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.

Reliability and Disciple-Making

Disciples of Jesus are best made in a community of reliability where each member of the group can depend on the others.

For some, their church small group experience has been a disappointment because they were told that if they would be open, honest, and vulnerable with their group that they would find belonging. Although being forthright and honest are necessary parts of community they are not enough to establish the belonging that we hope for. The group must also be able to rely on one another.

Alferd Jepsen broadens our understanding of truth and trust when he writes, “In the Hebrew Bible truth ‘was used of things that had proved to be reliable . . .. Reliability would be the best comprehensive word in English to convey the idea.’

Trust is that on which others can rely. Faithfulness and reliability are personal and social terms. They describe the character of a person both as she is in herself and as she is towards others.”[1]

Early on Jesus introduced reliability to his disciples by teaching them to treat others as you would want to be treated. Yet even after spending three years with him, the twelve disciples committed the most unreliable of acts by betraying Jesus on the night that he needed them most.

Reliability takes years to learn and comes out of our greatest failures. Peter learned to be reliable by seeing how his unreliability deeply harmed Jesus and by contrasting his own failure against Jesus’s faithfulness to him even after his denial of the Lord.

In closing:

 

  • It is because God is reliable that I am able to be reliable to others.

 

  • In making followers of Jesus it can take months and years for a person to become reliable. This is learned in community with others. It can be a painful process as we learn to forgive one another in our unreliable moments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. p. 259.

Hospitality and Making Space

Hospitality is a beautiful and effective means to share the gospel. A family that is hospitable mirrors how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit made space for mankind to belong to the family of God. A love that is “God like” cannot help but reach out and make space for others. It is unnatural for a child of God not to be hospitable and the reason why it is a qualification to be a church leader.

Hospitality originates from the love within a family just as the gospel is an outflow of the Godhead’s love for each other. Hospitality flows from a couple’s love for one another, the parents’ love for each child, the children’s love for their parents, and the children’s love for one another. Hospitality is a spiritual bi-product of a family that loves one another well and each family member has a role in hospitality, even a 12-month-old child.

The spiritual power of hospitality lies in the sacrifice made by the family. Space is made for the outsider at a cost of the host’s self-sacrifice and servant’s heart. The house needs to be cleaned, shopping done, money spent, the table set, cooking the meal, and the most difficult of jobs-the cleanup. (There have been times when I resisted being hospitable just because of the thought of the cleanup.)

There is also the cost of the disruption of the routine for each family member. Hospitality teaches the children that life is not just about “me” or “us” but making room for others. Hospitality gives parents the opportunity to teach their children how to lay down their lives for others as Jesus laid down his life for us.

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.

 

Disciple-Making is a Relational Experience

My conviction is that if Jesus came to Chicago in 2016 he would make disciples in the same way he did 2000 years ago. He would engraft individuals into a small community where they would learn how to serve one another and how to give up their lives for the others.

Disciple-making is a relational experience. Jesus called his disciples “friends” and he loved them with the same love that the heavenly Father had loved him. It is not easy for Americans to wrap their minds around Jesus’s method of disciple-making because we are not a relational culture. Joseph Hellerman observes:

“We have a base problem when we attempt to discuss relationships within our current cultural setting and that is the extreme importance of the individual. I suggest that it is the unique orientation of Western culture- especially contemporary American society- that explains our propensity to abandon, rather than work through, the awkward and painful relationships we so often find ourselves in. Social scientists…call it radical individualism…”[1]

Even our mother tongue betrays us. English has only one word for “love” whereas the Greek language, for example, has four. In America we “love” our wives and we “love” a good hotdog.

Disciples of Jesus are made by love. Love is the placing of the interests of another ahead of my own. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16

It is a challenge to make disciples in a country where we “have been socialized to believe that our own dreams, goals, and personal fulfillment ought to take precedence over the well-being of any group.”[2] Or said another way, it is hard to make disciples of Jesus in a culture where the most important value is “me”.

Glenn Gray observes: “Men are true comrades only when each is ready to give up his life for the other, without reflection and without thought of personal loss.”[3]

A person that experiences the sacrifice of another laying down his life for him will never be the same.

[1] Hellerman, Joseph H. When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2009)

[2] Hellerman, Joseph H. When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009)

[3] J. Glenn Gray, The Warrior: Reflections on Men in Battle (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), 43,45,46.

 

Why Small Groups Are Hard to Sustain

Small groups are difficult to sustain in the American church. Churches retool their groups every three or four years to keep interest. They change the name, try a new curriculum, hire a new staff member, and adjust the schedule but in the end groups continue to peter out.

Small group ministry exposes the gap between what we know community should be for the children of God and the American culture. “We are unaware that our culture has subverted our faith”[1] and so we continue to tinker with our small group ministry oblivious to the cultural values that are driving our people’s lives.

Joseph Hellerman writes, “We in America have been socialized to believe that our own dreams, goals, and personal fulfillment ought to take precedence over the well-being of any group.”[2]

When a group, even our family, hinders our ambitions we either abandon the relationships or ease them to the margins of our lives. Americans have established evasive maneuvers so that whenever relational commitment levels get too high we can escape.

To be a follower of Jesus is to put the welfare of others ahead of your own interests. Jesus placed the twelve disciples into a group and then demonstrated from his own actions how to serve and how to consider others first. He then expected the disciples to serve one another in the group and to lay down their lives for the others just as he had done for them.

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

“I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:23

[1] Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. P.53.

[2] Hellerman, Joseph H. When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009)

Home and the Holy Spirit

In thirty-five years of ministry I have stayed in hundreds of homes both in America and overseas. Three standout. The atmosphere was so distinct that I had to ask, “What makes your family different?” In each case I got the same response-the Holy Spirit.

The parents welcomed the Holy Spirit into their marriage and family. They were intentional to teach the children the nature of the Holy Spirit (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control -Galatians 5:22-23) and that he lives within each member of the family.

Talking of the Holy Spirit was natural in conversation within their marriage, with their children, friends, and guests in their home. To be in their home was an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul warns us that if we do not live with the help of the Holy Spirit we will “ . . . bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:14.

What should be the safest place on earth can become a house of devastation. No marriage begins with the intent to devour the other nor does any parent imagine children that hate and destroy.

Here is what love looks like:

  • Joy- There is a spontaneous happiness, laughter, and delight among the family members.
  • Peace-There is harmony between the husband and wife and an absence of strife, anxiety, or dissension among the family members.
  • Patience-Each member of the family shows awareness and regard for another’s feelings and circumstances.
  • Kindness-A absence of harshness or severity. The children are kind with one another and kind to each parent. The couple is kind to one another.
  • Faithfulness-There is a steadfast fidelity to the Lord, one another, and friends.
  • Gentleness-There is an absence of bad temper or belligerence and a deliberate kindness and patience in dealing with one another.

Stephen Covey has observed: “People are very tender, very sensitive inside. I don’t believe age or experience makes much difference. Inside, even within the most toughened and calloused exteriors, are the tender feelings and emotions of the heart.”[1]

  • Self-control. The family is marked by the ability to exercise restraint or control over their feelings, emotions, and actions.

 

 

[1] Covey, Stephen “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p.193.

To Listen Is To Love

My heart’s condition determines my capacity to listen. To listen necessitates the same humility and self-sacrifice required to serve others. Robert Greenleaf wrote, “A true natural servant automatically responds to any problem by listening first. True listening builds strength in other people.”[1] To listen is to laydown my life for another.

The self-absorbed heart is deaf to the needs of others even when people are speaking (or shouting) directly to it. The problem is not a deaf ear but a diseased heart. A whole heart will seek to understand what is being said whereas pride sees little need to listen.

Jesus says it this way:

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.Matthew 15:13

God listens because God is love. God asks us to pray because without two-way communication there is no loving relationship. At great cost He restored his relationship with man so that He, in part, could listen. He loves to listen because He loves much.

To follow Jesus and to be Godlike is to willingly laydown my life for others by listening well.

[1] Robert K. Greenleaf, http://www.concordiaonline.net/what-is-servant-leadership/

What Does God Look Like?

Disciples of Jesus are made by people experiencing God in relationship and not by curriculum or the transfer of information alone. To study and research about Abraham Lincoln is not the same thing as having been a friend of Lincoln.

Jesus formed his disciples into a community around him so that they could experience what it means to be loved and to belong and for us to be able to see what God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven” looks like as Jesus with his disciples lived it out.

The character that Jesus’s disciples experienced from him were:

  1. Humility. Counting the others in the group as more important than yourself.

“ . . .He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:8

  1. Servant’s Heart. To serve the practical needs of others.

“ . . .Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” Philippians 2:7

  1. Self-sacrifice. To willingly lay down your life for your brothers and sisters.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:13

Jesus engrafted each man into the group of twelve for a three-year period for them to experience the essence of God so that they could become like Jesus. As the disciples were conformed to be like him they would grow in their love one another and their love for one another was the proof to the world that they were followers of Jesus. Their witness was their community and their community was their witness.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35