Among all the many good things we do as Christians, whether individually or as congregations, where does disciplemaking fit as a priority? Here is one conclusion I've drawn.
Disciplemaking is misplaced in the mission/purposes/functions of most local churches.
Many writers identify five primary purposes or functions God has given to His Church generally, to local churches specifically, and to individual Christians personally. These functions are derived from either of two sets of familiar key Biblical passages. The first set is Jesus’ Three Great Commands (what I call the Great Commandment, Great Compassion, and Great Commission) in Matthew 28:19-20. The other set of passages comes from Acts 2:41-47 and 2 Timothy 2:2-3.
As one example, Rick Warren has wonderfully laid these out in his “Purpose-Driven” books and materials. The five functions are: Worship, Fellowship, Service, Evangelism and Discipleship. Some writers add Prayer as a sixth function, but I’ll not separate that one from the others for our purposes here.
Dr. Warren makes the case for our striving to have a balance of all five of these functions, both individually as Christians and collectively in the ministries of our local churches. The picture conveyed to me is that of a pie nicely divided into five equal slices, 20 percent each.
Now I don’t wish to criticize Rick Warren or any of the others who paint this picture. On the contrary, I thank God for, and have been personally blessed by, the wonderful way Rick has articulated what it means to truly be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. But to the extent anyone pictures the five functions of the Church as being equal, I see three shortcomings:
Christians use the word “discipleship” when it should be disciplemaking,” a huge confusion I’ll address in another post.
Because of this confusion, it leaves many churches thinking they are doing better (at what they call “discipleship”) than they really are (at “disciplemaking”).
Worst of all, this picture fails to recognize that the choice of paradigm -- namely, a pie -- is fundamentally flawed and thus causes us to miss God’s high priority of disciplemaking.
Let me explain. When my children were growing up, the educational television program Sesame Street was relatively new. One of the creative techniques the program’s producers employed to help children learn was this: showing several objects and asking the children to identify the one that was different from the others in some significant way. Whenever this was done, there was a little song that said, “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things does not belong. Can you find which thing is not like the others by the time we finish our song?”
Applying this same approach to the functions of the Church, I contend that disciplemaking is not like the other four. Worship, Fellowship, Service and Evangelism are all actions we are to express, give out or do as Christians. To be sure, we can be the recipients of Evangelism and Service before we are believers, and we can receive Service and Fellowship from other believers after we are believers. But our focus here is on the functions we each are called to fulfill as followers of Jesus, so the emphasis must be on what we give out, not what we receive.
Disciplemaking, however, is inherently a two-way action. Initially, I am to receive disciplemaking into my life as I seek and allow others to pour into me for the purpose of growing and being transformed into a true disciple of Jesus. Then, even as I continue to receive this disciplemaking into my life, I eventually must also begin to give out disciplemaking into others’ lives.
Disciplemaking is also different in another respect. Although my involvements in Worship, Fellowship, Service and Evangelism can all contribute to my growth as a disciple, it is not certain they will do so. I may do them for all kinds of reasons and not gain any lasting transformation as a disciple. I may think I can earn God’s favor, or I may do it to impress others, etc. But there is no certainty that by doing these activities I will actually end up loving God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.
But receiving true disciplemaking into my life is, at its core, all about others helping me to grow in my own intimate, affectionate and exclusive love relationship with God. The inevitable overflow from my growing love for God will be more and better Worship, more and better Fellowship, more and better Service, more and better Evangelism, and, yes, even more and better Disciplemaking, as I, in turn, help others to do the same.
Worship, Fellowship, Service, and Evangelism may or may not make me a disciple, but making me a mature disciple will certainly grow me as a worshiper, fellowshiper, servant and evangelist! It will also grow me as a giver, pray-er, leader, and many other outcomes desired and needed in the Church.