What do disciples do?

by New Church Starts

by Sue King, Director of Connectional Ministries, Yellowstone Conference of The United Methodist Church

One of the devotional resources I use often is Reuben P. Job’s book, When You Pray which provides daily reading of scriptures and other authors' “nuggets” through the three year Lectionary rotation. It has been rich in starter material this week as I pondered the topic of “Discipling” for this blog. Matthew and Acts provide much to consider about discipling. Here’s some highlights…

Acts 2 and 5 share a description of early disciples’ lifestyle with five characteristics:

  • Devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship with the breaking of bread and the prayers.

  • Shared all material possessions with any in need.

  • Spent much time together in temple and broke bread from house to house

  • Ate their food with glad and generous hearts

  • Praised God and had the goodwill of all.

This evening, I also was reviewing an excellent presentation by Towers and Watson describing the methodology and primary findings of the Vital Congregations Project, sponsored by the United Methodist Church. I read it because I wanted to learn more about methodology and difference between "drivers" and "indicators". Okay, I wanted to see if they'd done their homework well, too. They had. I learned a lot by viewing the presentation. I am not a statistician, and you don't have to be one to get some good information from this summary presentation for your local church.

One of the things I learned is that the actions of a disciple in a vital church movement haven’t changed much in 2000 years, but sometimes we use the word lay leaders and clergy leaders now. Towers and Watson found that:

Effective lay leaders also demonstrate vital personal faith. They participate in disciplines such as regular prayer and Bible study, attend weekly worship, give proportionally, join in mission opportunities, and share their faith with others. Effective lay leadership is also key to vital congregations. The most vital churches had 25 percent to 50 percent of attendees in leadership during the last five years. Churches also have rotating lay leadership with people sharing their gifts in a variety of ways over time. People do not serve year after year in the same position.”

In this time of skepticism and cynicism about church and denominations, people are looking at us who claim to be disciples of Jesus. They aren’t going to be impressed by the statistics of worship attendance or professions of faith. They just wonder if we are the “real deal” or should they keep, or even quit, looking.

People wondered the same thing about Jesus too. In Matthew 11, we learn that when John the Baptist was in prison, two of his disciples came and asked Jesus, “Are you the one, or should we wait for another?”

Jesus didn’t reply with statistics about the number of people he’d taught in synagogues last month’s Sabbaths or ticked off the numbers of 5000 and 4000 fed on recent mission trips to the foothills. These ARE important indicators of whether he was connecting in a vital way to his community. But, they ARE NOT God’s Mission. So, they aren’t the Church’s mission—just very helpful feedback.

Jesus' response shows how he wanted John’s disciples to decide for themselves whether or not he was God’s “real deal.” They had to decide whether they would follow Jesus as the Messiah of God’s Mission.  

Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Matthew 10:24

It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher. Where do you see the church following the example Jesus and the early church? What types of practices do you think show the world we are the “real deal”?