Over the past couple of years discipleship has become all the rage within the Christian, pastoral realm. Everywhere you look pastors are talking about exciting new programs being released, books being published, conferences are being themed around discipleship as a new initiative that will enliven the body of Christ, and pastors are reintroducing the importance of discipleship through sermons and series. Have we really rediscovered the missing piece of the Great Commission? (“Therefore, go and make disciples …”) Are we finally beginning to understand that “evangelism” is really about making disciples?
Not to burst your bubble, but no.
At least not yet.
This emphasis around discipleship and disciple-making still has one fatal flaw: It is still about dispensing information as the means of transformation.
Over the years we have done a really good job of perfecting discipleship as a streamlined, packaged content system. We have retread old systems of discipleship into shiny new packages with slick new logos. But this slick delivery system still doesn’t speak to the whole of human existence. It focuses solely on the intellect, about dispensing information as a means of transformation. You see, we have continually bought into the Enlightenment principle that if you can change someone’s mind you can change someone’s life. Time and again this has proven to be a faulty principle that misses the point.
Is it any wonder we’re not seeing more radical transformation occurring in the lives of people?
Discipleship cannot transform unless the whole of the human self is involved, unless it takes into account the mind, the heart, the soul, and the body: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Now, I’m sure some would say, “Well this is an unfair argument. You’re simplifying what we do with discipleship.” And sure, there is an argument to be made there because there are all sorts of ways outside the Sunday expression that contribute to discipleship. But are they “creating” the types of disciples you expect? Are your programs focused in on changing people’s minds leading to a high success rate of transformation?
I’m going to guess “no” based upon nation-wide church statistics.
So what’s the answer?
In my experiences and through many conversations, the common consensus is no greater transformation of the disciple occurs than in those who return home from a short-term missions trip. Now, while it is completely impractical and perhaps not very beneficial to send hundreds of people each year from your congregation on short-term missions trips, it does say something about the total immersion into discipleship that occurs. It is an active engagement of the mind, the heart, the body, the soul. Sure, some of the transformation wears off once the person returns home and some time has elapsed, but is there not something important to take away from this experience?
The core of a short-term missions experience from a discipleship standpoint is that of the active-reflective environment in which the person is immersed. We have become really good at creating environments where one or the other are present—action without reflection or reflection without action. Active-reflective discipleship is the key to unlocking not only discipleship, but the true heart of missional discipleship: a discipleship that takes an active role in the Missio Dei (Mission of God).
Active-reflective discipleship resides outside the confines of what we already know about “how to do church.” It will require a great deal of imagination and creativity that will push us outside of our contexts and beyond the limits of our comfortability. However, it will create the types of disciples we long for, the types of disciples the church needs and the types of disciples Jesus expected.
The question is how do we create these active-reflective environments?
It all depends on your context. Not your church context, but your city context. What are ways in which you can engage with your city, with the place you live, with your neighbors, co-workers or strangers? Again, this requires creativity and imagination, not a retread of old systems packaged in shiny new boxes. I wonder, if you had a “Research and Development” wing in your church, what kinds of active-reflective discipleship environments would you experiment with creating?
This post has been republished by the Exponential Network.