WHO: Dana Allin, synod executive for the Covenant Order of Presbyterians.
HE SAYS: “If we can clear the clutter from our vision for discipleship, we will see disciples growing number and maturing in our congregations, our ministries and our communities.”
THE BIG IDEA: We need to simplify discipleship as a means to prioritize it.
In this 10-chapter book, the author begins with a high-level view of the nature of being a disciple. He then looks at the foundational approach of Jesus toward his disciples.
The second section takes a deeper look at what it is to follow Jesus as someone who loves God with heart, head and hands. He identifies eight qualities and 20 supporting characteristics of a disciple.
The third section encourages readers to create a personalized process through which they can grow in specific areas of discipleship. The fourth and final section helps leaders to incorporate simple discipleship principles into the larger structure of the congregation.
“Discipleship happens best when each person approaches their own discipleship in a way that is personalized to how God is already at work in their lives.”
A CONVERSATION WITH DANA ALLIN
How can churches have a balanced approach to discipleship and evangelism?
As followers of Christ, we certainly thrive when discipleship and evangelism work synergistically in our lives. God created us for both. Sometimes, however, we misunderstand the relationship between discipleship and evangelism and perceive them as mutually exclusive.
I think there are two solutions for the church that will help integrate, and therefore balance, evangelism and discipleship.
First, we need to move away from the thought that evangelism is just what happens before someone becomes a believer and discipleship is what happens after conversion. If we perceive evangelism as simply sharing the good news, then we need to continue to “evangelize” one another even after we begin to follow Christ. I certainly need to be reminded daily of God’s love and the reality of what it means to be an adopted child of God. For example, like many, I am tempted to take my identity from my accomplishments rather than from the righteousness of Christ. So I need to continually be saturated with the good news.
At the same time, there are ways in which we may help others become disciples of Christ even before they become believers. This trajectory is a little harder for us to wrap our minds around, but let me explain. When we are in relationship with someone who is considering following Christ, we may share about prayer, theology, the narrative of Scripture, and the cost of discipleship, for example. During this time of learning and growth, people may change their behavior to become more Christlike even before they have crossed the line to become full-fledged believers. In a case such as this, evangelism and discipleship are more integrated than they often appear.
Second, we must emphasize that sharing the good news of Jesus Christ through evangelism is growing in our discipleship. On occasion when I talk about being missional or evangelistic, I get the response that someone just wants to work on his or her “own discipleship.” However, engaging in evangelism and missional endeavors exponentially enhances one’s own discipleship. The gospel accounts are full of Jesus’ promises to the disciples that by following him, they will end up fishing for others as well. And of course the great commission tells us to be in a continual process of “going”—and, as we do so, to make disciples of all nations.
The church and its leaders will be greatly strengthened when evangelism and discipleship are not seen as either/or but both/and.
What is a simple first step a church can take tomorrow to begin a discipleship program?
I think what has gotten us in trouble in the past is assuming that a church program will actually make disciples. However, if I were pastoring a church that wanted to take a first step in integrating discipleship more seriously into the hearts and lives of its people, I would start with the following.
First, I would find those in the church who are hungry to grow deeper in their faith. These people may not necessarily be the most involved individuals in church life. In fact, they may even be some of the least engaged people because the church’s current ministries do not provide the discipleship development that they desire.
Second, I would have each of them individually determine the area in which they most desire to grow in their faith. One way to determine a specific area is to take the Discipleship 360 Degree Assessment that is offered through Simple Discipleship and at FlourishMovement.org. A prayerful look at the feedback from this assessment should help someone determine where God is calling them to grow at this time.
Next, I would have people get together in groups of three to four and help them design a simple yet comprehensive discipleship design, which they can find outlined in the book. Individuals in each small group may choose activities to help them engage with God, truth, others, and experiences that are designed to help them grow.
Finally, this group can offer prayer, support, encouragement and accountability to one another as they grow. That’s it! Simple, right?
How is your concept of discipleship influenced by the global church?
I am grateful that my position in our denomination has allowed me to connect with leaders of churches all over the world—in particular, those in Latin America, China and the Middle East. Some of these churches are legal and aboveground, and others need to be secretive and meet underground. What has impressed me is that all of these churches that have experienced growth have made discipleship much simpler and yet more comprehensive than we often do in the West. Discipleship is simpler because they do not rely on complicated curricula and experts that teach great amounts of information. Exponential multiplication of believers is more likely if people do not need to be experts to help others grow in faith.
The approach of the global church is also more comprehensive. In my own tribe of Presbyterians, we tend to equate head knowledge with discipleship. Yet what I see globally is a well-balanced approach to discipleship. Learning key aspects of Scripture and theology is very important; however, equally important is the interior life of the disciple and the way in which disciples fulfill both the general and specific call on their lives. The results of this simple yet comprehensive approach to discipleship in the global church are extremely encouraging and are a great example to the rest of us.