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.

Hospitality and Making Space

Hospitality is a beautiful and effective means to share the gospel. A family that is hospitable mirrors how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit made space for mankind to belong to the family of God. A love that is “God like” cannot help but reach out and make space for others. It is unnatural for a child of God not to be hospitable and the reason why it is a qualification to be a church leader.

Hospitality originates from the love within a family just as the gospel is an outflow of the Godhead’s love for each other. Hospitality flows from a couple’s love for one another, the parents’ love for each child, the children’s love for their parents, and the children’s love for one another. Hospitality is a spiritual bi-product of a family that loves one another well and each family member has a role in hospitality, even a 12-month-old child.

The spiritual power of hospitality lies in the sacrifice made by the family. Space is made for the outsider at a cost of the host’s self-sacrifice and servant’s heart. The house needs to be cleaned, shopping done, money spent, the table set, cooking the meal, and the most difficult of jobs-the cleanup. (There have been times when I resisted being hospitable just because of the thought of the cleanup.)

There is also the cost of the disruption of the routine for each family member. Hospitality teaches the children that life is not just about “me” or “us” but making room for others. Hospitality gives parents the opportunity to teach their children how to lay down their lives for others as Jesus laid down his life for us.

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)

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?

 

Fast Food and the Family

The dinner table is about love and belonging. I use to see fast food restaurants as a threat to our families and culture but now I realize that they are actually the creation of our culture. Our rugged individualism, independence,  demand for instant gratification, and minimum relational attachments find its expression in the drive-thru window.  Unlike our predecessors we can now afford to circumvent the dinner table by grabbing a Quarter Pounder and a Happy Meal all in the name of convenience.

But building relationships has never been convenient. A meal begins with the self-denial to set aside the time required to have dinner together as a family. As parents there is not only the surrender of our own wants (and laziness) in order to make dinner with our family possible but also the struggle to teach the value of the meal to our children as they are pulled by the internet, homework, television, video games, music lessons, friends, sporting events, and school events. We make room for whom and what we value and because relationships and family are no longer important to us the dinner table is disappearing from our culture.

The love of the dinner table is activated by the sacrifice of purchasing or growing the food, preparing the food, setting the table, and the clean up afterwards. It is hard work but meals provide for us the opportunity to lay our lives down for one another that results in having the meaningful relationships for which we long and for which we were made.

 

 

 

 

Hospitality Was Central To My Spiritual Ancestry

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This past year we had over 200 overnight guests and even more dinner guests in our home. We believe that Jesus demonstrated the inseparable link between hospitality and the good news of the kingdom of God.

Meanwhile this summer I began investigating my spiritual ancestry by interviewing my parents and Taylor Gardner who had discipled me over 30 years ago. He, along with his wife Jimmye, taught me the role of hospitality in disciple-making.

While interviewing the Gardners I asked where they had learned about hospitality. It all began in the 1960’s while Taylor was in seminary when a missionary named Dick Patty spoke on disciple-making and hospitality, which resonated deeply in Taylor’s heart. Dick had discovered hospitality through a World War II veteran named Jesse Miller whose life was changed forever when he experienced the hospitality of missionaries Cyril and Anna Brooks while he was stationed in the Philippines.  A biographer wrote of Jesse Miller:

“Longing for Christian fellowship, Jesse joined other servicemen at the weekly dinner and Bible study hosted by missionaries Cyril and Anna Brooks. He was so touched and overwhelmed by their hospitality, the Christian fellowship, and the teaching of God’s Word, that he prayed to God, “If I ever have a home of my own, You can have it for servicemen.”

Six months ago I was unaware of the existence of Dick and Margret Patty, Jesse and Nettie Miller, nor Cyril and Anna Brooks but now I see their spiritual DNA not only in my ministry but also in the lives of my disciples. Where would my life and ministry be today if Cyril and Anna had not opened their home to Jesse Miller 70 years ago?

I shutter to think how close I came to missing out on the richness of my spiritual heritage and not being able to pass it on to my disciples and to their disciples.

Jimmye and Taylor Gardner

Jimmye and Taylor Gardner

Margret and Dick Patty

Margret and Dick Patty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna and Cyril Brooks

Anna and Cyril Brooks

Jesse Miller

Jesse Miller

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.