The church is for discipleship, plain and simple. That is its primary function. It exists as a place from which disciples are sent out into the world to make more disciples, much like the boats and the streets where Jesus gathered with the original twelve.
To understand what discipleship is, we have to understand what the disciples originally were. To most of our modern ears, we hear the word "discipleship," and we start to think about a class, a study, or a program. We think that a disciple is someone who prays, reads their Bible, and goes to church. Disciples are those who are so good at the spiritual disciplines that we look up to them for how to become disciples ourselves. And, of course, they invite other persons to church - so they are, you know, making disciples themselves, every time one of those persons shows up and commits.
This is not discipleship. We think it is, but it's not. This definition of "discipleship" would be completely foreign to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It would be completely foreign to Jesus.
Discipleship is giving up your own life to take on His. It's following Jesus around and doing life together with the other disciples. It's learning-by-doing and by being so close to the doing that you can't not see what's happening right in front of you. It's drawing near to Christ and being there, even through raging storms. Discipleship requires togetherness.
That's why, by the way, the church is so important to the life of a person of God; we were meant to do this life together, and it is essential to the discipling of our souls that we be traveling together.
Sometimes, particularly in our individualistic culture, especially in a church where we are continually told that Christ died just for us, for the individual us, it's easy to think that we are following Jesus and to see it in our heads as Him walking around and us tagging along. Just us. Just the two of us, navigating through this life, through my life, together. But raise your head, friend, and look around. You aren't the only one following Jesus; we're all doing it. And if we're all doing it, that means we're not traveling just through your life, but also mine and mostly...His.
Now, we have to be careful here. And in a couple of different ways.
When we say that the church is for doing life together, it's easy to make the church some kind of social club. It's easy to schedule our calendars full of things we do maybe at the church or with the church, but they have little connection to actually making our faith deeper. They have little connection to drawing us any nearer to Christ Himself. There are, in our day, plenty of churches who have adopted this model, whose people are doing all kinds of things together, but Christ isn't central to them.
On the other hand, our natural tendency when we hear this is to simply try to "baptize" the social things that we're doing so that we can call them church. We throw in a prayer before the Bingo game, and we say, voila! It's Christian bingo! We sing a song while we're working, and we say our project is now Christ's project. This isn't it, either. Saying a prayer, singing a song, even reading a Scripture doesn't make any event a discipleship event.
We have to be intentional about the ways that we're doing life together if we truly want to be about discipleship, if we truly want to be what the church is called to be. We have to be intentional about who is at the center of our togetherness, too. (By the way, it's not the pastor or the elder or the deacon in charge; it's Christ.)
It has to be about more than just being together, but it has to be deeper than just throwing a coat of Christian paint on it. And that's not an easy balance to strike, which is why so many churches tend to lean one way or the other. Or sometimes, to alternate between one and the other.
So how do we get to be a place of true discipleship? And are we still asking, too, what true discipleship even is?