A Life of Discipleship

Part of our own discipleship is “paying it forward”: seeing God not only work in us, for our own discipleship, but also seeing him work through us, for others’ discipleship

The person and work of Jesus cannot remain as a mere mental construct, separate from the rest of life. The gospel changes us. It gives us new identities, goals, and pursuits. Jesus’s past, present, and future work redefine how we think, live, work, and act. Because of the gospel, we are disciples of Jesus. By the power of God, the life of a Christian is a life of learning from Jesus, following him, and “growing up in every way into him” (Eph 4:15). In other words, the life of a follower of Jesus is a life of obeying Jesus.

A NEW PERSPECTIVE

When he called the first of his disciples, he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). They had been fishermen, but Jesus was calling them to fish for people. They responded by leaving everything—their families, their careers, their futures—to follow Jesus. It started in a boat and went out to the world. Those first disciples radically recentered everything in their lives around Jesus, his teaching, and his mission. Their lives became all about Jesus! He was that important to them.

Then, after he had trained them for more than three years, suffered and died for their sins, and rose from the grave, Jesus told them to meet him on a mountain before he ascended to heaven. On that mountain, he was going to give his final commission to them to make disciples of all people groups. Just as Jesus had called them to follow him, be changed by him, and obey him, he sent them out to call others to follow him as well. He was going to send them to the ends of the earth so that Jesus saturation might happen.

So they met Jesus on the mountain and worshiped him there, but some still doubted (Matt. 28:16-17). They were in, but not all in. Slow down and don’t miss this: Jesus’s disciples had seen everything they needed to see. Jesus had taught them all he needed to teach them. And they had experienced all they needed to experience with Jesus! And yet, some were still doubting. This is good news for me! Though I’ve walked with Jesus for more than twenty-four years, I still struggle with doubts. Maybe you do as well.

We’re not alone! The disciples were still in process—a process that would last their lifetimes. And the same is true of us. That is what discipleship is all about. It is the ongoing process of submitting all of life to Jesus, and seeing him saturate your entire life and world with his presence and power. It’s a process of daily growing in your awareness of your need for him in the everyday stuff of life. It is walking with Jesus, being filled with Jesus, and being led by Jesus in every place and in every way. Read the previous paragraph again—may this be a helpful definition of discipleship!

PAYING IT FORWARD

Once we start to realize that discipleship is an everyday, all-of-life process for our own lives, we’re halfway to understanding God’s call. The other half of that call is seen most clearly in the great commission, where God calls his people— all his people—to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Part of our own discipleship is “paying it forward”: seeing God not only work in us, for our own discipleship, but also seeing him work through us, for others’ discipleship. In fact, the Apostle Paul tells us that a primary way we grow into maturity in Christ is through “speaking the truth in love” to and with each other (Eph 4:16). God didn’t design discipleship to primarily happen alone.

(Excerpted from the Saturate Field Guide by permission.)

Comment

Jeff Vanderstelt

Jeff Vanderstelt is the visionary leader of Saturate, the Soma Family of Churches, and the lead teaching pastor of Doxa Church in Bellevue, WA. He also travels around the US and the world equipping the Church in the gospel and missional living. He is the author of "Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life." He and Jayne, his wife of 22 years, have three children; Haylee, Caleb, and Maggie.

Undoing Wrong Thinking

Getting believers to obey God together in the midst of non-Christians is one of the most powerful witnesses to the gospel we have.

I recently sat down with Brian Daniel from LifeWay‘s Groups Ministry blog to talk about helping churches and leaders transition their people toward an all-of-life discipleship environment. I shared with Brian some of what I’ve learned about helping leaders move their small groups toward life-on-life, life-in-community, and life-on-mission disciple-making communities. He asked some great questions.


BrianIn Saturate you refer to All-of-Life discipleship. Let’s begin with a short description of how you define “All-of-Life” discipleship.

JV: In Ephesians 4:15, the apostle Paul states, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” This passage is in the context of Paul describing how the church is called to equip every believer to grow up into maturity and that maturity looks like Jesus. Notice that Paul states we are to grow up in every way. This refers to every aspect of our lives. In other places Paul shows that our eating, drinking, working, resting, and relating are all meant to be done for the glory of God. So, first of all, when I say “All-of-Life” discipleship I am referring to developing each other toward Christ-likeness in every aspect of life. Discipleship is not a program we attend or a curriculum we get through, though both assist in discipleship.

Discipleship happens in the everyday stuff of life with followers of Jesus being committed to life-on-life, life-in-community, and life-on-mission together throughout the week. Life-on-life means we are committed to our lives being visible and accessible. We commit to help each other grow up in every aspect of life by having every aspect of life visible and accessible to each other. Life-in-community means we are being discipled by many people, men and women, expressing a variety of gifts, not just by one person. Life-on-mission means we disciple people best when we are making disciples together, with both Jesus followers and those not yet following Jesus.

Brian: How do you approach topics that may be best explored in gender-specific sub-groups? Is breaking into gender-specific groups fairly regular or more of an exception?

JV: First of all, one of the things I often have to clarify is that a missional community is not an event but a people who love one another like family on-mission together throughout the week. I say this because often people try to fit all of their discipleship work into a weekly event for an hour or two. It’s just not possible to make disciples in that amount of time. Second, to answer your question, most of our groups have another time during the week where they meet in gender-specific groups. We call these DNA Groups. (Discover Jesus together in Scripture. Nurture the truths of Jesus in each other’s hearts. Act in response to repentance and belief.) Our missional community gathers weekly for a family meal on Wednesday nights, the women connect on Monday nights, and our men connect on Tuesday mornings. And we all gather together on Sunday mornings with the rest of the church.

Brian: How are each of these environments resourced? That is, what do group members “do” in each of the environments? Even though life-on-mission would seem to be self-explanatory, I’d love to know how missional “events” are planned and scheduled.

JV: These environments are resourced by people who have been and are being trained to “BE” disciples first. So, first of all, we believe we need to equip the church to see they ARE disciples on mission all of the time. That is one of the reasons I wrote Saturate and Ben and I created the Saturate Field Guide. I find the reason most Christians are not “on mission” is because they don’t believe God has made them His missionary people. When, and if, they believe they truly are missionaries to their neighbors, co-workers, and friends, often they already know what to do.

With that said, some of the work we have to do is to “undo” wrong thinking. For instance, thinking mission is an event is one example. Mission is not an event—it is a lifestyle. We don’t teach people to run events—we teach people to invite unbelievers into their lives and the activities they are already engaged in or join unbelievers in the activities they are involved in. We are not calling people to add more events to their already busy lives. We train them to engage in what they already do with gospel intentionality. It’s not necessarily additional, but intentional. Ideally, getting a few Christians to join together in the activities of everyday life with gospel intentionality is the goal—activities such as eating, playing, and working. I interact with parents all the time who tell me they don’t have time for Jesus’ mission because they are too busy with their children’s activities. What they often fail to see is that the mission is in the middle of those activities. They can disciple their children and the other parents and coaches during their sports events. They can see their children’s school activities as the ministry and engage as disciple-making disciples there.

The biggest thing we need to learn is how to walk in the Spirit, be saturated with the gospel, and ask God to work through our lives to both attract people to Jesus through our visible witness and call people to Jesus through our verbal one.

Brian: I’ve interviewed Jonathan Dodson and Steve Gladen on life-on-life and life-in-community in prior posts. What tips would you have for a group leader who wants to move his or her group more toward a life-on-mission environment?

JV: First of all, if they are already studying the Bible together, move from “personal application only” to communal and missional application. For instance, don’t only ask the question “How will you apply this?” Ask, “If we believe this, how will we apply it together in our community and how will we apply it together on mission?” Start obeying God’s word in community.

Most of the Bible was not written to individuals and therefore was not meant primarily for personal application. It was written to God’s people (plural) and intended for communal application. And God wants his people obeying him together in the middle of a dark and broken world, not inside our Christian cul-de-sacs. Getting believers to obey God together in the midst of non-Christians is one of the most powerful witnesses to the gospel we have. Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another. So let’s start loving God and one another in the midst of a world that needs to see God’s love on display.

Next, the group leader needs make sure everyone knows, believes, and can communicate the gospel in culturally relevant ways—showing that the gospel speaks to every aspect of life. The gospel isn’t just a bridge over the gap of sin so we can avoid hell when we die. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, and it impacts every single aspect of our lives today and forever. Group leaders need to immerse their group in the gospel so the group becomes a gospel-fluent people.

And then the group leader needs to regularly remind the group why they exist. They exist to glorify God by displaying what He is like and declaring what He has done. They were rescued and saved by Jesus for a purpose—to make disciples who make disciples for the glory of God and the good of their city. Each group should identify people or even a people group they believe God is sending them to that don’t yet believe in and know Jesus. Then, they should regularly pray for them and ask God how they might intentionally engage in life together with them.

This isn’t about inviting people to attend a church event. This is about a group learning to be God’s people (the church) on mission in the everyday stuff of life with others. For instance, my missional community is presently asking God for how we should engage in our children’s sporting events and school activities to show and share Jesus with the families there. Others are asking how they might together show and share Jesus to their co-workers while at work and through after-work parties they attend together. I know of another missional community that is making their nightlife activity their mission by going to the same restaurants or clubs with gospel intentionality together.

The key in all of this is relationships. You will never get a group on mission by just studying about mission and remaining distant from mission. You need to engage actively together in relationships, while at the same time relating together to God in prayer prior to and during these activities.

Brian: Taking into account life-on-life, life-in-community, and life-on-mission, is there a natural way for these environments to evolve out of a church’s values, or is the expectation that these environments must be very intentionally and meticulously developed? What are the first steps to adopting this approach to discipleship?

I believe the church’s job is to make this normative. It must be embraced by the church leadership, filtered through all its teaching and training, shaped by how it spends its time and resources, and shown in the lives of its leaders. If the leaders are not engaged in this kind of discipleship, then they should never expect the church to get there. Churches also need to make more space for their people to live this kind of life. Too many churches fill their schedules with activities at their buildings, thus filling people’s schedules with Christian activities that pull them out of the mission field. We have made it a point not to create events that prevent people from being on mission throughout the week. In fact, at this point in the church I lead, Sunday is the only day we have scheduled events. Even those events exist to equip or support our people on the mission of making disciples.

The most important thing is getting church leaders and programs to shift toward equipping and supporting the people to be disciple-makers, instead of looking to leaders and programs to make the disciples for the church.

Once that happens, the leadership of the church needs to ask if everything they do serves to equip God’s people. I call this a disciple-making audit. I believe every staff member or leader in a church needs to ask how they can better focus their energies and gifts to equip the people for ministry. Instead of doing the ministry for the people, start equipping the people for the ministry.

Comment

Jeff Vanderstelt

Jeff Vanderstelt is the visionary leader of Saturate, the Soma Family of Churches, and the lead teaching pastor of Doxa Church in Bellevue, WA. He also travels around the US and the world equipping the Church in the gospel and missional living. He is the author of "Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life." He and Jayne, his wife of 22 years, have three children; Haylee, Caleb, and Maggie.

5 Ways To Equip Disciples as Gospel Ministers

Church leader? Your job is not to do the ministry for the church, but to equip the church to be gospel ministers.

Habakkuk 2:14 speaks of a day when “The knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” That is a saturation point–a time in which everywhere you go, the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will saturate everyone and everything. You will not be able to avoid to truths of God.

The Apostle Paul says in Colossians 1:27 that Christ in us is the hope of glory and in Ephesians 1:23 that the church is Christ’s body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. The church is God’s plan for saturation. Christ in us and Christ through us, every day and everywhere, so that through us Christ might be preeminent in everything (Col. 1:18). I call this gospel saturation, in which every man, woman and child has a daily encounter with Jesus in word and deed through his people, the church.

This is why we have been saved. This is why we exist. 

But this won’t happen if we continue to see church as a building or a weekly event we attend. Buildings don’t saturate a place. They take up space. They also can’t move and fill other places. Events won’t saturate the world with God’s glory either. They may be led by or participated in by glory-bearing, Jesus-filled people, but the event cannot travel and fill space. People do.

Church is not a building. Church is not an event. The church is the people of God set apart for the mission of God – filled with his power and presence so that his purposes are accomplished every day everywhere – in the workplace, at school, in cafes and pubs, around dinner takes and on the soccer field.

Do you believe that? Do you believe you are the church? Do you believe the church is actively on mission every day in the stuff of life for the glory of God? We must commit to equipping everyday people for the everyday mission of gospel saturation.

If you are a leader in the church, do you see your job is not to do the ministry for the church, but to equip the church for ministry in the everyday stuff of life (Eph. 4:11-12)?

This is where it begins.

First, leaders need to reconsider their calling. Shift from being a minister of the gospel to being an equipper of gospel ministers. This doesn’t mean you cease from gospel ministry, but it does mean equipping others is a significant part of your ministry.

Second, help people see they are designed uniquely by God and put in the place they live on purpose by God. Too often we create programmatic boxes for people to fit into instead of helping them engage uniquely in ministry where God has already placed them. In doing so, we often pull people out of the mission field and unnaturally try to squeeze them into our ministry molds. I recently spoke with a woman who thanked me for affirming the truth of her unique design and calling. Her passion and skills are in the fashion industry, and her place in life is with a unique class of people who likely will never enter a church building. She started a fashion business as a ministry that has a natural open door for mission.

Third, publicly affirm and commission people in your gatherings for mission outside of the building or weekly event. I was speaking to a local businessman about his work in our city. “It’s clear the church doesn’t affirm business as mission because the only people it publicly commissions are full-time pastors,” he replied. He shared how he had observed seminary graduates publicly affirmed and commissioned for ministry, but never business people. At the church I lead now, we are commissioning all people for ministry. During our Sunday gatherings, we’ve begun to highlight and pray over a group of people on mission in everyday life. In addition, when we baptize people at our church, we state that their baptism is also their commission to the mission Jesus gave us.

Fourth, consider how your language affirms your convictions. When I visit other churches or meet with other pastors, I regularly hear their language affirm that people “go to church.” I regularly remind our people that they don’t “go to church” but they “are the church.” I communicate publicly that it is my job, and the job of our staff, to equip them to go “be the church” on Jesus’ mission wherever he is sending them. So often we send people mixed messages by saying things like, “It’s good to be in the house of the Lord” or “I’m so glad you decided to come to church today.” But the Scriptures teach that God’s people are the house of the Lord. We are his temple. Are you affirming this truth with your language?

And finally, make sure you regularly reaffirm God’s people as the priesthood. I still see a strong clergy/laity distinction in so many churches. We call people to the mission and yet prevent them from doing the ministry. For example, Jesus said to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded–which includes making disciples and baptizing them. However, I still see churches affirm that only the pastor can baptize. We call people to make disciples, which according to Jesus includes baptizing, but, we don’t let people baptize. I have watched many people get into the water with their friends or relatives in obedience to Jesus’ command. One woman told me she had never baptized anyone, although she had led people to faith in Jesus before. This was the first time in her life she was free to obey Jesus’ command in this way.

Ask yourself, what ministry are you taking away from the people you lead? What have you prevented them from participating in? I have policy that I try to work by: Don’t continue to do for people what they could do themselves if they were equipped and trained. Baptism is one example, but there are many others.

Remember, the church is not a building or an event. The church is God’s people saved by God’s power who are filled with God’s presence for God’s purposes in the world.

Gospel saturation doesn’t happen in a building.

It won’t get accomplished through an event.

Gospel saturation happens in you and then gospel saturation happens through you…until all the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.

4 Ways To Be Missional In The Everyday Stuff of Life

A few years back a friend of mine challenged me to run the Chicago Marathon with him. I’d never run a race before, but my competitive edge led me to take on the challenge, and I got to work. I never trained so hard in my life. Hours of my days were devoted to getting into shape and preparing. I ordered running magazines, researched workout plans, learned about proper diet, was schooled on shoe tech, and even discovered how important it is to think about proper clothing. I became a disciple of marathons because I was going to run one. 

When I ponder the reality that most Christians have never made a disciple who has also, made a disciple, I have harkened back several times to my experience with the marathon training. I got into shape because I HAD TO – it was a matter of necessity and survival.

Not only have many in the church never made a disciple who has then gone on to make a disciple, but many Christians would say they don’t feel equipped to do so. It seems to me that we could address the matter of “spiritually unfit” Christians from one of two approaches. We could address it like we address our problem with physically unfit Americans – build more health clubs (read: buildings and events), sell more fitness products (read: curriculum), host more seminars (read: classes) and work hard to make sure everyone has a personal trainer (read: mentor). No one would argue that we are lacking any of this in America. We have plenty of access to the resources necessary to be fit.  However, all of us would agree – we are not much healthier as a result (read: not making disciples).

Or, we could look at it from another angle – what if we called every believer to get ready to run a marathon? (The apostle Paul was on to something here.)

Is it possible that the reason that the church is not spiritually fit is due to the fact that many church leaders are merely calling people to sit around and observe other spiritually fit missionaries perform in front of them? Let’s ask ourselves: “What are we calling people to that requires them to be spiritually fit?”

What if we called every believer to run the race of Jesus’ mission? What if every Christian believed they were called to full-time ministry in their schools, while at work, and interacting in their neighborhoods. What if they believed that life was the program and every moment is an opportunity for gospel ministry? What if Christians started to believe that the small group they were involved in could potentially be a core group of a new church in their community. And, that they might just participate in leading?

What if the church once again called her people, young and old, male and female, to get ready to be sent out as a disciple who makes disciples; to potentially start new churches everywhere? In fact, what if they all believed in two years they were going to be sent out to another city or country to not only make disciples but raise up new ones to do the same some where else?

I wonder - would they take their spiritual fitness and training a little more seriously?

To train in the race for spiritual fitness, study the gospels and learn from Jesus, then begin to engage in what you’re already doing in everyday life with gospel intentionality:

1. Make every meal a worship service. As you eat and drink remember Jesus as God’s provision for our deepest hunger and the Spirit as the thirst quenching presence of God in our lives. If every meal became a worship service, you would be attending about 21 worship services a week! Start eating with others more often. Eat with those who love Jesus and encourage and remind each other with the truths of Jesus at the table. Eat with those who don’t yet know Jesus and ask the Spirit to grant opportunities to bless them over a meal in deed and word. Invite people to join you at your table and serve them a meal as a picture of Jesus’ service to us. Eating is just one example.

2. Consider seeing your job and vocation as a place for ministry to happen. You spend about one third of your life working. Why not work with all of your heart unto Jesus as your ultimate boss. Worship him through your work. Engage in sports and recreation as ministry.

3. Rest and play in light of the Gospel. We can truly be at rest because of Jesus’ work and be playful because God is sovereignly in control. Start seeing life as the program and every moment an event Jesus wants to work through and invite others into your play. Relax on your front porch and pray for opportunities to connect with your neighbors. Prayerfully throw a party, host a game night, or a backyard BBQ and invite those God has laid on your heart. It’s simple, Jesus isn’t calling us to do more, but instead to simply invite those who don’t yet know Jesus into the things you’re already doing.

4. You don’t have to change your church or leave your church, just start being the church wherever God puts you. And honor the leaders he has placed over you. The tendency when learning new things is to be critical. Remain humble and thank God regularly for the leaders he has given you. Pray for them. Encourage them. And share with them what you’re learning as well. I don’t know a pastor who doesn’t want the people under their care to be on mission in the everyday stuff of life. They will be encouraged to hear how God is at work in and through your life everyday.

Maybe the reason why many aren’t growing up and becoming equipped is because they don’t have to. The life we are being called to doesn’t require us being spiritually fit.

There is a race ... the mission is on. Let the training begin...