To The Scaregrounds

Western culture has become very compartmentalized. We divide our lives into work time, leisure time, family time, church time, and mission or outreach time. In many ways, we seek the ever elusive balance which so many books, blogs, and teachers prescribe. Those of us who have sought balance have found it like trying to catch fog. Right when you think to can latch on to balance, it slips through your fingers.

I have come under the conviction that we only have one present life to live. We should live our present life in light of our eternal life. The attempt to maintain the false divide between life, work, family, and play brings exhaustion and anxiety all for the sake of balance. The divide and discontinuity have filtered into the church. People want a form of evangelism they can stick in their schedule, switch off, and leave behind when they go home. Jesus calls us to a lifestyle of love.

The realm of our spiritual community is divorced from our daily routine. Now, before I go any further, what I am not advocating for is a life where you should go to a “church event” every day. Rather, as the body of Christ, we bring the church into the world.

For many years the growing myth in evangelicalism that there is a difference between one’s spiritual life and one’s personal life. Many wonder why Millenials and Generation Z are charting a new course. They want a faith which affects all of life and not just a segment of it. In particular, this is why social justice issues have been thrust to the forefront of evangelical discussion (rightly so). They are willing to leave a faith or seek a new course charted through a worldview which deals systematically and totally. I think one of the main reasons is the awakening to the futility of the divided life and the freedom of a single-minded one.

Living one life in light of eternity has very real implications for seeing more people come to faith in Christ. Evangelism must regain prominence in our vocabulary and posture.

One challenge the divided, or even balanced life leads to: We want to spend more time in evangelism, but because this can happen only at the expense of something else. The result: it never happens. Church, evangelism, and even discipleship are seen as something additional that needs to be tacked on to life.

15 Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people but as wise— 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16

We want to build relationships with unbelievers, but often our lives are so fragmented there is little crossover between worlds.

The non-Christians in our lives need to be introduced to the network of relationships that make up that believing community so they can see Christian community in action. The Christian relationships in our lives need to be introduced to the relationships with non-Christians we have so that they can begin to awaken to the idea of life as mission–where life is lived from the overflow of what God is doing in your life.

Here’s a series of simple questions to measure your engagement with others:

  • How many meals did you eat last week?
  • How many meals did you eat with a non-Christian?
  • How many meals did you eat with Christians?

34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ – Luke 7:34

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We need to be communities of love where honest friendship and kindness reign. We need to be seen as communities of love by those who do not subscribe to a Christian worldview. The lines need to be blurred so that regular people see how faith impacts all of life. People need to encounter the church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a place you enter. Mission–the idea of partnering with God in what He is doing in the world–must involve not only contact between unbelievers and individual Christians but between unbelievers and the Christian community. I am convinced conversion will flow from communion with others in community.

Last Friday, I went with a few students and adults to the Clark County Scaregrounds. While it may not be profound or world-changing, it was one small step to allow faith lived out with Christian and non-Christian students.

3 Positives from Evangelism and Discipleship

downloadThis week I wrap up another eight-week class at Midwestern Seminary. “Evangelism and Discipleship” has been a great class overall. Honestly, it has been one of the best practical ministry classes I have taken in all my years of school. While I had various takeaways from other courses, “Evangelism and Discipleship” had a unique blend of spiritual formation, practical exercises, and communal discovery. There are three reasons I greatly appreciated the course blend and the uniqueness.

1. Required Evangelism

Many classes on evangelism or discipleship share different models. They require you read about evangelism, potentially even define it. The class may even expose you to ways of presenting the gospel, share different tracks, and give biblical percent. Sometimes evangelism is also disconnected from discipleship. As I have written about here, evangelism and discipleship are really two wings of an airplane. My class included all of these elements. However, it also required we practice evangelism. Over the course of the eight weeks, I was required to go share the gospel a minimum of four times. After each encounter, I had to write up how the conversation happened and what the results were. I learned so much over the course of eight weeks. First, I am not very skilled at sharing the gospel at a restaurant with a waiter or waitress. Second, many of my opportunities came because I intentionally set aside time to be amongst non-Christians. Third, my most effective encounters came when I shared the gospel in a few sentences or less and connected it to something earlier in the conversation. Overall, I was thankful for the discipline the course instilled in me to intentionally seek out opportunities to share what God is doing in me, in the world, and through the gospel.

2. Holistic Practice

The course dealt with evangelism, follow-up, and discipleship on many layers as I alluded to in my previous reason. The goal, primarily, was to cultivate skills and awareness in me personally by crushing some of my personal preferences. For example, in evangelism, a prior relationship is not always possible and sometimes you just have to share the gospel cold turkey. Therefore, sharing the gospel is not always convenient or on your own terms. Ironically, this idea seems obvious, but how often do we really prepare our hearts and minds for the unexpected opportunity to share the gospel, invite someone over for dinner, or to church events? Another layer was how my personal ability and passion would be reflected in how the ministry I lead would perform in such activity. For example, if I am unwilling to verbally share the gospel with people then should I expect members in my small group, students, or other adults to share the gospel. If I am unwilling to set aside time to meet non-Christians, why would I expect other Christians to look for such opportunities?

Repeatedly, the course reinforced the idea: disciple to conversion, rather than from conversion. Disciple-making involves the reproduction of a life through relational evangelism, intentional follow-up, and directional development.

Where the course unexpectedly addressed was my personal walk with God. Vance Pittman says, “a person’s first call is to intimacy [with God] not ministry.” He has also said, “What God wants to do through me, he must first do in me.” If I do not exercise the spiritual disciplines, such as journaling, bible reading, and prayer, then my ability to minister will be greatly handicapped.

3. Well-Rounded Textbooks

The Soul Winner by Charles Spurgeon: I had never read a full book by Spurgeon before. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with him, C.H. Spurgeon is known as the “Prince of Preachers.” He preached at Metropolitan Tabernacle (seated 5000 and standing room for another 1000) for 38 years in London during the mid-to-late 1800s.  Throughout the book, Spurgeon masterfully weaved biblical conviction with persuasive illustration. Spurgeon thought through the many perspectives which needed addressing as it pertains to soul winning.

The Evangelism Handbook by Alvin Reid: At first glance, I thought this book would be weak and unhelpful. Never judge a book by its cover. Reid presents evangelism from a holistic perspective. My favorite section of the book was Part 3 of the book where Reid unpacked the intentional nature of evangelism. SOme of the most convicting moments came when reading these chapters. Primarily, if church leaders are not leading out in personal evangelism, then why would we expect our congregations to share the gospel. Further, are we actually equipping the believer to share Monday through Saturday, or are we expecting them to invite to church and person the “invitation” on Sunday?

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney: I am thankful this book was included in this course. Whitney addresses the elephant in the room when it comes to disciple-making. The basis for the book was is 1 Timothy 4:7 (NASB) “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness…” He exhorts the reader to remember how discipline without direction is drudgery. There must be joyful discipline in the life of the believer. Every believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit and therefore our purpose is godliness–making us more like Him. God uses spiritual disciplines to transform believers from the inside out. Whitney works through seven key disciplines which God uses to shape and mold the believer. What I appreciated throughout the book was that the disciplines do nothing in of themselves, except for when God works through them as the believer keeps eternity in view.

Disciple-Making In 2 Timothy

The apostle Paul was a master disciple-maker. Paul excelled in evangelizing and discipleship. Evangelism and discipleship are the two wings of the disciple-making airplane. Unfortunately, in the anti-supernatural movement of 1850, a man by the name of Charles Adam separated “making disciples” into two parts: evangelism and discipleship.

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The plane I flew on when interning in Turkana, Kenya (Summer 2011).

The holistic command in Matthew 28:19-20 was split into two terms. Modern churches have been shaped by the faulty separation. Evangelism became the process of bringing people to Christ, or the communication of the gospel by saved people to lost people (Reid, Evangelism Handbook, Kindle Loc. 440). Discipleship became the process of growing people up in Christ. However, disciples cannot be made unless both evangelism and what became labeled as discipleship, defined by Michael Bird as “gospelizing,” are happening (Bird, Evangelical Theology, Kindle Loc. 104).

Therefore, 2 Timothy is filled with an abundance of “gospelizing.” As Paul writes to Timothy, Paul’s desire to ensure several disciple developmental markers which have been achieved by Timothy are continued. For structural purposes, I see three layers of discipleship Paul desires Timothy to remember. One should note that these markers are not sequential. One does not merely move on from one to the next because they have “completed” that step. Instead, they should be viewed as maturity markers. When one is deficient it should be strengthened. When one is skilled it should be refined. The layers and markers can be applied to our modern church context for holistic disciple-making.

First, Paul desires Timothy be grounded as a believer. Throughout 2 Timothy, Paul shifts from the example of himself to Timothy, to poor examples of being grounded. Just as a child grows in maturity, Paul desires Timothy to grow in spiritual maturity. Paul reminds Timothy of his identity in Christ and his spiritual lineage (1:2, 5, 10, 12; 2:11-13; 3:17; 4:8). Paul encourages Timothy to walk in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:6-7; 2:10, 22; 3:12). Paul desires Timothy learn spiritual talk in prayer and sharing the good news with others (2:2, 15, 22; 4:2). Timothy is reminded how a believer grows through feasting on the Word of God (1:10, 13; 2:9; 3:14-17). Lastly, Paul knows Timothy needs to learn how to flee from sin and purify his life (2:14-26; 3:5; 4:5). These five developmental markers are interconnected. Should Timothy waiver in any one of these areas, serious consequences would result. Paul’s goal for Timothy is long-term faithfulness and obedience to Christ. The long-term vision must be built on the gospel and being rooted in its implications.

Second, Paul desires Timothy equip others for the work of ministry. Healthy beings reproduce. The world will not be reached by the witness of a single individual. God wants us to reach the world in the same way it is populated—by multiplication. Paul instructed Timothy to entrust the grace of Christ to faithful men who will then be able to instruct others. Should this occur, Paul will have spiritual great-grandchildren in the faith. What if a new Christian was able to grow so that in two years the new Christian is ready to help another grow?

Jesus loved the world and helped thousands, but he closely trained only twelve men who trained others. The ministry of multiplying disciples comes through ministry to individuals. This is the way Paul communicated his life to Timothy (3:10). We reach the masses through the man.

In working with the man, he must be equipped. Paul compares the work of a disciple to a soldier, athlete, and farmer (2:3-6). Paul himself plodded on for the sake of others (2:10). Paul imparted his life to them and he recognizes his work in Timothy (3:10). Paul continues to equip Timothy by reminding him about the profitable use of the Scriptures. The Word is useful for teaching others to walk with God in belief and action. Rebuking identifies sin and shows where the believer has gotten off the path. Correcting shows the disciple how to get back on the path and how to change. Finally, the Word trains in righteousness by showing one how to stay on the path and live in an accordance with God’s ways.

The work in maturing others and equipping them requires desire, decision, determination, and discipline. The work is not haphazard. For example, consider a man who desires to have time with God before going to work. He realizes that in order to have enough time, he must get up early. He decided to get up at 6:30a. The next day he oversleeps because his desire and his decision alone could not get him out of bed. He then determines to use an alarm clock to help him get up. The real test comes when the alarm goes off. Discipline must then come into focus. He must shut the alarm clock off and not go back to bed. Good habits can be developed as a result of consistent discipline. The desire for good habits begins with training and accountability from another (1:3-7). Consistency requires thought and effort on a daily basis. It continues through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, Paul desires Timothy persevere in the faith by holding onto the gospel as disciples go throughout the world (1:13; 2:1, 12; 3:11). Paul reminds Timothy that time will be hard because people will reject truth (3:1-5). Paul countlessly alludes to his own suffering and coming suffering because they are engaged in a spiritual battle (2:3-4). Paul was able to testify to his perseverance, in light of his suffering, concerning his earthly walk with Christ (4:7-8). Paul was able to persevere because his focus was on eternity and life beyond this present life. Paul provided countless examples of those who did not persevere. Demas is an example of one who was choked out by the thorns (4:10; cf. Mk 4:19).

Our modern churches would do well to learn from Paul and Timothy. Present-day Christians must invest in a few people and help them become grounded in their faith. The Christian must entrust his whole life to them, rather than merely a few hours a week. This lifestyle goes beyond the small group meeting or the worship service. Further, the overseers of the church must equip followers of Jesus to reach others for Christ, grow new believers, and then equip others. Finally, the pastor must demonstrate and champion perseverance. Because many pastors oversee programs, these programs should be structured to encourage the development of disciples not inhibit them. In order to implement such principles, the church must realize equipping and needed perseverance come through engaging with those outside the building walls.

The Discipline of Evangelism

One of the most challenging chapters in Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is the chapter “Evangelism…For The Purpose of Godliness.” The idea of evangelism has been thrust into the forefront of my mind for two reasons: 1) I am taking a class called Evangelism and Discipleship, and 2) because I want to plant a church from evangelism.

I was twenty-three years old before I heard of anyone actually setting aside time in their week to go evangelize. I knew Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses went purposefully, but I had never heard of a faithful Christian person plan to go evangelize. For some of you, planning to go evangelize just does not compute. It did not compute for me either until I began to be influenced in another way. See, evangelism was something the whole church did through events or from living a Christian lifestyle, not personally sharing the good news of Jesus. Evangelism was always guilt driven too. “You needed to be doing it, and you were a bad Christian if you were not evangelizing” (whatever that meant). Evangelism in some cases was simply inviting someone to church. Evangelism, for me, was an ethereal idea that happened unintentionally. I have since changed my perspective.

Evangelism is not some ethereal idea. Evangelism is the communicating of the gospel to another. I explain the connecting between evangelism and discipleship here. As someone who loves the church, we need to rediscover the art of verbal proclamation of the gospel Monday through Saturday.

For some, even reading about evangelism causes an eye-dropping, foot-shuffling anxiety, and the response to click off this post and stop reading. We would rather the idea of personally sharing the good news be left forgotten. However, as Donald Whitney articulates, evangelism is actually needed for our growth in godliness. He says, “I’m convinced that the main reason many of us don’t witness for Christ in ways that would be effective and relatively fear-free is simply because we don’t discipline ourselves to do it.”

We do not discipline ourselves to do it because the only image we have is the guy on the street corner shouting at people about how they are going to hell. At the end of the day, we have not consistently seen very many methods of evangelism. For many years, my excuse was that I had not seen someone effectively do it. I have heard the excuse I do not know enough, or I am not sure what to say. We let our lack of “learning” stop us from doing. Evangelism is always an assignment of faith. The believer is seldom wholly prepared for every tough question or every single encounter.

What’s fascinating is that in Mark 5:1-20 Jesus provides a great blueprint for evangelism.  Jesus takes his disciples to the unclean region across the Sea of Galilee where they encounter a demon possessed man. The disciples most likely knew exactly where they were headed. The demon possessed man could have been heard all across the lake in his chains. Jesus casts out the demon upon reaching the other side and then begins getting back into the boat.

18 As he [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged him earnestly that he might remain with him. 19 Jesus did not let him but told him, “Go home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed.

Simple. No training. No extra time with Jesus. Just go tell others what the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you. Then, the man went and did.

All he knew was the Jesus he encountered and how it transformed his life. Two questions:

  1. How has the Jesus of the Bible impacted your life?
  2. Can you share that story?

If you can share the how Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection has intersected and impacted your life then you can “evangelize.” Recently, I have been challenged the only way to learn is by doing; in conjunction, the only way to do is through discipline. When speaking about discipline people react in funny ways as well. I know I do. Most discipline is drudgery because it has no direction. When the direction is to become more like Christ (Rom 8:29), we cannot honestly pursue Christ-likeness without the discipline of evangelism. Further, when we pursue Christ-likeness it will take effort but ultimately cultivate delight in the Lord.

Disciplined faith is a faith that is likely to survive and lead to faith in others. – Alister E. McGrath

In order for Christianity to reach movement stage (my personal vision for church planting in the Pacific Northwest), pastors have to lead out in personal evangelism and subsequently equipping others for evangelism. Jeff Christopherson says this thought well.

“When churches are planted for evangelism, they often find themselves culturally mismatches and fail to gain an indigenous foothold. When churches are started from evangelism, they seem to instinctively know how to move forward, with great credibility, in a sea of networks and relationships.”

If you would like to see a movement in your city or revival in your church then take up the task of personal evangelism. Will you take a step to discipline yourself to evangelize?

Gaining Clarity

Over the past several years God has been preparing me in differing ways to plant a church. One way has been a refining of my life’s mission–to make disciples.  Throughout the journey from being an ignorant high schooler to Kentucky Christian University to my first ministry to some training at Southeast Christian Church (taught by Dann Spader) and now to Midwestern Seminary, God has molded my perception of evangelism and discipleship. Through each step my working definitions have been refined. I submitted the following blog for class. What follows is a portion of my current understanding of disciple-making.

Our purpose for existence, directly and indirectly, affects our plan of action. A slight shift in purpose can greatly alter our actions and mission. An airplane flying across the country can completely alter its destination by shifting a few degrees from its original flight plan. Although the shift is slight, it has radical implications. In order to rightly define evangelism and discipleship, our purpose and mission must first be defined. At the 2004 Athens Games, Matt Emmons was on pace to win gold. All he had to do was hit the target. Matt fired at the wrong target and was awarded a score of 0.0 on his last shot of the final round. [1]

We will always miss the target we are not aiming at. The principle applies to our life and ministry; they are no different. Our ability to succeed and to measure success is directly tied to a clear and focused understanding of our purpose for existence. We must have great clarity of our purpose–to glorify God. Our purpose has a directional component known as our mission, which provides clarity on how we bring glory to God. Purpose and mission have a nuanced, but important, distinction. A grasp of the nuanced distinction of why God has created us will the first critical step to becoming all He intended for us to collectively be—a movement which cannot be stopped.

For the purpose of this blog, I will focus on mission because it directly affects the definitions of evangelism and discipleship. I will define our mission according to Matthew 28:18-20. Our mission is to make disciples who make disciples. Some may argue our mission is based on Mark 12:28-31 (Love God, Love People). However, I will maintain Mark 12:28-31 provides the motivation for our mission of disciple-making. Finally, some may even suppose passages such as John 20:21, or even Luke 19:10 provide the mission for a Christian. John 20:21 gives the model by which the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit followed. Jesus sends and releases disciples throughout His life and ministry. Several times throughout the Gospels, Jesus sends out his disciples, ultimately in preparation for the final sending upon His ascension. Luke 19:10 outlines the will of God through disciple-making. God’s chosen vehicle for helping believers make disciples is the local church (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 3:10-11). The church exists to help believers fulfill the Great Commission—not do it for them. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus view the Great Commission as the pastor’s job or the church’s job—someone else’s responsibility. With this perspective, a church will never experience Great Commission health.

Second, the ability to measure our effectiveness is directly linked to how we understand what we want to produce. Again, an airplane flying without a clear destination can end up flying in circles without even realizing it. It can totally miss its destination or end up flying for hours without getting anywhere. The same picture can characterize our life. The measure corresponds with our definition. Jesus clearly knew what He wanted His followers to become—disciple-makers. Not for a moment did He waiver from that effort of reproducing His character and priorities into their lives so that they could multiply it in others.

Unfortunately, in the anti-supernatural movement of 1850, a man by the name of Charles Adam separated “making disciples” into two parts: evangelism and discipleship. The holistic command in Matthew 28:19-20 was split into two terms. Evangelism became the process of bringing people to Christ, or the communication of the gospel by saved people to lost people. [2]

Alvin Reid rightly defines evangelism according to the presumed split as “Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ by word and life in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that unbelievers become followers of Jesus Christ in His church and in the culture.”[3] Discipleship became the process of growing people up in Christ. Whole movements began to prioritize either evangelism or discipleship. Evangelism became the priority and responsibility of parachurch ministries (CRU, Billy Graham, etc.), and discipleship became the priority of the local church.

However, disciples cannot be made unless both evangelism and what became labeled as discipleship are happening. Evangelism and discipleship are the two wings of the disciple-making airplane. Both are equally important and essential to fulfilling the mission of the church. The degree to which we can clearly define what we are trying to produce is the degree to which we can fine-tune our strategy for making disciples. It is also the degree to which we can effectively evaluate whether or not we are accomplishing our objectives. [4]

Improper or a skewed definition of disciple-making will both produce a faulty product and cause ministry to repeat the same patterns with no progression. The Church and the Christian need to know and understand the ideal product and the process which produces the ideal product. By measuring the end product of both evangelism and discipleship, and thus the whole process a correct definition can be reached. The end product of the evangelism process is measured by conversions to Christ. The end product of the nurturing process is reproducing believers who reflect both the character (Gal. 5:22-23) and priorities of Christ. Charles H. Spurgeon describes these priorities as true prayer, obedience, dependence upon God. [5] In addition, a fully-trained disciple is a believer capable of reaching and caring for their peers over the long haul. [6]

Therefore, disciple-making is not the communication of information, but a reproduction of a life which embodies the character and priorities of Christ. We do not teach someone to merely know what we know. Rather, we teach them, to become what we are.

As we multiply believers who are living a disciple-making lifestyle, the Holy Spirit will send out more fully trained disciples to cross-cultural and geographical barrier—proclaiming Christ and establishing healthy Great Commission churches.

 


[1] http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/athens-2004-matt-emmons-fires-wrong-target

[2] Alvin Reid, Evangelism Handbook: Biblical, Spiritual, Intentional, Missional (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2009), Kindle Location 440.

[3] Ibid., Kindle Location 649.

[4] Thought significantly influenced by Dann Spader.

[5] Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1995), 31-33.

[6] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 18.