Justin Hiebert

Catalyzing Change

Whole life discipleship

Posted on 23 Sep 2014 in Christianity, Church, Culture, Discipleship, missional theology | 4 comments

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As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:16-18

In the introductory post to this series, we highlighted the idea that churches fail when they invite people to a program or event and not to Jesus. Effective invitation must always model the example of Jesus: inviting people to experience him.

Today, I want to begin to look at the first issue that we need to confront in building an invitation style culture in our churches:

Whole life discipleship.


The failure of churches past.

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Prior generations of churches have set Christianity up to be an intellectual exercise. Sermons were often seen as compelling when they included fancy seminary words, three points that all started with the same letter, and were heavily influenced by being able to parse Greek words. I’ve sat through entire sermons trying to convince me that God is my pneuma without ever taking a second to explain what pneuma is. I (and everyone else) was just expected to know it. It was (supposedly) gripping material. You were encouraged to invite your non-believing friends to church to hear the “sound logic and infallible ideas” of the pastor Bible.

It was believed (or at least practiced and encouraged) that passive participation was enough. Churches were often set up to look like factories (perhaps more beautiful, but factories of the industrial revolution nonetheless). Members were allowed to walk in, receive their needed information-through-osmosis transfer for the week, and then leave.

Great care was taken to make sure that people knew enough, but never made the bridge to how that knowledge should inform the rest of their life.  Successful Christianity was characterized by faithful attendance, completing the tithe, and serving on a committee. For those that did this faithfully, they were often recognized as ‘good’ Christians.

The failure of churches present.

Eventually, people became leery of this type of teaching. Through advances in media, and a rapid decline of interest in degrading rhetoric, church attendance began a downward spiral. Many were uninterested, and those that had a desire to go to church soon discovered that they could just put in a tape, CD, or download the latest sermon on their phone and listen in their car.

The failure of past churches was to only treat the head. The belief was that enough information would lead to transformation, but it didn’t, it just led to a group of well informed hypocrites.

To combat this, churches began to offer training on specific issues: seven steps to better parenting, three ways to control your anger, the one thing you must do to enjoy life today.

Church became less about information and more about entertainment. For those who had given up on church because they didn’t want intellectual hoops to jump through, an enticing offer was made: show up on Sunday to hear about your Best Life Now!

But their failure was the exact same as that of churches past: item specific education. The only difference was that instead of intellectual, it was relational. Whenever churches focus on only one aspect of humanity, they never succeed.

The hope of future churches.

The hope for future churches will lie solely in their ability to account for the totality of a person, to educate them in light of their past, present, and future communities and realities.

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Talk to Millennials. They want to be a part of something. They want to belong. They want to lead well, but they are only willing to sign up for something where they can:

  1. See the benefits
  2. Be engaged by all of their humanity.

The research is overwhelmingly in favor of Millennials being the best parents in several generations. One study revealed it as a desired top goal. So offering a class on parenting is great, as long as it is also able to address the rest of who they are. They want to belong, not just to a group of ‘parents’ but to a group of people who are actively involved in doing something to change and engage the world with the Good News for the sake of themselves and future generations.

Creation care for Millennials is not primarily about preventing global warming, it is about social justice. Millennials see it as more than the earth’s temperature rising a few degrees, it is seen as something that violates the sacredness of humanity on a global scale. Millions already suffer from inadequate access to drinking water, and issues like pollution, global warming, and war only make that worse. It is less a chain reaction (one link affecting another) and more a web of entanglement (everything is tied together). Healthy and successful churches will be the ones that can successfully relate their faith and spirituality to the whole humanity of a person: their mind, body, and spirit.

Millennials and the generation after them are able to see through false religious activities. Intellectual exercises, if they don’t change common practice, are meaningless. For those in the churches we might say: memorizing the Bible without doing what it says is fruitless to a watching world. Millennials would challenge those that say they love grace in the Bible to practice it in real life.

Healthy and sustainable future churches will be those that treat discipleship as a serious matter that changes the whole human. Those that develop the ability to connect heart, mind, action, passion, energy, skill, and desire will be the churches that not only survive, but grow and thrive in the long term.

Healthy and sustainable future churches will be able to treat people as holistic beings and not as individualized issues. In future posts in the series, we are going to look at several of these common barriers and how the church can overcome them to create a naturally inviting culture that people want to be a part of. But I also want to hear from you:

In the comments section below leave your opinion. What do you think are the most pressing issues that the church faces today?


Read the Introductory post here.

Read the next post in the series here on Church culture.

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Justin Hiebert

Leadership Catalyst - Entrepreneur - Coach at JSHiebert Leadership Coaching
I am a Business and Life Coach in both non-profit and for profit settings. I coach leaders, executives, and pastors in areas of vision, clarity, and values. In relationship coaching I focus on healthy and sustainable relationships, and in leadership development roles I catalyze change for individuals and groups to thrive. I also consult churches and organizations on how to train new leaders and create a healthy culture. In addition to that, I am an Anabaptist pastor in the Denver metro area. I specialize on topics that include: missional theology, discipleship, culture and the church in today’s society. I am married to my wonderful wife Elise and we have three kids. I grew up and now work in the United States Mennonite Brethren Church (USMB) and love the people and history of the Mennonite Brethren faith. I am a graduate of Tabor College with a dual degree in Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership, a graduate of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary with a Masters of Divinity, and a Doctoral Student and Bethel Seminary. I also teach college classes in areas of Bible, Communication, and Business.

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  • Eric Hatfield

    I agree with all you say here. I am an Aussie, so I would see some differences between your country and mine, but lots of similarities too. I think the main issues facing the church include:

    * having a more Biblical understanding of what “the gospel” is
    * proper discipleship training instead of boring monologue sermons
    * involvement of every person using their different gifts in the mission of the church
    * it is more important to be serving in the wider community than on the church property

    ….. for a start!

    • Eric,

      Thanks for chiming in. I’d agree that these are critical issues facing the church today. We’ve created an institution instead of a movement and it has limited what we have to offer. Creating people that are willing to leave the building to seek and save the lost will be a key posture of the church moving forward.

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