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.

Growing Up In The Fatih

Saul’s conversion in Scripture is one of the most fascinating accounts to read. Early Christians were skeptical about the man who became known as Paul. In honesty, the early Christians had every right to be skeptical because Paul had killed Christians. Paul’s initial growth in the faith was rapid because of his foundation in Judaism. However, Paul still had to undergo a certain change so that his upbringing would not choke out the change the Gospel had caused.

Upon Paul being converted on the Damascus road, Paul now had to begin the journey of actively following Jesus and growing to be like Jesus. Paul was not alone in this journey. As driven as Paul was, he was not alone. Acts 9:17-30 chronicles the follow-up which occurred for the apostle by Ananias and others. Paul describes his own experience in Galatians 1:13-2:6, in which he references visiting the leaders in Jerusalem. The two passages carry similarities but also include some differences necessary for the context of writing. Rather than focus on these differences, the goal of this post will be to describe essentials for following-up with a new believer based on the spiritual journey of the apostle Paul.

Because I have two young children, I liken Paul’s initial spiritual development to a child’s development.  Every young child needs to learn their identity, how to walk, talk, feed, and clean themselves. Just as children have parents, new believers have spiritual parents to aid in their spiritual development. To see new believers achieve the developmental markers, mature believers must support, teach, and encourage the young believers. These five key developmental markers are essential for conducting follow-up of a new believer. When coupled with passages such as Mark 4:1-20 and Isaiah 6:8-10, the developmental markers provide a foundation and initial fruit for potential reproduction. The ability to make disciples and be Christ’s witness is the responsibility of every believer, not just a select few pastors. Every believer has the potential for reproduction, just as every child does as they mature. Therefore, the key developmental essentials provide healthy benchmarks by which the community of faith know the believer is ready to reproduce.

IMG_2174Every child needs to learn their name and who is in their family (2 Cor 5:17; 1 John 3:1). Paul learned his identity and the culture of his spiritual family. After being healed, Paul was baptized (Acts 9:18). Paul also spent some time with the disciples in Damascus (Acts 9:19). These disciples would later help save him because he was set apart for a specific purpose in the family of God (Acts 9:25). Paul accounts for this purpose, knowing his role and thus identity, in his letter to the Galatians (Gal 1:16-17). Specifically, in order to fulfill his purpose, some suggest this is why Paul may have traveled to Arabia. Every young believer needs to grow in the understanding of their identity in Christ and purpose in the church.

Children eventually begin to roll over, crawl, take steps, and eventually walk. Paul learned how to walk in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16, 25). Ananias laid hands on Paul to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). The results of such filling led to the proclamation of the Gospel. Filled with the Spirit and gaining a deeper appreciation day-by-day of the marvelous fulfillment of the Old Testament expectations of Jesus, Saul’s presentation of Jesus becomes more and more powerful. Testimony of Paul’s walking with Christ spread and people noticed (Gal 1:23). Growth in walking in obedience enabled Paul to converse and debate the Hellenistic Jews (Acts 9:29). Paul’s growth also enabled him to reproduce the faith into Titus (Gal 2:1). Every young believer needs to grow in their understanding of the Holy Spirit and walking in obedience.

Many children begin to talk by making incoherent sounds, usually screaming or crying, which eventually become words because the parents foster the ability of communication. The parents talk to the baby and as they grow it turns into coaxing certain words or phrases. Paul learned how to share his story and God’s story (
e.g. Luke 11:1; Eph 4:29; Col 4:6). After some time with the disciples, Paul began sharing how Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 19:20). The verbal sharing of his story aided his acceptance into the community in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). Further, Paul displayed competency by going with the apostles in proclaiming Jesus (Acts 9:28). Later, when Paul writes his letter to the Galatians he specifically accounts for his life pre-conversion and post-conversion (Gal 1:13-14). Every young believer needs to mature in their understanding of God’s cosmic plan of redemption and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and sharing how God’s story impacts their life.

IMG_4373I remember the first time I gave my son a spoon to feed himself. He had to learn the coordination and how to use the spoon. Like my son, Paul learned how to feed himself and grow spiritually by using the tools to which he had access such as the Old Testament (Acts 9:22; 1 Peter 2:2; Jer 15:16). Paul testifies to this personal growth by venturing to Arabia (Gal 1:17). After Paul comes to understand who Jesus is, he then checks his doctrine against the Jerusalem church (Gal 1:21-2:1). Because Paul had come to understand the gospel and allowed it to shape his growth, Paul was able to identify false doctrine (Gal 2:4). Paul also persevered in holding to the truth based on his understanding of the gospel and was not swayed to abandon it (Gal 2:5). Every young believer needs to mature in their understanding of how to read and understand the Word of God.

Finally, every child needs to learn how to groom themselves and dispose of their waste properly. Paul learned how to clean himself by fleeing from sin and purifying his life (e.g. Matt 23:27; 1 John 1:9). One of the by-products of Paul’s new life in Christ was that people who knew him prior to his conversion witnessed a difference (Acts 9:21). Those in Jerusalem were still skeptical of Paul’s new life, but Barnabas was able to testify on his behalf of the change Paul experienced (Acts 9:26-27). Three years had passed and Paul had maintained his faithfulness to Christ. Further, Paul did not fall back into legalistic temptations, specifically as it pertained to the issue of circumcision (Gal 1:13-2:6). Paul’s commitment to holiness can be seen in his testimony in Acts 20:26-34 as well. Every young believer needs to grow in their understanding of their own sinfulness and how to put it to death.

When following up with a new believer they will not be able to mature alone. As they mature, the knowledge must be manifested in action. Throughout the journey, Paul had Ananias, the disciples in Damascus, Barnabas, and eventually those in Jerusalem who could account for Paul’s faith. Every development marker is interconnected with and even contingent upon the others. Just a spiritual disciplines must be practiced, the key developmental markers must being practiced and pursued. Should the “believer” be unable to articulate their conversation the seed may have fallen on the path (Mark 4:15). Should the “believer” be unable to walk in Christ or feed themselves the seed may have fallen on the rocky soil (Mark 4:17). Should the “believer” be unable to groom themselves or believe their identity the seed may have been choked out by the thorns (Mark 4:19). Being malnourished in any way results in premature death and are unable to reach an age of reproduction.

The goal for the young believer is long-term faithfulness and obedience to Christ resulting in Christlikeness. In order to ensure such development, the disciple-maker must only focus on a few spiritual babies at a time. By knowing the five developmental markers, a disciple-maker can intentionally structure conversations and action items such as spiritual disciplines needed to improve the young believer’s deficiencies. Following-up in this way is highly customizable, relational, reproducible, and missional. Paul’s journey accurately depicts the developmental markers necessary for a new believer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.