One of the convictions that unites the GCM Collective in South Jersey is the conviction that a person cannot become a fully-formed disciple of Jesus without being in a gospel-centered community on mission.
The key to this statement, as I understand it, is the phrase “fully-formed”. Sure, a person can experience some measure of spiritual growth as a disciple apart from a community devoted to Jesus’ mission of making disciples. But a fully-formed disciple is one who is learning to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19).
Since so many of Jesus’ commands require community (such as, “Love one another,” or “forgive one another,” or, “Get the log out of your eye before you examine the speck in your brother’s eye”), then to be fully obedient to Jesus, we need community. And since He also commands that we go into all nations preaching the gospel, baptizing new believers and teaching them to obey all He has commanded, and living a life that commends Him to a hostile world, then a disciple who isn’t devoted to that mission surely cannot be considered “fully-formed.”
So I think it’s helpful to say that a disciple cannot be fully-formed apart from being in a gospel-centered community which is on mission together to make disciples of Jesus. In all the talk about the importance of community and mission, though, I wonder if something very important and seemingly-obvious gets neglected. So when I talk to others about the need for gospel-centered community on mission, one thing I like to stress is:
A gospel-centered community on mission will experience true discipleship only to the degree that the individual Christians who make up that community are personally experiencing vital, soul-enriching communion with God on their own.
As vital as deep community is to healthy discipleship, discipleship won’t happen just by “doing life” together, engaging in everyday rhythms. Throw some unbelievers in the mix, and it doesn’t automatically become mission. If the Christians in this community aren’t personally experiencing fellowship with God, there will be no Christ to bring into those everyday rhythms. And if there’s no Christ, then surely there is no discipleship. As disciples of Jesus, the life we now live is a life of faith in Christ (Galatians 2:20), and that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).
We walk the path of discipleship in the same way that we initially get onto that path: through faith in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7). If we’re not hearing from Him, as He is revealed in the Word, then we won’t be growing, nor will we be able to help anyone else to grow, which is what discipleship is all about: growing up into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ so that every single aspect of life is joyfully submitted to His rule and reign. And that happens as we speak the truth (i.e., biblical truth, especially gospel truth) in love to one another (see Ephesians 4:11-16).
So if there is no intake of truth, then there surely will be no speaking of truth to others, and thus no true mission will actually happen. But when we are experiencing vital, soul-enriching, communion with God, hearing from Him with faith, then discipleship is as simple as sharing with others what God is saying to us personally.
For instance, in re-reading Tim Chester’s wonderful book You Can Change, I was struck by a simple statement Chester made in ministering to a man who was dealing with panic attacks: “Not what if, but what is, and what is, is that God is in control.” I was struck by this, because the absence of peace in my life (a confidence and rest in the wisdom and control and goodness of God, rather than my own) was something the Spirit had been pressing on me in recent weeks.
I seized upon this statement, and tried to make it more specific by inserting particular biblical truths to convey, “what is”. Not “What if?”, but “What is?” And what is, is that:
• The LORD, who is my good shepherd, is pursuing me with goodness and mercy today, and all the days of my life (Psalm 23:1, 6)
• God rejoices to do me good with all of His heart and all of His soul (Jeremiah 32:40-41)
• Jesus, who loved me and gave Himself for me, is even now upholding the universe by the word of His power (Galatians 2:20, Hebrews 1:3)
• My present sufferings aren’t worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to me as an heir of God, and a co-heir with Jesus Christ Himself (Romans 8:17-18)
You get the idea. In the past few weeks since reading this, I am experiencing the transforming power of the Spirit, bringing me back to liberating truths of who God is and what He has promised me because of Jesus. And inevitably, as I do life with other believers, I am sharing with them what God has been showing me, telling them about the “What if/What is” lesson I am learning, and telling them the specific truths and promises that He is using to set me free from fear, anxiety, discouragement, etc. In doing that, I am taking my experience of growth and using it to engage in the discipleship of others. I am speaking truth in love to others, because I am hearing truth from my God, Savior, Shepherd, King and Redeemer.
That is, as I understand it, the mission I’m called to: seek the Lord with everything in me, marinate my soul in the rich truths of God’s Word, and then share with others (both believer and unbeliever) what God is showing to me as I commune with Him.
So, yes, you cannot faithfully obey everything Jesus has commanded (and thus, be a fully-formed disciple of Jesus) without involvement in a gospel-centered community on mission. Know this, and live this; don’t deceive yourself into thinking you’re a healthy disciple of Jesus just because you know a lot of truth about Him. But know this as well: you can’t contribute to the health of a gospel-centered community on mission if you’re not personally seeking fellowship and communion with God in your own life.
As you do that – as the Creator of heaven and earth meets you day after day and speaks to you from the pages of Scripture – share that experience with others who you’re doing life with, and you’ll be living out His mission of making disciples. The mission of disciple-making is more than this; but it’s surely not less.
This was a guest post by Larry Lazarus; pastor at Joy Community Fellowship in Pitman, New Jersey.