I grew up in a pagan home. When I say “pagan” I really mean it. When I was little my stepfather was a wizard, which I later learned is somehow different from either a witch or a warlock. He was only in the picture a couple years but my mother often used Ouija boards and Tarot cards. This was the closest thing to religion in the home.
When I was thirteen my younger sister started attending a little church a few miles away. At her insistence I soon began attending as well. Not long after, I was also attending Sunday evening and Wednesday evening services. I was hooked. I wanted to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could. I remember asking how I could learn to follow Jesus more faithfully. I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time but what I was really asking was to be discipled. I was given a workbook called “Milk”.
The workbook covered some of the basics of Christian faith—hence “milk”. It was baby food. Jesus is God in human form. He was born of a virgin. He rose from the dead. The Bible is God’s word and is comprised of 66 individual books. I didn’t learn a lot from this book but I devoured it. When I completed it I handed it in…for grading? I’m not sure what the pastor of the church did with it, but he gave me the next book: “Bread”.
This second book was a little more detailed and I learned more than I did with “Milk”. I quickly finished the workbook. Then I was on to “Fish”. After “Fish” came the real heavyweight, the solid food: “Meat”. Once again I finished the workbook very quickly and turned it in, wondering what was next. What comes after meat? “Casserole”? A full meal? Gourmet dishes? Now that I learned about the food was there training on how to put it all together, so to speak? It’s one thing to know the differences between milk, bread, fish, and meat, but what do I do with all this knowledge?
Nothing. There was nothing else. I had finished the “course” of Christian discipleship. I knew some stuff. My life was still a mess. I still didn’t know how to follow Jesus. I still wasn’t sure what to do with my life, but after finishing “Milk”, “Bread”, “Fish”, and “Meat”, there was nothing more available to me. That was the extent of what it meant for me to be discipled as a follower of Jesus. The mission given to the apostles by Jesus himself is this:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:19–20 ESV
Notice here that Jesus does not say to baptize new converts and then teach them the basics of the Christian faith. Oh, to be sure, we must teach one another the faith once delivered. We must love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, and mind. That necessarily requires that we learn about God. We need the milk and the bread and the fish and, yes, the meat of the Christian faith, but the mission does not stop with merely educating one another. The mission is to form fully devoted followers of Jesus. Consider Paul’s words to the Christians in Philippi.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.Philippians 2:14–17 ESV
In this letter Paul expressed great praise to God for the work he has done among the Philippians. He expresses his confidence that God, the very one who began the good work among them, will be faithful to complete that work “at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). That day is the day the Lord returns and resurrects his people and recreates the earth and all the promises of God in Christ are brought to their fullest expression. Paul expresses great confidence that this will happen. In the text above, he calls them to hold fast to the word of life so that on that day of Christ he will be shown to have not run in vain or labor in vain.
What’s really happening here is Paul is staking his entire ministry success on this: the believers in Philippi will prove themselves true followers of Jesus. If they were to turn away from following Jesus, his labor—his life’s work would have been in vain. This is why he told them in chapter 1 to let their “manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). He says he wants to hear the report that they are “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”.
Paul’s metric for evaluating his own ministry is whether the people he has been given to care for become fully mature followers of Jesus who walk together in unity in their church. As Jesus put it, Paul evaluates his own ministry success by whether these disciples observe all that Jesus commanded them. He doesn’t measure numbers of baptisms or count how many show up for weekly worship. He doesn’t measure ministry success by how many workbooks young believers worked through—or how quickly. His ministry would be successful if the believers he baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit observed all that Jesus had commanded. He indicates how this would be known: their manner of life would be worthy of the gospel of Jesus. They would stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
Near the end of this letter Paul adds something remarkable.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.Philippians 4:1–3 ESV
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
In this letter Paul has addressed the believers in Philippi as a group. The instructions and commands are all plural. They, together, must walk in the Lord. In chapter 4 verse 1 he calls them siblings and expresses his love for them. He tells them all to stand firm in the Lord—together. This is not an individual instruction. Just as we see in 2:27 they must stand firm in one spirit and must strive side by side. Following Jesus is not and cannot be an individual effort.
There was, apparently, a problem between two women in the church. Euodia and Syntyche had been valuable members of Paul’s ministry team. They labored with him in the gospel. The problem with human relationships is human relationships involve humans. Any time two or more humans are involved in any sort of relationship, whether they are friends or co-workers or ministry partners or spouses or neighbors, there will be some sort of conflict. We don’t know what the issue between Euodia and Syntyche was. It may have been a disagreement over what to have for their shared meal in their City Group. It may have been a misunderstood word or a word spoken out of frustration or exhaustion. We don’t know, but Paul calls on them to settle their differences and to “agree in the Lord”.
However, Paul does not leave it up to them alone to resolve their differences. He calls on an unnamed “true companion” to help them. The “you” there, as in, “I ask you also, true companion”, is singular. Paul addresses this individual who would have been known to the Philippians, to walk alongside these women as they resolved their dispute in community. To say this another way, this “true companion” is to help disciple these ladies through the relationship they have together. The true companion is known to them. He or she is not a stranger, but knows them. It is important for them to get along and to participate in the life of the church together and in order to grow past this trouble, they must be discipled in the faith.
It is clear that the mission of New City Church has already been determined by the Lord Jesus. We must make disciples. Before we launched, I was with a group from the launch team and we were wrestling with a mission statement for the church. We wanted one that was brief and to the point, and also memorable. We kept throwing out ideas but they were not adequate as they would stray a bit from the central thrust of our mission. Then, almost in frustration, someone said to me, “So you’re saying that the mission of this church is making disciples—period?” Suddenly everyone’s eyes lit up. I said, “Yes! That’s it. That’s our mission statement: ‘Making Disciples. Period.’”
As we see in Philippi, making disciples happens in relationship. This has become our philosophy of ministry: “Discipleship happens in relationship.” It’s not a program. It’s not a series of workbooks. It’s not a class you attend. It’s about walking side-by-side through life’s ups and downs, working through conflict, rejoicing in successes, living life together, all while helping one another follow Jesus.
In his book “The Mentoring Church” Phil Newton helpfully quotes his good friend, Matt Sligher:
If the ultimate goal for a trainee is to become like the mentor, then one-on-one discipleship is sufficient. However, if the goal for a trainee is to become like Jesus, then he needs mentoring by the whole church.Phil Newton, “The Mentoring Church”, p. 126
We need one-on-one mentoring, but even more, we need mentoring from the whole church. This is why God has gifted his people with a variety of spiritual gifts. This is why we must live in community in such a way that we are involved in one another’s lives. This requires that we seek opportunities to spend time together. Invite someone over. Greet a visitor on Sunday morning. Go to the park with a group from church. Help someone with his or her home project. Making disciples is our mission. Period. There is no other mission. Discipleship happens in relationship. Therefore, you and I must seek to cultivate those relationships with one another in the church.
If we will do this, if we will pursue helping one another follow Jesus and if we will seek to let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel and if we will strive to stand side by side for the faith of the gospel, we will make disciples. Our efforts here at New City Church will not be in vain. We will be able to thank God, the very one who began a good work in us and who will be faithful to complete it. If we will do this, then the ministry of our church will be successful.