December 2014 / January 2015 - Vol. 77
people around a glowing cross
A Community of Disciples on Mission

by Bob Tedesco

In the Sword of the Spirit, we say that we are a “community of disciples on mission.” Much has already been written about this phrase, and I hope only to give an additional perspective. I believe that this is one of those areas where all Christian churches could benefit from a re-examination of each element, and, hopefully, this might result in a deeper commitment to each characteristic of the Christian life. 

“A Community”

As mentioned earlier, “community” is a word that can have many meanings and many applications. I was surprised to read a Model Airplane News editorial which spoke about the “modeling community” – and even spoke of “brothers and sisters” in modeling! So, some applications of the word can be functional or activity-oriented: the banking community, the racing community, prayer community, etc. These functions can and do involve relationships, but it is often the function that initiates and holds the relationship together. 

Other uses of the word have a more relational intent, while some groupings imply community without using the word: family and convent. In these cases certain activities are implied, but the relationship continues by definition, whether or not certain activities continue. I was a member of my parents’ family long after I was not there for evening meals. Members of a religious order can change the focus of their work while maintaining their relationship and way of life. 

A brief description
Covenant Christian community is first of all Christian followers of Christ. It is a set of intentional relationships (not necessarily family) where the members seek to live a common way of life described by their covenant. This relational aspect of community must be carefully fostered and nurtured to keep from drifting into becoming functional in our expression of community life. If we overly identify with our activities, we can lose the “brother – sister” aspect intended for the family of God. We might not care for the lonely, strengthen the weak, visit the sick or comfort the mourning. We are brothers and sisters for eternity, and I need to care about your life in the “here and now”. 

Within the Sword of the Spirit there are varieties of expressions that result in brothers and sisters spending more or less time together; yet we pursue a common way of life. A single person living with a community family will spend more time with community members than if living alone. Folks living in a cluster (community neighborhood) will find it easier to be together or see one another than those living at a distance from each other. Time together is an essential aspect of relational strength, and decisions should be approached with the question, “Will this decision mean more community or less community?” If we decide that our son should be an Olympic ice skater, we might never see the Body of Christ again! Moving to that great house 25 miles away may not be as wise as the less-than-perfect house in a community cluster. 

 So, community is intentional; it is relational; it involves spending time together; and it should be a factor to consider in significant life decisions. 

“Of Disciples”

I would like to make a risky distinction here between believers and disciples. It’s risky because the scriptural use of the word believer is more serious than my intention here. I would question the modern pattern of being a “believer” where we might believe in Jesus, go to church on Sunday, yet live Monday to Saturday with little concern for the demands of the gospel. Scripture says that even the demons believed. (James 2:19) 

Discipleship is a discipline that involves instruction, study, correction and obedience to the Lord. It involves not only the initial conversion, but also learning “ observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). (See Appendix below – Principles of Discipleship

Discipleship for us includes pastoral care from brothers or sisters more experienced in the way of the Lord. It involves a measure of Christian environment, as well as having a number of models of Christian living that we can respect and aspire to. 

“On Mission”

 Our mission involves evangelization and establishing communities throughout the world who will, in turn, evangelize and raise up trained and formed disciples living our way of life. 
“...and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2 

We support the mission with prayer, with finances, and with missionaries who join in the work. The Servants of the Word (our brotherhood) have been key catalysts in that work and they have been joined by other disciples regionally and internationally. Our regional community-building teams have supported communities at all stages. Our regional youth teams have helped and supported young Christians. Thousands have given their lives to the Lord in these outreaches. 

Mutual and Necessary Elements

Management terms
Two pertinent modern management terms are: 

1) Synergy: 
  • A dynamic state in which combined action is favored over the sum of individual component actions. 
  • Behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately. 

2) Symbiosis: 

  • Close and often long-term interactions between different biological species. 
  • The living together of unlike organisms. 

A combination of terms
To me, nothing better expresses a combining of necessary elements in a divine/human endeavor than “a community of disciples on mission”. As with farming, multiple elements are necessary, but the Lord provides the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Christian community is made up of disciples who have mission as the natural expression of their maturity. Disciples are trained and formed in community life by older brothers and sisters with whom they may one day join in mission. Christian mission re-quires Christian disciples and is supported and served by the strength of community. 

Mutual importance
Each element (community, disciples, and mission) is necessary and mutually important. The Body of Christ needs all three. When one or another is over-emphasized, something is lost. When one is almost or entirely missing, it is “code blue”. 

As Steve Clark has often described, I may be able to function without one of my legs, but that is not the original intent, the original design. Many of our Christian churches suffer from the lack of community, the lack of discipleship, or the lack of mission. Some are even crippled. The Holy Spirit is healing some of these weaknesses and equipping us to stand. 

“And his gifts were to be that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and up-builds itself in love.” 
- Ephesians 4:11-16 

Appendix: Some Core Principles of Discipleship
  1. At the time of Jesus, the crowds were made up of apostles, disciples, believers, on-lookers, officials and enemies.
  2. All Christians are called to be disciples. (Matthew 28:19)
  3. Most worthwhile pursuits require some initiations/training to begin.
  4. Most worthwhile pursuits require ongoing training to contin-ue successfully.
  5. To varying degrees, discipleship and training are lifetime pursuits.
  6. There are multiple stages of life.
  7. There is much natural and spiritual wisdom appropriate to the various stages and challenges of life.
  8. God has a plan for my life.
  9. The devil has a plan for my life.
  10. There is much to learn at each of the stages of life to embrace God’s plan and thwart the devil’s plan.
  11. Discipleship involves several elements: the disciple, the pastoral leader, the community, the scriptures, the Sword of the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit.
  12. Improving any of the elements of discipleship can help the process to succeed.
  13. Personal attitudes and posture are critical to the progress. Am I: teachable? correctible? arrogant? superior? critical? hopeful? weak of character? selfish? positive? negative? individualistic? addictive?
  14. Faithfulness and commitment are crucial qualities. (Whimsical “Seinfeld” people will get nowhere).
  15. Kingdom and societal roles are important to the Lord and His order. They give us regular opportunities to either rebel or humbly subordinate our wills, taming the flesh. (Ephesians 4:11, Hebrews 13:17, Colossians 3:18-20, 1 Timothy 5, 1 Peter 2:13-17)
  16. You are fundamentally responsible for your own life.
  17. There are no guarantees about how you will turn out.
  18. We are a community of disciples on mission. 
  19. We believe that Christ has called Christians to be much more than they have been: for Christ, for themselves, and for the world.

> See related articles on Christian Community by Bob Tedesco

Bob Tedesco is the author of Essays on Christian Community: Do Covenant Communities have something to contribute to our models of church?

Bob Tedesco is past President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit, a founder of the People of God community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and has been one of its key leaders for the past 40 years.

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