First Things First

C.S. Lewis writes, “Put first things first and you get the second things thrown in. Do second things first and you lose both the first and second things.”

The question I am asked most about disciple-making is, “What curriculum do you use to make disciples?” It sounds like a perfectly legitimate question to our Western ears but it is a “second thing” question. It is a question that would have seemed strange to our brothers and sisters in the first century, not dissimilar to asking a parent today, “What curriculum did you use to raise your children?” Or inquiring, “What curriculum do you and your friend follow to build your relationship?”

The “first thing” in disciple-making is love and although there is a place for curriculum in disciple-making, it cannot be the first thing. To place curriculum first there is the risk that spiritual formation will not happen. There is a higher prospect that discipleship will occur when your disciples experience your laying down your life for them.

The last night that Jesus was with his disciples he explained to them what they had experienced over the past 3 years. He had loved them the same way that the heavenly Father had loved him and he had created a setting where these twelve men could learn how to love one another. Jesus makes clear that the mark of a follower of Jesus is love for other disciples when he states, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, by your love for one another.” John 13:35

Jesus did not leave us a curriculum to follow but a compelling and effective model.

Where to from here:

  1. Ask the Lord to give you an opportunity to serve each of your disciples in a tangible way. (Ride to airport, paint a room, babysit a child, visit them or family member in hospital, etc.)
  2. Organize a group meal with those that you have been investing in spiritually so that they can meet one another or to get to know one another on a deeper level, whether if be two people or ten people.
  3. Explain your hope that they as a group will be able to love one another, using the teaching of Jesus and the example of his twelve disciples.
  4. Over a period of time have each disciple tells his story to the group. (Most will never have an opportunity to tell their life story.)

 

 

Teaching Your Disciple to Belong

Often people ask me what does making disciples of Jesus look like on a practical level?

The first thing I tell them is to create a space for your disciple to belong. How Jesus taught his disciples the love of the God was to draw them into a community in order for them to experience belonging with 11 other people. (If you make a place to belong the Holy Spirit will send people for you to disciple.) For those of you with families you already have a core to draw a disciple into.

Doug Cooper writes, “There’s a drive in a lost soul—in one that is searching for acceptance, companionship, belonging, whatever you want to call it. The slightest coincidence ignites a spark that one hopes will lead to something meaningful.” [1]

The depth of love that the Heavenly Father has for your disciple is same love that God has for his own Son, Jesus. Jesus said to his Father: Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”(John 17:23) This love of God is learned and experienced in community.

Your disciple’s understanding of the heavenly Father’s love is an essential first step for her to be engrafted into a community of disciples. This will enable her to love her brothers and sisters and to receive love from them. As Roy Hession observes, “The work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross was not only to bring us back into fellowship with God, but also into fellowship with one another.”[2]

It is the Trinity’s eternal love for one another that is our example on how we should love our brothers and sisters. Serving one another, placing the interests of others ahead of myself, and making room for others all flow from the love essence of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Doug Cooper, The Outside In (Austin: The Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2013)

[2] Roy Hession, The Calvary Road (London: The Christian Literature Crusade, 1950), p. 11-12.

Disciple-Making and Making Space

Disciple-making is based in the relational nature of the Trinity. The love that the Father, Son, and Spirit have for one another enabled them to open up and make space so that others could belong to the family of God.

Jesus came on earth to show in practical ways how God’s love should function among us. Jesus made space and drew12 men into his life providing for them a place to belong. He created an experience for his disciples that reflected the belonging, love, and self-giving essence of the Godhead. This is why disciples should be made in community.

Later the apostle Paul not only proclaimed the good news of Jesus but he also formed these believers into communities that reflected the nature of God. At the core of these communities were a servant’s heart, hospitality, affection, and self-sacrifice that enabled them to make space for others.

To make space for another comes at great cost. For the Godhead it meant the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, which was costly for all the members of the Trinity. For the apostle Paul it came at the price of years of extreme suffering. Though many things have changed since the first century, the way to make disciples is the same at it was 2000 years ago. Disciples are made only when men and women are willing to lay down their lives for another.

 

Carving Out A Space

Saul could not establish a relational connection with his fellow believers in Jerusalem nor find a ministry toehold in that city after his conversion. The disciples in Jerusalem did not believe that Saul (later called Paul) could possibly have become a follower of Jesus. His reputation as a deadly persecutor raised the question whether this gospel could change the heart and mind of someone as notorious as Saul.

“When he (Saul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.” Acts 9:26-28

Barnabas took action and intervened on behalf of Saul convincing the apostles that he had in fact become a passionate follower of Jesus. Barnabas was so persuasive that Saul actually stayed with the apostles-there was now a place for him at the table.

Saul went on to boldly proclaim Jesus as Messiah in Jerusalem and the persecutor became the persecuted by the Hellenistic Jews so he fled to his hometown of Tarsus over 500 miles away.

Five years passed but Barnabas had not forgotten Saul. He made the arduous journey to Tarsus for the sole purpose to find Saul in order to connect him to where the Holy Spirit was working in the city of Antioch. For the next year Barnabas and Saul taught and impacted many people in Antioch.

Some thoughts in closing:

  • What if Barnabas had not intervened for Saul in Jerusalem?
  • What if Barnabas had not taken the trouble to travel to Tarsus to look for Saul?
  • Although Saul had been set apart by God for ministry (Acts 9:15-16), gifted, educated, and passionate yet in the kingdom economy the Lord used a human agent to intervene on his behalf to establish his ministry. (Saul would have been in his 30’s when he was in Jerusalem.)
  • Saul had already proven himself effective in Damascus and Jerusalem but the Lord used Barnabas to get Saul to Antioch, which then led to launch his lifelong travel ministry recognizing the potential significance to the spread of the gospel. (Saul near 40 years old at this point.)
  • Barnabas placed others ahead of himself.
  • Barnabas was willing to take risks in order to empower another.
  • Has anyone ever established you in ministry?
  • Have you ever established someone in ministry?

 

A Tool for Discipling Children

The New Testament says little about the family because the Old Testament says much. The Book of Proverbs is an extensive and important tool for parents as they raise their children.

Robert Alter’s translation and commentary of Proverbs titled The Wisdom Books will be a help to parents as they instruct their children in wisdom. Dr. Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

His translation brings fresh meaning to many familiar proverbs. For example: “How long, dupes, will you love being duped, and scoffers lust scoffing, and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22)

One sample from his commentary “Intelligence of the most practical sort, involving an alertness to potential deceptions and seductions, is seen as an indispensable tool for the safe, satisfying, and ethical life, and a fool is repeatedly thought of as a dupe.”[1]



[1] Robert Alter, A Translation with Commentary The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010), p. 194.

How the Kingdom Multiplies

Recently we had a farewell cookout for Jeremy and Julia Quigley who have been part of our ministry in Chicago for seven years. The first time I remember Jeremy was the night Ryan Seibert had invited him to our apartment for dinner.  Afterward I was cleaning up the kitchen and Jeremy said to me, “Lewie, I need to go home and study but what happened this evening is what I have been looking for my whole life and I am afraid if I leave now I will never find it again.” Well after seven years not only is Jeremy still hanging around but he and Julia have made many disciples and hosted countless meals in their home.

At the farewell we had a limited amount of time so I asked that only those who had been discipled by Jeremy or Julia to share their appreciation. There were tears as one after another men and women shared how their lives were forever changed because of the Quigley’s love. And then the unexpected happened-Peter spoke up and said, “Well I was not directly discipled by Jeremy but I am his spiritual grandson so I want to express my appreciation for him discipling Neal who discipled me.” Then Michael broke in and said “I was not discipled by Jeremy either but I have to say ‘thanks’ because Jeremy discipled my brother which made a huge impact on his life.” Then Derek spoke up and said, “I’m like Michael, though Jeremy did not disciple me he did disciple my brother which so changed his life that it impacted my family and my spiritual life.”

That evening we witnessed the multiplying nature of disciple-making. Jesus used agriculture to illustrate how the kingdom of God spreads and how only if the seed is placed in the ground with warmth and moisture does it germinate and produce a plant that will produce other seeds. Seeds sitting on the shelf do not multiply. Jesus said to his disciples:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:23-26

Over the years Jeremy and Julie have consistently laid down their lives for others by pursuing them, by listening well, by giving groceries, by having people in their home for dinner, and by frequent hugs. As a result of their love for others there are now men and women throughout the country and around the world who are making followers of Jesus.

How Faith is Formed

“What curriculum do you use?” is the questioned I am asked most about disciple-making. I want to tie this to the question “where did we do wrong?” asked by brokenhearted parents who raised their children in church but who now as adults want nothing to do with Christianity. I believe both of these questions reveal a misconception on how faith is cultivated in the life of a person.

Since God created us like him and therefore he has a understanding of how we work, I believe we should look closely at what the Lord instructed Israel on the spiritual formation of their children and at how Jesus taught his disciples. Looking not only at what was to be learned but the means by which it was to be taught.

The book of Exodus is the account of God delivering Israel from bondage to freedom. The story begins with the birth of Moses and then flows seamlessly through nine plagues until a hard stop at the plague of “The Death of the Firstborn” where the Lord breaks from the narrative to establish the commemoration of the Passover. This parenthesis in the storyline signals the importance of what is taking place and invites the reader to no longer be a spectator but to join in the redemptive story through the Passover practices (Exodus 12-13).

The instructions for the Passover are given to the parents to be celebrated as a family in their home as a means of conveying the redemptive story of God from one generation to the next. Everett Fox points out that “ . . . memory is clearly important here, with two passages stressing the continuity of commemoration through the following generations (Exodus 13: 8-10 and 14-16).”[1]

A couple of observations:

  • The redemptive nature of God is foundational to disciple-making.
  • Children were a key consideration for the Passover.

Exodus 12:26-27“And it will be when your children say to you: What does this service (mean) to you? Then say: It is the slaughter-meal of Passover to YHWH, who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt, when he dealt-the blow to Egypt and our houses he rescued.”

  • The family is the optimal place to teach the redemptive story of God.

Exodus 12:3 “On the tenth day after this new-Moon they are to take them, each-man, a lamb, according to their Fathers’ House, a lamb per household.”

  • Stories and symbols play an important role in remembering the redemptive nature of God.
  • The means and method of the Passover were to insure the retelling of the redemptive story of God for generations.

Exodus 12:42 “It is a night of keeping-watch for YGWH, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that is this night for YHWH, a keeping-watch of all the Children of Israel, throughout their generations.”

 

 



[1] Everett Fox, “The Five Books of Moses”, (New York: Schocken Books, 1995), p. 322.

Spiritual Genealogy

This past weekend my dad, who is 84 years old, suffered a heart attack.  His brush with death made me realize that I knew little about my spiritual genealogy. Once dad is gone there is information about my spiritual ancestry that will be gone forever and so sitting next to his hospital bed I asked him about the people who had a spiritual influence on his life. That night I started to become acquainted with my spiritual ancestors who have made me who I am today.

As I was driving home from the hospital it struck me that neither one of my parents had ever recounted for me their spiritual genealogy-but then I had never thought to ask them about my spiritual ascendants! Sure I had caught bits and pieces along the way but there was never an intentional conversation to introduce me to those who had spiritually gone before me. Can I really know my parents and myself without knowing their spiritual ancestors?

My thoughts then turned to Taylor Gardner who discipled me 35 years ago. He has had a large impact on my life and yet I know little of Taylor’s spiritual ancestry. Why was there not a curiosity on my part of his spiritual genealogy to which I am indelibly connected? It is not for a lack of access that I do not know my ancestry because both of my parents and Taylor are still living. I just have not asked.

I admit that I have not shared with my disciples my spiritual genealogy because (1) I have known little about my ancestors and (2) up until this point I did not see its value.

In closing:

  • I am in the process of interviewing my parents, and soon Taylor, in order to get to know my spiritual ancestors.
  • I have started to share with my disciples my spiritual genealogy and I am asking them to investigate their own spiritual ancestry.

How I View My Disciple #3

It is natural in a western culture to acquire a franchise mentality towards making disciples of Jesus.  It is an approach that works well to expand Starbucks or McDonalds because standardization guarantees a consistent product and easy replication, but it does not transfer over to kingdom growth.

A franchise has stringent procedures to follow with little consideration for the employee. Everyone must fit into the model, no matter his or her gifting, to insure the uniformity between the Starbucks in Salina, Kansas with the one in Frankfurt, Germany. (You will not find a Starbucks barista using her ingenuity to create a new drink for a customer.) There is even a uniformity of appearance that cloaks the personality, talent, ethnicity, gender, and age of the employee. We are all familiar with the Starbucks black hat and green apron but not with the people inside those uniforms.

In contrast, disciples of Jesus are best made in a family approach because they are the children of God and each child has a distinct relationship with the heavenly Father. The psalmist writes of this intimacy between Father and child in Psalm 139:13-15:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well;
my frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Since God is creatively involved in the uniqueness of each of His children it would seem advantageous for me to be intentional in discovering the beauty of the distinctiveness of my disciple.  Most of us have felt the pressure from others to be someone we are not or to do something we were not gifted to do. (In my own experience this feeling comes very close to that of rejection.) One way to love and empower your disciple is to intently listen to him to uncover the artwork of God in his inner man.

How I View My Disciple #2

The kingdom of God multiplies by disciples of Jesus making disciples. Jesus used a seed as a picture of how his kingdom expands. Different types of seeds multiply in different ways.  A strawberry has 200 seeds but a cherry only one. The strawberry has a fast germination each season whereas a cherry pit takes 6 years before it will produce fruit. Although the strawberry plant quickly produces many berries and thousands of seeds it has a short lifespan whereas the cherry tree will produce fruit for many years. The point is not that one seed is better than the other but that they multiply differently.

I have made disciples long enough now to observe their multiplication patterns. Scott makes disciples like strawberries. The Holy Spirit has gifted him to be able to make many disciples quickly but effectively. Dave on the other hand is more like a cherry. He has only a few men but years later his men have proven to be fruitful.

Love should empower me to allow my disciple to be who the Lord intended him to be and deter me from trying to conform him into a type of multiplier that I think is best. It is God who has made my disciple so I had better align myself with the Lord’s purpose for him rather than my ideas.