For the past number of weeks, I have been suggesting practical steps you can take to deepen your discipleship in Christ, primarily through engaging in closer relationships with others. I have emphasized you and one or two others getting together to challenge, encourage, pray, and study.
In talking about small group or more personal means of discipleship, one might think that discipleship is best accomplished by these means. While such personal means of discipleship are necessary, they must come in tandum with your participation in what we could call corporate discipleship. In fact, I do not think you can define discipleship apart from your participation in the life of a local church. What is involved in what I am referring to as corporate discipleship? While there is much I could say, consider the following elements:
Commit yourself to giving Sundays to God’s people. Consider clearing your calendar of any other significant events other than gathering and engaging with God’s people. Why not? Make it your aim to have the gathering of the church be the most important, time-consuming, focus of your day. Plan on having lunch with someone from church. Plan to engage with someone from church on Sunday evening, or attending the evening service. Do not limit your thinking, expectations, or schedule to a small portion of the day. The more significantly you engage the church on each Lord’s Day, the more significantly your relationships with others will grow.
Singing with Understanding and Zeal With the Congregation. Our staff seeks, in advance, to inform the church each week about what songs we will sing. We provide links to the songs that will enable people to download the songs or a video they can use free of charge to become more familiar with what is sung. I personally find it immensely helpful to create a play list and listen to these songs throughout my day on Saturday or at least on Sunday morning in preparation for our gathering, singing and meditating on the lyrics personally. My mental understanding is deeper. My heart’s affections are stirred. I sing with greater zeal and understanding when I prepare my heart in such a way. I long ago forsook the criticism of not knowing a song that may be used on Sunday. With the tools available to us today, little legitimate reason exists that we cannot learn well and sing with clarity and vigor each given Lord’s Day.
Active listening to and contemplation of the exposition of Scripture. Prepare yourself ahead of Sunday by reading the text to be preached. Carefully think through what it is saying. Prayerfully meditate on how it should impact you personally. Intentionally begin to act on those convictions and pray much for those who will attend and lead the service. This is so helpful to preparing your heart to actively engage in the teaching of God’s word on Sunday. Take notes. Bring your Bible and follow along carefully. Jot down questions you might have that would be good for further study or conversation later. Listen and pray for wisdom, insight, understanding, conviction, and change in your own heart.
Praying with intentionality and affirmation with the congregation. Don’t merely sit and listen to those who lead the church in prayer. Pray with them. Affirm to God what is being said. In your mind, appropriate the words being spoken in prayer from the platform as your own to God. Challenge yourself to pray with more focus and intentionality with the entire congregation.
Coming earlier and staying afterward to engage people in attendance. If you will clear your schedule and make Sunday a day of engaging the congregation, this should be no problem. Don’t wait for people to greet you. Initiate greeting others. If you see someone who you do not know sitting alone, introduce yourself. Begin to get to know them. Don’t merely converse with personal friends or those who are in your same stage and status of life. Walk into the doors of your church praying that God will use you significantly in someone’s life, and then go on the hunt for people you are not familiar with or with whom you might not naturally engage in conversation. You will find great benefit in learning from and becoming better acquainted with people are not like you.
Much more could be (perhaps should be) said. But what if we simply began with these suggestions? If you pursue personal discipleship, you will be well served, but only so far as you are also intentionally making the most of the means of corporate discipleship as well. The Body of Christ (your local church) is essential for your spiritual development (Ephesians 4:11-16). Rather than make it important or significant each week, make it the most important and most intentionally pursued activity you engage in on Sunday. You can’t help but grow from it.