When I first started reading Saturate, I quickly realized I’d stumbled into a book written by a big proponent of “missional communities.” Due to my limited understanding of their primary purpose, missional communities run counter to my instincts. In my experience, missional communities have often dismissed Sunday church services as old fashioned or unhelpful. They’re seen as remnants of a “once-a-week faith” that don’t do much for Monday morning. This has always struck me as an unnecessary yet unsurprising overreaction to issues in the Western church. Though my assumptions may not be as accurate as I originally suspected, they do come uncomfortably close to reality for many churches in the West. Jeff Vanderstelt mirrors this assumption, but further details the idea of a missional community:
I began to realize that I didn’t fit the typical mold of a church leader either. Yes, I could preach on a stage, but I didn’t fit the “church-as-event-only” approach anymore. I wanted to see people, all people, all kinds of people in every place, mobilized to be the “Jesus-gathered people” on his mission. (25)
The growing and widespread missional community movement is a common reaction to the church. In these missional communities, the focus tends to swing so much toward one aspect of church life that others are relegated and neglected.
But assumptions can be misleading or downright false, and as I continued reading Saturate, I realized the core of the missional community movement seems to be built on an idea of discipleship bearing all the hallmarks of the New Testament witness. This is both a sad and revolutionary idea—sad because it shouldn’t be revolutionary. I heartily recommend this part of Saturate to readers.
Remodeling, Revitalizing, and Reducing
Jeff Vanderstelt is the visionary leader for the Soma Family of Churches and the lead teaching pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. He spends time preaching and mentoring church planters, and when he isn't doing that, he’s sharing life with his family in their missional community. This initially made me skeptical about Saturate. I thought I’d inadvertently found myself reading a sales pitch for joining the missional community movement. But I should have left my preconceptions at the front door because they were out the nearest window when I finished the first chapter.
Saturate not only remodeled my understanding of discipleship and my need for a specific type, it also revitalized my desire to serve the kingdom in my local church while continuing to regularly attend Sunday services. By the last page, I was so stirred and moved to action by the Holy Spirit that I took my umbrella out in the rain and asked God to show me how to put what I was learning into action.
Still, Vanderstelt falls prey to thinking he’s come across a vision never before revealed to mankind, which inevitably alarms some who see Sunday services as necessary Christian activities. Similarly, his view of teaching—the growth from spiritual milk to solid food (Heb. 5:11–14; 1 Peter 2:2)—is oddly small. In direct contradiction to his view of discipleship, Vanderstelt dismisses the idea that a pastor is called to feed his flock (86–91). Rather, he reduces a pastor’s teaching responsibilities to feeding someone solid foods and then sending that person out to teach others as they teach themselves.
A Rich Reservoir
Vanderstelt follows this with three and a half chapters on the importance of discipleship. He only sees three types of discipleship as biblical: life on life, life in community, and life on mission. For churches with well-defined and biblical views of discipleship and a high view of teaching, Vanderstelt’s comments may strike a nerve. Nevertheless, these churches may never read a better treatment on the importance of discipleship.
While I struggle with Vanderstelt’s views on teaching (his thinking is too narrow and he fails to consider the frequent teaching Jesus’ apostles received throughout the New Testament), the second half of the book is a rich reservoir of teaching on discipleship. Churches all across the world would be well served to pin these pages to their bulletin boards.
Vanderstelt reminds us of our blessing in God and of the continuous work of the Trinity. We are all missionaries baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Further, God has blessed us so we can bless others—non-Christian and Christian alike. We’re not called to a life of discipleship that just tacitly acknowledges faith in Jesus, but one that also instructs us to be missionaries, servants, and family. And as family, we can share the rhythms of life together, which Vanderstelt identifies as eat, listen, story, bless, celebrate, and recreate. These seem like common sense categories, but we often ignore them in our busy and once-a-week Christian lives.
Challenge to Discipleship
Saturate is not a book to be taken lightly. It dares you to step up to the plate in the first few pages. Ignoring the rest of the book may mean missing out on what God can do through you. You may not be a proponent of missional communities—I still wouldn’t say I am—but Saturate will challenge you to live a life of intentional discipleship. It may change your definition of discipleship and push you beyond your comfort level, but the ride you’ll find yourself on while reading Saturate is one worth having.
Jeff Vanderstelt. Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015. 256 pp. $19.99.