The People of God: Empowering the Church to Make Disciples by Trevor Joy and Spence Shelton, B&H, 2014
If you are numbered among those who believe that the church in the United States has problems, you have probably spent at least some time contemplating what is at the root of those problems. We might trace it to theological impurities brought about by the abandonment of orthodox Christianity in many realms of Christendom. Others may claim that we simply live in the most secular age of history and therefore the task of pointing people toward our Savior is harder than ever. Still another group may say we have left our old time religion and replaced it with contemporary notions that look little better than the unregenerate world around us. These and countless others can be offered up as the reason for the decline of growth and the lack of influence the church has in our context. However, they are not the root cause. They are merely symptoms of a nearly systemic problem found in the vast majority of our churches: we have ignored the Great Commission’s call to make disciples.
The People of God provides us with an encouraging and practical call to take seriously the way God has ordained for people to come into a relationship with Him and grow in their knowledge of His Kingdom. The authors build on the premise that human beings have been created for community, both with God and with one another. The Church has been created by Christ to be a community and the growth of Christ’s followers through the disciple-making process is done within this context. For Joy and Shelton this is an intentional, theologically driven process.
Our authors explore the distinctives of a gospel community while also presenting us with the common hindrances to that same biblical community. Within any context of discipleship, the Gospel must be at the forefront. The Gospel provides us the pattern of discipleship as we are constantly reminded of our need to turn from our sin and our desperate reliance on Christ.
For me, the most helpful chapter in the book is the authors’ discussion of alignment. The book calls on churches to align their teaching/preaching/discipleship/small group activities together. While in no way new or revolutionary, it is a seemingly radical idea. For most churches, there is very little connection between the focus of the sermon and the teaching that takes place during Sunday school. Small groups are not connected to the spiritual emphasis of the worship service. Children have lessons that are completely different from their parents. There is no alignment of the things that are taught. This method of conducting the teaching ministry of the church provides very little opportunity for depth and growth. However, when discipleship is intentional and the ideas of the worship gathering are reinforced in Sunday school or small groups the people in our churches have a chance to understand more deeply the things of God. When we are intentional about aligning our sermon, Bible studies, small group lessons, and discipleship efforts, we will find that the mission and vision of the church will be constantly reinforced and remain abundantly clear to those who participate in the life of the community of faith.
I was thoroughly impressed by the relevance of this book for churches of all sizes. While both authors serve on staff at churches at are among the largest in the country, their ideas are relevant and useful for my church which is small and in a rural context. We are all aware that this is often not the case with books produce in mega churches. Because these concepts are so biblically based, they are functional within a myriad of church contexts.
Many of us stand concerned about the state of the church and the work of the Kingdom. We are weary from trying to make things work the way we want and convincing people they need to do better. The heart of our problem is often a lack of discipleship. It is not a cure-all secret formula. It is however, Christ’s pattern for growing His Church and expanding His Kingdom.