Discipleship…Catalyzed By Mission

discipleship 101

By Brad Brisco

Within the missional conversation people often speak of how God’s mission (the missio Dei) needs to be the organizing principle around which all activities of the church should operate. In other words, participation in God’s mission should inform or shape how the church does small groups, youth ministry, children’s ministry, corporate worship, teaching, etc.

But the thought I want to flesh out a bit here is the need to think of discipleship in the same way. I am convinced that we need to understand discipleship (at least in part) as being catalyzed by mission, and not the other way around. Some argue that once someone is “rightly” discipled they will be motivated and equipped for mission. Unfortunately, the prevailing view of discipleship rarely leads to such movement.

While I understand that the discipleship-mission/mission-discipleship tension is a both/add relationship, I feararrow we rarely see how real discipleship flows out of mission engagement. Moreover, without participating in God’s mission we fail to fully understand how the values and ways of Jesus in our lives (discipleship) intersect, or relate to what is going on in the real world around us.

In The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation, author Alan Andrews speaks to the need of understanding spiritual growth and formation in light of mission engagement.

“We often measure spiritual growth and formation as an increase in cognitive knowledge about God or religious activities (i.e., greater knowledge of Scripture, a disciplined prayer life, weekly church attendance).

In many contexts, discipleship has been redefined as a weekly meeting at Starbucks with a mentor who helps me grow in understanding God and how my spirituality facilitates my personal development. Many pastors and Christian leaders who disciple new believers don’t include evangelism or service as part of the growth and maturation process.

As a result, our vision of discipleship can look very different from the experiences that Jesus introduced to His disciples. Modern-day disciples of Jesus can confess belief in the right things, but their lives are not congruent with the values and actions of Jesus. And what is more, they don’t see how the living out of those values and realities in mission is necessary for them to experience the promises of God.”

What thoughts do you have on this quote? How do you understand the place of mission, or service in the discipling “process”?

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About bradbrisco

Brad is currently the Church Planting Strategist for a network of churches in Kansas City; where he recruits, trains and coaches church planters. He holds a doctorate in the area of missional ecclesiology; his doctoral thesis was on assisting existing congregations in transitioning in a missional direction. Brad blogs regularly at missionalchurchnetwork.com He serves on the National Leadership team for Forge America Mission Training Network and is co-founder of the Sentralized Conference.


  1. Love what ya’ll are doing with this blog! So many great insights that I’m already beginning to pass on to my team.

    And certainly love the idea that discipleship needs to have a clear component of missional engagement. Without it, our faith really isn’t growing. And even worse, it’s obvious to everyone else.

    My fear is that many of these conversations focus on the “where” of discipleship instead of the “what” with a negative look at Starbucks and a positive look at being “out there” where real ministry takes place.

    I’m biased; I’ve been discipled in coffee shops and discipled others in coffee shops for over ten years now since coming to faith in college. My experiences on both ends of discipling have included a huge degree of missional engagement, of casting vision for mission, of teaching from scripture about mission, of praying about mission, of holding others accountable for mission, and of debriefing missional activities after they happen.

    I’ve also watched in the last few years where this emphasis on doing mission together and staying out of coffee-shops has taken off. I’ve seen huge benefits to this and am grateful for this voice in the dialogue. Too often we simply do what’s easier and what requires less risk. But at the end of the day, I’m concerned that we are talking too much about the location of discipling instead of the content of discipling.

    If you are guiding people into mission at a Starbucks or guiding people into mission through evangelism or feeding the hungry with them, amen and amen. If you are not guiding people into mission at Starbucks, you’re missing the boat. And if you’re doing evangelism and feeding the hungry but never debriefing the experience or helping those you take with you to go and teach others how to grow in their walk with God and their engagement in mission, you’re missing the boat just as badly. Just without caffeine.

    Let’s make sure we are talking about true Godly discipleship that includes deep personal engagement with the Lord that propels us to real missional engagement with others. That’s what this world needs far more of.

  2. Shane, good word! As you know, one of the issues with blog posts (or at least posts that I write) is that they many times don’t take the time/space to tell the whole story. I couldn’t agree with you more about debriefing. In fact, part of some training that we do we use the four “Ds” of missional engagement as we talk about Discovery, Discern, Do, and Debrief. Our missionary engagement must be done, at least in part, communally. We must have the opportunity to discern and debrief with others. That I agree is part of the discipling process. Beau, maybe the four Ds should be my next post. Thanks for sharing Shane!

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