Today marks the beginning of a new feature here on the blog. Over the next few months I will be interviewing pastors, leaders, and authors on the topic of discipleship. My first guest is Shawn Lovejoy. Shawn is the founding and lead pastor of Mountain Lake Church, the directional leader of churchplanters.com, and the author of The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea To Pastors. You can connect with Shawn on Twitter here.
Discipleship is such a broad term, often a junk-drawer term that has been used to describe many things. How do you define it?
In general, most of us overcomplicate discipleship. Jesus said the most important thing we can do is love Him and love people. God is love. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. Jesus life was defined by His love for us. So everything…and I mean EVERYTHING in our church is focused on helping people do just that: Belonging in a healthy relationship with God and others and becoming more like Jesus, by loving Him and loving others. We tell our church that when we all learn how to love God and love people perfectly, we’ll move on to something deeper (smile).
How do you articulate the holy tension in God’s role in transformation and the believer’s role?
Yes, Jesus told us to “make disciples.” However, I don’t think we can make someone follow Jesus. Everyone we hope to disciple will not be willing to make the journey with us. Not everyone followed Jesus for the entire journey. As the stakes got higher during Jesus’ ministry, more and more turned away. Jesus once actually turned to the twelve and asked: “Do you want to go away as well?” (Jn 6:66). As a disciple maker, I believe it’s our role to plant the seed and trust the Holy Spirit to water the seed and make it grow. Some people will allow the Spirit to do that, and some won’t. Jesus actually taught that percentage-wise, only about one out of four will actually grow to the point that they begin to reproduce (see the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:23).
Do you see distinction between personal discipleship (a believer on his own) and corporate discipleship (a believer does in the community)?
It’s unmistakable. In the New Testament, discipleship happens almost exclusively in community. Catch this: there’s not even one instance of personal prayer in the book of Acts. There are over a dozen instances of corporate prayer. Do I believe in a quiet time? Yes! However, I also believe that discipleship happens best in community. Prayer is easiest when it’s done together. Reading God’s Word is best applied in community. Sharpening and personal growth happens best in and through the Body of Christ! We need each other to grow! As a church, we offer a Bible Reading Guide for every series we teach; but then, we talk about what God has said to us though our daily reading in our small groups; and we talk about how we can apply the messages we’ve been hearing on the weekend. We believe that discipleship is more about fruit than meat. In other words, we demonstrate our spiritual maturity but what we do; not by what we know!
How would you sense if a church or ministry is straying from discipleship?
The biggest sign would be if the group begins to exist only for the benefit of those already attending. For example, none of our small groups are ever closed groups. I have heard the argument that new people can disrupt community in a small group. However, I believe that small groups that are closed to outsiders is not biblical community! Biblical community is always inclusive. True biblical community is always on mission with Jesus. We tell our church that if we want Jesus to be with us, we must be where He is: On Mission! Every small group in our church is encouraged to invite others and provide an environment that is safe for outsiders. We also hold our groups accountable for having some kind of missional engagement in the community. If these things aren’t happening over time, ultimately the group will not be recognized as small group in our church. How’s that for accountability and discipleship?