Before His ascension, Jesus left His followers with a mission to make disciples. We’ve spent much of this year discussing what it means to be missional. When we talk about being missional, we’re not referring to one particular activity or church program. Rather, missional people orient their whole lives toward the mission of God. As Reggie McNeal puts it, “To think and live missionally means seeing all of life as a way to be engaged with the mission of God in the world.” Our mission is to be Good News people. Our mission is faith, hope, and love. Our mission is to love God and love others. These are concepts we worked through earlier this year.
But today we’ll be thinking specifically about our missional call to be a discipling people. The ministry of Jesus was a disciple-making ministry; and His followers participate in the same work. As we follow Jesus, we continue to lead others to follow Him as well through the power of our influence.
We make disciples when we share the Good News of Jesus with others. But we call others to discipleship when we share our lives with them as well. We see this in the video when the people go out of the church building and into their community, when we get into the lives of our neighbors. And we also see this in what Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2.
1 Thess. 2:6-8, We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
Paul writes to these believers in Thessalonica to defend the truthfulness of the Gospel. Along the way, he gives us some tremendous insight into the nature of the church. Not only did he and his companions share the Gospel with the Thessalonians, they were also delighted to share their lives as well. One translation reads, “We were delighted to share with you not only the Good News of God but also our very souls…” Paul is one of the world’s foremost experts when it comes to Christian discipleship. And his discipleship pattern in Thessalonica is twofold: 1) share the Gospel and, 2) share life together.
We know that the church is a community shaped by the Gospel, but it is also a place where we share our lives with one another. J. Hampton Keathly writes, “To give the gospel without the willingness to give of ourselves to others … is a contradiction because the gospel is a message about the giving of God’s Son and the giving of His own life for us.”
Two questions emerge that help shape us as a discipling, missional people:
- Am I sharing the Gospel with others?
- Am I sharing my life with others?
Discipling, missional people should be generous in sharing both the Gospel and their lives with others.
Discipleship is a life-on-life encounter with Jesus and with fellow disciples. That’s why I love this picture of Jesus around the table w/ disciples. In accordance with the common practice of the Jewish rabbis of his day, Jesus invites his disciples to share life with him, to live in community in order that they might learn from his example. (Think Simon Peter leaving his nets on the shore; Matthew leaving the tax collectors booth to follow Jesus.) More going on here than simply the dissemination of information from teacher to student. Jesus forms his disciples through holistic life-on-life encounters. Author Alan Hirsch notes that the discipleship model of Jesus occurs “in the context of life and for life.” The disciples of Jesus are transformed by their proximity to him rather than classroom lectures. As respondents to the call of Jesus, disciples are formed through what scholar Hans Weder calls “a life relationship to him.”
With Jesus at the center of Christian fellowship, His disciples share in life-giving relationships with one another as well. The “life relationship” we share with Jesus extends to our relationships with our fellow disciples.
In his ministry, Jesus calls the disciples into relationship with him and relationship with one another. In this way, discipleship flows from the two commands Jesus holds up as normative: love for God and love for neighbor. As a church family, we’ve committed to these principles in the form of our mission statement: We seek to follow Jesus by loving God and loving others.
Again, when we say we want to be a discipling, missional people, we’re saying we want our lives to be shaped by the Gospel but also that we share our lives together. But too often, that’s not our experience in church. Sure, we would agree that we share the Gospel of Christ in common. But I’m afraid too many of us are missing out on the lively experience of fellowship God intends for us to experience with our fellow disciples of Jesus.
Science writer Hope Jahren shares an interesting fact about plants in her best-selling book “Lab Girl.” Jahren notes how a tiny seed starts to put down roots – the most essential thing for a plant’s survival. She writes:
No risk is more terrifying than that taken by the first root. A lucky root will eventually find water, but its first job is to anchor … Once the first root is extended, the plant will never again enjoy any hope of relocating to a place less cold, less dry, less dangerous. Indeed, it will face frost, drought, and greedy jaws without any possibility of flight.
She calls taking root a big “gamble,” but if the seed takes root it can grow down twenty, thirty, forty meters – and the results are powerful. The tree’s roots can “swell and split bedrock, and move gallons of water daily for years, much more efficiently than any pump yet invented by man.” If the root takes root, then the plant becomes all but indestructible: “Tear apart everything aboveground – everything – and most plants can still grow rebelliously back from just one intact root.” That’s how strong those roots can become once they’re anchored.
How anchored are you relationally? Your answer to that question is proportional to how much of your life you’ve been sharing with others.
One of the most powerful discipling tools God has given you is your life story. We know this because we know that we’re wired for stories. We love to watch, read, and hear good stories. Sermons that we remember — usually because there was a compelling story told. Last week — my microphone went a little haywire and for about 5-10 seconds, I sounded like I was demon-possessed. “I am Legion, for we are many.” We remember that sort of thing because it’s funny — it makes a good story.
Our relational roots grow deeper every time we share a part of our story with our brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly our spiritual story. I wrote my doctoral thesis on the efficacy of spiritual autobiography as a tool for discipleship – and I’m telling you, it’s one of our most potent resources. Not only does spiritual narration anchor us together more firmly, but it also draws us more closely to the center, to Christ.
When we share our lives together that means we can laugh together, we cry together, we join together in times of celebration and praise yet we also band together in times of tragedy and sorrow. For quite a while now, I’ve been drawn to Romans 12:15 as a way of thinking about life in the church: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
I’m a Christian today because of the influence of my parents. They taught me the Scriptures, taught me the Gospel – but I wouldn’t have believed it if they hadn’t also shared their lives with me. My mother was just the sweetest, most compassionate person I’ve ever known. And my Dad was just hilarious. He was a masterful story-teller. I’m a Christian today in part because of the way I saw them deal with adversity. They modeled faithfulness for me in seasons when we were doing okay but even more importantly, during those seasons when we weren’t doing okay. Their story continues to be a powerful discipling tool, an anchor that roots me deeply. To this day, God uses their story to shape me into a better follower of Jesus.
Who is discipling you?
And who are you discipling?
With whom are you sharing the Gospel?
And with whom are you sharing your life?