What is the Essential Activity of Christian Ministry?

Introduction
            For the Christian life is a constant state of learning, because human beings come into the world desiring their own wants. After committing ourselves to Christ we must be taught how to become more Christ-like, which is no easy task. James Houston says, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s well-known classic, The Cost of Discipleship, demonstrates that discipleship might cost us our lives, physically. But more usually, as M. Wilkins outlined in his challenging work, Follow the Master, it means embracing a new way of life, with a new sense of identity, not as a program but as a life task.”[1]
Learning Styles
            In Christian circles there are several different terms that get thrown around somewhat interchangeably; education, discipleship, and spiritual formation. Over the last decade the waters have become muddied in trying to make any distinction. According to William “Rick” Yount,
The term educationhas become an increasingly loaded term for the Church, especially in theological circles. A theologian friend of mine recently remarked that my continued use of the term “tainted me.” He couldn’t tell me why, exactly, but the term had taken on “liberal” connotation. It would be far better, he said, to use word like discipleship or equipping, or even the term popularized by our Catholic brethren: spiritual formation.[2]
After hearing that description it would be hard to say that there really is any distinction between the different terms, wouldn’t it? One way that we could possibly look at it is there is the broad view of education that can take place in a class room, while discipleship takes place on a more personal level, and the outcome is a greater spiritual formation.
            Education itself is “the creative process of utilizing external and internal forces to facilitate the functions of teaching and training in promoting and attaining growth and development, enabling complete individuals to comprehend, contemplate, and contribute to their community and culture.”[3]Again education can take shape in multiple forms and the most common form we are finding in the church now is discipleship. Houston describes discipleship this way, “For discipleship is a “personal” call, not an abstract profession, nor a program, but a daily living with Jesus Christ. This can only be taken seriously with daily devotions, spending time in continual prayer, reading and meditating each day on a passage of the Bible, and the celebration of God’s daily presence.”[4]
            In the last several years there has been a major shift in the way American evangelicalism looks at spiritual formation, as a whole it has shifted focus from a person doing all of their growing in the worship hall and the Sunday School classroom to more intimate settings. This growth takes place because, “…the process of growing spiritually is connecting with other believers in meaningful ways, and this happens best in small, interactive and even smaller groupings within the classes.”[5] It is in those smaller groupings in which we can begin to see differences. When Christ taught, it was very rarely one-on-one, but often in either large congregations or to medium/small groups. E. Byron Anderson says, “First, as a place and a people, we enter school knowing that we learn not alone “but as part of a company.” That is, we come not as a disciple, but as the company of disciples—in twos or threes as we see in the calling of Jesus’ first disciples….”[6]
The Ultimate Focus
            Not matter what form the local body chooses to employ there will be a reciprocal effect that takes place. As the believer grows in knowledge of Jesus, they will worship him more; and as they go deeper in their worship of him the more intimate their knowledge of him will be.  Mitchell says it this way, “Discipleship prepares for worship, and conversely, worship is the product of discipleship.”[7]With that being the case we need not separate and compartmentalize areas of our life as Anderson states, “what we undertake in worship, what we participate in as we worship, is itself an act of discipling and discipleship. We therefore need to think of worship as one of the places for our apprenticeship in the Christian life.”[8]
            While the ultimate goal is to create disciples who worship Jesus, is there a different way we can recognize that goal? Yount might say “Yes.” While the goal is the same or at least similar the way Yount describes it is “Our calling is to help learners grow toward Christlikeness.”[9] If worship is not the evidence of discipleship then what is? Could it be them learning to be more committed followers of Christ? William Yount said, “We provoke our learners to grow in the Lord as we teach them to depend on Him.”[10] At this point it would serve us well to understand the different forms worship can take. According to Mitchell “Worship, though, cannot be restricted or minimized to contain only words, whether spoken or sung, whether in acknowledgement or adoration. Worshippers must also act in service to Christ.”[11] Once a person comprehends that worship is not just words and songs but an attitude of the heart and a lifestyle of service, worship can then become the ultimate evidence of discipleship; because the closer we come to the Lord the more we will want to serve Him. Anderson suggest, “…Christ’s claim upon us, the yoke to which we submit ourselves as we learn Christ’s way (Matt 11:27-29), is about what we offer in service—in the service of worship and in our care for the least among us.”[12]
Conclusion

            As disciples of Jesus it should be our goal to follow the great commandment (Matt 28) and make more disciples; having the understanding that in the act of creating disciples, we are educating them in areas of spiritual maturation. It should be the goal of every Gospel preaching ministry to not just share the Gospel, but to also make disciples that love and serve Jesus, even in the act of creating more disciples.


[1]James M.Houston, “The future of spiritual formation.” Journal Of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 4, no. 2 (September 1, 2011): 131-139. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 24, 2013)132.
[2]William R. Yount,(ed.). The Teaching Ministry of the Church 2nd edition. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008)5.
[3] Michael R. Mitchell, Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples.(Bloomngton: Crossbooks, 2010)233.
[4]Houston, Spiritual Formation, 132.
[5]Yount., Teaching Ministry., 10.
[6]E Byron. Anderson, “Worship: schooling in the tradition of Jesus.” Theology Today 66, no. 1 (April 1, 2009): 21-32. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 24, 2013)28.
[7]Mitchell., Leading., 259.
[8]Anderson, Worship., 29.
[9]Yount, Teaching, 185.
[10] Ibid., 107.
[11]Mitchell, Leading., 259.
[12]Anderson, Worship., 28.
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