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From Church Culture to Mission Culture

Joe and Mary enter the church and talk to long-term friends. They get a cup of coffee and ask how Sarah how she’s enjoying their new house. Joe and Mary sit down in their familiar seats by the center aisle so they can leave quickly. They sing some songs, hear a message, and then go home.

A church culture has dominated a mission culture in many of our churches. Too many "Christians" are busy playing church instead of seeking the heart of Jesus. As a result, the church is declining in the US.  Jesus’ example and teaching in Luke 5 helps us change a church culture to a mission culture.

1. Obey Jesus’ word
After not catching any fish, Jesus asked Simon to let down his nets in deep water for a catch. By obeying His word, their nets broke with so many fish.  Simon Peter fell down at Jesus' feet saying he was sinful. Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." They left everything and followed Him (Luke 5:1-11).  Obey Jesus' word and admit sinfulness to bear fruit in evangelism.

2. Pray for spiritual power
A leper was cured immediately when he saw Jesus and begged to be made clean. Jesus ordered him to see a priest and make an offering for his cleansing as Moses commanded and as a testimony. News spread as great multitudes gathered to hear Jesus and be healed of their sicknesses.  Often times, Jesus would slip away to pray alone (Luke 5:12-16).  Pray to provide power for physical and spiritual healing

3. Show compassion for sinners
Because of the crowd, some men carrying a paralyzed man went up on the roof and let him down through tiles to set him in front of Jesus. So skeptical and condemning Pharisees would "know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins," the paralyzed man rose from his stretcher where he had been lying and went home, giving glory to God (Luke 5:17-26). Show compassion instead of condemning sinners.  

4. Share a clear verbal witness
Jesus told a tax-gatherer named Levi to follow Him. He left everything behind and followed Him (Luke 5:27-28). Witness verbally and challenge people to follow Christ so they will repent.

5. Socialize with those who need to know Jesus
After Levi invited other tax-gatherers and gave a big reception for Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes grumbled at His disciples saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax-gatherers and sinners?" Jesus answered that since the sick need a physician, He was calling sinners to repentance, not the righteous (Luke 5:29-32). Influence sinners by having meals and personal relationships. 

6. Delight in God's presence
The religious leaders said John's and Pharisees' disciples fast and offer prayers, but "Yours eat and drink." Jesus answered that it was appropriate for his disciples not to fast since He, as the bridegroom, was present with them now and not later (Luke 5:33-35). Delight in God's presence and have fun relating with others

7. Use new methods
One doesn't tear a piece from a new garment and put it on an old garment since it won't match the old. You also don't "put new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough'" (Luke 5:36-39). Use new methods for greater effectiveness in making disciples.

To move from a church culture to a mission culture, I will do the following:
1.  Obey Jesus' word and admit sinfulness to bear fruit in evangelism
2. Pray for physical and spiritual healing
3. Show compassion instead of condemning sinners
4. Witness verbally and challenge people to follow Christ so they will repent
5. Influence sinners by having meals and personal relationships
6. Delight in God's presence and have fun relating with others
​7. Use new methods for greater effectiveness in making disciples

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The Most Effective Form of Discipleship

Many claim that discipleship includes most everything we do in church. I would agree that this statement is true in many evangelical churches; anything that helps believers grow to become like Christ is part of the discipleship process. That being said, what would Jesus’ disciples have concluded to be the method they should use in obeying his command?

I am sure this wasn’t even a question to them, because there was only one common method in that day for making disciples. But if there had been other methods, there still would have been only one answer. Without question, they would have said that Jesus meant for them to make disciples of others just as he had made disciples of them. Jesus’ method is the only method they would have considered.

Secondly, let us question what modern-day method and procedure most effectively accomplishes the task of making disciples. When we make a financial investment, we undoubtedly want the mechanism that will give us the best return on an investment. We should evaluate our eternal impact in a similar way if we desire to have the greatest impact on people’s lives. We should actively be “redeeming the time” (Col. 4:5, KJV), “making the most of the opportunity,” practicing the method that will produce the greatest yield in discipleship.

Based on my thirty-five years of experience and the opinion of countless number of Christian experts, life-on-life discipleship remains the primary method used in our modern age that incorporates the discipleship methods of Jesus Christ. This discipleship method, when followed correctly, will more deeply develop a person’s spiritual transformation and growth in the shortest amount of time than any method known to man.

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Almost every Tuesday and Thursday, I meet with a few other men for the purpose of making disciples.  We hang out, talk about life, ask accountability questions and think through certain points of the Bible together. 

We’re not looking to create a mini-country-club.  A club of three is admittedly a sad club.  We’re not striving to solve the problems of our community or create the perfect church.  We’re simply trying to be – and make – disciples.

You may not think of a two or three people gathering at a local BBQ as the epitome of disciple-making, but regardless of what your discipleship process looks like, it has to have an end goal.  Whether you think of discipleship in terms of classes or in terms of life-on-life interaction, you have to define your discipleship target before you can truly make disciples.

So, let’s define the goal of discipleship.

But before we jump to the center of the target, let’s clarify a few things that we are NOT shooting for (these seven things may get you some points on the religion target, but they are not the primary goal):

  1. It’s NOT about living a good life and helping others to conform.
    If the goal of discipleship was to train people to act appropriately, Jesus did not need to come.  The law already existed.  The Pharisees spent more time studying the law than we spend studying Facebook (and that’s a lot of time)!  They had rabbis and they were already producing disciples.  Beyond that…the cross (hello?).  It’s not about increased knowledge.
  2. It’s NOT about increasing attendance or participation in the church.
    Although this is a natural consequence of making disciples, it is not the goal.  If the church was the ultimate goal for Jesus, He would have given it a little more attention.  But, as it is, He only mentions the church three times in the gospels.  So, while the church is critically important, it is not the goal of discipleship.  The goal is not the church.
  3. It’s NOT about more money for God’s kingdom.
    There are times that all of us feel like we need to help God push this effort forward.  And to be fair, God does allow us to participate in advancing His kingdom.  But, He doesn’t need more “money for missions.”  He owns it all.  I don’t recall any points of serious concern for Jesus because of a lack of money in the pot.  It’s not about more money – even if you are funding a great cause.
  4. It’s NOT about joyfully proclaiming the glory of God.
    In Revelation 5:13, John sees an amazing sight as all of creation joins together to proclaim the glory of God.  He says, “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

    ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’”

    What an amazing time of worship that will be!  But…worship is not the goal of discipleship.  Much like participation in the church, worship is one of the fruits of discipleship.  It is not the goal of discipleship.

  5. It is NOT about obtaining specific spiritual gifts.
      See 1 Corinthians 12:11; 19-20 and 28-31.  (Or just read the entire chapter for the full effect.)  God wants us to utilize the gifts that He gives us, but spiritual gifts are not the goal – or proof of – discipleship.
  6. It’s NOT about dragging as many people as possible into life-after-death heaven.
      Don’t misunderstand me - evangelism is commanded by Jesus.  In Acts 1:8 He tells us, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  Evangelism is part of the disciple’s life, but it is not the goal of discipleship.  On top of that, life after death is not the goal.
  7. It’s NOT about dwelling in the kingdom of God.
      It’s not about experiencing “life that is truly life” or “abundant life” or “God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.”  It’s not about entering the fullness of kingdom-life today.  In fact, even though Jesus taught extensively about the kingdom, He indicated that we will not fully experience the kingdom while we are on earth.  He was quick to remind His disciples that while the Spirit would help them to “overcome the world,” they would still “experience trouble” in this life (John 16:33).  He also noted that “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30 – bold added for emphasis).  Therefore, experiencing the kingdom of God is not the ultimate goal for disciples.

So, if knowledge, the church, money for missions, worship, spiritual gifts, heaven and the kingdom of God are not the goals of discipleship, what is?   What is the aim of a disciple’s life?

Paul summed it up pretty well when he said,

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11). 

When Paul said he wanted to “know Christ,” he used a Greek word that was sometimes utilized to describe sexual intimacy.  Before we strike up a LBGT controversy, let’s be clear: Paul was not speaking of sexual intimacy here.  But, he was making a powerfully charged statement that he wanted a deep, personal relationship with God.  And he went further than that.  At the end of that statement, he noted that deep intimacy with Jesus would result in an all-encompassing imitation of Christ.

That’s the goal of discipleship: true intimacy with God that results in an everyday imitation of Jesus.  As we aim at that goal, all of the other items (knowledge, the church, the kingdom of God, etc.) will be thrown in.  But, if we make the other items our focus, we cheapen both that item and the process of discipleship.

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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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Making Disciples on Facebook

Making Disciples on facebook was started a little over a year ago, and has been the center of discussion about all things having to do with Making Disciples for quite some time.  There are over 10,000 hits daily on this site and it is genuinely a community of believers who engage in love and deep thoughtfulness.  I urge you to visit us and "like" our page, participate in the discussions, and help encourage others to Make Disciples.



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