Our STRATEGY for seeing God’s kingdom expressed here on earth is the same strategy Jesus modeled as He walked the earth. He trained and empowered people to have his character and his skill leading people to a life on mission. So then, our GOAL is that every follower of Jesus would be growing in these two areas – living and leading like Jesus.
Growing in the character of Jesus includes things like, compassion, love for enemies, peace, joy, faithfulness, honesty, integrity, purity of mind, humility and the like. Growing in the skills of Jesus would include things like praying for spiritual breakthrough and healing, discipling others, communicating the gospel, speaking the truth in love, protecting the weak and marginalized, empowering groups and freeing people from evil or oppression.
Jesus did not simply sit the disciples down, provide loads of information in “the way” and then set them loose to implement it in their own way. He invited them into a covenant relationship and challenged them to step deeper into the life that God had for each of them and their extended families. He modeled what it meant to be a disciple, trained them in the skills of living and leading a kingdom life, and gave them opportunities to experience it for themselves. He then sent them out to do everything he said and did. Jesus moved from providing information, to giving them an imitable example to follow, to empowering them to innovate on the principals in their own context (Figure 1). We need to follow the same example as we invest in others.
There was also a significant element of shared-life in Jesus’ model of discipleship. It was more than just a number of rhythmic, formal meetings. Jesus invited them to share life with Him. Sure, they met in organized settings, where He gave instruction, cast vision, and allowed for the application of skills. However, at other times he interacted with them in more informal or organic ways. We want to actively pursue the development of this culture of discipleship at Grace Gathering. Every discipling relationship will naturally include an organized/formal element, where information is shared, discussed and where every disciple can be challenged with some new way of observing and living and leading towards a kingdom life. However, if we are to desire to disciple in the way of Jesus, our relationships must include some level of a shared-life as well. (Figure 2)
In a shared life we, EAT, PRAY, PLAY, SHARE resources, and engage in MISSIONAL activity together (Acts 2:42-47). In modern American culture it’s difficult enough to envision doing these things with those in our immediate family, let alone with those outside the family. This is paradigm shift that we must make into order to disciple in the way of Jesus. It often helps by realizing that Jesus defined “family” as those who do the will of God (Matt 12:48). We must broaden our definition of family to include those in whom we are investing. So, then the question becomes “What ways can we structure our personal and family rhythms to create opportunities that open our lives to include those in whom we are investing?”
We can get a better picture of what this looks like practically by imaging a continuum (Figure 3) from low bar shared-life activities to more high bar ones. Low bar activities could include grabbing a coffee together, going to the theater or a sporting event together, sending a text to encourage someone or simply to let them know you are praying for them. You could ask for prayer, loan out a lawn tool, a grill, a coffee maker, etc, visit a nursing home together, or join one another to care for the lawn of a hurting or needy neighbor. These are simple ways to share life in meaningful ways.
As you move to the right on the continuum you can think in terms of making a greater commitment or personal sacrifice, such as inviting them to a meal in your home on a regular basis, making a shared purchase of a home appliance, a vehicle, or a vacation property, leading or serving together in a mission community or having someone actually move into your home. These are but a few pictures of shared-life. There are obviously an infinite number of ways to step into in a shared-life in today’s world. At the root of this transition is both opening up your mind to see the things you are already doing as an opportunity to invite others into your life and seeing the development of any new rhythms in the same light.
This PROCESS towards reaching the end goal of every disciple growing in living and leading like Jesus is a cultural change and requires time, effort and essentially a shift in some key elements in our lives – many of which have become culturally established norms.
The DNA of Discipleship at Grace Gathering
As we observe Jesus develop the culture around him, several key characteristics/elements seem to stand out. These elements are the DNA we want to breath into our discipling relationships at Grace Gathering.
Jesus was intentional about challenging his disciples to grow both in heart/character, as well as equipping them in the skills of doing and leading ministry themselves. He was the Master. They were His apprentices. He led them towards understanding and speaking his words, doing His works and living in His ways, always knowing that one day they would be responsible for taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Secondly, compared to the incredible need before Him, he invited a relative few to join him on the journey. It was neither a single person, nor the multitude that Jesus called into his life. There were twelve invitations, though we can assume by inviting these men, the investment reached to their families as well. He spent time with many other people, but none had access to Jesus like these twelve men and their families. He did seem to connect more deeply with three of the twelve, but we don’t see Jesus setting an example of discipling in a one-on-one setting long term.
Neither do we see Jesus set an example of teaching and training in merely organized instruction. Like I mentioned before, He shared life with His disciples. He also stepped into their lives and the lives of their families. They ate together. They prayed together. They played together. They shared resources. They served together. They also spent time in quiet places, receiving teaching from him, but it was always in the midst of living a shared life.
During their time together the disciples learned from Jesus a new language and set of tools with which to navigate a spiritual landscape. Jesus opened their eyes to new ways of seeing, new ways of discovering, new ways of interacting with people far from His Father.
Jesus had the ability to demonstrate an uncompromising, unconditional love for his family of disciples. His invitation to relationship was(/is) a covenantal one – “Nothing can separate us.” However, He lived a life full of grace AND truth. He was always being ready to challenge a false belief, worldly wisdom, untrue word or any other detail that contradicted an eternal reality. Only in a selfless, secure, relationship can such a dynamic exist. It is the responsibility of every discipler to love and sharpen every disciple.
If there was ever any doubt in the minds of the disciples that Jesus invested in them for their own benefit, it was removed when Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20) The disciples were equipped to go and make disciple themselves.
And finally, the disciples received a Power that they never could have imagined, though Jesus spoke of it often. The same Spirit alive in Jesus was available and living inside each of them. The Counselor. The Comforter. The Guide. The Intercessor. The Advocate. The Teacher. The Helper. The Witness. The Spirit of Life. The Spirit of Truth. The same “Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” today (Rom 8.11). We must learn to walk with one eye/ear on earth and one eye/ear turned to heaven, expecting that He still communicates with us. We need only listen.
These biblical principals (core values) make up the DNA of discipleship at Grace Gathering. This is the culture we want to breathe into every discipling environment and relationship. In order to facilitate every person committing them to memory, we’ve created the acronym,
Character & Competency
Handpick a few
Organized & Organic
Invitation & Challenge
Common Language & Tools
Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit
Discipleship is occurring in a variety of settings at Grace Gathering – within our corporate gatherings, classes/bible studies, small groups, missional communities, formal training events like Leadership weekend, in our Leadership Huddles and in many others environments. This is fantastic. There is no one “best” vehicle for discipleship, so long as the culture of the vehicle has a consistent stream of these DNA present. Every vehicle has its purpose and place and is valued in the big picture of discipleship at Grace.
Huddles are the specific formalized vehicle of discipleship of leaders, where the Huddle leader is charged with developing a culture that is characterized by ALL of the DNA. There is also the necessary inclusion of some level of shared-life in a Huddle.
In contrast, small groups, which we simply define as a group of 6-8 individuals with a leader, primarily focused on UP or IN, may exhibit some, but not necessarily all of the DNA. A small group is not necessarily made of leaders or future leaders, but other persons on the road of discipleship. The desire is that the small group leader would be led in a Huddle, thus experiencing a culture where all of the DNA Jesus modeled are present, which they can then carry into their small group.
In all of these areas, we must consistently communicate and express (in word and action) that this GOAL, PROCESS and VALUES have been expressed and demonstrated by Jesus himself. We have faith that these elements will accelerate the shaping of a true culture of biblical discipleship and mission within and around the community of Grace Gathering.