Removing Idols of the Heart that Prevent Missional Living

The disciple-making process can stall when idols of the heart distract disciples from joining God in his mission (1 Cor. 3:3; Heb. 5:12). In Western contexts, the threat of consumerism especially prevents missional living. This threat is found not only in the shopping mall but in the church as well. In our consumer-oriented culture, worship can become “all about me” where Christians “church shop” until they find a place that satisfies their wants. But, as Hirsch posits, “discipleship is all about adherence to Christ.” The antithesis of consumerism ideology is missional ecclesiology. As Guder suggests, missional disciple-making is “reforming a group of consumer, needs-centered individuals to live by an alternative narrative.” This alternative narrative, the gospel, must transform disciples to think, act, and live like Jesus Christ.

In the book Worship and Mission after Christendom, Alan Kreider and Eleanor Kreider speak of the need for Christians to de-idolize. De-idolizing begins by naming or identifying idols that prevent missional living, turning from them, and then nurturing affections of the heart that promote missional living. Sometimes the excuses not to engage in missional living are indicators of idols of the heart. Only by submitting in obedience to the will of the Father, to the reign of Jesus Christ, and to the work of the Holy Spirit, can idols lose their power.

Cultivating affections of the heart also raises the importance of spiritual transformation—the metamorphosis or change from a previous state or form to another. In the Scriptures, spiritual transformation is described as: “the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2), being “conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom 8:29), and having “Christ … formed in you,” (Gal 4:19). Again, new spiritual habits must displace old carnal habits and new Christ-like reflexes must replace former self-centered reflexes (Gal. 2:20; 5:16–26).

In church history, John Wesley advocated three groups, namely, the society, the class, and the band. While the society was a large group for Christian instruction, and the class was a group of twelve that focused on Christian behavior, the band was an intimate group of four (men with men and women with women) to cultivate affections of the heart toward God and Christ-like living. More recently Breen has popularized the use of huddles to help disciples identify kairos moments, and then respond in repentance and faith to join God in his work. Similarly, as suggested by Neil Cole, Life Transformation Groups that are comprised of two or three people, meet weekly to foster accountability in Bible reading, to confess sin, and to pray. All of these accountability-sized groups are designed to cultivate affections of the heart for missional living.

Certainly spiritual practices and habits help us overcome idols of the heart and old habits. Solitude and fasting can break the chains of lust or sexual sin. Worship can release us from preoccupation with ourselves. Keeping a prayer journal can help us overcome bitterness with joy and gratitude. Practicing the presence of Christ can help us overcome temptations to old vices and addictions. Nevertheless, spiritual habits are not ends in themselves as Bill Hull states: “The aim and substance of following Jesus shouldn’t be about prayer, Bible study, or meditation. These tools simply serve the greater purpose of knowing God. They help us develop intimacy with God and fitness for serving.”




1. Keller, Center Church, 271; Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 106, 109.

2. William A. Beckham, The Second Reformation: Reshaping the Church for the 21st Century (Houston: Touch, 1995), 44–50. Cf. Thomas White and John M. Yeats, Franchising McChurch: Feeding Our Obsession with Easy Christianity (Elgin, IL: David C. Cook, 2009).

3. Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 106.

4. Guder, ed., Missional Church, 183, 200.

5. Kreider and Kreider, Worship and Mission After Christendom, 32.

6. Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009), 165–177; Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate Field Guide: Principles for Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life (Bellevue, WA: Saturate, 2016), 33–37; Kreider and Kreider, Worship and Mission after Christendom, 182–183.

7. Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship, 188.

8. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 134–135.

9. Ibid., 146, 154, 191.

10. D. Michael Henderson, A Model for Making Disciples: John Wesley’s Class Meeting (Anderson, IN: Francis Asbury Press, 1997), 83–126.

11. Breen, Building a Discipling Culture, 38–42; 55–66.

12. Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship, 195.

David M. Gustafson