What is God Like?

While looking for ministry methods, Christianity has the tendency to skip over the Gospels and dive into the book of Acts and Paul’s letters.  Yet it is in the Gospels that we have four accounts of God coming to earth to show us what God is like.  “When Church Was a Family” by Joseph Hellerman is one of the more thought provoking books I have read in a while.  He writes:

“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.”[1]

The answer to What is God is like? as seen in the Gospels is love.  At the baptism of Jesus the heavenly Father breaks silence and declares his love for his Son.  “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17) Here we discover the family love bond between the heavenly Father and Jesus.  This familiar love becomes 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.” (John 15:9)As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

While reading the Gospels our Western eyes are drawn to ministry methods and we can easily miss the relational component of Jesus’ approach.   Imitating the methods of Jesus without the family love element will result in a sterile religion rather than a dynamic spiritual family.  It is essential for your disciples to understand that God relates to them as a Father and they are to relate to him as a son.  This understanding is the basis on which your disciples are to lovingly relate to one another as brothers.  The brotherly love your disciples have for one another is a window for the world to see into the heavenly Father’s love for Jesus and their perfect unity. “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

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

Unity and Making Disciples 3

I just got off the phone with a missionary to remote China.  The struggle for the missionaries has not been the language, the food, or the culture; but rather the relational tension between the missionaries on their team.  They feel a loss of creditability in sharing the gospel because of their inability to get along with one another.  Jesus words, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” taunt them.  One wonders why unity even among committed believers is difficult.

The community of believers in which a disciple finds himself is by design.  In his sovereignty, the Holy Spirit knows with whom each disciple needs to interrelate.  As Inagrace Tieterich correctly states:  “The role of the Holy Spirit is to form loving community: to create a people for God’s name, who bear God’s likeness in their character, as that is seen in their behavior” [1]. This community designed by the Holy Spirit will not only expose each person for who he is, but it will also give each individual the opportunity to learn how to lovingly relate to other believers in order that their relationship with one another can be a witness of the gospel to the world.  My friend Bill Greene says that he knows where the Lord is at work in his life based on who the Lord places into his immediate world for him to love; those from whom he cannot escape.

Robert Bellah sees living in community as an essential component for our own growth and for the benefit of others.  He writes:  “We find ourselves not independently of other people and institutions but through them.  We never get to the bottom of ourselves on our own.  We discover who we are face to face and side by side with others in work, love, and learning.  All of our activity goes on in relationships, groups associations, and communities ordered by institutional structures and interpreted by cultural patterns of meaning” [2]. It was no accident that Jesus made disciples in a group.

A couple closing thoughts:

  1. Conflict in a community of believers is not a disruption to the purpose of God but rather they are an opportunity to teach your disciples how to love each other, how to build unity and therefore expanding the kingdom of God.
  2. Your disciple’s interaction with the others in a community will help you know your disciple.  It is more difficult to get to know a person apart from community.
  3. Each individual, no matter how difficult, is an essential element in the Spirit’s building unity in the group.  (Be careful not to think, “This could be a good community if only Jessica were not on the team.” In reality, Jessica may be the key to building the unity on the team that the Lord intends.)

[1] Inagrace T. Tieterich, Missional Community, Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North American (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 148.

[2] Robert Bellah, et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1983), p. 84.

Making Disciples as a Team

Christianity is struggling in Chicago. Evangelicalism has spent thousands of dollars on advertising, church planting, and evangelistic outreach with disappointing results. Although the gospel is powerful, I wonder if we are hindered by our method. Christianity continues to approach Chicago as it has always done with church planters and missionaries working as “Lone Rangers,” even though we have the example of Jesus building and ministering from a team. Training His men, Jesus used fishing as a picture for making disciples. We envision a lone person with a rod and reel, while in the first century, fishing was a group effort netting multiple fish. It was no accident that Jesus wanted fishermen on His team.

The Holy Spirit gives each person an ability that works in harmony with the other team members. In our own community Jeremy is the energy behind us serving one another. Ryan and Abbie remind us of the lost people around us while Dan keeps us authentic. Prayer is Maureen’s passion, Randall leads us to give, Leah keeps us in the word, and Rachel has a hug for everyone. It is living in community that we have learned how to work together and how to love a variety of personalities. Unity is a choice that requires humility and hard work to keep a sure grip on the net.

The basis for this team approach is found in the nature of God. God is made up of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They exist in harmony, and out of their relationship flows an infinite love to the world through the cross of Jesus. A discipling team is a picture of God to the world by their love for one another as John describes in 1 John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” The team embodies our message.

Our mission is no more difficult than the Roman world of Jesus. As He faced the challenge by forming a team, so we also should form teams believing that our unity is the point of engagement with our culture. Our unity is how Chicago will be convinced that the Father has sent Jesus into the world. “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).

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.

First Things First

My name is Lewie Clark, and I have been in ministry for 28 years. As a young man I was discipled to be a follower of Jesus by a man named Taylor Gardner. The process of being discipled was life changing. After pastoring for a number of years I moved to Chicago in 2005 to begin ministry from “scratch.”

I am neither a writer nor a blogger, but several friends have asked me to journal our experiences. There are fifteen of us here in Chicago learning together what it means to build a community of followers of Jesus. Together we will periodically share with you the story of our journey.

First Things First

The great commission is to make followers of Jesus, not to plant churches.

My objective in moving to Chicago was to make followers of Jesus rather than plant a church. My conviction is that the by-product of making followers of Jesus is an authentic kingdom community.

Many church planting methods place the cart before the horse. One plants a church (meaning, one recruits a pastor, chooses a target group, decides on a name, writes a mission statement, creates a constitution with by-laws, and files for tax exemption) in order to reach people with the good news of Jesus. The church planting process is cumbersome, expensive, and therefore prohibitive. Although I do not question the motives of church planting I simply ask the question, “Is there a better way?”

It was C. S. Lewis who said, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in; put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” When one makes disciples first it will result in kingdom communities of faith and love. But when one plants churches first there is the danger of not only not making followers of Jesus but also of setting the church start up for failure.

We are only allowing our Chicago community to grow at the rate that we can effectively make disciples. Years ago Robert Coleman exhorted the church:

One can not transform a world except as individuals in the world are transformed, and individuals cannot be changed except as they are molded in the hands of the Master. The necessity is apparent not only to select a few laymen, but to keep the group small enough to be able to work effectively with them.  [1]

I believe that Chicago and the world can be changed through our one small band of followers of Jesus.

[1] Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism, (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1963) p. 24.