I'm sitting with Rynelle in LAX waiting to board a plane for South Africa. Airports are bitter-sweet for me. I hate leaving our kids, and I miss our community, home and city.I also have long legs and minor claustrophobia.That said, I'm well aware of the call to make disciples of all nations, and of the need to get a glimpse of what God is doing around the world too. It always gives me fresh eyes on what God is doing at home. So travel is a painful privilege.
Last week was a deeply confirming one for me. I traveled to Chicago with my friend Todd Proctor, and sat around a table with 8 leaders of large, high profile churches, to pray and plan for a shift in America's church culture. That may sound presumptuous to you, but honestly, there were some pretty heavy hitters in the room, and their combined lament at the status quo was palpable. These were successful church leaders, deeply dissatisfied with their own levels of disciple-making (mainly due to the busyness of 'running a church') and the lives of their congregations(mainly due to consumer tendencies.) We weren't just gathering to complain though. We were gathering to own the problem, and hopefully do something about it with intense intentionality.
You're probably asking, "So, why were you there?" Don't worry, I was asking myself the same question initially, but after a bit, I just accepted that I was, and decided to add my two cents worth to the conversation. The truth is, that big is not always healthy when it comes to both physical and spiritual bodies. As a medium-sized church by U.S. standards, Southlands has some very healthy disciple-making cultures, even though we have a ways to go. One of the things we have to offer, is our high relational quotient. The lament around the room was that people in very large churches are fixated with meetings and programmes but resist more organic, relational discipling. We do not, and need to keep the relational culture strong as a means to a disciple-making end.
So, a few reflections before I fly:
If we look at Jesus' style of disciple-making, he took three years with twelve guys. He taught, healed and fed the crowds, but discipled the few. You cannot mass-produce disciples. They are made in a slow, humble, sacrificial investment of one life into another. There is no silver-bullet curriculum, although there are some good ones. Disciple-making cannot only be carried by leaders either. Real multiplication happens when every follower of Christ takes responsibility to become a 'fisher of men.'
The one problem with a highly relational culture though, is the fear that I could lose my friendship with you if I get too serious, or call you out on an aspect of your life. That is a fear we are going to have to get over, not lording it over each other, but taking humble courage, as we spur one another on to love and good deeds. Our relationships can be nets that draw people in to a compelling faith where the current is towards following Jesus.
Second, disciple-making should not be limited only to believers. It is not simply spiritual formation, where we take believers and help them to become more like Christ and more intimate with Christ. It is that, but if you look at Jesus' life, it's not clear at what point the disciples got saved! And yet Jesus' approach to them was pretty consistent both before and after faith. We can and should disciple people towards faith. Disciple-making is not just spiritual formation, It should include relational evangelism.
Third, as leaders we should ask ourselves whether we are making disciples or disciple-makers? I feel I have been better at making disciples who are growing in Christ, than making disciple-makers who are living to see the life of Christ multiplied in others. I am intentionally applying myself to this, and am loving seeing some fruit in that regard.
Jonny Wilkinson, the world cup rugby winner from England had a strategy when it came to kicking the rugby ball between the goal-posts. He would aim at an imaginary lady in the crowd. I think he called her Aunty Edna. He found that if he aimed at her instead of at the posts, he would kick the ball through the posts more accurately. I think it's the same with aiming at making disciples. If we aim at building a church we may fall short of making disciples. But If we aim further at making disciples intentionally, we will find that we build strong churches accidentally.