the shape of leadership

Mind the Gap

Five dimensions of whole-life discipleship

Charlie Self on September 20, 2023

Mind the gap.”

It’s a familiar phrase in the United Kingdom, warning rail passengers to watch their step when moving between trains and platforms.

Perhaps we should post a similar message near our church exits. After all, pastors often lament the disconnect between what churchgoers say they believe and how they live at home and in the workplace.

What’s the solution? In a word, discipleship. I’m not talking about another church program. Discipleship is a holistic process of becoming more like Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is what Jesus had in mind when He told His followers to “make disciples,” “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20).

It’s what the apostle Paul envisioned when he said God’s grace “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12).

Biblical discipleship touches every aspect of human life, with the evidence of the Spirit’s transforming work following Christians wherever they go — filling the gaps between Sunday profession and Monday practice.

To set this process in motion, we must address five dimensions of whole-life discipleship.


Discipleship in Five Dimensions

Discipleship starts with spiritual formation. The foundational dimension of Christianity is loving God completely, in response to His great love for us (Matthew 22:37–40; John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:16; 4:7–10).

This is the motivation for spiritual disciplines, including prayer, listening to God’s voice, practicing solitude, church participation, biblical living, and sharing the gospel.

A pastor I know in California sought God’s wisdom for teaching basic spiritual disciplines to a congregation of busy professionals. He sensed the Spirit leading them to start with a few minutes at a time throughout each day.

The pastor asked several busy lay leaders to join him for several weeks. He trained them to memorize Bible verses and meditate on them. The pastor reminded them to quiet their hearts before God during stressful times at work. He taught them to practice forgiveness and grace.

Despite intense schedules, the results were encouraging. There were enthusiastic testimonies of greater spiritual, emotional, and relational health.

The second discipleship dimension is personal wholeness, or emotional maturity.

Outcomes include a positive self-image based on identity in Christ (Romans 8:15–17; 2 Corinthians 5:17); hope for the future (Romans 8:18–39; 1 Peter 1:3–4); self-discipline (Galatians 5:22–23; 2 Peter 1:4–9); an ability to manage negative emotions (Psalm 37:1–11; Ephesians 4:31; James 1:19–20); a clear conscience (Romans 5:1–11; Hebrews 9:14; 1 John 1:9; 2:1–2); and generosity (2 Corinthians 9:6).

In The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Peter Scazzero points out there is no biblical distinction between spiritual and emotional maturity.

Of course, mental health struggles can hinder an individual’s progression toward personal wholeness. Most pastors lack the training and resources to care for these needs. Therefore, I recommend developing a referral list of Christian counselors, doctors, and other professionals.

I made many referrals during my years as a pastor. As a result, I saw marriages restored, people overcoming addictions, and individuals working through trauma. Several believers also listened to their doctors and changed their diet and exercise habits.

Attentive church leaders, a loving community of faith, and skilled Christian professionals are valuable partners in the discipleship process.

The third dimension is healthy relationships, or neighbor love. This includes interaction within families, church communities, neighborhoods, workplaces, and online spaces.

Attentive church leaders, a loving community of faith,
and skilled Christian professionals are valuable partners
in the discipleship process.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37), Jesus taught that Christian love extends to people groups outside our own — even to those we might otherwise think of as enemies.

The apostle John warned believers not to separate God’s love from the command to love others (1 John 2:3–11). The love described here is agape love — selflessly desiring the best for one another.

Agape love sent Jesus into the world (John 3:16–17). It was the reason He willingly suffered and died for us on the cross (Mark 10:45).

This relational dimension of discipleship focuses on outcomes such as forgiveness (Matthew 6:12,14; Colossians 3:13); hospitality (Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9); unity within marriages (1 Peter 3:7); biblical attitudes toward sexuality (1 Corinthians 6:18–20; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8); and sensitivity to the marginalized (Luke 7:36–50).

In a self-centered world, churches should be communities of grace and truth, pointing people to hope and redemption through Christ.

The fourth area of concern is vocational clarity. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin vocare, meaning “calling.” This is about more than where a person works. God calls all believers to honor, obey, and worship Him, and to share His truth with others.

Believers also have particular callings, talents, fields of service, and spiritual gifts (Romans 12:4–8; Ephesians 2:10). Professions and workplaces are aspects of vocational clarity, but disciples should also understand that any labor can be Kingdom work.

Ministers can help congregants discover their spiritual gifts and talents and find ways to use them inside and outside the Church. As people mature, the Lord will reveal the spaces He is calling them to influence.

Other practical outcomes include the formation of mentoring relationships (2 Timothy 2:2); teamwork and unity (1 Corinthians 12:12–31); and a desire to seek the common good (Matthew 5:16; 1 Timothy 2:1–4).

The fifth dimension is daily participation in the world of economics and work. Work encompasses all meaningful and moral activity apart from leisure or rest. It includes paid and unpaid labor, leading and reporting to a leader, and home and professional life. It involves what we do for pay and how we participate in local and global economies.

Johan Mostert suggests that when Christians pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), they are praying for a good economy. Yes, God can send manna and multiply bread and fish, but His blessings of food, clothing, and shelter usually come through our work and the work of others.

Outcomes in this dimension include workplace ethics (2 Thessalonians 3:11–12; Colossians 3:17,23–24); creativity and innovation (Exodus 31:1–11; Psalm 78:72); and care for the environment (Genesis 2:15).

Jesus is not just saving souls. He is redeeming whole persons — body, mind, and spirit. Discipleship is for every part of life.


Closing Gaps

With a fresh vision of whole-life discipleship in view, there are three questions to consider.

1. How can our church reflect a whole-life perspective in all communication — from mission and vision statements to preaching?

Think about how the church’s mission statements apply to an average congregant’s life on a Tuesday afternoon.

“Glorifying God,” for example, isn’t just for the worship service. It can also involve offering daily work as worship. “Growing together” is something that can take place in small groups, but it can also happen in marriages.

2. What can we do to highlight whole-life discipleship across all our ministries? Every age and stage should have a holistic focus.

A children’s and family life pastor in one church reframed the five dimensions as affirmations even elementary-age kids could understand: “I feel close to Jesus” (spiritual formation). “I like me” (personal wholeness). “I am getting along with family and friends” (healthy relationships). “I know what I am good at” (vocational clarity). “I am doing my chores and schoolwork for Jesus” (work).

It would be great if all the adults in our churches could say those things!

3. How well are we preparing congregants for Monday? This starts with treating daily work as inherently good and a way to serve God.

Whole-life discipleship closes the sacred-secular divide — and the Sunday-Monday gap — as people begin to see everything they do as worship and a vital part of the Church’s witness.


This article appears in the Summer 2023 issue of Influence magazine.

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