Decision Making and Disciple Making

We’ve all done it. Faced with a choice that we’ve never made before we revert to the go-to, decision making method: trial-and-error. Consider the process by which most people choose a college major: “Well, I’ve always liked the court system. This one time when I was in middle school I was on the mock trial team and I crushed it. Plus, people tell me all of the time that I’m really good at arguing. I mean, at the end of the day, I’ll try it out and if I don’t like it I’ll pick something else.”

This process often results in an unending journey of frustration–not to mention a massive amount of wasted money. As a result, The New York Times reports that more and more college students are using their time in college to explore their options---some waiting years before declaring a major or choosing to double, or even, triple major.

Trial-and-error, while the default method of decision-making for most, is a painstaking journey and it is fraught with liabilities. At the end of the day, we often end up squandering time, energy, effort, and money seeking to figure out who we are and why God has placed us on the planet.

Is there a better way?

In an ideal world, a person’s family would play a primary role in helping him/her make critical life decisions. But, we do not live in an ideal world. In a fallen world, families are broken and twisted by sin, leaving many young men and women to figure out how to navigate life on their own.

The answer is the church.

The church is designed by God to counter the rampant individualism by which the average, American Christian makes decisions. Life in the family of God provides a built-in community to encourage, exhort, and help our brothers and sisters discern who they are and how they should use the life God has given them.

Consider the familial language throughout Paul’s words to the church at Galatia:

[26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. [27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 ESV)

[1] I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, [2] but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. [3] In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. [4] But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. [6] And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [7] So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:1-7 ESV)

Clearly the emphasis of Paul’s argument is on the fatherly relationship that those who are in Christ have with God, Himself. The implications, however, extend to our relationships with one another. Joseph Hellerman, in his book When the Church Was a Family, writes:

Paul’s point is not simply that God is now my Father and I am now His son. God, in Jesus’ great work of redemption, was not establishing a series of isolated personal relationships with His individual followers. He was creating a family of sons and daughters–siblings – who are now ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ (v. 28). The saving work of Christ therefore has a corporate, as well as an individual, dimension. For Paul, the church is a family.

If the church is the family then it is incumbent on Christians to walk with one another in such a way that we aid one another in making wise, God-honoring decisions about all of life. This is what a family does. No parent worth the title would say to their children, “You’re on your own son. Call me once you’ve got life figured out.” No. We walk carefully with our children–seeking to join with them in the process of self-discovery, wise decision-making, and effective stewardship of all of life.

I used to think of discipleship primarily in terms of spiritual disciplines–helping someone read the Bible, pray and share their faith. Certainly this is a part of disciple-making, but it is much, much more than that. If the church is a family then I need to do far more than help people in these areas. God’s rule and reign is not relegated to those dimensions of life that we typically think of as “spiritual”.

Think about the magnitude of the decisions that people are making in their late teens or early twenties: who they will date and marry, if and where they will go to school, what they will study, where they will live, and on and on we could go. These decisions will radically shape the rest of their lives. I mean, is there any more spiritual decisions that choosing a spouse or a vocation. These “practical” decisions will have bearing on every dimensions of a person’s life moving forward, and it is vital that they choose wisely.

Sadly, many people sitting in churches week-after-week are making these decisions in isolation from mentors who can provide guidance and direction. Certainly they may ask for advise from their peers, but these peers are often no less mature or experienced and are making the same decisions themselves. They need the church. They need people who are walking a few steps in front of them to do more than say, “Good luck. Hope it all works out for you. We’re all messed up and broken. Do the best you can.” They need bold, disciple-makers who model Paul’s practice in his letter to the Thessalonians: “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” (1 Thess 2:8).

The church is meant to be a place where people share their lives with one another. Their experiences, their mistakes, their perspective, their insight, their direction. This is vital work, as Hellerman notes:

Faced with decisions that people were never meant to make in isolation, we self-destruct emotionally and relationally, we never grow up, and we turn to therapy or medication to prop us up against a world that is just too much for us to handle on our own…There is another reason for making life decisions in the context of the broader church family. Not only will we experience less angst and emotional upheaval. We will also make better decisions – decisions that are better for us, and decisions that are better for the expansion of God’s kingdom.

We know this to be true intuitively. The gravitational pull of individualism, however, wars against these types of relationships in the church. We do our own thing, other people do their own thing, we show up in the same building on Sundays and call it church. This is a far-cry from the Biblical notion of the family of God and the impetus for all sorts of unwise choices from God’s people.

We who care for God’s church must seek to create a culture where disciple-making involves all of life–where we are known by one another in such a way that people can speak into the critical decisions we make in this life. For this to happen, we must ask ourselves a few diagnostic questions on the nature of our community within the family of God:

• Does anyone know the major decisions that I am confronting right now? • Does anyone know me well enough to challenge unwise decision that I am making? • Does anyone know how my unique sin propensities may blind me and cause me to make unwise choices? • Does anyone affirm the way that I am currently stewarding my life? • Is anyone helping me get out in front of my life and discern what God might be calling me to in the next year? • Does anyone look to me as a spiritual mother or father and lean on me to help them make critical decisions? • Do younger members of our church look to other members of the church to help them think through weighty matters? • Are we a church known for sharing the gospel AND our lives?

Disciple-making and decision-making go hand in hand in the family of God. As this happens, the community of God’s people are equipped to make decisions that will position ever aspect of our lives to bring Him glory.