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.

Reframe (Part 2)

Instagram made a shift in the look of their app. Not only did they change the app look, but they also changed the color scheme surrounding pictures to give more focus to the picture itself. Essentially, they reframed all of a person’s pictures. Instead of a competing color scheme for a person’s attention, they muted the frame eliminating any competing color for a person’s eye. Now, reframing the picture makes the picture more vibrant. When we reframe our understanding of church and our Christian organizations around a kingdom mindset by seeking Christ, our churches and organizations become more vibrant.

As we begin to reframe our understanding of kingdom, our approach to ministry within the local church changes. Ministry no longer exists within the vacuum of programs within your church. A competing strategy is no longer developed with sections of the whole. When we learn to seek Christ and abide in Him, supernaturally, the effects of this relationship begin to change. We often do not know how to deal with ministry outside the confines of what we are taught and personally experienced.

Any organization feels the tension when shifting from operating as an isolated entity to one that collaborates and has to rely on others to share in the larger vision. Trust becomes essential. A common vision is non-negotiable. I am thoroughly convinced that as our culture shifts we must rely on Christian living with the mindset always putting God’s kingdom first. Trusting and applying this mindset are not alway shares with the same philosophy of how best to live in light of God’s rule and reign.

The Pharisees and disciples struggled with these very ideas when Jesus begin ministry. The disciples  moved down a pathway and joined Jesus. The Pharisees clung to what they knew and could tangibly control–their additional laws. The Pharisees had good intentions but fear ruled within them. Their fear gave birth to bitterness, contempt, and anger closing themselves off from what the Father was doing through Jesus.  

Within our changing culture, fear cannot and must not rule us. We have to begin serving others through a kingdom framework, instead of a withdrawn western church framework.Jesus shifted the centrality from the religious leader back to hearing and obeying God together. A kingdom framework challenges the modern day pastor to shift from the central role back to a servant and someone who equips others.  When we serve others well we can lead them. A kingdom framework shifts from a pastor central church back to a kingdom-centered church. Therefore, we can no longer “do church” or “do bible college” the way we have always done it. Operations must change and will change. Churches and Christian Universities are already moving to a kingdom framework. Contrast the two frameworks below:

Church Framework

  1. Gospel of Salvation: “I’ve been baptized or saved” “Heaven someday”
  2. Disciple: Church Member and “Doing” things for God
  3. Society: Indifference or disengagement
  4. Church: Building or Institution

Kingdom Framework

  1. Gospel of the Kingdom: “Here and Now” “Arrival of present reality”
  2. Disciple: “Being” a Son/Daughter of God, where we hear and obey
  3. Society: Domains – “Where you are” and “Reconciliation of all things”
  4. Church: Ecclesia – called out one and the family of God

Framing up a correct mindset will only come as we seek Christ together and take bold steps to bring the present reality of God’s goodness to others.

I believe that what God has in mind for the church was rooted in how Jesus established His church.We must consider how far the Western church has wandered from God’s original intention. Honestly, it is all in how you frame up the issue and approach day to day life in the kingdom. As we reframe, are we bold enough to make the shifts? Or, will we settle for what we know and can control?

4 Reoccurring Revelations After Stepping Out of Vocational Ministry

Over the past several weeks as Ruth and I have talked at length about future plans and opportunities, we have had several revelations. These revelations have come about through our regular gameplan talks getting ready for the week’s events (Yes, we do call our talks “gameplans”). Usually we will be discussing a plan we are trying to explore or a person we are trying to minister to, always having some presupposition about why that strategy or approach will not work. After talking through some ideas, we have that proverbial “Ah Ha” moment and lo and behold the Holy Spirit shows us something new. Some revelations have been small and some have been smack you in the face with a two by four; some we have needed to realize more than once. Nevertheless, they have all come because we have stepped out of vocational ministry.

We still haven’t taken advantage of this one yet, but we have actual weekends again–like Saturday and Sunday. Let’s face it. Being a Pastor means that you’re working on Saturday and Sunday, while the majority of people are “off.” Even with taking a Sabbath on a Friday or Monday and getting this one day off once a week, there were still very real challenges. Anyone who works a third shift or also works a Saturday or Sunday can agree that not having a traditional work week shortens your time, or so it feels that way. Whether it was the task of relationship building for ministry or simply visiting family, time was short and most likely they were working. Ruth and I were talking about this new found revelation and realized that we can take weekend trips to see my parents, her siblings, or get away without interrupting the mojo of preparing for Sunday. This new reality brought us excitement! However, that old rhythm of life seems to have kept us from taking advantage of trip taking because the options seem limitless. Thinking about taking a weekend trip or visiting family leads into our second revelation.

I am quicker to empathize than chastise. Personally, now when I show up to a Sunday morning worship service and I’m looking to connect with someone, I’ve realized my first thought is finally reverting back from “Why aren’t they here?” to “I wonder if everything is okay?” When I first began ministry my default setting was focused on the relationship building and gracious side of life when working with volunteers and families. Those two questions may not seem like much, but there is a vast difference of tone in my head. The first is of condemnation to their absence. Think, “why aren’t they here?” out of frustration and disrespect. The second has a tone of concern and empathy. While I may never outwardly become vocal about someones absence, judgment leading to condemnation mentally is still sin. I have had to repent and seek forgiveness. My prayer is that “why aren’t they here?” gives way to “I wonder if everything’s okay.” The revelation in probably the most haunting of my time in ministry. So much cynicism and narcissism is rooted in that first question and having this change of perspective challenges me to evaluate when things began to change. While these thoughts never gave way to bitterness, there is so much more God wants to do in and through a person besides showing up to my program. When I began in ministry the latter question was my only question, but that soon gave way to dissatisfaction to someones absence. Maybe it’s the investment in someones’s life or time spent caring about someone’s best interest, but that seems too rational. Using someones attendance at an event is something that I hope God prunes out of my life. I encourage all church people and current ministers to fight for the latter question, and there may even be better question than that. Nevertheless, don’t give in to condemnation and scrutiny. Choose grace. Choose love. Also, if you don’t see someone you wanted to connect with, reach out and let them know you missed them.

The challenge I’ve ushered to reach out has forced me to realize I have the ability to put my “money” where my mouth was. I have always been attempting to live with passion and mission, but I now have a more full opportunity to live out what I taught and attempted to live out while I was leading a ministry with little objection. Living with intention and acting with love cannot be countered by the reasoning “you’re a pastor and that’s what you’re supposed to do” anymore. The expectation has changed, which allows my true motivations to shine through the facade many people think ministers put up. My hope is that time put into love for God and love for people will not be misconstrued as obligation, rather show what God has done in me is the real reason I advocate a faith-filled passionate life. When it comes to an opportunity to serve in church, will I step up as I challenged so many others to do, or conform to my natural selfishness? Just yesterday my ability to lean into God was put to the test. I was asked to do the welcome at a church service and Ruth was asked to serve in the nursery. This was the first Easter in many years we weren’t going to have to take any responsibility; we could actually kick back and enjoy the program! I hate the reasoning. It’s terrible logic. The church is not a program. The church is a family. The worship service is serving worship to God, not watching performers on a stage, yet that’s what I was looking forward to doing. So, Ruth and I were faced essentially with one choice. Serve, or sit. It  is not an easy thing to decide when you know Easter Sunday the worship will sound good, the preacher brings his A game, and the place is packed. Maybe you are faced with this same dilemma every week when you are asked to serve, or even go above and beyond your current role. How do you choose? I won’t tell you what we decided, but putting my “money” where my mouth was prompts that fourth reoccurring revelation.

Regardless of my position, role, or job I’m still in full time gospel ministry. We are all commanded to make disciples. That does not change even when my job does. This commission forces  the “great commission” to be replaced with the “everyday commission.” Same text. Matthew 28:19-20. Same logic. As I go into every church, store, job, building, or home make disciples of all people baptizing them, teaching them to obey, remembering Jesus is with me until I die.  What does this look like? In a practical sequential sense, it means being a friend of sinners so that they repent and believe, building the believer, equipping the worker, and sending the discipler (for a full definition of these terms I encourage you to read 4 Chair Discipling). My new role and difference of location does not excuse me from the work of ministry. While the venue may change, the method and means do not change. I am excited for how this will take shape outside the context of church ministry and in the context of workplace and neighborhood ministry. My gut feeling is that it will look eerily the same. Doing what Jesus did makes disciples like Jesus commanded us to make.

God continues to show me what this looks like as things change and as new relationships form. Regardless, of your position or role wherever you are, my hope and prayer is that you seek to fulfill the everyday commission out of your love for God and love for people. If you’re not sure what making a disciple looks like in your context, then I suggest finding a few Christians, get on the same page with them, and together have a gameplan.

CP Parents Taking Home the Word (3/29)

SUNDAY MORNING

This week your student learned that Jesus is our warrior who saves us from judgment. The passage of Scripture used imagery that described God as a mighty warrior. Your student was asked to describe God based on the warrior language used in Scripture. Ask your student how the warrior language affected their view of God. Many times we view God as a father-figure sitting on a throne and not a might warrior who is fighting for us. Remind your student that God is both their Father and a Mighty Warrior who fights for them.

CENTRAL TRUTH: Jesus is our warrior who saves us from judgment.

PERSONAL PARENT CHALLENGE:

  • Dwell: As believers, we must be diligent to live our lives for Christ in a world that is adamantly opposed to His name. We will suffer because of that and the Bible warns us of those days. When you fins yourself suffering, never forget that you have a God who stands as a mighty Warrior who is among you and who is ready to save.
  • Memorize: Zephaniah 3:17
  • Pray: Thank the Lord for standing as you Warrior and for seeking you out. Thank Him for His love in sending Jesus and for the salvation we have in Christ. Ask God to help you trust Him as Warrior and King of your life.

SUNDAY NIGHT

Luke tells us that Jesus came to die for our sin, but also to form a people of God who, renewed by his Spirit, are able to serve him in righteousness and holiness all of their days. This good news is open to all and God wants the news of Jesus shared with all. As followers of Jesus, as Christians, we are to partner with God is carrying this good news of forgiveness and hope because of Jesus to those in our lives where God has placed us and is calling us.

KEY TEXT: Luke 6:27-36

CRITICAL QUESTION: What does it look like to love our enemies? How does loving of enemies show people the character of Jesus?

CP Parents Taking Home the Word (3/22)

SUNDAY MORNING

In this season, your student learned that judgment is coming against evil, but there is a sacrifice for those who call on His name. A great topic to discuss with your student this week is the subject of sacrifice. Ask them if they have ever had to sacrifice something. Help them see how as a parent you make sacrifices in your life for them. Ask them if they understand what it means that Jesus became their sacrifice. Jesus took our place on the cross and paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sin so that we can be in an eternal relationship with Him forever.

CENTRAL TRUTH: Judgment is coming against evil, but there is a sacrifice for those who call on His name.

PERSONAL PARENT CHALLENGE:

  • Dwell: Evil is prevalent in the world today. It is not challenging to look around and find something that is in direct rebellion against God. Despite the trials we face in this life, we can still have hope because there is a day coming when God will rectify all that is wrong. Evil will be dealt with and God will reign supreme. While we wait, it is our job to shine the light of Christ to those who need Him.
  • Memorize: Zephaniah 2:3
  • Pray: Ask Jesus to give you strength and endurance to press on even in the midst of difficulties you may face. Thank Him for the day to come when He will make everything right. Until that day comes, pray for Him to help you to be a witness who points others to Jesus and to the sacrifice that was provided for their sins.

SUNDAY NIGHT

Luke tells us that Jesus came to die for our sin, but also to form a people of God who, renewed by his Spirit, are able to serve him in righteousness and holiness all of their days. This good news is open to all and God wants the news of Jesus shared with all. As followers of Jesus, as Christians, we are to partner with God is carrying this good news of forgiveness and hope because of Jesus to those in our lives where God has placed us and is calling us.

KEY TEXT: Luke 6:20-26

CRITICAL QUESTION: How do we seek a kingdom minute versus temporary satisfaction?