As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m reading the book Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (see my posts “Total Church Principles” and “Gospel, community, and beyond“). In this post, I want to talk about the seventh chapter of this book: “Discipleship and training”.
Remember that the authors have suggested that the church should be both gospel-centered and community-centered. What is the implications of this dual focus on discipleship? For me, community-based discipleship has been the focus of much study and many conversations over the last several months. So, I was interested to read what the authors had to say. They did not disappoint. Here are some excerpts:
It is in the family of God that I am able to care and be cared for, love and be loved, forgive and be forgiven, rebuke and be rebuked, encourage and be encouraged – all of which are essential to the task of being a disciple of the risen Lord Jesus. Too often, however, churches are not contexts for making disciples so much as occasions for acknowledging relative strangers. Experience teaches that there is also an inverse ratio at work: the larger the group, the more inevitable is the superficiality of the relationships. Instead of churches growing beyond the point of being able to sustain meaningful life-on-life family relationships, an alternative (and maybe essential) strategy would be to begin new congregations through church planting. (pg 112-113)
All too often people equate being word-centered with being sermon-centered. People argue for sermons by arguing for the centrality of God’s word, assuming that the word and the sermon are synonymous in Christian practice. It assumes God’s word can only be taught through sermons. Or people assume that the alternative to sermons is anarchy or relativism with no place for the Spirit-gifted teacher of God’s word, as if Spirit-gifted teachers can only exercise their gift through forty-five-minute monologues.
But our concern is not to reject the sermon. Monologue continues to have its place as one of the ways in which the Bible can and should be taught. It stands alongside other complementary methods such as dialog and discussion. Being word-centered is not less than being sermon-centered. Our contention is that being word-centered is so much more than being sermon-centered. (pg 114)
James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). We must not only listen to the word – we must put it into practice. Churches are full of people who love listening to sermons. But sermons count for nothing in God’s sight. We rate churches by whether they have good teaching or not. But James says great teaching counts for nothing. What counts is the practice of the word. What counts is teaching that leads to changed lives. We must never make good teaching an end in itself. Our aim must be good learning and good practice. And that is a radically different way of evaluating how word-centered we are. (pg 116)
Let us make a bold statement: truth cannot be taught effectively outside of close relationships. The reason is the truth is not primarily formal; it is dynamic. The truth of the gospel becomes compelling as we see it transforming lives in the rub of daily, messy relationships. (pg 118)
Here are some thoughts that I took away from this chapter:
- Discipleship does not occur in classes or large group settings. Discipleship occurs as we share life with one another.
- The church has placed too much emphasis on the sermon and on the pastor/teaching pastor/senior pastor. The church must shift the emphasis to each believer being responsible to teach and disciple others. I do not think most believers will do this as long as they can count on their pastor to do it for them and as long as the emphasis is placed on the sermon.
- Our goal is obedience both for ourselves and others. Our goal is not attendance or memorization or knowledge or education. We witness obedience through relationships. If our model of church or method of meeting hinders this type of close relationship, then we should change our model of church or method of meeting.
- The church continues to follow strangers – preachers, writers, speakers that we do not know. We cannot model their lives because we do not know their lives. But, discipleship comes through relationships as we help one another and walk together.
What do you think?