Why is it so complicated? Why do so many confessing Christians look blank when the question is asked: “Who are you discipling?” Or again: “Who is discipling you?” Why are men and women who could, in a heartbeat, teach you how to play tennis, or golf, or show you how to bake a pie, or fix a flat tire, or manage your web site, or show you how to plant a vegetable garden, stumped by the challenge to make disciples?
As a young engineering student I was taught the most basic understanding of general systems theory. There are inputs and outputs, there are basic internal processes, there is a feedback loop, and there is an external environment. Evaluating any system requires that the output be compared to the designed intention. We must ask:” Is what we are producing that which we set up the system to produce?” When I apply this simple analysis to the life of a local congregation, what doe it show me?
Immediately I must ask several questions: “What is the purpose of the parish? What is the desired outcome of all the effort and resources that we put into it? What is the end vision? Can it be stated in a clear and straight forward way? Can every member articulate it for themselves? Is everyone and everything that is being done contributing to that outcome?” In a well functioning parish system the answers to all of these questions will be clear. And the answers will all be congruent. They will contribute to the common purpose. There will not be multiple missions, there will only be one.
I have often discussed the challenge of making the mission clear when the church is confused. And I have said, again and again, that I believe the Final Command of the Lord Jesus to be that mission. “Go and make disciples of of all people.” (Mt 28:19) I have lived to see that scripture imbedded in the new Anglican Standard Text (2019) as a part of every week’s corporate prayer, and it makes me glad. But what I fear is that it may be understood as only a part of the work of the church, not the work itself. It is as though we could do a dozen other things for the Lord, and then we remember “making disciples” as something we add on to the rest of the ministry of the church.
There will be those who read this and accuse me of reductionism, but I beg to disagree. Nothing that Jesus commanded his followers to obey is excluded from the Final Command. Nothing. When rightly understood it actually focuses all faithful Christians on the central work that they must come to walk in, once they have been born again of the Spirit of God. They have been called by the Lord and he asks them to help him call others. They learn to naturally and regularly be disciple-making people.
How can that be? When we learned to read, we first had to learn our ABC’s, and then we had to learn to sound out the letters when they were combined into words, and then we had to learn our vocabulary. Soon we were reading! It is meant to be the same with disciple-making. It is not something we arrive at after a lifetime in the church, it is something that helps us begin to be the church.
Next Week: Who Defines?