Event or Community?
By Nate Altom
At Keystone Church, we have begun engaging in “discipleship discussions” every other week. Two men with business and team building backgrounds meet with me regularly to discuss what discipleship should look like in our church. These discussions are among the most productive and helpful I have experienced in ministry.
When we began, one of the men with little church background expressed that the idea of discipleship was new to him. I thought, “What a neat perspective to have.” That was until the other man expressed the same thing. I was floored by his comment, because he came from a well-established church with incredible foundations in the Bible. I began to make inquiries and quickly found that most “well-established, solid-church background” people had the same lack of understanding about what it really means to be a disciple. They just had not given it much thought.
The word disciple in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) carries an interesting context. If we consider the term Christian culturally, it is easy to be a Christian and remain passive. The majority of people understand Christian as something they are, a label they carry under their name. But when we understand a disciple is a follower of Jesus, it is impossible to stay passive. You cannot be a disciple (noun) without the follow (verb).
So, we changed our language at our church. Last year, we had an amazing year of seeing people make decisions to follow Jesus, or “become a Christian.” But our report also showed we baptized few. Oops, we messed up somewhere! For 2018, we made the decision at the end of the year, the thing we want to celebrate most is the number of disciples made. This decision brought to light two important questions that changed our ministry. Why not think them through and see where they take your church?
Where are disciples made?
Disciples are made at the altar call…just after the sermon, right? So, the goal is for people to get people to the church building to hear a sermon that will then bring them to a decision of discipleship. Not quite. Remember the story where Jesus healed a man and when a huge crowd gathered around Him, He preached to them? (Sounds like business as usual to me.) But then Jesus did something extremely troubling. He sent them all away. As a church planter, I actually got frustrated with His church-building strategy. My thought was, “Jesus, stir the waters, gather the crowds, and then do everything you can to keep the crowd. That is how you do this.”
When my church growth strategy looks at Jesus and declares He is doing it wrong, guess who is really wrong. Me. Sure, Jesus drew crowds, but crowd gathering was not His discipleship model. Crowd gathering was simply crowd gathering. The discipleship happened in the community.
Let’s apply that. We put 95% of our efforts and energy into a service on Sunday morning. That is where we focus volunteers, spend our money, and give our most attention. But if we rely on an event—something that happens once a week at one place—to be our discipleship-making model, get ready to feed a never-satisfied beast. We began asking: “Do you attend an event on Sundays, or are you part of a 24/7 community?” Jesus clearly taught us to draw crowds, focus on a few, send the crowds away, and then repeat.
At Keystone, we decided to put as much emphasis on community as we do event. By the way, the community (Acts 2-3) is not even the small group gathered to be taught something. That is part of the community, but it is not all. Learning is only one aspect of a disciple’s following.
Who is responsible for making disciples?
This question is much easier in light of the above answer. Who received the Great Commission? The disciples. So, who makes disciples? Not just the pastor—the disciples. Disciples make disciples. In fact, the very heart of the disciple definition is someone following Jesus to…make more disciples. You cannot follow Jesus without naturally producing more disciples.
If that is the case, are the majority of your people in your discipleship model heavily involved in making other disciples? Mine were not. We set a goal that challenged every family to become part of making a disciple in 2018. This will totally mess up our statistics. If we do this right, we may see fewer people come to the altar on Sundays to surrender their hearts to Jesus, but more people surrender their hearts in a place that may not even be a church!
How can I say that? Our emphasis shifted from event to community. If a disciple is someone who follows Jesus by making more disciples, as people intentionally fellowship, learn, pray together, serve, and grow, they will create more disciples in the community. It will be more natural because disciples make disciples while being disciples rather than at a crowded event.
About the Writer: Nate Altom is lead pastor at Keystone Free Will Baptist Church in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Learn more: http://keystonefwb.org