The mission of the United Methodist Church is to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Sounds good. But it’s pretty vague, especially given our fragmented theology. I thought it would be useful to explore in greater detail what we’re trying to do here (in our local setting) when we try to make disciples.
First a word of clarification. I take the work of disciple-making to be the work of all disciples. All of us have been called to take part in this ministry. In other words, if I am a disciple, I am also a disciple maker. Thus my personalized version of the UMC mission is to make disciples who become disciple makers.
When I look at the Five practices of Fruitful Congregations model that has been adopted by our (Texas) annual conference, I find that it doesn’t match up exactly with the model of disciple making I’ve been using. In this post, and the posts that follow, I will try to use the Five Practices jargon along with some of my own. Some items won’t fit exactly, but hopefully it will work ok for the time being.
Here are the characteristics of growing disciples that I look for in the area of what some call spiritual maturity. Obviously real spiritual maturity is greater than these (and includes the elements to follow later), but these focus particularly on our relationship with God. The closest category I see in the conference lingo is “Fervent Prayer and Study of Scripture” – which is not really very close by my reckoning.
- Disciples have at some point in their lives personally received the forgiveness and grace offered through Jesus.
- Disciples practice a continuing love relationship with God that is real and personal.
- Disciples are radically in love with God.
- Disciples have assurance of their salvation – a conviction that they are loved by God and accepted as his children because of the work of Jesus.
- Disciples are committed to the Lordship of Christ – in their lives and over all.
- Disciples understand where they fit into what God is doing in history.
- Disciples have a desire to know God more and more.
- Disciples have a fulfilling and fruitful prayer life.
- Disciples spend time reading and studying the Bible every day.
- Disciples spend time listening to God each day.
What do you think about these characteristics – taken as goals for discipleship, not necessarily current reality?
I like items 1, 2, 4 and 7, and think that these are pretty much necessary for disciple-makers. 1 should apply to all disciples. I would say that 8, 9, and 10 are good goals, but some leniency is allowed in disciple-makers.
I do not think that 6 is applicable to this list. I believe that there are lots if potential disciple-makers (and maybe some current disciple-makers) who are completely in the dark on this item. They may understand the task at hand of helping make disciples, but they may have no idea of how they fit into the bigger picture.
That said, I will contradict myself somewhat and say that disciple-makers have to also feel called to this activity. You cannot force someone to be a disciple-maker and have them do this effectively. Yes, having experienced items 1, 2,4, 7, etc., it should be natural for a person to desire to be a disciple-maker. But if there spirit isn’t in the action, they most likely will not be successful.
I guess I look at the call to disciple-making as a flashlight. You can see a little ways in front or behind you, but the periphery is still completely dark. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow the path lit by the light, but if God hasn’t revealed the rest of the picture to you, you have to trust God that the path you see is the right one. Might actually be a better witness than understand the whole big picture!
Good Post. I look forward to more!
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