When asked the question, “What does disciple making look like in your life?” do you break out into a cold sweat? Does tension build within you? Maybe it’s confusion…
As Disciple Making Environments Catalyst for reKindle, I am privileged with a front row seat at the disciple making journeys of many leaders around North America.
Typically, the journey starts, something like my friend Rob’s. Rob’s a lead pastor, responsible to a small/mid-size congregation in the US. God’s stirred a new awareness to the ineffectiveness of the 21st century North American Church in making disciples who make disciples. As he encourages and coaches leaders in his midst, Rob’s asking himself, “What does disciple making look like in my own life?”
He’s passionate about Jesus. He’s obediently committed to Christ’s call and this question creates deep dissonance. I can see it in his face. There’s a heaviness. There’s a disruption.
He expresses how he doesn’t feel like he fits the mold. As he says this, I’m unsure of what the mold is, but I get it. Nothing he’s seen others do feels like it fits with who God’s made him to be. Like jamming his body into an ill-fitting suit jacket. And besides, the evidence shows that what we as the church are doing, isn’t working. He also admits that his life is full, and he can’t cram another thing in. Especially if it doesn’t line up with his passions and gifts. He’s got no more to give.
The conversation is so frequent that I must believe it’s not a coincidence. Rob’s not alone. There is something deeper going on in the formation of our narrative around the Great Commission.
Throughout my disciple making journey, God has consistently highlighted The Message paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
This scripture doesn’t align with our experiences around disciple making. Heavy? Ill-fitting? Those would be the exact words I’d use to describe Rob’s and many others’ responses to the work of disciple making. It feels inauthentic, heavy… for some possibly even daunting.
“Lord, how can this be so?” Certainly, the yoke of disciple making, while sacrificial and transforming, is not supposed to be ill-fitting or heavy. Because I trust God’s Word to be true, I’m challenged to reflect on our cultural interpretation and assumptions around God’s commission. If many of us are experiencing this dissonance, and God’s Word is truth (which I affirm), then what in our narrative is off? Where have we gone astray?
I don’t claim to know the answer. What I can share with you are two observations I’ve made as I’ve personally experimented with disciple making in my own life and sensed the Spirit shifting my perspective and paradigm.
Before I get into the two points, I must acknowledge a foundational point. I’m raising it, not to bring new revelation to you. Instead, I raise it, so you aren’t left wondering about its omission. Let me agree with you, that any work we do for God and his kingdom cannot and will not flourish if we are not yoked to the One who created us and sustains us. We must be Spirit led and Spirit empowered as we go about the commission of making disciples.
In Rob and others like him, I see a thirst for Jesus and a willingness to surrender to His leadership in all things. So, it can’t be solely a lack of the Spirit’s leading that causes the dissonance to which I refer.
It’s something more…
We must seriously probe the narrative of our culture and how it may inadvertently inhibit the culture of Christ. Isn’t this what sanctification entails? A death to my own little kingdom(s) and a surrender to the Kingdom of the true King? Is it possible that we are so formed in certain aspects of our culture that it feels Christlike even when it’s not?
Bounded Set Thinking
First, we are formed in what mathematicians and now missiologists call bounded set thinking. In our God given propensity to bring order to our world, we categorize and sort. North Americans in particular divide our time, our ministry and most of our life into categories. There’s work time, there’s parenting time, there’s recreation and hopefully some space for physical health in there. It’s how we manage our lives and try to bring balance and order to our chaotic days. However, it’s created some significant disintegration with respect to how we live, and how we disciple. When someone asks me if I’m making disciples who make disciples, I think through the many boxes of my life in an attempt to see if one of my existing boxes covers it, or if I need to add another box. Then I feel panic set it, when I realize I don’t have a disciple making box, because I can’t handle any more boxes. But I don’t want you to know that I can’t handle anymore boxes…. Because this means I’m not a good disciple. Or maybe worse. Maybe I’ll never be a good disciple. This leads to my second observation.
"Do to Be" Culture
Second, we are formed in a culture of doing. Many Christian leaders & disciple makers have brought this to light in recent years. Cognitively we get that we don’t do stuff to earn God’s favour, or establish our identity, yet we keep operating out of what Caesar Kalinowski has coined a Do to Be mindset. Steve Brown labels this the cycle of grief instead of Jesus’ cycle of grace. Regardless of what it’s named, 21st Century Canadians can’t seem to shake the formative belief that our identity flows from our doing instead of our doing flowing out of our God given identity. It’s not as simple as choosing a different behaviour.
Identification of these two points was not enough for me. No matter how “hard” I tried (there I go doing again), I kept slipping back into the patterns of bounded set thinking and “Do to Be” behaviour. The load was still unbearably heavy. The yoke still chaffed me. I haven’t been able to just decide my way out of this.
Recently God’s been revealing a new way to both me and my friend Rob. Dare I even say an unforced rhythm of grace where God increasingly surprises me with lighthearted moments throughout my days. Our perspectives on discipleship are shifting as we trade ill-fitting yokes for God-given ones, designed for the unique individual by a compassionate and passionate heavenly Father. This isn’t a surface level shift though. It’s not as simple as applying a new technique. Both of us are wrestling as we continue to shift from the old to the new. The change is occurring deep in our identity. I believe that it’s for times such as these that Jesus taught us we’d need new wine skins. Only then can we handle the new wine. My whole construct is shifting. I encourage you to journey along with me in Part 2 of this blog where I'll share what has catalyzed the shift. Discipleship isn't something we do, it's in us to live!
 National Study on Disciple Making in USA Churches: High Aspirations Amidst Disappointing Results. Conducted by Grey Matter Research and sponsored by Discipleship.org and Exponential https://exponential.org/resource-ebooks/disciple-making-study/  Kalinowski, Caesar. Transformed: A New Way of Being Christian. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013.  Brown, Steve. Leading Me: Eight Practices for a Christian Leader’s Most Important Assignment. Ontario, Canada: Castle Quay Books, 2015.