Is There a Place for Discipleship in Your Ministry?
Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20. We’re all familiar with this passage. This is The Great Commission, Jesus’ last words before His ascension. His final command to His apostles and His Church. Today, I want to explore this passage as it relates to Christian ministries, and ask the question, is there a place for discipleship in your ministry?
1. Who We Are 2. How We Work 3. How We Serve the Church
Before we get any further, I think it’ll be helpful to explore how Hope International thinks about this topic. We had Chris Horst, Chief Advancement Officer at Hope International, on the podcast a while back and he shared how Hope approaches this topic. During our conversation, I asked Chris how Hope International works discipleship into their programs. He shared how their spiritual integration and discipleship manifests in 3 ways.
First, discipleship integration at Hope shows up in Who they are as an organization. One of their Philippines partners put it this way, “You can’t share what you don’t have.” We have to be continually falling more in love with Jesus? This is a question that is constantly front of mind for Hope. Hope has developed and built a culture where the pursuit of Jesus is encouraged. They have integrated space into their staff’s day that encourages time spent with the Lord. They’ve created space for the staff to encourage one another to spend time pursuing Jesus. We all know how easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of our ministries, to get so busy with to-do lists that we forget to make time for the Lord. Hope has intentionally made space for and encouraged their staff to take that time both corporately, and on a personal level.
Second, Hope integrates discipleship into their programs in “How they work.” Chris said, “It’s about who we hire. It’s about how we create opportunities to encourage those that we serve to go deeper into the faith. All of our meetings with banks and savings groups around the world feature the 5 W’s (Welcome, Worship, Word, Work, Wrap-Up). That’s how we work and stay true to our mission.” For Hope, discipleship isn’t just an add-on or afterthought. They have integrated it into everything they do as an organization. It might not be perfect or follow a specific system or discipleship strategy, but discipleship is taken seriously and integrated into what they do, and there is a seriousness and intentionality to discipleship within the organization. And, I’m sure Chris would say that it’s a constantly evolving integration as they change and grow as a ministry.
“We believe that the local church is God’s plan A, and there’s no plan B for how He’s going about His mission in the world.”
Third, Hope integrates discipleship into their programs in “How they serve the Church.” What Chris said during this part of the conversation has been on my mind ever since. It’s been at the forefront of my mind and will likely result in strategy adjustments in how we function as a ministry. What Chris said was simple, but powerful. “We believe that the local church is God’s plan A, and there’s no plan B for how He’s going about His mission in the world. So we see ourselves as a para-church ministry, not as the Bride of Christ, but as the bridesmaid to the Bride. So, our job as the bridesmaid is to make the bride look beautiful. So, we really emphasize that we can’t operate in the community if we aren’t in partnership with the local church. That’s not just a check box for us, but core to our mission. We’re holding our bank meetings in local churches, we’re inviting local pastors to minister, serve, and provide support to those local communities. We’re actually creating our savings group ministry as a ministry operated by the local church, not by us.” This has profound implications for all para-church organizations. Does your ministry function in tandem with, in support of, and in collaboration with the local church, or are you functioning apart from the local church? Obviously, the answer to this question and how it plays out is going to look different for every single ministry, but it’s crucial that we are having this conversation and seeking to answer this question.
In Support of the Local Church
Now, as I just stated, I believe this is an incredibly important question to ask and to prayerfully consider. Take these questions before the Lord. Take them to your board. If you lead a para-church organization, are you functioning in support of the local church? For some of your ministries, you might need to ask, did we start because we thought we could do things better than the local church? If the answer to that question is yes, there might need to be some repentance. Our ministries should not function as a replacement for the church. As Chris said, God does not have a plan B, there is no back-up plan for the redemption of humanity. God has chosen to work through the Bride, to work through the Body of Christ, as messy and dysfunctional as she may be at times, she is God’s only plan. She is beautiful and she is primary to God’s redemptive work. If it doesn’t already, how can your para-church ministry support that plan?
Now, we’ve spent some time walking through Hope’s strategy for discipleship, but what does that mean for faith-based humanitarian organizations or faith-based social justice organizations? Is discipleship integrated and interwoven throughout your ministry? Why are you doing what you’re doing? What is the core purpose of your work? Does your ministry make attempts at discipleship, or do you reserve that for another ministry? Discipleship should be integrated and interwoven throughout our ministries. As an aside, I recognize that this will and probably should look different for every single ministry. The way in which Hope thinks about discipleship is going to look different than your ministry, but it should at the very least be a consideration. If you don’t have a plan or strategy already in place, hopefully, Hope’s plan can provide a few ideas.
Towards the end of the conversation Chris said, “As we pursue this work of savings groups and helping people out of poverty, we could be potentially solving the problems of poverty and introducing the problems of prosperity.” We are called to care for the orphan and the widow (James 1:27), to visit those in prison (Hebrews 13:1-3), to fight against injustice (Psalm 82:3), but are we introducing problems that only swing the pendulum to the other side of the spectrum? Working to alleviate poverty? Are you introducing the problems of prosperity? Working to end slavery? Have you rescued from one form of slavery to another, a life apart from Christ? Working to end the homelessness crisis? Have you considered your beneficiaries’ eternal home? All of these are better temporal circumstances, but let’s think bigger. Let’s think, plan, and strategize with eternity in mind.
As I’m re-reading this article and self-editing, I’m realizing that this article feels a little heavy-handed, especially that last paragraph. This is an incredibly difficult question to answer. I most definitely don’t have all or any of the answers. I do however think it’s an incredibly important question to ask, and a question I want to encourage ministries to start asking or continue asking. How this works itself out at Reliant is a constantly moving target, especially as a support ministry for other ministries. I’m constantly wrestling with how Reliant should or can function in support of the church or how we can integrate discipleship strategies into our work while still keeping our core purpose central. No ministry has nailed this topic. If your ministry is completely humanitarian and social justice focused, with no discipleship strategy in place, there is more than sufficient grace, but we’ve been invited into something so much bigger than serving the physical needs of people. As incredibly important as that piece is, it’s only a part of the puzzle. You’ve been invited into redemptive Kingdom work. Making disciples is a command, but it’s also an invitation. An incredible and beautiful invitation with eternal significance.
In the book, When Helping Hurts, Corbett and Fikkert say that the mission of poverty alleviation (fill in the social justice initiative of your choosing there) is always evangelistic in nature and should connect people to Christ. The connection must focus on the whole person: spiritual, material, emotional, social, political, and cultural. How can we work discipleship into our programs? Instead of “working it in,” maybe we need to change our starting point? Why not start with discipleship? This works with the inverse as well. Discipleship-focused ministry? How can you serve the physical needs in the communities where you are making disciples? Here’s what I know. We’ve been called to make disciples and we’ve been called to serve the physical needs of people. Christ modeled both for us, right? Let’s seek to find a balance between the physical needs and spiritual needs of people. Let’s filter our strategies through a more holistic lens. OR… this could mean partnership. More on that in the next article!