Let me tell you a story. Recently, a Christian Reformed church member from Thorold, Ont., felt called to minister to inmates at a local prison. He met one man who was feeling stuck. He’d read his Bible, but only a few pages at a time. It just didn’t ring true to him.
Then the CRC member was given some materials produced by the Canadian Aboriginal Ministries Committee, which he passed along to the inmate. The materials helped to provide a link between Christianity and Indigenous culture. When the inmate engaged with these materials, it struck a chord. Suddenly the gospel message made sense. He began reading his Bible more and asking questions. It was a moment of a wandering sheep being welcomed back into the Shepherd’s fold. It opened up doors for that inmate to what Peter described as “perfecting” oneself into increasing Christ-likeness (2 Pet. 3:14; Matt. 5:48). That’s discipleship.
We often think of discipleship as an individual’s activity between themselves and God, or possibly amongst two people with one ‘discipling’ the other, as in the beautiful example above. But let’s stretch this a little. Can you imagine an entire church, classis, or even denomination “doing” discipleship? I think the answer is a resounding yes.
Consider this example from the Bible. Peter, James, and John were called out of their careers to follow Christ. For years they watched, learned, thought about, and dwelt not on themselves but on the teachings and instruction of their Rabbi, Jesus. By concentrating on Jesus and not on themselves, they understood that everything they received from Jesus was forming them for leadership together in whatever version of the kingdom Jesus was bringing.
How different this seems from the world we live in. Modern teachers such as Tim Keller have described our current age by saying, “The individual quest for autonomous expression and fulfillment is the driving value. In other words, the dominant culture that pervades all of us is to focus on ourselves.”
This desire to focus on ourselves can permeate our church. Think of your church and ask yourself a few of these illustrative questions.
- When you think about council meetings, congregational meetings or small groups, how much time is spent on internal “business” as opposed to corporate and God-centered worship, prayer, and spiritual discernment?
- Is the ministry of your local church connected as much to ministry efforts that see beyond your local setting to national (Centre for Public Dialogue) and international (Back to God Ministries, Resonate, or World Renew) mission as it is on its own most immediate surrounding?
- What portion of your church budget is dedicated to internal fellowship matters compared to external outreach and evangelism?
I ask these questions so that we all might consider appropriate Christ-centered postures of corporate discipleship.
With this in mind, I’m very pleased with the reorientation that was outlined in our shared ministry plan, Our Journey 2020. The second major goal of that plan states this desired future, “Our churches will be vibrant communities, radiating grace. As we preach, teach, and live out the gospel within and beyond our walls, we nurture people of all generations as they grow into the likeness of Christ Jesus.” That’s an outward focussed, other-centered goal.
The ministries and agencies of the denomination have shifted their posture to really be able to support local congregations as they live out this vision. I look forward to seeing how God will use us—as congregations, classes, and as a whole denomination―to continue to foster discipleship together.