Missional Discipleship: Part Three

I recently spoke on the issue of discipleship for the missional church at a weekend intensive for Forge Chicago. Here's part three of that talk; read part one here and part two here.


Missiologist Steve Addison, in his new book What Jesus Started, lays out a six-part process by which Jesus set in motion a self-sustaining gospel movement: He saw the need in a place, made connections with local “people of peace”—or people who would embrace his vision—share good news and good life with them, train them to do what he was doing, and then collect them into gathered units to better coordinate efforts. As Jesus, his followers and those who came after them passed through these five steps, the sixth step came naturally to pass: the church multiplied. When these steps stalled, the process stopped.

Each of these steps is a matter of discipleship, each a matter both of practice and play.

The first step—seeing the need of a place—is a discipline of attentiveness. We train ourselves to look on a place the way Jesus might, the way his first followers might. We gather together to take the measure of our neighborhood, our town, to acknowledge the good in it and identify the need in it. We might pray alone or together, asking God to strengthen our resolve to engage that need meaningfully, to not turn away from it. We might fast in order to remind ourselves of the feeling of need. We might worship our God who is a provider, to reinforce in our imaginations that what our neighbors need, God can provide.

Then we scatter through our town like Paul went through Athens, identifying the piety of the place and noting the need to name the God the Athenians had yet to name. We move toward our place, and the need God has directed us to there, and we name it, and we lay into it. We perform the disciplines of truth-telling, of faithfulness, of steadfastness, of neighbor-love.

The second step—connecting to people of peace—is a discipline of mutuality. We train ourselves to recognize our own limitations, our own lack, and to see God at work not just in us but around us. We might gather to pray to God not to be petrified by our finiteness but to be broken vessels out of which God’s power flows. We might take Sabbath rests to remind ourselves that we are not the messiahs of our neighborhoods, but that God has arrived before us and is providing what is needed to transform places of darkness into places of light. We acknowledge not only our lack in and of ourselves but our abundance thanks to the goodness of God.

And then we scatter like Jesus scattered, as he reached out to a person of peace at a well in Samaria while his disciples went for supplies. We accept kindnesses from these neighbors and invite them to join us in exploring how God might be changing things in our midst. We hold our stuff loosely and our new friends tightly. We speak up when we see God acting in and around our new friends. We thank them for what they bring to our lives by their presence. We play-act the kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdoms of this world.

Alan and Deb Hirsch emphasize these first two steps in their discussion of the practice of proclamation in Untamed:

Following the logic of the incarnation itself, our message is heard properly only when we have gone through the process of identifying with people, hearing them, understanding the issues they face, humbly living with them, and knowing how they experience and express their search for meaning. If we do this, we will have earned the right to address the hearts of the people and bring salvation to them. If we don’t do this, we will simply impose a cultural Christianity on them, and they could well end up in a worse situation than before.

On Monday I'll post part four, where we'll consider what disciplines correspond well with the missional tasks of training, gathering and scattering the church. We'll also look at how a center-set view of discipleship contrasts with a bounded-set view, especially in how we look at other people. See you then.


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