How the Kingdom Multiplies

Recently we had a farewell cookout for Jeremy and Julia Quigley who have been part of our ministry in Chicago for seven years. The first time I remember Jeremy was the night Ryan Seibert had invited him to our apartment for dinner.  Afterward I was cleaning up the kitchen and Jeremy said to me, “Lewie, I need to go home and study but what happened this evening is what I have been looking for my whole life and I am afraid if I leave now I will never find it again.” Well after seven years not only is Jeremy still hanging around but he and Julia have made many disciples and hosted countless meals in their home.

At the farewell we had a limited amount of time so I asked that only those who had been discipled by Jeremy or Julia to share their appreciation. There were tears as one after another men and women shared how their lives were forever changed because of the Quigley’s love. And then the unexpected happened-Peter spoke up and said, “Well I was not directly discipled by Jeremy but I am his spiritual grandson so I want to express my appreciation for him discipling Neal who discipled me.” Then Michael broke in and said “I was not discipled by Jeremy either but I have to say ‘thanks’ because Jeremy discipled my brother which made a huge impact on his life.” Then Derek spoke up and said, “I’m like Michael, though Jeremy did not disciple me he did disciple my brother which so changed his life that it impacted my family and my spiritual life.”

That evening we witnessed the multiplying nature of disciple-making. Jesus used agriculture to illustrate how the kingdom of God spreads and how only if the seed is placed in the ground with warmth and moisture does it germinate and produce a plant that will produce other seeds. Seeds sitting on the shelf do not multiply. Jesus said to his disciples:

Very truly I tell you, 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.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:23-26

Over the years Jeremy and Julie have consistently laid down their lives for others by pursuing them, by listening well, by giving groceries, by having people in their home for dinner, and by frequent hugs. As a result of their love for others there are now men and women throughout the country and around the world who are making followers of Jesus.

Relating to Your Children and Grandchildren

As Sansui, my brother-in-law, called out in a loud voice to his son inviting him from boyhood to manhood I was reminded of the baptism of Jesus and the heavenly Father calling out to Jesus telling him that he was loved and that he was pleased with him. Although I am sure that Jesus knew of his Father’s love and that the message could have been communicated telepathically, it is significant that the Father chose to express his affection and delight for Jesus publically for others to hear. Perhaps the reason why I was deeply moved at my nephew’s “Calling Out” ceremony was the Godlikeness of Sansui declaring before many witnesses his love and pleasure in his son.

For the ceremony Sansui read publically letters that he and dee, my sister, had written to my nephew explaining how the meanings of each of his five names were tied back to his paternal and maternal genealogy. (Again I was reminded of how the story of Jesus begins with his detailed genealogy.) For my nephew an understanding of his ascendants will form his identity and also prepare him on how to relate to his children and grandchildren.

There are two tribal ceremonies for a Nigerian child. The first is the naming ceremony eight days after his/her birth. Here the five names of the child are whispered in the baby’s ear so that he/she is the first to hear the names. The parents then declare the baby’s name to the gathering and explain the meaning behind each of the names.  In a Christian home the child is then given a life’s bible verse and the parents and community pray a blessing over the baby.

The second ceremony is the “Calling Out” from childhood to adulthood at age thirteen. Here the parents reiterate publically the meanings of his names to remind the child of his heritage as they launch him into adulthood. In both ceremonies the tribe/community is involved.

It has been said that our attitude towards our ascendants will be the same that we will have for our descendants. Could it be that our inability to connect to our own children and grandchildren, especially as they get older, is a direct reflection of our own attitude towards our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents? In other words our children have picked up the same attitude towards us that we have had for our ascendants, which may simply be called indifference.

How I View My Disciple #3

It is natural in a western culture to acquire a franchise mentality towards making disciples of Jesus.  It is an approach that works well to expand Starbucks or McDonalds because standardization guarantees a consistent product and easy replication, but it does not transfer over to kingdom growth.

A franchise has stringent procedures to follow with little consideration for the employee. Everyone must fit into the model, no matter his or her gifting, to insure the uniformity between the Starbucks in Salina, Kansas with the one in Frankfurt, Germany. (You will not find a Starbucks barista using her ingenuity to create a new drink for a customer.) There is even a uniformity of appearance that cloaks the personality, talent, ethnicity, gender, and age of the employee. We are all familiar with the Starbucks black hat and green apron but not with the people inside those uniforms.

In contrast, disciples of Jesus are best made in a family approach because they are the children of God and each child has a distinct relationship with the heavenly Father. The psalmist writes of this intimacy between Father and child in Psalm 139:13-15:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well;
my frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Since God is creatively involved in the uniqueness of each of His children it would seem advantageous for me to be intentional in discovering the beauty of the distinctiveness of my disciple.  Most of us have felt the pressure from others to be someone we are not or to do something we were not gifted to do. (In my own experience this feeling comes very close to that of rejection.) One way to love and empower your disciple is to intently listen to him to uncover the artwork of God in his inner man.

Why Disciples Don’t Grow

The environment I create in which to make disciples has a greater “formative power” over my disciple than what I say or teach. Although addressing academics, I believe Parker Palmer exposes why our homes, churches, and ministries fail at making disciples of Jesus:

What do students consistently learn that you never intended to teach? . . .the whole culture of the academic community with its systems of rewards and punishments . . . [and its] rules and relationships. . .comprise of a ‘hidden curriculum’ which [has a] greater formative power over the lives of learners than the advertised curriculum.

I am presently evaluating our ministry in Chicago searching for “hidden criteria” or “hidden agendas” that send a double message, which confuses my disciple and invalidates my discipling efforts. The temptation for me is to deflect the responsibility for my disciple’s lack of spiritual growth on him when in fact I may be the problem due to the means by which I am discipling him. I will naturally create an environment that is comfortable for me, catering to my strengths and avoiding my weaknesses, which is great for me but a detriment for my disciple.

One example of this is the time that I had gathered a group together to study the bible as a means to make disciples. Most of the people were growing and enjoying the study but some were not. I assigned the blame for those not maturing on them. My reasoning was, “Others in the group are appreciative and growing, so you must be the problem.” It was not until after I had discovered that two in the group had learning disabilities that I realized that I had made spiritual growth inaccessible to them. (In their mind God was inaccessible to them.) I had told the group that this was a safe place to become a follower of Jesus but then chose a means that excluded those who were dyslexic. I had sent the wrong message not through my words but through my means that if they read well, remembered the information, stimulated by the content, and could contribute to the discussion that they were a follower of Jesus.

In closing,

  • If your disciple is not growing, evaluate your approach with him or her. One approach does not fit all.
  • Look at your discipling environments from the perspective of each disciple. How would an introvert feel with what I am doing? What about an international student? Large group settings stimulate some while others are uncomfortable with more than six people.
  • Gather input from your disciples on what they are experiencing from the environment that you have created. Listen especially to those who seem uncomfortable or not growing.
  • Evaluate your successes. Often ministries give credit to the wrong thing for their success.  For example, usually disciples will list their relationship with their discipler as the reason for their growth, not bible studies, teaching, or group time.

Love Limits to Multiply

To love requires time.  To disciple is to love, therefore disciple making necessitates time.  To make a disciple is to say, “I will spend time with you.” When Jesus said, “follow me” to each of his disciples, he was saying to him, “I want to spend extended time with you.” He who is too busy cannot love and therefore cannot make disciples.

Jesus chose to spend three years with his small band because he was not only going to instruct them about love but he was also going to cultivate the group so that they could experience what it is like to be part of a group that loves one another.  (Notice that others came to Jesus asking to be his disciple but he kept the number at twelve.)

Here in Chicago we pace our growth based on how many people we can disciple and on how many people we can love.  We are surrounded by millions of people and tremendous need so we must be extra careful not to “swamp” our canoe.  At the moment that a group has more people to disciple than there are disciplers they become “swamped.”    The same is true with love, when there are more people to love than our group can love effectively; once again we have allowed the boat to be “swamped”.  Once the group is “swamped” with too many people I am convinced that there is no effective way to “unswamp” the canoe.

Love Limits

Love limits.  When a man says “I do” to his wife, he says “I don’t” to all other women and when a couple decides to have children they choose a lifestyle that is limiting in comparison to their childless friends.  Recently I attended my nephew’s wedding. Both sets of his grandparents are still living whose combined years of marriage is 114.  I was moved at the sight of a room full of their direct descendants who all love and enjoy one another. We willingly set margins around our family so that love will multiply to future generations. To neglect a marriage leads to divorce and to neglect a child results in a wounded person, which both break the love continuum.

Christianity accepts the setting of boundaries to effectively love our families but for some reason we do not apply that same principle to our ministries.  I can only love a limited number of people, so to choose a disciple making approach to ministry (which in a word is love) means to limit the number of people to whom I can minister.  To not limit the number of people in my ministry is to actually hinder the gospel multiplication process, but if I can remain disciplined and love my few disciples well, in the long run there will be a continual multiplication of love for generations to come.

Disciple Making and Children #1

Around 80% of the children who are raised in an evangelical church will leave Christianity at college [1].  If the number were 50% we should be concerned, but at 80% alarmed. Yet churches seem to be more concern about their numerical growth than they do about losing their own kids.  Churches spend thousands of dollars on church growth conferences, consultants, and materials searching for the key to their expansion, while spending comparatively few resources to help parents with their marriages or on how to disciple their children.

In many cases if a married couple volunteers for ministry in their church, they will be required to have some type of training and be under the apprenticeship of an experienced leader for a period of time.  But when a couple announces to that same church that they are expecting their first child they will given little or no training on how to raise that child.

There is something inconsistent about strategizing on how to reach our community and the world when we are unable to reach our own children.


[1] Glen Schultz, Kingdom Education; 2002 Southern Baptist Council on the Family.

 

Generational Love

Lois Synder died this year, she was 96.  Mrs. Synder taught my 2nd grade Sunday school class and directed our Christmas pageant each year at the Christian Fellowship Church. I attended her memorial service with my mom and dad in the same auditorium where in 1952 Lois had decided to follow Jesus.  When the Synder family walked into the service that afternoon I was moved.  Before us stood 3 generations who follow Jesus nearly 60 years after Lois’ conversion.

In the service family and friends shared their memories of Lois.  It was in these stories that we discovered the reason why her family still follows Jesus today: Lois loved well.  She so loved her children and grandchildren in their formative years that this love overflowed to her great grandchildren.  Not only did Lois love her family, but each week she would load her car with teaching materials and go share the gospel with children living in the inner-city.

Lois’ seemingly endless ability to love others flowed from her understanding of God’s love for her grounded in the cross of Jesus.  God’s love for me will not be found in my circumstances, my heritage, my abilities, or my position, rather it is anchored in the truth that Jesus died for me.   “. . . God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

God shows me how to love others in Jesus’ death for me.  John writes: “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 3:16-17” Once I begin to grasp the depth of God’s love for me, I am then able to love others in sacrificing my life for them.  It will cost me to love my mate, my children, my friends, and my disciples.

How silly a question it would seem if we could ask Lois today, “Was it worth it?”  I can only imagine the joy in her heart in seeing 3 generations loving God and loving one another. 

Pursuing Your Disciple

Love pursues.  Your first step with a disciple is to pursue him. Just as Jesus chose his 12 disciples and as Paul chose Timothy, it is important for you to take the initiative in pursuing your disciple. This first step is key because it establishes the tone of the relationship and sets a trajectory for discipling relationships for generations to come.  When others came to Jesus and reversed the initiative by asking to become his disciple he turned them away, which indicates the significance of the discipler pursuing the disciple.  (Matt 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62)

The good news of the kingdom is that the Father pursued man and adopted him into the family of God.  As I pursue a disciple I am demonstrating to him and the world the pursuing love of God in the cross of Jesus.

Recently I was at a gathering where several disciples shared their stories.  A recurring theme was the life change as a result of being loved by their discipler.  Not only will your disciple never forget being pursued by you, but it will serve as a point of reference for the rest of his life.  Because he has experienced the love of being pursued, he will pursue others.

Some closing lessons from the pursuit:

  • Pursuing is hard work.
  • Pursuing is deliberate.
  • Begin the pursuit by having your disciple tell you his story.
  • The pursuit of your disciple will take months.  Depending on the individual it may take many initiatives before you see a response.  (The pursuit often causes a disciple to face his deepest fears which he has avoided for years.)
  • The experience of being pursued teaches your disciple how to pursue others.
  • Parents, pursue each of your children. Children, pursue your parents. Brothers and sisters, pursue one another.  Friends, pursue your friends.

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.