By J.T. English
God’s desire is that one day the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover every square inch of His creation.
God is working to bring a knowledge of Himself to all of creation, and His followers want in on that now.
If we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God’s purpose is to eventually cover all of creation with His glorious presence, then our instinct should be to get in on that now.
Whole disciples of Jesus say, “If you are bringing your presence to this world, start with me, and start now.” That is the instinct of deep disciples.
We don’t want to wait for tomorrow for the knowledge of God’s glory to transform us. Discipleship is for today, not just for the future.
We need disciples and local churches who not only look forward with eager anticipation to a future in the presence of God, but who also want to be covered with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord today—now.
Even though it may not look like it at times, this is the path that the world is on, and disciples are already on that journey.
In order for the church to grow and develop a vision of deep discipleship, we have to start with the why behind the what.
If we begin by talking about the what—programs, curriculum, and a philosophy of ministry—before we talk about the why—God Himself—then it will be a complete waste of time.
Ministry that is not oriented to the presence of God is dead. The why behind the what of deep discipleship is God Himself. Why does deep discipleship matter? Because God matters.
There is nothing more beautiful, lovely, pure, and limitless than God alone. Herman Bavinck gets it exactly right when he says, “God, and God alone, is man’s highest good.”
I believe that the greatest opportunity for the contemporary church is to recapture a radically God-centered vision for discipleship. Deep discipleship is more about reveling in the transcendence of God than it is a ministry practice.
The source of true discipleship is not better programs, better preaching, or better community.
All of those, and more, are hugely important tools, but the source of discipleship is God himself. Thus, at the heart of everything we do is the desire to grow in our love and knowledge of God.
We are called to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). The Great Commandment actually repeats “with all” over and over again to remind us that nothing is worthy of our whole self, but God alone.
Discipleship, then, is really about a redirection of our loves to the One who is lovely.
The next curriculum, the next conference, or the next community group will only help you grow deeper in your relationship with Christ insofar as it attempts to reorient your love toward the triune God.
The opportunity in front of you, your ministry, or your church, is to retrieve the Bible’s vision for the beauty and the centrality of God in all things.
The invitation to deep discipleship is the invitation to no longer live with the next 50 years in view, but the next 50 trillion, and to aim our whole selves, our churches, and our ministries towards the Kingdom of God.
In John 17:3 Jesus prays for His disciples to have eternal life. “And this is eternal life,” He says, “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Jesus is always teaching His disciples that all of life is centered growing in our love and knowledge of God.
John Calvin noted, “The final goal of the blessed life rests in the knowledge of God.” This is the vision Habakkuk gave us—that all of creation is moving towards an awareness of God in all things.
If we give people better ministry programs, but fail to give them a radically God-centered vision for their lives, then we have failed miserably.
In other words, the primary pathway of discipleship is not a curriculum, and it can’t be programmed. The primary pathway of discipleship is God himself. God is the goal of deep discipleship.
When thought of this way, discipleship is not just a program, but a total reorientation to reality.
We begin to see who God truly is, who we are, what God has done, is doing, and will do in the world. In being reoriented to reality, disciples begin to view everything through a God-centered lens.
The opportunity in front of the church is not primarily found in better programs, better preaching, or a better philosophy of ministry.
I think all of these are important, and the church should strive to be excellent in these things, but without a radically God centered vision of all things, it does not matter how good at ministry we are.
We cannot forget this. Great ministry practice that is not fueled by a great God is the greatest tragedy. The opportunity in front of us is to reorient ourselves and our churches to a God-centered vision of all things.
We won’t make any genuine progress in ministry that is not fueled by the presence of God.
God is working in the world to accomplish His purposes of bringing about the knowledge of His glory to His entire creation, and the church’s role is to align herself with the purposes of God.
It does not matter how good our ministry plans are if they are not re-orienting people to set their eyes on the God of the Bible.
Deep discipleship is not simply a result of following a specific philosophy of ministry. If it were, discipleship would be so much easier.
If all we had to do was write a curriculum, create a program, or cast vision for new ministry initiatives, most of our churches and disciples would be much healthier, because we’ve gotten pretty good at those things.
Programs, studies, and ministry initiatives are great, but they are not the fuel, or even the goal, of deep discipleship.
Sure, we may be able to use these things efficiently and effectively to make disciples, but the question is, disciples of what?
Without the proper goal and fuel of discipleship, churches may have the most impressive ministries in the world, and they may be able to churn out disciples; but these won’t be disciples of Jesus.
There is no silver bullet or perfect ministry paradigm that creates deep disciples. We should pursue excellence in all of these areas.
However, if our primary focus is our own ministries, not God himself, then we will never make deep disciples.
We can’t measure discipleship by how many people are in small groups, or how many are in our classes, or by how many Bible studies they have completed.
True discipleship can only be measured by a disciple’s ability to connect all of reality to the triune God.
When we think about discipleship, we are thinking about our ability to be reoriented to God, and we begin to see that the triune God initiates discipleship, that the triune God is the source of discipleship, and that the triune God is the goal of discipleship.
This article is excerpted from Deep Discipleship: How the Church Can Make Whole Disciples of Jesus with permission from B&H Publishing.
JT is the lead pastor at Storyline Fellowship in the Denver, Colorado, area.