That’s a really good question. It’s my personal feeling that if the church in America doesn’t embrace the principles and practices of disciples making disciples — the church in America will not much longer endure. Thank you, Team Expansion, for launching More Disciples!
There are six streets in our Fairway Farms subdivision. The lots are not large, most are not even a 1/4 acre; so in less than a quarter mile square, there are 190 homes. As I’ve mentioned, it’s a beautifully manicured neighborhood, with neighbors who take pride in their homes. If I am praying, “Lord, may your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven;” then, what is my thought process toward my neighborhood. Hasn’t God providentially placed us within this neighborhood to be a kingdom bridge. The glaring question ought not be, “Does this home cheer for MSU or UofM?” The glaring question must be, “Does this home know Jesus as Lord?” And, “What can I doing to facilitate their encounter with Christ?” Did you see the bridge within these last two questions? “Lord, give me eyes to see where the kingdom isn’t; and a heart that’s willing to make a difference.”
Both globally and locally, making disciples who can make disciples takes a training cycle. Curtis Sergeant compares it to teaching children to ride a bike. Jon Ralls compares it to potty training. We can see examples of it with Jesus and his disciples, and also in the missionary journeys of Paul — model, assist, watch and launch (or, leave). Why do we not see it in most American churches? The list of reasons why might be so long, that the task of re-engineering might seem impossible. Mainly, I think, because small groups are not emphasized and there’s not an intentionality built into the disciple maturation process. If there was, we might see disciples making disciples to the 3rd and 4th generations.
I immersed Uncle Job into Christ when he was in his late 70’s. He had been born in the hometown of Confucius. Was raised Buddhist. He had traveled the world as a merchant marine; and had studied every world religion. When he met Jesus, he immediately knew Jesus was the real thing he’d been searching for all these years. Operating upon the belief that he had not much time left; his mission field became the local park, which he walked twice daily. Uncle Job never tired of telling people about his new-found faith, and how through Jesus, there was no fear of death. Soon, a small group was meeting weekly, completely made up of silver haired retirees. And, over a period of several years, Job’s “pew” expanded to several smiling senior citizens. Most of these have already gone home to glory; smiling, always smiling. Oh, that we were all like Uncle Job!
I live in a neighborhood made up of smaller, tightly-spaced homes, with well manicured lawns. During the summer, especially, people are out working in their flower beds or sitting on front porches. Most summer evenings in Michigan are spectacular. Very few of my neighbors are active in a church. This is my mission field. Not long ago we invited our neighbors to attend our church Friend Day. Instead, they went to the zoo. We’ve got to move beyond, “How ’bout those Tigers?” Lord, help me get to the question, “How ’bout Jesus?” How we all need Jesus!
How important is training concerning the inevitable persecution that befalls a believer? II Cor 4:9a says, we are “persecuted, but not abandoned.” Have you ever witnessed someone who becomes bitter at God because of persecution. They believe they’ve been abandoned by God. They may say, “Why is God doing this to me?” Conversely, Tina was a new Christian. She is the youngest of four children, and the only Christian in her family. Seven years after their father had passed away, the four adult children were tasked with removing their father’s bones from a rented tomb. The custodian of the cemetery was on hand to make sure all the bones were removed and accounted for. When the bones were removed, everyone was shocked to discover that a finger bone was missing. One-by-one, in the sub-tropical heat, the four of them had the unenviable task of crawling into the small mausoleum in search of the finger bone. It could not be found, and the custodian was loosing patience. Tina, bowed her head to pray, and was immediately attacked by the three older siblings. “How dare you insult our father by bringing your new faith here!” Her oldest brother struck her. Undaunted by these attacks, she prayed outloud. “Lord, we do not need my father’s finger bone, but so my siblings will know that you answer prayer, please show me now where the missing bone is?” Later, she said, “In that moment I had a vision that the bone was tangled in the tattered grave cloth that had already been removed and searched.” After she said, “Amen;” she went over to the grave cloth and pulled the finger bone from the cloth. Her siblings backed away, and have never persecuted her since. Yes, “persecuted,” but definitely NOT “abandoned.”
The “one another” passages of the NT remind us that discipleship, and even evangelism, are best seen as a team sport. Years ago, in Taiwan, we prayed weekly for Eugene’s parents, who had disowned him for becoming a Christian. Later, when Eugene’s parents home was flooded, our small group went and spent 2 days cleaning up the house. Very few words were spoken, but volumes were communicated. Not long after that, Eugene’s dad was diagnosed with cancer, and the church prayed. Eugene’s dad recovered, and they could no longer resist the love and power of God. Eugene’s mom and dad gave their lives to Christ. And, Eugene’s small group, as well as the entire church rejoiced; because they all knew that they all played a part in this conversion story. Ephesians 4:12 reminds us that by being “thoroughly equipped,” we all play a part in building up the body. It reminds us that we all have gifts and abilities that can bless and build up the body of Christ. BTW, a footnote to the above story: we also discover new things about one another when we serve with one another — apparently, I waggle in a funny way when I mop a floor.
We’ve had small groups for a little over a year now. They are a new thing in our congregation. If we’re not careful, they can become like a Sunday morning service, in that we’re asking little of members. Come and be fed! Sergeant’s illustration of watching the Tour de-France is accurate. Watching alone won’t train you to ride a bike. We’ve got to be “Doers of the Word.” That’s why the 3/3rd’s groups are so important. There’s accountability and applicability built into the process. What does intentional discipleship look like? This is it!
We still have one of our three kids at home. Noah is sixteen. We don’t spoon feed him anymore. In fact, he’s capable of preparing food to feed himself. How? Brenda taught him how to use the microwave, stove and even the blender. We also taught him to clean-up after himself; which he is still in process of grasping. Curtis Sergeant’s video is dead-on: many Christians have never left the “consumer” stage to become “producers.” How important is independent daily feeding on the Word of God!?! And, I would go a step further — setting aside a specific time each day to meditate on the Word (I prefer mornings), is absolutely necessary. If every disciple was trained to self-feed; leadership, then, can become not the process of continual feeding, but of equipping the Saints (applying the Word of God already in you). Now, that’s a radical thought in today’s church!
So, my verses are Phil 2:5-8; which speaks of having the same “mindset as Christ.” The NIV used to say the that Jesus did not consider “equality with God something to be grasped.” Now, it says, Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” How much more clear, and applicable to our circumstance, the change makes. This, I feel, is the value of SOAPS. We realize that God’s Word, and our relationship with Christ, is not for just our own advantage or advancement; but also light and life to our neighbor. And, if Jesus is indeed our model, if indeed our mindset is missional. Then, as we meditate on the Word, we’ll automatically be thinking of people with whom to share it. There-in is the “nature of a servant.”
I’m a firm believer that with the first presentation — less is best! I’m also a firm believer that an excellent indication that the Holy Spirit is working in the life of the individual with whom you’re sharing are the questions they may ask. These may not come immediately, so prayer until you follow-up with them is critical.
If your ultimate purpose in life is to glorify God, then making disciples should be near tops on your list for how to go about fulfilling this. Sharing your testimony will be integral in this endeavor. So will prayer, especially to discern when and where. Years ago I was praying about what to preach at one of our favorite supporting churches. Each time I prayed, the Spirit living in me said, “Share your testimony.” For several weeks I battled this “bad idea.” In sermons we generally look ahead, rather than look back. So, eventually, I wrote another sermon, which would be typical for a returning missionary. On the Sunday morning in question, I got up to speak, with sermon in hand. As I looked out over the congregation, I felt like Jonah running away from Nineveh. So, with a deep sigh, I put the sermon away, and with no notes (no net), completely through the Spirit, began to unpack my suitcase. Apparently, God knew what I didn’t; and as I shared sometimes painful life lesson, people to my left were in tears, people to my right, and people straight ahead. Definitely, the Holy Spirit was at work in hearts. Go figure — God knew hearts and needs better than I. When the invitation was offered many responded — Praise the Lord! Completely drained, I was relieved to be going off to the safety of the Sunday School missions presentation. Then, rudely, after what seemed like only a few minutes, a deacon interrupted, and said, “We need to go!” “Go where?” I asked. “Second service,” was the reply. I groaned.
Jesus said a lot of hurtful things to the Jewish leaders. Look at Matthew 23, and the 7 woes; repeatedly he calls them hypocrites! Was it because Jesus didn’t care about them, didn’t love them? Or, was he harsh to them to try to save them? He did rescue at least two — Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea — who later buried Jesus. And, here’s the unescapeable point — Jesus became public enemy No. 1 because of all the things he said about the religious leaders. In fact, it was their hatred of Jesus, because of his harsh words, that led Jesus to the cross. Then, Jesus told his disciples to pick up their own crosses and follow him. If we truly follow in Jesus’ footsteps, will we not then be willing to tell people the truth, in love, and with respect; even though it may lead them to despise us. Like Penn Jillette says, “If I believed with all my heart that a truck was coming to hit you and you didn’t believe it, there’s a certain point in which I TACKLE you to save your life.” If I truly love you, the priority is to save your life. Eternity trumps every other issue.
We had just moved to the third largest city of Taiwan to begin a new church plant. While prayer walking we noticed lots of children in our neighborhood. In Taichung, grade school children only went half a day on Wednesdays. We thought, what if we started an after school program on Wednesday afternoons, and did a VBS style outreach? Since we were new to the area, we would even invite parents to sit-in. While prayer walking, we handed out flyers near the elementary school for our “King’s Club.” One of those flyers landed in the hands of a 2nd grader whose English name was Vincent. His mother, Joanne, brought him faithfully and stayed to hear the Bible stories. Joanne and Vincent became the first to believe in Taichung. Joanne brought many more, including her husband, James. This couple became like Aquila and Priscilla — a true family of peace. The church now meets in their home. I believe God can raise up people of peace in every neighborhood — even in America!
I had to laugh as I read today’s assignment! Sometimes you don’t realize until days, months or even years later that some random events were all a part of God’s Divine providence. And, then, there are days like today, when it just so happens that you have a meeting scheduled with all your small group leaders, and you’ve been struggling to articulate our new direction. Of course, you know there is no such thing as coincidence when it comes to Kingdom work! Again, I ask as much of myself as I ask of anyone else who may read this: If we aren’t making disciples who can make disciples, then what are we making? And, then, if I’m unwilling to make what God wants me to make; will he continue to send souls my way? Would He really want anyone to follow me?
What’s hurt the church in America more than anything? In my opinion, it is the clergy/laity divide. It’s the idea that you must be seminary trained to lead people to a walk with the Lord. Interestingly, there is new data suggesting that if the church in America is to survive, we must raise up and empower church members to be disciple makers (The Great Evangelical Recession, Dickerson). When the church scattered because of persecution, in Acts 8, the Bible says that “those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went.” (vs. 4) Later, the same man that set-off the persecution of the church would say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (I Cor 11:1) Lord, may it be that every member would be willing to say and do likewise! Let it begin in me! And, if I’m not; then, Lord, what am I even doing?
The passages of Scripture for today reminded me that what the Lord wants from me is obedience. And, obedience no matter the cost! There was a time when I was in a spiritual struggle concerning my only son. The Lord wanted me to put my only son completely in His hands. I was perfectly willing to risk my life, and even made out a will. But, to risk my son, who was barely a teenager, seemed foolish at best and at worst, criminal. DCFS would have had a strong case! Like Abraham, I had a Mt Moriah moment with the Lord; realizing that the Father has already provided for not only me, but also my son. And, what we give in the way of obedience can never compare to what the Father has already given, and is a reflection of the love the Father has already lavished on us. It is this same love that compels us — love will always find a way! Interestingly, love never feels like a sacrifice — it feels like coming home victorious!
Last year we heard the harrowing testimony of a woman who had nearly died while fleeing her war-torn African nation. Her story of adversity, her conviction that God has rescued her for a purpose and her boldness in sharing her new-found faith — are all truly humbling. Chris, who plays the drums on one of our worship teams has resisted giving his life completely to Christ for nearly 20 years. In that time he has heard hundreds of sermons. Yet, on March 15, of 2015; Chris was immersed into Christ by Faith, from Africa. You never know who the Lord will rescue through the power of the Holy Spirit as you share your testimony.
I’m amazed that many Christians have no non-Kingdom relationships. All their friendships are with Christians. Similar to some horses, it’s like they are living life with blinders on, only able to see straight ahead. As a pastor, this can be especially true. That’s why I do a few intentional things: 1) Bathe all the following in prayer; 2) Brenda and I prayer walk in our neighborhood, asking the Lord to open doors (literally, not just metaphorically); 3) I joined a weekly golf league last year, and even go into the clubhouse bar after the round. Hey, you’ve got to go where the people are! But, here’s the point, unless you schedule the time (that is, make the time), intentional encounters won’t ever happen. Then, to take these encounters to the next level you’ll be showing you care by asking questions and really listening. This will open the door for prayer and maybe even sharing your testimony (the 2-minute version). Yes, I pray for open doors, open hearts and straight drives!
We’ve been back in the US for nearly 2 years, and hit the ground running. We spent the first year raising up and training small group leaders. The second year we’ve spent launching small groups. Why do I mention this? Well, what brings the greatest joy: making and training disciples, or watching those same disciples make more disciples? Truly, it is a greater joy being a grandparent in the faith. How fulfilling it is to see those you raised up going way beyond what you envisioned possible! Jesus did amazing things, but said his disciples would do even “greater things than these” (John 14:12). How cool is that!
Curtis Sergeant’s non-stop finger snapping sure got old quickly. But, isn’t it surreal to imagine that each snap is a soul that is forever lost. We might console ourselves by thinking that we don’t know them — until, one of those snaps is someone we know: maybe a friend, a family member, a neighbor or a co-worker dies suddenly. Grief hurts! Can we imagine knowing and loving every single person represented by every finger snap? God can. God does. The people on my list: members of my golf league and my neighbors — may I be found faithful.
Again, in Taiwan, decisions to accept Christ were seldom made quickly. Baptism was seen as a point of no return to the old way life; and the beginning of persecution for many new believers. We would ask them to prepare their testimony and share it with the church on the day they gave their life to Christ. Makes sense, since they were going to be defending their faith from the get-go! And, it set a pattern, an expectation, for the believers to come. When we were called to Memorial, they asked me to bring “my missions mind-set.” My response was, “Are you sure about that?” The leadership was, and we have — including, training everyone to prepare and share their testimony. God can do amazing things when we faithfully share how God has rescued us!
A prayer list is not new for me. I’ve always worked better from a to-do list, and a daily routine. Okay, so I made my list of 25 people (or, couples). My list is sitting here right in front of me, here in my office. The same place where I wrote it. The problem — I left it here in my office over the weekend. So, I learned a valuable lesson right off the bat; one that I can share with others when I pray for them and encourage them to make their own prayer list. You know what that lesson is: when you make your list, put it on something you always carry with you, like your cell phone or tattooed up and down your arms. Though, if you choose Matthew 5:30 as the verse to obey, you might loose the arm with all the names. So, my advice is to put your list on you cell phone. I know what you’re thinking — when people have no arms, they learn to do amazing things with their toes — even using cell phones. 🙂
When we were missionaries in sub-tropical Taiwan, most of the year it was really hot and humid. Prayer walking needed to be done in the early morning, or evening (which fits the city-never-sleeps culture nicely). I chose to prayer jog in the mornings. I would run past the temples and pray for them to be empty of people. I would run inside the stadium and pray that one day it will be filled with believers singing praise to the Lord. I would jog past the homes of new believers and pray for them to be strong in the Lord. I would jog past my neighbors and pray, “Lord, give me opportunities to share the Gospel with them; the boldness and the words (Chinese) to speak your truth with love.” Often, on those early morning runs, while most of the city still slept; I would listen for God’s voice. Most of the Kingdom things we did came from listening to the Lord. Like Joshua and the Israelites marching faithfully around Jericho — good things happen when you prayer walk.
Why do we find it hard to pray for others? Is it that deep-down we’re selfish? If we truly wish to fulfill the Great Commandments: love God and love people; then, won’t we want to lift others up in prayer? In fact, I have a suspision that as we pray to a Heavenly Father we are drawing nearer to a God who is Love. As we draw nearer to the Father, our proximity in prayer for people will also be reduced — thereby, making it as natural as breathing or praying for ourselves. Powered by prayer, the Kingdom cannot be stopped!
Andrew brought Peter. Philip found Nathanael. One found a family member. One found his friend. The point — finding Jesus was too good to keep to themselves. The same is true today! Sergeant’s video reminder — every Marine is a rifleman — every disciple’s first calling is to be a disciple maker; is a great reminder that has been lost in today’s church. It is time for a comeback!
I see something else at work here too — and, oh, how important, how imperative it is! If you don’t have a mate running alongside you; then, who will pick you up when you go down? Who will spur you up and over those mountains? If you aren’t a runner, trust me when I say, running with someone is so much better than running alone!
John and I go way back, as in the first day of freshman orientation at CBC. We roomed together for two years, we were the best-man in each other’s weddings — we even both married great gals named “Brenda.” We’ve shared a lot of experiences; most good and some heart-breaking. We’re even planning a Holy Land trip together! BUT, what we’ve never done is really commit to praying for one another! That changed today with Day-1 of the 30-Day Challenge.
He knows I will, and I know he will! We’re both busy in ministry and with life. In fact, John’s daughter gets married this month. All the more reason to pray! Prayer isn’t something you do when you have nothing better to do. Prayer is something you do because without God’s help we’re vulnerable, exposed.
What to pray? Why not, “Lord, may your Kingdom come, and your will be done in my roomie’s life today! Lord, use John mightily; help him make the most of every opportunity to be a light for you! May he defeat the devil at every turn through the power of the Spirit. And, Lord, bless his family in amazing ways that everyone will see clearly comes from You; a testimony of their dependence and reliance on the ‘Giver of all good things.’ All in the name of Jesus — so be it!”