…I’d like to propose something. I’m not sure how many churches do this already. I hope there are churches that do. I hope this is not a novel or new idea actually. I hope it’s an unnecessary idea.
Churches and denominations have constitutions that spell out lots of things. And for good reason. You’re dealing with lot’s of legal issues and it’s important to spell those things out in advance when it comes to property and money, etc. All those things that could end up in court.
And membership ends up in there somewhere too. Membership is usually defined by some kind of metric of attendance and giving. Those are the easiest ways to set membership specifications when it comes to legalities. And I get why you need to spell that out too – membership is spelled out because it is membership that legally determines legal matters.
All that is well and good. And the church has twisted this and morphed this to equate membership into some form of discipleship (if you squint hard enough and turn your head sideways while hopping on one foot). Of course the word discipleship isn’t used. Nope. Membership. Why have churches avoided the term discipleship? I think there’s probably plenty of reasons from innocent ones to purposeful ones and the list could be long.
Then again, some churches have corrected this – To them I give a standing ovation (if that’s possible on a blog).
I think it’s important to define what it means to be a disciple and to make disciples. Isn’t that the whole point of what a church exists for after all? Remember Matthew 28? Remember Jesus saying as much – “Go and make disciples…” Remember the great commission. Isn’t that why we’re here? Or at least a major reason for why we are here? Should that be documented in some way in our founding and guiding documents for our churches? Shouldn’t that be defined?
What you define and what you measure you are more likely to pursue. That’s just basic human nature. We put our attention on things we measure.
I don’t think we need a fancy or elaborate definition for disciple. And I don’t think we need a uniform definition either. In fact discipleship can look differently in different contexts. Maybe that’s why Jesus didn’t define it specifically when he talked about it.
I think there’s some general characteristics that might be helpful in the making of a disciple. Overall, a disciple is one who follows Jesus and tries to emulate him. Disciples aren’t perfect by any means, but disciples have a model to follow.
A disciple grows in relationship with Scripture. A discipleship is growing in stewardship. A disciple is serving their community and is in community. And a disciple is in conversation with God in prayer.
That’s just some basics. Like I said, I think it will look different in different contexts and with each person. Each person brings different strengths and talents with them. Discipleship isn’t about setting aside who you are – it’s about bringing your whole self along to be in service and to be in conversation with God and others. That will look different for each of us.
I think it would be really helpful for churches to have a definition of discipleship in their constitution, or somewhere meaningful. A definition that isn’t tucked away, but is used as a guide to help people grow in their faith. A definition that guides a congregation and faith community in their programming and how they operate. A definition that guides a congregation in making decisions – as in what we are considering, does it move us closer to making disciples or not? A definition that does what I haven’t seen in many congregations – provide focused attention on the the main purpose of why a church exist at all.
See, if a congregation is really good at this, then they could start to ask secondary questions – how would worship need to adjust in order to better align with the definition and thrust of making disciples? How would our youth program need to adjust? How would our budget need to change? How would our facility need to change? What about our staffing? How about our communication?
This doesn’t mean that everything changes all at once. That’s not feasible. But it offers an opportunity for focused conversation and attention and direction of resources, people, time, and energy. It helps with decision making. It means that churches are narrowing in on what they are gifted in and called to do. It also allows for conversation with ministry partners in the community and with other churches.
All that from a simple definition. That’s the potential anyway. It opens the door for that. And all we have to do is walk through. And follow. And isn’t that what discipleship is anyway – following?