I have a horrible habit of staring at all of the merchandise that grocery stores pack into the small checkout aisle while standing in line for the register. Sometimes I catch myself getting caught up in the Hollywood gossip, or having a moment of nostalgia while looking at the bubble tape gum or being impressed that its possible to make cinnamon flavored toothpicks.
It was in this randomness that the idea for HOPEsmalls was born. While in line one day I noticed a little tin can labeled Altoids smalls sitting right next to the full size can of Altoids. The Altoids smalls were exactly what the label stated… small Altoids. There really was no implication that the makers of Altoids felt that there was anything wrong with the larger Altoids, only that occasionally you might need a smaller one.
Jesus told his disciples in Acts 28:19-20,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus had this idea of having his disciples participate in making and developing more disciples. Now the label “disciple” can be weird, but for those of us who follow Jesus it is an important label to understand. The real essence of the word “disciple” conveys more than simply playing a game of “follow the leader” with Jesus; it is the idea of being his student. Luis Palau states simply that, “A disciple of Jesus is a lifelong student.” Not just the student who grudgingly comes to class or the student who is sleeping in class, but the student who is excited to be in class and also diligent in his studying and assignments. Jesus wants his followers to be students of himself. He wants them to learn from Him and about Him and also allow Him to change them so that they begin to reflect him in character, love, and action. The idea of being a disciple is participating in the process of Jesus being formed in you.
When a person becomes a disciple of Jesus they automatically become a member of the Church. Now whether or not they attend a local church is another issue, however, it is important to know that Jesus wants His disciples to not simply be in a church, but to be an active part of their local church. Discipleship, the process of being a disciple, is best lived out in a local church. When you picture the word “church” a thousand images may come to mind, some good, some not so good, but an image that most people picture is a large group of people sitting in a large room facing the front for about an hour and a half. In this hour and a half you might be invited to stand and sing a few songs, maybe told to say “hi” to the person sitting next to you and then close it out with about 30 minutes from the preacher talking about something in the Bible. And while this is important and it does help facilitate a disciple’s learning and growing, it falls short of a complete discipleship process. You see good discipleship cannot be fully achieved simply by sitting in church week after week. Herein lies the dilemma.
It was exactly this dilemma that I was thinking of while staring at the full size Altoids and the Altoid smalls in the grocery store checkout line. A local church must grow smaller, allowing for more personal interaction between disciples, if it wants to do discipleship well. This doesn’t mean that the church service every Sunday morning is bad, it is simply incomplete. Disciples of Jesus must be encouraged to enter into relationships and smaller teaching environments where they are able to live life with other disciples. Notice the description given by Luke in the book of Acts regarding the early church,
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Now I’m not advocating that we sell everything we own and all move in together. But what I am advocating is that we learn to fellowship and hangout together as disciples and to share a meal every once in a while in each other’s homes. It is only in doing this that we are able to grow into strong disciples, mature disciples. It is while disciples of Jesus are hanging out together that they are able to spend time talking about spiritual things and praying for each other’s needs.
This is the heartbeat behind HOPEsmalls. You see, Hope Chapel may not be a mega-church, but it is still big enough that it can be difficult to find meaningful relationships simply by coming to our Sunday morning program. But you can find meaningful relationships by getting involved in a Sunday school class, an on campus Bible study, or a Small group. It is the idea of a small can of HOPEsmalls sitting on the shelf right next to the regular size Hope Chapel metal tin. Both good and both necessary.
All Scripture references taken from the ESV translation of the Bible