On the first Sunday of every month, our local church, Christ Covenant Church in Atlanta, Georgia, offers a class we call, “First Sunday.” It’s an orientation to our church. Like a new member’s class, it’s required to join our church, but our hope is that the class would help everyone who attends—even those who don’t end up joining.
In the class, we spend a lot of time talking about what a church is and what it means to be a church member. We discuss Christian doctrine by walking through our church’s confession of faith; we talk about life in our church by talking through our church covenant; and we talk about how the two go together. It takes about three hours to work through all of this, and it's three of my favorite hours of the month. I see lightbulbs go on for the people who attend because many have never thought about what a church is or does. Have you?
The Mission of the Church: Making Disciples
I am grateful that there has been a lot written recently about what a church is, but the hope for this article is to help you think about what a church does and how it does it. I have many friends who have spent hours and a lot of dollars working on a mission statement for their church. There are church consultants everywhere who are ready to make a killing off of pastors who want to impress the businessmen and women in their church with a snappy mission statement. Frankly, those businesspeople also spend a lot of money on consultants.
I hate to disappoint the consultants or the businessmen and women in your church, but the mission of the church is simple; it’s to make disciples. If you are a church leader, you need to think about it that way: the mission of the church is disciple-making.
If you were going to disciple someone, what would you do? First, you would build a relationship with them. Then, you would share the gospel with them. Before that, you may even start studying the Bible with this person in hopes that they would believe the gospel. You would eventually invite the person to come with you to a worship service, and if they did believe the gospel, you would invite them into the Christian life.
You would go on to teach that person how to read the Bible and pray on their own, and then you would teach them how to begin discipling their family. You would invite them to be a part of a small group or Sunday school class so they could meet other believers and grow in their faith, and you would eventually invite them into church membership.
When this person becomes a member, you would teach them that the Lord has given them gifts to serve his body, and you would teach them the Great Commission—that Jesus is calling disciples from every tribe in the world. You would invite them to join this mission by being a disciple-maker. None of this is rocket science; this is just basic Christian discipleship, and it is the mission of the local church.
Mapping Macro-Level Discipleship
Now, the hard part is doing this at a macro-level. How do you make disciples of 100 people, or 1,000, or 10,000? How does your church become more than just a list of things to do but a body of growing disciples? Where do we see macro-level discipleship in God’s Word or Christian doctrine? And how do you communicate macro-level discipleship to your church members?
To help answer these questions, our team at Christ Covenant has developed what we call the Discipleship Wheel. It’s our road map for macro-level discipleship. At the core of the wheel is doctrine. We list out our three core Christian convictions. They are represented with three words: Gospel, Kingdom, and Mission. Around these convictions, we have spelled out seven values that give clarity and form to these convictions.
First, we are gospel people. We believe that our only hope in life and death is Jesus. Our hope rests in his perfectly righteous life, his atoning death, and his life-giving resurrection. Through faith in the life and death of Jesus, Christians are credited with his righteousness, and we are forgiven because he died for our sins on the cross. Through faith in his resurrection, we have the hope of eternal life with Christ.
Around this gospel conviction, we want to be a people of gospel centrality, gospel clarity, and gospel fluency. We want the simple gospel message to be at the very center of our lives and at the very center of our church. We don’t want to win people with great events or practical wisdom rather we want to be a gospel people through and through. We also want to be a people of gospel clarity. We live in a world of confusion about the gospel, and we want to preach a clear gospel that is centered on what Jesus has revealed. Finally, we want to be a people of gospel fluency. We want to be people who know how to apply the gospel to every part of our lives.
Second, we are kingdom people. We want to understand ourselves as a church as people who have been called out by Christ, called together by Christ, and then sent out by Christ. So, around this kingdom conviction, we have the value of being a kingdom family. We aren’t just an aggregation of people who attend a worship service on the weekend, or worse, consume Christian content in our pajamas on Tuesday mornings. Our church is a family of believers who knows one another, loves one another, and stirs one another toward faith and good deeds.
We also have the value of being kingdom ambassadors. Jesus hasn’t just called Christians to invite their friends to church on Sunday mornings when they gather but to be Christian ambassadors as they scatter. An ambassador is a representative of one country who is called to live in another country—to represent his or her home country while working for the good of both countries. That is exactly who we are in Christ. We have an eternal home with Jesus in his kingdom, but we are sent out to the various “kingdoms” of this world to be ambassadors. Jesus is sending us from the gathered church where we are a kingdom family to the scattered world of workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, etc., to be his kingdom ambassadors.
Third, we are a people of mission. Jesus has called us to be obedient to his Great Commission, to make disciples beginning with our community and going to the ends of the earth. He has also called us to be obedient to his Great Commandments—to love him and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Often churches focus on either the commission to make disciples or the command to love their neighbors. They tend to emphasize one over the other. But we believe that obedience to Christ leads us to be good neighbors and faithful disciple-makers.
Seeing Discipleship Affect Our Behaviors
The third layer of the Discipleship Wheel is the layer of behaviors. While the church should be centered on doctrine, we want to put our doctrine into practice. This is the only way to see our values at work. On the wheel, we’ve listed 9 behaviors of a faithful church member that we believe will help our church grow in faith and demonstrate our seven values and three core convictions.
The behaviors begin with a commitment to corporate worship, family worship, and personal devotion. These 3 behaviors help us grow in understanding and applying the mystery and the beauty of the gospel.
As kingdom family members and ambassadors, we also ask our members to commit to supporting the church, joining a group, and engaging unbelievers.
Finally, we ask our members to use the gifts that the Lord has given them to serve the church, engage with ministry in our city, and regularly go on mission trips to reach the world. We believe these behaviors will help them grow in their love of God’s mission.
The Discipleship Wheel serves as a map to help us disciple one another as a church and equip one another for the work of the ministry. It is centered on doctrine, but it calls people toward a grace-driven effort that we pray will produce gospel-motivated fruit in their lives. If you're a pastor, I hope the Discipleship Wheel is a helpful tool for thinking through how you make disciples in your church.
Jason Edwin Dees is the Senior Pastor of Christ Covenant, a church in Atlanta, Georgia. Jason is married to Paige and has a daughter, Emery Anna, and two sons, John Kellis and Raynor. Jason is a graduate of Auburn University (B.A. 2004) and Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky (M.Div. 2007, Ph.D. 2015).