The bottom line is simply this: the Great Commission was not given to the eleven as individuals, but to them as the church in embryo. We rightly recognize that the Great Commission was not merely a command to the eleven apostles. It was a mandate to the church, of which they were the foundation (Ephesians 2:20). More than this, it is not a command to every Christian to apply independently so much as it is for the church corporately. Discipleship is the corporate responsibility of the church. Although every Christian should give testimony of his faith, some are given the gift, the special, spirit-given ability, to evangelize (Ephesians 4:11, etc.) to teach (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11), to help, to lead (1 Corinthians 12:28), and so on.
The church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). What He began to do and to teach, the church is to continue (Acts 1:lff). No Christian individually and independently can fully represent or reflect the person of Christ. Only the church can do this corporately. Each and every Christian is a valuable member of His body, and each has its unique function (1 Corinthians 12:20-30).
Then what should we do as individuals to carry out our part of this Great Commission? At last, we have come to the heart of the matter. It all boils down to a matter of gifts and calling. The eleven ‘disciples’ were gifted and called of God to serve as apostles. It was their task to lay down the terms of salvation. It was their calling to lay down the foundation for the church (Matthew 16:18-20; Ephesians 2:19-22). They had a particular function and role to play in the carrying out of the Great Commission, but it was not their task alone. They did not feel compelled to go, but to stay, for they were not called, as was Paul, to preach to the Gentiles.
If you and I are to be responsible Christians and obedient to the Great Commission, we should look to our individual gifts and calling to determine what part we are to play in its outworking.
Friday, March 31, 2006
Thursday, March 30, 2006
I’ve been impressed lately with the emphasis throughout Scripture on the importance of relationships—both with God and with other people. For example, in the midst of predictions of coming judgment for failure to love their fellow man, Amos calls for “justice and righteousness” (5:24) which showed that their worship was hypocritical (5:21-23). Micah calls for justice, kindness and humility before God (6:8) instead of empty sacrifice (6:7). Jonah epitomizes lack of love as he refuses to forgive the Assyrians and has no compassion for them, all the while espousing that he serves the true God. The emphasis in the Sermon on the Mount is on relationships—forgiveness, reconciliation, not judging, etc. The priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan knew the Law and had just been to worship God, but would not help/love the injured man. There are countless examples.
In the past I would have designed a discipleship plan around doctrinal content teaching everything from theology to eschatology. My course outline would have looked like a seminary curriculum with the emphasis on content. I think a lot of discipleship programs are nothing more than a transfer of information from the teacher’s notebook to the disciple’s notebook. But when the author of Hebrews says they could not handle deeper truth because they had not learned the elementary things, I’m convinced the problem was application. They did not practice what they had learned (Heb 5:14). And the thing that is most difficult to practice is loving one’s neighbor and building good relationships.
Therefore, I am designing my discipleship plan with an emphasis on relationships. Certainly, the doctrinal content is necessary.
Keathley goes on to outline the things to teach in a discipleship relationship:
If we look at the words of Jesus and specifically at the commands He gave his disciples, we can narrow them into four categories. Therefore, the goal of our discipleship will be to teach and develop the following qualities in the disciple:
- Supreme love for God (Matt. 10:37-40)
- Study and devotion to God’s Word (John 8:31)
- Denial of self—God-ward and man-ward aspects (Mark 8:34)
- Reflection of Christ’s love toward others (Matt. 22:39)
These characteristics build on one another. We can’t love others until we have learned to deny self. We won’t deny self until we have studied the Word and seen why we need to deny self. We won’t have a devotion to God’s Word, until we have a supreme love for God and want to know what He has said in His Word.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
I am saddened to report that as I work with churches across the United States today, I see a discipleship taught in which there is no expectation that disciples take time regularly to minister to anyone else. Fully three-fourths of the Christians in the churches I have worked with don't have any time in their lives to minister to anyone outside their own congregations.Sine goes on to give his diagnosis of the church's discipleship strategy:
Most Christians still don't seem to understand that God can actually use their lives to change the world around them. And no one is teaching them a discipleship in which they are challenged to change their priorities to free up one evening a week to evangelize international students or work with the homeless. In fact, you can be a spiritual leader in any evangelical church in this country and never minister to anyone outside the church building.
I am convinced the problem is created in large part by evangelicals who teach that discipleship has to do just with spiritual areas of life. Virtually every book I have read and every forum I have attended teaches a compartmentalized view of discipleship that helps us with our devotions and disposition but has nothing to say about the "non-spiritual" part of our lives. In those other areas having to do with setting priorities, choosing occupations, buying houses, etc., the culture calls the tune and we dance.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
You may say, "I've read Bill Hull's stuff, I know what he has to say about discipleship." But could it be that like me, you're tired of discipleship because you don't see it working? Could it be that like me you left something important out? Like me, could it be that you have been seduced by a false vision of leadership?
Hull goes on to talk about a sermon he preached at his church:
I told the church that the Great Commission is more about depth than strategy, and being spiritually transformed is the primary and exclusive work of the church. I told them believing the right things is not enough—being a Christian means actually following Jesus. We don't drift into discipleship or amble our way half-heartedly down the path of obedience. It is a choice. I told them we had accepted non-discipleship Christianity and we must confess this sin to the Lord.
I ended my sermon by telling them that I was going to evangelize them. I was going to call them to choose the life of following Jesus, the life of spiritual formation, the life that is the answer to the weakness of the church and the boring ineffectiveness of our lives.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
All vital ministry of Word and Spirit arises at an intersection: Truth meets truth. Divine Redeemer meets honest human need. So when two (or more) people meet in discipleship or pastoral counseling, they must get on the table the key elements of that more profound meeting that changes lives today and for all time. There is a ‘real time’ relationship between God and every one of His creatures. Something is at stake today, however consciously faithful or blindly disobedient we are. If this is so, then two key questions must weave throughout all that is said and done in discipleship.
First, what is this person facing in life? To put it more pointedly, what is your greatest struggle and need right now? Where will you face today’s crucial choices? In that moment, in that situation, what will you do? How will you treat people? What will you believe? Where will you place (or misplace) your trust? What will you want? How will you react in that circumstance? These questions look for the significant, decisive choice points in a person’s everyday life: “When you face that situation, which way will you turn?”
Second, what does the Lord say that speaks directly into what you are facing? Who is He? What is He doing? What does He promise? What does He will? And what does He call you to believe, need, trust, hope, and obey? These questions explore a person’s current perceptions of the God who is there and is not silent. Is what God says and does immediately relevant or basically irrelevant?
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Godliness grows as we believe the promises of God.
Godliness flowers as we imitate the character of God.
- Godliness does not grow as we remain passive when we feel tempted beyond our ability to resist. It grows as we believe the promises God gives us and as we use them to escape the stains of worldliness. (Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You [Ps 119:11]).
- Godliness does not grow as we try harder to obey God's perfect law in our own strength. It grows as we believe and use God's promises to proactively imitate His character (2Pet 1:4).
Godliness comes to fruition as we become useful in the knowledge of God.
- We are to supply certain character traits to our faith if that faith is to mature in godliness. Mature people are morally pure, Scripturally knowledgeable, self-controlled, persevering, godly, kind, and loving.
- There is no true growth in godliness or maturity in Christ without the development of Christ-like character. Maturity into spiritual adulthood only develops as we proactively cultivate these habits and character traits in our own hearts and relationships.
- The knowledge of God has a purpose - in its mature form it is supposed to be put to the use of bearing fruit that others can eat and appreciate. If our knowledge of God is not useful or fruitful, we may rightly question whether that knowledge is mature, and may even be wise to question whether it is saving (cf. James 2:14-26).
- The character traits listed in 2Peter 1 are the things that make our knowledge of God useful and fruitful. If these qualities are in us and are increasing, we are useful to God in the building of His church and the spreading of His kingdom.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Misunderstanding #1: Spiritual accountability can be imposed.
God has every right to demand our loyalty and submission, yet He does not. He wants us to come to him willingly, not merely out of duty. He gives us the freedom to have a relationship with Him or to step out of that relationship. Likewise, the relationships we enter into with one another for spiritual accountability are voluntary, not a means for one person to control another's life....
Misunderstanding #2: Accountability means that someone leads and someone follows.To be most effective, spiritual accountability is mutual. Eccl. 4:9-10 says, "Two are better than one . . . if one falls down, his friend can help him up." Spiritual accountability is a supporting function, not a controlling function....
Misunderstanding #3: Accountability focuses on performance.My friend had established a criteria for measuring spiritual growth. His follow-up was a series of interviews to determine if Timothy had climbed the next rung on the ladder....
Our accountability relationships are to encourage one another and to have a ransoming effect by "buying back" lost intimacy with Christ. Then we are free to pursue righteousness, wooed by love and not hounded by duty.
Friday, March 17, 2006
How long it takes for people to reach maturity depends upon where they're starting from and the kinds of problems they're living with as they come into the Family....
So, if your agenda has time tables on it, throw it away.... I have found that it can often take a decade for a person to decide to follow Christ, to manage to overcome the major problems in his or her life, and then, finally, to begin to bear fruit in the lives of the people around him or her. "Oaks of righteousness" do not grow up overnight.
We often make a mistake in this area that causes confusion and does damage to people. I have seen immature Christians, because of their spirituality, put into positions of responsibility they couldn't possibly maintain. They fail to carry the load and then spend the rest of their lives picking up the pieces.
Many times brand-new believers seem to undergo a total transformation from one day to another.... I would not question whether or not this experience is of the Spirit of God. A brand-new believer can and should be spiritual. But a new believer cannot be mature. Maturity comes only with time.
Spirituality is living in dependence on the Spirit of God, and even a new believer ... can do that. Spirituality is a matter of humility before God and faith in Christ. But there is more to our walk with God than this. As time goes on, if we do not fuel our faith with an increasing knowledge of Christ, it will weaken - and we will not mature....
Maturity comes in time, out of a spiritual life that is nourished by an increasing knowledge of Christ through experiences with Him (pp. 64-65).
Thursday, March 16, 2006
We can't operate with preconceived notions about what to give the person next. Instead, we must get our cues from God.
The way I have done this is to take an extended time at least once a month to pray about the people God has allowed me to work with spiritually. To discern what I need to do next with each one, I consider these four questions and write down my thoughts regarding each one:
1. Where is he now? At what point is he, in his spiritual development? What has he already learned, and what progress has he made? What does he have going for him in his Christian life?
2. What is he ready for? Jesus said, "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear" (John 16:12). Here he modeled the principle of waiting for the right time to teach.
3. What is most urgent? Some problems can be lived with for a long time without seriously impeding growth, while others are more urgent. What will help him go on to the next level of maturity, or break a logjam and get him moving again?
4. How can I help him? What can I do to help him meet the need which is most urgent? There are a number of ways I can do this imaginatively. Maybe we need to spend time together reading and praying over the Scriptures. Or perhaps I should give him a certain responsibility, or ask him to help me with something.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
1. The caring mother (encouraging)
How are these three relationships different? Cleveland writes:
In the first stage Paul worked to tenderly motivate them to grow and become eager to live a Christian life. In the next stage he straightforwardly helped them see and fulfill their responsibility as committed Christians. In [the] third stage, Paul knows that they have finally embraced in full both the message and their task.
Jim Petersen in Lifestyle Discipleship borrows from this to talk about spiritual parenting:
The Bible identifies three stages of growth on the road to maturity.... We will refer to these as the newborn/child stage, the youth stage, and the mature brother/sister stage.
The objective is to help a person move from wherever he or she might be to where he or she grows into the full stature of Christ... (p. 57).
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Chili, cheese, and potato chip dinners didn't fall neatly into my list of things to do under the heading "Discipleship activities." They just happened, spontaneously, after church, as we noticed five or six college students standing around looking like they wished someone would ask them to do something.
My wife, Joy, the consummate administrator, seized the moment and said, "Dave, you and Jocelyn bring the chips. Mark, grab some chili (two cans, the large size, with beans). Vicki, get a bag of that pre-shredded cheese, and grab some of these stray students. Meet us at our house in 20 minutes."
Can you honestly imagine a college student refusing such a proposal? Me neither.What happened after the chili arrived could easily be described as discipleship, although no small-group activity was planned, no inductive Bible study prepared, no Christian video played on the VCR, and no extended prayer time set aside. (We did sing a stirring—no pun intended—rendition of "The Doxology" as our blessing for the chili.)
What took place in our living room sounds a lot like what happened when Jesus "hung around" with some young men who became totally committed to following Him. In fact, looking through the New Testament, it seems many significant "teachable moments" took place in social settings. Weddings, dinners, seaside chats, and walks through fields were all part of Jesus' "as you go" ministry.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
What is the need of the hour?
For a beggar with a tin cup, it's a dime. For a woman being taken to the hospital, it's a doctor.
But what is it in Christian work? I started to list the things we often feel are the need—those things which, if supplied, would end our troubles.
Some say, "If I just had a larger staff . . Many a minister would like to have an assistant, and many a mission would like to have more missionaries.
Others say, "We don't need more workers, but better facilities. If we just had more office space and more buildings and a bigger base of operation, then we could do the job."
In some parts of the world they say it's better communications we lack, or better transportation, or better health care, or literature.
Many feel the need is an open door into some closed country. But the Bible says, "My God shall supply all your needs." If we need an open door, why doesn't God open it-"he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth"?
Some say, "If we just had more time," or "If I just weren't so old, if I were only young again." People have said to me, "Daws, if I had known when I was twenty years old what I know now, I could have done a hundred times more for the Lord. Why didn't I?
Often the biggest need seems to be money. Money is the answer to a larger staff, more facilities, better communications and transportation and literature. "If we just had more money."
What is the need of the hour? I don't believe it is any of these. I am convinced that the God of the universe is in control, and he will supply all these needs in his own way and in his own time, all else being right.
The need of the hour is an army of soldiers dedicated to Jesus Christ, who believe that he is God, that he can fulfill every promise he ever made, and that nothing is too hard for him. This is the only way we can accomplish what is on God's heart - getting the gospel to every creature.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
I have used Navigator's Growing in Christ [Note: I came across this summary of the book].
I am presently reading the books in Sovereign Grace Ministries' Pursuit of Godliness Series, and plan to use these in the future:
The spiritual discipline of putting sin to death, othewise known as mortification, is a neglected area of truth.... Mortificationis not popular because it tends to be difficult. Ask the person trying to submit cheerfully to a boss who has repeatedly denied a well-deserved promotion. Ask the recently converted, unmarried couple who must now control sexual urges they have gratified for years. But listen: this i not weekend gold we're playing here. This is war. Holiness and discipleship are war.... Living as a Christian means living in the trenches (p. 45).
Finally, I hope to develop a study through Ephesians for new believers.
Please share what resource material you've used or found helpful, either to disciple or be discipled.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Each generation of the church requires equipped leaders who will reproduce themselves in others.
Tim's text was 2 Timothy 2:2 ... "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others."
Tim and Jane Bahula are missionaries in Trinidad & Tobago.
- Because men and women are different and these differences need to be recognized and taken into account in the course of Christian discipleship.
- Because the Bible teaches so much about biblical manhood and womanhood.
- Because when biblical manhood or womanhood is ignored or not practiced, it results in disasters for marriages and families.
- Because the issue of manhood and womanhood is at the very heart of the cultural transition we find ourselves in right now.
- Because it is one of the, if not the way that biblical authority is being undermined in our times.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
First, a definition of discipleship. Greg Ogden in Transforming Discipleship asks, "How can we grow self-initiating, reproducing, fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ?" He defines discipleship as "an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equip, and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well." I appreciate his relationship-based approach versus something program-based.
Here are links to a few articles I posted in 2005 on discipleship:
- Less Is Better? (about spending more time with fewer people)