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Frank Viola: Why We're Getting Discipleship Wrong

“Discipleship” and “missional.”

These are the two big buzzwords on the Christian landscape today. Of course, there is also “simple church.” But that’s another discussion for another time.

As I speak in conferences throughout the world and meet people who have jumped on the discipleship bandwagon, or the missional bandwagon (or both), I make several observations.

Two Streams of Missional

There seems to be two different streams in the missional world:

1) Those who are stuck with D.L. Moody’s mindset. These are those who basically make the mission of God the salvation of lost souls. The church, then, is regarded as either a soul-saving station (the mechanism to save the lost), or it’s something that doesn’t appear on the radar screen as being anything terribly significant.

“Whatever church you attend, whatever form it takes, and whatever practices it observes is irrelevant. The church exists to save lost souls, end of story.” So the thinking goes.

2) The other camp, which I joyfully throw my hat in with, are those who do not see the mission of God as being the salvation of individual souls. While that’s a slice of it, it’s not the whole pie. Nor is it the goal. God’s intention actually began before the fall, and it stands outside the reaches of redemption. God has a non-redemptive purpose—an eternal purpose, as Paul calls it in Ephesians 3:8-11—that was in God’s heart before the fall ever occurred. And God has never let go of it.

T. Austin-Sparks used to say that you can think of the eternal purpose as a straight line that moves from eternity past to eternity future.

But somewhere in the middle of that line, there’s a dip. That dip represents the fall of humanity. At the very bottom of the dip is a cross. The cross is designed to bring us back onto the straight line.

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FRANK VIOLA has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply, gain fresh perspectives on old or ignored subjects, and make the Bible come alive. Viola has written many books on these themes, including God's Favorite Place on Earth and From Eternity to Here. His blog, Beyond Evangelical, is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today.