Executive Summary

The Formation of Disciples for Mission and the Formation of Disciples as Mission

28 Jun 2024

Editor's Note

This is the executive summary of Lausanne Occasional Paper 75 authored by Steve Bryan, Simon Chan, Tom Schwanda, Jonathan Black, Ingebjørg Nandrup, Eiko Takamizawa, Finny Philip, Charles Ringma, and Paul Choi. Access the full occasional paper here.

The need for this paper arises from two widely perceived problems. The first may be seen in relation to the end or outcome of mission: the low level of spiritual maturity, the lack of Christian formation, and evidence of anemic discipleship within the global evangelical movement. The second is that, while ‘successful’ mission can be and often is carried out by people who lack a vital relationship with God, the spiritual and moral failure of Christian leaders ultimately blunts the witness of the church in the world and causes other Christians to stumble.

The context of this paper is, broadly, the global evangelical movement and its mission to a spiritually lost and broken world. More narrowly, the context of the paper is the Lausanne Movement (hereafter, LM), which began in 1974 as an intentional effort to catalyze and strengthen evangelical mission to the world. Almost immediately, the question arose as to whether mission should be understood primarily with proclamation or should also be understood as including matters of social concern and justice. The movement landed on a kind of both/and answer to that question but the framing of the question itself has largely left to the side the question of what we ought ultimately to seek as an outcome of mission and who we ought properly to be as agents of mission. 

The focus of this paper is the relationship between mission and the formation of disciples. Though there may be several ways to think about the nature of this relationship, the purpose of this paper is to consider the significance of the spiritual lives of those who engage in mission and of those to whom mission is directed. The paper arises out of the two-fold conviction that mission must be done by people whose lives are deeply rooted in a vital relationship with God and that mission must have the formation of a people as its ultimate objective—an objective pursued by the gathering those whom God is forming as disciples into local churches. 

Thus, the thesis of this paper is that the goal of mission set out in Scripture is to make disciples of Jesus and that this goal can only be accomplished by those who live as disciples of Jesus. To be a disciple is to be formed in the pattern or way of life that conforms to the good news of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. This means that mission is properly aimed toward the formation of disciples who love God with all that they are and love others as themselves. This can only be accomplished by those who live as disciples, formed by God in Christ by the Holy Spirit into this holy way of life. The local church is both the end and means of mission pursued in this way.

If we can grasp the biblical intent of discipleship, we will discover that it reflects the same meaning as Christian formation—including baptism into the local church and eating at the Lord’s Table. The Great Commission also adds that disciples are made through teaching that imparts a way of life marked by obedience to Jesus’s commands. Ultimately, the goal of Christian formation and discipleship is biblical holiness (which is conformity to Christ). Christian formation and discipleship are not merely aimed at evangelism and social compassion; rather, true Christian formation and discipleship foster both evangelism and social compassion as integral aspects of Christian holiness, along with moral transformation and communion with God.

Disciples must always live under the cross as people marked by self-denial and the laying down of one’s life in love for God and neighbour. This is the only true shape of discipleship to Jesus. The warning of Jesus in Luke 9:25 must be heeded by all Christ’s disciples, and especially by all Christian leaders; what looks like success, if it is not Christ-like and cross-shaped, can be deadly. 

Christian discipleship must be worked out in each of these five dimensions: cognitive, affective, relational, physical, and moral/ethical. Growing in these is never complete. The Christian is always on the way. Our formation is both God-oriented and other-oriented, and properly leads to both Christian maturity and disciple-making, to both service in the church and to the world. As partakers in Christ, disciples are those on whom and among whom the powers of the age to come. Eternal life has been given. The kingdom of God, though not fully, is here amongst us. In Christ is the new creation. The life-giving Spirit is at work. The people of God and the entire creation strain towards God’s final fulfillment. Thus, discipleship while deeply engaged in the here and the now, goes beyond itself—too late for the world and still too early for heaven, but already in anticipation of all that God will yet to in the new heavens and the new earth. This means that Christian disciples look to God’s final future and live, pray, and serve so that God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.

As Christ’s church enters the second quarter of the twenty-first century, we sense an urgent need to affirm that those charged with the task of announcing Christ’s good news to all peoples must themselves be people who live as disciples and understand that the proper aim of our mission to all peoples is the formation of those who hear and believe the good news to live as disciples of Jesus (Matt 28:18-20). To this end, we prayerfully urge the following responses among evangelicals around the world:

We must repent of our failures to seek the formation of disciples as the goal of mission and to be formed as disciples for and in mission. Our task in mission, therefore, is not simply one of securing professions of Christian faith. Rather, our task is to announce the message of a crucified Messiah as we live lives that accord with that message with the aim of seeing others do the same. Too often we have failed to live in this way and to pursue this end, resulting in financial mismanagement, sexual scandals, and abuse among leaders and spiritual anemia and immaturity in evangelical churches. We grieve these failings and humbly repent.

We must respect the legacy of Lausanne while finding the future. Lausanne has a rich legacy of clarifying the task of mission, of trumpeting the urgency of mission, and of mobilizing God’s people everywhere to participate in mission. This must be celebrated, commended, and continued. At the same time, there is clear need to transcend current understandings of the relationship between our formation as disciples and mission. 

We acknowledge that much of current evangelical understanding of the Christian life tends to be activist, focusing more on doing than on being. Though priorities and praxis must always be evaluated to ensure that this activism reflects the whole counsel of God rather than cultural and political voices and trends, we heartily affirm the importance of Christian presence as salt and light in the world, not least in the practice of mission. But the salt must not lose its saltiness. Evangelical activism must always be deeply rooted in an active relationship with the Father, through Jesus Christ in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is the indispensable condition for doing mission. 

If the goal of Christian mission is to form disciples and if this is a goal that can only be accomplished by those who live as disciples, it is important to understand that a disciple is a person whose life has been transformed by the gospel. This transformation begins when we repent of our sin and believe the good news. However, like seed planted in good soil, the good news does not bring the fullness of transformation or bear the fruit of transformation all at once. Rather, this transformation takes place over the course of a lifetime in which the increase of holiness and love demonstrates the reality of the gospel’s transforming power. 

Evangelicals have rightly stressed the priority of Scripture, the centrality of the evangel, and the transformation of life. But that life tends to be understood individualistically. Much of evangelical understanding of the Christian life has been shaped by extreme focus on the individual, especially in Western contexts. To be sure, a focus on the individual is necessary and right, as Scripture attests the irreducible necessity of individual faith in Christ as the foundation of Christian discipleship. Nevertheless, the Christian life is essentially relational, such that relationship with God is inseparable from our relationship with our neighbours 

To be a disciple is to be formed in the pattern of life that conforms to the good news of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension by which God in his love has saved his people from their sins and graciously enabled them to live under his holy and righteous rule. As a result, mission is properly aimed toward the formation of disciples whose love for God and love for others are united in an undivided heart. This outcome is properly understood as the work of God to write his law in human hearts—a work that enables us to live as God’s one covenant people made up of all peoples. As the embodiment of this divine achievement, the local church is both the means and the end of mission pursued in this way. 

We must recover the centrality of the local church as the telos of mission. If the end (telos) of mission is the creation of the church, the nature of that end is communion with and in the triune God. The church is the communion of saints. Our mission should, therefore, seek to make disciples who are formed as disciples to live as God’s one, holy people made up of all peoples. Those formed as disciples within churches where love and holiness abound under the reign of Christ will invariably find themselves deeply engaged with a world broken by injustice and sin in their neighbourhoods, workplaces, communities, and societies.

Local churches must ensure that their collective life reflects the pattern of life that conforms to the message of Christ crucified. They do this through the faithful preaching of the gospel, through regular rehearsing of the gospel in baptism and the Lord’s Table, and by gratefully responding to the gospel in prayer and praise. Within the church, believers learn to conduct themselves as citizens of heaven who live lives worthy of that citizenship by mediating the grace conveyed to them by the Spirit to their fellow believers (Eph 2:19; Phil 3:20; 1 Thess 2:12). In this way, individual members are built up in the most holy faith (Jude 1:20) and conformed to the image of Christ by the Spirit and encouraged to live lives of holiness, faith, and the purifying hope of our Lord’s return. 

To move beyond the limitations of an excessive focus on crisis conversion and the excessive individualism will lead us inexorably to embrace the crucial importance of the local church as a pilgrim church. If the church is God’s ‘work of art’ (Eph 2:10), it is a work in progress. The church is in via. We need to stress the ongoing nature of the Christian life so that, while failure is not an excuse it should not be the end for the fallen. There is a disciplining component in discipleship which seeks to restore the fallen. In particular, local churches must ensure that its ministers and missionary agents remain vitally connected to the life of Christ within the church and reflect the ongoing work of God’s Spirit within a local church. 

In his providence, the Lord has raised up parachurch ministries and mission partnership that sharpen and equip his people to be and make disciples. We affirm the importance of these ministries but affirm also the importance of maintaining a clear focus on and connection to the local church as the embodiment of the new humanity that God is forming in Christ. Such ministries honor Christ when they draw on the instruction given to local churches in Scripture for their patterns and principles of accountability, oversight, and structures of plural leadership and governance that preserve the location of spiritual authority in the gospel rather than any single individual.

We must remember the story that forms us as disciples. The good news makes sense within a story that moves from creation to new creation. It is a story that takes shape as the unfolding purpose of God to restore the blessing of participation in the triune life of God in response to human rebellion and sin. He has achieved that restoration through the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. As individuals hear and believe that message, they experience the transformation that comes as the mediation of God’s own life as the regenerating work of the Spirit. This restoration no only reconciles individuals to God but sets them in right relationship with people—a two-fold restoration that they experience within the church, the people of peoples who live in right relationship to him and to one another. This worshiping people has its life within the life of God in Christ by the Spirit. Together, this people lives the life received from God for his glory and calls all people everywhere to join in this life held out to them in the gospel. Soli Deo Gloria.