Europe has a church history dating back to the Apostle Paul receiving his call to Macedonia and then travelling with his friends to Greece (Acts 16:9). Over the past 2,000 years, the church has evolved in Europe. The conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine, nearly 300 years after the death of Jesus, was a major turning point from when the church moved into buildings and became a much more open part of the fabric of European life. A more institutionalised version of the church emerged and grew from this point in time. However, Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) take us back again to those early years of the emergence of a band of radical Jesus followers who changed the world as they knew it.
Today we are exploring those roots again, but doing so in relation to the reality of the presence of a significant, but generally declining inherited church model, and a rise in secularism. Over my lifetime, the church in Europe has chased various programmes generated in the Western World that promise the panacea to church decline, but have failed to do so. In recent years some eyes have turned to the East, so long the recipient of Western mission, for help as Europe seeks to reverse the decline of the church. This has been a hard thing to accept as the tendency has been to hold on to the familiar ways of the past, and to simply follow the image of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, rather than humbly accept there is a need for a radical rethink—a need to return to first principles in the approach of Jesus and the early church to making disciples who make disciples.
Biglife, with its roots in Asia, has recently put a focus upon Europe and is in the early stages of seeing some encouraging signs of life growth. Here are a few of the lessons being learnt:
- It is caught and not taught – We are seeing the Lord challenge folk within existing churches with a fresh vision of disciple making. This reminds us that it is all ultimately a work of God (Mark 4:26-27). They are not adopting a programme, but being challenged deeply by the Lord to re-orientate their lives. It is leading to lifestyle change, brought on by an encounter with Jesus.
- It is relational and not programme focused – After years of receiving one programme after another in existing churches, we are discovering afresh the priority of relationship (John 15:15), much as we see in the Apostle Paul in his relational writing to the early Christian communities (Phil 1:3-6). Focusing on deep relationships with a few is where we are seeing fruitfulness rather than in large gatherings.
- It is messy – There is no one size fits all approach to how groups of disciples are emerging. How it looks in one context can be very different from another, but the fundamental principles remain drawn from the Bible (Col 3:16) as we reflect on Jesus’ own approach to making disciples (Luke 10:1-9).
- It is hard to leave old ways behind – After hundreds of years of a pattern of church it can be hard to have those assumptions challenged and changed (Isaiah 43:18-19). This is particularly true when we come to a focus upon obedience and accountability, that go against much of our Western cultural values.
- It starts with ordinary people – We have often professionalised church leadership in such a way that members can become passive spectators. DMMs are about empowering every believer to be a Disciple Maker and so we are seeing ordinary people stepping up and living this out (Luke 5:1-11). We are excited to see ordinary people catching the vision and running with it.
- It is hard work – Many people are looking for a quick fix, or for something that will not disturb the comfort of their lives too much. However, Disciple Making challenges us to costly following of Jesus (Luke 9:23), to giving of ourselves in sharing our faith and discipling others.
While we are still very much in the early days of seeing the Lord at work through DMMs in Europe, it is exciting to already see signs of life and growth. We pray for much more in the days ahead!