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Uneven.

If I were given one word to describe Disciple: Getting Your Identity From Jesus by Bill Clem, that is the word I would use. It is published as part of the RE:Lit line and has a forward by Mark Driscoll. It comes with blubs by people like Paul Tripp. In other words, it intrigued me.

Bill is trying to create a paradigm shift in how we think about discipleship. Someone in the church I pastor has been asking me questions about discipleship recently. My answers were in many ways close to what Bill is shooting for. But this runs against the grain of a church shaped by life in America which is filled with standardized tests and a concept of time consumed by efficiency. Programs aren’t discipleship. They can be a means of discipleship, but aren’t necessarily discipleship. Communicating theological knowledge and understanding isn’t either (though people need to grow in their biblical and theological knowledge to grow as disciples).

Bill Clem’s premise is that disciples primarily image God to the watching world (and unseen world). We were created in God’s image. As image bearers, Adam and Eve were to reflect God’s glory, and represent Him to the rest of creation. In their sin, the image was marred.  In redemption, Christ’s work in us (sanctification) is to restore that image in us. We reveal God’s character and represent Him more clearly over time. This premise is a giant step in the right direction. It is a necessary corrective to our thinking about discipleship.

Back to my one word assessment of the book. There are some very good chapters in this book. They are filled with red ink from my pen. And there are some chapters that have little additional ink, or the red ink is expressing my confusion. There were times when I was really tracking with Bill Clem, and there were times when I was under-whelmed or just plain frustrated.

“To disciple people is not to make them like everybody else; it is to shape them into the image of Jesus.”

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Let me tell you a story ….

Years ago in Orlando I was the member of a church that was beginning a capital fund raising program to move across the street into a huge new facility.  They thought it would take $5-6 million.  I met the pastor for lunch one day.  I asked him about the abandoned super-market next door: might make a good sanctuary and office space.  Apparently his deacons didn’t think it looked like a church.  I thought it would save lots of money.  “What about planting a church?”  I was not expecting the response I got.

He claimed you needed to have a membership of 3-400 to plant a new church and not “harm” the mother church.  “So, you’re telling me we have to spend $5-6 million to get a congregation large enough to think about planting a church?”  He said yes.

Since then I’ve seen churches committed to church planting rather than endless building programs.  I worshipped in one today that has planted 3 churches so far.

The authors of Total Church think this should be the rule rather than the exception.  I agree.

“Church planting puts mission at the heart of church and church at the heart of mission.”

It is too easy for churches to lose sight of vision and mission in order to maintain and sustain a bulding and programs.  Churches move into a maintenance mode, so they plateau and eventually decline.  But a gospel community is one for which growth is a commitment.  And a natural expression of that growth is the planting of new churches.

“But mission very easily becomes one activity among others in church life.  It sits on the agenda alongside a list of other items, vying for attention.  Or it is left to the enthusiasts to get on with it at the edge of church life.  For some churches mission seems a distant dream as they struggle to keep the institution of the church afloat.  Putting on a weekly service is challenge enough.”

Sounds strange, why go all the trouble to convert and mature those Christians if you’re going to send them off to start a new church?  Sounds just like a family.  You have and raise kids so they can go and start their own families.  It is part of the natural growth process God has established for your household … and His.  Building His kingdom (instead of ours) means having His priorities and passions of mission instead of ours.

The Book of Acts reveals to us that God’s priorities are for new Christians and new churches- worldwide.  Most of that book is taken up with Paul’s missionary journeys, which resulted in new churches.  The church is God’s mission strategy: locally and globally.  Remember, Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the church to form new churches (not merely convert individual sinners).  Gospel communities want to beget new gospel communities, just like families want to beget new families at least if they are healthy.

Not only that, but it takes it back out of the realm of “programs” and into the very rhythm of life.  It is no longer a “special event” but something you are always working towards, something that intentionally affects each decision for the community.

“Mission is a communal project in which a number of gospel communities are involved together as they seek to extend the reign of Jesus though planting more churches.”

Precisely!  Chester and Timmis are calling us back to gospel priorites in these chapters.  We would do well to listen.  Bigger is not always better.

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