Witness Online

Weighing Disciples

Editorial - Randy Friesen

This past summer, the FIFA World Cup provided us with an amazing display of athleticism and drama. For fans of the game, all the statistics are fascinating, whether about goals, touches, tackles, yellow or red cards (not a good thing), shots, saves, wins and losses. But at the end of the tournament, there is only one question that matters: “Who won?”

Are we fascinated by statistics when it comes to thinking about the church on mission? Church and mission leaders are notorious for counting attendance, conversions and offerings. But will Jesus hold us accountable for more than bums and bucks?

I recently heard Pastor Wayne Cordero say that disciples should be weighed not counted. How would we weigh disciples?

What does Jesus focus on in his teaching? We might turn to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and consider the list of qualities there. We might quote the writer of Hebrews who states, “you need milk, not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:12). This writer goes on to say that one of the signs of maturity is the capacity to distinguish good from evil and to live accordingly. We might point to the eight qualities listed in 2 Peter 1:5-9, which we are encouraged to possess in “increasing measure” in order to prevent us from becoming “ineffective and unproductive in [our] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Still others could point to the list of spiritual gifts, character qualities and spiritual practices from Romans 12, which perhaps offers more balanced and comprehensive measurement criteria.

Wherever we get our list of measurements, weighing maturity and character growth will certainly take us beyond simply counting attendance, conversions, baptisms and giving.

Our vision continues to be holistic church planting that transforms communities among the least reached. But in order to keep ourselves aligned with that vision on a daily basis, every member of our staff and international team has committed to a central ministry focus of multiplying healthy disciples and missional leaders. As we make that our focus, we sincerely believe that we are strengthening the health of our churches. Spiritual health and maturity matters when we think about discipleship and church planting.

When it comes to training strategies, we see three ways of describing them: formal (institutional, classroom-based learning), non-formal (occasional seminars, conferences) and informal (mentoring and coaching). We are actively involved in all three. We strongly value our partnership with schools in North America such as Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University, MBBS Canada, Columbia Bible College and Canadian Mennonite University that deliver formal biblical and missiological training for mission workers. We recently collaborated with a wider group of MB institutions to develop a new eight-part series of graduate-level courses that will be available online to train leaders around the world. When these courses are linked effectively with the discipleship strategies of local churches, they can be of great help in developing healthy disciples.

We have similar partnerships with universities, schools and Bible colleges around the world that offer both formal and non-formal training opportunities. For example, the Matthew Training Center in Guadalajara, Mexico is providing non-formal discipleship-in-mission training for those who are preparing to serve cross-culturally. The Changed Life Center in Thailand serves tribal peoples through various seminars and conferences. The Arabic International Bible Institute provides online and residential Bible courses for those in the Arabic-speaking world.

All three types of training are useful in developing healthy disciples and missional leaders. However, we would insist that informal and personal mentoring is essential for every disciple if they are to grow strong as leaders.

This is why we have poured significant resources into developing our short-term discipleship-in-mission programs like SOAR (all ages for ten days), ACTION (ages 17+ for six weeks) and TREK (ages 20+ for eight to ten months). These programs are thriving and are now being multiplied and expanded to various international locations such as Thailand, Mexico, France and Germany. All of these programs are focused on radical discipleship and risk-taking obedience. Our goal is to see leaders responding to the claims and call of Christ in their own contexts and then forming healthy teams that focus on church planting and holistic expressions of the Gospel.

How much would these leaders weigh? If we can agree together on the behaviors and character qualities of healthy disciples and missional leaders, then we could move forward together as a global family with this as our new standard for training and reporting.

We are in a significant battle for the hearts and minds of this generation! Our training strategies need to reflect the urgency of Paul in the Book of Romans: “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (13:11-14).

The challenge of mission around the world today is developing healthy disciples and missional leaders whose lives reflect their intimate relationship with Jesus. That is the standard.

In this issue of Witness, you’ll read about people who are responding to Jesus, being clothed with his character, and being trained for his mission. Thank you for your prayers, gifts and support that keep pushing us in this direction!

By Randy Friesen