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A call to action as it relates to disciple making
Three years ago this month I stood at the base of Mt. Harvard, one of Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks, and looked up into the snowy distance, wondering if I had what it what it would take to climb to the summit. Mt. Harvard is located in the center of the state of Colorado, and due to its elevation, spends much of the year covered in snow. Many hike this peak, and the other Collegiates, during the summer months, but few choose to do so in February. I was attending a conference in Colorado, and other than having traveled with my ski jacket and a good pair of gloves, I was totally unprepared for a climb like this. I’ll give you a quick glimpse into my true state of unpreparedness by making the confession that I was wearing blue jeans and a pair of Adidas tennis shoes…not wintertime mountain-ascent gear by any stretch of the imagination.
I have never been one to let my potential lack of qualifications or preparedness stand in the way of giving something my best shot. It’s just part of who I am, I suppose. This is a trait that has landed me in some trouble at times, but also one that has allowed me to experience some things in life that others would never have attempted. How many people can say, after all, “I hiked nearly to the summit of Mt. Harvard in sometimes waist deep snow wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes?”
“But Paul,” you may rightly ask, “was it actually worth it?” If I’m being honest, probably not. When I returned to the lodge I was freezing cold, soaked to the waist, and had a splitting headache because of the exertion I had made at an elevation my body wasn’t acclimated to.
So what does this have to do with discipleship? What does this have to do with idea of embracing a culture shift within a church that helps facilitate disciple making? Everything. Give me a minute to explain and I think you will see why.
For many I have talked with over the past year, the idea of making disciples is an appealing one. We even respond well to the vision of a church that has come alive to embracing the mission of Jesus to be disciples who make disciples. It’s a vision that reminds us of scenes from the first chapters of Acts. It sounds exciting! But when we turn the corner to talking about the shifts that will need to take place within our church cultures, and our personal cultures as well, the excitement begins to fade. I think the target, the destination, is one we find compelling, but the journey and what we foresee may lie along the way, fills us with anxiety. And probably rightly so. Making the move from the attractional model of church (come and see), to the relational discipleship model of church (go and be), will require a cultural transformation. Change is hard. There’s no way around it.
Many of us stand at the base of what looks to be an uphill climb. The slope is steep. It’s covered in snow. And to make it worse, we look at ourselves and conclude we aren’t properly equipped for the journey. And we are probably right. How’s that for motivation? Don’t check out on me yet, however, because I do think there is good news for those of us who feel this way as we contemplate some needed changes in the way we “do church.”
It has been said that even the greatest journey begins with a single step. When standing at the beginning of a long and challenging journey, it is natural to become focused on all of the things that could go wrong – or even all of the reasons why backing out is the safer, and likely wiser thing to do. And in many situations, especially if you find yourself looking up a snow-covered mountain in February, choosing the safer option is undoubtedly wiser. But not when it comes to embracing discipleship and disciple making. Let me give you a few quick reasons why.
First, as Jesus’ Church, the journey he calls us on, is the journey we should be packing our proverbial bags for. When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, Matthew 28, he told them to go make disciples of all nations. He didn’t say, go into all the world and build a bunch of super attractive churches. Now, don’t get me wrong. I hope my church is attractive to those who don’t know Jesus, and I hope yours is too. That’s just not the mission, even though by looking at some of our churches you wouldn’t always know it.
Next, I’m afraid of what we end up with when we choose another mission than the one Jesus gave us. Here’s what I mean by that. When I look at the churches I have worked with over the years, and even the ones I have visited, a common theme has emerged. We have been fairly good at making church members, but we have largely failed at making disciples of Jesus. Here’s what that leads me to conclude – attractional churches don’t by nature make disciples. It’s not that the leaders of those churches don’t want to make disciples. The model just doesn’t match the mission.
Finally, I know that for many of us, the journey ahead looks to be a challenging one. If we choose to embrace a shift within our church cultures, we will likely find out just how difficult navigating change can be. I’m here to tell you, however, that for many reasons, including the two I just gave you, it will be worth it. Yes, it will be a challenging journey. Yes, you will also likely feel unqualified or unprepared along the way (If you are anything like me, you weren’t raised in a context that placed a high value on being disciples who make disciples. Most of us, after all are products of the attractional church cultures we were raised in). All of this is true. But…and don’t miss this! It is only when we commit ourselves to the mission of Jesus as he defines it in Matthew 28, that we hear his promise, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” That’s right. When we say yes, to Jesus’ mission, he promises us his presence. This is not a journey we will make alone.
So what am I challenging you to do? Take a step. Do something that moves you, and maybe others in your church, closer to embracing the mission of Jesus. Find someone to disciple. There’s lots of low hanging fruit within our churches, as most of us have never been discipled. If you haven’t been discipled yourself, you could find a friend who will work to disciple you, while you disciple him or her in return. Make the choice to start somewhere. For far too long we have been standing at the bottom of the mountain, looking up. It’s time to remember that even the greatest journey begins with one step. I’ll be cheering you on, and praying for you as you go. Paul