Woven Into the Church
Let’s not abandon disciplemaking to the parachurch ministries.
moderated by Jordan Mogck
EFCA Today recently gathered three leaders for a discussion about being a disciple versus a disciplemaker, and how such a stereotypically individual process is also a communal one. Participants included Mark DeMire, senior pastor of The Community of Grace (EFCA) in Memphis, Tennessee; Melanie Newton, women’s ministry mobilizer for the EFCA Texas-Oklahoma District; and moderator Jordan Mogck, user experience designer at the EFCA national office in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Below is just a small portion of their conversation.
Jordan: How do you walk alongside this tension—of disciplemaking being both individual and communal?
Mark: I was introduced to discipleship and disciplemaking in college in the mid-’80s, through a parachurch ministry, the Navigators. I had been part of a local church all my life, but I wasn’t discipled in the local church. And that created bitterness in me. So this has been a mission for me: to see this happen in the local church.
Now that I’m a senior pastor, the starting point for disciplemaking to happen in the local church is for each member to have invested relationships with one another within the body: with someone who’s above them (or more mature spiritually), with someone who’s below them and with someone who’s on a peer level. I also look at Galatians 4:19 and Colossians 1:28,29—where Paul is talking about laboring to present a person fully mature in Christ. That’s congruent on an individual and corporate level.
Melanie: Unless individual members are actually out there making disciples, then you have no disciplemaking going on. Because the building can’t do it, the website can’t do it, the church value statement can’t do it. It requires individuals to do it, or else it is just talk and not the church’s cultural flavor.
Jordan: Melanie, what does your role with the district look like?
Melanie: I work with individual churches through the women’s ministries or, if they have no women’s ministry, through the pastor’s wife. Often, these churches contain Christian women who have been in Bible study for years but have gotten so comfortable within the church setting that they have forgotten to reach out to nonbelievers. I train them to look for them, to build relationships with them, to learn how to share their faith story and the gospel itself, to be willing to personally disciple a new believer in the basics of the faith, and to bring them into the community of the church so they can continue to grow.
I use the illustration of the movie Julie and Julia—about a young woman named Julie Powell who becomes a disciple of the famous chef Julia Childs. She decides to cook through Julia’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She learns the recipes, follows all the instructions, and she actually cooks the food and enjoys it. She becomes more like Julia Childs along the way, even dressing like her and looking like her. That’s becoming a disciple. But she didn’t keep it to herself. While she was doing this, she wrote a blog, introducing other people to Julia Childs. She wrote a book, which was turned into a movie. That’s disciplemaking.
Mark: Here at The Community of Grace, we have been intentional about moving the whole church toward the vision of making disciples among all people. So we even sold our building and moved into probably the most diverse area in Memphis. Moving has helped us create that culture within our church body. For example, at one point, people wanted to do everything in the building; now we have formed discipleship groups throughout the city.
Jordan: You’re touching on something I’m passionate about: When I was part of my church’s ministry teams, I was out of my neighborhood three nights a week, because the church building and most of my church family are 15-20 minutes away. Yet God has called us to our neighbors. So what do you do with those disciplemakers who may be more on the fringe of your church’s collective mission?
Mark: One of the things we have really emphasized is, Bloom where you’ve been planted. I believe the church has a responsibility to pour into your life and to free you up so you can make disciples in your sphere of influence, where you are the majority of the time.
Jordan: As this disciplemaking vision is realized and more disciples are feeling empowered to make disciples, might there be less participation in central activities of the local church and more of a gathering and scattering?
Mark: When I was involved in parachurch ministry, having a pastor over me wasn’t the big priority; the big priority was to make disciples. But Scripture makes it clear in the local church that elders are there to shepherd, watch over, equip. I have to stand before God and give an account for these sheep He’s placed under my care. So now I ask about individual believers, “Where are they in relationship with pastors and leaders who are accountable to watch over their souls? Are they committed to a local fellowship where they are practicing the one anothers?”
Jordan: Let me throw a scenario out to you. In my family’s sphere, we have re-oriented our life around the daily rhythms of our neighbors. As a result, we have developed deep relationships with them and they’ve come to trust us. We’ve begun to have weekly dinners with them. So we have a little flock in our home—with neighbors who are not believers and a few families who are. We’ve been going through the story of God orally with some of them. But I’m not an appointed elder. Should an elder be present at a thing like that, to watch over the sheep? Or at what point do you say, “You know, Jordan, you are a shepherd here.”
Mark: Oh, I like that one. You, being part of a local fellowship, have a leader committed to watching over your soul. But as a follower of Jesus Christ, you have been called to make disciples who make disciples. I believe what we should be praying for is that those people you are ministering to would be connected to a local church. Right now, you’re their bridge to the local church. I don’t believe in picking fruit before it’s ripe. I don’t believe you should force them into the local church at this point, but you can minister to them and help them to grow. As they get into the Word and become Christians, then you can begin to show them in the Word where it tells them they need to be part of a local church.
Melanie: That’s part of the discipleship process: building the relationships and helping them to come to faith. It doesn’t have to be in a church setting. I have a group of women who gather at a park on Monday mornings with their babies. They’ve started inviting other women at the park to join their group. They were already doing something and then incorporated others into it. Eventually, some of those other moms started coming to the church and becoming part of the fellowship.
Mark: I’ll use Jordan as an example. Right now, by you pouring into their lives, you’re hoping that they see from a biblical perspective their need for the local fellowship as they grow. That’s why I see the individual working in conjunction with the local fellowship but not apart from it. My own experience was, I received all this outside the local fellowship and didn’t know how the local fellowship fit into my life.
Jordan: Is there anything else you want to add?
Mark: I’m convinced, Jordan, that disciplemaking has to happen from the top down. Because if it doesn’t, it becomes a program, just an add-on. It must infuse every aspect of the church, even the calendar and the budget. Where are you pouring your money? Events or disciplemaking? By selling our building, we cut overhead: We don’t have to worry about cutting grass and fixing pipes. That can go toward ministry now. That’s what I believe has really helped change the DNA/culture of our church. But I’ll admit: Going into a traditional church and trying to change the culture is tremendously hard. Like trying to turn an ocean liner. If you turn too fast, it’s liable to capsize.
Melanie: We don’t want disciplemaking to be a fad. We want it to be a lifestyle change in the everyday, ordinary people in our churches, whether they are 15 or 92. I’ve had a 92-year-old women come to my training and then go back to her retirement center and start a small discipleship group with the other women. You’re never too old.