THE most important thing churches should be doing.
The western Christian world is constantly swirling with new programs for discipleship. In my five plus decades of working in church and missionary structures, how many have I seen? Tens, hundreds?
Yet, the church continues to be weak in forming people into the righteousness that their resurrection with Jesus would anticipate. In all fairness, it is probably not a weakness of the many materials available. But, is a weakness in the expectations of church leaders who are so building and program bound that they fail completely to see what this formation would demand.
Forming confessing Christians into the life that faith anticipates, demands two non-negotiable things.
First, it takes time. We cannot expect that transformation will be from one day to another. Commitments can appear to be instantaneous, but living those commitments takes the time that growing spiritual disciplines will require.
“Gathering” or “worship”meetings can help to define the parameters of orthodoxy, which in turn defines and anticipates the kind of lifestyle decisions that the Holy Spirit will grow within us. But, to grow people takes time. It takes time (months, years and decades) for them to grow and it takes time for us to help them grow.
Second, it takes relationship. Many good things can happen when true believers gather. But to think that a gathering of anything more than fifty or so people expresses fellowship and relationship, is nonsense. A handful of the “inner circle,” may use these occasions to reconnect to each other. But, this too is superficial if they are not also connecting in many other smaller ways throughout the week.
The kind of relational connections necessary to truly mature people in the life of faith takes reasonable relational connections with people who demonstrate that they have matured over the years, and are willing to spend time with these who need to mature.
Small groups can be a step in that direction. But the mixed gender nature of these groups and even the size, lends itself more to greater encouragement, small doses of accountability, and, meaningful mobilization for missional living, both by the group as well as the individuals.
In my book, Divine Design, I use the second part of the book to advance the Sermon on the Mount as one way to project what a maturing life of faith will look like.
My contention would be that we do not need books on “discipleship” to feed programs we call discipleship in local churches.
First, because they are created to feed a “program.” Too often small groups are simply a second class citizen to the “main event” of the worship service.
Second, because Scripture itself serves as our best guide as to the definition, delivery and content of what all maturing Christians need.
It is the clearest definition of the maturing process. If you love me, you will obey me. Take up your cross and follow me. My sheep hear my voice. Etc.
It defines the best delivery mode as well. “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women…” (Titus 2:3-4)
We have set in place five “becoming” values that we champion in the scp training. The first is the key to everything else, the daily practice of the priesthood we have with God, through Jesus Christ and administered in us by the Holy Spirit.
These values are so important that it could be said that everything else that we teach about church planting, leadership and strategy pales in comparison. When the people of Christ are maturing in their daily relationship with God in and through His word, all of the other “things” about the great commission and the great commandment are more easily seen in practice
The glory, power and strength of the Church of Jesus is its people. Maturing in relationship with God, spending time in His word under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, with a maturing obedient heart, and living with our hands open full of all of our assets, anything God wants done in each and every place, is possible.
Our effectiveness as churches is directly related to the maturing incarnated righteousness of our people. Our people are the message of the image and likeness of God. For as I have said often, whatever God is going to do He is going to do through all of Christ’s people. How they live then becomes eternally important. If we cannot grow people who look more and more like Jesus every year, then we are indeed in trouble. But God has designed them to mature. In Jesus, the last Adam, everything that they need to say no to the flesh and yes to the Spirit is available to them. While the bumps of life will continue to challenge them, spiritual failure and unrighteousness does not need to be their default.
Our effectiveness as churches is directly related to the Biblical strength of our values. Our people are the measured and maturing holiness of God. The market place’s statements about organizational values has bled into churches. And, in most cases they are not only nonsense to the distinct organic nature of the church, they cannot be found in scripture.
One example suffices: excellence. That idea might be right for Starbucks but it has no place in the life of a local church. The organic life of the church is meant for people just as they live their lives. Not in a vacuum that presents life as something only a manufactured media company would create. It creates a message that we are more about perception and entertainment than we are about learning to live the righteousness of Jesus in the trenches of life.
What do these people of Christ look like in real life? As I have already mentioned, the Sermon on the Mount is one picture. Of course, the fruit of the Spirit is another picture. Perhaps, the most specific picture of Christ’s people in action is in Romans 12:9-21
It would seem quite simple to me to build an outline of interaction between mature believers and maturing believers. A kind of discipleship catechism if you like. Using only scripture and regular relational dialogue in one on one’s, or one on three at the most, to build a journey of say one year for people to be grounded in the essences of what God the Spirit wants to build into their lifestyles and decision-making.
We don’t need textbooks nor workbooks. We don’t need seminars nor consultations. We don’t need experts in discipleship to train us. Use Scripture alone. Match up people who are mature with those who need maturing. Let the Spirit of God be the guide of dialogue and application.
The intellectual information necessary (the mind) will come directly from Scripture. The conviction to change (heart) will come from the Holy Spirit. And, the commitment to allow the Spirit to change one (will), will be dependent upon the person responding to all of this. If they respond, a lifetime of a disciple will be matured.
I can’t see how this spiritual discipline building should take more than one year. The goal is not the mind and information. The goal is not the heart and simple conviction. The goal is to see the will line up every new day with the word of God in the hands of the Spirit of God.
The five “becoming” values of scp. (You can find expanded exegesis and explanation of each point in chapters 3 and 4 of the book, Renovation)
The first call of Scripture, and thus the most important value, is cultivating relationship with God. Not just any kind of relationship but close, intimate relationship. Without relationship with God we can never proceed to representation of Him to the people in the world around us. When a church champions and expects people to walk in close relationship with God, it is doing its job.
The second value in the New Testament is found in Ephesians 3:1–11: living out and verbally expressing our grace stories to the people around us in our daily lives. Here we find the clear and simple declaration of the purpose of the church for time and for eternity:
If the Spirit of God is sovereign in the giving of spiritual gifts, then if people are not growing in their understanding and use of these gifts, the church is, once again, not accomplishing its God-given task. The Holy Spirit uses gifts to give strategic expression through God’s people to the many ministries Jesus wants done. To lose the maturation of even one person in his or her deployment in the church and world is to diminish the creative genius God has designed for His people. Thus the third value is living out the gifts of the Spirit in our homes and workplaces.
The fourth value is exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in our relationships with each other and in the world. Paul lists these interpersonal qualities in Galatians 5:22–23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” These are the natural result of the Spirit living in Christ’s people and should be continuously developing in maturity and expression.
The fifth value is stewarding our lives, relationships, and assets for the expansion of the kingdom of God on Earth.