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Shifting Discipleship Gears

Because radical Jesus followers aren’t made in rows

these days…



Crowbars on an airplane?

Did you know that they have an emergency call button in toilets on airplanes? I never knew that, had never spotted it, and I have been on a lot of airplanes in my time. I never even noticed… until the day I needed it. I needed that button because I was in the toilet on an airplane and the door had jammed… wouldn’t budge, I was locked in. So, I pressed that button and what would you know, a few seconds later a steward arrived at the door and called through it… “what seems to be the problem.” I explained my door jam predicament and she suggested I push from my side and she pulled from hers to see if we could sort it out. It didn’t move a millimetre. “I’ll get the flight engineer” she said, “sit tight” (which I thought was an inappropriate turn of phrase give the circumstances)! A few minutes later the engineer came back and asked me to stand back from the door whilst he used a crowbar to prise it open. Who knew that they had crowbars on airplanes and for what purpose? Millions of pounds worth of hi tech engineering and they have crowbars, presumably for just this kind of emergency.

We pushed and pulled that door and applied the crowbar until it eventually popped open and I was free!

I’ve been in church leadership for over 25 years, and can I be honest with you? Sometimes I have those kinds of days or weeks where I wonder what we are really achieving. We are applying huge amounts of energy, pushing and pulling for all we are worth, preaching, planning, strategising, talking, praying, worshipping, meeting and small grouping. Sometimes in my darker moments I wonder what affect it is all having and I wonder if we’re stuck and even jammed.

It’s getting harder… Convergent vs Divergent

And the world is getting harder too isn’t it? Gil Rendle in his book “Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World” describes the changes we are seeing in our world as we move from what he calls a “convergent” culture to a “divergent” one. For many years in the Western world we have converged around a common story and worldview but in the last few years attempts have been made to deconstruct that common story and there is a cultural fight going on to determine what should replace it. That creates a difficult, divided, complex and messy cultural context into which we are trying to speak Jesus.

Shifting Gears…

The road conditions of our world are changing and I am convinced that we need a gear shift in our thinking and in our model to meet those changing conditions. The great news is that Jesus brought about such a gear shift when he arrived on earth 2,000 years ago and if we look to the gear shift he made we can find some answers.Jesus arrived into a religious and cultural context that was almost entirely “temple” driven. Whether you were a Jew, a believer in the Roman gods or a pagan, your spiritual and religious practice revolved around some kind of temple. The temple was the centre of your religious practice and you went to the temple to make some kind of sacrifice which was performed and led for you by some kind of priest. Jesus announced a radical gear shift – a new covenant in which he would be the one great high priest anyone would need and he would make a once and for all sacrifice for everyone. Those who chose to trust and follow him would be a living temple that would change the world. He made the old system “obsolete” (Hebrews 8 v13) and ushered in a new movement that would replace the temple model. Many of us have been operating with a kind of temple model of church for a long time. We have prioritised attendance on Sundays and, however unintentionally, created a sense of “come to us and we’ll do faith to you” kind of model. That might be why we’re sometimes a bit stuck.

What if…

What if we were to shift gears and use Jesus as our driving instructor? What if we prioritised helping people to follow him and take next steps in their journey of faith and equipping them to do that? What if we reminded ourselves that the goal of discipleship is that people would be becoming more like Jesus and started by asking what that means and then how can we equip people to do that? What if we made our gathered events and activities about inspiring people to take their next step and then had tools and resources available to help them do that? What if our vision didn’t end with the number of bums on seats on a Sunday and instead was about the numbers of people we were inspiring and equipping to take next steps to follow Jesus? What if we got really intentional about organising our church and our resources around that kind of approach? That sounds like a gear shift that might actually start changing some things and unlocking some doors. Imagine a community of people committed to following Jesus and equipping other people to follow him too. Imagine a community of people regularly taking next steps to be more like Jesus and as church leaders imagine spending our time equipping people for those next steps that they can be taking at any time in any place not just in our buildings on a Sunday.

So What Are Your Next Steps?

What’s your plan, in your church, for intentionally helping people find and follow Jesus? Do you have one, do you know what it is and have you communicated it to your church community? Here are three suggested next steps you could take to begin the gear shift in discipleship for your church community to be able to answer ‘Yes’ to those questions.

1. The goal of discipleship is to help people become more like Jesus. Do you have a clear and easily communicated way of explaining what it looks like be more like Jesus? If not, get some bright people together from your church and figure that out.2. Make a list of all the things that you are doing to help people grow spiritually in your church, get your team together and ask a tough question: are these things part of an intentional and effective approach to equipping people to grow to be more like Jesus? What are we missing? What do we need to stop doing?

3. Identify how you can make changes to what you are doing to shift gears in your strategic and intentional approach to equipping people to take responsibility for their spiritual growth.

Chris Porter – Further Faster Network Lead Pastor, Andover Community church.

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