jesus saves us. In the Great Commission, the direct object isn't to baptize people, but rather it is to make disciples of all nations. We baptize and teach in order to make disciples.

In many ways, we have been better at endoctrinating people than we have been at discipling people: teaching and showing people how to pray, how to read Scripture, how to serve, how to live under the Lordship of Jesus.

Jeff, I think this goes along with your comment about counting people in our worship services. We like to be able to measure things. We want to know what kind of process is being made. We can count people in church and know exactly how many people were there. We can return from church camps and rejoice over 31 baptisms because we can count them. But, how do we measure if those 31 lives have been transformed into the image of Jesus? How do we measure discipleship? How do we measure Kingdom living?

randy said...

Like many, I struggle with whether my focus should be inward, trying and perhaps selfishly trying, to improve my own spirituality rather than sharing the good news. I'd like to believe that the former follows the latter but it's difficult to see much evidence that growth is associated with inward spiritual growth. I'd have to go back to the first century Jerusalem church for an examply and I'm not sure separated in time and culture that I understand much about the spiritual life of those Christians. Perhaps it's just as simple as doing out best to live as He did.

Kyle R. said...

I like what is being said here and agree.

So often in recent times our focus of evangelism has been converting folks to a system of beliefs or a right way of thinking-- getting "doctrinally sound", if you will.

Don't get me wrong, I most certainly believe in the utmost importance of sound doctrine and the necessity of it, but that is not what conversion is about. That is not what transformation is about. I echo the sentiments above that we are to be converted to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and transformed into His likeness. Conversion is not about understanding and acting upon a correct doctrinal position devoid of a personal relationship with Jesus. We are not converted to a church, but we are converted to a Person.We are converted out of darkness into light. The more we love Jesus, the more we want to do what He says-- we are being transformed-- we are walking in the light.

As far as church growth, I'm not sure if spiritual growth equals numerical growth. Our fleshly eyes just cannot see with absolute clarity the spiritual growth process. (There is only One Who sees perfectly clearly in that realm). I suppose that is why we mortals do look at the numbers. Numbers are the guage by which we measure but they are not the reality in and of themselves, and in fact, the numbers could be misleading.

Under intense persecution,wouldn't it perhaps be likely that there would be tremendous spiritual growth in the church and yet little numerical growth? After all, if disciples were being killed faster than they were converted wouldn't that stand to reason? But then again, I think that maybe there would indeed be numerical growth in intense persecution because there would be no fair weather followers of Jesus with a lukewarm approach to life. And nonbelievers would be drawn to the Way because of believers' discipleship.

Good stuff here!

Jeff said...

I think for the most part we are saying the same thing but feel the need to clarify some of my comments about growth. I think numerical growth will follow spiritual growth for one reason. If we grow spiritually, I believe we will become the aroma of Christ and if we become the aroma of Christ I believe more people will be attracted to us and want to be a part of the family.

It seems in the midst of persecution the early church grew. It seems that when we are under attack as a country or a family, we come together. My opinion (yes, that and 50 cents will get a cup of coffee) is that if, as Christians, we really knew persecution we would grow inwardly, become stronger in our faith and others would join us.

Maybe it would be good if there was a way to measure spiritual growth but I think if God wanted that, He could have set it up for us. So, we all need to take on our own measurement of ourselves and if we follow Him and become His disciples, I think others will follow us to the same hope and joy we have.

Kyle R. said...

Yes, Jeff. I think we're all pretty much saying the same thing.
Thanks for the great thoughts. Your insightful comments always cause me to think more deeply. Josh, Randy, Rick, yours' also. Thank you all for this discussion .

Let me pose this question for us all to ponder and discuss and bounce off the persecution idea: Since we are the aroma of Christ, doesn't that mean that some will be repulsed by us, not drawn to us. Paul writes in 2 Cor that to those who are perishing we are the smell of death.