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Posts Tagged ‘discipleship’

Disciple-making in the local church

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Thom Rainer writes about disciple-making in the local church in a recent article in Facts & Trends (you can read it online at http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=169885).  Many pastors, including me, are frustrated at the lack of participation in Sunday school and small groups.  He writes, “There was a day for most churches when the solution to this dilemma was to turn to some organizational entity, such as a denomination, and get the needed programs to meet the needs of the church… Not so today” (Rainer, 2009, p. 4).  In the past, a new denominational program was all it took to generate interest, but somewhere along the line, many churches have lost sight of the purpose of these programs – making disciples.  Rainer continues to show what effective disciple-making churches are doing to reverse this trend.

What Rainer has found is those churches that have high expectations of its members are more effective in making disciples.  These expectations are established in “an entry point class that all new members attend.”  Some of these expectations are:

1)      Members are expected to attend an open group Bible study

2)      Members are expected to be involved in one or more deeper studies throughout the year

3)      Members are expected to attend a corporate worship service each week

4)      Members are expected to be involved in at least one ministry or mission activity a year

5)      Members are expected to read and study the Bible daily (Rainer, 2009, p. 5)

As Rainer expresses, many leaders’ immediate response is that people will not expect such high expectations and flee from the church.  I have heard this from the leadership in my church, too.  But I agree with Rainer.  Setting high expectations adds value to being a member of the church.  It also adds significance to each member of the body.  Rick Warren wrote of similar expectations in his book, The Purpose Driven Church

We should not be afraid of setting such high expectations.  Jesus commissioned all of us to make disciples and to equip the saints (Matthew 29:20 and Ephesians 4:12).  How can we accomplish such a great task if we are unwilling to place expectations on our congregations?  We need to be bold and courageous in our work for our Lord and Savior.  After all, we are in the business of building disciples, not entertaining churchgoers.

Is a community of believers the answer we should seek?

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

One of the challenges many church leaders face is developing communities of believers within our churches. It is the topic of many discussions. In fact, just this morning I had a conversation revolving around this topic. We talked about a couple of books that discuss doing church as described in the book of Acts. As I continued to ponder this throughout the day, something came to mind. Is it possible to do church in the same fashion as it was in the first century? Since there are a few modern-day examples, I used to think so; but it does not seem to be the norm. Now I am beginning to question this idea.

In today’s society, people are busy. Some would say that we are too busy. We spend a great deal of time away from home working at our jobs. Add the fact that many people commute 50 or more miles to work each day, and the workday can be 12 hours or more. When we get home, many of us spend our evenings chauffeuring our children around to different activities such as soccer practice, baseball practice, youth group, scout meetings, and other similar activities. By the time we get home from all of this, it’s time to retire for the evening so we will be ready to begin again the next day.

In my neighborhood it is not uncommon to see people drive down the street toward their homes, watch the garage door open as they pull into their driveways, and then close once they are in the garage. I never see the person. I would be challenged to recognize many of my neighbors if they were to walk up to me and say hello. I used to frown on this when thinking about how churches can reach people in our neighborhoods. After reflecting on it a bit more, it is easy to understand why churches struggle with building communities when people find it a challenge just to spend time with their immediate family. Many people simply do not have the time to be a part of a faith community, much less doing so in a similar manner as described in the book of Acts.

When describing most churches, we see people gathering for an hour to an hour and a half every Sunday morning. They arrive at church and greet one another as they find a place to sit. During the worship service, it may be customary to have a time when everyone stands to say hello to those sitting near them. After the service, they may have a couple of brief conversations as they leave the church to return home. All in all, many people spend only a few minutes actually interacting with other people, yet we expect to create communities of believers under these circumstances. Is it any wonder people feel uncomfortable when placed in small groups where the only thing they have in common is the initial of their last name or the zip code in which they live?

When we look at the community as described in Acts, we see the people of the church eating together and spending time in fellowship. In the first century, people lived, recreated, and worshipped within walking distance of their home. Everything was located nearby, and people rarely ventured more than a mile from our home. It was much easier, and some would say necessary, to be a part of such a fellowship. People today no longer live in organic communities as the people did in the first century.

So what is the answer to building a community of believers? I am beginning to wonder if we are seeking the wrong answer. Perhaps the answer is not to build (dare I say) artificial communities of believers within our churches. After all, they barely know one another. Perhaps the answer is equipping and encouraging the people of our churches to bring their faith and beliefs outside of the church into the community in which they are already a natural part. Hmm, sounds like discipleship is the answer we should be seeking.

Just Do It!

July 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Continuing with our look at Spiritual Discipleship

The second chapter in Sander’s book is “Conditions of Discipleship.”

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” Luke 14:27 (ESV)

Oswald opens this chapter discussing how Jesus seems to be “intent on alienating [the crowd’s] interest and actually discouraging them from following him.” He goes on to say, “The line Jesus took with the impressionable crowd was the exact opposite of much evangelism today.” Rather than focusing on the benefits of following him as a disciple, he spoke of the “difficulties and dangers” and “sacrifices.” Jesus was not interested in the number of people who followed him; he was interested in the quality of those who chose to make the necessary sacrifice to be disciples (pp. 19-21).

We must challenge not only ourselves, but also those around us to “bear [our] own cross” and be true disciples of Jesus Christ. It will be difficult. It may be dangerous. It will definitely demand sacrifice. However, as Oswald writes, “following Christ is not a joyless experience” (p. 24). True joy and happiness come to those who follow Jesus Christ. And if that is not incentive enough, try following the popular directive, “Just do it!”

Holy Bible. (2001). English standard version. Wheaton, IL: Standard Bible Society.

Sanders, J. O. (1990). Spiritual discipleship: Principles of following Christ for every believer. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute.

Blessed are the Merciful…

July 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Continuing with our look at Spiritual Discipleship, J. Oswald Sanders discusses the Beatitudes in the chapter, The Ideal Disciple.

He begins the chapter with the statement,

The Old Covenant of law could pronounce only a curse on those who failed to fulfill its demands. The New Covenant, which was sealed with Christ’s blood, does not reduce the law’s demands but imparts the desire and the dynamic to fulfill them. The “thou shalt, thou shalt not” of the Old is replace by the “I will, I will” of the New. (p. 11)

What a great way to put it. Rather than being a list of rules to follow, the New Testament is an inspiration to follow the example of Jesus Christ.

Sanders goes on to outline the Beatitudes into eight conditions of life. The first four are passive personal qualities: spiritual inadequacy, spiritual contrition, spiritual humility, and spiritual aspiration. The next four are active social qualities: compassionate in spirit, pure in heart, conciliatory in spirit, and unswerving in loyalty.

The quality that strikes a chord with me is compassionate in spirit. Sanders writes, “It is possible to have a passion for righteousness and yet lack compassion and mercy for those who have failed to attain it” (p. 15). He goes on to write, “To become mercy, [pity] must graduate from mere emotion to compassionate action.” In other words, to be merciful, we must be willing to do more than just feel pity; we must be willing to do something. More than that, we must be willing to encourage those who have fallen into sin to turn away from sin and turn to Christ. Perhaps if we were less inclined to judge, and more inclined to show mercy we would see more come to know Christ. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” Matthew 5:7 (English Standard Version).

Sanders, J. O. (1990). Spiritual discipleship: Principles of following Christ for every believer. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute.

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Do we practice the doctrine of “easy believism?”

July 20, 2009 Leave a comment

In the introduction of his book, Spiritual Discipleship, J. Oswald Sanders discusses the meaning of the word discipleship. He gets right to the heart of the matter when he says, “It is one thing to master the biblical principles of discipleship, but quite another to transfer those principles into everyday life” (p. 8). In other words, there is more to discipleship than just knowing God; we must live what we know. “It means living with the purpose to obey what is learned. It involves a deliberate choice, a definite denial, and a determined obedience” (p. 8); otherwise, we are only practicing what Sanders refers to as the doctrine of “easy believism.”

Jesus Christ is looking for disciples who will commit to a lifelong walk of learning, loving, and living the teachings of Jesus Christ. Are you willing to make such a commitment? It is not always easy, but the rewards are eternal.

Over the next few days, as I read Spiritual Discipleship, I will share with you my thoughts and comments of what he writes in this book. The first chapter is “The Ideal Disciple.” Until then…

Sanders, J. O. (1990). Spiritual discipleship: Principles of following Christ for every believer. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute.

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The Velcroing Power of a Small Group

January 11, 2009 1 comment

Continuing with our series on the chapter “Velcroed for Growth” from the book Contrarians Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne… The first accelerator Osborne refers to when discussing the purpose of small groups is connectedness. According to Osborne,

“The primary reason to be in a small group setting is not to learn more biblical information. It’s not to develop great friends. It’s not even accountability. It’s connectedness. Belonging to a small group, small church, or any other form of close and transparent relationships velcroes me to the people and information I’ll need when a need to grow or need to know crisis shows up.” (p. 64)

A friend of mine used to say, “Now don’t hear what I didn’t say.” In other words, Osborne is not saying Bible studies, friendships, and accountability are not important aspects of small groups. What he is saying is connectedness is the primary reason to be in a small group. The other things are secondary. I would go further in saying the other aspects are results of being connected. Bible studies are always more affective when we know the people we are studying with. We feel comfortable asking questions or sharing ideas. Real friendship only comes from being connected. True accountability only comes from real connections. How many of us can say that we have connections like this?

Keeping with the focus of Osborne’s book, the people in our small group are the ones we should turn to when in need. They should know us well enough to know when something is bothering us. “When we’re in a place where relationships are genuine and transparent, there’ll always be someone ready to give us what we need.” Whether it is a shoulder to cry on, or words of wisdom, people we are truly connected to will be there to help.

Over the past couple of years, I was so busy with my career that I lost the connections I had with a core group of men. I was trying to do too much, and it consumed me to the point that I no longer had time for friends. Last August something happened that made me reevaluate my life, and I made a decision to make some changes. Making these changes provided me the opportunity to renew connections with my friends. It will take time to reestablish these connections, and some may be lost forever; but I know God will bring people into my life that I need. I just have to be sure to develop and nurture my relationships so there will be true connectedness. And through these connections I will once again have the spiritual growth, friendships, and accountability that God desires us all to have.

Next I’ll reflect on the accelerator peer pressure.