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Discipleship v. Excellence – a false dichotomy?


Perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention before, but it seems as though many congregations are trying to move away from “membership” to “discipleship”, following the lead of Pastor Mike Foss’s book, Power Surge.

The general principle of discipleship v. membership is that for far too long congregations have focused on having a club mentality – pleasing the membership at the expense of serving others or reaching out to those who are not (yet?) members. And if, perchance, members are sought, it is so that our congregation can do more for us, rather than trying to get more people to come to know Jesus Christ. As I have a tendency to put it – all congregations want more people; it’s just that we want people who look like us, think the way we do, want what we want, but who give more money than we do. A caricature, to be sure… right? The point is that a membership model congregation seeks to serve itself and self-perpetuate for its own sake and tends to be a top-down, control based model so that its self can be perpetuated.

On the other hand, the general principle of a discipleship model congregation is that people are encouraged and equipped to use their God-given gifts to serve inside and outside of the congregation. This is scary because it means that people will have different ideas, do things differently, and, in the end, there is much less control. Instead of church council dictating each and every thing (I have, seriously, sat for almost 20 minutes as a church council talked about humidifiers for the congregation’s basement), the council sets the boundaries/framework/vision and gives people both the responsibility and authority to fill in the picture within the framework given. This is a vast oversimplification, but hopefully you have the general idea.

A pitfall within the discipleship model (allowing/encouraging/equipping people to use their God-given gifts) is allowing the discipleship model to be an excuse for mediocrity. A hypothetical to illustrate: a congregation with three different entrances into the building has a door with a broken outside handle. It is not a safety/fire hazard – exiting is not impaired, because the outside is broken, not the inside. The door with the broken handle is used by the pre-school and rarely by the members. Both of the other entrances (at the east and west ends of the building – the pre-school entrance is in the middle) are working just fine. Mr. Jones has said he will fix the handle. Four weeks later, it is still not fixed…

There are, of course, many variables which may affect what you do next. Has he tried to fix it before? Is he a long-time member or a new member? Are there any other lock-smiths in town or people capable of doing the job? What if no one in the congregation can do it for free, so we have to call someone?

Something for you to chew on, dear reader: how is a discipleship model implemented without sacrificing excellency? I am assuming that because God gave us His best (His only begotten Son – John 3:16) that we are called to give our best. My second assumption is that because we want people to hear and know the Word of God, barriers/excuses people give should be removed/addressed. For example – I won’t go there because I don’t feel safe there at night – address by installing parking lot lights. Whether we like it or not, presentation matters. So… discipleship v. excellence – is it a false dichotomy? How do you navigate the waters when the two seemingly come into opposition?

As always, offering questions, rarely answers….

One Comment leave one →
  1. 10November2011 20:16

    Having spent the past 5 years encouraging and equipping the members of the congregation where I serve to grow in discipleship, branch out in mission, and move beyond a self-serving membership mentality, I do not often find the two in opposition to one another. Equiping, allowing, encouraging is not synonymous with a “hands-off” policy that promotes a lack of a commitment to excellence.

    Part of equipping is encouraging a sense of excellence in whatever is undertaken. When someone offers to take on a project or ministry, either council members or I follow-up. It is unusual for things to fall through the cracks. When they do, the ministry director who generally handles that particular area of congregational life will ask when they think it might be completed or if there are any resources that they need to wrap things up.

    As I view it, there are two aspects to keeping a discipleship emphasis from falloing into an acceptance of mediocrity. First there is the equipping piece that empasizes giving our best effort. Second, there is a commitment on the part of leadership to provide resources, encouragement, and follow-up. Overall, it has worked well for us.

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