In the last century, programs and activities have multiplied in church life in America to the point where churches can choose from hundreds of parachurch ministries, curriculums, outreach programs, and discipleship ministries. As in much of American life, we find ourselves often paralyzed by choice. In this series, we are seeking to peel back our experience of church life and ask “What does the Bible say is essential for the life of the church. In this regard, Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20 are arguably some of the most important words of the bible. If what Jesus outlines here isn’t the highest priority of the church, it can be argued that they are at least essential to the work of the church.
If you grew up in the church twenty or thirty years ago, you likely attended church on average 3-4 Sundays out of the month as well as a bible study, Sunday school, or prayer group, and you likely participated in a mid-week service or activity in the church. Maybe you weren’t that committed but that was the paradigm that worked in many churches. The rhythm of our lives, however, has changed. Whereas church members 20 years ago considered themselves active if they were at church 2-4 times a week, church members today consider themselves active if they come to church 2-4 times a month. I don’t bring this up to make anyone feel guilty for not spending more time in church activities but to point out the reality that we live in. For people in church leadership, this trend can be frustrating. It is not all negative, though. Consider, for example, that spending less time in church activities potentially allows for us to spend more time connecting with those who don’t know Christ yet.
What these trends do mean, however, is that we can expect at most for the average participant to spend up to three hours in church activities a week. That means for those three hours we want to make the most of the time that we have. Not only that, but given the business and distraction of our modern lives, it is an essential skill for each Christian to learn how to balance the demands of work, family, physical health, and ministry to others. This is what the discipleship wheel attempts to help us with by showing the essential aspects of Christian life and discipleship held together by a lifestyle of worship.
The purpose of this tool is to get us, both corporately and individually, to begin thinking strategically about how we spend our time, focusing on the three most impactful aspects of life. I will attempt to define each of the aspects of the wheel below:
Discipleship: For our purposes, it will help to distinguish between discipleship and disciple-making. By discipleship, we mean those activities that we intentionally engage in to help us to grow as disciples of Jesus. This includes, but is not limited to, classes and bible studies, books, articles, and sermons that help us to understand the Scriptures, theology, and Christian discipleship on an intellectual level, and intentional settings with other people meant to help us (and where we may be helping others) apply biblical teaching to our lives.
Calling: Part of our discipleship is discerning what God is calling us to, both on a macro and micro level. While this may encompass an understanding of what has come to be known as spiritual gifts, it is more than that. Thus, while your God-given personality, talents, and gifts may remain fixed in a number of ways, your circumstances and passions may change significantly over time. For example, Paul tells us to first take care of our own households. This will look different when we are single, married, raising young children, taking care of aging parents, etc. We need to learn the skill of discernment of calling as an ongoing process that continues through our whole lives.
Relationships: Jesus spent the bulk of his time with a small number of people in whom he invested significantly. While we cannot diminish the importance of His ministry with crowds, the power of relationships is indispensable. Forming and intentionally investing in relationships, both with those inside and outside of the church, is the lifeblood of what it means to make disciples. Likewise, it is only when we know and trust others and are known by them that we can have the Word of God applied deeply and personally in our own lives.
Worship: Worship is not only the activity of an hour on Sunday or the spontaneous moments throughout the week when we might be moved to verbally praise God. A biblical definition of worship is the declaration of how we value things through how we live our lives. We worship through what we spend our time and money on, what we obey, what we speak well of, what we defend and work for; in short, what we live for. Furthermore, making disciples means bringing more worshippers into God’s presence. This includes, but is not limited to, corporate worship on Sunday mornings. Thus, if our discipleship, calling, and intentional relationships are not done for God’s glory, we miss the mark.
Questions for reflection:
What church activities have been most significant in your own growth as a disciple?