The Church Does Not Need More Christians

Notes from Dallas Willard. “The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship”

Some of what follows is direct quotes from this incredible, challenging book I’m enjoying rereading after many years. I read asking questions, and Willard offers challenging answers as always. But rather than just nod and say. ‘Yes, interesting perspective, let’s get back to planning for Sunday morning’ – this kind of thinking is changing how we are doing/being church at Ivy as we reshape everything post pandemic according to our ‘Discipleship Pathway’. I’m sure as I read on I’ll be shaken even more!

Who/ What is a disciple? 

A learner, a ‘constant apprentice’, a student, a practitioner – even if only yet a beginner. 

The word disciple occurs 269 times in the New Testament. “Christian” is found three times. The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.

Jesus made it clear that to follow him means we must become his disciple. But the church has made it possible for the vast majority of those in its ranks to be ‘Christians’ without becoming disciples of Jesus. 

The churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be a disciple to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. For them, discipleship is optional, so churches are filled with ‘undiscipled disciples’ – though of course in reality there is no such thing. 

What do disciples do? 

A mind cluttered by excuses may make a mystery of discipleship, or see it as something to be dreaded. But there is no mystery about desiring and intending to be like someone—that is a very common thing. And if we really do intend to be like Christ, that will be obvious to every thoughtful person around us, as well as to ourselves. 

“I have been given say over all things in heaven and in the earth. As you go, therefore, make disciples of all kinds of people, submerge them in Trinitarian Presence, and show them how to do everything I have commanded. And now look: I am with you every minute until the job is done” (Matthew 28:18–20)” (Willard’s translation!) 

Jesus made it explicit. Disciples make disciples!  

But aren’t we are here to do church, and start churches?

“It is a tragic error to think that Jesus was telling us, as he left, to start churches, as that is understood today. From time to time starting a church may be appropriate. But his aim for us is much greater than that. He wants us to establish “beachheads” or bases of operation for the Kingdom of God wherever we are…

So the greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether “Christians” will become disciples—students, apprentices, practitioners—of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence. Will they break out of the churches to be his Church

…What Jesus expects us to do is not complicated or obscure. In some cases, it will require that we change what we have been doing.”

And so? 

We each must ask, “Am I a disciple, or only a Christian by current standards?” Examination of our ultimate desires and intentions, reflected in the specific responses and choices that make up our lives, can show whether there are things we hold more important than being like him. If there are, then we are not yet his disciples. ”