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June 21, 2011Missiology

Musings on the Manifesto, Part 7: Disciple-Making

Today we look at to the seventh affirmation of The Missional Manifesto: disciple-making. You can find the six previous installments of this series here:


The Gospel

The Kingdom of God


The Church


Here is the wording of the manifesto's seventh affirmation:

We believe that discipling of the nations is the essential aspect of the mission of God (Matthew 28:18-20). The gospel calls people to respond in faith and repentance to the good news of the Kingdom in and by the gospel's power. The maturing of believers is inherent to the work of the church ushering those who place faith in Jesus from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity (Colossians 1:28). This means the church trains its members to be leaders in deeds of justice and ministry to the poor, as well as live out the implications of their faith in business, the arts, in politics, the academy, the home, and in all of life. As the church makes disciples, it equips them to bring their faith to bear on every area of their lives, private and public.

As we have made our way through the affirmations of the manifesto, we have looked at the authority of Scripture, the thrust of the gospel, the inauguration of the kingdom of God, the advance of the mission, the singularity of the church, and the centrality of Christ.

But what is the end game? What should the intersection of the Word of God, Jesus, the gospel, the kingdom, mission, and the church produce? That brings us to today's affirmation: disciples.

One of our framers, Alan Hirsch, says it this way:

...rediscovering what it means to radically follow Jesus is now an area of strategic--and definitely missional--concern. To recover mission we are going to have to take discipleship seriously again, but the reverse is also true; to rediscover discipleship we are also going to have to take mission seriously. We cannot be true disciples without also being missionaries (sent ones) to our worlds.

...The church must become missional or fade into increasing irrelevance in the 21st Century. But we simply cannot get there from here without factoring discipleship into the equation. We can't have one without the other: if there be no mission there can be no discipleship, and if there is no discipleship there will be no mission. And there can be no missional church if there is no disciple-making church--it's as simple as that. If ever there was a time to recover the true meaning of the Great Commission to make disciples of the nations it is now. [1]

Alan is right. Discipleship is a missional concern. Without mission, there are no disciples. Without disciples, there is no church and there is no mission.

Let me be frank. The elephant in evangelicalism is this: We have focused our energies on our corporate worship gatherings, sermons, and organization-- while we have struggled to produce disciples. If the central command of the Great Commission is to make disciples, and your church's philosophy of ministry revolves around marketing, facilities, and programs, you have missed the point. You must have a plan for discipleship if you want to be missional.

To some it may sound counterintuitive to say that to be missional you must value discipleship. In the recent past, discipleship has been seen as primarily an educational endeavor inside the four walls of the church. Unfortunately, discipleship programs have had a tendency to "puff up" (1 Corinthians 8:1) rather than to send out.

Now don't get me wrong, at the heart of discipleship is knowing the Scriptures intimately. It requires instruction. But when the reality is that it has become normal for us NOT to grow, something is wrong with our discipleship. LifeWay Research recently studied over 2500 church attendees and only 3.5% of those we surveyed over the course of a year displayed any measurable growth. Something has to change. (We are in the process of completing an even larger study on the subject, out next year.)

In Colossians, I see a focus on discipleship from the apostle Paul when he says:

For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven't stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10)

I see a progression. Knowing → Being → Doing

We can observe from Scripture a clear pattern that spiritual transformation begins with exposure to the truth. As God's revealed Truth (the Word) penetrates the mind it leads to the transformation of heart and character. Paul also expresses it this way: "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2).

The renewal of the mind, a work of the Holy Spirit, brings about spiritual growth. Here you can see the pattern of knowledge leading to understanding (knowing), which leads to walking worthy (being, or living out who we are), which leads to bearing fruit (doing).

Discipleship and mission interface in the "doing." As a disciple understands the gospel and lives in light of it (Galatians 2:14), he/she will naturally be on mission, proclaiming and enacting the gospel. This is how more disciples are made and churches are birthed.

Disciples don't just know, they do. If we disciple through knowledge and not action, then we have raised up puffed up Gnostics. It is concerning to see knowledgeable people not living in mission, but criticizing it.

When Jesus commanded us to teach the world to obey all that He commanded, he was showing us what discipleship look likes. And it's inevitable: obedience-based discipleship leads to mission-shaped disciples. So let's help people become disciples on mission, becoming spiritual self-feeders, serving the marginalized, loving their neighbors, and telling others about Christ. It the end game of mission.


[1] Alan Hirsch, "No Mission, No Disciples," from catalystspace.com; excerpted from Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship, by Alan and Debra Hirsch (Baker Books, February 2010).

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Musings on the Manifesto, Part 7: Disciple-Making