Archive for discipleship
It is both good and comforting to know that someone is responsible to ensure that the church is open at set times, that everything will be prepared for every meeting, that the worship service or outreach program will run smoothly. It is seemingly ideal if the person that will tend to these tasks is also seminary trained so that they will be qualified and able to pass out food to the hungry on behalf of the congregation and answer the complex questions of a child that is seeking to walk with Christ so a parent will not get tripped up.
Seeing how effective and eloquent professional ministers can be may lead lesser disciples bring the lost to the expert so that he can explain the love of God without error. Surely this is good. Surely he knows how to communicate with your co-workers, friends, and neighbors better than you do. Perhaps the shared community and history are irrelevant when sharing a contextualized gospel message.
As the son of a carpenter, Jesus would have been taught in this trade throughout his formative years. From the tribe of Judah, Jesus should have left the priestly activities to the Levites. But He didn’t. Neither personally or in tasking others. Jesus took a ragamuffin group of men that were completely untrained and unqualified except for having spent time with Him out to declare that “the Kingdom of God is near you.” Multiple times. And the results? They were great. Really great. Upon hearing of what God the Father did through the lives of these very normal disciples, Jesus said: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Luke 10:21).
In the early church, the use of regular, everyday people had great impact. Early in the book of Acts the religious leaders “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men. The author of Acts continued to say that the religious leaders “took note that [Peter and John] had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13) “Being with Jesus” was the requisite, transforming qualification for one to be able to impact the lives of others for His glory. That was the requirement to lead. That was what it took to function in the realm of the great. In this regard, not much has changed.
(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)
This brief talk has significant implications in both the disciple-making and the church-planting process. Thanks to Larry McCrary, a founder of The Upstream Collective, for alerting me to the video.
To move forward, it is first essential that we identify our Why?, How? and What? Though not the only options, some major options are as follows:
Why? – For glory. But a follow-on that each must wrestle with is whether it is about His glory and/or ours?
How? – Make disciples and/or plant churches. Also may include acts of justice, blogging, writing articles and books, speaking, etc. There is an interesting discussion on this going on at David Fitch’s blog today.
What? – So many options here. Perhaps a point for consideration begins with the video in yesterday’s post.
Are we starting with and maintaining focus on the Why?, the How?, or the What? What are the implications?
Key principle #8 for moving discipleship from great to good: Equate worship with song.
The music starts softly and builds throughout the verses as it crescendos to a grand, sustained chorus that celebrates the matchless glory of God. Beautiful. Fortissimo. It stirs the emotions causing some to stand, some to clap, others to raise their hands, and perhaps others to cry. It stirs the heart and provides an emotional release. It feels great. It is good.
Worship is beautiful in the realm of good. Trained musicians lead people through a set of songs that prepare people to hear from God. Creativity and talent abound. Churches providing a place to share a special worship song starts or advances the careers of many of the top names in today’s pop culture scene. These are the people who transition from worship to performance. As for worship, though, each set is prepared, rehearsed, and executed in the allocated time. It is a part of the church experience. It is part of a disciple’s life.
Jesus was both a practitioner and an advocate of worship. With 11 of his disciples, he sang after sharing a last meal with them. To the Samaritan woman, he spoke about the worshiper that God seeks–one that “worship[s] in spirit and in truth.” He worshiped the Father while in the midst of temptation in the wilderness. He worshiped as He proclaimed the gospel to individuals and groups; fed 5,000; sent the disciples out; told parables; healed people; and died on the cross. His was a life of worship. It was great.
Later Paul would write about the practical living out of our lives in light of how exalted God is. He writes: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” The idea was not new. The model of this lifestyle–Emmanuel–is there for us to examine and follow as we study the gospels. This is a worship worth passing to a disciple. A worship worth living. Worship that is great.
more and less
Worship includes music. It must. David, Asaph and others were fans in the Psalms. Miriam sang at length. John records a bunch of singing and praise occurring throughout heaven in Revelation. However, to share that the emphasis placed on song throughout the gospels and Acts is not a primary area of emphasis is actual if not an understatement. In the first five books of the New Testament, worship often takes the form of prayer as well as time together with both Christ followers and those that were not yet resolved to do so. Worship is recorded as personal sacrifice and even death. We see worship lived out in the life of the individual and in community.
(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)
It has happened before. Recently, I am aware of situations where it has happened again. What if a leader was suddenly, unexpectedly unable to talk for an extended period of time? What if the best (and worst) sermons a pastor could give were already taught? What if a teacher’s audible lessons in discipleship were already taught? What would it look like now? How would the disciple(s) do?
I have seen and experienced situations where those who were making disciples relocated in places far from the disciples they were training. Perhaps we thought they were ready. Maybe not. It is beyond us…still at times it hurts.
This weekend I had the privilege of meeting Brother Sam in person. We didn’t talk much because he was unable. Due to significant pain in his mouth of late, he visited the doctor and learned that he has oral cancer. More tests and treatment are soon to come. My prayers go out to him, his family, and his church. I look forward to having opportunities to sit and talk with him in the future. Through being with him and praying for him at this time, however, I have been prompted to ask many questions.
What if I lived my life with the expectation that I would soon be mute and no longer able to teach or disciple those walking with me? What would I do differently? What if, as one who makes disciples, I was suddenly unable to speak? What would I do to help advance others in walking more as He did? What if all the lessons I could ever teach were by example? How much would I pray? How much would I serve? How much would I think of others as better than myself? What changes would that make in how I view church?
The industrial revolution changed our world forever. Factories produced more product out the back end of the assembly line than several individual shops had been able to manufacture collectively. This changed so much. Levels of income were impacted, work hours, education for a white collar group of people, urban shift began, etc. Industrialization also changed the church. Caring for the needy (among other things) became a process that mirrored the assembly line schematics. Roles were given and systems put in place to facilitate the church’s ability to meet the needs of the poor. And it was good.
Through collection of tithes and offerings, some of the budget is allocated to caring for the poor. With funds collected, some staff or lay people go with huge hearts to buy food to stock a food closet for the poor. When hungry families come to get food, they have a form to fill in, a meeting with a pastor to hear the gospel, and a bag of food. Then, their names are recorded to start the clock for them to be able to return for food in 1, 3, or 6 months time. Through this good, there is a way for the hungry to be fed and an opportunity for one or a select few to be about sharing the gospel.
It seems that so much less could be so much more at this point. Jesus speaks to His disciples about a day when He will separate the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. The distinction between the two that He gives in Matthew 25 is that some fed the hungry and clothed the naked while others did not. He speaks of a personal accounting here, not of the churched and the unchurched. The expectation is clear. It is a daily outworking of the Lordship of Christ that causes a person to see with His eyes of compassion. The ramifications are enormous. It is the difference between being blessed or cursed by God.
If instead of the needy waiting in an office to meet with someone to learn about God to then have their physical need met, what would it look like if a family seeking to follow Christ showed up with a hot meal at the home of the needy? Instead of a meal delivered it could be a meal served up personally or a meal shared. While obeying Christ’s command to feed the hungry, the disciple is also obeying the command to make disciples. What if the homeless was invited to dine in a restaurant with a disciple-maker and a disciple or two. Then after dinner, more food is given to the needy. And the family or group of disciples that began to bless continued the relationship and blessed further and helped and served. Further help may come about in the areas of helping the needy find work, manage finances, care for children, and in the process learn about the One who sends others to bless. In the realm of great discipleship, the church is released into the community to serve and bless others and carry the hope of Christ into families that desperately need it.
a little on money
Serving the poor in this way does not mean that church funds do not need to go to serving the poor anymore. There still will be issues far beyond what a family or two or three can meet. This could be assisted through funds from a larger church budget. The discipleship process could start with a stock of food that the pastoral staff gives to the disciples going to bless and form relationship and a time for them to pray together for wisdom and multiplication of the resources. However, when a family gets involved, things are different–especially when children participate. It has been my experience that the children will want to give some of their own food and money to meet the needs of those that they are serving. Discipleship is inevitable at this point. It is great…it cannot be easily stopped.
(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)
A disciple communicates the hope he or she has in Christ to those who are without. In the realm of good discipleship, efforts to share the gospel often center around big events that attract the community to a church or group-hosted event. These events, designed for creating an opportunity to make a gospel presentation, take many forms. These include, but are not limited to: concerts, carnivals, circuses, living nativities, block parties, etc. These good events serve as spots in time that allow for a precision sharing of the plan of salvation. Ongoing opportunities to share the love of Christ and live transformed lives may happen in subsequent big events.
The writers of the gospels did not record any big-event evangelism in the gospels. While there were some gatherings of large crowds, these were not used as opportunities to share the 3 key steps to accepting Christ or the 4 spiritual laws. Instead, Jesus shared about his audience’s incorrect understanding of the law as well as the practical ramifications of a life placed in His trust during the Sermon on the Mount. Other key events included the trial of Jesus. He was silent. A third big event was His crucifixion. His words were few.
In the realm of great discipleship, we see Jesus interacting personally with a Samaritan woman at a well; in the cover of night with Nicodemus; meeting often with his disciples; visiting at someone else’s home along with his disciples or in the midst of a social gathering; and being a visitor at another’s home during a time of grief. In many of these cases, these were the beginning or continuation of an ongoing relationship.
Go BIG or go home
In what is usually referred to as the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19-20 is Christ’s charge to His followers. Translated usually as “Go…make disciples,” I wonder if this promotes a big event, big production mentality. A command that often is viewed as being of primary importance–Go! What does it look like if we follow a closer translation? If we seek to “As [we] go, make disciples.” It is a process that is lived throughout the duration of our lives. It is daily. Constant. Ongoing. It is relationships. And context. Perhaps instead of “go big or go home,” our thinking should mirror the Energizer bunny. We are to “keep going, and going, and going….”
- “We have to assume now that all mission is cross-cultural.” ~ Alan H
- “It’s not that the church has a mission, but the mission has a church.” ~ Alan Hirsch
- (Speaking about planting churches,) “I’m not even sure what we are trying to do the world wants.” ~ Shawn Lovejoy
- “If you do church to reach church, then you’ll reach somebody else’s Christians.” ~ Hugh Halter
- “The [Christian story] is a peasant’s movement.” ~ Hugh Halter
- “…community has to be the witness now.” ~ Hugh Halter
- “You cannot sell a Christendom approach to a post-Christian world. They are anti-Christian.” ~ Alan Hirsch
- “Go among the people. Don’t assume you know what church looks like.” ~ Alan Hirsch
- “You plant the gospel. You don’t plant churches.” ~ Alan Hirsch
One great bonus to being a follower of Christ is that transformation occurs. This is true not only in a person’s life, but also in a community. Missionaries share that when an entire village comes to Christ that the village is visibly transformed in terms of sanitation, meeting each others needs, etc. To take this reality and limit discipleship to the realm of good, then it will be important to ensure that discipleship happens in communities and with peoples that have already been transformed. Doing this will put disciples of Christ in situations where they can interact with those that are followers of Christ or followers of a moral code that mimics some of the changes of a transformed life. As a result, disciples pursuing good are safer and able to avoid some difficult, uncomfortable, or morally challenging situations.
Hermetic environments can include doing all discipleship inside the church, in homes of upper-middle class believers, inside conference settings, in cultural contexts that are familiar, etc. Additionally, for further good, extensive opportunities to disciple or be discipled in a safe context, believers can consider massing as residents in select neighborhoods. These could, once again, be in higher income areas or even gated communities. Also, this congregating of disciples can occur in a select country or countries.
Jesus walked. He moved. He got dust on His feet. The same dust that stuck to His feet also stuck to the disciples’ feet. Making a strong point, Jesus washed the dust off the disciples’ feet. He walked on the streets in the cities and into the homes of sinners and tax collectors. He walked through other towns that were not places that were normal for a Jew to walk. Places that may not have been safe. Walking with His Father and walking with others, he did not pursue safety. Interacting with the sick, morally depraved, and diseased, He was Truth and Love to a people that had not encountered Him before.
At the end of John’s gospel, we read of a setting when Jesus meets with His disciples while there appear to have been fish flopping on the ground. What an environment for teaching. This was a call to Peter and to the disciples to make a decision if they wanted to pursue a life of fishing for fish or for men. Either course would involve some real settings with real people. One pursuit would matter forever, while the other would matter for a few hours. After this, they understood that this was not a call to either equality or comfort. But it was a great call–the only worthwhile thing they could pursue.
both / and
I find that evangelicals have historically been very in favor of a Jesus who saves. But He said, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.” His life is emblematic of seeking the lost. He was also about saving the lost that He encountered. This is a both/and construct that He is passionate about. In the Great Commission recorded in Matthew He really calls us to “make disciples” “as we go.” According to his instruction and example, the going is a large part of the discipleship process. As a result, the environment in which discipleship occurs is constantly changing.
Key principle #4 for moving discipleship from great to good: Plan a comprehensive, ever-expanding syllabus approach to making disciples.
A good discipleship program consists of the things a person needs to learn or know to be more Christ-like. The curriculum generally is sufficient for a number of months, a year, or more. Through detailed planning, leadership will equip followers to have the requisite knowledge for whatever may come their way. Once the prescribed curriculum is studied and possibly even mastered, it will be time to move on to the most recent iteration of curriculum and syllabus.
Graduation is possible and will happen in the realm of good when the need for another discipler becomes more urgent than the need for the individual to be discipled. At times this will mean that a dynamic disciple is developing other disciples. At other times someone who has experienced little transformation and possesses little passion will be responsible for helping others grow in the image of Christ. This is not cause for significant concern, however, as the prescribed curriculum is good and sufficient to offset the deficiencies of a non-transformed disciple-maker.
In the pursuit of great discipleship, Jesus was about showing the Father to the disciples and training them to obey. He prayed with and for his disciples in John 17: “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world….they have obeyed your word.” How did he get to this point of maturity with his disciples? He lived life with them. When his mom told him to go and take care of the shortage of wine problem, he obeyed (Jn 2). And he transformed water into the best wine in the ceremonial pots. He could have arranged to conduct a series of lessons with the disciples on: obeying the 10 commandments including command #5; the deity and humanity of the Messiah; and the role of religion in the community. He did, however, teach on these things. Actually he lived in such a way that these were addressed effectively. It was great–a great life, and great lessons.
With the Discipler removed, graduation was a bit of a necessity. But these followers knew the Savior who had consistently pointed them to the Father. They had the core curriculum mastered. Jesus prayed, “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.” They did not have all of the information learned. But they knew where it came from. They had been promised the Holy Spirit that would continue to teach and convict them. It was time. Time for the Discipler to continue a life of submissive obedience that consistently impacted the lives of others. It was time for the disciples to start their journey at a new level of faith resulting in new expressions of obedience–resulting in new disciples. It was time for great discipleship to continue and impact more lives.
Less and More
It has often intrigued me that for collegiate studies a topic is taught for 16 weeks or for some 45 to 48 hours. Whether the topic is anthropology, astrophysics, computer science, or speech class it takes 16 weeks or 45 hours to cover. It seems to me that some courses may possibly do better with 2 weeks of instruction and others at 22 weeks. Systems dictate that what can be learned through a university program will take 16 weeks even if it is 11 weeks of content. This brings order to the system and a clearly defined point for graduation. This is good enough for many things in life.
Key principle #3 for moving discipleship from great to good: Celebrate learning and knowledge as both the process and the goal of discipleship.
When pursuing good discipleship, it is helpful for the individual and the church to focus on learning as at least a primary objective. The number of Bible studies one has completed, books read, speakers listened to, and conferences attended can all be indicators of how well a person is coming along in their discipleship process. More advanced discipleship in the vein of the good may include: committing to memory arguments in apologetics, learning the beliefs of other religions, memorizing Scripture, pursuing some level of proficiency in systematic theology, etc.
Celebrations of the good seem to be effective when helping people understand they have graduated from some level of study through acknowledging their course completion publicly, presenting an object such as a certificate or a t-shirt, graduating from a course of study, etc. Stratifying disciples in levels of learning may help a group know that they still have a ways to go to become more discipled–to attain the good. For example if a person is sitting in a beginner’s course or a 101 level, he may look with a holy anticipation and inspiration at the people in the 301 and 401 levels. Press on.
The church can employ phrases to help celebrate and motivate disciples to learn the latest requisite information. Phrases worth consideration that may advance this motif could include being a “life-long learner” or talking about our quest as a journey “to know Him.” When emphasizing the data acquisition that is necessary to know more about Christ, these phrases may be helpful to achieve no better than the level of good.
Frankly, I don’t think Jesus excelled at putting together programs of curriculum. I can only remember reading of one pop quiz that He gave His followers. While verbally, Peter passes the test, his actions soon after show that he had not fully embraced the truth.
Instead of emphasizing information acquisition, Jesus talked about salt being salty and light having the properties and effects of light. He spoke about and lived a life of action. He shared that, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (Jn 5). This was discipleship that was no less than great.
Jesus’ method of discipleship seems to have stuck pretty well with his disciples as they did a whole lot of Jesus-like actions after He returned to heaven. We find them writing about the same ideas. James puts it succinctly in his letter that we are not to be people who just hear the Bible, but we are to live it.
Thom Wolf states that in the West, “we are educated beyond our obedience.” In places where God is moving in miraculous ways around the world, there is usually (I am not currently aware of an exception) a large number of new believers that are playing integral roles in networks such as church-planters and leaders whether officially or unofficially. New believers that learn one thing and obey it fully are more obedient than seasoned believers that know 10 things and obey 7 of them. Also, the disciple that has just learned and obeyed one thing is then able to share this with someone who has not learned and obeyed this yet. Information in this situation is vital as it directly impacts obedience. Life-long learning here is essential as it is intertwined with transformation and obedience.