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.

Making Disciples As Jesus Did

Disciple-making is a means to restore relationships as God intended for them to be at creation. Betrayal, selfishness, and sin separated mankind from God and people from one another as illustrated by the early murder of Abel committed among the first offspring of Adam and Eve.

Two-thousand years later Jesus came to earth to teach and show us what a love connection to God and to others should look like. He fashioned his disciples into a community that loved one another as he had loved them. “Men will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another.” Their community was their witness and their witness was their community.

To make disciples of Jesus is to ask people to connect to the heavenly Father and to their fellow siblings in the family of God. Disciples of Jesus are made in community because it is not possible to love God and not love His children.

Establishing these connections is difficult for your American disciple for a few reasons. First, it feels wrong to him because Americans are taught to live our lives independent of others and are rewarded for doing so. Second, it is awkward because most Americans just do not know how to build relationships. Third, to consider others ahead of ourselves goes contrary to our selfish bent.

Professor Allan Bloom observes that the American student today is, “ . . . spiritually unclad, unconnected, isolated, with no inherited or unconditional connection with anything or anyone.”[1]

While individualism, independence, and isolation may feel natural to our culture it is unnatural to a follower of Jesus. To follow Jesus will be counter to the American culture.

In Closing,

  • A disciple-maker forms a community by drawing each of his disciples into a group where they can learn to love one another. Much of disciple-making is teaching your disciples how to live in community by loving others and by learning how to receive love from others.
  • You will have to help your disciples to build friendships with one another. It will not come natural for them.
  • Forming a disciple-making community takes a long time. Jesus took three years with his disciples.

[1] Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), p. 87.

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 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)

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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?