I was raised in a Catholic European city. My neighborhood was littered with cathedrals. They were statues of the past more than they were pillars of the present. Except for major holidays and the incredible buildings, it was hard to notice anyone around me experiencing the life of the church. I never had a friend who went to mass on any kind of regular basis. I rarely saw anyone pray outside a stadium or off a soccer field. My home country produced popes, yet people barely passed through the doors of its cathedrals to worship God, much less find Him. Neighbors could spend their lives living near church buildings and never encounter the Church.
The Church is More
When I moved to the United States, I encountered a similar story with different details. Church buildings towered over highways, radio stations beamed out Christian music over the skies, and billboards and T-shirts confessed the message of Jesus everywhere. And yet, it was difficult to find people praying outside of stadiums or off football fields. People passed through the doors of church buildings every Sunday but Christ was visibly absent from the lives of most people Monday through Saturday, or even by Sunday afternoon.
I must warn you, however, this is not normal. The Church is more.
The pattern biblically, experientially for much of church history and throughout the world today is of a community of believers in Jesus growing up to maturity in Christ while they share the gospel with neighbors, family members, and co-workers. As those outside the community see and experience the message of the gospel, they understand it. Through the power of the Spirit, those neighbors become Christians, join the community and continue to grow up in Christ. As all these disciples mature, new communities form both in their city and region, but also others are sent to distant lands. People who didn’t even know the gospel a short time ago are now leading communities and making disciples themselves. And, the pattern continues as more and more encounter Jesus through the gospel and his church.
Ordinary Christian life
The Church is an explosive, sacrificing, and rapidly multiplying movement of disciples. A church that makes disciples and sends them to start new churches in new places is normative in the history of the church, and this remains the nature of the Church globally. We often forget the book of Acts is not about the extraordinary lives of a few Christians but about ordinary Christian life. Every local church exists to be a gospel-centered ecosystem where the lost are found and the wounded are healed and the love of God moves rapidly into the world around it. It’s normal for churches to reach new people with the message of the gospel daily, weekly, and annually. A church that infiltrates every domain of culture and commerce with disciples who make disciples is a typical church. Churches that start churches. Churches that contextually proclaim the gospel are traditional churches.
This vision of a movement of people coming to greater faith in the gospel is likely what drew you into church leadership. The image of disciples equipped and making disciples in their families, neighborhoods, and careers spurs us into action. Perhaps, like me, you hoped to cultivate a gospel ecosystem where the growth was spontaneous and spiritually powerful while the Spirit of God worked deeply in the lives of others. You may be wondering: “Why don’t we experience ordinary Christianity in the Western world? Why aren’t we making disciples and seeing those disciples make more disciples? Why don’t we see this kind of normative multiplying movement of disciples in our context and in our country?” There are many reasons we don’t see multiplying movements of disciples.
This book is an attempt to show you the first step. The beginning of a disciple-making culture is you. But it isn’t about working harder, working smarter, and getting more skills. This book proposes we cultivate a discipleship culture by looking into our own hearts, the lies we believe, and the root beliefs that get exposed by our distraction, discouragement, and disillusionment. If we look into our areas of deep exhaustion and discouragement, we can see our need for the gospel.
Have you longed to see the Spirit send new churches, communities, and disciples to new areas of your cities and regions? Like me, did you believe God called you to invest deeply in the leaders who will guide those discipleship environments or those communities on mission across your city?
If you’re a leader like that, welcome. This book was written for you.
This book will challenge some of your deepest assumptions and idols, and point you to the only One whose vision is larger than your own. It’s our sincere prayer it will encourage your soul.
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