Yet every Sunday, there are people participating in services at your church and, within 24 hours of the closing song, they are darkening other doors all over the place. Doors of shops, trains, doctor’s surgeries, warehouses, banks, leisure centres, offices, cafés, homes, and hairdressers. Between them, they are coming into contact with hundreds, if not thousands, of non-churchgoers.
Just imagine what might happen if every church in the UK focused on empowering the people of God to be active disciples in all these places, every day of the week. At LICC we call this ‘whole-life discipleship’, and our aim is to make whole-life disciplemaking central in every church.
Whole-life discipleship is no fad. It’s rooted in Scripture. Jesus is creator, saviour, and Lord of all (Colossians 1: 15-20), commanding his followers to ‘make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)*
Not only is it biblical, it’s good for us. When we recognise God’s involvement and interest in all the things we do, life becomes richer, fuller – our love for God and for life grows. Whole-life discipleship is good for the world too.
As Christians live their lives as an expression of their love for God, and act in accordance with God’s good ways, the world becomes more like God intends it to be, and the people of the world glimpse something of the God who loves them so much.
Yet the busyness of church life often leaves us with churches whose life and culture don’t naturally encourge people to follow Christ in their own lives. In their quiet time, yes, as spouses and as parents, yes, but as colleages? As community leaders? In the roles they already have out in the world? Instead, we often focus on what the church might be doing collectively – for those in need, for the youth, supporting missions overseas. Which is all good work, but leaves each individual on their own to recognise how God might be working during their days and weeks.
Whether as a paid or voluntary leader within his church, Jesus calls you to help Christians recognise where God may already be working through them in their day-to-day lives, and to help them develop more and more as whole-life disciples. Yet many hear this call and instantly two words float up: ‘Yes, but…’
‘Yes, I believe that.’
‘Yes, that sounds exciting.’
‘Yes, I’d love to do that more than I do right now.’
‘But how am I going to find time when there are buildings to maintain, procedures to write, services to plan, school visits, funerals, emails… and oh great, a text from Hayley saying she can’t lead on Sunday!’
‘But where do I even start?’
‘But how do I find out what kind of challenges and opportunities people face in their daily lives?’
‘But even if we did make a change, how could we prevent it from just being a flash in the pan?’
We long to see this vision become reality, and as an Institute, we’ve been working directly with local churches since 2004. This series of articles comes out of that experience and addresses some of those questions and fears you might have.
It does so not by laying out all the answers, but by pointing to real leaders and real churches who, despite all the busyness, challenges, questions, and fears, are making some headway. None of them would claim to be ‘nailing it’. Many were surprised we chose them as examples. But these churches, works-in-progress, didn’t get stuck at ‘yes, but’. They’ve moved on to ‘let’s go’. And having ‘gone’, they’ve seen fruit.
You might notice that three of the churches include members of our own team, past and present. All of our Church Team are committed to – and sometimes lead – local churches, and we want to share our own journeys with you.
Now you may be like one of these church leaders, or you may not. We are all wired differently. Some of us are naturally more ‘let’s go’ than others. ‘Let’s goers’ love to dive head first into action. Their motto is ‘it’s easier to apologise tomorrow than seek permission today’. They love to do, they hate to wait.
Others of us are more ‘yes, but’ inclined. Of course, we want to get things done, but we recognise what might go wrong, who might get hurt, why it might be better to keep things how they are.
Healthy leadership is about recognising potential bumps in the road, but not allowing that to prevent us from pulling out of the driveway. Many of your ‘buts’ will be accurate and legitimate, and recognising pitfalls is a strength. What we must then do – with a willingness to experiment, an acceptance that there will be hiccups, with humility to listen and learn, and a heart strengthened by God’s grace – is say ‘let’s go’.
Some of us are more ‘let’s go’ – we love to dive in. Others are more ‘yes, but’ – we see what might go wrong.
None of us start from square one. All of us, aware of it or not, are already engaging with whole-life discipleship. We pastor people at critical times in their lives: before they embark upon marriage, when they get sick, at the loss of a job or a loved one. In our preaching, praying, and pastoring, we help people connect with God and seek his wisdom and grace in their everyday lives.
Ministering with a whole-life perspective is about pushing these boundaries outwards. So, as well as comforting Sue when she is made redundant, how about encouraging her six months into her new job, helping her see that God is working through her in this new workplace? As well as praying for Craig’s torn ligaments, how about also praying he’ll grow in character, even in this frustrating time? And when commissioning Sam before he heads off to study theology, how about commisioning Ada as she begins her degree in chemical engineering?
Discipling people for their Monday to Saturday world is often hard and messy. But it’s exciting! It’s exciting because in the midst of all our plate-spinning, all our ‘I don’t have a clue’ moments, even in our partially fulfilled good intentions, we see God at work – in new ways and in unexpected places.
As you take a look at what others are doing, and the suggestions at the end of each article, this is my prayer for you. I pray that you will gain ideas to help you navigate the road ahead, and that you will be motivated not only to pull off the driveway, but to keep motoring – for the sake of God’s church and the world he loves so much.
May your legitimate ‘yes, buts’ be transformed into a holy ‘let’s go!’
Research and Development, Church Team
Joe is the author of Making Disciples for Everyday Life and has been researching and writing for LICC since 2012. He’s also been a discipleship pastor (which he writes about in Chapter Six), a recruitment consultant, and an outreach worker for a homeless charity. Joe preaches regularly, and is married to Bethany. They have three spritely little ones – Katie, Zoë, and Seth – who keep them laughing.