For the last few years I’ve been doing quite a bit of processing. Specifically I’ve been thinking about mission. What’s my personal mission? What’s my family’s mission? What’s my small community’s mission? What’s my Sunday School’s mission? What’s my church’s mission?
What’s the mission of a follower of Jesus?
And, to be honest, for a follower of Jesus the answer to all of these questions is relatively straightforward: to make disciples (Matthew 28.19-20). The rub, of course, comes with how one defines these things. What is a disciple? How is one made? And what does it mean that our mission as a follower of Jesus is to make disciples?
What would this look like? How would we get from the places where we find ourselves to the places we think we should be?
Honestly, however, there are a ton of people who have written or spoken about this. Most, if not all of them, will do a better job than me. And most, if not all of them, will probably have more experience.
However, I still think there’s some wisdom to be found in simply following the ways of Jesus as we see them in the Scriptures, whether lived out in Jesus’ own life or in the lives of his earliest followers.
Mission: What Are We Aiming For?
As I was doing some of this self evaluation, I ran into some common denominators. Here they are:
- Comfort — At a really core level I want to aim for things that won’t rock my various boats too much. I want stability and safety. And other things I’m involved in appear to be bent toward this end as well. I mean, really, who wants to intentionally do something that might be uncomfortable? That’d be crazy, right?
- Autonomy — And not only do I want to be all cozy, but I want to have choice in how I make myself cozy. And if I don’t have choice, I want to at least feel like I have choice! I want to be the master of my own destiny. And as I look at the things I’m involved in, the organizations and the people within them all want autonomy too.
- Accumulation — Lastly, I will tend to accumulate stuff that I choose to make me comfortable. I have this gadget and that gadget and the other one too. Each one supposedly makes my life better, but the gadgets are building up. And this desire toward hoarding stuff shows up in the programs, buildings, etc., etc. that our churches accumulate.
These are the things that we tend to aim for. And doing so seems to place us right in line with typical American/Western behavior. But are these things the things we should be aiming for? Or are we way off?
Mission: Perception vs. Reality?
But before we answer the question of what our mission should be, we have to honestly take stock of what our mission appears to be. How would we figure this out?
- Time — How do I spend my time? What takes precedence? It seems to me that I spend an awful lot of time trying to make cool things that will attract people to me or to the communities I’m part of. If I build it, they’ll come…right?
- Money — On what sorts of things do I spend my money? Where do the material resources I have go? All too often my money is spent on maintaining my comfort and on stuff that does so. And all too often the money in our Christian communities goes toward the big gathering on Sunday, programs, salaries, and buildings.
- Dreams — What do I dream about? What kind of vision is cast? It seems to me that in my life I dream about my immediate future and the happiness and peace that can be had there. And in communities our dreams tend to be about the glory days that we’re so sure are right in front of us if we just tweak this one thing, have an expert speak into this one area, or focus on a particular market audience.
Mission: Jesus’ Way
It’s not my way or the highway…it’s His way is the HIGH way! And what is Jesus’ way?
- The Kingdom of God — Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). He did this preaching through the use of his words and by embodying it for the sake of others. And what is the kingdom of God? Much ink has been spilled trying to define this phrase. But I think we’ve overly complicated things a bit. The kingdom of God is what happens when God is in charge. So, when God’s in charge people repent from their sins and follow Jesus. When God’s in charge people begin to live like Jesus did, centering their lives on the kingdom of God too. When God’s in charge his clear desire to reach out to the most in need will be lived out in the lives of Jesus’ followers. When God is in charge Christians won’t look, sound, and behave just like their neighbors; they’ll be different. It will be obvious; it won’t be subtle.
- Loving God and Loving Others — Jesus was asked once what it’s all about and he said loving God and loving others (Mark 12.28-31). So love God by praising him, praying to him, learning about him, spending time with him, obeying him, etc., etc. No brainer. And we love others by putting their interests above our own (Philippians 2.3-4). Hard as all get out; but a no brainer too. Jesus’ way is all about love!
- Being Agents of Reconciliation — Lastly, Jesus’ way is to turn us all into his ambassadors of divine reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.18-21). Jesus didn’t take on our sin so that we can be saved but live like we’re not! He did this for us so that we would be set free to live the lives he made us to live — lives of reconciliation. This reconciliation, which is just a fancy word for the mending broken relationships, is dual-directional: up toward God and out toward other people. In other words, it’s our job, all of our jobs!, to help people have their relationships to God mended and to help folks mend their relationships with one another.
Mission: Make Disciples
So the summary of what it means to live out the fact that Jesus is Lord can be stated like this: make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.
- But what’s a disciple? A disciple in the first-century world was a student of a teacher, especially a traveling teacher. Carried over into our context a disciple is a life-long learner of the ways of Jesus. A disciple is centered on the kingdom of God. A disciple loves God and loves others. And a disciple is an agent or reconciliation.
- How is a disciple made? Well, in the first century a disciple was made by literally walking behind the teacher, imitating what he does, learning from what he says, and emulating his attitude. Today this process is a bit different since the risen Jesus, though alive and real to us through the inner working of the Spirit, is not tangibly present. So we have to learn what he does and says in Scripture and imitate it. And we have to watch as trusted disciples exemplify the ways of Jesus for us and then do what they do. And we have to help others meet and follow Jesus in the Scriptures and in our lives. Making disciples can’t easily be accomplished through programs or preaching. It has to be life on life, apprentice-style. Think about how a blacksmith trains an apprentice. He teaches him what to do with his words and actions. That’s what we need to do. Person to person, all throughout the body of Christ, teaching one another how to follow Jesus.
And that’s it. Our mission is to make disciples. As we examine our behaviors and see that our mission appears to be something else, then we must change it to THE mission! There are no other choices. There is no getting around this. This isn’t just for the super-Christians or the paid church staff.
Making disciples is the call on the life of each and every follower of Jesus. That includes me. And that includes you.
What do you think about the mission of your life as a follower of Jesus? As a community? As a church? Let me know in the comments below!
I just watched a great video in which Francis Chan explains part of the reason why more of us who follow Jesus aren’t making disciples:
SOURCE: The Verge Network
A book that I read almost a decade ago has had a lasting impact on my understanding of religion, the early history of Christianity, and how and why people choose which religious tradition to follow. The book’s title is The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark, the Co-Director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough!
Interestingly, writing Rise began a journey for Dr. Stark that would lead him to study Christianity more and more. And after some time devoted to looking into Christian history specifically, to paraphrase his own words, he found one day that he himself was a Christian! Dr. Stark has written many other books as well, including another one about early Christianity that I love called Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome.
I wanted to introduce you to Dr. Stark and his work for one reason: He shared something in Rise about Mormons that changed the way that I have thought about evangelism. He begins his book by discussing, from a sociological perspective, how people convert from one religious tradition to another. In that line of thinking, he shared the following paragraph:
“Data based on records kept by a Mormon mission president give powerful support to this proposition [that people convert based on established social networks], When missionaries make cold calls, knock on the doors of strangers, this eventually leads to a conversion once out of a thousand calls. However, when missionaries make their first contact with a person in the home of a Mormon friend or relative of that person, this results in conversion 50 percent of the time” (Rise, 18).
Did you catch that? The Mormons, who are famous for their data collecting, say when their missionaries go up to a stranger to share the “good news,” that works once out of a thousand times! But when they take advantage of the existing social networks of their rank-and-file members, it works 50 percent of the time! That’s just amazing!
Maybe you’re like me and you grew up in the church and were taught how to do cold-call evangelism. You may still remember your parts of the rehearsed “if you died tonight” conversation or maybe you’re been trained in Evangelism Explosion. Well, according to Dr. Stark, these methods simply aren’t all that successful. We’d be better served to look into our circles of friends and family to find potential new followers of Jesus.
But how do we do this? How do we live our lives in such a way that our friends and family will be interested in following Jesus? In other words, how can we be more missional?
Derwin Gray is helpful here. At the church where he is the pastor followers of Jesus who are missional, whom they call “Transformers”, are marked by five characteristics. The last of these is what he calls “Inviting.” Just to be clear, Derwin doesn’t mean that they invite people to church! Instead, what he means is that missional followers of Jesus live an inviting life, the kind of life that leads other people to ask them what they are all about.
Naturally this idea of the inviting life leads to some obvious questions: Is my life inviting? As I do life among my friends and family do I look more like Jesus (communal, sacrificial, and giving) or a standard American (individualistic, conumeristic, and materialistic)? How can I shift my life to be more and more inviting? How can I better use my life and my circles of influence to participate in the making of new disciples?
I don’t have all the answers. Heck, I’m just starting out on this journey myself! But here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- We need to have a missional posture: It’s important to view ourselves as missionaries in our neighborhood. This subtle shift can change everything!
- We need to focus on relationships: As Evangelicals we sometimes get fixated on having a conversation with someone that ends with them praying the sinners prayer and we miss the fact that it’s relationships that matter! Look at how Jesus led people into discipleship — he didn’t reason them in; he was their friend and lived life with them, slowly revealing himself to them.
- We must be intentional: Living an attractive life, an inviting life, isn’t just going to happen. We have to strategize! That means that we need to purposefully place ourselves in places where we can begin and deepen relationships with people who don’t follow Jesus yet.
- We can’t be judgmental: If we want to be inviting to those who don’t follow Jesus yet, the fastest way to throw a monkey wrench into the whole situation is by being judgmental! Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5.12 are helpful here: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” I’m pretty sure that we Evangelicals tend to skip that little gem!
- We need to think incarnationally: Jesus came to earth and lived among us and made disciples. Then, as he was leaving his disciples he asked them to make disciples of all the nations. How though? Well, follow Jesus’ example. Invite people into your life and let them live life with you. There’s a danger here though and Tim Keller captured it well in a video that was played during Exponential West. To paraphrase, he said, “If we aren’t living holy lives, then discipleship will be impossible.” So, if we want to make disciples, new ones or deepening old ones, then we must make every effort, with the power of the Spirit, to live followable lives.
- We should build belonging before believing: Historically Evangelicals have done just the opposite; we have called people to believe, then, once they do, we enter into relationship with them. That’s simply not the picture we get from Jesus’ life. He created space for people to belong and gave them time to grow into believing.
There are a thousand other ways to be more missional but these six are a start!
What are some other ways that we can be more missional as followers of Jesus? Let me know in the comments below!
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.
It’s sad to admit but several times in our marriage my wife, Alida, has had to remind me that my priorities are a bit skewed. She always seems to find the right time and space to let me know this too.
First, she doesn’t wait until she’s so angry that she’s going to explode. Instead, if she sees me veering of course for long enough, then she’ll speak up. Things get a bit more complicated when my lopsided priorities impact her directly; but even in those situations she has always done a great job of loving me and showing me grace.
Second, when she has determined that it’s time to have the “come to Jesus” talk with me, she boldly says what’s on her mind. She doesn’t beat around the bush and qualify her feelings with ten thousand sickly sweet statements. She simply tells me how she’s feeling, what’s she’s seeing, and the impact she’s observing. I am so grateful for this! The last thing that I need to be left hanging in the wind!
Third, in virtually every single instance that Alida helps me get my priorities straight, she’s been sure to check back in with me in the future. Usually the next day she’ll initiate a conversation with me in which she wants to make sure that I’m not hurt or confused. Then, later on when old habits start being reestablished, she’ll lovingly remind me that I said I wanted my priorities to be different. In fact, one of Alida’s mantras is “Don’t complain about something unless you have a plan for it to succeed.” So, when she points out something in me that needs molding, she understands that as a call for her continued participation in my development.
And because of the example that Alida has set for me, I have learned how to do the same for her. Full disclosure: I’m not nearly as good at this as she is! I often wait too long, which means that I tend to be too angry, hurt, or annoyed to infuse a priorities conversation with grace and love. Like Alida, I tend to get straight to the point but since I am naturally so confrontational this often comes across as being argumentative. And I’m not nearly as good on follow through as Alida, though I am learning and growing in this area! Needless to say, Alida has set the bar high for me!
But as I think about the times that she has brought my messed up priorities out into the light it’s always been for one reason: I’m selfish. Now I know for a fact that I’m not the only selfish person out there! My wife is selfish, my parents and sister are selfish, my pastor is selfish, Billy Graham is selfish, the pope is selfish, Mother Teresa was selfish, the Apostles were selfish, etc., etc. Looking out for number one, unfortunately, is just part of the human predicament.
How does the problem of selfishness rear its ugly head in me? Pretty straightforwardly: I get uber-focused on me and my stuff. I talk about me and my stuff. I invest my time and energy in me and my stuff. I try to convince people of the value of me and my stuff. I seek out input on me and my stuff. I want validation for me and my stuff. Me and my stuff. Me and my stuff. Me and my stuff.
Notice the problem?
When my selfishness is in full bloom, where is my concern for the interests of others (Philippians 2.3-4)? Where is my self-sacrificial love (1 John 3.16)? Where is my care for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, etc. (Isaiah 58.9-10)? Where is my commitment to transformative community (Hebrews 10.24-25)? Where is my love for God that requires all of who I am (Matthew 22.37)? And where is my drive and desire to make disciples (Matthew 28.19-20)?
I must surround myself with people who can help me see when I slip further and further into selfishness! I’m blessed that I live with one such person but I’ve had and now have many others in my life too.
Here’s a twofold challenge: 1) Find someone to help you see when your priorities get a bit out of whack; and 2) Be the same for someone else!
Why have I decided to call this blog “New Wine”?
I’m glad you asked!
In the last six weeks or so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what it means to follow Jesus more intentionally. In pursuit of this I’ve been ingesting lots of stuff about how to follow Jesus purposefully. One group of people who have quite a bit to say on this topic are church planters.
A church planter is someone who sees a need for the gospel in an area and starts a church there. While there are several different ways that folks go about this, one of the more recent trends is to start out with a missional posture while living incarnationally.
What does that mean? Well, basically some church planters view themselves as missionaries instead of professional, paid staff members. Thus, this sort of church planter spends quite a bit of time with people who haven’t met Jesus — living with them, eating with them, caring for them, serving with them, and advocating for them.
The goal, of course, of the church planter is to fulfill Matthew 28.19-20, which is better known as the Great Commission. There Jesus challenges his disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations…” Thus, the sort of church planter I’m talking about is interested in leading someone into being a disciple, which is just a fancy way of saying they want to help someone learn how to follow Jesus well.
Not only that, but church planters of this ilk are not as interested in attracting people to come to church. They say this model, which is called the attractional model, isn’t working all that well. Another way of thinking about the attractional model is with the phrase “if you build it, they will come” (apologies to Field of Dreams!). So a church that is attractional will spend lots of time, money, and energy on their weekend services and programs, in hopes of making an excellent product that will attract people to come to church.
The reality seems to be that this way of doing church is not attracting as many people as it once did. You can find the statistics by Googling on your own, so I won’t bore you with them. But fewer and fewer people are coming to church and more and more churches aren’t seeing any new disciples being made who don’t have family in the church already. And, according to research done over the last decade or so, it seems that the churches that are growing (meaning that the number of people that they count during their weekend services has gone up) are doing so based on transfer growth, that is, they’re growing because they are attracting people from other churches. In other words, the attractional model isn’t working like we had hoped.
So the brand of church planters that I was talking about before insist that the best way to reach the un-churched, de-churched, etc. is to plant new churches. But not new attractional churches! Instead many of these church planters say that the way to go is to foster missional and incarnational communities in which those who don’t follow Jesus can see the good news of the kingdom of God being lived out in their midst. To put it differently, instead of asking people to come to church, these church planters are trying to be the church among those who don’t follow Jesus.
What do these church planters think about traditional, attractional churches? You may have guessed that most of them point to the evidence that I’ve noted above. Some of them are aggressively negative, while others see some benefit in the old ways. But almost to a person, these church planters are convinced that it’s incredibly difficult to retrain an attractional church to become missional and incarnational. Thus, a lot of them suggest that people should start form scratch (that is, plant a new church), rather than try to change a traditional church. Even the ones who try to give some tools to help transition attractional churches admit that the process is super-duper slow and often very painful.
And in these same contexts folks often quote the words from Jesus’ mouth in Matthew 9.17: “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Their implication is that the new wine of thinking missionally and living incarnationally is simply incompatible with the old wineskin of the attractional church model. While most of them wouldn’t actually say this, it certainly seems that many of them believe that changing an attractional church is simply impossible.
Well, it is in the context of a traditional, attractional church where I find myself. I’m a part-time staff member (for six more weeks!) and a adult community leader. Our church is old (115 or so years old), pretty big, and clearly geared toward getting people to come to our campus to do church. Lots of our folks, however, understand that this isn’t as effective as we would like and we’ve been thinking and strategizing about how to change.
So, what do I hope to do? Well, I want to attempt to pour some new wine into this old wineskin! I’m curious to see if Jesus’ words in Matthew 9.17 apply to this setting or not. What I’m hoping will happen is that the community I’m a part of, which is called Crossroads, can be shifted from being attractional to missional/incarnational. And I want to document parts of that journey here!
So, if you’re interested, check back and see what we’re up to!