Monday, August 1
A few folks have asked me to post a paper I wrote for a college class on my vision of discipleship. I warn you its a 8pg. paper and to long for a blog. Feel free to comment if you'd like
Discipleship, the process of a Disciple growing in maturity toward Christlikeness, being equipped for service and learning to minister to others in the body of Christ, is the primary role of the Church in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ. While the goal of every believer ought to be to grow in a relationship with the trinity and look increasingly more like Jesus in every aspect of life; often a misunderstanding of the role of the Church (or lack thereof) in a believer’s life stifles this process. Therefore my vision for discipleship is to, alongside the Holy Spirit, help mend and restore the Church to health; so that the members can be truly and fully discipled; not only for themselves but also for the sake of the world.
Most often, the Churches view of discipleship is in terms of programs, book or bible studies, accountability partners or numbers in participation for varying services and events. A quick search on google.com for the topic of discipleship shows a listing of sites offering options for a Pastor/leader who is looking for discipleship implementation options for their Church. Most of these come in the form of curriculum; used either one-on-one, or in small groups settings. One of the sites that show up first is First Steps. Their concept is for a church or individual to use the curriculum one-on-one with a new believer, but they specify that the discipler must strictly follow the outline sent, and the Disciplers are not to gain in any way from the relationship (even emotionally). In the contract, which both the disciple and discipler are to consent, to it specifies “Your discipler has made a commitment to lead you through this notebook in about ten lessons. Your discipler does not have an obligation to spend more time with you than the ten required lessons.” (disciplinganother.com). Is that really how we would define a discipling relationship within the body of Christ? Meeting ten or so times to go through a workbook together after which all responsibilities and ties can just end, and that person is on their way to maturity in Christ. The church is lacking in the area of discipleship. What is suppose to be the natural outcome and role of the church is missing, and we will not find it through pre-packaged curriculum with strict boundaries, relying most heavily upon Bible teaching and study with follow-up questions.
Discipleship is more than a contract to learn biblical principals and basic doctoral statements; it is more than meeting for a set time for accountability. Discipleship involves a choice to enter into relationship [with Christ] and accept a new way of life, submitting to God through the leading and power of His Holy Spirit. Discipleship is allowing the Church, the body of Christ, to aid in our process. Forming us into His image, and learning our own Spiritual gifts so that we can fulfill our own role with in the church; “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ… (no longer)… tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.” (Eph 4:13-15 NRSV)
Many of the so-called discipleship methods are actually supplementary or replacements for the true process of discipleship. True biblical discipleship took place within the context of the church and encouraging relationships with other believers in the body of Christ. Heinrich Arnold, in his book entitled Discipleship, affirms the communal aspect of discipleship “The decision to follow Christ must be a deeply personal one. But it can never mean- as someone once said to me, “Only Jesus and I remain.” Discipleship must always be related to one’s brothers and sisters.” Therefore Jesus brings together the two commandments “Love God with all your heart, soul, and being,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Heinrich Arnold, pg. 18)
The 21st century, in which we live, is a great distance from the life and culture of the early first century church and there is some ambiguity of what the early church looked like in function; some speculate they followed the synagogue model. If they did follow the pattern of the synagogue, it was highly modified to include the encouragement of the brethren and the use of the gifts of the body during the service; which were not common practices during the synagogue worship. We find a clear example of this type of church life in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Verse 26, often under the heading of Orderly Worship, describes a church service in this way: “…when you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1Cor. 14:26 NRSV). Paul then admonishes them with some ground rules for an orderly service. Making clear that God is the giver of gifts but, their use is expected to be orderly and for the building up of the body.
Ephesians 4:12, 13 is often quoted as the goal of Discipleship: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” If we were pressed to define the goal of Jesus in His relationship with the disciples this passage is fitting. Everything Jesus did with the disciples was to equip them for the work of the Gospel, to mature them, and to build them up and connect them with the Father.
Christ’s call and goal was discipleship. A problem we face today in modern Christianity is that some of our definitions are confused or inaccurate. Today, in the church, it is possible to be “saved” but not be a disciple. Discipleship is like a next step, necessary, but not something to loose your salvation over, so to speak, if you decide not to enter in to it. I would challenge this idea of separating being a Christian from being a disciple. The essence of being a disciple is embedded in following Jesus.
In Matthew 28:19, 20 we read, what we now call, the “Great Commission” that Jesus gave to his disciples, and is carried over to all disciples of Christ. The scripture reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Of whom was Christ implying they were to make disciples? They were to make Disciples of Christ, The 12 disciples were to then become the example, and teach the principals that Jesus had taught them.
After the feast of Pentecost, one of the Feasts of the Lord given in the Old Testament, and the falling of the Holy Spirit, the church grew exponentially, Reading through the New Testament epistles we gain a picture of the members ministering to the members, leaders arising and the Holy Spirit calling leaders forth. Going back to the passage in Ephesians four mentioned earlier, it is necessary to read the preceding verses to understand how this growing, maturing, and attaining the full stature happens. Starting in 4:11, Paul describes the gifts, often referred to as the five-fold ministry; “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers”. Why did he give these gifts to some? The answer lies in verse 12 “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ”. My study of the Epistles leads me to believe that what we claim as the goal of discipleship is met by the work of the five-fold ministry active in a healthy church. When this happens the “whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Eph.4:16). So the goal of discipleship is met through the church and the body (members) being the body the way it was intended.
My plan is to start in the local church. Every church is different and has members of varying maturity. While there are many churches seeking to emulate the New Testament epistles, updated to the 21st century, others have confused the role of the church. They see its primary function as evangelism, reaching out to the world, and engaging in social justice outreaches and politics. These things are good but they are not the primary function of the church. The primary function of the church and the reason we assemble is for the encouraging, training, exhorting, correcting, and building up of the body, so the body can glorify God and fulfill His work in the world.
Discipleship is the process of growing in Christ-likeness, understanding how God created us, what our spiritual gifts are, and how they fit into the working of the body. The purpose of this is for the encouragement of the body and leading those who do not believe toward becoming disciples of Christ. This is the natural outcome of a healthy church functioning with the five-fold ministry in place, and every member fulfilling their part.
I understand that it takes time for a church to grow through this process and correct things that may be out of line, but each church needs to allow God to show them where they are and what their next step is in the process of moving toward health. Teaching is needed as the body makes the transition from looking to a staff for everything to realizing and functioning as a body.
My prayer is that instead of coming up with more supplemental programs and ideas designed to meet a need we work at correcting the underlying problem in the church so that we function as God intended. I know the task is daunting but I am not willing to follow another plan to make up for the lack of follow through on Gods plan in the church and for discipleship.
See Appendix A for teaching/training point for guiding the church towards health.
Considering the uniqueness of each church, below are a few areas of teaching or training points for within the local body to help grow a church back to a place of health to ensure the discipleship of the body.
The Purpose of the Church
Many believers and corporate bodies do not understand the true purpose and function of the church, as well as the necessity and goal of our meeting together. Some Christians believe the purpose of our church service/worship is reaching unbelievers; others believe it is solely for teaching and musical worship. The reality is that the church is a living organism and multi-faceted, but is not suppose to be dominated by one person. The body needs to work together under the authority/leadership of the Church (Most often a Pastor and leadership team). This is a foundational point of teaching within a body, if it is the role and function of the church, and our meeting together, to lead us in discipleship then this is a crucial point.
The Believers Role in the Church
It was never intended for the believer to be a passive recipient; attending for a brief time of worship and a sermon then going about their daily life. The Church is a beautiful living organism, a community of family members with Christ as their brother and the living God as their Father. In Ephesians, we see that as each part (member of the body) works together properly it promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. In our independent society we tend to believe we can do it on our own, we do not need the church, other believers, or anything else involved in our spiritual walk, we can talk to God on our own. Others may not go to that extreme but are willing to be passive listeners in church; most not even knowing that the church can not grow with out them, all believers, fully invested and apart. God has uniquely created each individual and bestowed spiritual gifts upon them to serve the body and aid them in their ministry.
While this seems like a basic point, the reality is God speaks to us in many ways. If we are to function as a body when we meet together, and use the gifts God has given us (teaching, encouraging, exhorting, correcting, prophecy, etc.), then we need to understand that He does speak, and we can hear Him. The next step is to learn to do/say what he leads us to do and say (under the authority of the headship of the Church).
God Gave (spiritual) Gifts.
In 1 Cor.12: 4, 7 we read that there “are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit… But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”. While we all have spiritual gifts from God, the goal is that each believer not only knows their gift, but also receives training in their gifting and uses it for the edification of the body and the growing in maturity of its members. Reading chapter 12 in full we understand the larger picture of every member playing their part is what is the common good for the body.
The Five-Fold Ministry
Many churches are lacking or opposed to the five-fold ministry working in the local body. Most Pastors and churches are ok with the role of Pastor, Teacher, and Evangelist. The problem comes when we start talking about the role of Apostles and Prophets. In part, this is due to confusion on these two roles and their function in the church, but it is also due to a misuse of gifts on the part of some that have hurt the body and caused wounding. The reality is that each of these gifts are necessary and needed for the church to be healthy and function properly but those who are called to these gifts need to be trained in how to use their gifts, given a safe environment and open to correction. The purpose of the five-fold ministry is not to dominate the people or “rule” the Pastor (as many Pastors fear will happen). The five-fold ministry is always to submit to God and to the local church, working in love and for the sold purpose of building up and training the body.
When we look at discipleship today and outline what needs to be involved for a relationship to be considered a discipling relationship, the things that come to mind should be natural parts of our Christian relations. My relationships within the body currently are discipling relationships as well as friendships. None of us sat down and said we are going to hold each other accountable, be honest and open, read the scripture together and sign a contract to so for the next three months, but we all were taught what it meant to be a true friend and member in the body of Christ. With that in mind we naturally hold each other accountable, seek honesty and openness in our relationships, pray together and for one another and set up times to study the word.
Wednesday, July 20
This past week we had a particular loud storm. It was in the morning, my kids had just finished breakfast and I managed to convince them to get out of their pj's and into clothes for the day. The sky turned really dark and the wind began to pick up. As the rain came down hard and thunder began to roll my kids got scared. At one point, I was folding laundry while the kids played on the floor and thunder roared so loud I jumped off the couch which did not help the kids calm down at all.
Tuesday, May 24
My Plan of Evangelism
We all have a story; we may see our story as starting at different times, some in their childhood, some in their teen years and some not until later in life. Whether we realize it or not our stories began long ago, our stories are just one in a line of many all pointing to the same conclusion. From the beginning of time, all of creation has pointed toward Christ’s coming, redemption, and parousia, and every person born is a part of the Big Story of God. Whether an individual is a believer or unbeliever they are apart of Gods Story. As believers, God calls us to witness to those who have yet to enter a loving relationship with the Father and accept the gift of salvation offered only through His son Jesus Christ.
Just as every person is apart of God’s Big Story, we each have our own individual stories, which are valuable to God and to our fellow man. It is easy to think of our story as swallowed up in Gods story, while this is true it is not to the neglect of our individual story. All of our stories point either toward Christ or away from him. In the process of evangelism, God is asking us to share His Story, the good news of the Gospel, with our fellow man. Sometimes this will involve sharing our own personal story as well, and at other times, our story may not enter the conversation, or may come later in the relationship (if one develops).
Our individual stories are long and often when sharing the Gospel the Holy Spirit may lead us to share a certain part of our life while leaving out other aspects of our story. I am only twenty-eight years old and yet I have been able to share parts of my story with those close to three times my elder as well as with little kids. Obviously, I did not share the same content. My regular prayer to God is that I would be open to the leading of His Spirit at every moment of every day. I cannot plan when a conversation with my neighbor will lead to a prayer or when it will stick to the topic of gardening but God is more than aware and He is already at work on others and on us. He is aware of the process of the person we are talking with and He is more than confident in His leading us in what to share and how to share it.
Learning to listen to and understand the voice of God, as well as responding with obedience, are the first steps in my plan of Evangelism. The Holy Spirit is our helper and our guide, as I learn to listen to the Holy Spirit I see regular trips to the supermarket becoming God-encounters, and at other times they are simply trips to the supermarket. The reason this is such a valuable step and part of my “plan” is that it puts all the pressure back on God. It is not my job to save people, to come up with what to say, to convince them etc. My only job is to be submitted to God in love, walking in obedience. This does not rule out the need for preparation, on the contrary, as we read in 1 Peter 3:15 we need to “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence”.
For this reason another part of my plan of evangelism is to be in the habit of studying scripture. I do not mean to study only the parts of scripture that refer to some form of evangelism but to be in the discipline of studying. God can and does speak to us through his word. If we store up the words of God in our heart we give Him more to pull from when we reach certain circumstances. If I am witnessing to a woman, all the while praying for direction, and God brings to mind the story of the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well I would then ask God how that applies to this woman and how I can use that in sharing Christ with her. Knowing the word also helps when people have problems with God and Christianity or if they have trouble understanding God or the ways he acted in scripture. One of the common responses of unbelievers toward the thought of God is “what about the Old Testament? Is that the same God? He did a lot of mean and violent stuff to people and I could not follow a God like that”. Our understanding of scripture and how God reveals His character and His principals, through the compliment of both testaments, helps clear up those misunderstandings and show unbelievers that there is one God and he is all good, all loving and all just all at the same time and never to the neglect of an aspect of His character. Our study of scripture also serves to aid us in our understanding of God and His ways. The more we understand, the more we can share with others who do not believe. The Bible teaches us how to walk in Christ likeness, how to minister, how to teach, how to love and so much more. As we learn these things, our very life will be the fragrance of Christ both to those who believe and to those who are perishing (2Cor2:15).
Another part of my plan of evangelism is to stay up to date on what is happening in our culture as well as around the world. It is important as believers to not live in a bubble. We are to live in the world but not to allow the ways of the world to guide us. We are to remember that while we live in the world we are citizens of another realm. But, we are still to be in the world. Much of what is happening today (and in history for that matter) is a great source of grief and misunderstanding for those in the world who do not know God. There is so much devastation, pain, poverty, crime, and pure evil for an unbeliever to understand or even believe that there is a good all-powerful God who created this world and who still holds all power.
Some of the problems and question unbeliever have today relate to the events in Haiti, New Orleans, the surge of tornado’s and hurricanes, the unrest in the Middle East, revolutions, wars, famine, sex-slavery, selfishness and list goes on and on. The common question is that if God is good, loving and all-powerful he could do something about all this, but evil and pain continue, so either there is not a God or he is not a God I want to follow. We do not want to be unaware of the struggles of our fellow man but we want to be able to approach the situations of the world from a higher perspective. We do not have all the answers, we cannot say why certain things happened or if it was judgment or just nature. We do not understand why some people are protected and others suffer or die. We may never have these answers for a hurting world but we do know God, we know the story of how he created and intended the world to be and we know what set things in a different direction, the fall of man and handing over of this world to the enemy of God. But, we also know Gods plan of redemption, we know the hope of the story in the coming of Christ. We know and can communicate the love of God that was demonstrated to the world in the sending of His Son, the death of His Son and the resurrection of His Son by the very power of God. We also know Gods plan for the future, for us to realize in the natural the full reign of God over everything. Hebrews 2 tells us: “’you have put all things in subjection under his feet’. For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus…” (Heb 2:8-9a). Although Satan is the God of this world, Christ has opened the door for redemption, and all who choose to enter in take part in the kingdom of God. The good news of salvation must be spread to all peoples, to every set of ears born. Gods desire is that all would receive the salvation He has freely offered to all who believe; in actuality we know that many will reject this free gift and the way of life that is a part of a relationship with God.
We need to understand that some, even many, will reject God. It is easy to feel guilty if people we are witnessing to reject the life God has called them to, but we must remember it is not about us. If we are fulfilling the great commission through being led by the Spirit and open to the voice of God in every situation, following through with obedience, then all we need to do is what God tells us to do in the way he tells us to do it. In this way, although it will break our heart if people reject the Gospel we must keep our focus on God, allow him to correct us if we did make a mistake and trust that he loves the lost far more than we do and he is working to lead them toward him.
Another part of my plan is honesty. By honesty, I do not only mean not lying but also not withholding certain things for the sake of getting a yes from people. I have heard people teach that in evangelism you pretty much are not suppose to say anything hard, say nothing about lifestyle change… Jesus accepts people just as they are right? This avoidance of the ‘hard things’ is thought to be based in Love but really it is based in self and not the love of God. Jesus said many hard things but he was always right in what he was saying and in his motivation. My goal is not to purposely turn people away but I also will not shy away from hard things if the Spirit is leading me to share those things. I remember hearing a preacher once say, “what you win them with, you will have to keep them with”. This has always stuck with me and been apart of my plan of evangelism. If we ‘win’ people with a prosperity gospel what will happen when hard times come? Will they have a strong enough relationship with God to stick it out and grow in the midst of what is happening? What if God wants us to tell people to leave all they have and fully submit to Jesus as Lord, that there life will no longer be there own, that they will be giving up all right to control their own life? These are things many would never say to an unbeliever, out of fear or man or fear of turning them off to the gospel, but are not these principals involved in following Jesus. The beauty of these hard sayings is that we are not just giving up control and throwing things to the wind, we are giving complete authority to the creator of the universe, who has a perfect perspective of how things are, is completely loving and good and has only our best in mind. We are choosing to admit that we do not know how things are suppose to be, that we are prone toward selfishness and carnal desires but we are wiling to put our trust in one greater than ourselves.
I know many will have questions about Christianity but I also do not have a set answer for these type of questions. Through out the gospels we see Jesus giving answers to questions the Pharisee’s did not seem to ask, or addressing what people were really thinking but not willing to say aloud. Different people have asked me the same question but, each time I answer, it is different. People are asking questions for a variety of reasons, some out of anger, or hurt, some out of cynicism or pride. We do not know where the question is coming from but God does and I trust that he will lead me in addressing the questions that he allows people to bring my way. This, plus being faithful to study scripture, culture, and other beliefs leads me to answer the same question in many different ways. Most often, I find peoples questions are not really about the specific details they are asking about but are about principals. Through study of scripture and time spent in relationship with God we can understand the principals he has laid out and communicate those to people who are seeking.
My main step in my plan of evangelism is in being overwhelmed by the love of God for me and the world, and asking to Him to continually open my eyes to see from his perspective. As we become increasingly devoted in our love toward Him and throw ourselves into understanding Him and demonstrating Christ-likeness in our everyday life, evangelism will pour out of our whole life naturally. No area of our life will be closed off to evangelism but everything from our prayers, marriages, families, daily ‘chores’, and errands, purposeful encounters and everyday life will be permeated with openness to evangelism as the Spirit leads and directs. Moreover, we can trust that God desires the lost to receive salvation even more than we do and He is able to lead us to fulfill our role. All we have to do is walk in humble submission and obedience, leading with love.
Tuesday, April 19
Humanity was created in the image of God and declared good. At the fall, in mans act of disobedience and lack of trust in God, sin entered humanity and man immediately knew that something changed. Everyone now born, is born into sin. Although we are not culpable for the sin of the primeval couple, our nature is corrupted and we become culpable on our own account.
At the fall of mankind, sin entered, and death through sin. This death was more than a physical event, it was a spiritual one. Humanity was separated from their creator and had their perspective of God marred. God is his great foreknowledge, before the world was even created had a plan to restore humanity back with their creator. Jesus Christ was this plan, he is the author and finisher of our faith. It was the whole process of the incarnation that made a way for mans atonement. Christ’s coming, sent by God, his life, death, resurrection and ascension made a way for us to be restored back to the Father. Christ did not merely appease an angry God or play a trick on Satan, and it was not just the death of Christ that made a way for our atonement but every aspect of the incarnation.
The process of salvation, though not specifically listed in scripture, is that God is at work by his Spirit drawing the individual; the individual has an opportunity (or opportunities) to respond to God. In this way, salvation is both a gift and a task. It is primarily a gift from God but each individual must respond by accepting Gods gift through faith.
I believe sanctification is an ongoing process of the believer, moving toward maturity and holiness to the full stature of Christ. This process begins at salvation with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit continues this work as the believer continually submits to God. Sanctification is not the means of salvation but the fruit of salvation.
There is one true spiritual church, represented on earth through local bodies. The local church consists of those members who join together confessing faith in Jesus Christ and commit to the process of growing in maturity to the full stature of Christ.
The assembling of the believers is a necessary function of the church , encouraging, teaching and building up the body so that each member can fulfill their call and minister to the world.
Church and State
The primary role of the Church is not political but spiritual. The focus of the church at all times should be in glorifying God and building the body of believers to fulfill the great commission in spreading the gospel and disciplining believers. In matters of the state the church can and should influence wherever possible, but always as secondary to their primary goal. Every interaction or influence between church and state must be Spirit led and not personally motivated.
I believe that since the resurrection of Christ, upon death, the individual enters either heaven or hell, depending upon the choices made during their life. If they choose to put their faith in Christ and believed in him they will be with the father, if not they will be in hell. There was an intermediate state before the resurrection of Christ, now there is no more intermediate state. During this time, the believer is also awaiting their resurrected body, which they will receive at the second coming of Christ. Upon the second coming of Christ and his victory over darkness, those who believe will spend eternity with the father in the new earth. Those who did not believe will spend eternity separated from God.
The universe will be restored (either through recreation or restoration) when Christ comes again in triumph. The church will be gathered with him, then he will come in judgment against Satan and his followers. Christ will realize the victory accomplished on the cross as all things are visibly under his feet. Eternity is sealed, those who were in unbelief are cast with satan and those who believed spend eternity with the father and experience the new heaven and the new earth.
These are my current views based on my current understanding of scripture. There are some gaps due to the fact that I am in process and would rather leave gaps that declare something I am unsure of. Portions of this statement may change over time but not in key biblical principals.
Tuesday, March 1
I was sitting at my kitchen table today with a fresh cup of coffee, studying for some classes while my boy played outside. This is the first somewhat warm day (and by warm I mean 42 degrees), and he has been going crazy cooped up inside all winter. As I watched him play, pretending, seeing how far he could get his bike to go on one push...I was struck with his innocence. His smile so sincere and playful. At the same time I was hit with the reality that hundreds of thousands of little children his age are taken from their family, have their innocence stripped, and are forced into the sex-trade or slave labor all over the world; including America.