Missional Choice #1 Are we discipling or just keeping them involved?
It was Ezra Earl Jones who first drove this question home for me. He drew a stick figure of a church with an arrow going in the front door and another arrow coming out the door and looping around to the front door again. And then he said something like this: ‘Every week people are involved in your congregation and then go back out into the rest of world to live the rest of their lives. This happens month after month, year after year. What difference do you expect their involvement in your congregation to make in their lives? And how are you planning to maximize this difference in all that you do?’
Eric Geiger, co-author of Simple Church, calls the first question the brochure question and the second the blueprint question.
A brochure pictures the finished product, the end result, what will happen if you use our product. A brochure describes what will happen in your life because of your involvement in our organization. A congregation might answer this question by saying: As a result of being involved in our congregation, you will mature as a disciple of Jesus Christ who is committed to being in community with other disciples, becoming more like Jesus and joining Him on mission in the world. Church leaders may then describe more fully what being part of a Biblically functioning community means, in what ways a mature disciple becomes more like Jesus and what joining Jesus in mission involves. The brochure question answers the visitor’s question, “How will my life be different because of being involved in your congregation?”
A blueprint shows a contractor how to build the building. It describes the process by which what is pictured in the brochure is going to become a reality. A congregation might answer this question by saying: You will become a mature disciple through your cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit as you are regularly involved in worship, a small discipling group and ministry to others. Then the congregational leaders intentionally plan their worship, small groups and ministry opportunities to encourage and enable people to mature spiritually. The blueprint question answers the visitor’s question, “What’s expected of me in becoming a mature disciple in this congregation?”
Truthfully, for years I didn’t ask – much less answer – either of these questions. Instead, I kept the programs I inherited when appointed to the congregation going. In my better moments, I assumed that people were being discipled through their participation in these programs. We had no way of evaluating whether this was actually happening. Our primary way of evaluating programs was not whether they helped people matured as apprentices of Jesus Christ, but whether people seemed to like them and actually came. This means, our actual goal was keeping people pleased and involved.
Obviously, if anyone asked me if our purpose at the church was to keep people happily coming, I would have said, “No way!” I knew Jesus was about inviting people to be part of the Kingdom of God and helping them learn to become obedient, compassionate servants. And I want my ministry to count for something more than just keeping the ecclesiastical wheels turning. But there was a serious disconnect between what I was committed to theologically and how we did church practically. In practice, I served different purposes: keep on doing what we did last year, keep people satisfied and keep them coming.
My hunch is that there are some other church leaders, both clergy and lay, who, in those quiet moments before falling asleep as they reflect on their life, might quietly admit, “Yea, me too.”
So then what? Where do church leaders begin to make the choice between their congregation being committed to discipling and having a Kingdom impact in the world or just keeping the programs going and the people coming?
Three very practical suggestions:
1. Begin every discussion about calendar or programs by asking purposeful questions. How does this advance Jesus’ mission for us to make disciples and have a Kingdom impact in the word? Ask this question before assuming that just because you did it this last year you ought to do it again next year. Ask this question before considering whether you have the money or the people to do it. If the answer is, “This really doesn’t make us better disciples or help us bless others,” then wonder why you are spending the time and resources to do it! And if the answer is, “Yes this does,” then wonder how you can do it even better.
2. Get a group of your key church leaders together and have them read and discuss Eric Geiger’s book, Simple Church. (Call Vicky in the Office of Congregational Excellence, and ask about the video resource we produced with Eric. 1-800-282-8011, ext 340).
3. Email or call me and ask how someone from the Office of Congregational Excellence can sit down with your church leaders and explore with them what it would mean to develop an intentional discipling process. (firstname.lastname@example.org; cell: 321-223-0557)
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence