it takes a village [to build up a follower]


When I think about Old Europe I am drawn to the massive cathedrals. These marvelous monuments to Christendom took hundreds of years, thousands of man-hours, and millions of dollars to build. Dedicated craftsmen have embossed cathedrals with ornate artwork, colorful stain-glass, meaningful sculptures, and rich relics, which all add to the message of Scriptural themes. To this day these cathedrals are engineering marvels.

The church is often misunderstood and misapplied. As beautiful as these cathedrals and churches may be they are not the church. The church is not a building—it is people. The church is built up by followers of Christ displaying the glory of God and discipling one another to godliness.

The purpose of the church is quite important as it relates to the growth of the people within the church. Discipleship is often described as a one-on-one personal if not private endeavor. As we disciple someone in Christ the first things we teach them is about private growth: practicing devotions, private prayer life, and personal obedience. This is good and true, however, the personal growth in Christ also happens biblically through community within the Body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:12]. Seldom is discipleship viewed as a community project.

EPHESIANS 4:11 And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16, teaches us about the corporate aspect of discipleship. Once a follower commits to Christ they can immediately contribute to the Body of Christ [cf. Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-10; 1 Peter 4:11]. Without contribution to the Body of Christ we fail to mature in our faith or have accountability to continue in our faith. Christian growth does not happen in isolation, rather growth happens in community. According to verse 13 there are three aspects of discipleship that cannot happen in isolation: unity, mature in knowledge, maintaining a measure of fullness of Christ.

Unity of the faith is the first and most obvious aspect of community discipleship. Communities have common goals for the benefit of one another. God’s people are moving towards the goal of one faith. Faith is not just personal, but it is a public way to stir one another to faith and good works [cf. Hebrews 10:22-25; Philippians 1:27]. This means followers are using their God-given gifts for His glory and the growth of the community. New believers need to see the unified community of faith [cf. Colossians 2:7].

The second aspect of community discipleship is maturing in the knowledge of the Son of God. Knowledge is not only a personal entity, but refers to the community of followers [cf. v.12]. The knowledge of Christ is the core of the church. Together we encourage one another know Christ and make Him known. This maturity of knowledge is illustrated by infants of who are immature and unstable, like a storm-tossed boat blown in all directions by the winds of false teaching [v.14]. Mature followers are able to discern more clearly what is true and false, but new followers need to grow in their knowledge of Christ. Knowledge of Christ is not an end in itself, rather being transformed by Christ is the goal of this knowledge [cf. 1 John 2:3-4].

The third aspect of community discipleship is maintaining a measure of fullness of Christ. This is the end result of community discipleship—being like Christ.[1] Now the church is already the fullness of Christ [1:23; cf. 4:10], but the future element is still present in our need to be like Christ. The maturity of this growth is measured by nothing less than Christlikeness.

Community discipleship is critical to the growth of the individual followers. Rechargeable batteries do not power up by themselves. They need to be plugged into a power source in order to be recharged. So it is with Christian maturity—followers cannot grow apart from being plugged into the church.

Christ is both the Builder and the Foundation of the church [2:20; cf. 1 Timothy 3:15]. Without a connection to the community of Christ—the local church—we cannot grow, as we ought. If we do not encourage new believers or immature believers to be connected to the Body of Christ they will remain immature, if not disillusioned by true Christian growth. A believer can growth through Bible Study, prayer and personal obedience, but more complete growth happens in the context of the church community. When this is happening the members of the body are being built up and growing the way God intended.

It takes a village to disciple a follower. The church is that village, and together we can encourage one another to unity, mature knowledge, and fullness of Christ. As John Stott says, “Maturity in unity which comes from knowing, trusting, and growing up in Christ.”[2]


[1] John Koessler, True Discipleship. Chicago, IL. Moody Publishers, 2003. 180.

[2] John R.W. Stott, God’s New Society. Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 1979, 169.

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