A Balanced Diet of Discipleship

“I just want to be fed.” Chances are that if you’ve been around church life for any length of time, you have heard some variation of this criticism. Many Christians today have a strong desire (and rightfully so) to go “deeper” into God’s Word. They come to a gathering on a weekend, hear the Gospel preached, and leave feeling like the content was too “shallow” and needed more “meat.” What’s the solution? I believe the answer can be found in part by comparing the growth of our physical lives to that of our spiritual lives.

If you have ever attempted to go on a diet, you probably know that the key to a healthy body is balanced eating habits. Good diets promote a certain amount of protein, dairy, fruits, and so on. Each food group in combination is beneficial. However, at the same time, any food group in isolation is detrimental. The protein from meat can be a positive component of a healthy diet when supplemented by the other food groups. But, if you only eat meat as the sole component of your diet, then you’ll eventually get scurvy and die.

The same is true for our spiritual lives. Discipleship and sanctification (e.g., growing to look more like Christ) is meant to be pursued in a balanced lifestyle within God’s ordained means of the local church. Every individual grows from the experiences they have personally, with those closest to them, and with their community as a whole. At Vintage Church, we define these life expressions as the individual, community groups, and the corporate gathering. In order for a Christian to grow up into maturity in Christ, discipleship and sanctification must be happening in each of these spheres. When one area is missing from a Christian’s life, the whole person struggles.

In this sense, think of discipleship like a cone. At the top and widest part of the cone is the weekend worship gathering of the church. For many, this is an entry point into the discipleship community of the church. Here, the gathering functions as a “wartime hospital,” encouraging believers to live the gospel, love the city, and be the church by worshiping together as a body, participating in communion in remembrance of the cross, and hearing the beauty, love, and glory of God proclaimed through the preaching of his Word. As we move further into the cone, we come to community groups. At this level, with people sitting in circles rather than just rows, “deeper” discussion is able to be had as a group of believers work together to apply the truths of God’s Word to their lives, encouraging one another in prayer and participating in acts of service for the advancement of God’s kingdom. Yet, this is not the base of the cone. Moving further downward, the cone continues to narrow with individual discipleship. At this point, Christians are able to have even more direct and in-depth contact with the truth of God’s Word, the heart of his character, and the actions of his Spirit by being engaged with one to two other individuals. In individual discipleship, the deepest issues of the heart are able to surface in transparent trust and be sanctified by pointing one another to a strengthened identity in Jesus Christ. Once more, however, we must continue to move downward from here to the narrow tip of the cone: the individuals themselves. If Christians are to grow in maturity internally and externally, they must begin by personally pursuing Christ in their own study, affections, and actions.

These four expressions (e.g., the corporate gathering, community groups, individual discipleship, the individual) work together to grow a believer into maturity in Christ. If one is missing or struggling, it will affect every other expression. This equally applies to content like it does to community. Christians need both the broad, encouraging expression of corporate worship as well as the in-depth study of God’s Word, doctrine, and theology. So, in one sense, those with the criticism that they “need to go deeper” than what is being provided at the worship gathering are absolutely right. Weekend worship and a 35 minute sermon, no matter who is preaching it, will never suffice as the sole element of discipleship in a Christian’s life. Every believer needs to pursue a deep understanding of who God is and what he has done, not just paid theologians and pastors. When any of the more narrow expressions of discipleship (i.e. Individual study, mentorship, and community groups) do not exist in a Christian’s life, the person will naturally look to the expressions of the church they are involved in to meet the needs of “depth” and “meat” that they are not getting elsewhere.

So, for anyone who is struggling as a believer with a need to be “fed more” in their church, I would encourage you to work your way down the cone of discipleship towards a more balanced diet. Individual discipleship, community groups, and the corporate gathering are not three “programs” to be chosen as a believer sees fit but rather three natural pieces of a puzzle necessary in a believer’s life to complete the picture of Christ through sanctification. Are you being fully discipled?