I have been following with interest the current discussion led by Mike Breen regarding disciple making and the missional church. Since both missionality and disciple-making are personal interests of mine, I have enjoyed reading the blogs and reflecting on how they will reshape my understanding of church and mission.
As I reflect on Christian life and leadership, I am both convinced and convicted, that disciple-making is the goal, end result, and organizing practice to which I must commit. Disciple-making is the Jesus ordained mission of the church. But, it is built more in organic relationships and imitation. I need to take some time to explore Mike Breen’s questions, which are both convicting and compelling for me personally. If you want to read his blog, have a look, and offer your reflections about the need and nature of disciple-making. How would you see disciple-making flourish in your life and leadership, in your church, and in our district and denomination? Do you, does your church, have a plan for disciple-making? Is the plan working? What are the outcomes? How do you measure them beyond simply the number of baptisms?
Bums in pews is the traditional way that we have measured disciple making. If we have more attending church on Sunday morning then we are making disciples. Our goal: “Invite your friends to church.” Once you have done that, the discipling process goes through stages such as teaching them to tithe, getting them to teach Sunday School/lead a cell-group, getting them to join the choir or the board or the deaconesses, etc. By definition a church in this model means basically a Sunday-morning worship service. Thanks to Reg Bibby we realised that we were just circulating the saints and that more bums in my pews meant less bums in my brother’s pews. And of course we forgot the mission of the church and so we looked for another solution.
So then we thought, let’s look at baptisms as a guide. Our goal: “We are having a regularly scheduled baptism on _____. If you want to be baptised just let the pastor know and we will add you to the list.” This is considerably less “missional” than the previous “Invite your friends to church” (because it is primarily insiders who are asked to participate) but it does at least try to answer the “circulating saints” issue. But then, for example, I know of one specific church that has baptised literally hundreds of people. Unfortunately, you would be hard-pressed to find many of those baptised believers involved in a church today (much less involved in mission). And the church that was planted no longer exists.
So now we are looking at disciple-making as a guide. If disciples are being made then the mission is successful.
It seems to me that we have a problem of definition. For some, a disciple is someone who attends church on Sunday and gets involved in some part of that operation. I suspect that if you asked someone on the street to define disciple of Christ they would include regular Sunday-morning church attendance as one of the key factors. Baptism would be much farther down the list – I suspect that tithing would be higher in the minds of many 😉
So in answer to your question, Roger, “Does you church have a plan for disciple-making?” My answer would be, “Yes, all churches do.” Next question: “Is the plan working?” My answer would be “Yes, insofar as they each fit our own definition of what a disciple is.”
Obviously there are problems. But perhaps because we are both too specific AND not specific enough in our definition of disciple. Disciple means “bums in pews;” disciple means “baptisms. But disciple means far more than that. Mike Breen talks about “Dinners. Parties. Work days. Grocery store trips. Mission. Worship services. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Funerals.” This I think is really at the crux of the matter. For me it’s not so much what are we doing wrong as it is how can we enhance the disciple-making that our churches are already doing to be more holistic, inclusive, universalistic, biblical, accessible, understandable?
So the question is how can I get this going in my life so I can contribute to the disciple-ness of someone else, even as they contribute to mine?