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Why the missional movement will fail | Part 2

September 20, 2011

My last post, “Why the Missional Movement will fail” caused quite a stir in the past week and the overwhelming response seemed to require a followup post. So consider this PART TWO.

There were a few questions that emerged in online conversation because of this article:

  1. How am I defining disciple/discipleship?
  2. Am I separating mission from discipleship? Aren’t they part and parcel the same thing?
  3. Why am I making this complicated? Can’t we just do what Jesus says and stop talking about this stuff?
  4. What should we do about it?

Defining a disciple is fairly easy, in my view. The greek word mathetes is the word that scripture uses for “disciple” and it means learner. In other words, disciples are people who LEARN to be like Jesus and learn to do what Jesus could do. One great writer on discipleship put it this way: Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.

A disciple is someone who, with increased intentionality and passing time, has a life and ministry that looks more and more like the life and ministry of Jesus. They increasingly have his heart and character and are able to do the types of things we see Jesus doing. We don’t have to look far in the New Testament to see this happening. Just look at the life of the disciples/ apostles and the communities they led…over time, they looked more and more like Jesus!

How did the church go from 120 people in an upper room to more than 50% of the Roman Empire in about 250 years? Simple. They had a way of reproducing the life of Jesus in disciples (in real, flesh-and-blood people) who were able to do the things we read Jesus doing in the Gospels.

Is that still the way we see Christians or have we moved the goal post? I have to wonder if we’ve changed our criteria to match the kind of fruit our communities are now producing. Many are now fine with Christians who show up to our churches, are generally nice people, do some quiet times, tithe and volunteer. Maybe they even have a little missional bent to them. These are all good things, but I don’t think this is the kind of “fruit” Jesus was referring to when he talked about fruitfulness in John 15. Would those kinds of people change the world like the early church did?

Probably not.

In truth, I think we are pretty bad at making disciples in the Western church. Why? Because I look at the life of Jesus, the life of the disciples, the life of the early church and what they were able to produce with their fruit…and then I look at ours. When we read scripture and the texture of their lives and ministry, do we think that ours holds up to it? Even if we have a growing church, do the lives of the people we lead look like the lives of people we see in scripture? That’s the goal post we should be going after.

I’ve heard Dallas Willard say that every church should be able to answer two questions: First, what is our plan for making disciples? Second, does our plan work? I believe most communities have a plan for discipleship. I’m not convinced many plans are working the way Jesus is hoping they will — and that’s why we’re in trouble.

I think the fruit of our lives will reveal the root of our lives. So if we are creating disciples who are far from the people we see in scripture as the rule and not the exception, we must ask ourselves why this is the case and how we can change that reality.

Undoubtedly, one of the key components to being a disciple is to care deeply about mission. In Christendom, it seemed that people thought of discipleship as only an “inner” reality that sought the transformation of the individual and mission was left on the sideline. As we have come to re-embrace the mission Dei — the reality that the God of mission sent his Son as the great rescuer and we are to imitate him — I wonder if some within the “missional movement” are far more concerned with being missionaries/reformers than also seeking the transformation and wholeness that Christ is offering them personally.

What concerns me is that we have gone ditch to ditch. The reality is that both things are at work in being a disciple. The reality of living more fully in the Kingdom of God is that we are being back put together through God’s grace, conforming more to the image of Jesus, having his heart and mind, and the overflow leads to Kingdom activity. That is why Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Apart from the active work of Jesus in our life we cannot produce Kingdom fruit. To engage in Kingdom mission without being equally attentive to our own personal transformation (through relationship with the King) is like asking for a cheeseburger with no cheese. It stops being the very thing we’re asking for! By the same token, to be a “disciple” while not actively engaging in mission as a way of life is asking for a cheeseburger with no burger. Both are necessary. To be a disciple is to be a missionary.

If we look at it objectively, we see churches with discipling cultures (that focus mainly on the transformation of individual self) and churches with missional cultures (which focus on the transformation of the world/people around us) and we often see tensions between these two camps.

One has a clue, but no cause. The other has a cause, but no clue. High mission/low discipleship church cultures have issues with Biblical literacy, theological reflection and deficiencies in character and Creed that, in the end, sabotage the very mission they’re about. Critics are rightly concerned that these kinds of churches are a hair’s breath away from heresy, with people largely not experiencing the depth and transformation of heart and mind Jesus invites us into. High discipleship/low mission church cultures have strength in the previous issues, but lack the adventurous spirit/ heart of compassion and Kingdom compulsion that so stirred the Father into action that he sent his only Son to a world he so loved. Their transformation isn’t leading to the place God is taking them. Critics are rightly concerned that these kinds of churches will turn into Christian ghettos, creating people who lob “truth bombs” over their high, secure walls, creating an “us vs. them” mentality. In both, something is disastrously off.

As humans, we are creatures of overreaction, choosing polarities rather than living in tension. The truth is, a TRUE discipling culture (as Jesus envisioned it) must have both. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. We mustn’t choose between depth and breadth, but embrace the tension of having and shaping both in our communities.

At the end of the day, we can probably boil being a disciple down to two things: Character and Competency. We want the character that Jesus has and we want to be able to do the things that Jesus could do (competency). Discipleship is learning, over the course of our lives, to become people who have both. 

So how we are forming/discipling the people in our communities? This is only helpful if we’re truly honest.

  • Character: Are their lives characterized by grace? Peace? Love? Transformation? Patience? Humility? A deep relationship with the Father? A love of the scriptures? Can they submit?  Do they see the world through the eyes of the Kingdom and not the prevailing culture? (Obviously there’s a lot more, but you get the idea.)
  • Competency: Can they disciple people well who can then disciple others? Can they do mission well? Can they hear the voice of their Father and respond with action, with His authority and power? When they pray, do things happen as they did for Jesus? Can they read and teach scripture well? (Again, Jesus was able to do many things, this is but a short summary.)

These are Kingdom questions. These are Discipleship questions. Which is why I go back to the point that if you make disciples, you will always get the church, but if you make the church, you won’t always get disciples. If the people in your community are discipling people who can answer “yes” to those questions, you’re doing what Jesus asked you to do. You’ve sought first the Kingdom and the rest will be added. Look at it through this matrix:

Finally, discipleship is about faithfulness and reflection. We need to be faithful and obedient to the things Jesus has asked of us (when it comes to character and competency) and let him control outcomes. At the same time, we need to be reflective about whether we’re good at the things Jesus could do. Jesus is calling us to be faithful, but he’s also asking us to get better, in “his strength which so powerfully works through us,” at the Kingdom things he could do. If we’re not good at something, let’s just not say, “It’s OK, I’m faithful.” I’d argue that faithfulness also requires us being honest and reflective about whether we’re good at the things Jesus could do, seeking to become better. Faithfulness and reflection. It requires us living in tension. He wants both, and if we embrace both, we take the posture of a learner.

So what do you think? Am I way off? Am I missing something? Is this a fair assessment?

If you’re interested in how we’ve made these kinds of disciples, you can check out the book we released on the subject here.

DISCIPLESHIP + MISSION WORKSHOP: Lastly, because of the outpouring of response for this particular blog series, we’ve decided to put together a time when people who are interested in further discussion, who are interested in seeing how mission and discipleship play off of each other in a practical way, can come together. It’s nothing terribly official or slick, it’s cheap and it’s going to be a 2.5 day workshop on discipleship and mission, diving into the practical outcomes of this discussion for church communities. We are capping it at 200 people and it’s December 13-15 of this year. You can click here to register.

60 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011 5:25 pm

    Thank you mike – that is absolutely bang on. It’s such a relief to hear someone talk sense. I was in the middle of an article called ‘discpleship is the hope of the nation’ but I think I’ll scrap it and just re-post this.

  2. September 20, 2011 6:02 pm

    Just finished reading “Building A Discipling Culture” while on vacation this past week. What a great book! I think it is a brilliant call to return to the ways of Jesus in making disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples….

    In 16 years of local church ministry, I’ve never talked to a pastor or church that doesn’t want to make disciples. However, I haven’t talked to a single pastor who can confidently say that they are doing a good job making disciples. The problem is that we’re looking for a cookie cutter, mass-production, “take these 4 classes,” “run the bases in order” approach instead of the messy, life-on-life, relationship-based, going-through-life-together form that Jesus modeled. We’re looking for the “Henry Ford” mass-production, assembly line method of discipleship. But it doesn’t exist! And we’ve invested too much time, energy and resources on our programs that are making consumers instead of disciples, but they do justify our full-time salaries! (Note: I’m a full-time worship pastor who is really struggling with all of this and ready to chuck it all, get a secular job and pursue true discipleship like Mike and the other guys at 3DM are doing)

    • September 26, 2011 4:26 pm

      I’m thankful that my discipleship has largely occurred one on one, from men who took the time to share their lives with me, and not any programmed approach.

      • September 28, 2011 2:38 am

        I think it is a both/and rather than either/or. There is a place for teaching, but discipleship definitely has a 1:1 foundation.

  3. September 20, 2011 7:14 pm

    I spent a lot of wasted time in college trying to do mission when I wasn’t paying attention to my walk with God. It resulted in me trying to do things in my own power, which resulted in a string of failures and frustrations.

    Great point about discipleship requiring mission. If we define discipleship as becoming like Christ, then mission is clearly necessary! Jesus did a lot of mission, and he challenged his disciples to do mission as well.

  4. September 20, 2011 7:50 pm

    I was one of the people who responded to the last post about discipleship. This resonates more and addresses the concerns I had with the last post. There are few things I might take issue with but they would definately be more peripheral than central. All in all I think he hit the nail on the head.

  5. Lori permalink
    September 20, 2011 8:11 pm

    “If we look at it objectively, we see churches with discipling cultures (that focus mainly on the transformation of individual self) and churches with missional cultures (which focus on the transformation of the world/people around us) and we often see tensions between these two camps.”

    What if our church is neither? ugh!

    • September 26, 2011 4:28 pm

      1) pray for wisdom and what God would have you do 2) show these posts to your leaders 3) help to change the culture at the church 4) if the leaders aren’t interested, find a different church

  6. September 20, 2011 8:20 pm

    Seems so abundantly clear to understand, but challenging to work out. The biggest mistake I have ever made as a disciple, a result of some shifting goal posts no doubt, was the misguided belief that the logical outcome of my deep desire to love and serve the Lord was to do it full time, vocationally. I am not saying that my life in “:professional” ministry has been a mistake, not at all. I am saying that I simply did not know, I’m serious, I did not know, that I could become who Jesus was and learn to do what Jesus did without being in “full time service” I did not have the grasp of discipleship as Mike explains it, so I couldn’t envision being a welder or a businessman and living in such a level of growing-active discipleship. No regrets, but I don’t sit on some pedestal either. Very well done, Mike.

  7. September 20, 2011 8:38 pm

    I’m new to this blog, but I’ve got a few questions. First off, thanks for thinking on these things and helping to pursue rich conversations around them.
    What is troubling about both posts that you done recently on the missional church, is that 1). you seem to be confusing missional with activist– and to be more specific activism which arises out of identity politics. Everyone knows this is dead and if they don’t they’ll sure figure it out soon enough. And 2). your sense of character seems all-too-individual. Character cannot be an individual endeavor–in fact, there’s no such thing as an “individual” in the extreme sense of that word. We have to understand character instead as the formation of virtues–that is the shaping of our lives through learned habits and practices, which I think gets more to what “mathetes” actually means. Discipleship is about a form of life, and forms of life can only be embodied by communities. With this idea, I’m assuming you’d agree. But what is not clear in your post is the degree to which Americans in particular inhabit a form of life that overdetermines their lives–namely, capitalism or the market. To this extent, no simple equation is going to help us make better disciples (which by the way, I’m not so sure Jesus was good at–after all most gave up on him and even the eleven that do seem to be completely mistaken as to why they are following him). What we need are experimental communities that provide opportunities to live beyond the form of life of capital. I’ve no doubt that many “missional” communities do not see this as what they are doing either, but I also want to point out that your claim that they will fail is somewhat determined by the fact that you define “discipleship” in a way different than some of these communities may. For instance, taking Eucharist may be a more important practice of discipleship in a world dominated by competition and market exchange than a deep devotion to reading scripture. One would be hard pressed to argue that reading scripture by oneself has always been a defining mark of discipleship since for most of the church’s history the overwhelming majority of its members have been illiterate-including many of the clergy. My sense then is that the missional church may be teaching us something about discipleship, and maybe something about discipleship that your definition does not include. Hence, whether the missional movement continues to exist or not may not be the right question or the point. Maybe we should be asking: what is the Spirit teaching us by prompting folks to begin to actively work against the present order of our world? Just maybe our notion of discipleship is all too individual, making it all too easy for capitalism to repackage our faith and sell it back to us. Maybe we need some practices and activities that are more aimed to the larger, structural principalities and powers that have a hold on our world.

    • September 21, 2011 11:40 am

      DPRhodes: Couldn’t say much in way of disagreement with what you’ve written here. I certainly don’t mean to presume that discipleship is something that is strictly something that the “individual” does or that we aren’t marked and characterized by community formation. More than anything, I’m simply constrained by the size of what a blog post is supposed to be (and I’m told these are far too long already!). When I speak of “Character” and having the character of Jesus, my understanding is that character is shaped in my ways. Clearly, some of that formation happens when we are by ourselves and no one is looking. There are spiritual disciplines that are disciplines for the individual while they are alone. However, like you have so rightly stated, there is a type of character formation that comes with participation in community that serves as an alternative community or prophetic witness that, because we are part of the same body, shapes us (and the community as we all participate) in a particular way. In my opinion, your last paragraph was fantastic. “What is the Spirit teaching us by prompting folks to begin to actively work against the present order of our world?” What a great question. If you haven’t had a chance, it’s definitely worth reading some Yoder and Hauewas on this. I think they have some keen insights on what it means to be this kind of covenantal, prophetic community that is concerned with these things. Also, I think Wesley had some excellent things to say on our inability to be disciples apart from community formation and societal transformation. Great thoughts! Thanks for visiting the blog.

      • September 24, 2011 1:56 pm

        Hey Mike,
        Thanks for the reply. I’m very familiar with both Hauerwas and Yoder, as was probably evident from my comments. I do still wonder, as I read through the other comments, whether folks can hear what you’re saying in any other register than the rampant individualism and consumerism of our culture. Part of the problem people have with remedying this division, i.e. mission vs discipleship, is that they tend to think it completely on an individual level and with regard to a false understanding of a will that can only be doing one thing, i.e. missionizing or discipling, at one time. However, when we think with Yoder, and begin to see that the first missional step of the church is simply to be the church–and that means to live the precarious and dangerous life of refusing violence, sharing our possessions, offering forgiveness and love, then we display to the world a new social and political order that points it toward what God has ultimately called it to be. I guess what I’m saying is that without the social and political nature of the gospel both what we mean by “mission” and “discipleship” become unintelligible. And this is more of the heart of the confusion around and competition over these terms in the U.S.

    • September 26, 2011 4:50 pm

      Discipleship is simultaneously individualistic (me and you, me and God) and communal (me and my brothers and sisters in Christ, God and his church). Maybe one of the imbalances to watch out for in discipleship is individual vs. community. Too much individual and we become monk-ish. Too much community and we become cult-ish. Jesus spent time with each disciple but he also spent time with them all together. He also took time to be alone with his Father.

  8. Leah permalink
    September 20, 2011 8:51 pm

    A lot of what you are saying its excellent. We are called to be like Christ, making disciples. It is deeply important to share the love of Jesus by being like him.
    The problem is that we are all sinful and will inevitably fail in being just like Jesus (Romans 3:23). The focus should not simply be to be like Jesus. Any works-based religion can tell you that you should be good. What distinguishes Christianity from every other religion is that salvation is based on what Christ has already done, not what we do. (Romans 3:24) The focus should be glorifying the one whose love never fails and who already made the ultimate sacrifice.
    Your model is beautiful and I pray that God richly blesses your ministry. My deepest prayer is that in all of your endeavors, the love of Christ is shared. Jesus saves, not us. We are simply his instruments.

  9. Ian permalink
    September 21, 2011 4:09 am

    Mike – love this discussion. I’m based in Australia so unable to attend the December workshop. Are there plans to record it in some way so that those who are unable to attend may at least be able to capture the discussion either live or after the event?


  10. September 21, 2011 5:19 am

    Mike, this is a keeper! I’ll be passing it along and revisiting it along the journey…Thanks for your faithfulness and partnership.

  11. September 21, 2011 7:26 am

    Brilliant! The Jesus-kind of discipleship goes hand in hand with a life that showcases the truth of Jesus to the world; ‘discipleship’ and ‘mission’ are not to be separated!

    Love your writing Mike.

  12. September 21, 2011 3:14 pm

    I have to agree. As one who travels the country teaching lay persons how to care for the wounded souls and spirits of those in their community, we frquently have to go back to basic foundationall issues of the faith before we can give them more tools; starting with such topics as ‘the goodness of God, the everyday neccessity of forgiveness, staying out of judgment, refusing to make vows, and the like; fodder that every disciple should know because that’s the way we get to live. And these are the local “activists’ who’s godly compassion has compelled them to serve others. The church is sick because we are far more desirous of the wine and have disdained the bread. It is both/and.

  13. Todd Hare permalink
    September 21, 2011 3:52 pm

    I am a first timer on your blog and really like it. I connect with much of what your wrote about discipleship and share your passion.

    Your title was jolting for many planters for sure, but movements inevitably become monsters who cannot be controlled or usually even managed.
    I wonder if movements are the modern day planned ‘revivals’ without the embarrassment of telling everyone Holy Spirit is showing up at our church, during this week only, at this time, for all those who come. (Attempts to get more people)

    Or, attempts made by the leadership of Denominations etc, to figure out how to get more people to OUR churches, attract more people to increase budgets or pawn off their younger ministers to follow the Lord’s call on their lives in Planting Churches, simply because they cannot afford to keep them on staff.

    I DO believe Holy Spirit ‘moves’ through our plans, attempts and movements in spite of our foolishness. I also believe many churches have planned revivals etc with good intentions of attracting the lost to hear the Gospel and therefore become disciples.

    I guess all in all I aim to say, I am opposed to the Corporate America model of leadership in the church today where the staff has a President, CEO, CFO etc. This mindset is largely fueling these MISSION MOVEMENTS!!! This model also leads us down the path of ‘marketing the church’. I am not sure how we can avoid marketing ourselves to the world when it is the way we communicate who we are in the 21st century, but I do know one thing for certain. If we stop worrying about being the next big cool church, with newer state of the art facilities, the best bands and …fill in the blank, just to attract more people and actually make disciples like its the first century, we are well on our way to real kingdom expansion, for the glory of God.

    I would like to figure out a way to contact every church in America to ask their leaderships to seriously consider removing all monetary allocations budgeted for marketing of their churches for five years. This would include ‘outreach’ literature mailed in each city, billboards with church info., phone book ads, websites etc…might as well throw in Facebook even though its free for principle sake. The impact would be massive! Instantly all churches are involved in mission, real mission. People in our churches then have to be honest with themselves about where they are in terms of discipleship. They MUST verbally communicate with those in their communities who are looking for a place to worship. Actually sharing their faith becomes not only the pastors job but a joyous journey in their own pilgrimage. Living out their faith in community becomes a reality….a priority and is infectious to people in their cities, hopefully beginning with the neighbors across the street.

    I need to shut now………great blog Mike

    Todd Hare

    • September 26, 2011 5:01 pm

      good word comparing movements with revivals – both have intentional and organic natures

  14. Robert Thomas permalink
    September 21, 2011 4:23 pm

    “If you are not attracting the same people that Jesus attracted, your message needs to be fixed.”

    • September 26, 2011 5:05 pm

      Jesus attracted all types. Perhaps a larger % were the poor and outcast, but he also attracted businessmen (Peter), government workers (Matthew), religious leaders (Nicodemus) and professionals (Paul). And you are right: if we are not attracting a cross-section of people from society, then our message is flawed.

  15. Dana permalink
    September 21, 2011 8:49 pm

    As usual, real nuggets throughout these two posts. As a fan of the same writer you referred to, I often have thought of having “WWJDIHWMIAGS” bracelets made, as in: “What Would Jesus Do If He Were Me In Any Given Situation?”

  16. mikekeaton permalink
    September 21, 2011 9:15 pm

    i had the privilege to sit in on some of the teaching at your last conference in GA. I couldn’t agree more with your blog posts. Right on the mark!! i have had these very discussions with key leaders in our church and to my sadness have not turned out well. We started out being very intentional in our disciple-making efforts, but turned toward compassion based ministries as part of that disciple-making focus only to find the tail wagging the dog, so to speak!

    the Lord has re-empassioned me for turning us back to getting the “horse back in front of the cart”, but it is slow and lonely feeling. I want to come in December. Lord willing I will see you there!! Blessings…

  17. September 21, 2011 10:14 pm

    You hit the mark! It is great to find another like minded disciple maker. Check out some very similar thoughts on Keep banging this drum!

  18. Martin Hill permalink
    September 22, 2011 6:40 am

    You know I am with you all the way in this brother. You do make the most relevant point between discipling and missional churches not generally crossing the great divide between one another and some tension in that place. I don’t believe the reason why the church grew from 120 people to 50% of the Roman empire in 250 years was quite so simple. The principal is right though. World transforming faith does begin with Jesus shaped transformation in the heart. In our post-Christendom Western society we face the challenge of deconstructing the assumption that Christian community is about religious observance and conformity which is seen as spiritually oppressive to biblical and holy disciplined lives in communion with God and others. It isn’t about creating a them and us barricade from which to throw truth bombs (I love that analogy) but about walking as Jesus did. Which of the two is more challenging I ask? The latter I reply to myself! Peace to you. Keep on thinking with the transformed mind of a learner of Jesus seeking to become more like Jesus. Truth be told I see his life in yours whenever we ‘meet’.

  19. Natalee permalink
    September 22, 2011 10:16 am

    Where does the Holy Spirit and miracles fit in here? Isn’t that what the disciples did?

    • September 22, 2011 11:20 am

      I think you could definitely argue for it, Natalee. I think that’s competency that both Jesus, the disciples and the NT church had through the power of the Spirit.

      • Natalee permalink
        September 22, 2011 8:40 pm

        Do you think it is possible for the church today to continue walking as disciples of Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit?

  20. Jeremy Erb permalink
    September 22, 2011 4:09 pm

    Great follow up! Thanks so much for sharing!

  21. September 22, 2011 6:04 pm

    Right on track and why so many of us believe that to achieve this requires the communal vision and energy the early church exhibited – we need more transformissional communities

  22. September 22, 2011 10:32 pm

    Thanks for what you have been posting. Finding it both provocative and helpful.

    Something I have been thinking about that I would love your opinion on. Some of the churches Paul planted seem to have been low on character but high on competency. In fact many of the letters in the NT were written because of this deficiency. It just makes me wonder whether the early Christians were as thoroughly discipled as we might think?

    • September 22, 2011 11:06 pm

      Great insight, James. I think the thing the NT churches had was the ability to be teachable. In the 4 letter Paul sent to the Corinthians (two of which we actually have), there are all kinds of maturity issues going on with massive amounts of character deficiencies. At the same time, tracking with those same letters, we see a lot of growth on their part (and in the other churches…Thessalonica being another good example). I don’t think we are saying there is perfect character, but a willingness to let or character be shaped into the likeness of Christ through the maturity of others.

      • September 23, 2011 8:11 am

        Thanks Mike. That is very helpful. I think some of us in the past – me included! – have had a kind of “sort your character and then you can do ministry” approach – and then in reaction swung more in the other direction. Perhaps it’s more a case of thinking of character and competency as twin tracks running in parallel with each other. Anyway, thanks again. Enjoying your blog very much.

  23. September 23, 2011 1:46 pm

    The exchange of comments between Breen and Glass was very good. I learned something. Thanks.

  24. September 23, 2011 10:17 pm

    Although I echo your take on discipleship, I feel you could’ve written your previous post without the forecast of impending doom of the missional church. It is, in my opinion, far more poignant towards conventional churches today seem to eschew the values of discipleship.


    If we look at it objectively, we see churches with discipling cultures (that focus mainly on the transformation of individual self) and churches with missional cultures (which focus on the transformation of the world/people around us) and we often see tensions between these two camps………..One has a clue, but no cause. The other has a cause, but no clue.

    A couple of thoughts. My context in Canada is obviously different, but I know of exceptionally few churches that have a strong discipling culture.

    On the other end of the spectrum there are those with ’cause but no clue’. I agree, these churches swung to the other ditch! But I wonder (without more data I cannot say for sure) whether the number of missional churches without a ‘clue’ are in the same percentage of discipling cultures that have no ’cause’ (as in that percentage is comparatively small).

    I do’nt think you’re suggesting it, but churches with a missional identity are not automatically in the ditch, far from in fact.

    Which then leads us to conclude that it’s not the death of missional to lament, it’s the 90% of churches in the middle who aren’t doing anything at all.

  25. September 24, 2011 2:00 am

    Mike, I really appreciate your last two posts on discipleship. I’m a friend of Ben Sternke, so I hear him talk about this all the time too!

    I’ve been involved in college ministry in the US for the past 10 years and I wonder if some of the confusion about “missional” and “discipleship” is because the word “discipleship” often is viewed as an inward focused one-on-one event – a bible study, prayer time, or conversation over coffee talking about life and God. Discipleship, at least in my corner of the college ministry world in Chicagoland, is at is essence an inward character building thing.

    Some of us have been using the term “missional discipleship” to try to get around the inward connotations that the word “discipleship” brings. It’s sad that the word discipleship has that connotation, but that’s how language goes, right? (And again, I’m just speaking from my “tribe” but I believe that this is pretty common)

    For you, though, discipleship doesn’t seem to have this connotation….and I wonder if this brings a bit of confusion in the discussion here.

    Thanks for continuing to exhort us to see discipleship as a the whole package – the character and skills of Jesus.

    • September 26, 2011 5:14 pm

      That’s a great point, Luke, and I tend to agree. I wonder why we get confused about the group nature of discipleship though, when most of our Gospels are group discipleship efforts from Jesus to his guys? I can only conclude that we let our cultural individualism rule over our understanding of Scripture. In other cultures, discipleship is highly communal for the opposite reason: that they elevate community over individuals. What we need is a healthy tension between one-on-one and group discipleship.

  26. September 26, 2011 1:12 pm

    I found this article more helpful than the first one. I’m not usually big on diagrams, but this one was very helpful to show the necessary balance between character and competency.

    “Missional” is a buzz word that not everyone is familiar with, so I think it would be good to either explain it better or just not use it.

  27. September 26, 2011 4:18 pm

    I say you are right on.

    There is always a temptation too for the minister of God to care better for the souls of others than for his own soul. Why? I guess we forget that Jesus is on mission with us like he is with those we are reaching?

  28. Fitzroy Othello Jr permalink
    September 27, 2011 1:57 pm

    Amen! We have forgotten that it is ALL about being slaves to the Spirit of Christ as Paul was. We now follow the doctrines and laws of men instead of living by a constant flow of words from the mouth of God. We have replaced the truth for a lie and a delusion as we steadfastly REFUSE to deny ourselves pick up our crosses and follow Jesus the Christ each day!

  29. September 27, 2011 3:12 pm

    Mike, excellent articulation of our problem. I’m reading Building a Disciple making culture and obviously these are reiterated. The epidemic is institutional seminaries are perpetuating such disciples that are not necessarily transformed. In fact, most experience a stunted spiritual walk 2 to 3 years after their seminary experience. When these seminarians, and I can say this because I’ve jumped through that seminary hoop twice, we come out to our churches and perpetuate knowledge of bible that is not transformational (is it really bible in that case?) and we spend a majority of our budgets on building comforts so we can worship our version of God in a climate controlled, high def setting. Every Christian is a disciple and every disciple disciples! That is biblical. Paul had a plan for planting and establishing [sterizo] disciples and communities that were benefactors to the community. Keep writing…I’m learning and going to have a 3DM discussion next month with one of your guys. I’ve also learned alot of this from the Antioch School for Church planting and Leadership Development. You guys still need to meet, but missed each other at the church planting conference in Florida. What a blessing and prophetic voice you have to us. I pray you remain faithful and continue to teach us.

  30. Gary Swenson permalink
    September 28, 2011 1:57 am

    A very insightful, balanced, and well written article Mike. My first time on your blog … I work with pastors & churches in Australia ..and the need to address Discipleship has recently become a major focus in the Movement I’m part of. The western church must be able to contextualize both mission and disciple making into 21st Century life & culture. I look forward to your future blogs.

  31. September 28, 2011 3:31 am

    I made a longer comment on the CT site where this was posted ( (i am a newcomer to this site), but there is a bigger issue here, that of separating mission from discipleship, of separating being (who we are) from mission (what we do). That is a big reason why we are in this mess. Mission without discipleship is not mission, and discipleship without mission is not discipleship.

    In terms of your definition of discipleship: Our part in discipleship is surrender, God’s part is to change us through the power of the Holy Spirit as we respond to God’s grace in our life. We can spend too much time trying to control others in our discipleship rather than empower them. You do reflect this in your summary, but the challenge, as always, is, “So What?” If this is true, what do we do with it? We have to get back to challenge people on the commitment level and provide curriculum and opportunities that allow for putting these things in practice. That is how I understand the missional church – it is living 24/7 your commitment that comes out of community (the body of Christ).

  32. October 1, 2011 10:30 am

    Good stuff guys. Discipleship is achieved as we relate with God and others in the revelation and manifestation of His Logos who is Jesus.

  33. December 2, 2011 9:57 am

    Not convinced that mission without a discipleship core is mission, its just activity. That’s really where the argument breaks down. It is really a false dichotomy and not a helpful one though we do need to be reminded about discipleship. But here is the problem, few in the west have really figured out how to reproduce disciples in an intentional way though somehow we often manage to do it nonetheless. We have two challenges – our history (we used to be able to rely on a Christian culture to do this) and the secular capitalistic culture of late modernity which always produces highly individualistic, atomistic people who struggle with the notion of discipleship. For too many years we have sought to build individual disciples whereas in reality this needs to be worked out in and through accountable relationships.


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  6. Make Disciples? Great Q’s for churches: « Lane Corley
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  10. Breen on Discipleship « An Unchanging Message in a Changing World – Thoughts from Tim Schaaf @ CGS Lynnwood
  11. Why the missional movement will fail – Part the second. « Dot Cotton's Handbag

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