Alan Hirsch – Advance the Church – Discipleship as a Missional Strategy

I value opinions. I want to hear what you have to say, but please keep it on topic and timely.

I’m a hack. I just started pursuing ecclesiology, but I think if we can unlock the phenomenology of the movement, there’s something we can uncover. If you take disciple-making out a movement, it won’t explode. Every movement that has grown that rapidly has involved disciple-making.

Disciple-making is a strategic activity. It might be the most strategic activity we can undertake.

You get a text in Scripture that captures the very essence of the subterranean energies that undergird the Scriptures.  Deuteronomy 6 is one of them.  It sums up a worldview.  Hear O’ Israel, YHWH, our God, YHWH is one.

We in the West are trained to think of monotheism when we think of God as one.  Our minds immediately go to this concept of ontology because our minds are shaped by Hellenistic influences.  We immediately think God in his being, indivisible in his one-ness and in his three-ness.

That’s true, but that’s not what the Bible means when it talks about God’s oneness, especially not in Deuteronomy 6.  It’s hard to find many if any ontological statements in the Bible, especially in the OT.  The Bible never leads it up there, it brings it down to us.  The Word became flesh.

If I were God’s PR guy, I’d tell God to have Moses give a lecture about the being of God when Moses comes down from the mountain, but God doesn’t do that.  He starts into the 10 Commandments.  Don’t have any other gods before me.  Don’t make idols.  Then he moves into Sabbath.  He wants to have time with us.  Then he moves straight into ethics, teaching us how to live together without killing each other.  Monotheism requires that ethic of us.

All spirituality tackles this topic of idols.  In the Ancient Near East they were basically polytheists.  Our lives exist in different spheres, society, culture, politics, etc.  Polytheism doesn’t have a unfied God that controls all spheres.  Each sphere has its own god.  Most of those gods didn’t care much for human beings.  It’s dangerous.  There’s no cohesive sense.

It’s into this context that God says, “I am one.”  One God for every aspect of life.  It’s a claim to absolute loyalty, not a statement of being.  The heart of Biblical spirituality is bound up in this.  That is why the Bible deals with idolatry throughout.

All Christian spirituality, including discipleship, needs to deal with our idols.  Worship is offering the world back to God. Jesus’ act of worship is to offer everything put under his feet to the father. The Rabbis call this yichud.  The oneness of God is our response to God with every area of our life.  There is nothing that is not under the domain of God.  There is no room for a sacred and secular divide.

Our job is to make the world holy by offering it back to God.  Sexual idolatry will enslave you if you don’t offer your sexuality to God as an act of worship.

Ending idolatry is the agenda for discipleship.  Idolatry is the key to the human soul.

The church doesn’t do well in NYC where Tim Keller is.  It doesn’t do well in Australia where I am from.  We are only 2.1% of the population there.  If the only tool that you’ve got is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail.  Those of us who love the reformation tend to understand everything through the lens of justification by grace.  I can tell you that most people in NYC do not lay awake at night worried about their standing before a holy God.  Most people nowadays don’t feel the guilt and fear that Martin Luther felt.  So if we approach people with justification by grace, then we have to make them feel bad before we make them feel better, and that makes us Pharisees.  It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict.

If you ask someone in NYC if they feel captured or enslaved by their work because they want money or status or whatever.  They’ll say yes. They can recognize the idolatry in their lives.  That’s when we offer freedom in Christ.  You can’t love anything too much.  You can only love it too much in relation to God. You must love it less than God or else it’s an idol.  But the point isn’t to love something else less but to love God more.

All of our vices are corrupted virtues.  They’re looking for love and value in all of the wrong places.

Most of our churches are professing monotheists but practicing polytheists.

Do you think our one day a week discipleship in a classroom can actually make disciples?

Most of us in the Protestant churches are weary of spiritual formation because we think it’s works righteousness.  But it’s not just teaching doctrine that’s discipleship.  We think our sermons are going to cause spiritual formation, but I don’t think so.  We need another way of forming people in Christ.  Context is everything.  Don’t take people out of their context.  You can’t learn leadership outside of the context of leadership.  You can’t learn ministry outside of the context of ministry.  We take our interns to the edge of their experience, where they don’t know half of what they need.  And then we have them take another half-step.  Now they don’t know 75% of what they’re doing.  That’s how we make disciples.  We put them a little bit at risk.

Can you give them a specific example of what that looks like?

Well, a youth pastor comes to us and wants to learn how to do that better.  Why don’t we take a project where you try to reach out to the punk culture in your youth group or even plant a church in punk culture.  That’s outside of your comfort zone.

What is your definition of discipleship?

Becoming more and more and more like Jesus and having more and more of Jesus living in me.  Now, you are not Jesus, and if you think you can become him, you should take pills, but we do need to become like Him.

In terms of structuring the type of discipleship I hear you talking about, would you say that our sort of “build it and they will come” mentality is the wrong answer?

I wonder if it has to do how we conceive of church in a largely churched society, within the cultural distance of a church and has some memory of church.  The attractional model somewhat works here where people have some familiarity of church, but that won’t work in San Francisco.  But when we do that we pull people out of the community that they’re in, so then they’re no longer impacting that segment of society.  We must go into those areas.  We’ve won a lot of people to faith through a seeker sensitive model, but we just got decisions not disciples.  We created a clergy class.  Movements change the world.  Everyone gets to play.

The way that YHWH is king in the NT is Jesus is Lord.

We must reframe evangelism in the context of discipleship.  We’ve largely misread the Great Commission as an evangelistic command.  We think we know what evangelism is, that we have to pass out this information about Jesus and then someone responds.  And I have no connection with them before or after.  We think evangelism is conferring some information about Jesus.

We’re to go into all of the world and make disciple of all nations.  We are called to be a disciple-making people.  I’m not saying people shouldn’t come to Christ and they shouldn’t share some information.

Here’s what you’ve got:

Pre-conversion * Post-conversion



But it’s all discipleship.  On both sides.

What about this? You get to know your neighbor and ask them how you can help them become a better person.  They may start with how to get a Ferrari and women, but quickly they’ll turn to their pain and existential issues.  That’s when you reach down into their imago Dei and grab ahold of it.  That’s discipleship.

Let me take you to the Bible.  When do you think the 12 disciples were born again?  I’m going to say it’s probably somewhere around the death and resurrection or after that.  So what was Jesus doing?  He was dealing with pre-conversion disciples.

The early Christians were persecuted.  When someone was considering joining the Church, he was blindfolded and brought to the elders.  They questioned him on his belief system and when he failed, sent him away and told him to undergo catechetical study for two years with the person who brought him to the church.  At the end of two years he is brought back to the elders, again blindfolded and after more intense questioning, he is finally allowed back into the church.

Is there a difference between discipleship and evangelism?  Evangelism is a sharing of good news and recruiting to the cause, but I would argue it is best done in the context of discipleship.

How do we become good at addressing our own idolatry, trying to apply the Gospel that should set us free form idolatry and get to the root of our struggles?

Again, I would say the communal side.  We shouldn’t be alone in our struggle.  It takes a community to say, we take Jesus seriously.

One of the problems is that we in the western church are confessional.  I’ve never been in a church where I didn’t believe with the value statement they have on the wall, but it should be an embodied belief.

Here’s the idea:

  • Bless x 3 – Everyone in the community has to do three acts of blessing a week, how and why they do it is entirely up to them.
    • One to a person inside the community of faith
    • One to a person outside of the community of faith
    • One to either side
  • Eat x 3 – You’re going to eat with people at least three times.
    • One to a person inside the community of faith
    • One to a person outside of the community of faith
    • One to either side
  • Listen 1 hour/week – One hour a week of contemplative prayer, just listening to God.
  • Learning reading each week:
    • 1 Gospel
    • 1 Other Book of the Bible
    • 1 Other Book – Doesn’t matter what kind of book, but it has to be a good book, the best you can find in any given category.
  • Sent – Everyone in the community spends at least 10 minutes reflecting on their day, answering 2 questions:
    • Where did I work with Jesus today?
    • Where did I resist Jesus today

When they come together on a sunday, they just go through the BELLS exercise again.  They bless each other, eat together, be quiet before God for 20 minutes, they learn from someone with a gift of teaching, at the end of service they send one another out.

This is largely a group of 20-30 somethings who are notoriously difficult to organize.  So what happens?  The community begins to move together in rhythm.

Lent, Fasting, and Idolatry

In case you’re not already aware, Lent begins today. Lent is a solemn season of fasting (abstaining from something, traditionally food) that is modeled after Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness.

Lent is practiced in many churches and often looks different for different traditions, but the idea of giving up something in order to spend more time seeking God is fairly common.

I think that it can be especially beneficial to give up something that is or has the potential of becoming an idol to you. An idol is anything that takes the place of God as first in your life.

A while back I gave up working on a web project because it was consuming me. It consumed my time, my thoughts, so I stepped back from it for a week.

For Lent this year I am giving up seeking out new Twitter followers. I’ve been on a quest for the past few months to gain followers, and while I have been able to use this expanded reach for some good purposes, it does have the potential to become all about self-promotion and my ego, about self-worship.

For the sake of honesty, I should mention that there are a few ways that I work on gaining followers, and one of them in particular is what I plan to quit. Not sure about the others yet.

Are you fasting anything up for Lent? Why are you giving it up?