What if we prioritize ​’being’ disciples over ‘making’ them?

CrossOver reflection for Week 24 • Beginning May 19, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 37

Rev. Lowell Greathouse

“We dare to believe that through tiny little seeds like us, through the yeast of our little ecclesia, through the spreading branches of this expanding movement, the world is beginning to change.”

Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking(Chapter 37)

Recently, I was at a national church gathering where several people said, “If we had been focused on our church’s mission in St. Louis, what happened at General Conference wouldn’t have happened.” When I heard these statements, it made me wonder if there really isn’t a problem with our church’s mission statement. 

Perhaps we need to stop and examine ourselves for a moment. Maybe we can’t “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” until we first take time to act like disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Perhaps that’s the real issue. So, maybe we need to change one word in the United Methodist Church mission statement. What if we changed the word “make” to “be,” since the mission of the Church really starts with us. Or, more precisely, it starts with God working in and through us. Discipleship has to do with what we do . . . how we see . . . how we act . . . what we worship . . . and how we treat each other and those around us. 

Until we manage to get this right, there’s really no need in trying to convince others about what we think it means to follow Jesus, because those around us will look at the evidence found within our own lives to determine what it means to be a Jesus follower. It’s like the famous quote, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” 

The truth is, people are watching; what we do and how we act makes a difference. That was clear from all the media coverage that occurred following our church’s St. Louis gathering. And what people saw there was what they think United Methodists believe it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Personally, I think we missed a great opportunity to demonstrate to the world what following Jesus is all about, and we won’t get that same opportunity again. 

What should people have been looking for? Paul helps us with this in his letter to the followers in Galatia, when he lists a series of behaviors that he calls “fruit of the Spirit.” Paul’s list includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I’m not sure those would be the first words that people would use when describing what they witnessed in St. Louis. And that’s a problem. 

It’s hard to make disciples of others when we struggle with the basic principles Jesus taught so much ourselves. Jesus calls us to live in the world in a totally new way that challenges the assumptions of power, privilege, and position. Jesus calls us to see the world differently and treat others in a more loving manner.

As we see in Chapter 37 of McLaren’s book, living in ways that point toward justice, peace, and joy are contagious and spread rapidly, changing life-after-life in the process. And this is how disciple-making occurs. In fact, throughout McLaren’s book, we are reminded of this again and again. And we see this phenomenon taking place in people’s lives—through Paul, Timothy, Luke, Silas, Priscilla, Aquila, Lydia—and on and on. 

Brian McLaren, in reflecting on the scripture passages referenced in Chapter 37, says, “We are partners in an earthquake of liberation!” This is an amazing undertaking, and it all starts with God working through us. When we are in sync with God’s Spirit in this way, it is something that is hard to ignore. 

Transform the world? Sure, but this begins with our own transformation first. And the truth is that we’ll have other opportunities to make a difference in the world. In fact, the next opportunity may just happen in our very next personal encounter! That’s how it has taken place from the beginning of the Christian movement—and because of this, the world continues to be transformed! 

Rev. Lowell Greathouse serves as Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Comments (9)

  • I hesitated each time I read “making”. I agree with the word “being”. Making seemed to be a human attempt while being is living the good news and welcoming others that hear the word. One of my greatest joys is observing people listening intently hearing about God’s love for all. What if you heard just heard it for the first time? It is also good to be reminded of the security of God’s unconditional love.

  • Can this focus become official by adoption of a resolution at annual conference? If too late this year, it should be on next year’s agenda!

  • Christopher Gudger-Raines

    We have already done this at Orchards. We didn’t like the notion that our purpose was to strong-arm people to being more like us. Our purpose is to become more like Jesus.

    Our mission statement is now “Love God, Love People, Serve Both”. I wish I could take credit for that.

  • Richrd L. Gilbert

    Lowell: While walking this week I had a similar, the same, question, idea. It would help if we included the wording “being and making disciples….” It is relationally impossible to make before being. Great idea – share it, spread it, until it becomes a rewording of our mission as UMC’s.

    Richard Gilbert, retired.

  • Amen, if the “Bride of Christ” had been focused on the “Great Commission” instead of current cultural trends, there would never have been a need to vote in St Louis on an issue that clearly contradicts God’s biblical teaching.

    Amen again, we should not worship cultural trends and man’ wisdom but worship the eternal, unchanging God of Abraham, Isaac and the “Great cloud of Witnesses” recounted in Hebrews!

    What about Paul’s letter to the Romans listing a series of “vile affections” in Romans 1:26-30? Paul is echoing God’s (including Jesus) words from Leviticus 18:22-30. Choosing just the Biblical passages that seem to justify man’s corrupt desires, is an eternally deadly action.

    Yes, “preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” Just make certain that your life and preaching are God’s Truth rather than man’s wisdom and cultural concessions.

    Unfortunately, what people saw, during the UMCC 2019, was rebellion against God’s Holy and infallible Word; misguided reaction to our fallen world, human reasoning, tradition, and human experience attempting to supersede scripture!

  • How will they know we are Christians? By our love, by our love…

    Next question – how to become a “be-er”? Answer: Spend a lot more time and effort on spiritual formation via the spiritual disciplines and praxis.

  • The Rev. Dr. Beryl A. Ingram, Ph.D.

    Thank you, Lowell! I have been saying this since that slogan was first introduced. That concept of ‘making’ someone else something else never made sense!!! ‘Be disciples for the transformation of the world’ does make sense and puts the emphasis where it belongs — on the person who claims Jesus Christ as Lord. BLESS YOU for your article.

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