When looking at discipleship and missions, there is a great danger in falling into the ever-complacent Sunday-school, child-like thinking that so easily ensnares much of modern-American Christianity. But mission and discipleship are serious business! A Christian’s very essence as a human being fits into the mission of God and Jesus poured Himself out as the disciple-maker to His disciples. Unless Christians understand the link between mission and discipleship, they are in danger of not only having the momentum of their current missions stall out, but to have the engine of their Christianity lose power and begin to roll backwards down an already uphill road. The church is dead without mission and mission is dead without the church. “This generation of Christians is going to answer to God for this generation of sinners” (Tomlinson & Chappell, 9). Let Christians awake from their apathy, repent for their sluggishness, rediscover the mission of God, and see it come to pass by the power of the Holy Spirit.
One needs to understand what discipleship and mission(s) are and how they are to be defined in this paper. There is a difference between “mission” and “missions.” The word “mission,” as used in this paper, signifies “…all that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole creation and all that he calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose” (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 25). The word “missions,” on the other hand, means “…the multitude of activities that God’s people can engage in, by means of which they participate in God’s mission” (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 25). This may seem like an easy way for anyone to say they are a missionary or that they are involved in missions; but it is time for the church to understand that it takes all types of people to reach all types of people. Not everything one does in a missional context will require moving to a distant land to reach foreigners, but all missional endeavors should be participative in the mission of God (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 26).
The word “disciple” means “one who follows and learns from another as a pupil” (McKim, 78). This is a very simple definition, but the simplicity of the definition adds that much more prominence for what it means to the Christian life. Understanding this definition of discipleship means that Christians need to not only read and implement what it says, but also understand and implement what it does not say. A disciple is one who follows, not one who watches from their vantage point. A disciple is one who learns, not one who isn’t transformed by the lessons they learn. In other words, a disciple is one who hears and listens from a teacher, not one who claims discipleship in word only. Discipleship needs to be redefined with the lives of Christians today. The question now standing before the church becomes, “How is this to be done?” N.T. Wright, in his lecture “The Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World,” offers his solution below:
By re-envisioning and re-appropriating worship and mission in the light of all that’s been said, in the light of the full biblical story. Worship is not simply Christian entertainment or making a miscellaneous nice party with lots of nice music. Christian worship is humbly adoring the Creator God and thereby being renewed in his image. And image- bearing includes that love of the world which shares the love which was Christ’s, which sent him to die on the cross, renewed in his image and strengthened by his body and blood, into a transformative spirituality which expresses itself naturally and obviously in the work for new creation in the world (n. p.).
Some other words that will be used in conjunction with discipleship are “mentor or mentoring.” The following definition, used by Amanda Stone in her online post “Definition of Mentoring,” will allow one to fully understand the definition of mentoring/mentor used within this paper:
Mentoring is a developmental partnership through which one person shares knowledge, skills, information and perspective to foster the personal and professional growth of someone else. We all have a need for insight that is outside of our normal life and educational experience. The power of mentoring is that it creates a one-of-a-kind opportunity for collaboration, goal achievement and problem-solving (n. p.).
As a mentor to other Christians, one should understand that they create a chance for an interaction to occur within the life of another that no other type of relationship can (Stone, n. p.). This will have huge implications in the need for discipleship in missions and how mission/s is/are affected by discipleship/mentoring.
Christians tend to take their missional understanding from Matthew 28:18-20, better known as the Great Commission:
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and 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 everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (HCSB).
Christians need to see the gross, negligent misunderstanding the Western world has derived from this passage of Scripture. First, the whole Bible has a missional scope (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 31). Instead of simply seeing the Old Testament as a separate collection of stories and poems for the amusement of “New Testament” Christians, one needs to not only understand how the Old Testament led to the focal point of salvation, Jesus Christ incarnate, but also that one who is a Christian belongs to the people of God, known in the Old Testament as the nation of Israel. To cut one’s self off from the stories of their spiritual ancestors is to begin a “mission” without a proper understanding of who he/she is, to Whom it is he/she belongs, and to Whom he/she will give an account. “Unfortunately, there is a danger that the expression ‘the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world’ turns the church into nothing more than a delivery mechanism for the message. All that matters is ‘getting the job done’ – preferably as soon as possible. And sadly there are some forms of missionary strategy and rhetoric that strongly give that impression” (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 29). If Christians simply deliver a message from One they have not truly and fully known, then they become simple errand boys and girls who do not actually, and in a “belongingly” active way, participate in the salvific mission of God. The Bible is not about an arrangement Christians work out with Jesus in order to procure a ticket to heaven, barely escaping the fires of hell; the Bible is about God dealing with the sin problem in all creation which just so happens to find its fulcrum in the humanity (and spirituality) of human beings (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 31).
The second great misunderstanding the Western world has taken from the Great Commission is to simply reduce it to a single verb command instead of a command laden with spiritually significant, unalterable, in-disposable, inter-related mandates from the Name above all names. It is not enough to just “Go!” Christians must go, but Christians must “make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them.” The church that seeks only numbers to be added to the “Official Roll Call” to be given to the Lord on the Great Day of Spiritual Reckoning will simply watch that paper burn into ashes before their very eyes. However, the church that labors continuously, without fail or falter, to go, disciple, baptize, and teach will find their crowns full of jewels. Some Christians have begun to take one of the most blatant of all Scriptural mandates and narrow it down to simply a “Go.” Why has this begun to happen to some? It has begun to happen to some because of the worldly thinking that has started to combat biblical thinking, which leads to getting without giving, barely doing enough to get by (spiritually), and being served as opposed to serving others. Converts can come in one service; disciples can take a whole lifetime.
Somehow today, we have reduced our ministry down to an eight-hour-a-day job at the Christian school, or a youth activity on a Saturday night, or a Sunday school lesson on Sunday morning. We have neatly packaged our ministry into sermons, lessons, assignments, and sessions. We are irritated when our schedule is interrupted by people with problems, questions, and needs. We have convinced ourselves that if people have our e-mail address, the number to our answering machine, and the password into our voice-message box, we are available. We have become masters at managing, but miserable at mentoring (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 4).
Churches (and Christians) today cannot let souls slide into hell because they can’t spare the extra minutes it could take to disciple someone. A popular quote by Charles Spurgeon says, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”
The early church did not have the New Testament as it is known today to give them their missional command. It was through knowing Jesus and interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures in light of Him that they had the urge to go! Some of the disciples would have heard Jesus issue His missional mandate, but Paul certainly didn’t, and he evangelized nations due to the burdensome understanding of what the Gospel is: hope and life to those who know it not. “In both testaments, God’s people are called to nonnegotiable, uncompromising loyalty to the uniqueness of God – revealed as YHWH in the Old Testament, and walking among us in the incarnate life of Jesus of Nazareth in the New” (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 31). Christians need to return to a proper missional understanding of who they are, Who God is, what His mission is, and how they are to partake in that mission both as individuals and communally as His church.
Discipleship – Does it Matter?
The Disciples had their lives changed not only by what Jesus said, but by what He did as well. In Western settings, things have been compartmentalized into general areas: family, work, and play time. Church is squeezed somewhere in between those three things, but has lost its own compartment within some Christians’ lives. Churches and Christians that face this need some mentors in their lives who would follow the model of Jesus and pour their lives into those seeking help, causing the shift of worldly influence into the Christian realm to cease and allow hurting Christians the chance to begin to influence the world around them. This world and the lives of those in it will never be changed by “four hour a week Christians.” Christ did not spare chances to preach and heal the masses, but He chose twelve men to accompany Him in life, both the desirable and undesirable parts of it (Goetsch & Rasmussen, VIII). Today, as Christians, some seem to ignore pouring their lives into others and have complacently satisfied themselves with simply preaching to the few… and those few seem to be their family members and those closest to them; not those who haven’t yet heard the Gospel. “If we want to transform our families, our churches, our businesses, our communities, and ultimately our world, then we must discover what it means to pour our lives into individuals. We must learn to spend more time with the few. We must learn to live for the next generation. We must become mentors” (Goetsch & Rasmussen, VIII). Some of the youth of today and yesterday have been taught great things academically, shown wonderful advancements in modern living, and have found acceptance within great educational boundaries, but have done so through second hand experiences, not through the intimate spiritual mentoring of one person to another (Goetsch & Rasmussen, VII). Some Christians and churches have taken discipleship and mentoring and, instead of understanding the depth of spiritual weight these two words carry, have simply replaced both words and meanings with a new word: entertainment. Churches now spend massive amounts of money to “entertain” the youth, which are the ones who will reach the next generation of sinners. Without engaging them in active, positive, spiritually formative mentoring, churches are only setting them up to do the same thing they have done: entertain tomorrow’s pastors, minister, evangelists, missionaries, husbands, and the list goes on and on. N.T. Wright again speaks in his lecture about a paradigm shift that is emerging in our culture today:
Within postmodernity God is sometimes assumed to be a very old silly dream that’s long gone but equally within some of the New Age movement there are gods of all sorts, gods aplenty, coming bubbling up at us from all corners, not necessarily the Christian God by any manner of means. Everyone now wants spirituality, but ironically they don’t all think, in fact most of them don’t think, that you can find it in church (The Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World, n. p.).
Because the church has shifted its focus from discipleship and spiritual formation to entertaining and attention-competing with the world, it is no longer viewed as a spiritual place or a place to find spirituality. New formulas and ideas are great, but not at the cost of tried and true methods, such as “old fashioned prayer meetings” (Tomlinson & Chappell, 15). The church runs the risk of changing the very essence and culture of the church if too many new ideas are implemented without ensuring the “core” ideas remain, like prayer, evangelism, and missions.
So, one can see that simple entertainment is never going to instill the spiritual discipline that is meant by “discipleship and mentoring.” As believers whose works will be tested in the fire and whose very words will be judged (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; Romans 14:12; Matthew 12:36), Christians need spiritual formation. This is the type of formation that goes deeper than just outward appearance; this is the type of formation that changes one completely from within, including every inner and outer aspect of who that human is, from something they were to something formed and shaped by the Spirit (Teague, 10). Christians need to remember that just because they are Americans, or just because they attend church on Sunday, or just because some of them are even pastors or ministers, that they are not immune from both having to be discipled and doing everything to disciple others. Spiritual formation never ceases for any age, gender, ethnicity, or profession. If Christ chose to disciple others until the day He died then the church and its members should look to do the same.
Old Testament Missional Perspective
In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself through different situations to different people: Moses and the burning bush; Abraham many times, especially through His covenant with Him; the exodus of Israel and the supernatural plagues brought upon the Egyptians. God chose Israel, but He chose Israel as a means of providing His self-revelation to the world. The full self-revelation of God among humanity is Jesus, which the Old Testament clearly prophetically declared. The Old Testament speaks clearly and plainly about both discipleship and mission. God became known to Israel as a nation through their wilderness experience and His discipline, through the Prophets, and through the many defeats Israel experienced by surrounding nations. It was all designed to prove that God is God, and Israel shall have no other. But it also served as confirmation to surrounding nations that Israel’s God is an all-powerful God, even using “enemy” forces to punish His own people for their disobedience. Israel did not command its God; their God commanded them. Israel did not use God for its own purpose; God disciplined Israel to fit His purpose. “It is clear then… Israel believed that they had come to know him as the one and only true and living God… Furthermore, they had a sense of stewardship of this knowledge since it was God’s purpose that ultimately all nations would come to know the name, the glory, the salvation and the mighty acts of YHWH and worship him alone as God” (Wright, The Mission of God, 92). There seems to be greater significance in the salvific plan of God than what popular Christian rapper TobyMac seems to present by acquiring a ticket on the “J Train” that is powered by the “Freak Line.” God is relentlessly working to save souls, to eradicate the effects of sin on a fallen world and a fallen humanity, and to prepare for His people a place of eternal glory.
“You are My witnesses”— this is the Lord’s declaration—“and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me. I, I am Yahweh, and there is no other Savior but Me. I alone declared, saved, and proclaimed— and not some foreign god among you. So you are My witnesses”— this is the Lord’s declaration— “and I am God” (Is. 43:10-12, HCSB).
God demands witnesses… witnesses of individuals; witnesses of families; witnesses of nations; but most important of all, witnesses of His people.
Old Testament Mentoring Perspective
Moses redeemed a nation; Jacob wrestled an angel; Joseph came to power and saved thousands, if not millions; Gideon defeated armies; Joshua brought down fortresses; David defeated enemies; Solomon wrote piercing words of wisdom and built the Temple; Jonah survived imprisonment in a whale; Esther saved her people; and all because they encountered YHWH, the God of Israel. Christians cannot cut the power of God short because they cut themselves short. The same power that freed nations, saved millions, defeated armies (physically and spiritually) and established kingdoms is in every Christian today. God’s self-revealed knowledge of Himself changed the surrounding world, in different contexts and at different times, but always for His purpose. Christians belong to that same purpose and Christians must realize that they have the opportunity to mentor the David’s, Jonah’s, Jeremiah’s, Solomon’s, Samson’s, and Noah’s of the future generation. The “disciplers” of the Old Testament are those that knew God in an intimate way… they are known as prophets today. The point of the prophets in the Old Testament was to warn, rebuke, and edify God’s people in hopes of showing them God’s missional will for their lives. But it goes further than that. Prophets were people who clearly and undeniably were used of God to instruct His instructors. “The job of the priests was to teach God’s law to the people. They were appointed to make known the ways, word and commands of God. Through the priests God would be known to his people. That’s why, when the people went so badly astray, the prophets said it was because there was no knowledge of God in the land. And who did they blame? The priests, for failing to teach” (Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 120). Teaching, in the sense just used, would fall on priests. Today, through the blood of Christ, all Christians are called to be priests (1 Peter 2:9). All Christians are responsible to teach and share the knowledge of God with those with whom they come into contact (1 Peter 3:15).
New Testament Missional Perspective
Many times, Christians read the Bible in daily “chop it up and serve it as a morning appetizer” type undertakings without ever really placing those morning bits and pieces into a comprehensive and understandable whole.
We won’t build the Kingdom of God by our own efforts in the present; it remains God’s gift by his grace and by his power. But we can produce signs of the Kingdom in love and justice and beauty and healing and fresh community work of all sorts, internationally, locally, all over the place. And thereby celebrate the whole biblical story, the whole biblical story. We must not collude with deconstruction in how we use the Bible as though a little bit of it here, a little bit of it there will do the business. No, we need the whole story. And re-creation, which is the heart of Christian mission, starts with the imagination of a world set free from sin and decay, a world we glimpse at Easter and are mandated to implement by the Spirit in art and music and literature, in politics, in theology, in chemistry, in mathematics, whatever — and to embody that in communities which live it out and make it happen in our public discourse in so many ways (N.T. Wright, The Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World, n. p.).
The New Testament as a whole speaks of the actual coming of Christ, His death and Resurrection, the empowerment of those in the upper room by the Holy Spirit, the spread of Christianity throughout the world as they knew it, how to live a glorified life in a fallen world, and both climaxing and ending with the predicted return of Jesus Christ. New Testament theology is really the writing and teaching of God’s mission to humanity through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, establishing God’s kingdom on earth, and the empowerment of His people by the Holy Spirit to bring that message of salvation to the ends of the world (I. Howard Marshall, 34-35). Instead of reading the New Testament as a story of what Jesus and His disciples did, as well as what the early church did, Christians need to read it as the beginning of a story they are still participating in alongside the same power that propelled the beginning of the story. “Within a few short years, those who named Jesus as Lord and Savior had grown beyond the original group of convinced Jewish believers to include Hellenized Jews, then Samaritans, then Greeks, then people of many ethnic groups in Asia Minor and eventually had taken root in the cosmopolitan city of Rome itself” (Wright, The Mission of God, 506).
The Missional Mandate of Jesus
In perhaps one of the most striking mandates from heaven, found in both the Old and New Testament, we can see a clear missional mandate that Jesus accepted as His own. Found in both Isaiah 61 and Luke 4, the following mandate is stated: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19; Cf. Is. 61:1-2a, HCSB). However, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus takes it a step further, resulting in the revelation to and eventual understanding of His audience, when He says: “He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled”” (Luke 4:20-21, HCSB). Jesus understood that He was fulfilling a mission. He was fulfilling not just any mission, but God’s mission, both prophesied of in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the incarnation of Christ. This Scripture clearly shines some light on the mission of God, from the beginning of time until the end of time as it is known. What one will never read in the New Testament is either Jesus, His disciples, or any other servant of Christ saying that the job is done and that the new missional mandate from God is to wait complacently for Jesus’ return, ignoring the original missional mandate stated earlier. Even in the Great Commission, Jesus says “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b, HCSB). Jesus does not say, “I am with you until you think the job is done.” What Jesus speaks of is a continual job, mandate, or undertaking that is greater than just a generation, a family, a person, or a season; He speaks of the mission of God for all time, to all people, in all places.
Jesus’ Intentional Form of Discipleship/New Testament Mentoring Perspective
When looking at how Jesus chose to disciple His disciples, there are a couple of things that stick out and have pertinent meaning for churches and followers of Christ today. First, consider what Jesus did do: Jesus sought out the Twelve. He gave them a simple choice: come and follow Him. He spent three years with them, both in life and ministry (is there a separation?), fellowshipped with them, cried with them, preached to them, rebuked them, and led them. Jesus poured His life into a group of men He chose. Second, consider what Jesus did not do: He did not preach a sermon and choose the best out of those who responded. He did not settle and pastor a mega-church. He did not live a life separate from His ministry. While Jesus preached to the masses, He poured His life into the few. Some ministers today pour their lives into the masses on Sunday and don’t have time for the few. “Revival will not come to our ranks when some preacher preaches something new – revival will come when God’s people obey the old! The problem is not ignorance – the problem is disobedience. Our education exceeds our obedience. The need of the hour is not more decisions – the need of the hour is to start living the decisions we have already made. Until that happens, we will be plagued with mediocrity instead of progressing to maturity” (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 7). When the church finds itself lost and without direction, going backwards instead of forwards, emptying instead of filling, the basics need to be retaught, relearned, and re-implemented. The church is not facing a new problem that needs a new model, but an old problem that will only be changed through spiritual formation and discipleship. It will take physically, emotionally, and spiritually mentoring another person in order for the desired change to be seen in that person (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 15). A “Veggietales” movie alone, while entertaining and enlightening, will not provide children with spiritual formation. Intentional spirituality that is lived through trials that children can witness will help the kingdom of God break through into their world. Pastors must intentionally disciple their flock as parents must intentionally disciple their children.
Jesus engaged the culture into which He was born. He did not run from cultural differences, but embraced culture as a way to minister to others. Even though He spoke mainly to Jewish audiences, He still had cross-cultural mission in mind. Even though Jesus ministered in words and ideas familiar to the Jews, He also made sure to do so in a way that would open the doors of other cultures, for the rest of time, to His message, allowing every culture an opportunity to come into the understanding of His message (Flemming, 22). The message of Jesus is cross-cultural at its very core. The church cannot change or water down the message of Jesus in order to help it fit a culture different than its own. Jesus spoke to a culture in its own cultural language and symbols, yet it had a profound effect on cultures to which one would not assume it would (Flemming, 22).
The Problem of Duality
Christianity is built upon paradoxes: losing one’s life to gain it (Luke 17:33); the first shall be last (Matthew 20:16); Paul’s paradoxes (2 Corinthians 6:9-10). Jesus Himself was a king who came to serve. However, there seem to be some great paradoxes that have shown up in the church: the duality of Christianity in the local church between the pastor and the laity and the attitude of “us and them” concerning the local church and missions/missionaries.
Some churches have created this idea of leadership that follows as such: the pastor is the righteous one with all the answers. His/her life is perfect; a shining example of Christian spirituality in a darkened world. On the flip-side of that coin are the laity, or those who aspire to maybe, one day, be close to enabling a righteous comparison to the pastor, who could never lead as Godly a life as the pastor does, and who are simply just not called to minister to others but only called to need the ministry of those who are called. In his “Lifeway Research Blog,” Ed Stetzer says,
The image that such terminology creates is of two classes of people inside the church. The first class (emphasis on "first") is the professional clergy, referred to as "ministers" by some churches. The second class (I meant to say that) is the laypeople. I also see something that is not only unbiblical but I believe it sabotages the mission of God intended for ALL God's people and teaches "lay people" that they are the ones who do nothing or are worth very little (Laypeople and the Mission of God, part 1 – Killing the Clergy-Laity Caste System, n. p.).
Looking at Jesus as not only the Son of God, but the Shepherd of shepherds or the Pastor of pastors can help clarify this issue. All pastors still need Jesus as a Pastor; all Christians have the same spiritual value, whether missionary, lay person, or minister. All Christians are called of God to be His servants and to do His will (Ephesians 6:5-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:11-18; Colossians 1:9-12; Romans 8:27-31; Romans 12:1-21). Removing the false dichotomy that has arisen within the church will allow a “one mind and one accord” (Acts 1:14; 2:1, KJV) type bond found in the Acts church to develop between pastors and their laypeople. This will also stop the pastor or minister from having to spend precious time developing “his” kingdom within the lives of those he/she serves that should already be in God’s kingdom. Once again, Ed Stetzer sees the growing issue as:
My fear is that we have created a class system in the body of Christ comprised of the "called" and the "not so much called." Nothing could be further from the truth. The ministry assignment of the laypeople is not to simply "lay" around and tell the called what they should be doing. Laypeople are not to be customers of religious goods and services served by the storekeeper clergy. We are all called although our current assignments may vary dramatically (Laypeople and the Mission of God, part 1 – Killing the Clergy-Laity Caste System, n. p.).
This problem, however, exists not only between pastors and laypeople, but, even more sadly so, between some churches and missionaries. Too many churches view missionaries as “those” people who go and do crazy, radical things for the Lord in far off countries, facing imminent danger around every turn, and who are simply built of more “spiritual stuff” than regular Christians who just go to church when the doors are open. Westminster’s Dictionary of Theological Terms defines dualism as the following: “any view that is constituted by two basic or fundamental principles such as spirit and matter or good and evil” (McKim, 83). While it may seem like the duality or dualism in the situation between minister and laity or church and missionary is not the same as between spirit and matter or good and evil, it is a matter of spiritual life and death to those who are not being reached due to the hindrance of this issue. Churches plagued by this problem need to allow for an understanding that the laypeople are to be partakers in the ministry of the church, taking responsibility for the church’s ministry as their own (Stetzer, Laypeople and the Mission of God, part 1 – Killing the Clergy-Laity Caste System, n. p.). If lay people can learn that they hold responsibility for the church, then they become partakers in the message and mission of the church. This is what God intended! The group of believers in Acts that were of one mind and one accord (Acts 1:14; 2:1, KJV) were waiting on God, per the instructions of Jesus. They were all partakers in what was about to happen but only because they were all partakers in their belief in Jesus. Acts does not say, “The clergy (the Disciples) were in the upper room and the laity were in the lower rooms, to help signify the difference between their spiritual strength and maturity.” What Acts does say is that they “…were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1, KJV). The church needs to return to the intentional practice of being in one accord in one place. Pastors need to allow laity insight into their lives so as to live life together with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, while laity needs to understand that the pastor is called of God to feed his sheep and to cast the vision for the ministry and direction of the church. “To do this, we must begin by declaring the two class system of ministry dead -- we may even have to kill it. A new level of ownership must be given to the people of God, and the people of God must embrace what they are given. God's desire is to have a church made up of every day Christians living like missionaries” (Stetzer, Laypeople and the Mission of God, part 1 – Killing the Clergy-Laity Caste System, n. p.). No longer should the church be made up of the elite ministerial class who only has time for the lower, peasant-like class of laity on Sundays and Wednesdays; and no longer should the church be made up of laity that expect to be spoon-fed their faith without taking an active stance in their own spiritual formation. There are many who will call themselves Christians, but there are few who would say, as Paul did, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, HCSB). A unified church that is void of the duality of the pastor-laity relationship and the church-missionary relationship will unequivocally be able to say, “Imitate us, as we also imitate Christ.”
The church desperately needs to return to its origins, to the beliefs modeled in the church of Acts and spoken of by Paul, Peter, and the other New Testament writers, forever manifested physically in the words, actions, and workings of Christ. Old terms need new definitions that return them to their original meaning for the church. “Mission” needs to be understood by all as something they belong to, something in which they have a part. “Missions,” however, should be understood as the myriad of ministries the Holy Spirit uses to call sinners to repentance. “Discipleship” needs to be understood, in light of modern thinking, as life-mentoring. Humanity, in general, seems to be struggling with various trials and issues, such as split marriages with children involved, economic pressures, bullying, and emotional problems; the church can either look at these issues as hindrances to spiritual growth or opportunities for spiritual formation through mentoring (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 89).
When speaking of a missiological view of Scripture, I. Howard Marshall says, “We shall also be enabled to avoid a one-sided understanding of the Holy Spirit as the agent of sanctification and to pay proper attention to the Spirit’s role in empowering and directing the church for mission and growth” (36). In order to see growth and conversion like the Bible speaks of in Acts, the church must seek the power of the Holy Spirit, not just for spiritual power to conquer evil, but for spiritual transformation to overturn fleshly, human thinking into spiritual, Godly thinking. The problems facing the church and its involvement in the Mission of God will only get stronger.
It seems almost certain that theological tensions will increase in the coming years. The larger cultural shift toward postmodernization and the ongoing relativization of truth even in the evangelical church will pose a challenge for the foreseeable future. In such a context missionaries may be tempted to give up, faced as they are with increasing resistance from people who not only do not want to hear the good news, but also even forcefully repel those who hope to bring it to them (Corwin, McGee, & Moreau, 311).
In order to face the dualistic problem of mission and discipleship, it will take a solution that has dualistic purpose. Because Jesus taught the Disciples through spending His life with them, the church must become a place where life is lived, not simply a place where believers have weekly fellowship. The church must break out of the walls that have held the message of the Gospel in for so long. Claude Hickman quotes K.P. Yohannan as saying, "Believers who have the gospel keep mumbling it over and over to themselves. Meanwhile, millions who have never heard it once fall into the flames of eternal hell without ever hearing the salvation story” (126). It is time that the church establishes a discipleship program that will take the focus off of the “if it works for me, then I am in” church mentality that is pervading churches today and instead creates spiritual formation that will cause ministers and laity to grow together into one cohesive unit that seeks to know their part in God’s mission, seeks to be involved in missions, and sends out and supports missionaries because it is God’s mission to do so. God didn’t send Jesus as Savior for a period of time, but for all eternity, meaning that all missional undertakings play a part in the ongoing salvific mission of God to all generations (Marshall, 710). As people saved by God, believers have a responsibility to share their knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus with those who have not heard (Romans 10:14-15, HCSB). Dean Flemming quotes Harold E. Dollar as saying, “Luke shows that the theological challenge of the Gentile mission is not the reluctance of the Gentiles to respond to the gospel but the reluctance of the Jews to preach to them” (32). It is each individual Christian’s responsibility to share the message they have come to know and understand with people who need to hear it just as badly as they did.
Believers also have a responsibility to mentor and disciple who they can. “Today, a generation of quitters is raising a generation of young people that won’t even try. Divorced parents have raised children that live together with the opposite sex without bothering to get married. Adults who have quit church have now raised a generation of atheists and agnostics. In an increasingly hostile culture toward Christianity, our young people desperately need examples of commitment to Christ” (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 19). Discipleship begins with each individual believer submitting to the authority of Jesus in their life; mentoring begins with each individual believer accepting responsibility for their spiritual formation with the help of and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Commitment to the sovereignty of God is going to be needed in order to show those who are watching that Christians believe what they claim: that God is real, true, and powerful (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 21). Commitment to Christ must return to the center of the church’s prerogative. Missions is hard work; it will take dedication, determination, and perseverance to see a fruitful harvest, yet this harvest may not come in weeks or months, but in years and decades (Tomlinson & Chappell, 52). Commitment does not mean that things suddenly get better or that all the hiccups the world has in store for Christians simply disappear.
There will be days when our walk with God will seem like a hard slog through the mud and rain. But there will also come moments of grace when God breaks through like the sun shining from behind clouds. Call it “inspiration” or “anointing” or “revival blessing” – God can suddenly inject grace into our weary hearts and help us function on a higher plane. Grace is not just the unmerited favor by which God saves us. It is also the unmerited power by which God helps us to live for him (Teague, 17-18).
Having commitment means one has faith that God is in control, even in the midst of the most adverse situations. How Christians present their faith in the midst of various trials will attest the viability of whether the Christian faith has meaning for a lost and dying world or not (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 88).
The church also needs to become a place for people to serve and live life together. Transformation can be both an immediate and prolonged experience, and it is often both, meaning that transformation continues beyond the initial stages of a Christian’s life, on into communal fellowship, communal ministry, and communal intimacy with Christ (Teague, 27). Spiritual lessons come from serving others in everyday life. Communal fellowship and ministry can provide those with less experience the proper education, both literally and spiritually, to grow in missional, spiritual, and biblical ways (Tomlinson & Chappell, 52). There are some lessons that are learned best by experience. Jesus didn’t just speak empty words; He proved those words through actions; He did not separate His ministry from life, but instead let His life confirm His ministry (Goetsch & Rasmussen, 4).
One way the church can help improve its spiritual formation and missional understanding for members is to implement and act out a sense of communal living, worshiping, and ministering. Increasingly, in the modern world, we think of ourselves as being persons instead of people. Once, as a people, we live closely together, did things together, and helped one another to survive. Now, we’re busy. Our families are smaller. And we spend years working on our personal goals, like obtaining degrees. We have become individuals who have forgotten how to think and act as a people. So, when we hear the “one another’ verses of the Bible – like “love one another” and “carry each other’s burdens” – they do not speak to us as they once did. And when we hear the pronoun you in Paul’s letters, we naturally think it refers to the single individual and not to the whole community as Paul intended (Teague, 96). If the body of Christ will allow themselves to live life together, as the church in Acts did, then Christians will live “church” every day. The problem of compartmentalization will be over. Entertainment, the thing taught to children at church, will be found in ministry opportunities outside the walls of the church while the body, when coming together, will be spiritually formulated for God’s mission as a whole, with each individual member receiving spiritual formation as well. It will end the duality of the minister-laity problem as well as the church-missionary problem, because church becomes a “we” and not an “us versus them.” “In conclusion, let me just reiterate that we are in this work as co-laborers. It is the greatest task in which we can engage… If we will consider each other and prefer each other in love, we will accomplish great things for the cause of Christ together” (Tomlinson & Chappell, 72). God’s mission will succeed, but it is up to the church to be a part of it, through mentoring, discipleship, and intentional spiritual formation.
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