Fresh expressions as schools of discipleship

Monday, 18 June, 2012

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

Our aspiration is that fresh expressions of church should be communities of disciples, not just gatherings for worship. We have learned that if this is not built in from the beginning it is very difficult to add it in, let alone bolt it on, at a later stage. The initial character of the community being planted often decides the standard of discipleship that will be obtained. There is no quick fix or easy formula for disciple making, but there are some key principles.

Discipleship is not abstract. It is not a list of rules to be obeyed and sins to avoid. At its heart it is personal and corporate obedience to Jesus by those who have responded to his call to follow. It is not about religion. It is about all of life. It involves a choice to be with Jesus in order to become like him (Matthew 10.25) It is a choice to learn to live our life as he would live our life (Dallas Willard). It is a matter of the will. His yoke may be easy and his burden light but we still have to choose to bear it (Matthew 11.28-30) To become a disciple is to surrender our sovereignty over our personal destiny, and be apprenticed to Jesus, as part of his school of discipleship.

Such surrender will never happen unless there is a vision of something better and greater which makes the sacrifice worthwhile. The parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price (Matthew 13.44-46) make it clear that the kingdom (and the King) of heaven are worth such sacrifice. Do we set before people a vision of Jesus and of the transforming power of his kingdom in the world, as we call them to his service via the cross?

All human beings are disciples. They prioritize their life and establish their habits in the light of something, some vision of the good life or someone, even if it be themselves. Frequently our pressured, consumer, society makes disciples far more effectively than many churches. Fresh expressions of church are challenged to embody a better vision: a more captivating motive for daily choices than those offered elsewhere. Consumer society is profoundly seductive and consequently addictive. It shapes the habits which form human character. The life of fresh expressions of church needs to involve those who are willing in a more powerful set of character forming habits than those of the world. The key habit is that of service. Disciples are formed as they engage in mission. Immersion in the ministry of Jesus grows disciples today as in the gospels. A fresh expression should serve as well as worship – drawing potential disciples and not yet believers into the Lord's work in the world.

When I was a young Christian all the emphasis was on personal disciplines, particularly of daily prayer and Bible study. Personal disciplines remain important, but I do not believe they are sufficient to form Christian character today. In those early years of faith the Christian story was better known in Britain, and 'Christian' values taken as norms, even if they were not adhered to. Culture reinforced discipleship much more than today. Today culture is more likely to be corrosive of discipleship as supportive. It is corporate disciplines and support which are needed. A Christian way of life - the daily practice of obedience to Jesus - needs a proactive supportive community. The term 'one another' appears frequently in the New Testament and it is persistent, intentional 'one anothering' which will enable lives of discipleship. I do not know how discipleship can be sustained without some regular, face-to-face small group for mutual support and challenge.

Fresh expressions of church can be schools of discipleship if they offer a more captivating motive for daily choices, a more powerful set of character-forming habits and a proactive supportive community - for a way of life which outclasses the world.

+Graham Cray


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
We use spam protection. View privacy policy.