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)

How to Make a Disciple of Jesus

Recently a missionary asked me how to make a disciple of Jesus. He said, “I am trained in evangelism and church-planting but I do not know how to make a disciple.”

First, we must know what a disciple of Jesus is. A disciple of Jesus is someone that has decided to live his life like Jesus did.

Second, Jesus demonstrated for us how to make disciples as recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Following Jesus is an imitative process. Jesus lived among the twelve disciples for them to see how he lived so that they could emulate him.

Twenty years later the apostle Paul used this same pattern in making disciples of Jesus. Paul and his team would live among the people so that they could imitate him and his team. He writes:

“You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord . . . And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5&6

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1

Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” 1 Corinthians 4:16-17

“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”   Philippians 3:17-18

Jesus is our model. Each disciple-maker configures his life after Jesus to demonstrate for his disciple how a disciple of Jesus should live. Paul imitated Jesus and was a role model for Timothy to follow and then Timothy in turn became an example for others to follow.

What is a Disciple of Jesus?

Since the great commission is to make disciples of Jesus it is important to know what a disciple is.

The apostle John tells us that a disciple is someone that lives as Jesus did. “Whoever claims to live in him (God) must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2: 5-6 

Dallas Willard explains that a disciple is “a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. A disciple is not a person who has things under control, or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus.”[1]

How Jesus lived his life on earth is well documented. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are biographical accounts of the life of Jesus from four different perspectives.

Joseph Hellerman says it this way: “The earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth constitutes the one time in history of humanity when heaven fully and finally came to earth. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we have the opportunity to see the question What is God like? answered in the flesh-and-blood world in which we live. During His incarnation Jesus not only procured our way to heaven. He also showed us how to live on earth. Now we can pattern our lives after Jesus.[2]

[1] http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=53

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Form a Disciple-Making Team

Jesus came to earth and showed us “how God would do things” and one of the things he did was to form his disciples into a team. It was only natural then for his followers to build and minister in teams as he had done. Even years later Paul created and ministered in teams. He writes, Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1

Jesus used a team setting as a laboratory for instruction, an environment for kingdom values to be lived out, a platform for ministry, and a place for his disciples to experience belonging.

How to form a disciple-making team:

  1. Pray

Jesus spent a night in prayer before he chose the twelve disciples.

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot. Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” Luke 6:12-15

  1. Pursue

Pursue those you want to be on the team.

Love pursues. To build a disciple-making team you must pursue each member in contrast to individuals applying or requesting to be on the team. Jesus pursued each person on his team. He invited a tax collector, a religious zealot, and fishermen to join him for a 3-year adventure.

Each team member knew that he had been selected and pursued by Jesus and that the other team members had also been singled out and pursued. The team had been carefully chosen to create the synergy that Jesus desired.

Ten years later Barnabas pursued Paul and then Paul pursued Timothy.

This summer I have watched the FBI and universities pursue my nephew because of his leadership qualities. Sad to say Christianity has not pursued him even though he is one of theirs.

  1. Love

Solidify the team by serving and loving each team member.

Jesus solidified the team by him serving and loving each disciple. As he laid down his life for each member the team became bound together. Watching my leader lay down his life for another team member changes my relationship with the leader and that peer. If my leader laid down his life for this person should I not also love him? Jesus had instructed his disciple to do for one another what he had done for them.

One of our leaders bought groceries for a college student that was in his group. That simple act was the defining moment that changed that student’s life and cemented in his own mind that he belonged on the team.

 

 

 

 

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”.