As you may be aware, I follow a number of other church leaders. I have read many of their books and follow those who blog online (see my links). I have found most of what each are doing to be complimentary, overlapping, and quite similar in many regards. I certainly believe this gives some weight to their words.
Since being exposed to the ideas of “organic” or “simple” church a few years ago, I have been trying to process and synthesize all of the ideas from these various people and groups. While there are many similarities, there are some subtle differences as well (or at least they look subtle on the surface). I started sensing a tension between a couple of schools of thought recently. At first I thought this was about the “and”: the real tension between “in” and “out” or “gathering” vs. “scattering” (that is, building church community vs. going out to bring new people in). But as I considered it, I realized it was something else which was bothering me.
I recently read two books regarding discipleship. The first is by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram (3DM) and is the book being used as the primary guide by the “legacy” church I’m most connected to. The second book is by Jim Putman (Real Life Ministries) and is the one favored by my dad. I think they both have a lot of good ideas, have developed many resources, and have made a lot of positive impact.
Certainly there are many aspects to church. There is theology, service, bible study, evangelism, etc. However the order of priority is crucial I think. I think that discipleship is the idea, in that God is seeking followers rather than merely people who give ascent to some number of beliefs. I also think that church is indispensable, that you can’t have Christ without the church. The impression I get from Breen and Putnam is that their end goal and target is church and disciples. I agree with Breen that you get church by making disciples, and that trying to make disciples by doing church isn’t very effective. So I think it’s great to be making disciples rather than simply having service attenders as is the case so often.
The only problem I have is that this seems to be the end target and goal. Now I fully believe that they are doing these things with a heart for Christ and seeing others connect with him as well. But I get the sense that they are in the business of doing church, and are therefore most concerned with how to do church well. I’m quite interested in this also. But yet as good and fundamental as this all is, I don’t think it can be the end goal or foundation either.
I have also continued to read other material. What which has stuck in my head the most has been something repeatedly said most notably by Frank Viola and Milt Rodriguez. They keep talking about Jesus and really seem to be captured by a revelation of Christ. They keep talking about the idea of church being to live by the life of Christ. This seems key to me, yet I don’t feel like I’ve been captured by a revelation of Christ as they have. I feel like I have a lot of good theory and ideas, but haven’t seen this worked out tangibly for the most part.
I can shake the idea that the central core foundation and end goal has to be Christ. There has to be something of substance that is the point of all of the church, evangelism, and discipleship. Christ is it. I believe the central thing must be connecting to and living by the life of Christ. I believe everything else, church, disciples, service, bible study, evangelism, etc., etc., will flow out of this.
What frustrates me is that I feel like we talk a lot about following Christ and living by his life, yet I don’t know that we are really experiencing it in a significant way. I feel like I (and those in my church) are on the edge of experiencing this, yet not quite there. I feel like I understand it just enough to know that I’m not experiencing it and to recognize it if I saw it, yet not enough to know how to get there.
I think part of this has to do with the idea that I don’t believe it can be done alone. The church is the expression of Christ on earth. So to experience Christ, we have to encounter his church. In John Jesus says “When you obey my commandments you remain in my love… This is my commandment: Love each other.” (15:10, 17) To paraphrase, “Remain in my love by loving each other.” It seems like we make God’s love tangible to one another.
For me right now, the life of Christ is the only thing that matters. Church, discipleship, bible study, doctrines, service, etc. are all hollow without the life of Christ. This is something different than balancing “up”, “in”, and “out” (to use 3DM terms). We don’t balance the life of Christ with other things; his life has to be the backdrop and source for everything else.