Chicago Emerging Baptists

This site is intended to allow a forum for those in the NextGen Network of the Chicago Metro Baptist Assocition to continue their dialogue online and produce a resource for those interested in emerging topics.Please join in the conversation.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Missional Discipleship

What comes to mind when you hear the word 'discipleship'? For me it has always meant a Navigators Bible Study or a class on spiritual disciplines. We had a department in our church called 'Discipleship & Christian Education' with an Institute that offered classes like 'Bible Overview' and 'Christian Theology'. The idea was that we'd take people aside and teach them about God so that they would know him more and grow closer to him. Evangelism was an advanced topic for those who had mastered the prerequisites. It came much later in the curriculum. But I've been rethinking this philosophy of ministry lately.

Could it be that you are closest to Jesus when you're holding on tight to his coat tails; when you're right behind him trying to keep up as he leads you into the world? This is what discipleship really means - following Jesus. And when Jesus says, "Come, follow me," he leads us out into the world to engage the lost, to touch the lepers, to love the prostitutes, to heal the sick, to liberate the demon possessed,... to herald the arrival of the Kingdom. He was "a friend of sinners and tax collectors." He was on a mission "to seek and save the lost." Discipleship with Jesus was never static. He didn't take the Twelve away for three years of classes with handouts and homework. They learned who Jesus was as they participated with Jesus in his mission. It was discipleship on the go; learning while doing. You understand the gospel more as you partner in its advancement.

Missional theology says that missions isn't just one ministry that the church does (usually overseas). Evangelism can't just be one aspect of the church. Mission must permeate every sphere of church life, including discipleship. I think we need to regain a sense of 'missional discipleship'. I'm not suggesting that we do away with classes altogether. I'm a big fan of classical theological education and seminaries and cultivating the life of the mind. Doctrine is crucial! But for churches to approach discipleship apart from the context of mission is to distort what it really means to follow Jesus and to short-change its members by keeping them from true intimacy and knowledge of the Lord. We should be calling those in our churches to get on mission and then they'll really find out what Christianity is all about, not to simply worship, pray, read their Bibles, fellowship with other believers, and attend seminars (important as those things may be in their own place). We should be sending them out two by two to proclaim the gospel and then gathering them together for a class to learn from what they learned (cf. Mk. 6:7-13; 30-32).

One Campus Crusade staff worker at the nearby university puts it this way, "Discipleship without evangelism isn't discipleship; it's simply counseling." Counseling is needed, but is that all the church is for?? I fear that many churches have relegated mission to an elective by focusing on a discipleship sans mission, and in doing so have become ingrown and cliquish and have missed the point.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Communal Evangelism

Individualism is rampant in our society today (it's an essential part of the American creed), but it has also colored the way we viewed Christianity in 'modern' times and, as much as 'postmoderns' talk about community, most of us are still deeply entrenched in a maverick mindset too.

One of the ways I see this is in the way we think of evangelism. Of course, we could talk a lot about this topic. The very way we conceive of the gospel has become overly individualistic. I won't go there now. But I want to propose that we start training ourselves to see the task of evangelism (sharing the good news of Jesus with others) as a communal task instead of every man for himself trying to 'lead people to Jesus'... and made to feel guilty if he doesn't.

Here's the analogy that started me thinking about this. Let me know your thoughts. It comes from a fabulous book by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch entitled The Shaping of Things To Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (Hendrickson, 2003). The following is an extended quote:

"It was Jesus who, in calling the first members of his faith community, the disciples, invited them to become fishers of people (Mark 1:16-18). By calling fishermen and inviting them to fish for humans, he used language that made sense to his hearers. But he did more than that. He used an image or a metaphor that conveyed a great deal more than some simple idea that he was concerned with 'catching' people. He made reference to an activity that fishermen engaged in regularly, and by doing so created a sense of the missional community that was to come.
"When we refer to fishing in our Western context, we think about a single person with a single rod and a single hook on the end of a single line. The fisherman is attempting to catch one fish with each cast of the line. It is a one-on-one engagement, and good fishermen know how to read the weather, the tides, the presence of weed, and the use of lures to catch that one fish. So when we read about Jesus inviting the first disciples (and by inference us) to fish for people, we might assume it's a similar one-on-one affair. We have thought of evangelism like this in recent years. We have been sent out to fish for someone we can bring into our church. Getting someone to attend a service with us or come to an evangelistic breakfast or youth rally has formed the foundation of much of Western evangelism. But unfortunately, a good many people in the West believe they have tried church and were left unsatisfied or they aren't interested at all in church attendance.
"But if we think about fishing during Jesus' time, it wasn't done with rods and reels. It wasn't one-on-one. Jesus' disciples would have thought of fishing with a net. They would have cast their nets out into the water, and dredged or dragged the sea as they hauled the net back onto the boat. Whatever happened to be swimming in the way of the net as it was lugged back on board would have been caught. The key to successful fishing wasn't in the technical details of tides and weather patterns, but in the strength of the nets. For this reason, Jesus' fishing disciples spent most of their working day, not out on the lake's surface, but on shore, mending their nets. If their nets were strong and tight, anything caught in them couldn't escape.
"If we relate this image to the missional-incarnational church today, it has important implications. Instead of adopting a stance that requires a Christian to leave a sacred zone to go and fish for an individual to return with him to that zone, it releases the church to see its 'fishing' as a more relational exercise. If the disciples spent so much time on their nets to ensure a catch, what might those nets be for us today? We propose that the web of relationships, friendships, and acquaintances that Christians normally have makes up the net into which not-yet-Christians will swim. We believe that the missional-incarnational church will spend more time on building friendships than it will on developing religious programs" (44).

Of course there's a lot here to chew on, but take that fishing analogy of Jesus' and combine it with the biblical idea of the church as a body with different gifts (one of them being the gift of evangelism; cf. Eph. 4:11), and the biblical account of the community at the end of Acts 2 that was tight and yet "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (2:47), and Jesus' model of sending the apostles out in pairs (cf. Mk. 6:7), and Francis Schaeffer's quote that "community is the final apologetic," and ponder the implications for how we think about, motivate, train, and practice evangelism...