For 25 years now, I have used this illustration that, for me, has been helpful in describing what is God’s intention for the Church. Of course, no illustration is perfect; all still have limitations, and even flaws. Still, a visual picture can sometimes portray a thought or idea that words cannot.
In this illustration, posted above, we see three areas that a local church needs to be growing in, if it is going to be healthy. You might call these essential building blocks for a healthy church. First, there is what I am calling Biblical Discipleship. This serves as a foundation to whatever else the church might do. Discipleship is an individual pursuit for the most part, yet it is the church’s responsibility to build this foundation of discipleship into the individual lives of the congregation. Discipleship is much more than just some program we expect people to go through. More than anything else, it is an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus. It includes learning and studying the core teachings of Jesus. It is then pursuing a life devoted to living like Jesus, or living by these teachings in a practical way. Jesus told His disciples that the way to build on solid ground was to not merely hear His words, but to act upon them. However, we quickly learn that trying to walk out these radical teachings of Jesus is impossible in our own strength. That is why Biblical Discipleship also must include an understanding of how we have been empowered with the resurrected life of Christ. We must know and walk by faith in who we are in Christ. These are just a few of the things that must be built into the lives of those desiring to truly be disciples.
Biblical Church Life (or community) is the next building block. Note that this is built upon a foundation of discipleship. This is very important. The “church life” we see described in so much of the New Testament is only possible when practiced by those embracing discipleship. That is because Biblical church life is radical. We are told repeatedly to love (agape love, that is) one another. We are exhorted to be of the same mind and heart with one another. How can carnal Christians, or anything other than devoted disciples, do these things? We are reminded to serve one another, to encourage one another, to admonish one another, bear with one another, and forgive one another. Actually, depending on the translation you are using, there are about 31 different “one anothers.” Most of these cannot be done in the typical meeting environment. Church life is therefore something that is much more than a Sunday morning service. It is a family, it is caring relationships, it is working together and serving together throughout the week. Church no longer is defined as a organization, a building, or an activity on Sunday morning. There have been many in recent years who have stated the Church has lost her sense of community, and that it has become program-based rather than relationship-based. Yet many who have “tried community,” have abandoned these ideals. Why? Often it is because of the lack of true disciples. It is frustrating and discouraging to try to build community (koinonia) with “carnal Christians” who often fall into contentions and are motivated by selfish ambitions. The type of Biblical church life called for in the Scriptures is not possible…..unless it is built upon the foundation of Biblical Discipleship.
Spiritual Multiplication (fruit bearing) is the third building block. The multiplication of disciples, various ministries, and even churches is something that many churches dream of. However, sustained evangelism and spiritual reproduction spring out of the foundations of Biblical discipleship and Biblical church life. The book of Acts is a perfect example of this, along with countless accounts throughout Church History. It is popular to have programs designed to increase evangelism and to sponsor evangelism crusades. And while these are often very useful, these things cannot be a substitute for building discipleship and community into our churches. When a church is healthy and growing in these aspects, then multiplication will naturally flow. That’s because God’s power and anointing are reserved for those walking in the unity of the Spirit (walking in Biblical church life). So often, we try to circumvent God’s way of bearing much fruit, in a human attempt to get quick results. This is the fruit that fades away and is temporal…….but God is calling the Church for much more than this.
It should be noted that we should not neglect building church life and spiritual multiplication just because we have more work to do in building Biblical discipleship. Let’s be building all three, but realize that as our foundation of Biblical Discipleship gets stronger and deeper, then so will our church life. And as that grows and deepens, fruit will begin to overflow. Let’s note, too, that in a typical church congregation, there will always be people hanging out on the sidelines. (Jesus said there would even be tares among the wheat). But it is important that there be a strong and growing core of disciples who are embracing Biblical discipleship and church life, and who are desiring spiritual multiplication.
I have actually put together several one or two day workshops that explain these things more thoroughly. In fact, I will be in Paris next week doing a workshop on “Building Biblical Discipleship in our Churches.” My goal over the next several months is to share here in this blog more on each of these building blocks. I pray that these short exhortations will encourage more discipleship and deeper church life among all of us.