Exponential Shifts Toward Discipleship – From Assimilating to Creating Community

The next shift advocated at Exponential was the shift in focus from assimilation to community. When we think of assimilation, we may most often think of some kind of Borg-like, “resistance is futile” scrubbing of the individual to make them fit into the collective. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about there, you have somehow avoided any hint of assimilation into the nerdery of Star Trek… and you’re really missing out, I promise.)

In the church, we don’t usually verbalize any value of this kind of hive mentality, but we are criticized for promoting it sometimes. From the outside, sometimes people look at the church and see a sort of mindless adherence to a rigid set of rules and regulations that make us all look and talk and act the same. From that perspective, it looks like some kind of weird assimilation has taken place. The friends they used to know and have fun with started hanging out with church people and now have little time for them anymore because of that new Bible study and small group and ministry team they joined. They’ve been sucked in to the collective…

To be fair, people see that because, though we don’t often state it, sometimes we do value conformity a little too much. I’m not talking about conformity to the character of Christ here. That is something we should all value and strive for. What I’m talking about is the way we can take a new believer and fill their time with so many church programs and activities that they become assimilated into the Christian sub-culture so deeply that they’re isolated from the very people Jesus would have them reach with His love.

But what if we could shift from a “bring them in and teach them to be like us” approach to one that focuses more on being a community of unique people who are sent on His mission to restore? What if we could shift from an approach that hopes to produce disciples by assimilating individuals into a slate of programs to one that makes disciples by grafting together a unique blend of personalities into a community that shares a commitment to the mission of Jesus? We don’t have to all be the same. We are allied by our devotion to His mission. Instead of assimilating a common culture, we assimilate a common mission. His mission.

This kind of community can provide the organic accountability that is needed for the healthy spiritual formation of the individual. And this formation of the Spirit of Christ in individual lives which are given to His efforts is the essence of discipleship. Instead of primarily focusing on getting people to attend our stuff (building our church), we can focus on Jesus living in people’s lives. As Mike Breen put it,

If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.


I’ve outlined each of the shifts presented at Exponential 2013 in the following posts, but if you want to get a firsthand look for yourself, check out the very first Exponential West in October in southern CA or look into some of the free ebooks available on Exponential’s site.

“Exponential Shifts Toward Discipleship” Series

Exponential Recap – Discipleshift
From Reaching to Making
From Leading to Being Led
From Teaching to Modeling
From Assimilating to Creating Community
From Attracting to Deploying
Exponential Recap – Drift Happens, Shift is On Purpose

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