Making disciples has always been the mission of the church yet today it sometimes seems as if we have a discipleship crisis. A number of factors have given rise to this – churches that treat members as consumers or worse customers, Christians that seem unchanged by their conversion or overwhelmed by modern life and all this set against the backdrop of a dramatic loss of faith in traditionally Christian societies.
By contrast in other parts of the world, the church is not only growing but positively booming as disciples make disciples in their tens of thousands.
These two contrasting worlds have caused some church leaders to rethink their content, others their systems and still others their model of church. In a number of ways Jeff Vanderstelt, author of Saturate: Being disciples of Jesus in the everyday stuff of life rethought all three.
There are a number of ways in which Saturate isn’t especially new, nor is it intended to be. Whatever your model of church I would hope that all church leaders would want their people to be followers of Jesus all the time. That they would want the gospel to go into all the earth and that all Christians bear some responsibility for that. That is the basic vision of Saturate, that the whole earth is saturated with the gospel of Jesus Christ, through the words and deeds of His people.
For, many the question is not really what we should be doing but how should we do it? How do you make disciples in Western society? How do you engage more people in mission? How do you help people see their whole life in service to Christ?
I confess I was already persuaded of the need for churches to embrace both a more holistic view of life and a deeper view of discipleship before reading this book. If Jeff was preaching, then I’m in the choir.
Jeff is the leader of a family of churches called Soma and they have pushed missional communities as the vehicle for mission. They still have Sunday services or gatherings but the primary place of discipleship and mission is worked out through missional communities. Saturate works as a good introduction to the why and how of missional communities.
The stories of how a group of people engaged with their neighbours and neighbourhoods is encouraging and inspiring but many such stories have and are told by churches with other models of church.
After a couple of introductory chapters (part one) the book quickly moves to the Gospel (part two) how Jesus has saved you, how Jesus is saving you and Jesus will save you. This then results in a new way of thinking about discipleship (part three). We learn how to follow Jesus then primarily through life on life (ie not in a classroom but through daily life), life in community (it’s not worked out on our own or even one to one) and it’s life on mission (it’s about making more disciples).
How we do life and mission is shaped by our new identity (part four) as family, as missionaries, as servants. This then is worked out (part five) in everyday life – figuring out the rhythms of your city, joining in with them with ‘gospel intentionality’ (everything or anything can be mission).
Where I found this book most helpful though was not in the what we should we do nor exactly in the why but in the way Jeff connects the two. In other words, we do what we do because of who we are, and we are who we are because of what God has done. God did what He did because of who He is. Our actions should be shaped by our identity and our identity is shaped by God’s actions because of God’s character.
Vanderstelt works this out through getting people to ask four simple questions: Who is God? What has God done? Who, then, are we? What should we do? Too often churches (and I’m guilty of this) is to start with the last question and get all confused about the others (especially the first and third).
This ability to speak the Gospel to each other, or having what Jeff calls Gospel fluency, was perhaps the most impacting aspect of the book for me. Members are challenged in their behaviour not through simply pointing out faults but by being reminded of who they are in Christ. This is gospel-centred discipleship, our actions, the shape of our lives, the rhythm of our weeks, being fundamentally reshaped by who we are in Christ.
The church in the west needs a reinvigorated discipleship that calls men & women to something deeper, broader and richer. We need this both to combat the secular, consumer culture which is antithetical to following Christ so that discipleship can be sustained but also so that we become, again, disciples who make disciples of all nations.