Discipleship for “Next Christians” 2

Discipleship for “Next Christians” 2 February 15, 2011

Yesterday I sketched a vision of where we’ve been. I suggested that Gabe Lyons points us in the right direction for understanding where we’re headed with his book (The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America). I also suggested that the “next Christians” are radically reforming what has been traditionally called “the Christian life” and that means discipleship programs that focus on traditional disciplines will also change.

Let’s say the traditional disciplines are prayer, Bible reading (lectio divina), fasting, contemplation, solitude, and perhaps having a spiritual director. I don’t look to see these things disappear, but we are all probably willing to admit that these tend to be individualistic, they tend to downplay the vital role of the church, and they all tend to miss out on other themes.

I contend these disciplines are the instrumental means and not the “ends” or “outcomes” or “results” we want to achieve, or we believe God has designed us to accomplish. But they are objective and do-able, and therefore they are at the top of our list. My contention, then, is that we need to learn to focus on the ends and less on the means.

Frankly, the Next Christians want to move forward, they want to move beyond, and they want to chart new waters by revitalizing the Christian life as living out the kingdom vision of Jesus in this world. The Next Christians want to focus on the ends.

So, what will the major “themes” of these kingdom ends be? Let me frame it this ways: What are the Designs of Kingdom Living? Are these designs of the kingdom characteristic of what we focus on in church discipleship programs? What can we do to incorporate them into what we are doing? I’m hoping some folks today will look at some discipleship books and tell us what the major themes are? What are they trying to accomplish?

I want to suggest that we need to reframe discipleship programs from the older paradigm of spiritual formation, without ignoring spiritual formation or pretending it is not vital, to a discipleship paradigm that forms disciplines that lead to the design of kingdom living.

Here are the designs of kingdom living:

First, I suggest we need once again to return a life of faith, or a life that nurtures the Dream of the kingdom. I suggest we focus here on the themes of the Bible’s eschatology and one very good place to see these dreams on display are the parables of Jesus. Those parables are Jesus’ sketch of his kingdom dreams.

Second, I suggest we make loving God and loving others, what I call the The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. Pull out your spiritual formation books and see how many of them land where Jesus landed: a spiritually formed person for Jesus is someone who loves God and loves others with heart, soul, mind and strength.

Third, the Next Christians want a vision of the church and of the Christian life that embodies justice and works for justice in the local community. The single-biggest development in evangelicalism in the last decade is the near obsession with local churches becoming involved in justice ministries. This is fantastic, and it taps into the essence of the kingdom vision: Jesus began his ministry, Luke 4:16-30, by announcing he would be forming communities of justice. I believe too many today are asking the government to do this for us and that the political process is how to bring about justice. But justice is important. In a discipleship context we need to see it embodied in a local church — treating one another justly and forming a just community of faith — and extended into the community.

Fourth, this discipleship shift will focus on achieving peace. Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers.” He brought peace, while cutting his culture into the peacemakers and warmongers, but the one thing that we need to focus on is seeing peace as a “spiritual” or “kingdom” discipline. It’s not for the Federal government and for the United Nations but for individual followers of Jesus to form a local church that embodies peace and that creates people who are peacemakers everywhere they go.

Fifth, the Next Christians also want a vision that is leads Wisdom. I may be stretching this one, but I believe wisdom is a desired item but our culture simply doesn’t know how to create a wisdom culture. A fundamental characteristic of the culture of Jesus was wisdom — they knew who was wise and they wanted to become the wise. We have overcooked information and knowledge and devalued wisdom.

Now take a look at these kingdom themes, themes that emerge straight from the Bible and from Jesus’ kingdom vision, and ask if we have these themes shaping our “discipleship programs.” I suggest we need to develop communities who want to embody these themes, and that we measure discipleship by how we participate in these Jesus/kingdom themes. Instead of asking if we have read the Bible, we might ask the further and deeper question: Have I loved? pursued justice? worked for peace? am I wise? Am I caught up in the kingdom dream of Jesus? These are the marks of the followers of Jesus. They are at the epicenter of a kingdom discipleship vision.

For a long time I have been working on these themes and wishing like mad that more pastors and more churches and more parachurch ministries would reframe what they are doing — not by cutting out spiritual formation disciplines but by incorporating them into the kingdom disciplines — by letting the kingdom disciplines be the central categories of discipleship. I write about these in One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow . I hope you can see that it’s a place to begin for those who want to reframe the Christian life and discipleship as kingdom designs that complete what spiritual disciplines are designed to do.

Why or why not?

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  • Tried to follow you’re link for “Yesterday”…seems to be borked….

    In any case, I’m with you on this. Time to start moving out of the old way and into a new way of living out the Kingdom in America. No longer can we assume that our culture will accept the Kingdom in a public fashion, we need to start incarnating it ourselves in a counter-cultural movement.

  • Linda

    I believe in Luke 4:16-30 the Lord Jesus Christ is proclaiming good news for the spiritually poor, the spiritual prisoners, the spiritually blind, and the spiritually oppressed. It is not about social economics and politics, it is all spiritual.

    You can read a commentary that explains this here:


  • Susan N.

    Scot, I, like Linda, thought immediately of the Sermon on the Mount–in particular, the Beatitudes, as I read this second post of the discipleship series. However, unlike Linda, I disagree that Jesus was speaking only of spiritual blessings. Jesus wasn’t only concerned with spiritual well-being; He taught, and preached, and healed in order to *also* bring about earthly/physical and societal restoration and wholeness. Jesus’ blessings were for his audience and readers “right now” and also for the future “heavenly” or eternal destination. Straight from the Father’s heart to Jesus’ lips. And, if we are to imitate and follow–be the disciples of–Jesus, justice in the temporal and eternal realms is an outcome of our individual and corporate (church) inner faith formation that must matter to us.

    I believe this illustrates the “problem” or challenge, though. The spiritual disciplines of reading/studying/ memorizing the Bible, prayer and fasting, worship, service, silence/solitude are all designed to produce a particular outcome *depending* on the perspective of the reader/pray-er/worshiper, which leads to a very specific definition of justice, and consequently leads to service that suits this perspective.

    Someone yesterday said that this season of shifting in values and goals is new only as far as it is coming from the evangelical denominations, and at that, probably from the less ultra-conservative ones. There’s a range, I think. The mainstream or more “liberal” churches have been more or less following this model of discipleship all along, I tend to think.

    Our current church is very community/fellowship and outward/justice focused. My daughter, who was in the evangelical tradition for much of her “formative” years, and has been raised and educated to read and study her Bible is finding that she is very competent in Bible knowledge and understanding among those her same age at our “mainstream” church. But, her observation is that even without such an intense Bible study focus, the kids from this denom. seem to have a very good “working” understanding of what being a Christian and a UM means they are to DO…how they should live and treat others. I felt this to be a wise observation for a 14yo! Also added, reading the Bible as a means of knowing God and imitating Jesus is not an inherently bad thing to do. Not at all! But if it does not lead to right action, and true wisdom, then yes, one has missed the boat.

    No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep of the old (spiritual disciplines) what is good, and be open to new ways of being in community and expressing our faith in outward (beyond the church walls) service. I’m also open to the idea that “church” and “community” are being redefined. Where a group of believers meet and how they worship is less important than the heart intentions and outward expression of being about the mission of the gospel. Right?!

  • Georges Boujakly


    I am puzzled at the separation made between what is “spiritual” and what is political, and what is social, and what is economical.

    If we take spiritual to mean of the Holy Spirit of God what can be excluded? Our use of money? Our use of power? Our rescue of little girls from the sex trade? Our food banks? The cups of water we give to the thirsty?

    Did Jesus not cure real blind people physically? Did he not set free those who are possessed by demons? What makes these acts strictly “spiritual”?

    What will not come under the Gospel Jesus proclaims? or the rule of God or the kingdom of God now and future?

  • Scot, you are on to something here. However, I still think many people miss the appropriate context for the ends you are describing. Christians are called to live IN THE WORLD, not in the church, and most church discipleship emphases that I see, even those considered “missional,” are still about the church organizing programs that revolve around the church and engage the world only in the context of organized church activities. I want to know how to live, not only as a member of my church community, but as a neighbor in my human community. I want church to equip me and support me in fulfilling my “ordinary” vocations. Instead, far too often they ask me to participate in so many church-related or mission-related activities that I am taken out of my daily, “real-life” community and get the idea that, unless I am participating in aforementioned church projects, I am less of a Christian.

  • Mark B

    “I want to suggest that we need to reframe discipleship programs from the older paradigm of spiritual formation, without ignoring spiritual formation or pretending it is not vital, to a discipleship paradigm that forms disciplines that lead to the design of kingdom living.”

    Yes! Thank you for not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  • Glenn Sunshine

    While I agree on the goal we should be working toward, I’m not sure we can get there by putting primary focus on the kingdom disciplines rather than spiritual formation. After all, the Jesus Creed tells us we are to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength–that is, from inside out. Without spiritual formation, that can’t happen. I do think that we need to incorporate the kingdom disciplines, but I don’t think we can make them our primary focus or we risk becoming little more than an advocacy group, PAC, or something in that genre as has happened with some of the more liberal church organizations in the past (and arguably, from a different direction, some of the conservataive Christian groups as well).

  • Scot McKnight


    Interesting that you bring up Jesus Creed. When was the last time you read a book on spiritual formation that focuses on becoming people who love? Read the major spiritual formation books, which I have done, and one finds an emphasis on the disciplines as instruments toward spiritual intimacy with God.

    Fair enough, and I don’t want to deny that.

    But, the outcomes of the kingdom vision are almost entirely absent.

    Furthermore, and this is big for me, there is no promised correlation of working hard on the disciplines and achieving justice, peace, love, etc..

    All to say this: if we don’t make them our outcomes, we won’t get them.

    Example: we teach students to read EB White and Will Strunk, in order to master the basics. Let’s call those the disciplines. But there’s no necessary correlation between those who master the rules of Strunk and White and those who write compelling papers. The only way to get compelling papers is to have students write papers. Strunk and White can help us get better papers, but the context is paper-writing, not the rule-ish disciplines of writing.

  • Scot McKnight

    On advocacy groups: I’m big on not seeing “justice” not as something we do through the government, but something we embody in the local church.

    Am I being just?
    Am I just with my family? my neighbors? etc?
    Is my church just?
    How is my church just?
    Is it just toward all those in the church?
    Does it strive to become an embodied just church/society?
    Would people say of my church “that’s a just community”?

    That then will spread into the community.

  • Fred

    This may be a good place to start:

    “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

    Or this:

    “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
    Matthew 11:28

    In the church, we talk a lot about reading the Bible as if it is just another one of the good things we should do as Christians. I would argue that it is springboard from which all other things come from: worship, service, evangelism, ministry, etc. That’s the message of I John 4: “In this is love, not that we loved him but that he loved us and became the propitiation for our sins.”

    It is true that we can study the Bible without coming to a true knowledge of the person of God, but it is the only legitimate starting point. And since biblical illiteracy is now a foregone conclusion, it’s no wonder we are so weak. Reading the Bible and knowing the Bible are not the same thing. Knowing the Bible and knowing God are not the same thing either.

    Since I became a believer, I have seen many things come and go: the Jesus People, the Moral Majority, Promise Keepers, Purpose Driven this, Purpose Driven that, etc. Where are all these movements that, in their own way, claimed to be the key to renewal?

  • jay dusold

    scot –

    i really appreciate the topic you are dealing with, it’s very timely for me. we are in the process of developing intentional discipleship pathways and have recently discussed the need to re-think both the traditional methods as well as the traditional content. while there is certainly a plethora of traditional discipleship material to use (which i think can be utilized and not completely discarded) i am unfamiliar with current discipleship material that can be used with new jesus-followers and focuses on the types of kingdom values and virtues you referenced in your post. can you suggest any resources that can be used in a discipling context? would you be willing to provide a model of what this discipleship process might look like in the church? thanks.

  • Glenn Sunshine

    I agree that a lot of spiritual formation in the hands of American Evangelicals becomes little more than a “me and Jesus” thing–individualistic and unconnected with justice, shalom, etc. I am fortunate in that much of the material on spiritual formation that I’ve worked with over the last few years is very explicitly focused on the Gospel of the Kingdom, which has colored my views on the issue. It seems to me that the solution is to encourage spiritual formation as a foundation for Christian living, which can only be done in community and embodies shalom–in other words, spiritual disciplines (traditionally understood) are not “Christian living” per se, but are meant to transform us to enable and empower us for Christian living. I don’t think you can get the result without the basics, but you are absolutely correct that the basics, especially as they’re typically taught, do not automatically lead to the result. We need to teach and explain them better, as the means to a much bigger end.

  • Susan N.

    …And what is being taught will very much depend on one’s interpretation of the Bible and God’s justice. How is justice — spiritual and social — defined?

    I like Scot’s beginning point of looking at one’s personal and home life, then within the church, and asking, “Am I / is it ‘just’?” There’s a kind of cognitive dissonance that eventually occurs, if what one is taught of God’s concern for justice doesn’t appear within a community of faith. This isn’t a wholly “unjust” reason to disconnect and find other places and means of being kingdom people. I’ve been thinking about the apostles in the Book of Acts. They were given a mission and some very basic details, but their next move wasn’t so clear. Wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit… Then, what happened — the pressure and “heat” (persecution) from the Jewish leaders escalated to such an extent that they were forced to move out to surrounding regions. I wonder how long the apostles would have stayed in Jerusalem, content to keep preaching in their familiar surroundings, had not circumstances built up to such an intolerable level. Imagine if they had refused to budge! I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently…

  • Tom

    I guess I am hearing a lot about Justice ministry lately I think the Church finds it easy to work on justice issues when it involves big items such as the slave trade but not so easy when it comes to hitting them at home like spending .10 more for a head of lettuce to make sure the workers are treated fairly. I like your comment #9. Are our churches just? How about spending a fortune to maintain our “club” and not so much on helping people in need outside the club. (by the way, if they need that much, we really don’t want them in the club) I think we have a long way to go.

  • T


    I think this tree that you’re barking up is right and good. It deserves more barking. That said, I’m concluding from all that I know and read from you elsewhere that healing is part of the kingdom vision of Jesus for you, but under your heading of “justice.” I’m fairly sure you have it there, anyway, but I don’t think most see that, and given the prominence of healing in Jesus’ work (and even the language of the Luke passage and others), it might warrant separate acknowledgment in any event if we’re going to make explicit goals of Jesus’ kingdom vision, especially given our western usage of the term “justice” even in the church. I’d agree that the charismatic usage of healing needs more “justice” injected, but certainly the typical usage of justice needs more healing injected, if we’re talking about justice in the kingdom vision of Jesus.

    As for practicalities, I’ve mentioned before that I’m in a small group, structured largely as a support group, whose sole purpose is to help each other receive and give Christ’s kind of love. From the first week we did it ’til now, it’s been an absolute anchor for me, a source of great healing and strength, and it’s been so helpful in challenging and changing how I deal with everyone (my wife, daughters, clients, etc.), including God.

    Given the centrality of love (understanding it, getting rooted and established in it, walking in it, etc.), as Paul lays out in Ephesians, Corinthians and elsewhere, I’m wondering why I’ve not been in such a group since day one of my conversion.

  • Scot McKnight


    Let me add another component of our justice piece:

    Are we taking care of our own?
    [I find this critical in understanding justice: we are to take care of those in our midst who are suffering. This isn’t sectarian but a robust ecclesiology at work.]

    Are we caring for those in our neighborhood?

    [Here we extend justice to those who our neighbors.]

    Or does “justice” mean sending teams to some foreign location?

    For many it is.

  • Scot McKnight

    T, yes: healing is the impact of love, justice, wisdom and is part of shalom.

  • Tom

    This was this morning’s post from the NLT.

    New Living Translation (NLT)
    Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. (Isaiah 58:7-8

  • T


    I appreciate that there’s a very important sense in which Jesus is talking about spiritual things in that and other passages, but it is difficult if not impossible to twist that passage, let alone the entirety of the NT witness, to say that Jesus is only concerned with spiritual blindness, spiritual poverty, etc. Just as the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart, so a love for one’s neighbor results in physical sharing, hospitality, healing, etc. There is no true spiritual change that does not spill over to the physical. Jesus seems concerned with both, in word and deed.

  • Charlie Clauss

    I continue to worry about the “New Activism.” Can we keep the call to Christian action from degenerating into a new “Social Gospel” that is (again) separated from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit?

  • dopderbeck

    Great post Scot. My wife and I just began hosting a “Social Justice Small Group” with folks from our church at our home. The amazingly cool thing about this group is that it was really started by a young woman who is a recent college grad (and wife of our Associate Pastor), along with about 10 other college and just-post-college age “kids” (I’m old enough now to call college kids “kids”!) This is fantastic.

    I’d like to add one other thing: I agree with the commenters who said we don’t throw out the individual practices of scripture reading and daily prayer. I think we also need to add more of a sense of corporate liturgy — not necessarily “high church,” but a deeper sense of practicing Communion / Eucharist and communal prayer, and connecting this to our personal devotions and our practice of peace and justice.

  • rjs


    The post that I put up this morning couples with this post, and does so intentionally. Well, it does so in my mind anyway.

    Gabe admits as much in his book, but I don’t see this as much about “next Christians” as about gospel Christians. There are fundamental longings in life, and those longings are met through Christ, through discipleship, joining his Church and his mission. The traditional individual disciplines are important, but they are important for a purpose – to equip and sustain. The end goal is a kingdom vision because that is God’s story and the mission of Jesus. This is what gives us both meaning and purpose.

  • T


    On your questions about what the spiritual formation paradigm is generally about:

    One idea that I’ve gotten from some of these books is that spiritual disciplines are a way of interrupting the reign of other things over us and welcoming God to reign in and through us. They are choices to intentionally be receptive to God’s grace in one form or another, so that we are not only closer to God in character and relation, but also better conduits of God to and for others. The disciplines help us, via God’s grace, to identify and overcome patterns that are harmful to ourselves and others.

    So, yes, I agree that these are good, but the focus on loving God and others is indirect, as with the other elements of the kingdom vision you mention. I’ve heard Willard define the disciplines in that very way in fact: they give us power, indirectly, to do those things which we cannot do (the Jesus Creed) by direct effort.

  • T

    Charlie (20),

    That is one thing that concerns me a little. I think Scot is right to point to the larger kingdom of vision of Jesus and affirm that justice and peace (via love of God, neighbor and enemy) are key components, similar to Paul’s assertion that the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace through the Holy Spirit. Paul is not speaking of mere imputed righteousness and inner peace. He is talking about God’s will being done on earth as in heaven.

    I personally want to see the best of the Charismatic and the social justice streams (at least) inform each other at exactly this point of “justice.” Love is to be human and divine. Natural and supernatural. The gospels (and Acts) shows them together in Christ and his Church. It can actually be done; it should be done.

  • DRT

    As much as all can agree with what is being discussed in the responses here (and I do like them), I don’t think we will ever make progress until we fix the eschatalogical message as Scot says in the original post. And, I don’t think the sermon on the mount is the way to do that because, again, people internalize the thoughts and do not translate them into action.

    People believe the point is to go to heaven and they do that by what they believe internally. That must change or we don’t get change.

  • rjs


    I think Scot and Gabe are suggesting that this perception of the point is changing.

    “Go to heaven when I die because of what I believe internally” is a story with less and less sway. It carries no power and is inconsistent with scripture.

  • DRT

    rjs, I believe that, perhaps I have to read the whole thread here again but it impressed me that we are just going to get back into the same strategy of envisioning justice and helping those who have already made the leap that you and I both said. It seems to me that there is more bang in getting more people to make the leap first.

  • Great 2nd post on this topic, Scot.

    When I was in pastoral ministry, my area was assimlation — both of those who were new to our church and those who were part of the church but not engaged in what I would now call Kingdom Life … wish you had written One.Life 10 years ago, bro….

    What I have come to discern over the past five years is the huge disconnect between what has been called discipleship and the concept of apprenticeship. We have made discipleship too much about “knowing” — and this is where the personal disciplines come in. But there is a huge disconnect between the knowing and the “doing”.

    Specifically, I was sad to see the way that church people (those who have been involved in Sunday School and small group ministry for decades!) were totally dependent upon the pastoral staff and program teachers/leaders to educate their children concerning the basics of the Bible and the nuts and bolts of living the Jesus Creed in their home.

    It is an apprenticeship issue — where the environment where people LIVE (not an activity or program they attend) is one where the END (Kingdom life: justice, mercy and walking humbly with God/Jesus Creed) is always in view.

    One of the most important concepts I have finally (after mulling it over for almost 4 years!) understood is one that Alan Hirsch talks about: instead of thinking our way into a new way of acting, we need to act our way into a new way of thinking.

    This is why the focus on the Sermon on the Mount is so important … and why authentic relationships with other Christ-followers who will call us to practice these virtues (using both ancient and future ways!) is so badly needed. The saying of the Daily Office. The asking of simple accountability questions. The getting together with 2 or 3 fellow searchers regularly in order for iron to sharpen iron.

    It is, too often, the “programs” of the church that circumvent these activities. Our church had close to 100 small groups at the height of my time there … and yet we still had an overwhelming problem finding people who would teach and mentor our children, youth and college age students. Why is that, eh? Hmmm….

    And even further, our small group ministry was held back mainly because folks who had benefited from it for years were unwilling to enter “apprenticeship” with experienced facilitators in order to “live” the experience together.


    Again, great post … and awesome comments!

  • Charlie Clauss

    I am on board with the movement toward a “Big, Cosmic” Gospel. A Gospel that has the whole of Creation in sight, and a movement away from a “mere individualism.” Folks like Scott and Wright are on the right trail I think.

    That justice (and a whole host of other concerns) belongs in a discussion about the Gospel is self evident to me. I applaud the work of, for example, Intervarsity (full discloser: I am IV staff) to connect justice issues (like human trafficking) with the more personal elements of evangelism.

    But I have also been around liberal Protestants, Catholics, and now, many evangelicals, who are making the same mistake: I am indebted to Woody Anderson at Nashota House for introducing me to the terms “indicative” (what is true, for example, that we are in Christ) and “imperative” (what we should do in light of the indicative). And what I see liberal Protestants, Catholics, and many evangelicals doing is creating a gulf between indicative and imperative.

    Indeed, “faith without works is dead,” but works without faith, without connection to the vine (John 15) is death. Calling people to good works is not the issue – calling people to good works without telling and/or reminding them about the sourse of the ability to do those works is to sentence them to burn out, bitterness, and a falling/walking away from the Christian faith. Exhibit 1 is the Catholics I know who were told what to do, but not that Jesus stood ready to work through them. If you don’t believe this is where liberal Protestants are, you havn’t gone to one of their church conventions recently.

    Now the call to a new Discipleship runs the risk of making the same mistake. Evangelicals are going to find their children saying the same thing the sons and daughters of Roman Catholics said 30 and 40 years ago – all we hear is a call to a moralism that we do not have the inner resourses to respond to.