What About Discipleship?

Last August, Zac Hicks posted on the Reformed Worship blog about a few metaphors related to mission and worship that have been meaningful to him. He referenced a couple metaphors from Ruth Meyers’ book Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission and then offered a metaphor of his own. Zac describes the circulatory system as a helpful way for us to perceive the relationship between worship and mission. I really appreciated the way Zac frames worship as the center, while also maintaining a more organic and integrated approach to worship and mission. (If you’ve not read Zac’s post yet, let me encourage you to do so. And, Zac, I’m eager to read your new book, The Worship Pastor, when it comes out later this year.)

Another metaphor related to integrating worship and mission that I have encountered comes from John Bowen, a good friend of mine. In an article for the Institute of Evangelism, John wrote:

“Liturgy without mission is like the Dead Sea. Rivers run into it, but there is no outlet. No life can survive in it. Mission without liturgy is like a flash flood, powerful but quickly over, not fed by permanent springs — and equally unable to sustain life. Liturgy and mission together, however, are symbiotic, as God intended, life-giving first to the people of God, and then through them in the power of the Spirit to the world.”

I like how John uses two different water metaphors here to alert us to significant dangers that rise to the surface when we keep worship and mission separate from each other. As Zac wrote in his post last year, “Together, worship and mission work as one unified system.”  

As these metaphors have floated through my thinking, a question keeps surfacing: Where does discipleship fit into these conversations on worship and mission?

I’ll respond to that question more directly in a moment, but first another metaphor.  

Psalm 1 describes the blessed person as being “like a tree planted by streams of water.” Such a tree drinks continually from the stream. It does not travel to a watering hole once a week or whenever it feels thirsty. Rather, the tree is planted by the stream so that it can continually draw life from the stream. The tree’s capacity to bear fruit in season and to have leaves that do not wither is directly connected to the tree’s ongoing access to the stream.

Jesus takes this Psalm 1 stream metaphor as reflection of his relationship with us when he describes himself as the living water and as the water of life in John’s gospel. Discipleship is that ongoing process of rooting our lives more fully in Jesus, so that his life flows through us. Our capacity to bear fruit and to bring God glory is directly and intimately connected to our ongoing relationship with Jesus as the source of our life.      

In Desiring the Kingdom, Jamie Smith suggests that our weekly worship gatherings — important as they are — are not enough to counter the competing liturgies of the world around us on their own. If we are going to embody the good news of Jesus Christ that we’ve proclaimed and encountered in our gathered worship, we also need to embrace “habits of daily worship,” or discipleship, throughout the week. In this way worship, discipleship, and mission are integral with each other.

So where does discipleship fit into this conversation? Let me briefly suggest three ways that discipleship can be integrated with worship and mission. From my perspective, an integrated discipleship...

  1. Is Eucharist-Centered:
    This approach to discipleship will center on Jesus’ death and resurrection, adopting the pattern of dying and rising with Christ. As we take the bread and the cup within our worship gatherings, we are admonished to remember and believe that our sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ. This sacrament is intended to become a paradigm for our relationships with each other (Eph. 4:32). A Eucharist-centered discipleship can center us around practices of receiving and extending forgiveness both as an overflow from worship and as an engagement of mission.  

  1. Embraces Humility:
    Philip Kenneson reminds us that “the coming of God’s reign is not driven by human initiative.” This reality is deeply rooted in worship, where God is the primary actor. An integrated discipleship can remind us that, though God call us to participate in the renewal of all things, God’s mission is neither dependent upon us nor limited to us. This approach can cultivate a humble posture within us that does not insist on circumstances unfolding in our way or along our time tables, even while praying that God’s will would be done in and through us.    

  1. Embodies the Gospel Together:
    In Jesus Christ, the Spirit forms us as a new community. We are gathered and sent not simply as individuals, but quite profoundly as the community of God’s people. Lesslie Newbigin once wrote that “the only hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” In response to the good news of Jesus Christ, an integrated discipleship can deepen relationships across the whole church throughout the week so that the gospel becomes tangible and believable to the world around us.   

These are a few of my initial thoughts on integrating worship, discipleship, and mission. From your perspective, what might it look like to bring together all three of these aspects of our Christian life? Are there any metaphors that help you think about how worship, discipleship, and mission work together?

Chris Schoon (Th.D., Wycliffe College) is the Director of Faith Formation Ministries for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Previously, Chris has served as a pastor in both Michigan and Ontario. Along with contributing regularly to Reformed Worship, Chris is the author of Cultivating an Evangelistic Character (Wipf & Stock, 2018), which takes an in-depth look at worship and discipleship in the missional church movement. You can find him on Twitter: @chrisjschoon.