Thoughts on Discipleship & Mission
In my last post I was focusing on the idea of planting churches that are large enough to resource mission well. A point of clarification I’d like to make, is that I wasn’t suggesting only large churches can do mission. Churches regardless of size are called to mission and engagement with their local community.
The point I was trying to make was the idea that to resource mission well, we often need a critical mass of people who provide the time, the energy and the money required. Now I’m a firm believer in the idea that if God orders the meal he will pay for it, so regardless of church size if God has called us to something he will no doubt foot the bill with the resources of heaven. I guess I’m looking more from a pragmatic perspective, having visited a large mega-church in a US context.
In all this I’m really challenging my own thinking; is it possible to plant churches in a UK that are large enough to influence and shape the culture? I once heard someone talk about the 1% factor, that once a church has reached at least 1% of its population a tipping point in influence takes place. (now I may of dreamt this as I can no longer find the source, but it sounds good anyway) But whether this is a true statistic or not it kind of relates to this idea that when a church reaches a certain size the wider community can’t help but stand back and take notice. I wonder if that is what has happened for Vineyard Columbus and other larger churches?
Anyway moving on… over our sabbatical I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the subject of discipleship and how it relates to the mission of the church. One really helpful resource has been Mike Breen and his work via 3DM. Mike was the vicar of St Thoms in Sheffield a church famous among many things for being one of the largest Anglican/Baptist church’s in Europe and also one of the early pioneers of Missional Communities. Mike has since moved to the US and for the last few years has been equipping churches in North America as they begin to grapple with the challenges of a growing secular culture.
In many ways when it comes to secularisation and the death of Christendom the US is a little behind much of western Europe. But none the less some of the challenges we have been facing here in the UK are becoming very true for our American cousins.
Last week I reread Breen’s book Building a Discipling Culture, which really covers the foundations for disciple making at St Thoms and other 3DM influenced churches. In the book there are some wonderful gems, that help think through the relationship between mission and discipleship.
In the book he proposes that the church doesn’t have a missional problem per se, but it actually has a discipleship one. That meaning, if we get discipleship right then the task of making other disciples and engaging in God’s mission becomes normal. Disciples will ultimately make more disciples, because that’s simply what disciples do!
So that's got me thinking; “do we simply put the cart before the horse here?” I mean as we call people to engage with God’s mission in the world and become more missional in their thinking, only to find ourselves brutally disappointed when only a small percentage actually take us up on the offer? Is this because we’ve failed to actually do the number one task Jesus gave us to do in the first place? “…to go and make disciples”.
The big problem Breen suggests is we don’t actually know how to make disciples and on the whole have been too afraid to admit it. Thus creating the whole premise for his book on building a discipling culture in the church.
So as we think about the continued mission of the church and as we dream about all that it could be. My sense is we need to step back a little and start in the right place. Maybe the starting point isn’t “how do we get mission right?” but rather “how do we get discipleship right?” and on top of that “how do we build a culture of discipleship in the life of the church?” that will see us through the next season and beyond!
It’s said language creates culture, as Brinkerhoff, White & Ortega write:
A common language is often the most obvious outward sign that people share a common culture … For this reason, groups seeking to mobilise their members often insist on their own distinct language … and according to some linguists, languages not only symbolise our culture but also help create a framework in which culture develops, arguing that grammar, structures and categories embodied in each language influence how its speakers see reality.
What is our language of discipleship? That’s a good question to ask right?
Now I did began to lay some foundations down for this earlier in the year when we did our Mission & Vision teaching series. But what would it mean for us to create a common [Central Vineyard] language for what it looks like for a person to be a disciple of Jesus? What would that common language have to say about our character and the habits and practices that form who we are? How would it address issues of identity and where we find ourselves in God’s big story? How would that affect the way we do community and engage with one another in the context of the church family? And what would it say about our call to go and make other disciples?
We already have a basis for some of this in our framework for living life in an UP, IN and OUT direction. How do we build on some of this and begin to think about a unified language in which we can build accountable discipling relationships?
One thing I’m looking forward to doing next term is figuring out what some of that might be? Are you up for it too?