a bit monkish.
I’m thinking a lot about discipleship these days, and I hope to focus on this topic in the coming weeks.
The approach appears straightforward enough. The focus of local churches is to create programs in local churches that encourage members of the congregation to grow spiritually in various ways: Biblical knowledge, sound financial stewardship, devotional life, service to others, etc. This pattern exists in thousands of North American congregations. What can be called "Targeted Discipleship," this approach focuses on specific areas of the Christian life in an attempt to foster lasting change in those areas.
Lately I've been contemplating a different approach, something I call "Trickle-down Discipleship." The basic premise goes something like this: Introduce people to Jesus in a way that allows Christ to become not the most important part of their life, but their very life (Colossians 3:4), and the various means of Christian growth will "trickle-down," permeating their being. For example, instead of having an annual budget pledge drive or a capital campaign, focus your energies on holy living through Jesus Christ and let the Holy Spirit work. I've seen this first-hand in local churches I've served. Jesus becomes the center of attention instead of classes about how to do the work of Jesus.
The "Targeted Discipleship" approach has the danger of focusing on our own efforts to become Christ-like. Not only can this lead to works-righteousness, it has the odor of karma from the Hindu religion, in which good things come to those who do good things.
The focus of “Trickle-Down Discipleship” is that our relationship with Christ becomes as natural as our own breath. In fact, we can’t even imagine our own existence without Christ.
My hope is to see less programming in local churches and more saturating of Jesus in Christians' lives. The goal of this is not a healthy church, but a transformation of the culture around us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
After all, a local church shouldn't exist for itself, right?
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
I'm a follower of Christ serving as an Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.