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The Hole in our Discipleship
by Brandon Hatmaker on August 2nd, 2012

The longer I lead as a pastor, the more I realize how significant our call to make disciples really is. Jesus left us no room for misinterpretation… this is our greatest commission.

Collectively, we’ve done a great job at creating programs, studies, events, and processes for just about every angle you want to study scripture or increase in knowledge. Every age group and demographic is represented. I’m thankful for the gospel-centered pursuits of the church today. It’s just plain biblical.

The more we dig into scripture and the life of Jesus, the more we see the necessary connection between what we learn and how we live. His life painted a beautiful picture. What we’re learning is that a true Disciple proclaims the gospel in both deed & creed.

Our struggle is (see the New Testament) and has always been (see the Old Testament) our ability to move from knowledge to application. Fortunately, the surge towards missional/incarnational community has been a huge step forward for the church and has offered an appropriate place for mission to happen through community.

The argument is no longer about whether or not this is something we should be doing. The conversation is now more about HOW we do it in our current context, HOW we balance the gathering and scattering, and HOW we do it in a way that proclaims a pure image of the Gospel.
One of the greatest challenges is found in how the church responds to our culture’s call and concern for social action. We’ve been here before… and it ended poorly. A historical social gospel scares all of us, and it should, social action should never become our gospel.

But it should be a huge part of the life of a Disciple.

Church leaders, here is my proposal: As we make disciples, it is our responsibility to teach our people to serve outside the church. It’s as simple as that. We have to empower them, equip them, and release them. We have to help them understand why we’re calling them to serve others. We have to explain the reasoning, the hope, and the impact it will have on us, those we serve, and the collective posture of the church.

But most of us simply tell our people to go serve, and assume they know how.

Here’s what I’m learning: Most of our people don’t know how. Neither do most of us. The number one question I hear as I spend time with church leaders around the nation is “Where do I begin?”
So let me propose an eight-step process to begin leading your people to engage need. This is the process we use at Austin New Church. And it’s proven to be pretty productive. It’s from the study I wrote based on the book "Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture" called the “Barefoot Church Primer: An 8-week Guide to Serving through Community”. The Barefoot Church Primer is designed to walk small groups, community groups, and/or missional communities through the discovery process of understanding, discovering, and engaging in their context. In it we spend a week on each topic listed below.

Whether you are a church leader or a church attender, you can apply these to both your life and your processes. This process gives permission to learn and offers a biblical foundation before it gives a task. It intentionally walks through a discovery process that if ignored, I believe will inevitably fall in on itself. I think the best part is that it isn’t a program it’s a process. It’s up to you to figure out how to apply in your context. I hope it proves helpful to you.
  1. Embrace Social Action as a part of the Discipleship Journey: Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he told us to serve the least. The most beneficial impact will be on those serving, and the community that serves together, not just those being served. Embrace the learning process as a part of the journey. You’ll be amazed at how much we learn when we’re confronted face-to-face with poverty, brokenness, and disorder. (Barefoot Church Primer Week  1: The Journey)
  2. Settle your Gospel Theology in regards to Social Action: Go ahead and press into scripture. It holds up. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself wondering how you missed it before (you may even do some repenting). There is a very sound reason we serve and scripture is clear. Even so, your serving will eventually come into question, either you’ll self-doubt or someone else will. If you do not settle this in advance it will leave you reeling constantly. This is one of the main reasons I wrote Barefoot Church and is the entire focus of the second week of the Barefoot Church Primer. Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice is also an amazing resource. (Barefoot Church Primer Week 2: Becoming Good News)
  3. Teach/Learn about the Doctrine of Mercy: Scripture calls us to love mercy. Most of us don’t even truly understand it. Only when we fully “get” God’s mercy towards us will we begin to love it, appreciate it, and want to offer it to others. All else is either false or selfish motivation. A heart for mercy is the biblical motivation for Justice. (Barefoot Church Primer Week 3: Mercy)
  4. Teach/Learn about Biblical Justice: Biblical justice is not about making sure people get what they deserve. It’s more about the pursuit of making things the way they should be. We are to seek Justice. Understanding what this means is critical. (Barefoot Church Primer Week 4: Justice)
  5. Expose Need: Here is where the “doing” begins. One of the most critical steps of serving is to actually take a moment to see what the needs really are. At times our preconceived ideas can get in the way of really making a difference. The flip side is also true, at times we struggle to see need that is right beneath our nose. (Barefoot Church Primer Week 5: Expose)
  6. Encounter Need: While a service project or event is rarely going to bring resolution to a need, it will certainly provide a great starting point for people to begin to “taste and see” what we’re talking about. This is a necessary step for people learning to make a difference and can often create the initial tug on a heart or mind to do more. Since a service event/project is beneficial but should never be the "end all", we plan these quarterly instead of monthly. Monthly and weekly service is reserved for those engaging need through missional/incarnational community (Barefoot Church Primer Week 6: Experience).
  7. Engage Need: Create a platform or place for people to take a more personal interest in a specific need. A small group or a Missional Community is a great place for this to take place. Often we see needs at an “event” type project that can be followed up with in the coming days or weeks. Encourage and even train your people to be looking for these needs along their way. (Barefoot Church Primer Week 7: Engage)
  8. Move Beyond the Program: We hope that eventually this becomes a regular part of a disciple’s life. If you are growing, the PROGRAM of serving will eventually get in the way of a LIFE of serving. When we undertand the biblical basis for social action, as we grow, it will become an intuitive part of our daily/weekly rhythm. I hope you see that this is the end goal. Be sure not to control the process with hopes of keeping people inside the box. Plan to release people into their own mission field. (Barefoot Church Primer Week 8: The Intuitive Life)


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12 Comments

Ben Roberts - August 2nd, 2012 at 1:12 PM
Brandon, this is excellent! Would you be interested in reposting this at GCD in September?
Brandon Hatmaker - August 2nd, 2012 at 1:29 PM
Sure Ben. Just let me know.. or feel free to repost it.
Bruce - August 2nd, 2012 at 3:36 PM
Love this Brandon!
Flower Patch Farmgirl - August 2nd, 2012 at 8:49 PM
Fantastico.



Encounter need = We actually have to GO there.
Roger Wolsey - August 10th, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Good stuff. As John Wesley put it, "there is no holiness but social holiness."
Rev. Sue Wynn - August 27th, 2012 at 12:28 PM
"We have to empower them, equip them, and release them. We have to help them understand why we%u2019re calling them to serve others." I'm so glad to see the church joining many secular agencies to deal with the needs of society. But can WE empower people? Or is it God, by the Holy Spirit's infilling? If God empowers, we will be able to do "God works," like healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons. If we do that , then there's not a person in the world, no matter how poor or disenfranchised, who won't believe Jesus is real. They'll see Him in us flesh-and-blood, "ordinary" people.
Brandon Hatmaker - August 27th, 2012 at 1:36 PM
Sue, I certainly agree with you that it's the Holy Spirit that gives us everything we need to do what we're called to do. But there is also a practical side to the idea of "empowerment" that I believe scripture certainly calls us to recognize.

To empower means "to give power or authority; authorize." A second definition even goes so far as to mean "enable or permit". Many believers do not feel permission in their current church context to point their affections outward. Most do not feel equipped. For some, it's not even on their radar. By raising awareness of our biblical mission, increasing education, training, and creating structures to provide apprenticing opportunities (inviting if not begging the Spirit to be leading all the way)... we are certainly "empowering" our people.

What I'm addressing more specifically our tendency as church leaders to succeed in telling people to go, but failing to equip and release them for ministry. Often our forms do not encourage, leave room, or make primary this calling on our lives as believers. Also, I'm writing this from the lens of expanding our view discipleship... the "results" are certainly in God's hands.
Jenna B. - August 28th, 2012 at 8:47 AM
Brandon-this whole post makes me all itchy. My husband and I lead a group of college kids every week in our home, from different churches. As leaders, I think this is exactly what we've been looking for. Figuring this out in our own context is what it's all about. Thanks for the overview! Excited to go check it out.
Brandon Hatmaker - August 28th, 2012 at 2:01 PM
That's great Jenna. Let me know how it goes!
Shelley Repp - August 28th, 2012 at 10:00 AM
Brandon, as the Outreach Pastor of a church in Albuquerque "Barefoot Church" has been required reading for our team. Love this succinct post!
Brandon Hatmaker - August 28th, 2012 at 2:02 PM
Thanks Shelley. Have you had a chance to check out the Barefoot Church Prime yet? It's an 8 week study designed for small groups and missional communities to learn how to begin to turn outward through engaging need. It starts with theology and ends with action. I'm actually going to start an online leadership group starting sept 24 going through the primer. Let me know if that might be something that could help your team or people!
Jeremy Plymale - August 31st, 2012 at 4:38 PM
Hey Brandon. Loved Barefoot Church. Getting ready to take my small group here in O'Fallon, MO through the Primer. We were actually planning to start on Sept 19. Maybe I can just start our semester off with a "get to know you social" so I can be more on pace with what you're doing online.

What time of day of the day are you doing the online leadership group on Sept 24? What format will it have? Are you going to post text online and we'll respond? Or are we going to be on the phone or Skype or something?

I'm guessing I need to order the Primers from the Missio Publishing website, and the participants won't need to buy Barefoot Church in addition to the Primer? Looks like it'll take 10-14 days for me to get the books. Wow. Looks I need to order these ASAP before we get done with sign ups. Can I return books that I don't need?

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