Real Life Discipleship: Multiplying Life
At the heart of missional communities is the understanding that discipleship primarily happens through relationships lived out in extended families on mission. It means they have a vital role in becoming training grounds for disciples rather than grazing pastures for Christians.
They are dynamic and constantly evolving, being shaped by the Spirit’s leading as the group discerns the season they find themselves in. There is an expectation of growth in both the depth of discipleship and the reach of their mission. We call this multiplying life. It’s the picture Jesus uses of what happens when yeast is added to dough – a little bit of life works to affect the whole so that growth happens!
This principle is a really helpful one to think about how the culture of your missional community might be shaped.
If you agree that a key role in leading your community is to shape a culture of equipping and releasing disciples, (check out this great blog by Paul Maconochie on the role of a leader), then here are 4 areas to help you consider how to become a community which multiplies life,.
1. Start with a vision that is much bigger than where you start off
The way Jesus started off his mission by calling a few fishermen together shows he was thinking long-term. Jesus had a discipleship mindset. He wasn’t looking for fully-formed individuals (good luck on that one!) or people who even fully understood what he was about. He looked for people who with a little invitation were hungry for something to change.
What this means: When we started inviting people into our missional community, we looked for people who were willing to come with us for the journey towards a vision that will be years in the making. We were careful of calling people to specific events or just on the strength of our existing friendship. We needed to call people to a shared adventure with Jesus to see Him change a bit of our shared world together.
2. Your job isn’t to do everything. In fact it’s the opposite.
Quite early on in Jesus’ friendship with his disciples, he was getting them to do stuff. To go out on mission trips, to feed the poor and hungry, and to announce the Kingdom in word and action. And to begin with they just weren’t very good at it. The point was, Jesus knew they needed to learn how to do this discipleship stuff, and for most of us we don’t really learn by reading the theories but by having go in the context of real life.
What this means: We try and see everything we do in our life together as a learning opportunity for someone. Whether it’s saying a simple prayer out loud for the first time, visiting houses, making a dinner for 12, or organizing a litter pick – we try and let everybody have a go. The key thing is to be there to process how they’re doing and what God’s teaching them about their character in what they learning.
3. Take regular time out to stand back and watch what is happening
Jesus often seemed to disappear off up a mountain at the strangest of times, usually after something seemingly significant had just happened – an extraordinary miracle, a day of new teaching, a person and their community coming to faith. Instead of being drawn into the temptation of ‘servicing’ the growth, Jesus was often quite happy to let things happen without him. He was secure enough to understand his value and direction came from communion with the Father.
What this means: As leaders and as a community, we seek to take regular time out to look back and review what has happened in the life of our family. We’ll often make a journal or thanksgiving wall of what God has done, and then use that as a basis for worship, intercession and listening for what the next season might hold. Where is God asking us to steward any growth you have seen? Where is he asking you to reshape your rhythms? Where do we need to release it and prepare others for something new?
4. Be willing to be surprised by the vision and capacity of others
After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples stepped up in a massive way. They went from being the team to being the leaders at the heart of a new movement called the church. Peter found his voice on the day of Pentecost and confidently gave a narrative to what the Holy Spirit was up to. Suddenly there was a whole new set of challenges and opportunities, but Jesus had prepared them for it.
What this means: If we have a healthy culture of discipleship in our community, a natural outworking is new leaders to do new things. And some of these leaders will just never be able to do them whilst you’re still around . The challenge here for all of us is to make constant room for people to be sent out to new areas of opportunity and for us to know it’s OK to step back and allow others to shape things in our absence.
Gareth Irvine, together with his wife Jenny and baby daughter planted a new missional community base called Saint Aidan’s in the north of the city of Coventry in the summer of 2012. They took a small team of young adults with them, to live as an incarnational community focused around prayer and mission. They’re currently involved in Kidz Klub which works with children from challenging housing estates, and visit about 30 families each week on the estate where they live as well as gathering together for worship on the estate.