Disciples who have bits and pieces of Jesus pasted on them and run headlong as “missionaries” to their families, their friends, or the nations will find themselves torn down by the world and confused about their identities. There is no difference between Christian sin and non-Christian sin; we believers need our savior every day. And the world needs the same savior.
We believers are much more like the rest of humanity than we are like Christ. But that does not change who Christ is, drawing us and others to Him and creating a community of praise to God. That does not change the effectiveness of the gospel, which is good news to all who believe and to all who keep on believing.
To grow up in Christ, to have Christ “formed” in us, to be a disciple of Jesus, is a life process. One disciple changes the world. That is, the world changes because God demonstrates, in the calling of one disciple, that He is willing and able to draw the nations, to draw anyone, to draw me and you. In making one disciple, God . . . – and it is that phrase that captures the source and power of discipleship to Jesus—in making one disciple, God extends hope to the world: His image is shined up, the worth and effectiveness of His Son is seen.
There is some chutzpah-sensibility among the disciples of Jesus that we, some missionary types, can go and make disciples by strategic process—Bible-aware, fully in prayer, good planning, good thinking, solid cross-cultural skills, sensitivity, personal touches, wise counseling, right worship, right community, and willing self-denial and self-sacrifice. In the end the disciples have these good sensibilities; all this should be on the boat, in the shipping container of good mission, in the life of the outreaching community. (And even knowing this, how many go without adequate training and humility?)
Yet there is one thing, we often have forgotten and still continue to forget: We must be disciples of Jesus. That is, Jesus is ahead of us, the Head of us, leads us, teaches us, and is “with us” in that position. He is not the stamp of approval for our activities or the one who gains an entrance after we have cleared the way and drawn back the curtains. Jesus is the present maker and leader of His disciples. If we are not being “discipled by” Jesus, we may be alluding to discipleship we have known, talking about the gospel, or taking Kingdom-informed blessings to the nations, but we are not asking others to bow down to the King “with us.”
Is this an accusation that the missionary community promotes a gap between Christianity and present life in the Spirit? I think what we are truly doing truly is not that clear to us; we live in earth-flesh and so our motives and the integrity work are never as clear to others or even ourselves as we would like. This is why the Scriptures exhort us to examine ourselves; even as we come to the Lord’s Table, in the midst of our routines of faith and worship, we are exhorted to examine ourselves.
The disciples of Jesus are having “Christ formed” in them. We are seeing more about the grace that has come to us in Jesus, the gospel of grace. In that light we see light; and the light also shows us our darkness: “If we say we have no sin . . .” The Spirit of Jesus, by the Word and the community of believers and the contexts of our era and the situations of our lives, is always talking to us about the hope that has come in the cross and resurrection. He is always warning us about the perils of the world and instructing us to find in Christ alone deliverance from guilts and fears and shames. He is disciplining us as followers even as we call others to follow.
Man is fully lost and God alone is fully gracious. As believers we have NOT lost our need for Christ when we have gained Christ. It is far too common and easy to think that we are obligated to be disciples more than we are in need of being disciples. Too quickly we think that being a disciple means girding up our corrupt flesh and making an attempt to follow Jesus, instead of listening to Him and being drawn into his heart and mind and wisdom and righteousness, so that the sensibilities of Christ grow out of us.
There is an amazing coincidence in the discipling growth of the followers of Jesus and in the way that others come to follow Him. Everyone (the believers and the soon-to-believe) learns Christ and grows up in Him. The church in her missionary effort must see herself as missioned, as constantly being sought and re-welcomed and nourished by Christ the Missionary.
A Personal Viewpoint. Across the decades of my life of faith in Jesus, I have reached out to individuals, to my family, and to groups of various character(s), in the name of Jesus. I have prayed for people, counseled, taught, served and sought them out, sometimes by myself, often in concert with my community of fellow believers. At times, I would say I have given myself earnestly: I have laid down my life. In the end– and there really is not much “end” in most of those relationships– in order to have them “learn” Jesus as I supposed they should, I had to change.
When I did not understand being-discipled-by-Jesus “as a strategic principle” (Is “being discipled by Jesus” really a principle?) I found myself on one of two roads:
1) the road to nowhere– The-road-to-nowhere means others were often not being won to Christ and changed by Him, as I supposed THEY should, because I wasn’t really paying attention to Him, being won to Him, and being changed by Him. He wanted to give me more grace, more of His Spirit, but I was an unwilling, inattentive disciple (dwelling in a cul-de-sac with a garage sale sign that said, “All who want to follow Jesus, enter here. I’ll be back in a minute.”).
2) the narrow road to grace—The-narrow-road-to-grace means Jesus is going to change me so that, or while, others too, are being called to change and follow Him. At times, He set me on the-narrow-road-to-grace, a new call to repentance and faith, deliverance from hypocrisy.
He reminds us, re-calls us, re-welcomes us, and “re-narrows” us to Himself as He alone calls others and works grace in others. This is what I mean when I say (quoting myself above) “there is an amazing coincidence in the discipling growth of the followers of Jesus and in the way that others come to follow Him.”
When we go making disciples, we are disciples. Except, sometimes we aren’t! We fall off the narrow road! We reinvent following Jesus– with all its mind-expanding, life-expanding, relational potentiality—with all its impetus for voluntarism, skill development, strategizing, devotion and self-denial– into a limited program for others, or a program for adding members into some Christian system. If “missions” become lifeless, it is only because the disciples of Jesus are piddling with something else.
There is lots of good training available for missionaries and missionary prospects. Our particular efforts through WorldView are part of that, as we help others consider what it means to touch the core of a culture with the gospel. We help them acquire perspectives and skills. The people we are working with are well-intentioned, often brilliant, always eager to teach others and preach good news. Yet, to be effective, they will need to know Christ again “on site” as they call others to Christ, because the “all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
The core of discipling others is being changed by following Jesus as we go making disciples. Because we are not following our lesser inclinations, but we ourselves too are being formed day after day, with grace upon grace.