Every so often it is fun to quote myself and so the following paragraph comes from my book Reality Check For The Church.
“I like to think of fellowship as an investment. As Christians, we invest ourselves (our material resources, time, talents, spiritual gifts, counsel, caring, and so on) into the lives of our fellow believers. In turn they are to invest themselves into our lives. In this mutual giving of ourselves to each other, growth occurs, and we experience what it means to grow in our walk with God. It’s in the context of mutual investment in each other that true fellowship occurs, and it’s in this context of true fellowship that the church carries out its role as disciple-makers.” p. 128
The mandate of the Great Commission is disciples making more disciples who in turn will make even more disciples who in turn will make still more disciples. You get the idea.
Randy Pope in his book INsourcing suggests that nothing we could ever do has more potential for positive impact than what he calls life-on-life discipleship. He goes so far as to say that if he had to choose between serving his church as pastor and discipling men one-on-one, he would choose the latter without even a second thought because in the long run discipling would have the greater impact. p. 177
The place of the church
This kind of discipleship can happen very effectively in the context of a small church. In fact it is within the church that it should be happening. There have been numerous para-church organizations that have emphasized discipleship but each one has had one major weakness. Their discipleship takes place outside of the church.
I like the way Mike Bullmore states this in talking about the place of the church in discipleship.
“Growth in the Christian life is not an individual project. It is a community project. We need one another.”
God in his incredible wisdom understood that no Christian is equipped to succeed in the Christian life on her own. She needs other people supporting her. She needs people encouraging her and praying for her and some times even crying with her. We need people who will get excited when we succeed and who will come along side when we fail. Those are all important aspects of the church’s part in our growth.
There is, however, one absolutely essential element in discipleship that is missing in almost every church. Without it discipleship will not work.
The essential element
I have been in full-time Christian ministry for more than forty years. In all that time I have never had someone who had enough nerve to ask me how I was doing spiritually.
I have never had someone who has asked me about my personal walk with God.
I have never had someone who has asked me whether I was sharing my faith with anyone.
I have had very few people who have asked me how I was doing deep down, below the surface stuff that we talk about all the time.
I have never had anyone ask me how my relationship with my wife was.
I have never had anyone ask me if there were difficulties in my life that was challenging my faith in God.
True discipleship happens when we live our lives in the church at a level that allows for those kind of questions. True discipleship only happens when we live lives in which we are accountable to other people within the context of the church.
The aroundward direction of discipleship happens in the church when we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable within a group of people whom we have learned to trust.
Next Thursday I will take a look at the most challenging of the four directions – the outward direction in which we are called to interact with our communities.