Today is part four of a series on my recent trip to meet Kazakhstani and Italian house and simple church leaders. In my last post I shared how the trip re-emphasized to me the importance of seeing church primarily as a “way of life.” Today I reflect on how the importance of intentional discipleship as a characteristic of this way of life was highlighted during my travels.
I was really encouraged that many people we encountered emphasized discipleship. Cru and other ministries are making relational investments in many people by focusing on intentional discipleship. David reminded me and others (as he has done as long as I’ve known him): Jesus didn’t call us to start churches but to make disciples. In Kazakhstan, this is happening because disciples are intentionally inviting others into their lives. In Italy, I saw the purposeful intention that John and Betsy had with their time and resources to invest in others.
Here in the US, I do pray that we can be more intentional in a discipleship approach that embodies a way of life much like the intentional way that Jesus invested in His disciples. For all of us, the more we can be intentional in the ways of Jesus, the more I think we can expect to see Him build his church as He said He would do. With a continued focus on relational disciple making and shedding some of our preconceived ideas about what a church must look like, we could see the church grow in such a simple form that it could evade many of the structural issues plaguing “house church” here and within an autocratic forms of government.
This will be challenging abroad as it is here. In the west, the church traditionally has been more organizational than organic. Fluidity and the ability to adapt to cultural changes has not been a strong suit. In addition, our organizational approach often is accompanied by desire to see fast results. Modern missionary efforts have exported these characteristics globally.
Sadly, when we focus on quickly “reproducing disciples,” we can make others feel as though they are a part of a system or strategy instead of a family of faith that reproduces as a result of love (see this post for more). We all must remember that the Kingdom grows at the speed of relationship, and relationships grow as we take intentional steps toward each other to be known and ultimately make Him known. Trying to skip over this fact can lead to unintended consequences and even spiritual abuse that so many are recovering from in post-Christian societies.
Nonetheless, as we experience the love of Jesus making us into someone more like Him, we will make intentional decisions to open up our lives to relational discipleship. It may not mean moving abroad as it has for many I met on my trip, but it likely will involve cross carrying. But be encouraged! It was for the “joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:1-2 below) that Jesus went to the cross. A life intentionally invested in the slow process of relational discipleship will not always be easy but is joy-filled.
Questions for reflection:
Do you generally think of “disciple making” as a program or system that you get others into or a friendship with you where you follow Jesus together guided by His Spirit that is alive inside of you?
In what ways have you experienced others intentionally investing in disciple-making friendships with you?
What does discipleship presently look like for you? Would you like this to change? How?
Do you agree that we can focus on discipleship and allow Jesus to do the work of building the Church?
…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.