Redefining Spirituality: Seven Benchmarks for a Discipling Culture

Christianity in the West has settled for something significantly lower than a culture of discipleship.  Our “spiritual” members are typically those who have consistently read their Bible and maintained a devotional private life.  The most honored among us are those who have brought their spiritual life to bare on one area of their public life, be it their job or their friends.  The point is, much of this falls significantly short of what Jesus intended for His church.

One of the sayings of CMA, an organic church planting fellowship I’ve learned a lot from is “we need to lower the bar on what it means to be a church and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple.”  They believe that if church is simple enough for anyone to participate in it and everyone is a committed disciple, churches will begin to be established quickly and repeatedly.  My question then is, how high should we raise the bar?  The following is my list of seven benchmarks for discipleship:

  1. Intimacy with Jesus- Every spiritual reality in the Kingdom of God is born out of a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus.  When a person is truly born into the Kingdom, they are immediately grafted in to a real relationship with a resurrected Lord.  But we never graduate beyond that relationship.  There is no level of spiritual maturity where listening, loving, and abiding becomes something you did when you were young in the Lord.  Cultivating this ongoing relationship with Jesus becomes the basis for every other Kingdom activity we do. (Matthew 22:34-40, John 14:15, John 15:1-10)
  2. Ability to Follow the Holy Spirit- Jesus expected the ministry of His Son to be carried on through those who followed Him.  Jesus-style ministry did not stop when He ascended to Heaven.  It continued on in the lives of those who had followed Him and in the lives of those who would come to believe in their testimony.  The Holy Spirit led the expansion of the church, the direction of its mission, and fueled the internal growth of holiness in His people.  It’s not necessary to take a class on following the Holy Spirit, but we all need to grow in understanding how He leads individually and practice obeying His leadership. This will include knowing His voice, following His promptings, and manifesting His gifts. (John 20:21-22, Acts 2:33, Acts 2:38, Acts 9:31, Acts 13:52, Acts 16:6-10)
  3. Growing Character- We all come to Christ as enemies of God and it’s the work of God to cause us to surrender to Christ.  This change from a captive of Satan to a citizen of the Kingdom of God will have ramifications on our lifestyle. As we develop intimacy with Jesus and follow the Holy Spirit there will be continual change of character reflected in our lifestyle.  This is fueled not out of religious pressure but the work of God in the soul of man.  Jesus called us to be perfect even as our Heavenly Father is perfect, Paul told us he pressed on to the upward call of Christ but had not reached it.  Our lifestyles are to grow up into the image of the One who saved us.  (Romans 5:8, Colossians 1:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:22-24, Matthew 5:48, Philippians 3:12-15, Ephesians 4:15-16)
  4. Retelling the Gospel with Relevancy- Anyone who has been to a third world country and seen effective ministry being carried out by the illiterate and unlearned will understand that it doesn’t take a seminary degree to be a disciple.  But the ability to grasp the Gospel is essential in coming to Christ.  The ability to retell the Gospel is crucial if we desire to see others come to Christ.  So every believer from the newest to the most mature should be able to retell their story of Christ meeting them (their testimony) and the story of how that was accomplished by Jesus (the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, otherwise known as the Gospel). (1 Corinthians 1 :26-31, Romans 10:14-15, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
  5. A Commitment to the Body of Christ- When Jesus saves us, He sets us in spiritual families that corporately represent Christ.  We lose our individuality and gain a corporate family more amazing than anything we have ever participated in.  This family is at the same time a universal brotherhood and a specific and local group to which we belong. We begin to tangibly demonstrate our love for Jesus and our status as disciples as we demonstrate love for other broken humans redeemed by Jesus.  (Psalm 68:5-6, Ephesians 4:4-6, Romans 16:3-5, 1 John 3:14-18, John 13:35, Romans 12:9-21)
  6. A Commitment to Care for Orphans and Widows- God found us when we were unwanted orphans (spiritually) and adopted us into His family.  Truly following Him, then, means we take care of the weakest and most broken parts of society, whether they are believers or not.  We demonstrate the reality of our Gospel by caring for widows and orphans. (Romans 8:15, James 1:27, Galatians 6:10)
  7. A Commitment to Reproduction- The Gospel and and it’s effects were designed to spread from person to person with little difficulty. Our commission from Jesus is to teach whole nations the realities we’ve learned from Him.  If we miss this element, we cease to be a discipling culture.  Paul wanted Timothy to not just teach other people, but to teach people in a way that they could pass his teaching on to others.  It was this commitment to spreading both the Gospel and it’s associated lifestyle that allowed it to reach most of Europe in a short period of time.  The same will be true today.  (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:2)

Simply put, we are to be people who know Jesus deeply and follow the Holy Spirit.  This will cause us to grow in character, express the Gospel in word and deed, care for fellow believers and take care of widows and orphans wherever we find them.  When we commit to reproducing this lifestyle in those that are following Jesus around us, we begin to see a discipling culture take root.

One thing to know is that none of these characteristics require extensive schooling or training.  Most of them are just the result of you following Jesus and learning to trust His leadership.  All of this can be taught (and more likely caught) in the context of the body of Christ on mission.  That has deep implications for our current training systems across the body of Christ, but that’s a topic for another post….

Now the question today is this: What would you add?  Let me know in the comment section below.

Photo Credit: Masters Commission DR by AmslerPIX

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About traviskolder

Travis Kolder is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father of five, an organic church planter, and a writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he serves as part of the Cedar Rapids House Church Network.

12 responses to “Redefining Spirituality: Seven Benchmarks for a Discipling Culture”

  1. A widow says :

    Finally! someone who lists the care of widows and orphans as a vital requirement! Not enough attention given to the needs of widows in this area and there are a lot of us who stand ready to serve and pray – but where? We need a place to grow and contribute and be part of a “family”. We are not saying we are better or have the most important needs – yet we do have needs and we need to belong again.

    • traviskolder says :

      A Widow

      Thank you so much for commenting. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I think we tend to read these passages about widows and orphans and think primarily about economics, but you’ve brought up a good point. This is about way more than finances, its about belonging to a family. I’m excited to see how this could play out in organic churches that act as spiritual family, especially in urban contexts where there are so many poor and overlooked widows.

      • A widow says :

        Would love to keep this dialogue going – also would love to know of any churches and/or pastors in the area who have a heart to serve the widows of this community. We each have a particular “oil” to contribute and could give so much back to a “family”.

  2. Sean says :

    Love this

  3. david bolton says :

    Excellent list. Nothing to add but an Amen. 🙂

  4. riverflowsdown says :

    Travis , Great post. I especially like points 4 and 6 being added to the list that have been left off any list I have seen. There was an old hymn that said standing somewhere in the shadows you will find Jesus. I think it might just be the shadows of widows and orphans being over shadowed by the loving care of Jesus. Find the widows and orphans and you will find Jesus. Open the door to them and we will welcome HIM. keep up the encouraging words!!!

  5. used school books says :

    What’s up, its good paragraph on the topic of media print, we all be familiar with media is a enormous source of information.

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