Living Near One Another

Ed is a Jewish friend of mine here in Chicago. Often what to him is a simple side comment is a profound insight to me. Recently he said in passing, “It is unthinkable for a Jew not to live within walking distance of his community.” I stopped him and said, “Ed, wait a minute! What did you mean by that last statement?” He explained that in Judaism the value of community is expressed by a commitment to live within walking distance of one another. The children can play with one another, dads gather in the local park, and wives share a cup of coffee in one another’s kitchens.

Ed’s comment resonated with me because after being involved in disciple-making for 30 years I am convinced that living in close proximity is an essential element to making followers of Jesus. It is not enough just to have a weekly meeting together whether it is a church service, a one-on-one meeting, a small group meeting, or a house church. Living life together plays an indispensable role in making disciples because it is in the “doing life together” that your disciple has the opportunity to experience what it means to belong both in a nuclear family and a spiritual family.  You are also able to observe your disciple in various scenarios with different people and it gives him the opportunity to observe you among your family and friends.

Most anyone can sham love for a while whether in a service, a class, a small group meeting, or having coffee at Starbucks, but it is in the daily routine with our mates, children, siblings, parents, friends, co-workers, and neighbors where love engages with reality.  I am not advocating that Christianity should stop having services, bible studies, or small groups but I am seeking to raise our awareness to the importance of living in close proximity to one another in making followers of Jesus.

Jesus did not remove his twelve disciples from their hometown of Capernaum but rather he discipled them among their family and friends in the familiar context in which they had been raised.

 

Author Panel: Discipleship

Today in our three-author panel, authors R. E. Clark, Paul Juby, and myself offer our thoughts on discipleship, practicing faith, and serving as missionaries. I’m excited to post the Missionary section below and hopefully begin a discussion among readers. Please leave comments below and visit the other two authors’ blogs to read through the rest of the panel.

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Companionship and Learning Builds the Church – Not the Other Way Around

My greatest desire currently is to see the Kingdom of God engage with Chicago – our hometown. This will only happen by way of the followers of Jesus loving one another.  Although loving one another may seem like an inward focus, it is in reality an outward connection point with society.

Jesus addresses this kingdom principle twice. First he tells his disciples that everyone will know that they are his disciples by their love for one another (John 13:34-35). Then, later in the same evening, Jesus prayed for his disciples, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even you have loved me” John 17.23). In other words, our unity is a testimony to the culture that the Father sent Jesus into the world and that the Father loves his children.

Christianity has tried many approaches to engage society. We have retooled our church services to be more relevant, served the city through community projects; we have become involved in politics and launched media campaigns. Though I do not question the sincerity behind these efforts, I have wondered about their effectiveness.

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Hindrances to Making a Disciple of Jesus in Today’s World

An obstacle to making followers of Jesus in America is America’s aversion to deep friendship. Sociologists Stewart and Bennett have observed:

Although Americans have numerous relationships that are marked by friendliness and informality, they only rarely form the kinds of deep and lasting friendships in which friends become mutually dependent upon each other.[1]

God is relational. The insularly existence so natural to Americans is unnatural to God. Jesus came to earth and demonstrated the beauty of friendship in his relationships with men and women.  It was not only through his instruction that his followers learned how to love and to be loved but also through the experience of him laying down his life for them. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13

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Why We Aren’t Reaching the Millennials

The numbers tell the story: although Christianity has tried several strategies to reach young people, none have been as effective as hoped. Recent studies reveal that not only is Christianity not bridging to millennials (those born 1981 or later), but it cannot even keep its established base.  The Pew Research Center found that:

The large proportion of young adults who are unaffiliated with a religion is a result, in part, of the decision by many young people to leave the religion of their upbringing without becoming involved with a new faith. In total, nearly one-in-five adults under age 30 (18%) say they were raised in a religion but are now unaffiliated with any particular faith.[1]

The Barna Group in their research identified:

Nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.[2]

The problem is not that the millennials are a more difficult or complex generation than their predecessors. The problem is Christianity itself. We as organized Christianity willingly changed our music, our services, our dress, and our buildings because we were told that these adjustments would make us more attractive to the younger generation. Now we find ourselves not only disappointed in the unfulfilled promises of this extensive makeover, but alienated from the older generations who opposed or resisted the changes.

I’m often asked to coach people on their disciple-making efforts. Much of the time I come away with the same two feelings: (1) deep appreciation for their intent and (2) disappointment over their approach. Western Christianity seems to be enamored with programs, campaigns, and curricula while giving lesser attention to the heart-and-soul matters of relational connection. If we’re not effective, we assume our methodology is what’s broken.

At this point many will go back to the basics and reconsider what the Bible teaches about discipleship. Unfortunately, even then the tendency is to skip over the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and dive into the book of Acts and Paul’s letter. I say this is unfortunate because in bypassing the Gospels we overlook four accounts of the time God came to earth and the great many lessons to be learned from Christ’s encounters with seekers, followers, doubters, and grievers. Joseph Hellerman describes it like this:

The earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth constitutes the one time in the 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 shows us how to live on earth.  Now we can pattern our lives after Jesus.[3]

What is God like? Asking and answering that question is the starting point of all ministry, discipleship included. In a word, God is love.

At the baptism of Jesus, the heavenly Father declared his love for his Son. “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17). This was a clear declaration of the love bond between the heavenly Father and Jesus. This familial love then became the basis for Jesus’ love for his disciples and the disciples love for one another. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9), and “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all me will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

There is only one way and there will always be only one way to make disciples, and that is to love. Discipleship at is core is demonstrating how to love.



[1]Religion Among the Millennials. (2010). Retrieved August 2012, from www.pewforum.org

[2] Kinnaman, David (2011, Six Reasons Why Young Christians Leave Church. Retrieved August 2012, from http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church

[3] Joseph H. Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 62.

Jesus Loved First

The example of how followers of Jesus should relate to one another is found in the Trinity. Jesus instructed his disciples that they were to love one another after the pattern of his relationship with the Heavenly Father (John 15:9-12). For eternity the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have loved one another with a familial love and have brought delight to one another as witnessed at the baptism of Jesus:

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

The beauty of love among the Trinity overflows to a love for mankind. We are responders to this love that empowers us to love others. “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.” (1 John 3:16) “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)­ God’s love for and delight in your disciple is his basis for relating to others.

Making disciples of Jesus requires simultaneous efforts on your part to help your disciple learn how relate to God and how relate to people. As he deepens his understanding of God’s love for him he will deepen his relationship with people and as he deepens his relationship with people he will discover new measures of his relationship with God.

Meet the Parents 3

It is not possible for your disciple to separate his relationship with God from his relationship with people, as hard as he may try. To understand your disciple’s relationship with God you need to look no further than how he relates to people, including his parents and siblings. His relationships serve as a mirror for him and a window for you to understand how he relates to God. John, in no uncertain terms, irrevocably ties our relationship with God to our relationship with people when he writes:

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

It is a contradiction to give the appearance of having a relationship with God and yet have discord, jealousy, selfishness, dissension, hatred, and envy with people. Your disciple’s relationships will either expose a facade of religion or affirm a genuine relationship with God.

In closing,

  • Making disciples in community gives your disciple the opportunity to learn how to love others and to receive love from others.
  • Making disciples in community gives you the opportunity to observe how each disciple relates to the others.
  • Your community’s relationship with one another is an indication of how the community as a whole is relating to God.

The Beauty of Belonging

Man was created to participate in beauty and not just to be an observer. A lack of beauty rarely comes to mind when dealing with personal problems but when other approaches with your disciple have failed an absence of beauty should be considered.

There is beauty in belonging to others of which the Psalmist writes in Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” To paraphrase, being united to others is a beautiful thing.

This beauty flows from the eternal love between the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God designed man to enter into this beauty by being connected to Him and His other children. But sin in the Garden of Eden brought shame and a separation between God and mankind and man with one another, which resulted in ugliness.

A relational breach demoralizes and creates a void of beauty in a person which will compel him to desperately seek out perverted and distorted forms of beauty to compensate for this vacuum. This search will lead him to self-destructive attitudes and behaviors such as pornography, flirtation, sex, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, materialism, etc.

Your disciple will become confused and frustrated over the contradiction of this behavior. He desires to love, belong, and please the Lord and he is aware that his behavior is sinful and self-destructive but he continues it anyway and he does not understand why. He soon discovers that his self-determination and self-control cannot compensate for this void of beauty.

The nature of God moved Him to restore man’s relationship to Him and mankind’s relationship with one another through the death of Jesus.  So once where there was sin, shame, hatred, and discord there now can be the beauty of unity and peace. Although the story of relational restoration through the gospel is familiar to your disciple the implementation of this reality may prove difficult. A large part of the disciplining process is helping your disciple understand the beauty of how he is restored to God and how he can now be connected to others.

In closing,

  • Only make disciples in the context of community. It is in community that they will experience the beauty of belonging and how to love others.
  • As a community discuss how the group can help each member understand how he or she belongs to the Lord and to the others in the group.
  • Communicate regularly to your disciple how he belongs to his heavenly Father and also to the others in the community. (e.g. Tell him what you have heard from others in what ways they appreciate him.)

How I View My Disciple #4

Each Tuesday evening our group of disciples has dinner together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This past week during our table discussion there was a frank honesty about our childhoods and how each of us had felt like we had not belonged anywhere while growing up. We had lived a detached existence.

Making followers of Jesus must be done in a group. A large part of the disciple making process is accomplished through my disciple learning how to interrelate with his brothers and sisters in the family of God.  I have wondered how much of Jesus’ training of the twelve was achieved through the disciples learning how to live together for three years vs. the “classroom” instruction of Jesus. I have also wondered how much of the teaching of Jesus flowed out of the conflicts between the disciples not too dissimilar from a parent using sibling discord as a teaching moment for his children.

The essence of our God is the familial interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Their identity is found in the eternal love bond to the other persons of the Godhead. Because we are created in the image of God a disciple can only come to understand his identity and purpose by integrating into a family context with his heavenly Father and his spiritual siblings. In contrast, our culture pushes him toward individualism and independence, which can only lead to confusion and ultimately self-destruction.

Just as a my disciple cannot know himself or understand his giftedness apart from being in this family context, so I cannot know my disciple apart from seeing him interact with his spiritual siblings.  His relationship with God is not visible to me which means he can deceive me into thinking he has a good relationship with God when in reality he may not.  One way I can get a glimpse into my disciple’s relationship with the heavenly Father is through seeing how he relates to others and how others relate to him.

How To View Your Disciple

How I view my disciple has a powerful effect upon him. It is impossible to hide from another what I truly think about him. A channel of subliminal communication between my inner man and the hearts of others transmits my true thoughts and feelings no matter how hard I try and conceal them.

My disciple is a child of God who is the apple of His Father’s eye so my view of him and care for him should be such that it pleases his heavenly Father. Even how I speak of him to others is important because God is listening in on all my conversations. One way for me to express love to God is to love and honor His child.

Between the Borst and Quigley families there are six young children in our group in Chicago. This was their first week of school so at our family gathering we prayed for each child by name asking the Lord to bless them and protect them this school year. Now I am not sure in ten years that any of the children will remember that we prayed for them last night but I doubt their parents will ever forget that moment. Matt and Stacey Borst, Jeremy and Julia Quigley all love their children and one way to love them is to love their children. Recently Matt told me that nothing gets to his heart as a dad than for someone to love his kids.

I am sure that the heavenly Father’s heart swelled with delight when Paul told his disciples in Thessalonica: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19).

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you” (1 Thessalonians 3:9).