How did this all start for me? How did the passion for having a missional posture and incarnational habits begin in me?
Well, it all started for me just about a month ago at Exponential West. Exponential is a church-planting network that hosts conferences during which folks from all over the world come to get inspired and to learn. This year the theme was “Discipleshift” — helping churches make disciples. I was asked to go by Lake Avenue Church, where I am a member, congregational leader, and a part-time, temporary staff member. The work that I do at Lake is specifically connected with discipleship and my role as a congregational leader is as part of a leadership team for a diverse group of young adults called Crossroads. In other words, I am fully invested in discipleship at Lake.
So I went to the conference with some other folks from Lake, both staff and non-staff members. From the very first session that I attended to the last I was blown away! A simple and basic theme ran through everything — we need to get back to what’s centrally important: making disciples. Sounds pretty simple and I think that almost all of us would agree with that basic premise.
But our churches just aren’t doing a good job of making disciples anymore. I talked about this some in a previous blog entitled New Wine?. But to reiterate, basically the churches in the U.S. that are growing are growing thanks to transfer growth and most churches in the U.S. aren’t baptizing any new believers who don’t have familial connections with the church already.
But making disciples is more than just making new disciples; it also involves helping those who are already following the risen Jesus follow him better. Our primary means of facilitating this growth in most churches in the U.S. has been through cognitive learning done at the church. Now there’s nothing wrong with cognitive learning! But the truth is that it simply is not enough on its own. Why not? Because there are different types of learners. Because cognitive learning does not always lead to different behavioral habits. Because some people who want to follow Jesus need to learn within intimate community and/or in experiential, hands-on kind of ways.
Also, a second common theme at Exponential West was that being a disciple means at least two things: 1) A disciple’s life shows growth in fulfilling the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22.37-39: Love God and love your neighbor); and 2) A disciple’s life shows growth in helping to fulfill with others the Great Commission (Matthew 28.19-20: Go and make disciples). So, to put it more simply, a disciple is a follower of Jesus who loves God, loves his neighbor, and seeks to make disciples of others.
What does this look like? Well, this is where a third theme emerged, which I have given a shorthand: Up, In, and Out. This Up-In-and-Out language came to me from the mission statement at Transformation Church in Rock Hill, SC, which is pastored by Derwin Gray. But here’s the point, a disciple has a strong relationship with God (Up), fosters authentic and fun community (In), and cares about living out the gospel in the world (Out). My understanding of this concept grew thanks to the book by Hugh Halter called The Tangible Kingdom. Hugh calls these three ways a disciple lives communion (Up), community (In), and mission (Out).
After taking in all of this on the first day of the conference, I was lying on the hotel-room bed staring at the darkened ceiling asking myself how I had missed all of this. How could I have so contrived what it means to follow Jesus that I’ve missed the simplicity of growing in fulfillment of the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission? Up, In, and Out is so simple and so straightforward. And yet for most of my life as a follower of Jesus I’ve focused almost solely on Up, some on In, and very little on Out.
As I stared at the ceiling I felt a growing sense of excitement that some of the things that I had been learning about could be implemented in my life and into the life of the community of which I am a part. I started dreaming about ways to change some of what I do to become more missional. I started thinking about how to tweak a few things in Crossroads so that we could better encourage one another to fulfill the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission. I started to get a vision for how things could be different.
Upon returning home I started sharing this vision with my wife, Alida. She loved it! Immediately she and I began discussing some new difficulties that might arise as a result of doing church differently. We also started thinking about how our lives as a couple could change if we adopted a missional posture and began forming incarnational habits. We both got really excited about this idea! Alida is also part of the six-person leadership team of Crossroads and she thought that it would be wise and fair to share the vision with the rest of the team as well. So, over the next few weeks I met with each of the other leaders in Crossroads to share with them what I had been learning. To a person, everyone was excited!
Fast forward a bit and we come to last night. Since we have a leadership meeting coming up on Monday night, I thought it would be good to remind our team of what we had chatted about. So I sent them all an email that had a list of talking points for Monday. The goal was for us to all be thinking about how focusing on discipleship from a missional/incarnational perspective might change how we do things in Crossroads. With that meeting just a few days away now, my excitement is growing as I think about what dreaming together with our leadership team might look like!
What impact might this new wine have? Only time will tell!
If you are interested in some helpful tools, I highly recommend the following two books, both by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay: The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community and AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church.