In this series’ first blog we talked about what the Church is: the family of God that fills the earth with the Kingdom as it grows and expresses the transformation and reconciliation of Jesus in every sphere of society, and how we feel called to pursue this vision: by mobilizing prayer, equipping disciples and training leaders.
The second blog post described the power of prayer to foster unity in the Church of Grand Rapids as we seek the movement of the Spirit in the city.
The second aspect of transformation is equipping our community to make disciples in all of life.
Which brings us to two question:
What is discipleship?
And how does discipleship actually bring about city transformation?
First, a definition of discipleship. It is easy for us to fall into a Western, Evangelical model of discipleship that looks a lot like a formal education path: programs or events that focus primarily on receiving information. Don’t get me wrong, there is a need for structure within discipleship, but when discipleship is only a classroom, gathering, or coffee shop meeting then we are not truly making disciples.
We would define discipleship as: personal and communal transformation and reconciliation in every area of our lives to experience the fullness of life with Jesus.
Let’s parse this out a bit…
Personal transformation and reconciliation…
Discipleship is being transformed; not socializing or conditioning people to “be like us” because It’s not about learning to live better lives morally, it is about knowing the love of God, allowing it to touch the deepest places of our hearts and to shape everything we think, say and do.
Ultimately this is a work of the Spirit within us, but we can participate in that transforming work. In the same way a farmer cannot make food grow but puts great effort into creating the perfect environment for the crop; we prepare the soil of our soul through discipleship.
James Bryan Smith talks about the “Triangle of Transformation” in which we participate in the Spirit’s transformation through three things:
Renewing our minds with the truth of who God is and who we are.
Engaging disciplines that act as a boundary that help us to live into freedom in a specific area of our lives.
Submit to a community of people who will walk toward transformation with us.
Triangle of Transformation
For our church family this is expressed through our Discipleship Groups or “D-Groups” where 2-4 people meet weekly to confess our sin to one another to be heard by a safe community that can listen and help each other get to the root of what is going on in our hearts to renew our minds with the truth of the Gospel and articulate disciplines that will help us to experience transformation in those areas.
… communal transformation and reconciliation…
Quite simply, discipleship is not an individual experience but a communal one that happens in the context of spiritual family. Discipleship is rooted in the fabric of our Gospel Identity: That the Father gave everything for us to be a part of his family in which we belong and can love others like family; Jesus became human and became the servant of all, and we are welcomed into the life of serving out of joy; and the Holy Spirit was given to us as a down payment of our future inheritance and to empower all of us to express the Kingdom on earth as missionaries.
Our Gospel Identity
As a Family of Servant Missionaries we have both a shared mission, which for us is the our neighborhood in the Westside of Grand Rapids in which many of our community live, work and have our monthly neighborhood meal - the Love Feast. And we also have a personal mission; the unique places we are in everyday life to seek transformation (family, friends, workplace, neighborhood).
… in every area of our lives…
As I said before, discipleship isn’t about not doing bad things anymore, it is experiencing the daily transformation of the Holy Spirit that impacts every part of our lives: our marriages, our parenting, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, where we hangout, where we shop, what we do for vacation, how we rest. We are called to seek the kingdom with our entire lives to experience the fullness of life with Jesus and share that life with others.
Fostering this life requires both structure and spontaneity. We appreciate the image of a vine and a trellis: the trellis provides the necessary structure that allows the life of the vine to thrive. It is the same with our lives - we need structure that provides a framework in which the day-to-day life can spring up naturally.
For us this has looked like a Missional Community Covenant that we write and refine together each year and review a few times during the year. We look at our monthly calendar with three things in mind: UP, IN, and OUT:
UP - how are we drawing near to the Lord together as a community?
IN - how are we caring for and building relationship with each other?
OUT - how are we serving and speaking the Gospel in our shared and personal mission?
This obviously takes time and intentionality (which is something we are learning a lot about right now…), but it has been beautiful and refining to seek to live out this heart of discipleship as a community in all of life.
… to experience the fullness of life with Jesus.
This is the part that is so easy to lose in all the details but is the most essential piece to everything else: delighting in Jesus as our great reward, enjoying his presence, being with him in the unique way we personally have been made and from that overflow share that love and life with others.
So back to our second question:
how does discipleship actually bring about city transformation?
Quite simply: You cannot have city transformation without personal transformation.
No structure can transform our hearts - that is the work of the Spirit. No matter how great the system is, it will break down and end in injustice if the lives of individuals are not changed.
In The Spirit of the Disciplines Dallas Willard wrote,
“The worldly system of understanding tries to produce justice, peace, and prosperity directly in people’s lives by placing restraints upon what would harm them. But the efforts, besides being ineffective, also prove impractical. The gospel of Christ, by contrast, comes to create a new person pervaded by the positive realities of faith, hope, and love - toward God primarily and therefore toward all men and women and creatures. From this positive transformation of the self, justice, peace and prosperity can result as God’s rule is fulfilled in human lives.”
Yes, the systems need to change, but it is through transformed people living into those places that the change lasts. Willard also said,
“As a response to this world’s problems, the gospel of the Kingdom will never make sense except as it is incarnated - we say ‘fleshed out’ - in ordinary human beings in all ordinary conditions of human life. But it will make sense when janitors and storekeepers, carpenters and secretaries, businessmen and university professors, bankers and government officials brims with the degree of holiness and power formerly thought appropriate only to apostles and martyrs. Its truth will illumine the earth when disciplined discipleship to Jesus is recognized as a condition of professional competence in all areas of life, since from that alone comes strength to live and work as we ought.”
This is the the vision that has captured our hearts! Transformation and reconciliation pervading all of our society, injustice being undone, families being restored, people’s eyes open to their belonging and purpose as we work together to express the Kingdom of God on earth. It is not just a possible dream we hope for in the future, but what the Church is called to persevere toward by the power of the Spirit.
Come, Lord Jesus!
:: Coop ::