Once we start to realize that discipleship is an everyday, all-of-life process for our own lives, we’re halfway to understanding God’s call. The other half of that call is seen most clearly in the great commission, where God calls his people—all his people—to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Part of our own discipleship is “paying it forward”: seeing God not only work in us, for our own discipleship, but also seeing him work through us, for others’ discipleship. In fact, the Apostle Paul tells us that a primary way we grow into maturity in Christ is through “speaking the truth in love” to and with each other (Eph 4:16). God didn’t design discipleship to primarily happen alone.
All-of-life discipleship—learning to follow, trust, and obey Jesus in the everyday stuff of life, and training others to do the same—requires submitting to and obeying God’s Word in three key environments: life on life, life in community, and life on mission.
LIFE ON LIFE
God’s means of your growth, redemption, and restoration is others in your life who are committed to bringing your brokenness out into the open and bringing the gospel of Jesus to bear on it. The layers with which we’ve covered ourselves have to be pulled back, and we can’t do that kind of work alone. We have to get close. We have to be seen and known. This is what we call life-on-life discipleship—life that is lived up close so that we are visible and accessible to one another, so that others can gently peel back the layers and join us in our restoration.
Jesus lived life with his disciples. He was close enough to really know them. He observed what they believed by watching how they lived. He became closely acquainted with their brokenness so that he could see their wrong thinking, wrong believing, and wrong acting. They were exposed. And as they were exposed, Jesus helped them to be restored.
LIFE IN COMMUNITY
If you look at the life and ministry of Jesus, and subsequently the ministry of the apostle Paul, you certainly would not come to the conclusion that one-on-one discipleship is best. Jesus discipled his followers while they experienced life together in community. We know they “got it” because the story of how they continued to live tells us they were devoted to one another in the day-to-day stuff of everyday life. Jesus’s way of discipleship cannot happen in one-on-one meetings alone.
The church is Jesus’s body. It has many parts, but it is one body, so it takes many of us committed to each other’s development to help us each become more like Jesus … We all need many people who love Jesus around us to do this. Every person in Christ’s body is meant to work this way. You are meant to play a part in equipping and encouraging others. God intends for all of us to actively engage in disciple-making in light of our unique design so that we both do the work and equip others to do it.
LIFE ON MISSION
Jesus didn’t say, “Show up to class and I will train you.” Nor did he say, “Attend synagogue and that will be sufficient.” No, he called the disciples to join him on the mission (“Follow me”), and while they were on the mission with him, he trained them to be disciple-makers (“I will make you fishers of men”).
In other words, Jesus taught them the basics of making disciples while they were on the mission of making disciples. They could observe everything Jesus said and did. They could see how he rebuked the religious leaders who tried to make it harder for people to come to God. They were able to watch his compassion and care of people being ruined by sin. They couldn’t overlook his willingness to heal and help the broken. And the power he exerted over demons was clearly on display. They listened, watched, and learned in the everyday stuff of life. After a while, he invited them to share in some of the work he was doing. Sure, they messed up, a lot, but he was there to help, to correct, to clean up—to train them—while they were on his mission. They were in a disciple-making residency with Jesus.
After the disciples had spent time watching, learning, and practicing under Jesus’s watchful eye, he sent them out to begin to practice what he had taught them. He did not send them out alone; they went together. Then they returned and reported to Jesus what they had experienced. All did not go perfectly. So he trained them in the areas of their weaknesses and failures. He did this kind of ongoing training with them for more than three years. As a result, when he finally ascended to heaven, they had been prepared to fulfill the mission. The best training for mission happens while on mission.
The necessity of these three environments is the basis for what are commonly called “missional communities”: the Christian life—and the gospel identities and rhythms we’ll start to consider next week—cannot be lived alone, nor can it be carried out as one person among several dozen or a few thousand, which is the context of many American church gatherings. Instead, the best venue for living as disciples of Jesus happens in the context of a few other disciples, mutually committed to growing each other’s lives and faith, pursuing God’s mission together.
Missional communities are not programs of a church; missional communities are the Church.In other words, the way God intends his people to live and thrive as disciples of Jesus is in the context of a community, growing in the gospel and on mission together. It’s in this type of community that life on life, life in community, and life on mission discipleship most easily happen.
Jeff Vanderstelt is the visionary leader of the Soma Family of Churches and the lead teaching pastor of Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. Vanderstelt is the author of Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life. He and Jayne, his wife of 22 years, have three children; Haylee, Caleb and Maggie.
Ben Connelly started and now co-pastors The City Church, part of the Acts 29 network and Soma Family of Churches. He is the co-author of A Field Guide for Everyday Mission (Moody Publishers) and also leads church planting for the Soma Family in North America. Connelly, his wife Jess and their kiddos Charlotte, Maggie and Travis live in Fort Worth, TX.
Jeff Vanderstelt and Ben Connelly. Saturate Field Guide: Principles & Practices For Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life. Saturate, ©2016. Used by permission.