disciple (12)

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:30-34 NIV).9570814858?profile=original

In our journey of discovering what matters most to God, let’s continue to ponder what He says in 1 Corinthians 13. The second quality identified in 1 Corinthians 13:4 is that a Christian who reflects Christlike love is kind. Think of kindness as “selflessly caring about and helping others.”

The foundation for kindness includes two principles. First, kindness is a choice. A Christian can respond to a situation or person in any of three ways: kindly, unkindly, or absentmindedly. God calls us to the highest of those choices: Be kind.

Second, kindness is an action. In God’s eyes, it is not just the thought that counts; that thought must morph into action.

Christlike kindness comes in many models. For example, a committed Christ-follower is:

  • Friendly: Accepting others as they are, welcoming newcomers warmly, listening to others, and protecting others
  • Compassionate: Caring for and helping others who are in difficult circumstances
  • Generous: Willingly helping others with gifts of time, money, encouragement, or other resources
  • Forgiving: (Stay tuned for more on this major act of love in Part 8 of this series.)

In these and other ways, that person reflects to others the lovingkindness that God extends to us day-by-day. The world’s rule may be “Do to others before they do it to you.” But God’s golden rule is “Do to others as you’d like them to do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

In that context, let’s review the ways kindness shows up in Luke 10. The priest bypasses a person in severe need, perhaps having just led in an impressive public sacrifice at the temple. The Levite responds likewise, maybe on his way to taking a break from temple duties for a couple days. God shows no pleasure in either of these two men despite their religious status and ministry at “church.”

In contrast, that humble Samaritan—disrespected by most Jews—responds with Christlike kindness. He was friendly, interrupting his plans to reach out to a stranger. He was compassionate, treating and bandaging the unknown victim’s wounds. He was generous, using his time and resources to (a) remove the wounded one from more danger, (b) find a place for him to recover, and (c) provide for the victim’s needs.

Do you want to honor Him and do what matters most to Him? I do. Let’s befriend another person we’d ordinarily ignore. Let’s be compassionate. Let’s be generous. Let’s forgive. In short, let’s be kind.

This week.

Today.

 

© 2018 John C Garmo

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Parts 1 and 2, in this series about what matters most to God in a disciple, focused on a very challenging reality: For a person who places their faith in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior from “the wages of sin,” following God means much more than learning about Him and skillfully studying the Bible.

In fact, the disciple who focuses only on growing in knowledge and skill will fail sooner or later. Formula: Knowledge + Skill – Character => Failure.

1 Corinthians 13 identifies what matters most to God: A true follower of God reflects His love as a lifestyle. That love reflects outward in Christlike character. This is the light that Jesus welcomes in Matthew 5:14–16: “You are the light of the world . . . Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

This is also the highest form of worship that a disciple can offer to God. It is the offering of that disciple’s heart and lifestyle to Him. Knowledge + Skill + Character => Worship!

As a light beam refracts when passing through a glass prism, God’s love beams into the heart of a disciple and reflects outward to others in various “colors” that comprise a “spectrum of love.” Those colors are qualities of Christlike character.

Through the pen of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, God names several specific character qualities included in agape love. Immediately, He gets personal: Love is patient.9570812497?profile=original

“I should be patient with whom?” you may ask. Answer: With others, of course. But—as arrogant as it is to do otherwise—we must also be reverently patient with God. Let’s ponder these briefly.

Godlike patience with others includes, but exceeds, letting another car cut in front of us on the freeway or slowing our walk to fit the pace of an older or younger companion. It means responding mildly, with self-control, when someone challenges our opinions or acts other than the way we prefer. It means we are habitually slow to get angry with someone, or to resent them.

Godlike patience also means that we are slow to punish. If we are in a position requiring us to enforce consequences for someone’s wrong behavior, we discipline ourselves to do that responsibly, not impulsively or angrily. Interestingly, God led Peter to use that same Greek word for “patient” in 2 Peter 3:9 as he describes God’s patience toward us. And aren’t we thankful!

Some tests of our patience may be more severe. What if someone maliciously and intentionally offends us, provokes us, or somehow harms us? Godlike love endures it. Paul shares his pilgrimage and patient endurance in 1 Corinthians 4:11–13.

What’s more, James 1:2–4 challenges us to accept such trials with joy. Wow—we do not see that kind of response in popular movies. Yet Christ Himself is our example (Hebrews 12:1–3). He patiently ran His race. He did not lose heart along the way. He knew the joy that was coming.

Looking upward, we who follow God must be reverent and patient with God. Like Job, we feel frustrated when our prayers are not answered as we wish and when we wish. How ridiculous and rebellious is that attitude toward our almighty, all-knowing, and loving God?! We honor Him when we discipline ourselves to cultivate deferred gratification—wait patiently for His answer.

Do you want to honor Him and do what matters most to Him? I do. Let’s run our race patiently. Let’s not lose heart. Let’s let our light shine even brighter by trusting and resting in Him. His Spirit will then bless us with more of His patience.

Thank you for continuing this journey into what matters most to God about a disciple.

 

© 2018 John C Garmo

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The Future is Disciple Making

By Allen White

Small groups are no longer making disciples at the rate they once were. For many churches, the purpose of groups is to assimilate new people and keep them connected so they won’t leave. Everyone needs to go where everybody knows their name, and they’re always glad you came… But, if the purpose of small groups ends with assimilation, host homes, and the church-wide campaign, then how are disciples being made? Host homes and campaigns are great to get groups going, but not so great for on-going discipleship.

Disciple Making is Not Complex.

Programs are complex. Disciple making is not. Jesus told us what we need to know to make disciples.

First, Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). Jesus boiled 613 commands down to two: Love God and Love your neighbor. God is easy to love. But, neighbors, which neighbors? Look out the window.

Second, Jesus gave us the Great Compassion in Matthew 25 [ “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). Feed hungry people. Clothe those in need. Show hospitality to strangers. Visit the prisoner. Care for the sick. Essentially, love your neighbor as yourself. See #1.

Third, Jesus gave us the Great Commission. Read this and try not to “yada, yada, yada” it. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus told us to “Go.” How well are we scattering? We’re pretty good at gathering. Jesus didn’t say the lost should come to our seeker services. That’s not working as well as it once did. [LINK]

Does this seem too simple? If our lives were focused on these things, we would grow. Our people would grow. As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”

 

Disciple Making is Customized.

Disciple Making relies on a system to produce disciples. When we hear the word system, we often resort to a manufacturing process, a catechism, or a training program. While some of these methods might add to disciple making, there is a considerable flaw in the thinking. People don’t come to us as raw materials. They aren’t blank slates. They have a past. They are different – genders, races, backgrounds, educations, experiences, personalities, gifting, callings, opportunities, abuses, and so many other things contribute to who people are. I’m not like you. You’re not like me. Yet, we are called to be like Jesus.

While we must all know basic things about the Bible and what it teaches, how we reflect more of Jesus is a different journey for all of us. I grew up in church. That’s a funny statement, but we were there so often that at times it felt like we lived there. I learned all of the Bible stories in Sunday school. Our church was more of the Arminian persuasion, so I’ve gone to the altar more than 100 times to make sure I was saved. I called this eternal insecurity.

I learned to live by a code of conduct which included no smoking, no alcohol, no dancing, no movies, no playing cards, and the list went on. In my church we couldn’t belly up to the bar, but we could belly up to the buffet. That’s how we got the bellies!

In a holiness tradition, there is a fine line between setting yourself apart for God and becoming legalistic. Legalism defined the don’ts for me, but not all of the don’ts. The don’ts seemed more significant than the do’s.  But, if I lived better than other people, then God would bless me. The others got what they deserved. I didn’t need to understand people from other backgrounds. They were sinners. They were going to hell. There wasn’t a lot of love going around.

Now, put me in your church. How could you help me become more like Jesus? How can I learn to love my neighbor as myself? How can I see people who are different from me as people who God loves? I don’t need to know more of the Bible. I know it. Bring on the Bible Jeopardy!

How would you affect my attitudes and my behavior? How could I think more like Christ? How could I act more like Christ? By the definition set in the church I grew up in, I’m a model citizen. I fit with the tribe. They’re proud of me. Yet, I lack so much.

This is where cookie cutter disciple making goes wrong. We produce rule followers with cold hearts and no actions to demonstrate God’s love to those who are far from Him.

Fortunately, I’m much different now than where I was when I graduated from high school. But, it wasn’t college, seminary, or another church’s process that got me there. It was something unique that God is doing in my life. I’m not the exception here.

My friend John Hampton, Senior Pastor of Journey Christian Church, Apopka, FL lost a ton of weight recently. By ton, I mean, 50-60 lbs. and he’s kept it off. How did he do it? He joined a gym who gave him a personal trainer. The trainer’s first question was “What do you want to work on?” The trainer didn’t prescribe a standard course of physical fitness. The trainer connected with what John was motivated to change. In turn, John’s team is now sitting down with people at their church and asking them, “What do you want to work on?” Then, offering a next step to get them started.

There is nothing outside of us that can motivate us more than what is inside of us. For the believer, God is inside of us – in case you didn’t know where I was going there. What we are motivated to change right now should be the thing we focus on changing. If we don’t sense a need to change, then we need to bring that question to God: “What do you want to work on?”

Disciple Making is Obedience.

The last phrase in the Great Commission punched me between the eyes not long ago: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Read the phrase again. What did Jesus tell us to teach disciples? Hint: Jesus did not say to teach his commands. Jesus instructed us to teach obedience.

In the area where I live, everyone goes to church. There are more than 75 other churches within 10 miles of the church I attend. It’s part of the culture. While these church-going folks are faithful to church attendance, it doesn’t stop them from being hateful, passive-aggressive, and racist. There’s a high incidence of domestic violence here. The daily news is not good news. Now, this isn’t everybody. But, with so much access to church, you’d expect people to be a little more like Jesus. Bible knowledge is there, but changes in attitudes and behaviors are lacking.

Recently, a man who grew up here, told me about his family history in the area. His family has lived here for over 100 years. It’s a colorful family history – running moonshine and other illegal activities. At one point, he told me, “My grandmother was a fine Christian woman, well, except for running a brothel.” I had no response.

Concluding Thoughts

How’s your disciple making? What results are you seeing? What’s missing?

There is so much to unpack here. Please join me in the comments for a discussion. We’ve got to get our people beyond just coping with life. We’re on a mission. How can your members join that mission?

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I noted in last week’s post that Christianity experienced a seismic paradigm shift when Martin Luther and other reformers essentially zero-based the church’s traditional doctrine of salvation and rebuilt it using only God’s Word—“Sola Scriptura.”

 

Then I stepped back from the details and considered applying that same strategy to discipling ourselves and others. I asked you, “If we zero-base our understanding of what it means to disciple ourselves and others, and then rebuild our understanding Sola Scriptura, how will our strategies—our “discipleship programs”—differ from what it is right now?

 

Why ask such a question? Because a recent Barna Group survey of discipleship across America (Dec 2015) alerts us to a disturbing situation: Despite our numerous church and parachurch discipling tools, programs, and activities, research reveals “the disconnect between how people think about their spirituality and what’s actually happening in their lives.” Among their conclusions: “Church leaders and congregants need better methods of thinking about and evaluating their discipleship efforts.”

 

Our key problem is this: People outside the church see woefully little difference between “Christians” and non-Christians. We need to discern that, acknowledge that, and change that. We need to make disciples who make a difference. Further, we must begin with ourselves, and only then influence others as disciples.

 

If we apply that zero-based strategy, here is what I envision we’ll remember and return to:

  • We’ll honestly and intentionally make love our aim. Agape love is a disciple’s distinctive feature (John 13:35; 1 Corinthians 13).
  • We’ll more clearly discern the relationship of discipline (e.g., solitude, prayer, memorization) and process (e.g., one-on-one, small group) to outcome (agape love, which shows in our Christlike character). Disciplines and processes are many and flexible; the outcome God desires is fixed. God challenges us in His Word to focus more on being than doing; on becoming more purposeful than process-full (Psalm 19:14; Matthew 15:8-9). And knowledge (e.g., theology) plus skill (e.g., Bible study) minus Christlikeness (agape love) leads to collapse.
  • Our testimony—in sharing our faith and in discipling—is more about what others see in you and me than what we say (Matthew 5:14–16). Again, let’s make love our aim. Let’s walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1-2; 5:1-2).

 

This week, 500 years ago, marked the start of the Protestant Reformation. Could this week in 2017 mark the start of a Discipling Reformation? “Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”

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Discipling & Harvey

Our tragic Hurricane Harvey has a golden lining: thousands of people praying, caring, & sharing their faith while working together to rescue lives and meet needs caused by that crisis.

But what do you suppose will happen when the spotlight shifts to the next public crisis? Yes, you're probably right: Emotion, money, and momentum will move mostly to that next media moment. And then the next one after that.

As a fellow disciple with you, and in the context of discipling others whom you influence, may I suggest some brief, basic observations and recommendations?

7 Observations:

   • Many non-Christians are also significantly helping victims of Hurricane Harvey.

   • It is common to care in a crisis.

   • Although it is both practical and vital for Christians to care in a crisis, that alone does not distinguish Christians from people of other faiths. (Ponder 1 Cor 13:3.)   

   • Selfless love [agape] -- the "love" in 1 Cor 13 -- is steadfast. It takes that critical 1st step of care, but continues beyond it. This love continues after the media spotlight turns away. That is one of its distinguishing features. Like the steadfast love [hesed] of God toward us.

   • Effective disciples cultivate agape love (1 Cor 13). This alignment of heart/attitude/behavior is directed upward to God as a daily act of personal worship.

   • But selfless love (secondarily)also provides a distinction, and a model for mentoring other Christ-followers (John 13:35).

   • One significant way we can bring a smile to our Father's face is for us, as influencers of others, to pray & plan wisely for the post-crisis phase of this trauma.

So . . .

3 Suggestions - Thru your church, parachurch ministry, and/or an informal group:

   • As you pray, care, & share in your response to Harvey's tragedies, embrace and embody agape love as an act of personal worship to Him.

   • Model Christlike character [agape] to another of His disciples, mentoring and including that learner as a participant in your response to Harvey.

   • Plan and delegate where possible the continued discipling of Harvey victims. As God's Spirit works, bring them (1) to faith in Christ and then (2) to maturity in Christ.

Your thoughts on this? (comment below)

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Jesus selected an odd cast of characters to be His disciples.  If you were asked to pick a team of 12 people to change the course of history, I’m guessing you wouldn’t head straight to the local marina or IRS office looking for candidates.  Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did.  In fact, the Old Testament, New Testament and the annals of church history are riddled with stories of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”.  God gets all the glory when those least capable achieve the seemingly impossible.  Maybe those who truly understand they are powerless without the Holy Spirit are most qualified to receive the Holy Spirit’s power.  Maybe those who’ve heard “no” most often are those most willing to say “yes” to whatever God asks of them.

Yes, disciples are those who are transformed from ordinary to extraordinary – and leave an indelible mark on the world around them.  Life transformation through discipleship is so powerful and important that Jesus invested heavily in a small band of average Joe’s – knowing a few fully committed followers is all it would take to spark a wildfire that would circle the globe.  So when only 1% of church leaders today say American churches are discipling well, is it any wonder why the Church is declining in growth, impact, influence and perception?  As we discussed last week, when asked about discipleship, most pastors are quick to cite “Small Groups” – yet a church where Small Groups are the primary discipleship vehicle isn’t very serious about discipleship.

Maximizing Kingdom, Community and Church Impact in America hinges largely on resuming intensive, personal discipleship within and outside of our nation’s churches…

Discipleship Expands the Kingdom…

…As You Follow God’s Growth Plan

Only disciples can make disciples.  It “takes one to make one”.  Disciples look like Jesus.  They act like Jesus.  Jesus was loving, selfless and compassionate.  As a result, He attracted a large following.  So did His disciples.  Nothing has changed.  Disciples are still the key to expanding the Lord’s Kingdom.  God’s math remains the same – a few followers on fire for Him have an exponential impact as they disciple a few others, who in turn each disciple a few others, and so on.

…As You Invest in Disciple-Building, Not Institution-Building

If disciples are the means by which Jesus intends for people to come to Him, then the most critical function of the church should be to make disciples.  Seek to grow disciples and you’ll build a church; seek to grow a church and you’ll build an institution.  Our contention in this blog series that churchgoers are too often treated like “customers” doesn’t mean churches should pay less attention to them.  In fact it’s the opposite.  Churches should focus even more on members and attenders but spend that time quite differently, shifting from attracting and retaining to discipling and deploying.  Rather than measuring “nickels and noses”, pastors should measure life change and the resulting ripple effect on those around them. 

….As You Turn Your Church Inside Out

Those in the pews are the definition and embodiment of “church”.  They are the conduit through which the Church accomplishes its objective in the world – the Great Commission.  Therefore, they are “insiders” who should be trained much like a company trains its employees.  The company’s revenues decline if the customer service and sales staff isn’t adequately prepared to “care” and “share”.  Likewise, churches aren’t maximizing returns for the Kingdom if they’re not effectively training disciples to be Jesus’ workforce – His hands and feet.

Discipleship Changes Your Community…

…As You Confess

Are our hearts broken for the helpless and hopeless around us?  A pastor once told me, “I’d love to have a church full of Nehemiahs who weep for the lost and poor in our community.”  That should be our response too, but is it?   As we become more like Jesus, our hearts meld with His and compassion begins to outweigh comfort.  Churchgoers will lack the impetus to radically shift their priorities if leaders are reluctant to challenge and train them to truly become disciples of Jesus Christ.

…As You Commit

There’s a clear, compelling linkage between discipleship and local community missions.  Why would a church teach people how to share their faith if it doesn’t send them out to do so?  Conversely, if a church is going to put people in position to “share”, it needs to prepare them to be effective evangelists.  As you’d expect, churches that pull away from discipleship typically pull away from local missions as well.  If churches aren’t highly focused on the one, they won’t be focused on the other.  Churches who don’t feel at liberty to impose the commitment and costs of discipleship on the congregation are likely equally hesitant to request they step out of their comfort zones to follow Jesus’ model of evangelism – opening the door to sharing the gospel through loving acts of service.

…As You Coalesce

Signing up for an occasional service event or mailing out a check is not the full extent of a disciple’s responsibility to impact the world around them.  Discipleship provides the inspiration and motivation to do more, but uniting around a common cause can provide the direction.  There are pressing social issues all around us.  How can your church respond?  In the absence of an outside cause around which to unite, many churches make themselves the “cause”.  How frequently do you hear requests from the pulpit for volunteers to serve inside the church versus to volunteer for community activities to reach those outside the “4 walls”?

Discipleship Grows Your Church…

…As You Abandon Conventional Wisdom

Bucking current trends entails convincing Christians that church is not a place, it’s them.  As the Church, reaching the lost and poor with the Gospel is in their job descriptions, not just the pastor’s.  The starting point for revival in America and at your church will be when churchgoers undergo a discipleship-driven transformation in their thinking about their role and responsibilities between Sundays.  Expectations must flip from evaluating what they’re getting out of church to what they’re putting into becoming church personified.   As members “grow” then “go” through discipleship, your church releases more powerful advocates for Christ into their circles of influence, vastly increasing your church’s leverage.

…As You Pursue Church Health, not Size 

The healthy way to go wider (i.e. grow) is to go deeper.  Unhealthy churches go wider by allowing members to wade in the shallow end.  The waters are calm and no dangers lurk beneath the surface.  Churchgoers dip their toes in the water, knowing they’ll never drown or become “lunch”.  They’ll never be compelled to head into the deeper waters of real life change and discipleship.  Yet that’s where Jesus demands we swim.  Healthy churches are ones that pursue “organic”, not “acquisitive”, growth.  “Acquisitive” attracts Christians from other churches – offering facilities, sermons, music and programs that others can’t match.  Acquisitive growth without discipleship leads to internal turmoil you’d expect of churchgoers who aren’t fully committed disciples – squabbles, splits and consumerism.  However, “Organic” growth actually increases the size of the “pie” by making disciples who lead others to Christ – adding a face who didn’t simply come from another church.

….As You Take Big Risks

The Organic model involves great risk in today’s acquisitive world, but has a much higher upside.  Yet disciple-building has always been a high-risk venture.  At the height of His popularity, Jesus did the unthinkable.  He preached His most controversial, challenging sermon.  In fact, He knew few would be left standing beside Him after telling the crowd of followers to drink His blood and eat His flesh.  Imagine the pastor of a large church in the midst of rapid growth preaching the most demanding, difficult message members had ever heard, knowing with near certainty that few of them would come back the next Sunday.  Imagine that same pastor pulling all the members aside and laying out the full picture of discipleship costs and expectations, knowing it was a pill few of them could swallow?  That’s exactly what Jesus did.  He preached it down to a select few.  But through those remaining, sold-out disciples the early church grew at an astronomical clip.

It’s Your Turn…

People retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they discuss with others, 80% of what they personally experience and 95% of what they teach others.  In other words, the best way to fully absorb what it means to be a disciple is to live it out.

Meet The Need is about mobilizing disciples at your church into action…year-round!:

  • Software – Go to www.meettheneed.org to get your church started using all of our FREE tools
  • Coaching – Visit our website and blog for posts and eBooks with tips and best practices
  • Campaigns – Learn more about how to encourage others to live prayer, care, share lifestyles at #MeetAnEternalNeed
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Why Discipleship is the Ultimate Church Growth Model

Not all church growth is healthy growth.  Unhealthy growth attracts people from other churches by catering more to them and expecting less of them.  Healthy, exponential growth involves sending those who’ve experienced genuine life change out into the community to demonstrate and share the love of Jesus Christ with those hopeless and hurting.  The growth potential from discipleship is about leverage and empowerment, fueled by the Holy Spirit.  There is so much latent potential sitting idle in America’s church pews.  The job now is to disrupt their comfort and complacency in order to mobilize that manpower.

Intensive discipleship gives churchgoers the courage to seek the lost, the compassion to serve them, and the knowledge to speak words that bring them life.  It transforms your church into a fully trained and equipped army of ministers.  When a pastor asks the proverbial trick question “Raise your hand if you’re a minister”, for the first time all hands can go up with confidence.  Disciples know that their responsibilities amount to being the church personified, not simply inviting people to an event next Sunday.

However, the growth that comes from challenging members to live out the Great Commission, given all of the time and effort that entails, also comes with ups and downs.  Healthy growth is a roller coaster.  You may “preach it down” at first, but you’re in good company – that’s what Jesus did.  At possibly the height of His popularity during His time on earth, Jesus preached His most challenging sermon – and many left His side.  Myopic scale wasn’t the goal for Jesus.  He was looking to build a rebel band of Spirit-filled followers fully committed to changing the world.  And they did.

Like people, churches often need to lose some weight to get healthy.  If someone is looking to get in better shape, that typically means dropping a few pounds.  Maybe to become healthy, churches have to lose some church “consumers”.  However, they won’t leave (or repent) until they experience the “sticker shock” over the price they’ll have to pay to BE the church.  Presenting congregations with the Great Commission price tag is scary in this day and age with so many church buildings and aspiring pastors yet fewer frequent attenders, particularly when some of those leaving may be key contributors.  But the trajectory of a thriving church is typically and necessarily down before it follows the “hockey stick” back up.  Those remaining will create a firm foundation for rapid growth, while also breathing life back into the church’s culture.

Unfortunately, many pastors aren’t willing to take the risk of enduring the short, downward slope and therefore miss the rapid ascension in growth and health up the “hockey stick”.  Many therefore lose their passion and burn out, never recapturing the excitement they once felt back when their church first started.

Who you’ll lose…

It takes faith to boldly preach the whole truth of the gospel – including sin, repentance and the costs of discipleship.  On the surface, it would seem few want to hear that sermon.  Many in the congregation may not come back for a second dose of that medicine.  It also takes courage to ask churchgoers to muster the level of compassion and sacrifice demanded in the Bible of those who choose to follow Jesus Christ.  Many will find another church more willing to spoon feed them.  Others won’t step back into another church again and risk being confronted with such unreasonable expectations.

But let’s look more closely at who is most likely to leave your church when you begin to challenge them to become disciples:

  • those obsessed with their own personal identity (who we discussed last week):
    • want to associate themselves with Christians as part of their (self-conceived) identity or (public) social standing, as often occurs in smaller towns where church attendance is expected
    • more interested in religion than a relationship (with Jesus)
    • pursuing God for what He can do for them to improve their situation in life
  • long-time complacent members and attenders who aren’t ready for changes or challenges
  • “consumers” who complain when some aspect of church is no longer to their liking
  • those in it for “cheap grace”, belief without confession, surrender, discipleship or material life change
  • luke-warm fence-sitters undecided for years whether to stop dipping their toes in the water
  • people intent on being “fed”, unwilling to serve or give sacrificially
  • those who when they do serve, do it to “check the box” and feel better about themselves

Do you want a church full of those?  Jesus and His disciples didn’t try to appease them either.  They confronted sin and never tempered or qualified the gospel message regardless of whether listeners were ready to accept it or not.  Of course, keep in mind that Jesus and His disciples had already “primed the pump” by performing awe-inspiring miracles and jaw-dropping acts of kindness prior to sharing the gospel – a model most churches rarely imitate today.  Maybe that’s why churches have had to resort to softer, more palatable messages to attract and retain – because ears are not as ready to hear nor hearts to accept words not preceded by action. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

What you’ll gain…

Pressing forward in the face of the risk that your attendance will shrink if members are challenged to BE the church between Sundays and relentlessly pursue the real “customer” (the lost in the community) is not optional – it’s Biblical.  Pastors should have the faith to follow the Lord’s leading, whatever the outcome.

While there’s risk, there’s also tremendous upside.  The congregants who do stick around will be those who are:

  • hungry for truth
  • eager to grow deeper in their relationship with the Lord
  • possibly poor in material wealth but are rich in faith
  • disciples, or willing to become one
  • ready to make an impact within their circles of influence
  • committed to growing the Kingdom
  • all in!

Imagine what your church could do with pews full of those folks!  Twelve disciples changed the course of history.  However, the only way to weed out the “who you’ll lose”, leaving you only with the “what you’ll gain”, is to spell out what it REALLY means to live out the Great Commission.  And you haven’t yet rooted out the “who you’ll lose” at your church – because they’re still there!  Without trimming the excess and training the remaining “insiders” to be unabashed Christ followers bent on pursuing the lost in the community, your church will never morph into a beacon of light in your otherwise darkening city.

What about infrequent attenders, visitors and non-believers?

I know what many of you are thinking.  What about these folks?  Launching straight into the costs and effort involved in discipleship next Sunday would send most window shoppers and CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only) running for the doors, right?  There are several schools of thought on that topic in the church today:

  1. Most Common – The prevailing theory is that “seekers” need to be brought along slowly – from Connection, to Conversion, to Cultivation. While nearly all churches try to attract seekers and work toward Connection and Conversion, few offer Cultivation beyond Small Groups, which aren’t building many disciples.
  2. Most Concerning – Too many churches short-change those wandering into a church who are looking for truth, instead providing thinly-veiled counseling.  Rather than hearing a saving gospel and credible plan for life change from their meager existence, they get relationship and parenting advice.  Rather than getting answers to their tough questions and hard evidence to quell their doubts, they get promises of a better life and hope to help get them through difficult situations (the theme of most Christian songs today).  In their reluctant to call seekers to repentance, pastors miss the opportunity to offer genuine forgiveness and amazing grace.  It’s interesting that Jesus’ first message at the inception of His ministry, when there were no Christians on earth, began with a call to repentance.
  3. Most Controversial – Should non-believers even be invited to worship services?  Or should disciples be the “church” between Sundays, leading non-believers to faith, at which time they should join the body of believers in collective worship?  We’ll start with that most controversial question first next week and see how attempts to attract and engage non-believers are impacting today’s churches.

It’s your turn…

Have you watched a pastor do what Jesus did and “preach it (church/followers) down” to a smaller number of committed disciples, only to see that church explode in growth?

View online at: http://meettheneed.org/blog/2017/02/why-discipleship-is-the-ultimate-church-growth-model/#sthash.GsqfdmG4.VBwsxWMt.dpbs ;

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Applied Agape

I arrived in the Middle East last weekend to spend 35 class hours serving a group of tomorrow's ministry leaders in this region. It is a periodic privilege and responsibility I've enjoyed for most of the past 20 years. Several past students are present colleagues in ministry. How special is that!

At church, some men asked what this group from six countries will focus on. I replied, "The course is called 'Christlike Character in Leadership & Family.' We'll explore the implications and applications of cultivating lifestyles of Christlikeness as we lead and live. But it is at heart a discipling course focused on 'applied agape.'"

That two-word term seemed to catch their attention.

That term captures my attention, too. Why take this special teaching opportunity and dedicate it to "applied agape"? Here's why: God's Word clearly and repeatedly points to the #1 outcome that He desires in and through our lives, churches, and other ministries: agape love. Ponder such passages as 1 Corinthians 13, Galatians 5, Ephesians 4 & 5, and Revelation 2: "The fruit of the Spirit is love" . . . "If I . . . have not love, I am only a noisy gong" . . . "Walk in a manner worthy of your calling" . . . "Walk in love" . . . "Remember . . . repent . . . and return to your first love."

Prequels to these words permeate the Old Testament. Check out, for example, Deuteronomy 6:5-6.

In stark contrast, if data gathered for the Barna/Navigators study of "The State of Discipleship" are reliable, Christians in general are confused about both the meaning and the bottom line--the output--of "discipleship." They often focus so much on processes--which are manifold--that they lose sight of the outcome God desires: a lifestyle of agape love. How God must grieve at our lack of focus.

I appreciate the many discipling processes that various people and ministries have developed. A variety of flexible, practical discipling process can be useful. But does the program/process that you use make applied agape love the clear and prominent outcome?

Life is short. As we grow personally and help others do likewise, we honor Him most when our focus is less transactional and more transformational. We dare not fall in love with our diligently developed processes instead of God's most-desired outcome. Let's adjust each of those to their appropriately proportionate share of our emphases as appliers of agape who influence others to do likewise.

"The main thing is that the main thing remain the main thing!"

Simple.

But not easy.

Your thoughts on this?

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Many are talking about "making disciples" these day. But what exactly is disciple-making, really?

What disciple making, or discipleship, has become in most American churches is a program for becoming the best ‘Christian’ an individual can be, whatever that may look like.

Certainly we are called to pursue personal holiness (Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 12:14, James 1:27) and to grow in the knowledge of the Lord (Colossians 1:10). That’s great...unless it is the only result of our discipleship. (continuing reading). 

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What’s Wrong With Discipleship?

George Barna, the founder and director of the Christian research group known as the Barna Group took his team and evaluated churches across America to determine how we’re doing with the task of making disciples. Based on his findings, he asserts, “Almost every church in our country has some type of discipleship program or set of activities, but stunningly few churches have a church of disciples.”1 Indeed, we have gradually set our eyes on the wrong priorities and the wrong measuring rods. The average church leader concludes that we’re doing OK if we can get people to attend our worship services so as to show growing numbers (in order to pay for our buildings and staff salaries), log statistics supporting reports of people being baptized and joining our church, and have an assortment of well-attended programs. But what are the objectives given to us in God’s Word? If Christ is the head of the church, what are his marching orders? I believe that the greatest command of our Lord has been misunderstood, misapplied, or simply ignored by most churches in this modern era.

As I talk to pastors they invariably defend their church methodology by saying that the Greek word for disciple is mathaytás, translated into English as learner. They believe they are teaching, therefore they are doing discipleship. The problem is that Jesus never said to do discipleship. He said Make Disciples and to explain more fully what this looks like he said we should be teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20, NASB). Chuck Colson said “The church is 3,000 miles wide and an inch deep.”2. Why is this so often true? Because we are just doing discipleship and not making disciples. We are teaching for knowledge but doing a poor job in helping people become transformed into a true follower of Jesus Christ.

My new blog web site will be finished by May 15, 2014

1.  Barna, George, Growing True Disciples (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2001), p. 20.

2.  Quoted in Ogden, Greg, Transforming Discipleship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p.22

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Cowardly or Courageous?

There are two types of people; those who have surrendered their life to Christ and those who are still putting up a fight.  Some people think that those who surrender in battle are cowards.  I don’t think this is always true. Surrendering in battle actually takes courage.  When you surrender you are placing your life in the hands of your enemies.  You are hoping they will treat you fairly and with dignity and that one day when the war is over, you will be set free.  Cowards are the ones who run from the battle and hide. 

The thing about this war with God is that we can’t win.  There is absolutely no hope to beat God.  He is just too powerful, too just, and too loving.  So I am encouraging everyone who is still fighting against God to surrender.   It will take courage, especially since you have no idea how God is going to treat you and whether or not you will ever be set free from His captivity.  But let me assure you…God will treat you with dignity, He will love you unconditionally, He will show you mercy and He will set you free.  Freedom with God is different than what most of the world thinks though.  Freedom with God is when He sets us free to be who He originally created us to be.  You see, for those who are still battling against God, putting up a good fight, you are actually enslaved.  You are enslaved to a lifestyle that focuses on yourself, which is actually pretty pathetic.  Why would anyone want to settle for something so little when you could have so much?  Why settle for a purpose in life that centers around a creature who is so limited?  We were created to live in relationship with the eternal God.  We were created in His image and our purpose is to worship Him and glorify Him in all we do, say and think. 

I know this sounds absolutely crazy for those who are battling against Him, but just think about it.  God created us to live in this awesome relationship.  He gave us the entire world to have dominion over and to rule.  He said that He would walk through life with us, every step of the way.  But we have chosen to rebel against God, run away from Him and then try to rule the world without Him? What is that all about?  Why would we give up so much to attain so little?  It doesn’t make sense.  What does make sense is when we realize what we have done, how stupid and self-centered it is and then return to God.  God uses this word called “repent”.  This just means that God wants us to turn away from our old way of living, our old way of thinking and turn back towards Him.  Only when we come back to God will anything in life begin to make sense or have meaning and purpose.

But how in the world is this possible?  If God is really just then it would go against His perfect and holy character to let me, His enemy, go free without punishment?  God has made it possible by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to take your penalty upon Himself.  Jesus lived a perfect life, perfectly fulfilling every law that God demanded.  God sent Jesus to die for you, in your place.  So God really is just and His justice was taken out on His own Son, Jesus.  So surrendering to God means believing that Jesus died for your sins and giving your heart over to Him.

So, you may be a coward and run away from God, you may have the gall to stand and fight God or you may have the courage to surrender to God through Jesus.  But ultimately, God is going to win the battle, whether you like it or not and whether you believe it or not.  So my suggestion is to surrender to God.  Believe that Jesus died for you, that He rose from the grave and now sits at God’s right hand.  Believe that He will send His Holy Spirit to come and live in your heart, to walk through every moment of life with you.  Come back to God and let Him take you captive.  It is His great desire to have you back, to show you mercy and grace, to love you unconditionally.  Surrendering to God has no regrets.

All for Jesus,

Fletch

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Mid-Life

I was talking with a friend the other day who is the same age as I am, 42.  We were discussing how blessed we were to be doing exactly what God had called us to do.  There was no pride in ourselves but there was great joy that God had led us to our own particular callings and we were actually enjoying them.  A lot of guys get to our age, which is mid-life, and still have no idea what they want to do or what they are supposed to do.  Then comes the “mid-life crisis”.  Some get depressed, some get a new car, some get a new wife.  I am blessed that I did not have to “get” these things to help me figure out my mid-course direction.  I think one key reason involves the subject of my last blog, “The Single Most Important Discipline.”  I would have no idea what to do with my life were it not for God and the leading of His Spirit.  I can take no credit for His voice or even for the strength to obey, all the credit goes to Christ, whose Spirit lives in me.  But the constant, daily voice of God that comes through prayer and studying His Word has an incalculable cumulative effect on your life.

So what if you are at mid-life and struggling to know what to do with your life?  I would say begin to meditate on these startling words from Romans 13:11-12,

 

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

 

It’s time to wake up and listen to the voice of God.  The truth is that we ARE getting older and therefore closer to death, and therefore closer to our salvation.  Don’t waste any more time.  Cast off the works of darkness you have been struggling with.  Go hard after God.  Spend the rest of your life living out His will.  Dive into serving Christ and furthering His Kingdom.  It’s not too late.  Go ahead, put on the armor of light, join Christ and His forces and fight the good fight.  You may get tired and battle weary. It will cost you sacrifice and discipline.  But the rewards last for eternity.  There is nothing greater to give your life to than the call and service of Christ.

 

All for Jesus,

Fletch

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