It was getting close to spring during my junior year of college. A few buddies and I decided to plan an epic spring break adventure. To qualify as “epic” it needed to involve a challenge that we weren’t sure we could actually pull off—a challenge that would blur the line between risky and just plain stupid.
After about half an hour of scheming and consulting a map, we decided we would spend several nights on a wilderness island in the Gulf of Mexico. We would get there by canoe.
Yep, that’s right, canoe.
After a long drive from the Midwest, we opened the door to our van and smelled the salt water. We unloaded our canoes, packed our gear, revved ourselves up for the ordeal, and set off directly into the waves.
At first the waves weren’t bad, but as we got out further from shore they got more choppy. In a few minutes they were pounding against our canoes, rocking us side to side. We realized the island was farther away than we first imagined. The current was pushing us back, even as we paddled forward. Our little canoes began filling with water from the pounding waves, making every paddle stroke even more exhausting.
Suddenly things got urgent. And when that happened, something changed.
Our minds shifted from thinking how hard the paddling was, to working together as a team. We just needed to crest around the island, and then the waves would shift, pushing us onto the beach. We yelled instructions to each other. We played the roles that we played best. No fancy business—it was all hands on deck and full speed ahead, with the laser focus of getting to the other side of the island.
Finally we dragged ourselves onto the beach, exhausted and drenched in sweat and seawater. For a few days we lived like Tom Hanks in the move Castaway.
When I think about our epic adventure, I wonder: How did we make it? We weren’t the strongest paddlers in the world, and none of us had ever canoed in the ocean. What made the difference for us?
First of all, we were crazy enough to believe we could paddle the ocean.
Second, the risk forced us to function as a team.
Finally, we understood a few key principles of boating, and we applied them.
The Great Commission is like this canoe trip.
In many ways the Great Commission is like a canoe trip on the ocean. You have some equipment designed to help you make disciples. Your equipment may seem meager to you, but Jesus assures you it’s enough to get the job done. We are not great, but we have most certainly been commissioned.
The equipment and the will are only part of the equation, however. Who will stay afloat in the epic quest to make disciples? The Great Commission is an epic movement, but like any movement, its impact is enhanced or inhibited by decisions and commitments we make in advance.
The North American church is going through a wake-up call. God seems to be reawakening the collective heart of the church back to discipleship. Some of us have been jolted into action as our boats have been rocked. Others never stopped coasting and have woken up to find themselves adrift. I talk with pastors, leaders, and “regular folks” everywhere who are realizing that healthy ministry always centers around making disciples. It’s a new move back to our original call.
What does making disciples look like?
Six principles have emerged as the core of our apprentice training.
Healthy discipleship is simple: The concept, principle, or idea in question can be passed on to others using just a napkin.
It is also holistic—informing our whole identity, all spaces of our lives, all or our actions, in private and in public.
Discipleship is adaptable, not relying on models but remaining open to what the Spirit speaks to us and being obedient to respond.
It is regular, engaging God in the regular, ordinary, and even mundane areas of life, and viewing discipleship not as an event but as spiritual fitness that requires consistency and commitment.
It is also reproducible, building the priority of multiplying disciples into the discipleship process.
Above all, discipleship is positive—not aimed at ridding one another of sin (although we acknowledge sin as destructive) but rather at pursuing godliness together.
When I began to apply these principles in my ministry, I felt like I was cheating. I was training less but experiencing more fruit. Don’t get me wrong: discipleship will always take work and require time and energy. But there is a difference between hard work and frustration.
No training process can teach every skill, every response, every piece of knowledge, or every biblical truth needed in church leadership. Our world changes too quickly for that. But there is beauty found in guiding principles. They inform our simple obedience to Christ, empower us to trust the leadership of the Spirit, and give structure to our ever-adapting ministry. If you believe the church is the primary vehicle God will use to change the world, get ready.
There’s urgent work to be done.
Taken from Guardrails copyright © 2016 by Alan Briggs. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
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