I See Growing People

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

Anndee Haley of Waverly Church of the Nazarene distributed
bottled water to survivors and workers after recent flooding
in the Tennessee community.
The more I see it happen, the more it makes sense. It dawned on me when reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ calling of the disciples. Then I began to survey my personal history of spiritual growth. Then I started watching the people I pastor. But it became abundantly clear when a major crisis struck our town, and we were suddenly surrounded by overwhelming need. The lesson learned is simply this: when people serve others in the name of Jesus, they are much more likely to grow spiritually. In other words, when I see serving Christians, I see growing Christians.

It seems oversimplistic. Still, most churches define discipleship ministries strictly in terms of classrooms, curriculum, and information. We work hard to get people to grow by getting them into confined, controlled spaces where they receive content. I have nothing against Bible studies or Christian education classes. They serve significant roles in the Christian journey. But how is the pure classroom model of teaching people about discipleship working for us? Could there be a correlation between missional engagement and growth as a disciple? Could there be a correlation between a lack of missional engagement and stunted growth as a disciple? In other words, is it possible that the journey into mission and the journey into discipleship are, in fact, the same?

When Jesus called disciples, he called them out, not in. Jesus’ call was a “come follow me” toward the mission field. His model for disciple-making was “on the way” as they joined Him on the mission. There were times to stop and teach, but these “classroom” moments were in the context of the missional journey as Jesus entered into the needs of the world around Him. To be sure, I am not advocating overcorrecting by disregarding study, but learning should be complemented by practice, and in this case this means serving others. Maybe we should see the classroom as a recurring slingshot into the mission field.

In my church I can see a difference in the spiritual growth of those who serve and those who do not.

Following Jesus means going where Jesus is or else it is not following Jesus. Our Scriptures remind us again and again that Jesus is with the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and those in need. Following Jesus to them and living in solidarity with them allows us to see Jesus among them. There we find the sweet spot where conditions are ripe for spiritual growth. God’s mission is not a means to a self-serving end. Quite the opposite. God’s mission to restore a broken creation is our primary focus because it is His primary focus. As we lean into God’s mission, we become agents of that mission, and in the process we grow as disciples of Jesus.

What then does it look like for a local church to embrace God’s mission as a form of disciple-making? It means our neighborhood, not just the classroom, is the laboratory where disciples are made. It means the mission field creates “curriculum” for disciple-making. It means pastors, staff, and leaders constantly open doors for people to engage in missional opportunities. It means that missional practices, such as evangelistic conversations, sharing tables with others, community prayer walks, and taking time to intentionally know neighbors are emphasized and embraced. It requires focus on the whole person and the whole community—bodies, souls, minds, and hearts. It means language about discipleship and mission are one and the same.

Missional engagement is not a sure-fire formula for spiritual maturity, but it is a major component. Surveying my own spiritual journey, my benchmark moments of greatest growth have occurred during times of missional service. In my church I can see a difference in the spiritual growth of those who serve and those who do not. More recently, in response to the flooding in our community, I see people who have risen to the occasion and given themselves to the work of Jesus. I see serving people. I see growing people. Maybe this is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Come follow me.”

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.