This next post is from Jonathan Pettus who has been a close friend for many years. He has worked for the Lebanon Road and Mt. Juliet churches and is currently working in the hotel industry in Florence, Alabama. He is married to the former Betsi Hepler and they have two sons, Xander and Connor. “JP” is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University with a Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies and Communications. You will enjoy his keen insight into how we typically approach discipleship versus the kingdom way of approaching discipleship. Enjoy!
Most churches today are oblivious to their Biblically-mandated mission. Oh, they think they’re on target, but, sadly, they’ve been off-course for decades, maybe even generations. Here are three big misconceptions regarding the mission of the church:
■ The mission of the church isn’t to be a good neighbor through service to the local community. We’ve got civic organizations that do that.
■ The mission of the church isn’t even to provide programs and ministries for its members to “get involved” or “be plugged in” or to “mature in the faith.” That’s on each of us individually.
So what is the mission of the church?
To make disciples. Simple as that.
We understand that “disciple” means “follower” and that “discipleship” is the process by which disciple-making takes place. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20 that there are two components involved in disciple-making: baptism and teaching. Therefore, a disciple is one who is obedient in baptism and observes all that Jesus commanded.
So Biblical discipleship is about transforming lives through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.
Too many times, I’m afraid, our churches have confused “making disciples” with “making converts.” We’re world-class at the art of convert-making. We can convince people to line up with our moral or doctrinal positions, but we often fall short in helping them mature in their relationship with Jesus. We have to understand that making disciples, at its core, has little to do with church attendance, tithing, or ministry involvement. It has everything to do with reconciling souls to God through Jesus.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 that we have been given the “ministry of reconciliation,” meaning that as Christ’s ambassadors to the world, we have been entrusted with the most important ministry imaginable- bringing souls into a real, growing, and active relationship with God. So how do we, as the church, go about doing that?
I think there must be a paradigm shift. There must be a realization that attendance, service, and giving are a byproduct of discipleship and not the means to an end. There must be a realization that discipleship is intentional, but rarely programmable. There must be a realization that true discipleship is an intimate endeavor.
Granted, I have a limited scope, but here are a few things that must exist in order for there to be real and intimate discipleship:
■ Gospel-centered teaching. Too many churches fall back to the comforts of teaching morality and the fringes of the Gospel. We need more teaching on the nature and character of God and what our lives should look like in response to that…without skipping over the difficult parts.
■ Accountability. The church must be willing to humbly, lovingly, and consistently confront sin in its members. Difficult? Yes. Worth it? Eternally.
■ Community. As the local church grows larger, it must grow smaller. Discipleship rarely takes place in large groups. People need the opportunity to wrestle with life and faith with a smaller group of brothers and sisters who know them intimately.
■ Equipping. Part of the discipleship maturation process must include equipping individuals for service. Not service done to feel included or to check a box, but service that pours out of a heart of gratitude and the desire for the Kingdom to grow. Service that stems from the realization that God has uniquelygiftedus and preciselyplacedus for His glory.
When intimate, Biblical discipleship occurs many things happen. People attend, they give, and they serve. But they do so only because their lives are in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ. Numbers have their place, but faithfulness and maturity are better indicators of whether or not a church has realized and is locked in on its true mission.
Agree? Disagree? Where do you think true, Biblical discipleship takes place?