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.)

 

 

Disciple-Making and Risk

To make disciples you must be willing to take the risk of being hurt by the very people you are discipling. To “play it safe” is incompatible with making disciples of Jesus because the most important aspect of disciple-making is teaching your disciple how to love and love requires risk. It is the most difficult part of disciple-making and the process can take years.

To illustrate this difficulty we need to look no further than to Jesus’s disciple Peter. Peter had experienced Jesus’s love firsthand for three years and had heard Jesus teach on love on different occasions and he knew that the mark of a follower of Jesus is love. On the night of Jesus’s death Peter had been explicitly warned about an upcoming love test for him but he would not believe that he, of all people, could ever desert the Lord. It was only after Peter’s very public failure in betraying Jesus that he learned the essence of love.

After Jesus’s resurrection we are allowed to listen in on a private conversation between Jesus and Peter because I believe of the significance of the topic in relation to making disciples. Jesus brings the conversation to crux of the matter by asking the question: “Peter do you love me?”

The behaviors and attitudes of your disciple’s life relate to his understanding of God’s love for him, his love for God, other’s love for him, and his love for others. The Holy Spirit custom builds circumstances in your disciple’s life to teach him the way of love. As Jesus guided the twelve in how to love the other disciples so a discipler must guide his disciples in how to love one another.

In summary:

  • Lessons of love for your disciple will probably be tied to his greatest failure.
  • A discipler needs to keep love in the forefront of your disciple’s thinking just as Jesus did with his disciples.
  • Your love relationship with your disciple plays an important role in his becoming a follower of Jesus.
  • Your disciple’s relationship with other disciples gives you a measure of how well your disciple is following Jesus.

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.

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.

 

Love-The Missing Ingredient

Last month I attended two separate trainings for disciple-making led by two different organizations. There was helpful instruction and insight in both seminars but over the 6 days of training the word “love” was not used. (I tend to listen for what is not being said when I attend seminars or read books.)

When it comes to disciple-making Americans think in terms of equipping, teaching, curriculum, and training. The training is usually done in a classroom setting and feels very much like school or business training.

One organization in our training called the discipler a “mentor” the other called him a “facilitator”, which both reflect an institutional attitude not too different from a relationship with a manager or professor.

Making disciples of Jesus in a word is love. If we could go back in time and ask Peter, Bartholomew, or Matthew to describe their time with Jesus they would say something like this, “I have never experienced love, friendship, and belonging like I did those three years with Jesus.”

Equipping, training, instruction, and curriculum do not make disciples of Jesus. The discipler laying down his life for each individual is what makes disciples just as Jesus laid down his life for his disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

Encouraging Timothy

I want you to picture a young man or woman in your acquaintance that has a genuine faith.

Have you ever told him of the qualities that you have observed in his life?

Have you affirmed her gifts and relayed the encouragement that she has brought to you and to others?

This week I met three seminary students. I would gladly serve along side any one of them and yet none of them has had an older believer to encourage their faith or to help navigate future ministry. No one has sought them out as Paul sought out Timothy.

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey . . . “ Acts 16:1-3

Maybe our rugged American individualism keeps our mouths shut as we think, “Well I made it on my own in my faith journey and so they too will be able to pull through with the Lord’s help.” Or a more frightening thought is that the reason we do not encourage the Timothy in our lives is because it just does not cross our minds to do so.

In closing:

  • Ask around and discover the young people that have a genuine faith.

 

  • Determine meaningful ways to encourage those young people.

(I shared this concept with a fellow church leader this week and he said, “Wouldn’t that be awkward just to go up to a college student tell them how I have observed his faith and appreciate his walk with God.” My reply was, “What will be more awkward is someday when you try to explain to Jesus why you didn’t encourage more young people in their faith.”)

  • Talk to leaders about how your spiritual family could empower these Godly young men and women.

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?

 

The Words We Use

My Bulgarian neighbor shouted to me with his thick accent as I was getting into my car late for an appointment, “Hey Lewie! Are you are Christian?” His question put me in a predicament. If I answered, “Yes” it could be disingenuous because what George understands a Christian to be is not what I am. On the other hand, if I answered, “No” he would assume that I am either Muslim, Jewish, or an atheist.

Evangelicals need to become aware that when we use the word “Christian” we mean various things relying on context to define our intent. Many of our listeners either do not have enough information to understand our meaning when using the word “Christian” or they have wrong information so they misinterpret our use of the word. An example of this is my Jewish friend thought that Jesus Christ was the founder of an anti-Semitic movement, so he assumed anyone or anything “Christian” was anti-Semitic.

If a Roman Catholic, Evangelical, or Mormon says, “My daughter is a new Christian!” they do not mean the same thing but to the non-Christian ear we all use the same terminology. The Jewish, Muslim, and atheist see the Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Christian Science, non-denominational, and Mormons all as “Christian”. A Muslim that became a follower of Isa (Jesus) told me that he still cannot tell the difference between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant let alone the difference between a Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran.

I live in a Chicago neighborhood made up of Jewish, Indian, and Pakistani people. If I would ask my neighbors, “Wouldn’t you like to become a Christian?” what I mean by that question and what they hear are poles apart. For many of them a Christian is a negative and confusing term.

The responsibility lies on us as followers of Jesus to seek to understand the perspective of our listener so that we can communicate clearly the good news of Jesus.

  • Have coffee with a Jewish person, Atheist, Muslim, or Hindu and ask him to describe his understanding of Christianity, a Christian, and Jesus Christ.
  • Describe your faith to someone without using the words “Christian”, “Christianity”, and “Church”.

 

 

Open Hearts

Hurt will cause your disciple to close off his heart from others and from God. Although counterintuitive to us, the Holy Spirit uses suffering in your disciple’s life to open up his heart to the Lord and to you. This suffering will come in two forms: the sprint and the long-distance run. Both are strenuous but each develops different faith muscles.

A sprint strains every faith fiber to the breaking point but it only lasts for a short time. It will take everything out of him but he will learn lessons from the experience that he will never forget. It is important to make yourself available to him, no matter how inconvenient, in the midst of that trial.

Marathon suffering, on the other hand, grinds on for years or maybe even for a lifetime yet it builds a strong faith on the insights gathered from years of perseverance. Just as physical endurance can only be built by running mile after mile so these faith lessons only come from the long haul. The natural inclination is to want to escape from this trial now! However at the moment that trial ends the rich insights gathered from that particular race ends with it.

Our heavenly trainer and coach is trustworthy and he knows exactly what regimen is best and what duration is optimal to conform each of his children to the image of Jesus.

In the apostle Paul’s attempt to have the disciples in Corinth open up their hearts to him, he opened up his heart to them by telling of his experience with these two forms of suffering.

“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.” 2 Corinthians] 6:11-13

1. First Paul’s Sprints:

“I (Paul) have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again . . . I have been constantly on the move . . . 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 11:23-27

2. Paul’s Long Distance Run:

Later Paul tells of his ongoing torment that he begged God to remove but the Lord refused knowing what was best for the apostle. Paul then delighted in his suffering knowing that the power of the Messiah within him was a result of his perseverance.

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

 

 

 

 

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.