Worship and the Lost


Luke 15:1-71

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

One of the biggest controversies in worship that has been debated in the last few decades has been around the concept of “seeker-sensitive” worship. The term alone sets off bells and whistles in the minds of most church leaders today, although, to be fair, the heat of that conflict has gone a bit underground in the last decade.

The original conflict grew out of the disconnect between tent meeting revivals that attracted people and brought about changed lives, but sometimes could not transfer the same spirit and passion into the regular Sunday mornings of local churches. But it was not just the folks outside of church that were drawn to these. Regular church folk are drawn to the food, fellowship, and musical performances – the entertainment value of these services as well. So are the performers. These services are often set up with names attached to draw people in. Sure you can advertise that your church is going to do a revival and that you expect God to be present and working there… but if you really want to draw a crowd, bring in a popular music group and get a well-known speaker, and everyone will come out to the show.

These kind of revivals are about coming to get something, not coming to give something. Generally, the only people who prefer normal Sunday services over those special worship events are the clean up crew, who pick up the mess left by everyone who came for their religious experience and then went back to live their life again. There are exceptions to this of course. I’ve participated in several revival services that incorporated a day or at least part of a day of community service where people came to give instead of just receive – but these are typically not perceived as “seeker-sensitive”.

It’s not just seekers that push us to ask less of church people, it is everyone. It is easier to be encouraged than challenged. It is easier to be the encourager than to be the challenger – especially if you are challenging in ways that involve supporting them with follow up and help after the service ends. In the last decade, as church attendance in many non-seeker-sensitive churches has dropped, it seems that the practical arguments to the debate have ended and we are now looking at being seeker-sensitive or closing our doors for good. The original arguments against entertainment based services and simplified gospel teaching are still there. Mature Christians still think that watered down gospel will not bring people to God or to the Church, and they may not be wrong… but the number of people outside the church, the seekers themselves, are far greater than those mature Christians inside the church. So many have taken those arguments underground for the sake of attendance, financial obligation, and just keeping the doors open.

Jesus taught that the good shepherd leaves the 99 safe sheep and goes after the one that is lost. It is this kind of philosophy of letting mature Christians fend for themselves while a church focuses its effort on the lost that some have used to justify “seeker-sensitive” worship. The problem arises from how we identify the parties in this analogy.

         For Seeker Advocates  
         - Seekers (non-believers) are the lost sheep  
         - Believers are the 99 "found" sheep  
         - The Shepherd is the Church worship leaders/organizers  

Here is my struggle with this perspective: It is too impersonal. Jesus emphasis is on the importance of the individual here. The lost are not 20 or 30 some people, it is a single sheep. The Shepherd is not a nameless/faceless leadership, it is one leader. The only corporate group is the 99, and even they are counted individually. He did not just say “the rest of the sheep”. Every individual counts.

I think a more literal and accurate application of this parable to worship would be to simply postpone worship until everyone had been personally invited. We won’t start church until we knock on every door in our neighborhood and make sure everyone is 1.) safe and 2.) personally invited to come to worship Jesus with us. I’m not talking about hanging posters or dropping fliers in mailboxes. The good shepherd did not just go post lost sheep posters around the towns. I mean person to person checking in and inviting. We would would hold off the service even starting until we had done that if we truly believed that their needs for God were even equal to our own, let alone more important, as Jesus teaches in this parable.

That would be kinda crazy and impractical, depending on your community, and it certainly would overturn the tables of expectations and leadership in most congregations. It is a practical exaggeration, just as the parable itself is. Yet it is the absurdity of it on a practical level that brings to light the true point Jesus is trying to make. In the absurdity of leaving 99 for 1, I believe, lies our true relationship and purpose with the lost sheep of our neighborhoods. The question is not about what we do with them once they come to church (although those details are certainly important). The question we have not been asking for some 30 years, that we need to be asking is: How are we reaching the lost sheep of our communities before they come to church?

Ezekiel 34:1-10

Israel’s False Shepherds

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

We, the Church, (meaning all those who have chosen to follow Jesus, making disciples in His name) are called to be good shepherds, but we have turned down the task. It has become to hard for us to try to bring salvation to people and then bring them to church. It is more convenient to my time to let the church building, the church programs, the church staff,… maybe even just God Himself go after those lost sheep. Yes, Jesus, I know You gave me the commission, the command to go out into all the world, look for Your lost sheep, and take the salvation I received from You and share it with them. But if I’m honest, sometimes I just don’t want to. I would rather just keep You to myself.

How does your own personal worship affect the lost in your community?

Who are the lost sheep that God has brought to your attention?

  1. (Mt 18:10–14)

Does God make disciples or do we?


I am an Enneagram type 5 which means that almost every time I’m faced with two choices, I will look for a third option. Many times, that third option is not a compromise between the two, but something else that re-frames the question itself. If that doesn’t make sense to you, just think about the recent presidential election and that is my first reaction whenever I get asked an either/or question. I feel like it probably doesn’t matter which choice I choose and have suspicions that there is a bait and switch going on. If you have a few months to spend on this rabbit trail I’d recommend reading Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard. I started reading it about ten years ago and finally discovered the message of the book, about 3/4ths through not in the text, nor the subtext, but in between the chapters, essays, and stories there. But enough chasing rabbits…

This question about God’s role and our own in making disciples was raised yesterday in a leadership retreat we had at our church. When asked how to make disciples, one of the people there said that we could not… only God can do that. I think a few people there may have felt like that was something of a cop out answer, but I, for one, was glad for this response. While many of us may not think it is an appropriate answer to the question of How to make disciples, I know it is something that many of us think. Perhaps in not so blunt and bold a way, but it hides under the surface of much of our ministry and service.

Let me put it another way.

We may not question whether or not we have a role in making disciples, but I would guess that many of us do not have a very clear understanding of what that role is. So we “make disciples” like agnostics – trying to do whatever random thing comes across our path in good intentions, but not really knowing or believing that it is bringing anyone closer to a relationship with Jesus. Agnostic might sound like a harsh word to use for people who may consider themselves, and may indeed be mature Christians, but Jesus died for us and asked us to do only one thing before He returned to heaven, and when I meet Him face to face and He asks me if I made any disciples for Him, I’m not going to be comfortable giving a theological treatise about how I didn’t feel up to the job and that really He was the only one who could do that right anyway. So yeah, agnostic disciplemakers is putting it lightly. Some of us go through the motions of making disciples, but inside we can be more like functional atheists, not believing that anything we do really makes a difference. That is not what Jesus asked us to be, nor is it what He die for.

What it means to partner with God

Something happens to us as a civilization when we separate ourselves from the land and the work involved to provide food and shelter on a daily basis. Farmers understand partnering with God better than most of us. They know how much work it is to plow the land, plant the seeds, and fertilize the ground. They understand the work of weeding and protecting the fields from scavenging animals. They know how it is a work that you either live on a daily basis or not at all. But they also know that the final say in the outcome is not their own. No matter how much they do to prepare the field, it is God who either provides or withholds the rain. They work together with God to provide the fruit of the harvest. Paul writes:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
He rightly understood that God has the power over the the specific outcome, but he also realized that all of us have a responsibility for raising up new disciples. Does it matter whether we take up that responsibility or not? More than you can know. God can and will send the rain on the good disciplemakers and the bad disciplemakers alike… but one faith farmer will reap a harvest in the field she has prepared and the other will just have a big, muddy, field of weeds.

  • Who has God used to show His love to you?
  • How did they do that?
  • How are you helping people discover a loving relationship with Christ?

What is a disciple and why are churches talking about them today? (part 3)


Tuesday I defined a disciple as: a student or apprentice who follows, learns from, and imitates a master or teacher.

I also pointed out that there are two points of being a disciple (and doing any other kind of work): Philosophy and Praxis.

Why are so many churches talking about disciples today?

The Short Answer:

Because, across the board, we have not done a good enough job of making them.

The Longer Answer:

So much of this question is tied into several dozen other questions about dealing with change, getting with the times, being relevent… as well as remaining faithful, saving the next generation, honoring our heritage, and all that “gimme my Old Time Religion” perspectives as well. All of that mess and clamor really comes down to one singular concept: Passing on values.


How can all those people from all those different places and perspectives… people who often cannot stand in the same room with one another, all be dealing with the same problem? Like a great many things in life, we overcomplicate things with our own opinions and motivations. So lets oversimplify things to make the point.

If there (hypothetically) were only one church in the world, and every few years that church raised up new leaders who were trained in both the Philosophy and Praxis of that church (so they would not only do all the same things, but understand why they were doing them that way), you would see no change in the church other than names and faces of people over the years. The worship would be the same, the potlucks would all have the exact same foods every time, every week they would teach the same lesson that they did last year at that time, and everyone would understand why they were doing it that way. There would be no need for change as long as they could keep teaching new leaders the Philisophy and Praxis of the church. Change would not be necessary as long as those values continued to be passed down from old to new.

However, this is not the reality. Because we are creative and individualistic people, we take the values we are given and we mix them with our own values – sometimes creating new values that are not part of our heritage. Someone brings porkchops to a cookout that had been exclusively hamburgers and hotdogs, and it is a big hit with the community… suddenly things have changed and we have to raise extra money to afford more pork chops next year, and while we spend time worrying about food costs, we take our attention away from the guest speaker who always comes to present at this event and we cut the band out altogether to save money for extra food. Soon, something that may have started out as a informal outreach to preach the gospel to a community becomes a new tradition focused on bringing extravagent food. A few years later, the leaders realize it would be easier to have this inside the church rather than outside. In five years what began as preaching to those outside the church becomes a party the church people throw for themselves.

No one intends for this to happen. It happens because we are not aware of the original values – they do not get passed down. We replay our traditions of last year over and over and don’t even know why they were made traditions in the first place. It is not a question of good or bad, right or wrong… it is a question of understanding and intentionality. Change is good and Faithfulness is good as well, but each can only be good when you understand the values (the Philosophy and Praxis) beneath those tasks.

Somewhere down the road, many of our churches forgot how to make disciples. It was, and is, simply easier to just go through the motions and keep doing things, helping people, teaching bible studies, and let God do the work of actually mentoring people and walking with them as they make decisions each day that change their lives. It is easier to say that is God’s job, not ours.

Yet, we find ourselves surprised when these people do not share the same values as us, and we are frustrated when they want to be in leadership, but they want to change everything that we spent so many years trying to fix ourselves. After all, you cannot get rid of the previous generation’s traditions overnight – it took us hard work to do that to our forefathers and foremothers and we want to enjoy those changes ourselves for just a little bit before someone comes and changes things on us.

It feels easier to control the church than it is to actually pass on our values and raise up new leaders. Sadly, the opposite is true. We are never truly in control, and our best means of keeping our values safe is to pass them on intentionally to new leaders we raise up ourselves.

– What values have been passed on to you?

– Who are you passing your values on to?

What is a disciple and why are churches talking about them today? (part 1)


Jesus called people to become his “disciples” at the beginning of His ministry and told those disciples to go and make more disciples at the end of His ministry three years later. What exactly is a disciple though.

The short answer:

A disciple is a student or apprentice who follows, learns from, and imitates a master or teacher.

The more in-depth answer:

Some of you are probably happy with the short answer… why go further? Because there are two parts to any kind of work: the Philosophy and the Praxis.

The Philosophy of your work answers what you do and why you do it. Your philosophy includes your purpose, your mission, and your vision. Doing things for the right reason is as important as doing them in the right way. Jesus taught that not everyone who claimed to be His disciple or did miraculous things were truly His own.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

So then, what is the purpose of being a disciple of Jesus? Many teachers point to scriptures that succinctly point out that it is to be like Jesus. I for one, am not satisfied with that answer and some of the circular logic behind it. That’s like saying an Elvis impersonator has the purpose of being like Elvis – which is inherently true, but does not give a person any motivation to become an Elvis imprersonator, or a disciple of Jesus. King Louis may have wanted to be like Mogli when he first met the boy in the Jungle Book, but that does not mean that Peter, Andrew, James, and John sang that song from the fishing boat when Jesus walked by that fateful day.

Jesus, somewhat poetically spelled out His philosophy – His purpose, mission, and vision at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount:

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew‬ ‭5:3-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

‭‭The motivation… the reason Peter and his fellow fishermen followed Jesus, was to be a part of the Kingdom of God, to be comforted, to receive righteousness, to be shown mercy, to see God, and to become children of God. They followed and imitated Jesus to receive all of that themselves and so that God, their heavenly Father, would receive glory.

  • Are you a disciple of Jesus?
  • Why do you follow and imitate Him?

The Progress of Discipleship?


Before venturing further, please take a few minutes to read this article about an innovative program from Princeton Theological Seminary.

The title of this is not meant to be sarcastic, but instead to simply ask the question: Has the process of making disciples progressed over time or in different places? Curiously enough, I think it is not the affirmation of this question that is so important to us today (Admitting that yes, the way we make disciples of Jesus Christ has indeed changed, sometimes for the better) but actually the opposite that may be more impacting to us. 

I do not think anyone can reasonably argue that discipleship has not changed. If you look at any three Christian groups in your own community, you will likely find variations in how they make disciples. Now multiply that by the rest of the world and again by 2000 years. That leaves room for a lot of variation. The question is not whether there is variation. The question is whether that variation demonstrates progression. Have we improved on the original model?
That is a much stickier question, especially when our Christian culture has an almost perennial move to get back to the original way of doing things (as presented in the New Testament). There is good reason for this. Jesus is our ultimate authority and the New Testament is where we have the most faithful witness of His teachings and acts. The major difficulty arises from understanding how to apply that model today. How would Jesus start a ministry in your community? Would He start by going to the nearest lake and teaching fishermen, and then follow up by stopping into the nearest IRS agency to recruit some of their employees? I think that might be a stretch, especially considering that Paul the Apostle did not follow that same model himself when he started churches across the Roman Empire.

Community Growth
Let’s look at how a basic discipleship community grows over time.

  1.  There is always a starting point that usually begins when a follower of Jesus meets someone who does not know and/or does not follow Jesus themselves. In the course of building a relationship between each other, the non-Christian may make a commitment to follow Christ, thus creating the first convert and invitation into discipleship. It is then left to the first Christian to teach them everything they can about Jesus and to essentially be the Body of Christ with them in order to raise them up to a point where they can make other disciples themselves. It’s not rocket science, it is just relational replication. It is unclear from the Scriptures exactly how much discipleship Jesus did in this way because most of the accounts of Him have him working with more than one person at a time, which creates a slightly different dynamic, where the students are able to learn from each other as well as their mentor. The Apostle Paul may have done a little more one-on-one discipleship, particularly working in territories that were less receptive to the initial gospel concepts. Either way though, this one-on-one discipleship does not seem to be a model with lots of support in scripture.
  2. Next, you gather a group around you, which changes the relationships, the dynamics, and the model of discipleship. Will you lead this group like a school classroom? Will you lead it like military boot camp? Will you treat it like a social club… an organic group of equals just discussing their our opinions? This comes down to the question of authority. Who is in charge and why? How is that authority to be used? I’m sure you can see how this already can branch off into models of Catholic schools, Church camps, and Coffee shop book discussions having only moved up one single level from one-on-one discipleship. The question of authority may be important even in the one-on-one models of discipleship, but it becomes imperitive once you add the third person into the mix. Someone has to take the lead – even if it is not the same person each time, otherwise it is just a bunch of people spending time together. 
  3. At some point, the group grows too big for one person to relationally connect to everyone and delegation becomes necessary. If authority is the challenge presented to “small groups” in the previous stage, inclusion is the challenge presented to these “large groups”. With the authority spread between several key leaders, competition may arise among them as to who is chief authority in their own small group of leaders. The effects of these ambitious attitudes have ripple effects down through the ranks of people so that when one person is elevated in leadership, their own particular group of followers inherits a promotion of their own via their relationship to that leader and are then able to see themselves above the rest of the group. Maybe this sounds silly, but the vast majority of our claim to authority comes from our own relationship to a greater authority (or at least the perception thereof). Because of this, it is almost a universal law that conflicts of one generation are usually amplified in the generations that follow. Much of the content in the letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians deals with this particular issue of followers vying for authority over each other on the basis of their leaders. This is why Paul continually brought them back together as equals together as they all follow Christ. This is the level where that kind of inclusive invitation to follow an exclusive person (Jesus) is essential to maintaining consistent discipleship.
  4. Once you move beyond the level of a single faith community and local leaders therein, the need for inclusive invitation and exclusive, articulated call, seems to increase exponentially. When facing a plurality of leaders, each leading distinct communities of faith, the Apostles were challenged to summarize the beliefs and standards of the Church into short, succinct statements (Acts 15) and again in the time of the Early Church Fathers as the Church spread into an even greater number of cultures with the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. 

 It is probably at this point that critics will question why we need to come up with statements of faith or other man-made tools to aid and guide our leadership and means of making disciples. Why can’t we just use scripture? Why isn’t the teaching of Jesus enough as it is given to us? While these are legitimate questions, they are often dishonestly and manipulative when asked at this level. The exact issue is every bit as prevalent when a Sunday school teacher takes one perspective of a teaching of Jesus (the call to sell all your possessions as commanded to the Rich Young Ruler, for example) while a pastor preaches a different interpretation of that same passage or teaching. In the local faith community, we allow for a greater level of diversity, because we share identity and relationships with everyone there. Once you involve interpretations of those we have not met and with whom we have no personal relationships, we become more suspicious and less accepting of interpretations that are different from our own. Therefore, maintaining unity in a large, multi-community body of faith requires the most articulation and summarization of the teachings that need to be passed on to the believers within it. The bigger the group of people, the less you can pass on to them.

This is an picture of the growth of faith communities, regardless of time and place. You can see that as these communities progress, the question of how to make disciples quickly becomes influenced by the answer to who has authority and who is making disciples. You might expect that to be the same person, but that is not necessarily the case. Now let’s look at 3 different models of discipleship within a local faith community based on how they answer the Level 2 question of authority.

Models of Authority in Discipleship
 1. The first model is a democratic authority. All members of the church, whose membership is based on majority vote, are allowed to vote on all issues. The few “leaders” of the church, who carry any authority at all, have that ability to lead contingent upon the passive assent of the body of believers. This is a limited authority that can easily be taken away as soon as they lose the favor of 50% of the body, and probably less than that because she is constantly in competition with every other person both within and outside the community, because new persons with a greater sway can be invited in at any point to replace them. 

 Leaders at this level can effectively lead and teach in two main capacities here: Generalization and Criticism. They can teach proactively using generalizations that have a broad level of appeal and a low risk of offense (unless offense is valued by that particular body of believers). They can teach reactively, cricizing the teaching and leadership of other leaders who may or may not be competitors because that justifies their own authority. These kind of communities of faith typically fall into the Level 2 or 3 size (see above), but some groups have successfully grew into a multi-site multi-cultural Level 4 body of believers. They tend to be (as always) incredibly summarized, articulate, in their teaching and often slow to change due to a need for compromise between cultures. They typically find a sweet spot regarding acceptable teaching passed down from that level and have little room to move away from the same messages repeated over the generations.

 2. The second model is that of appointed authority. Appointed authorities are smaller communities that are created by a larger body. For example, it may be a denomination or association of churches starting a new church and appointing a pastor. Or it may be a church that appoints a Sunday school teacher or small group leader. These leaders have authority based upon the selections made by those of higher authorities. While there is significantly less pressure from the people within their group, the competition and pressure comes from the authorities who appointed them. On one hand, that means less people to keep happy with your work. On the other hand, it means very specific goals set to be accomplished and/or a focus on the bigger picture rather than the smaller details. It all depends on the person(s) in charge.

 These leaders can lead and teach by Specialization and Criticism. They teach proactively using specialized teachings that correspond with the teachings of the organization. They use criticism directed at competing organizations at the next higher level. They typically are discouraged from criticism directed toward sister communities within the same association, but sometimes competition is encouraged. As opposed to the democratic community, distinction is important in the life of these communities. Change can occur quickly in sub-communities as long as the proper authorities lend their support. The clash of cultures though typically occur within small groups of leaders who are typically not representative of the entire group, which leads to stronger criticisms of specific individuals and more stable decisions. Decisions made are not at risk of a re-vote at the next church gathering. 

 3. The third model is assumed authority. Like the democratic community, these almost always start as a level 2 or 3 group. This is where a charismatic leader gains authority over a group without vote and without appointment by a higher community with which they are connected. Sometimes, these communities are sometimes started from scratch by the leader. Oftentimes, in areas that have many faith communities already, they are started by a frustrated splinter group that splits off of a larger community. The assumed authority is in many ways the antithesis of appointed authority and democratic community. Her authority is not based on the favor of higher authorities but because she points out her difference from them. The lower their reputation is among them (to a point) the greater her authority within the splinter community. Likewise, the community often achieves a mindset that if no one else from the greater group agrees with them, that is indication that they are moving in the right direction. 
 Assumed authority sits awkwardly between democratic and appointed authority. It is arguable that Jesus was an assumed authority, although it also arguable He was an appointed authority – appointed by God. However, many assumed authorities claim that same appointment directly from God, whether it is true or not. This gives them the freedom to preach and teach whatever they want, so long as their people will continue listening to them. They truly have the most freedom in proactive teaching, and their reactive criticism is not against one particular group or another, but literally ever other authority. They are in competition with everything else, because anyone else can come and usurp them as a new assumed authority. For this reason, most communities that begin as assumed authority led groups shift into democratic or appointed authority groups within the first generation. Assumed authority is rarely stable enough to last long, particularly because most of them are birthed through intentional instability.

All three of these examples represent extreme ideals. Most communities find themselves more in one category than another, but probably share traits with at least one other example as well. In addition, membership in most churches in the US has very low standards, particularly to maintain. Some churches have specific requirements they require of those wishing to become members. I have not personally come across a church that had continual requirements of members in order to stay members of that church. This attitude of low commitment has a direct affect on what kind of authority your church has, and thereby what kind of discipleship process your church can use. 
Generally, the responsibility for making disciples follows authority. In some cases, that is the kind of job expectation required of those leaders in return for that authority. In most cases however, discipleship is the reason that people follow their leaders loyally. Students and apprentices follow their teachers as long as they are engaged, growing, and appreciating what they are learning (or at least have a goal in mind that this teaching is helping them achieve). The question is not why leaders make disciples, but more commonly, how do leaders lead with any authority without making disciples among their people? It does happen from time to time, but these leaders require a major influence factor such as celebrity status or some other status role to remain in leadership. These are leaders because of who they are rather than (and sometimes despite) what they do.
The same concept of leaders receiving and maintaining authority based upon their own work of making disciples affects all levels of leadership, not just the top. Even among leaders of subcommunities and ministry teams, those who maintain leadership authority over time are either those who make disciples among their own group of people or those who keep their positions because of some kind of status they have themselves. A possible crossover between social status and works exists in those who have and give large amounts of resources (money, time, materials, etc.) to the community. This generosity can be a part of making disciples, but it does not replace making disciples either in maintaining leadership or, more importantly, doing the work for which Jesus created the church in the first place.
Why is all this important?

Back to the Farm
Let’s go back to the Princeton example. This is a community where people are paying to be discipled in ways beyond what they would typically find in a local church. So, in the context of community growth and authority type – before we get into questions of whether this model is, or is not more faithful to the model of Jesus or simply a better model than what we are doing now, we have to ask the question: Is it even possible for us to do this in our own context?
In a smaller context, the answer is probably: yes. We can probably find small groups of people to start Level 2 communities and do discipleship by gardening. There are probably some geographic and cultural areas where you can start a small community and do this kind of ministry. It would be considerably harder in places without access to good soil, or suitable climates for growing things. Some places just have more practical access to this kind of ministry.
It is also questionable whether the authority of a community can lead their people in new forms of discipleship – particularly when they are outside their own cultural context. Even if it is possible, is it right to be asking people to step outside their own cultural context in order to follow Jesus? 
Now that is a question for the Church today! In our day when worship services still remain some of the most segregated organizations racially, economically, linguistically, and politically. Can we really expect to take city folk out to the farm to teach some of those agricultural parables when we struggle getting blue collar and white collar people to work together in our present congregations? Isn’t it more logical, more natural to recognize that Jesus taught in a variety of contexts and that the Early Church developed in a variety of contexts even beyond that, and to focus on ways of making disciples that fit our own contexts? 
Yes. Yes we can do it. Yes it would be easier not to. Yes, Jesus did teach in a variety of ways, both in rural and urban contexts, both inside and outside the Temple and synagogues… and He took His disciples with Him to all those places. He took Peter the fisherman and taught on the lake, in the fields, in the Temple of Jerusalem, and in the pagan cemeteries where they encountered the possessed man. The Twelve received a well-rounded discipleship experience, and I believe that helped them to learn to adapt later on as the Church moved out of Judea, through the Roman Empire.
What does it take to move us outside our own present models of discipleship, to find new ways to grow in our faith and faithfulness? It takes a recognition of what we are doing already, an evaluation of it’s strengths and weaknesses, a mission that will lead us to a greater vision of who Christ is creating us to be and a commitment to reseeding our core values in new contexts. 

Here is another resource on types of discipleship.





facing the wilderness

waves underfoot

calling out beauty

whose name is remember

from the sea

and starlight

shining in darkness


here there are great giants

in these hills

and shadows that roam in the flesh

but greater still

are the fruits of faith


to which avails

the fisherman

who steps in

with both feet planted

upon the rock

unseen beneath

the trembling water