One of the key steps in cultivating whole-life discipleship in the life of a church is reevaluating and reimagining the role the church plays in the lives of faithful disciples. If Sunday morning corporate worship is not the purpose and most “spiritual” moment of the week, if all Christians are called to ministry, if everyone has a frontline where they’re invited to be a part of God’s work in the world, then our time gathered together becomes about equipping and encouraging disciples to live faithfully outside of the church walls. We gather to scatter. We worship with the frontline in view.
But how do we do this?
In many ways, that question is why Vere Institute exists. We want to help you live out an answer to it. We want to walk with you as you work out how to allow a vision of whole-life discipleship to shape your life and the life of your church community.
Whole-life discipleship is not about adding more programs. It doesn’t require a radical change in your worship style. It’s much more than a sermon series or a Christian ed course. Whole-life discipleship becomes the lens through which we view everything. It works its way into every aspect of how we “do” church—what we celebrate, what we give time and money to, how we pray, how we commission people, how we talk about the world outside of the church building.
For example, we can share stories and open space for testimonies about where God is working on our frontlines in every day life. These stories shape our imagination and expectations of where God can—and does—work and what that looks like. It encourages those listening to consider how God is at work on their own frontline and to continue faithfully engaging in His work there.
We can equip people to live faithfully on their frontline by discussing and expanding their vision of what faithfulness looks like there. We equip them by teaching them how to have thoughtful spiritual conversations and encouraging them to build meaningful relationships with people who don’t know Jesus. We equip them for the frontline by freeing their schedules from church programs and events so they have the margin to engage outside of the church community.
These actions are merely a start, but they reflect this culture shift towards seeing the church as an “equipping station” and a source of encouragement for the frontline.
The pandemic has shifted some of the ways we do this encouraging and equipping work as church leaders. It has also shifted some of the great encouraging and equipping needs felt by our congregations at their own frontlines have morphed.
Pastor Susan Thornton has seen this play out at Chiltonville Congregational Church, as they’ve seen the pandemic present unique challenges and unique opportunities to their church community. For those in her congregation who have been sheltering at home throughout the pandemic, Susan has sent weekly “Words of Encouragement,” “targeted at helping to see the current challenges through a Biblical lens that emphasizes our faith, hope, and the proven promises of Christ.” After they resumed live worship gatherings, CCC continued sharing a recording of the service via email and online on social media and on their website. Though it has been abundantly clear to them that there is no replacement for worshipping in person with other believers (as so many of us have felt over the last months), this has also been a great opportunity. Susan shares, “Several of our members are sending these on to family and friends each week who are not church attenders and have said that their friends have been encouraged.”
Susan has also seen unique needs arise on people’s frontlines. She says, “We have found that the mask wearing requirement has made it more difficult for spontaneous frontline interactions as people are less likely to look others in the eye and are farther away with ‘social distancing.’ We have found that we need to be intentional about these interactions and to be the initiator when the moment arises.” In this way, her church is equipping people for the frontline in the midst of the pandemic.
Just as the pandemic has not put a halt on our frontline opportunities, it has not put a stop to the essential work of the church. It may look a bit different, and it may require creativity, but we are still engaged in the work of equipping and encouraging disciples for the frontline.
Diana Gruver (MA, Gordon-Conwell) writes about discipleship and spiritual formation in the every day. She is the author of Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. You can find her online at www.dianagruver.com or on Facebook or Twitter. Diana originally published this work with the Vere Institute (Oct 2014 – May 2021), which was founded to empower Christians to integrate their faith into everyday life. The Vere Institute’s legacy lives on through our Vere Library.