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Discipleship Through Community

I first thought about saying something such as, “Well, I’m considering maybe a meandering, crushed gravel pathway, with mason honed flagstone, edged by ornamental grasses and weather resistant succulents.” However, sarcasm did not seem to fly well with my supervisors. Instead, I pointed to my white poster board full of sticky notes and directional arrows and led my church planting coach through a hypothetical journey that transformed a pagan into a disciple of Christ. Like everyone else in the room, my pathway had stages of development; from seeker, to saved, to growing in the faith, to volunteering, to eventually pastoring or even becoming the next Billy Graham. The plan did look pretty in its systematized simplicity; everything on a poster board in a nice clean, step-by-step pathway of discipleship.

Not everyone we met was as interested in the path as we were. Even when we got them on the path, they frequently did not stay.

We left boot camp with our mission, vision, values and prototype board game for real life spiritual development with the genuine hope that others would be excited to play our game. Unfortunately, not everyone we met was as interested in the path as we were. Even when we got them on the path, they frequently did not stay on the flagstone. Even when they did “stay on the path,” many still did not end up at the destination of disciple. Instead, we often just discovered different levels of messiness. In reality, my discipleship pathway often felt like a game of Chutes and Ladders with a preponderance of chutes and a lot of unstable, rickety ladders. No matter how hard I tried to push people towards the goal of spiritual maturity, many just would not follow my path. Worse yet, whenever it seemed like they were making progress they would suddenly slide or backslide down a chute in the opposite direction.

I began to understand that discipleship is not about my path, but God’s path. I realized that my ways did not match God’s ways or God’s timing. Even so, God clearly calls leaders to facilitate environments where individuals grow in the character of Christ. As a minister of the gospel, I take seriously the commandment to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19). However, I do not enjoy experiencing the pain and heartache that ensues when believers regress or remain stagnant in their faith. So much relational hurt is rooted in believers who have not become healthy disciples.

Discipleship is not about my path, but God’s path.

My heart is troubled when I see spiritual lethargy and a lack of genuine spiritual maturity in those I serve. To be honest, I usually feel responsible. Discipleship is a sacred task. I sincerely believe I am called to facilitate an environment where people not only come to Christ, but become more like Christ in every season of their lives. Unfortunately, many people do not become more like Christ. Their lack of growth keeps me awake at night pondering the question, “Doug, what is your discipleship pathway?”

I assume the church experts would point to my poorly planned, implemented and executed pathway. They would tell me that I need to write down more steps and communicate them in simple and transferable ways. They would tell me that everyone in the church should be able to articulate the stages or steps to discipleship. The experts are probably right. But I do not like systems, I do not like religious math, I do not like spiritual equations and I flat out hate memorization. Frankly, I am hesitant to embrace any religious activity that turns relationship with God into a structured process.

Of course, that is not a good enough answer; everyone must work on communicating clearly. As my pastor friend Steve Schell says, we must all learn how to “organize the parade.” Even so, I have always felt there should be something deeper than writing down and implementing a better map and endlessly trying to get everyone to keep in line and in step with our carefully designed systematized paths.

God cares equally about the individual and the group.

Our culture exhibits a connection problem we cannot solve simply through the creation and the implementation of a better discipleship pathway. When I look at Christ’s model of discipleship, I see two categories; there are followers of Jesus and non-followers of Jesus. Everything else is irrelevant. In our modern era, we have created a third category and within that category we have hundreds of subcategories. Today, we still have followers of Jesus and non-followers of Jesus, but now we have a third group: the “saved but not yet ready.” The “saved but not yet ready” seem to be an ever-growing group of believers who define themselves as saved by God, but not yet ready to serve and to follow him.

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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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