What Sort of Disciples?

Recently, a church-planter in Austin, Texas, Wade Hodges, suggested in a tweet that instead of asking ‘what kind of church do we want to be?’ we should ask ‘what kind of disciples do we want to form?’ and then become the kind of church that forms those kind of disciples (my paraphrase). 

Well, that got me thinking about my ministry, specifically my ministry with the Randolph Church of Christ.  What kind of disciples do I want us to be?  What kind of disciples do I want those who will join our church to be?

Some might not see the importance of these questions so easily.  They might ask “what other kind of disciples can Christians be other than disciples of Jesus Christ?”  I understand such a point and wish being “a disciple of Jesus Christ” was such an easily understood concept but it’s not.  There are plenty of people who call themselves Christians, who believe they are disciples of Jesus Christ and when you gather all these people together, what you find is a myriad of different understandings on what being a disciple of Jesus Christ really means and entails.  And no, I am not trying to play God and decide who is a true disciple and who is not, who is a true Christian and who is not.

So I am asking the question, what sort of disciples do we want to form, be and become?  Well, here is a starting list:  I want us to become the sort of disciples who…

  • By faith live out of a biblical worldview, allowing the scriptures (Old & New Testament) to shape our lives not as we try not to replicate a bygone historical period of God’s people but as we strive to be God’s people living out God’s mission in our own time and place.
  • By faith live the life Jesus Christ lived by becoming humble servants who sacrifice ourselves for the sake of other; who pursue values like justice, peace, righteousness, mercy, etc…as we allow God to reign in us and through us so the world will know that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior.
  • By faith live out of the love and grace of God knowing that our salvation depends solely upon the blood of Jesus and not our some perceived dogmatic pattern of first-century Christianity deduced through selective proof-texts of scripture; that such an awareness of God’s love and grace will permeate our lives so that we become conduits of God’s love and grace towards others.
  • By faith live through the power of the Holy Spirit knowing that we are complete inadequate for the calling of God’s mission on our own wisdom, ingenuity, and strength but knowing that by the power of God’s Spirit in accordance with the Spiritual gifts we have been given that we can accomplish far more than our wildest imaginations can comprehend. 

Of course, this list is not meant to be exhaustive, complete, official, or anything else other than some unofficial out-loud thoughts on the question of what sort of disciples do we want to form, be and become.

As I thought about my responses to this question, it dawned on me just what the implications then are for my preaching/teaching, mentoring and equipping others for the mission of God, and my own leadership (influence) as a preacher/evangelist is. 

I am excited…the mission of God is exciting…God is exciting!

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12 responses to “What Sort of Disciples?

  1. The Reader Philip Ben Marston

    Dear brother,

    I used to think the same way; but the basic presupposition is flawed, and philosophically nominalist.

    We don’t reinvent the Church. The Church isn’t something we attempt to reconstitute by taking Scripture and thought and then, voila, there is the Church.
    The Church is something that Christ has put on the earth . We are added to it, and, as a mother, it nurtues us in the love of the Father. You ‘do’ Church, and it makes you the disciples you are supposed to be.

    The view is nominalist because it has the individual- you, the Scripure reader, taking particulars, propositions that you enunciated, that make a good disciple, then you go about and craft a program that changes your people into these sorts.

    That is not it. The Church , according to Christ, will persist to the end. We we do Church, we are transformed into the little Christs we are supposed to be.

    I write, as you know, as an Orthodox convert. I do love you in the Lord and see His Spirit working in and on you quite powerfully. Glory to Jesus!

    • Ben,

      Thanks for your thoughts as they are always welcome but I am going to respectfully disagree here. I agree that when we are added to Christ by God, we become the church but becoming the church does not negate the continual need for our formation as disciples…if that were not the case then we would not have biblical writers writing Gospels and Epistles for the Christian community as part of an effort in their continual formation as disciples. I believe our formation as disciples is not an event but a journey…where that journey ends up surely involves God but God working through those who calls into leadership of his people who operate out of a particular set of values (which hopefully have been shaped by scripture, gospel, etc…). That is what I am trying to get at in this post.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

    • Rex, great to see you excited about ministry!! Hope that God blesses you and your work in NY!!!

      My attention was drawn to point 3. I really thought you, and many of us, have been over this “traditional CoC” ground enough. If you’d stopped your first sentence on the 2nd line after “blood of Jesus” it’s a much more positive message. I really hope you don’t still feel a need to apologise for the beliefs of others.

      Ben makes a good point. We do join the church. The church doesn’t join us. But since the church is the people, then the church becomes us (plural), as we become Christ. This is particularly relevant when each congregation is autonomous without an administrative or credal tradition to conform to. Of course, Scripture and the Holy Spirit provide continuity to which we must conform.

      Congregations can have different customs and theological points of emphasis and still be “the church”. It’s not that these congregations reinvent the church, but that the Holy Spirit works in people of all different backgrounds, personalities, interests etc. So while God molds us, we each come from slightly different clay and therefore end up slightly different from each other.

      Having said that, I do think that your initial question (yes I know it’s not your original question) was a bit presumptuous, Rex. “What sort of disciples do we want to form?” I have no real problem with your answers, but isn’t the question better worded as something like, “Considering the cultural setting in which I’m ministering, which Biblical truths do (potential) disciples of Christ most need emphasised to them?”

      This seems to be the question Paul addressed in writing to Titus in Crete. The Cretans were lazy, selfish, liars, so he emphasised that Christ’s disciples should actively do good, actively care for others, and holy. Not a bad list, but not necessarily the emphasis for every church on the planet.

      Okay, I’m way over my word limit. Keep on being, and making, disciples!!!

      • Peter,

        Thanks for chiming in. You point about about #3 is taken yet I still feel the need to leave it as is because the dogmatic patternism is still a part of our CoC heritage that continues to wield influence (at least in my experience). If we we’re shaped by more of ‘health & wealth’ dogma (which also relies on selective proof-texting) then I would have worded it for that response.

        Also, I do think the question “What sort of disciples…?” is a valid question to ask. The “Great Commission” calls for us to make disciples first. Yet, while we all fall short of that calling of discipleship at some point, there seem to be some professing Christians who have really no interest in being a disciple (they won’t admitt that but instead creatively change the meaning of what a disciple is). Now I know the answer to the question of “what sort of disciples…” must be answered contextually.

        Any ways…thanks for commenting, you are always welcome here on this blog. Sometime we will need to plan a meet in the middle between my place and your place.

        Grace and peace,

        Rex

      • BTW…my comment “…while we all fall short of that calling of discipleship at some point, there seem to be some professing Christians who have really no interest in being a disciple (they won’t admitt that but instead creatively change the meaning of what a disciple is)” is not reflective of the Randolph CoC just my general experience in ministry.

  2. Jesus spent more time with three disciples than the other 12 and he gave more time to the 12 disciples, than he did to the crowds. Daryl Christianity

  3. Hi,

    A couple of questions on “pattern keeping” . . .

    Question: How can a person be like Elvis Presley?
    Answer: Careful mimicry (pattern keeping).

    Question: How can a church be like the NT church?
    Answer: Careful mimicry (pattern keeping).

    Question: How much mimicry does it take for a person to actually BECOME Elvis Presley?
    Answer: Not possible.

    Question: How much mimicry does it take for a church to actually BECOME the NT church?
    Answer: Not possible.

    The point here is that churches of Christ cannot escape their origins within an 18th-19th century American indigenous religious movement by mimicking the NT church (i.e., pattern keeping), no matter how hard they try.

    Attempting to do so is an ecclesial form of “identity theft” in which the mimickers try to “write checks” on the ancient church’s account.

    Comments?

    Peace,

    billb

    • Bill,

      You will get no argument from me. I am of the belief that Christians/local-churches are not called to follow any other historical period of the church…they are called to follow Jesus, at least if we are going to take scripture seriously since that is what scripture says. That means our calling is not to reproduce the life of another church but the life of Jesus. Of course, there will be some continuity of traditions and practice with the early church but I also believe there is some discontinuity since we are participating in God’s mission in a different cultural context.

      And of course, when this ecclesiological shift is accepted, it changes the way we read scripture. In short, we read both testaments as authoritative scripture and read both of them in light of Jesus Christ rather than reading one testament (OT) as nothing more than historical wisdom and the other (NT) as something that a selective pattern can be deduced from (since God failed to lay out the pattern in a step-by-step order like he did for Noah) using proof-texts and a hermeneutic developed by 17th century Scottish Philosophers.

      Well, that is probably more than you wanted to know. Any ways, I appreciate you stopping by the blog and commenting.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

  4. Agree. Thought you might find the illustration useful. In my experience, it pretty much stops the “patternists” in their tracks or at least exposes the true nature of their thinking to bystanders.

    Peace,

    billb

  5. Well; reading through these postings is an interesting experience, and many thoughts come to bear as I read along. These thoughtful posts are a lot different from those of the many unbelievers I correspond with. It takes a lot of time to deal with each observation where I might have something to add; –so my prioity goes to the lost. Jesus focused on saving the lost. (Mat.18:11). So following, I will just add some quick thoughts. Most (or all) of the discussion seems pretty good to me, but I could fine comb, or pick points made by each of you authors. It seems to me like none of you have everything totally correct. So, if I were to take the time to make all my own corrections, –would it then be correct? Yeah,–RIGHT! 😎

    * Remember; it is the Lord who adds to the church; we know (don’t we?) that people do not join the Lord’s church, but that our Lord adds them to it. (Acts 2:47).

    * The idea that the early church pattern need not be followed, leads to a church of differences and denominations. ‘Remember what was rirst preached, unless you believe in vain.’ (1 Cor.15:2). “Now I beseach you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1Cor.1:10). I could go on and on here. Realize that what the Apostles taught at that time, was/is God’s word inspired, for all time, sealed in the New Testament by the blood of Christ on the cross. Note that the special gifts that they possessed (as credentials) were not carried along to future generations.

    * Rex’s original post talks about how to go about forming disciples. God’s word does that. ‘Faith cometh by hearing…'(Rom. 10:17). We must be careful not to lead by intimidation. Sometimes leaders try to form people into their own likeness i.e. if the leader has a special talent, than everyone else should follow suit and be like him. People become wrongly intimidated. They are not always able to “do their fair share.” or put enough money into the collection plate, etc. etc. Having elders and deacons, and good preaching and teaching and a believing congregation to set the example by many, living examples, forms disciples. Jesus said, in the great commission, to teach all things that he had commanded them, (All nations). So, I conclude that we form disciples of Christ by teaching the things that Jesus Christ commanded, just as He said for us to do.
    * This leads me to our CofC at Randolph list of goals, decided upon at business meetings before Rex started here. I regret that I did not attend those meetings, because I think the list of goals that we publish in our bulletin each Lord’s day are too general and vague, when it comes to what is really our biggest weakness that has been prevalent at Randolph through the years. It reminds me of our old CofC at Randolph “Mission Statement,” before I reminded everyone that we already have a Mission Statement, given to us by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ himself! (Mat.28:19-20). I believe that we should have one strong goal, and that is not just doing more of the same, but to learn how to –and then do it– EVANGELIZE! The CofC at Randolph NJ needs to become evangelistic! That should be our goal!
    I believe that is God’s will for us at Randolph, and He will be with us always to that end.

    God bless; and thank you Lord –for sending us Rex Butts and family, to your church here at Randolph NJ.
    –dc

    • Don,

      Thanks for your comments. You are right, none of us have everything correct. There are many more questions I have on biblical issues than concrete answers but I guess that goes with the territory of trying to read and interpret something written many years and cultures ago…but that is why we keep studying.

      Any ways, my reasoning for why I no longer believe Christians are called to follow any historical period of the church or why I do not believe the NT contains a “strict pattern” for the church would take up to much space here. I do believe that what the Apostles were teaching was the life of Jesus, culminated by his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension as Lord and Savior and the new life (morals/ethics, values) this called for…a life shaped by self-sacrificial service and love for one another based on their love for God & Jesus…that this is what they were to be unified in, not a uniformity of religious practice (or else Romans 14 cannot be true). In short, I believe the Apostolic teaching calls us to the samething Jesus calls us to…himself…to become a follower (disciple) of him by learning how to live like him, taking on his values and goals.

      As for the Randolph congregation…I agree that we need to be evangelistic. When we are givin an opportunity to build relationships with those who do not believe in Jesus and/or have not surrendered their lives to him, then we need to be teaching them to do so. However, I believe Jesus’ mission was bigger than just evangelism. His mission was the gospel he proclaimed…the kingdom (reign) of God. That is, Jesus’ ministry sought to break forth the reign of God upon earth where only darkness has reigned. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us something about what it means for the Kingdom of God to be present (“Let your kingdom come and let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Matt 6.10). Evangelism is part of the ingredients (if you will) necessary for God to bring about his will being done on earth as it is in heaven but it is not the entire ingrediants. Serving people and ministering to their needs is as important as evangelism. Jesus did both and neither served the ends of the other, both served the end goal of God’s kingdom mission. In my opinion, if the Randolph congregation is going to seriously participate in the mission of God then it must set its goal as no smaller than the kingdom of God…what I call, living out the story of Jesus. This means outreach to people, ministering to their needs and/or evangelizing them.

      Any ways, thanks for your comments and willing to engage in dialogue. I love your love for the Lord.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

  6. Hi Rex, I don’t find any real disgreements here on my part, and like you said, we could go on and on. By asking each other more specifics, we may have no diagreements at all. When i actually spot any, than I will be sure to comment. Some of it has to do where we come from. The CofC I came from, baptized Oct 22, 1977, The CENTRAL CHURCH OF CHRIST, Cocoa Fla., was a large congregation, always growing, continual baptisms, a ‘New Life Class,’ just for babes in Christ. Everybody, not just the preacher, was involved in bringing people to Christ. I’ve never seen that at Randolph CofC. We have been encouaged to bring a friend to church, or to attend a yearly picnic, but outsiders really don’t know what the Cof C is all about, other than that we are friendly. Most people never heard of the church of Christ, much less understand it. There are some who seem to think that we really don’t need to grow.
    What we have to offer is TRUTH. People can find “friends” and “social groups” almost anywhere. If we must become super friends and super close to everyone we might bring to Christ, I don’t see how we can get very far. I never sought out a church to find friends, but to find Truth. Truth should not be hid under a bushel basket. Enlightenment should shine out in the darkness all around us. I believe I have reached who knows how many people on the internet, people I will never really know or call close friends. There is so much need. Randolph Cof C likes being a small knit family. I suppose it is all about keeping a good balance, and that is a good reason why we are not all the same. 😎 –dc

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