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Discipleship Through Community

Individualistic discipleship turns spiritual growth almost solely into a self-directed development journey. Within this personal awareness journey, Christians pray, read the Bible and participate in the sacraments for primarily self-absorbed reasons. Our prayers are for our needs, our Bible reading is for our devotional growth and even communion becomes an individual pursuit to soothe our own conscience or develop our own intimacy with God. Although a form of community might be valued in our present Christian discipleship, too often community is positioned as an option we think about or engage only after we have ministered to our individual pursuits.

What happens when me-first Christians don’t feel their needs are being met?

In this me-first discipleship model, we have developed a class of Christians who genuinely believe they must grow more in their own personal faith before they invest in or faithfully abide in the larger church. They engage with congregations based on how much those communities meet their needs. They isolate from church when they do not feel their desires receiving attention or when they do not feel they are spiritually strong enough to join the larger body of Christ. The assumption behind this behavior is that the individual must get well or spiritually healthy before he or she can gather in a meaningful way with a larger Christian expression. This assumption opposes Christ’s way of discipling. The disciples matured in Christ through abiding intentionally with other disciples. They discovered who they were and who God is through community. They did not see abiding with each other as a secondary step in the discipleship process. Rather, they understood community as the way Christ disciples his church.

 

The early church discipled through community

The disciples matured in Christ through abiding intentionally with other disciples. They discovered who they were and who God is through community.

After the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the disciples carried on Christ’s model for discipleship. Notably, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church at Pentecost, when the church was gathered together in prayer. Pentecost did not first come to one disciple and then pass from disciple to disciple. Instead, the Spirit first came to a group of Christ followers who were gathered together for a purpose bigger than their individual needs. Pentecost came to all those gathered in the upper room to clearly demonstrate that the Spirit of God works through the church simultaneously for individual and communal purposes. God did not pour out his Spirit to lift up individuals, but to empower all believers as the full expression of the body of Christ.

To separate Holy Spirit empowerment from the gathered church shows a grave misunderstanding of the purpose of Spirit-filled empowerment.

Unfortunately, Christians often communicate Pentecost and Spirit-filled living through a very self-oriented grid. In this individualistic context, we reduce Spirit-filled living to encouraging believers to discover their own spiritual gifts, personal empowerment and private prayer language. The role of the Spirit in the church frequently becomes an afterthought to personal fulfillment. Once again, this focus on the self stands in direct contrast to the scriptural record. Throughout the Bible, we read that the Holy Spirit meets the needs of the gathered church. To separate Holy Spirit empowerment from the gathered church shows a grave misunderstanding of the purpose of Spirit-filled empowerment. Pentecost reveals the way Christ abides in our midst and forms redeemed believers into one body: the body of Christ.

Jesus instructed and trained his followers in and through community. The early church carried on this tradition, understanding that the Spirit of God was poured out upon all flesh to empower, strengthen and expand the gathered community of Christ.

 

The path of discipleship

“So, what is your discipleship pathway?”

Community was central in New Testament discipleship.

You might face this question when talking with a church growth expert … excuse me, I mean a church health expert, or a church multiplication expert, or a church transformation expert, or the name is not really that important just buy the book, come to the conference or sign up for the webinar expert. Discipleship pathway was common lingo when I was hired to restart Evergreen Church. So when I was sent to church planter boot camp, in addition to forming our church’s mission, vision and value statements, I also was asked to map out our church’s discipleship pathway. “So what is your discipleship pathway, Doug?”

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Category: Ministry, Summer 2019

About the Author: Dr. Douglas S. Bursch co-pastors Evergreen Foursquare Church in Auburn, Washington. He is married to his lifelong sweetheart, Jennifer. They enjoy raising their four children together and ministering as a team. Doug serves on the Doctrine Committee and Education Commission of The Foursquare Church and has taught theology courses as adjunct faculty for Life Pacific College and Life Ministry Institute. Doug received his Master of Divinity at The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry at Portland Seminary of George Fox University. Doug has produced and hosted over 1,200 Christian radio broadcasts and currently hosts The Fairly Spiritual Show radio and podcast program. Twitter: @fairlyspiritual

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