Missional Discipleship

Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon broke ground when they proclaimed in 1989 that Christians in America were Resident Aliens. In the nearly twenty years since publication, Resident Aliens has been found to be an accurate description of life. Christians must necessarily live differently in a post-Christendom age. To give guidance to such a discussion, Michael Frost wrote Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture in which he describes memories, promises, criticisms, and songs that inform life for Christians in this new world (vii, viii). As exiles, Christians are to point toward a better way. “By living expansive lives of justice, kindness, hospitality, and generosity we model the life of Jesus to those who would never attend a church service or read the New Testament” (73-74).

There are two key components to missional discipleship. First, to be a disciple, necessarily, means that one is a witness. Therefore, discipleship does not stop at evangelism and conversion. Instead, from the very beginning, the process is “oriented toward the reign of God” (Chilcote and Warner, The Study of Evangelism xxvi). Membership is not an end unto itself. Rather, “the Church is God’s instrument for the healing of creation” (Guder, “Promise & Threat”). Discipleship equips the believer to know the faith, to relate to others, and to live in a way that non-believers come to faith. In other words, missional discipleship focuses on “orthodoxy, orthopathy, and orthopraxy” (Frost & Hirsch, ReJesus 156).

The second key component for missional discipleship involves the environment for growing missional disciples. In the missional church, relationships are the conduits for real transformation. Catechism is delivered through intensely relational processes. While group instruction may exist, individual mentoring and small group experiences provide the forum for discovery, reflection, and action.

Life Transformation Groups (LTGs) are a good example of the importance of intense relationship as a platform for transformation. Developed by Neil Cole, LTGs only involve two or three individuals. The time spent together includes confession, Scripture reading, and prayer. When a fourth person comes to join the LTG, a second group is created (Search and Rescue 166-176). Each LTG, then, becomes another witness for the gospel with organic growth possibilities.

The apostolic and relational emphases of the missional church movement have a profound affect on how missional disciples live. In the “come and see” church, effort is directed toward gathering the faithful often for worship, study, prayer, administrative duties. Because of this tendency, those who would be the best witnesses for Jesus Christ are removed from the mission field. Missional disciples, on the other hand, are encouraged to move outward, toward the community. The simplicity of missional discipleship frees the disciple to be active salt and light in the world. Therefore, as missional disciples, we “create margin in our lives for the other” (Mick Noel, “Coaching Established Churches for Missional Change”).

John Franke believes that missional theologians and practitioners “get accused by some of domesticating the gospel.” For example, in a culture dominated by the corporate church with professional clergy, some may question the wisdom of not having well educated leaders of these groups. One may argue that the work of discipleship belongs solely to those with specific training. The missional church, however, trusts the Holy Spirit with discipleship. As Franke says, “The domestication occurs when one group pins [the gospel] down for everyone else” (video, Shapevine.com, “Roundtable Discussion”).

In its most basic form, missional discipleship is oriented toward the reign of God and forged through relationship.