Editorial - Discipleship driven church and missions

By Rev Dr Caleb Chian (Chairman, SIM East Asia council)


SIM Statement on Discipleship says “We make disciples who will trust and obey Jesus, and become part of Christ-centered churches”

A discipleship driven church is one that believes and emphasizes the exercise and practice of discipling its members. Missions is God’s commission to the church for the salvation of mankind. The integration of discipleship and missions is the ultimate fulfilment of the Great Commission by the discipleship driven church.

Why is it important to build a church that is focused on discipleship?

1. A church taking discipleship seriously will take missions seriously too

Disciples exist when there is a master. Discipleship is centered on the intimate relationship with and following of the master. The authority and will of the master are cardinal in the relationship. A church that takes discipleship seriously submits to the authority of God and cares about God’s will and purposes. It is God-centric, treating God as the sovereign Master. It cares for what God cares for, i.e. “... not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9b). As a result, a church that take discipleship seriously will also take missions seriously. Its focus and intentionality is not on discipleship programmes or courses, but on fulfilling the will and purposes of the Master.

2. Discipleship driven church nurtures missionaries who will produce disciples

In my many years of involvement in missions, I have encountered many missionaries with strong personalities. Missionaries with strong personalities is not the issue, as God can use them for courageous acts of service. After all, Jesus has many disciples with strong personalities. For example, James and John are hot tempered and impulsive – hence their name “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). The issue is more to do with the missionary’s inner life, human weakness and sin. A missionary with a strong personality but with issues and sins undealt with will bring problem to the field. There would be relational and submission issues, leading to attrition. He or she may be very competent, but he or she may destroy more than build up the ministry. Our Lord Jesus Christ nurtured his disciples. In the same way, the missionaries need to be nurtured into someone who values “being” more than “doing” in the sight of God and man.

The above discussion can be illustrated through the life of Otto Koning, nicknamed the ”Pineapple Missionary”. Otto was sent from the USA to serve among the natives in Papua New Guinea. In his early years as a missionary there, he was always angry with the people for stealing the pineapples that he planted. His feeling of love was replaced with hatred. During his first home assignment, he reflected and realized he cared too much for himself. This led him to being angry most of the time. He repented and, when he returned to the field, his forbearance and patience became obvious to the natives. They asked, “Sir, have you become a Christian?” It dawned on Otto that though he was a Christian for over 20 years, only now is he living and behaving like one. As a result, many were led to the Lord at a speed that no other fields had witnessed.

God uses missionaries who are true disciples of Jesus. He uses them to impact the people. It is the duty of the church to nurture genuine disciples of Jesus. The success or failure and how much a missionary can achieve depends on the quality of the missionary! The church has much to contribute in producing good missionaries!

3. Discipleship driven church will plant churches that focus on discipleship

A genuine disciple from a discipleship driven church understands and benefits from the discipleship process. When this disciple becomes a missionary, he or she instinctively plants churches that focus on discipleship. As a result, the missional outcome of a discipleship driven church is the planting of churches focused on discipleship. Perhaps, success of missions can be gauged from whether a discipleship driven church is planted rather just the planting of a church?

Judging from the happenings of the day, it appears to me that the return of the Lord is near. This also means that the Gospel should be proclaimed to the end of the earth and disciples are made wherever the missionaries go. It is with a thankful heart that I observe many churches taking discipleship seriously, though they may defer in their approaches. As the Holy Spirit works and prepares the church for the return of the Lord, I pray that many Christians will be discipled and get engaged in missions. I pray that churches in Asia will be well prepared to disciple believers and many will participate in the unfinished task to make disciples of all nations. Amen.

(Rev Caleb is also Chairman of CCCOWE Sarawak and former Snr Pastor, Miri Gospel Chapel, Sarawak, Malaysia)

SIM East Asia