Start with the End

“STOP” I repeatedly screamed as I watched my teammate sprinting toward the basket. My high school was playing our bitter rivals. To stop their powerful offense, our coach had taught us a full-court press. Instead of waiting for the opposing team to bring the ball down past half-court, our team would press them defensively the whole way down. It was working great for us until a mid-court scramble resulted in multiple players from both teams diving for a loose ball. Somehow my teammate grabbed it and took off for an easy basket…BUT RAN THE WRONG WAY. Which is why I was fervently trying to get his attention. In the chaos of the scramble, he had lost his orientation and had gotten confused about the goal. Likewise, in the scramble of ministry, we can get confused about what is our goal.

Your church needs a discipleship pathway , and it should lead to a clearly defined goal. The path needs to have a clear destination and anyone who walks it should have a clear view of it at all times. What goal do you want your discipleship pathway to have?

The Goal of Discipleship

How you answer that question will either add to the chaos or bring clarity. The disorientation my teammate experienced is often our experience in coming up with a plan for discipleship. Have you looked at a publisher’s website for discipleship material lately? We have more options to choose from than any time in history! But which one should we choose this time? If you are trying to make that decision without a clear focus on the goal, then your discipleship is less a clear pathway and more like random rabbit trails that lead to who knows where. You need to start with the end.

Colossians 1:28 begins to clarify what that end goal is: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The goal of discipleship is maturity in Christ. A person who believes in Christ begins as a baby Christian who then needs to grow up to be mature in Christ.

Hebrews 5:11-14 seeks to correct those who are still babies in the faith who “need milk” and spur them on to maturity marked by “solid food.” The expectation is that those new in the faith grow into maturity.

Colossians 2:6 narrows the focus when it says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Notice the expectation that, when we receive Christ, we are to live a life rooted in Christ. The imagery is of a mature tree that can weather the biggest storms because of deep roots. It’s also picturing a building process that, brick by brick, results in a strong tower. The mature tree and strong tower are the result of being “established in the faith.” To be established is to be stable, steadfast, or set in place. It is the foundation from which the rest of life is built.

According to Ephesians 4:20-24, all of this finds completion when we are “like Christ.” These verses show that, when we “learn Christ,” we are taught to put off the old self, be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and put on the new self. The result is the completion of being in the “likeness of God.” The astounding thing is the description of this likeness being “true righteousness and holiness.” The goal of a discipleship pathway is to lead people to be righteous and holy like God!

Three Practical Considerations

First, define what it means to be “established in the faith.” Encapsulated in the letters of the New Testament is the teaching of the faith. A suggested summary of this teaching is:

*INDIVIDUAL—Put off the old, be renewed in your mind, and put on the virtues and values of Christ.

  • HOME—Order your home consistent with God’s created order, following His plan for marriage, parenting, and being parented.

  • CHURCH—Order the church as the household of God, instruct every believer to engage in mutual ministry by using their spiritual gifts, and develop a pattern of healthy relationships that lead to unity in the church.

  • WORLD—Live a diligent, hard-working, watchful life that serves as a witness to others, especially in respectful relationships with authority and those outside the church.

Pointing to the goal is not enough. You must also show that the way to the goal is the gospel.

Second, show how the impossible is possible. The call to live like Christ looks impossible. Spiritual maturity marked by righteous, holy living is a crushing weight. It is only when we agree with God about our sin and take the look of faith that Jesus has accomplished perfection and given it to us, that we can live a mature, Christ-like life. So, pointing to the goal is not enough. You must also show that the way to the goal is the gospel. The pathway to the goal must be gospel-saturated lest we all give up because we see it is impossible to reach the goal in our own strength.

Build a discipleship pathway that points to the goal of a mature, Christ-like life at every opportunity you get.

Third, never miss the opportunities to point to the goal. Life gets confusing quickly. Disorientation is common as we live in a world broken by our own sin, the sin of others, and the schemes of the adversary. It’s easy to come out of the scramble of life heading toward the wrong goal. Build a discipleship pathway that points to the goal of a mature, Christ-like life at every opportunity you get. Do it in your preaching, your programs, and your pathway. Speak it over coffee, as you counsel, and anytime you congregate.

Your church needs a discipleship pathway. As you begin to build it, start here, at the end: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

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