Church Cañon

The American Church is in the midst of a slow-burning crisis. Because I love the Body and long for its renewal, and because I’m apostolically gifted, I spend many hours agonizing over Her health and future. Broadly, this garden is where I plant thoughts related to the renovation of the Church of the United States.

I can’t think of anything better for the revival of the Church of the United States than the ignition of disciple-making movements. We’ve become hyper-focused on expanding brick-and-mortar churches, but christ never commanded his disciples to plant churches; churches are the derivative. Let’s get back to a focus on disciples themselves, and hold the models for gathering, instruction and worship loosely.

The Gatherings: A Kingdom Manifesto

How do we organize? With our preoccupation with ideal Sunday gatherings, let’s consider how we might orient our times together in a more holistic manner. I’ve written about this in-depth in the kingdom manifesto.

The Core: Making Disciples

I’ve heard the refrain to “return to Biblical disciple-making” for so long that I’m desensitized to the message. Aren’t we all disciples anyways?

Don’t take this as a list of ingredients for Jesus' perfect disciple; it’s not. At its root, a disciple is simply one who follows, listens, and does. That will look remarkably different for each person in each season and, while we can generalize a little, it’s dangerous to assume that every disciple will openly display each of these characteristics in every season of their lives.

Disciples Who Share Jesus

If we’re following Jesus, we’ll have to use our voices. jesus modeled taking the gospel to the people, and we who are apprentices of his will speak of him from time to time in settings vacant of good news too.

Let’s examine how we teach disciples to share the good news about Jesus. Introducing others to Jesus is crucial to the expansion of the Kingdom in our midst, and one of the most exhilarating and terrifying practices of the Body corporate.

The most common reaction to the word “evangelism” is discomfort. This can range from mild shame that we’re not doing enough to an allergic reaction at the idea of foisting our views on others. Generally, it’s not a word that elicits excitement, wonder, or joy. Could it be that our understanding of the practice is off and, perhaps, we could reduce our own and our disciple’s discomfort and grow our joy?

A return to making disciples who make disciples corrects many misunderstandings, for evangelism is making disciples. People rarely follow Jesus on a whim, and almost never by themselves. Long-lasting allegiance to jesus is communal, while lone converts are a liability. If we love our disciples, we must remember that becoming a christian is a process and not leave them to figure it out on their own with hit-and-run tactics. We must review our theology of conversion.

Alan Hirsch states that discipleship done biblically is always in community. For sharing Jesus, that means evangelism is a team sport. We’re on the hunt to find the peaceful people together, not to win souls. That’s why together we look everywhere for the spiritually open.

Our discomfort isn’t always because we’re doing it alone, however. We also don’t know what to say. Many of us have discovered that gospel synopses produce more confusion than conversion in our climate, because the good news begins with the back story but no one knows that story anymore. That’s assuming we even have an answer to the question what is the gospel. Others don’t share because they feel empty or incomplete, not knowing that we give more than we have.

We might liken sharing the good news about Jesus as an invitation to trust. Therefore, any conversation about evangelism ought to consider how it is that people learn to trust. Jessie Cruikshank’s work on the stages of faith development is very helpful.

There are ways we could communicate good news that would excel the business and education domains. More thinking to do, but parable was Jesus' primary mode of communication. See parable and poetry hit harder than prose and short stories are modern parables.

Disciples Who Understand the Bible

For all the good that’s come from preaching, there’s a dearth of disciples who read, understand and apply the Bible for themselves. Our leaders may have developed the skills to read, understand, and apply, but these skills aren’t making it to their disciples.

Sometimes its errors in teaching. For all our desire to see people change because of our conviction that to listen and obey jesus word brings life, dolling out applications is ineffective because direct application hinders discovery. At other times teachers are too convinced of their own interpretation and too critical of other’s, often cloaked in a fear of heresy, forgetting that biblical interpretation is cyclical. There are interpretive dangers, such as how interpretive replacements sometimes erase context or when quotes without context invite misunderstanding, but how will disciples learn to interpret well without practicing it with us?

I wonder if there’s an advantage for leaders to maintain a view of the Bible as a mystical book. Instead of demystifying and humanizing the collection, leaders often propagate incomplete ways to define the bible. Disciples learn to treat certain parts as more special than others, especiall they epistles. But epistles are real correspondence, not summaries of the whole.

Our greatest successes with training disciples to read, understand and apply the Bible (in community) is through Discovery Bible Study (DBS). Here are a few discovery stories that highlight the difference.

Disciples Who Look More Like Jesus Every Month

Encountering Jesus in the Bible is crucial to discipleship into his likeness, which is why reading the Bible in community is a non-negotiable. A review of Jesus' lifestyle does suggest a number of spiritual exercises which Christians throughout the centuries have codified. While spiritual disciplines should be descriptive, not prescriptive, they can help Christians in their obedience to Jesus. I recommend, however, that no practice be embraced which cannot be taught through public example. Even solitude was a practice Jesus shared with his disciples.

The purpose of spiritual rituals is to fall more deeply in love with Jesus. If a few week’s practice doesn’t produce a more joyful attachment to Jesus, jettison the practice and try something else.

I’ve borrowed a list of spiritual rituals from Bridgeport Church.

Solitude

I enjoy being alone. Not everyone does. Jesus spent many mornings alone in the wilderness with his Father. The practice of solitude built compassion for others. It also creates an environment free of comparision, which produces humility because solitude exposes our false selves.

The desert fathers and mothers are often cited as examples of this practice, but I think it’s likely that we’re losing sight of their community. They may have spent a lot of time alone, but they also had disciples. From whence did their disciples learn to navigate the dangers and embrace the riches of solitude? Monasteries provide the best modern-day examples of how to practice solitude with disciples.

Prayer

Jesus prayed. He taught his disciples to pray. And we must teach our disciples to pray also.

There are as many ways to pray as there are people. Prayer stretches into the past, the present and the future because prayer transcends spacetime. Let us learn from our mentors and teach by example prayer to our disciples.

One of the oldest and most prolific ways to pray is to model your prayer from Jesus' own example. I’ve written some notes about it in your kingdom come.

C.S. Lewis explores the experience of speaking both to and by God in his poem, prayer, while Madeleine L’Engle validates the need for words, even in listening. She also ties prayer with both discipline and art when she says the greatest moments of prayer come in the midst of fumbling. And the experience of personal death links with Thomas Merton’s thoughts about vocation, identity and doubt.

Sabbath

It’s been my experience that most Christians have lost sight of Sabbath. We don’t realize anymore that sabbath is a social imperative. We don’t attempt to keep the Sabbath in our own context. And what a shame, for Sabbath is made to be shared; it’s the perfect disciple-making space! TODO: write more about Sabbath as disciple-making focus-time.

Generosity

Wealth promises security and freedom, but money is a cruel master.

My thinking about generosity and the concept of the tithe is regularly changing, see tithe goes to the levites, but let’s remember that this practice, like all the others, should help us fall more deeply in love with Jesus. As our trust in him grows, generosity evidences faith in gods provision. If we’re not generous, we may have a misshapen view of God as a stunted view of god limits imitation.

Disciples Who Exercise Their Gifts

We look to Jesus as the ultimate example, because jesus fulfills the roles and gifts. And we are to follow him, but we’re not all equally gifted in every area of the five-fold ministry (APEST for short).

the apostolic gift is one of my stronger gifts. This makes me uncomfortable, but it must be said. There’s some overlap with the concept of a polymath identity and the apostolic gift, so embracing my polymath identity may also be related to embracing the apostolic gift. It’s also related to entrepreneurship, for apostles and entrepreneurs share characteristics.

It’s interesting to note that apostolic gifts focus on one mission in two directions. We can’t deny that both Paul and Peter were apostles of equal standing, but their calling and lifestyle differed in significant ways.

A few thoughts worth developing further.

  1. The effect outsourcing apostolic gifting to parachurch orgs has on the local body. Loses partnership outside the building. Loses voice from the fringes. Loses the capacity to find, assess and disciple more apostles.

  2. Clarify Kingdom Manifesto as the bleeding edge of the Body. Its not needed for the core to match (though it may benefit), but it is a coherent vision for the edges.

  3. Think more about Internet-supported distance discipleship. After all these years, the people most on my heart are still those who I’ve sent/left. Maybe I’m not required to make a lot of friends in my local church to belong.

  4. Note that Paul never sent a recorded epistle to Antioch. His heart was where he’d been invested, not his local church community.

Disciples Who Gather

My magnum opus, the kingdom manifesto is my best effort to describe the bleeding edge between the established Church and the frontier in language and categories both helpful to the former and relevant to the latter.

Disciples Who Have Disciples

Who are your disciples? Each disciple ought to be themselves training disciples in an unbroken network of disciple-makers.

Relationships between disciples will conform to their gifting. Two prophets, a mentor and disciple, will invest their time differently than two teachers. And again, A prophet mentoring a teacher will look different than a prophet mentoring an apostle.

TODO: describe the disciple-making relationship in more detail