This past weekend I enjoyed my time at the first ever National Disciple Making Forum held in Nashville, TN where 10 independent ministries/organizations that focus on disciple making efforts came to share insights and build unity amongst other disciple making movements and churches in the U.S. With over 600 pastors and Christian leaders in attendance, the conference included such speakers as Robert Coleman, Bill Hull, Jim Putman and many others from discipling ministries and movements. One pastor put it this way, "It was so encouraging to see 10 ministries and hundreds of believers gathered together in the pursuit of seeing life on life discipleship being brought back to the local church – a dream come true for many of us.”
It was refreshing to see an ecumenical environment unifying around the principles of Jesus’ methods of disciple making. I heard of the conference from a friend, and I’m really glad that I went.
A few take-a-ways that I left with from the time at the conference (other than strengthening existing relationship and spawning new ones):
1. Others are out there
There are in fact other groups, ministries, and organizations out there that are trying to implement the principles of discipleship (the principle that making disciples is the core purpose of the church on earth) into their existing paradigms and cultures. And for at least some of these, this has been born out of a discontentment with the pervasive consumeristic Western Christianity that tends to consume religious goods and services on Sunday’s while lacking any real form of discipleship throughout the rest of the week. While the sexy hipster worship leader, massive budgets for audio-visual components (including smoke machines) will have you experiencing a full-on Christian rock concert every time you walk through your church’s doors on Sunday, these in and of themselves will not produce the disciples that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 28:18-20. And while I don’t believe this style of worship is inherently evil by any means, obviously it is not accomplishing what is most important if it is done at the exclusion of the great commission. Of course I don’t think anyone sets out to do these things at the exclusion of some fundamental scriptural mandate from our Lord, but alas, it happens … all too frequently I’m afraid.
"Many times the modern Western church looks like a sporting event - with members as fans and pastors as paid weekend entertainers."
Many times the modern Western church (which has ironically been exported to much of the world) looks like modern sports venues, where the church members are fans, the ministry staff and clergy are the paid players/entertainers putting on a show on the weekends, designed with one thing in mind: keep people coming back. While I hope this isn’t overstated and I certainly understand this isn’t universally true of all churches, I know that large crowds, massive budgets, and the praise of men are ferocious temptations even for the strongest of us (c.f. 1 Tim 6; Prov 27:21).
2. Working Definition of spiritual maturity
I learned an incredibly useful working definition of spiritual maturity: that being spiritually mature is to love God and others well, and to participate in following Jesus (including his sufferings) and being changed by him.
3. Who should you disciple?
If you are looking to “disciple” someone in the Lord (c.f. 2 Tim 2:2) and you are not sure who the Lord is leading to you invest in, consider the question: “In who’s ears are your words big?” If this question is not applicable (as in your words aren’t big in anyone’s ears) perhaps you should consider the inverse; “Who’s words are big in your ears?” and go seek out disicpling from them.
4. The gospel you preach determines the type of disciples you make
Perhaps the most meaningful thing I walked away from the conference with personally was from Bill Hull of The Bonhoeffer Project, which can be summed up in their slogan: “The gospel you preach determines the type of disciples you make.” This was expounded on and explained over 5 hours of teaching, so I cannot proliferate here, but in a nutshell the concept is that if we start with the wrong gospel with people, it will be shown in the way that they live out discipleship (or not). As an example, if someone fundamentally understands the gospel as a list of spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible reading, evangelism, generosity, church attendance, etc.) that need to be adhered to in order to be close to God than they will constantly be trying to “get close to God”, and this is what they would replicate in others in any disciple making efforts. That gospel looks something like this:
Spiritual disciplines + striving/effort = closeness to God
This would be in opposition to the gospel that says you are as close to God as you can be already, because of your faith in the sacrificial atonement that Jesus provided on the cross and through his resurrection. That gospel looks something like this:
Faith in Jesus + Jesus’ sacrifice = closeness to God
(already as close as you can be – c.f. Eph 1)
=> which then yields spiritual disciplines (for the purpose of "otherness" - to love others more as God loves them, not for a sense or feeling of closeness to God)
I try to make it a practice to attend a Christian conference that is outside my immediate spiritual context and heritage (i.e. not my fellowship/tribe) every year in order to continue to learn and grow, as well as to be exposed to what others (most importantly God) are doing outside my context ... I was thoroughly refreshed by attending this one. I'm excited to see what God is doing across the Christian landscape as a focus on biblical discipleship and disciple making is returning as the hallmark mission of the Church.