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.

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.

 

Family and Making Disciples 4 – Leadership

The types of leaders that are necessary to begin and sustain a multiplication of the kingdom of God are Godly moms and dads. The instruction, encouragement, kindness, time and sacrificial love that go into raising Godly children are the same necessary ingredients to make followers of Jesus. Paul reveals his own parental approach to disciple making in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 where he writes: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”

Yet, sadly, the same parents who have raised Godly children feel inadequate to make disciples of Jesus because Christianity has made discipling an educational method through curriculum, classrooms, and certification rather than a family relationship. I believe that the church has passed over kingdom leaders because they were not perceived as qualified, even though they have raised Godly children. I am now challenging parents to help advance the kingdom of God by making followers of Jesus in the same way that they raised their children.

The church (ekklesia) is made up of the children of God, and so it only seems consistent that we would function as a family on earth. Families cannot be run as an organization, and yet Christianity approaches the church as an organization as seen in the way it recruits and trains its leaders. The starting point for recruiting church leaders are with men with post-graduate degrees from religious education institutions The seminaries instruct their students in theology and church leadership, but how much preparation do these students have in how to be a good husband, wife, or parent?

I attended a pastor’s conference where business and military leaders challenged us to take the leadership principles from their organizations and apply them to our churches. One pastor said that the same leadership training he was giving us he also used to help businesses. This is not to say that there is no authority, structure, or accountability in the church; healthy families have all these things. I also am not suggesting that a leader of a business cannot be an effective leader in the church, or that pastors do not have helpful insights for the business world, but there is a marked difference between how a business and a family functions.

Here are a couple of action points I am working on:

  1. I am rereading the New Testament with the lens of viewing the church (ekklesia) as the “family of God.”
  2. I am recruiting Godly dads and moms, who could never imagine themselves making disciples or as kingdom leaders, to disciple others in the same way they raised their own children.
  3. I am interviewing Godly moms and dads for insights into how they raised their children and applying it to how I can disciple others.

Family and Making Disciples 3 – Multiplication

The church (ekklesia) is a family and is to be led as a family. When the apostle Paul was looking for men to lead the church, he looked for men who were good husbands and dads. Paul understood the family essence of the church and that the same principles that build a healthy family are the same values that will multiply the kingdom of God. He writes: “He (the overseer) must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church (ekklesia)?) (1 Timothy 3:3-6)

Multiplication in a family is a natural and anticipated result. Good parents create an environment that is not only safe for the child but also one that moves the child onto maturity. Parents understand that the maturing process takes time but it is balanced with the expectation that someday this child is to leave their home to raise his own family. There is something unnatural about a 27 year old still living at home.

Jesus used the example of yeast and a seed to illustrate the multiplication nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:23-25). The multiplication principle of “death brings life” was taught and demonstrated by both Jesus and Paul through the love sacrifice of their own lives for others. Paul writes to the disciples in Thessalonica: “…but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Thess 2:7-9).

The marked difference between how parents approach their children and an organization their members is sacrificial love. Just as a child learns love through the daily sacrifices his parents make for him, so the love of God is taught by the believers laying down their lives for other believers. We demonstrate to the world the love of God when we, as the family of God, lay down our lives for one another. The disciple John wrote: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:9-12). This is why the church is to function as a family and not an organization.

Family and Making Disciples 2 – The Church: God’s Family

How I view God and His church (ekklesia) affects how I see myself, how I relate to others and how I relate to God. For all eternity, God is a Father, and Jesus is a Son. Therefore, family is an eternal concept based on the nature of God. The idea of family is not confined to man’s time on earth. As long as there has been God, there has been family and as long as there will be God, there will be family.

God the Father behaves like a father because he is a father. God’s father-heart moved Him to adopt us into His family even at the cost of the sacrifice of His own Son. Because of this adoption Jesus relates to us as our brother. The author of Hebrews tells us that: “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, ‘I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.’ For this reason he (Jesus) had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:11-17). My relationship to God is both as a child with his father and as a brother with a brother.

The apostle Paul views ekklesia as God’s family. In 1 Timothy 3:14-15 he writes: “…so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church (ekklesia) of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” In Paul’s writings, his language of choice for what we would call “Christian(s)” is familiar language. He uses the word “brother(s)” 129 times – in contrast to his use of the word “saints” 29 times, and the word “believer(s)” 11 times. Paul never uses the term “Christian” or “disciple.”

Paul’s understanding of the Father nature of God and that the ekklesia is the family of God directed the way he ministered to others. In the city of Thessalonica Paul was like a mother and father to the disciples. He writes: “But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us…for you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12).

Making followers of Jesus cannot be separated from the family nature of God. As God the Father loved Jesus, and Jesus loved us, so in the same familiar manner we are to love one another. A parental sacrificial love for others is the catalytic force that will produce disciples of Jesus and advance the kingdom of God.

Family and Making Disciples

In the movie “The Sound of Music” the widowed Captain von Trapp tries to run his family like he ran the Navy, with dire consequences. Although the Captain loved his children and the children loved their father, his organizational structures placed unnatural barriers between the Captain and his children. The nature of a family is unlike that of an organization and so the two function differently from one another.

The apostle Paul presents the church (ekklesia) as the “family” or “household” of God and yet our approach to church has been as if it is an organization (1 Timothy 3:14-15). We begin a church with a constitution, by laws, church government and then institute programs to run the church, which are both organizational in nature but foreign to any family. Ekklesia is based on the family essence of the Trinity; God the Father, His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We have been adopted into the family of God as sons and daughters so it only makes sense that we should function as family on earth as we will in heaven for eternity (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6-7).

In Philippians 2:22 we get a glimpse into Paul’s approach to disciple making with his disciple Timothy. Here Paul writes of the father-son relationship which he had with Timothy – again a family relationship. Just as children were not meant to be raised by an organization so disciples are best made in the context of a spiritual family. One reason why Christianity has struggled to make disciples is because we have approached disciple making with programs rather than as a family. Can an organization empower and develop its people? Certainly. But, there is a marked difference between how an organization develops its people and how a parent loves his child.