One on one relationship.
That's the center and the core of what Christ commissioned the Church to be, and be about. But how does that simple paradigm show up in the Church of today?
The Church does a lot of things well.
Most local churches have a well-defined structure centered on a building with set services and staff. If you go to any church building on a Sunday morning, you'll find some sort of service going on. That is usually the central activity of a local church. If they do nothing else, they'll have a Sunday morning service facilitated by at least one Pastor. Beyond that, most churches have some sort of supporting staff. Sometimes that's other paid pastors, sometimes that's a board of elders, sometimes it's both.
Beyond that, most churches have other activities beyond Sunday morning. Sometimes it's a more casual Wednesday evening service. Sometimes it's small groups, youth group, home groups, bible studies and the like. So, I think it's fair to say that the foundation of the modern, evangelical, American church is a set of services performed by a set of staff at a set place.
Is that the same as discipleship, or does that include discipleship?
One on one disciplining can come out of that kind of Church structure. But it's not a given that if a local church is doing all those other things, discipleship will happen naturally. In fact, it's the opposite.
I believe that Jesus intended all those other things modern churches do to flow out of the action of discipleship, and not the other way around. When we are discipling, church services and small groups will form naturally out of that. But the opposite is not true. Just because a local church is facilitating small groups and services doesn't mean discipleship will happen, or is happening. And yet, that is how most churches are attempting to establish themselves.
Most modern evangelical churches have made services and small groups central, in the hopes that discipleship will happen. What that means is that discipleship is not the center of what most churches do. It's secondary. That's a problem.
When the thing Jesus made primary becomes secondary, and the things he made secondary become primary, then it's fair to say that church is doing things backwards to what Jesus intended.
The simple answer and conclusion is that we should make the primary thing primary again. Discipleship must take center stage in local churches again. What does that look like?
That doesn't mean local churches can't continue doing all the other good things they're already doing, like small groups and Sunday services. It does mean that local churches must have a process in place where youngers have access to elders in order to be mentored into relationship with Christ.
I don't think it's complicated. I think it's very simple. It can actually start with just one mature spiritual elder deciding to take an interest in one spiritually immature younger and make themselves available to start mentoring that younger.
Most of the time, youngers won't seek out elders to mentor them. They often don't have enough maturity to recognize that's what they need. It should be on the elder to reach out and offer themselves to a younger. Most of that time that can happen naturally as an elder recognizes a shared interest or need in a younger around them.
For most of us, our gifting and calling flows out of the things we've experienced, struggled with, learned about, and overcome.
I remember one time, when I was newly married, and my wife and I had moved from Buffalo New York to Indiana to live with my grandmother for a short time. I had recently graduated with my bachelors and was looking for full time work. We had started attending my old home church, where my grandma still attended, when an older guy at church found out about where I was at and offered to help me put my resume together. He worked in HR at a larger company and knew a lot about what a good resume should look like. We got together a few times. He took time to understand what I was good at, what my interests were, in order to help me form a resume around those things. Even though I never got the jobs I was hoping for with that resume, I really appreciated the effort that guy from church made to help me in a time of need.
That's what discipleship is about!
Discipleship is about an elder recognizing a younger with a need they can meet. Out of that can come relationship. Out of that trust can build. Over time, that elder can earn the right to give guidance and counsel to the younger in those moments and seasons of life where it's needed.
The Church should be a place where people recognize that this kind of mentoring process is central. The Church should be a place people turn to in times of need and crisis, knowing that they will find the help they need. That is the best way to build a local church.
No matter all the other good things local churches may be doing, when people in need turn to the Church for help and don't find it, those other things won't make much of a difference.
That's why Christ made discipleship foundational for the Church. Jesus wanted the Church to be at the center of local communities as the central builder of community.
Community is built one relationship at a time.
Community is built by one elder discipling one younger into relationship with Christ.
That is the foundation of the Church!