Vision of the Church + Practical Reality =Plan of Discipleship
By Mark RussellIn a conversation with a friend earlier this week centering on the question of what the practical discipleship plan of Spring Meadows looks like, I was brainstorming on all sorts of different ideas which flowed from the February Session retreat. After becoming increasingly nonplussed as more details and particulars were brought up, I was reminded by this brother that God is the one writing the story of his church, not us. There are several blank pages where no matter what we write on them, details will inevitably change as divine providence gives our will-to-plan needed correction.
This concept is liberating isn’t it? We are free to craft plans and make decisions, knowing that God will use these secondary causes in order to bring about what he foreordained. (Westminster Confession of Faith 3.1). The Bible is silent on what education classes, community group curriculum, small group studies, and other activities in which the church engages, but it is clear that all of them must work together under Christ’s authority to make disciples, that is mature Christians who are equipped to explain the Gospel and serve others by teaching them how to be imitators of Christ.
Keeping this in perspective, let’s have a look at two frameworks (the first macro, the second micro) by which SMPC as a body and her people as members make disciples. We will start with a zoomed-out lens, panning across a family’s development at SMPC, and then we will zoom in to the individual one-to-one level to understand what the practical reality of discipleship could look like. I did not forget the visually-inclined among you, so please pull out the diagram I drew up and follow along what I attempt to narrate below.
THE CHURCH MAKING DISCIPLES [MACRO]
A few guests walk in the doors of our church. They liked last week, so they decided to come back. Ok.. now what? Well, SMPC is in the process of bringing together hospitality and welcoming teams. These two teams in concert with the community group leaders will intentionally be looking to welcome these guests to the church, answer their questions, and inquire as to their experience with Christianity (this may include those on the fringe of church life as well). Most of this will be natural, and not explicitly programmed by the church.
The reason for this is because your responsibility as one whom Christ has welcomed to the glory of the Father (Romans 15:7) is to welcome the stranger. Remember: You were once a stranger and enemy of God. A sign of an unhealthy church member is one who would much rather engage with the familiar than the outsider. Only the Gospel can teach our hearts to not fear the risk of being inviting and welcoming.
An ongoing concern SMPC should have for its entire people (including our guests) is their grasp of the fundamentals of Christianity. To this end, a rotating cycle of “Gospel Foundations” studies will be offered. (1) What’s Christianity all about? (2) How to share and know the gospel, and (3) Tactics on how to discuss your Christian convictions – would be three small-group studies led by supported and trained leaders that the church may offer on a continual basis. This could be in t he form of home-studies, using the church offices, or by
using one of the Sunday morning classrooms. These classes would be informal in nature but regular in frequency. No more than 6 people would be in these small-group studies, and no one could lead this class without having a co-trainee or apprentice they are training to lead future iterations of the class. Church members, regular attendees, and guests would all gain a great deal by auditing these classes.
As the guest’s commitment increases it would be appropriate to take the Introduction to SMPC class. This is where our reformed distinctives, philosophy of ministry, and vision of the church is introduced to those who desire to learn more about Spring Meadows. A Church membership interview with an elder would logically follow this step.
Church membership is not like joining a club. Church membership involves an oath before God and an oath before His people that you will join together with the other saints of the church in the mission of making disciples, that is, supporting the work of the church. It also means you will be opening yourself to the shepherding of the Elders of the church (something the Session is currently planning to re-launch in 2013).
Grow, Serve, Lead
After one becomes a member, their commitment to become a disciple of Jesus Christ (and by logical extension make disciples of Christ) increases in intensity.
The three perspectives we can use to look at the Church’s strategy in continual equipping of its Christians are through (1) equipping with knowledge (knowing), (2) equipping with nurture (being), and (3) equipping with service (doing).
SMPC will aim to revamp Adult Education (knowing) – giving it a comprehensive 3 year plan (Reformed Theology, Church History, Christian Marriage, Catechizing your family, Meaning of Church membership etc,) with more specialized offerings through the week (The Trinity, Epistemology, Hermeneutics). The Children’s Ministry team is beginning to organize hoping to offer structured training to the children of the church.
The diaconate (doing) will be back up and running within the next several months, which will provide opportunity for Christians to respond to the Gospel in service to the church and the unbeliever with acts of mercy. Serving Christ by aiding the worship team in setting up equipment or children’s ministry by training the children, or visiting the sick, or aiding a deacon in drafting a family budget would all be practical ways to serve.
Community groups (being/nurture), run by a leader who understands he must serve the people of his group, will be the designated means SMPC will use to equip the saints with the spiritual grasp of the Gospel, moving them to use their gifts for ministry and discipleship of others. Community group leaders should not see themselves as merely facilitating a discussion, or running a meeting, but rather as those who see themselves as servants to all, particularly those in their groups, training you to pray for unbelieving friends, share the gospel with others, and learn to worship Christ more fully.
The intended result of this process: Lord-willing this structure, or trellis, is one we may use to send equipped disciples who are not afraid to initiate risky relationships with non-Christians for the sake of loving them both in word and deed. That is, speaking the message of the gospel to them by using words, and giving it credibility by deeds. (Perhaps not in that order). Thankfully, this is impossible apart from the Holy Spirit working faith into our hearts, moving us to give up our rights and serving others so that we may win and nurture new Christians, adding them to the number of Christ’s church.
All this sounds great and exciting, and it is! But here is the paradox: Focusing on maintaining this structure will take us off of the mission. If I am working a garden and spend 10 hours repairing the trellis for every one hour I tend to the vine, the vine will die. Accordingly, if we become inwardly focused (I am speaking as a church) by focusing on maintaining this structure, we will start to use people, not build them up. In other words, when institution becomes the purpose, we will coerce and manipulate individuals in order to sustain the institution. So how then do we organize the organism? How do the many members form the one body?
THE INDIVIDUAL MAKING DISCIPLES
Members initiating relationships to others
One of the biblical pictures of the church is the body. The members are tasked with the work of ministry, and only when they are working properly will the body function as it is designed. This helps us understand the individual’s relation to the church, and the church’s relation to the individual.
If a member of your body is not healthy, your body will suffer. So what would you do? You would nurse the part to health, carefully tending it with medication and slowly increasing its rehabilitation schedule. Within the church, this chiefly takes the form of individual members growing each other in the gospel.
In our context, this is most effectively done one-to-one as we seek to come alongside others for the purpose of encouraging them and making inquiry into their spiritual condition. Spring Meadows leadership training is right around the corner. I will be assisting Tim in this training in this area. One of our fundamental tenets is that only by starting with people, seeking to help them to discern their gifts and callings, will our discipleship plan be able to function.
There are an unlimited number of methods and variations of one-to-one encouragement, but consider the following: A reasonably solid Christian said to you after church, “Look, I’d like to get more involved here and make a contribution, but I just feel like there’s nothing for me to do. I’m not on the “inside”; I don’t get asked to help plan events, visit the sick. What can I do? What would you immediately think or say? Would you start thinking of some event or program about to start that they could help with? Some job that needed doing? Some ministry they could join or support?
I am proposing we start with the person. Perhaps you could say, “See that guy sitting over there on his own? He’s on the fringe of things here; in fact, I’m not really sure whether he’s crossed the line yet and become a Christian. How about I introduce you to him, and you arrange to have breakfast with him once every few weeks, and read the Bible together? See that couple over there? They are both fairly recently converted, and really in need of encouragement and discipling. Why don’t you and your wife have them over, get to know them, and read and pray together once a month? By starting in this way, the church grows together as each individual exercises personal ministry towards another, caring for the members. “But I don’t know how to do that!” The person might answer. Your reply, “That’s OK. Let’s start meeting together and I can train you.”
Both the macro and micro elements set forth above must work together in order for the vision of Spring Meadows to become a reality. In this way we avoid errors of institutionalism and clericalism, and rather focus first on people by helping them see how they are to glorify God in the spheres the Lord has already placed them in. Organized classes, community groups, and mercy ministries can be helps to this end, however let’s not risk confusing a person’s heavy involvement in church activity for a healthy spiritual life. Please join together with the church in prayer that the Lord would use His appointed means to make you a disciple of Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit would minister the gospel to your heart through the preaching of the word to move you to seek out ways to build people up, for the sake of Christ’s body.