Called to Die! (part 3 of 3)

Only Matthew contains the command to “make disciples of all nations.” If we are to accomplish this directive, we will need to learn what it entails in Matthew. (I am not implying that the same concept is not contained in the other Gospels or Paul’s writing, but that our first place for grasping what is meant by the phrase is to explore the context where it is used.)

How does Jesus make disciples in Matthew? He calls groups and individuals to follow him. He involves them in two parts of his three-fold ministry. He disciples them to the point of making the good confession. Jesus creates a setting where they discover his true identity. While the people believe he is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or another of the prophets who has re-appeared, Peter knows better. Simon “Rocky” Johnson has grasped the heavenly revelation of Jesus’ identity! He declares that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah, he is the “Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

But this recognition of Jesus’ identity and participation in his ministry of preaching and healing is not enough. At this exact moment Matthew tells us Jesus makes a second major transition:

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21). Peter pulls him aside and rebukes Jesus.

Did you get that? Immediately after confessing him, Peter rejects what Jesus says must happen.

I believe that disciples are people who know Jesus’ identity—they get the divine revelation. But we have always struggled with the implications of his mission. Many of us plunge into aspects of his ministry (preaching, teaching and healing). But will we take up our cross and follow him to death? In the first Gospel disciples are not ready to teach until they grasp his mission. You will not “teach them to obey everything” Jesus has commanded until you accept the world-shaking implications of his death.

I am not talking about being able to give a description of “substitutionary atonement.” Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Being a disciple entails self-denial. Here is the greatest challenge.

All the way to Jerusalem the twelve are going to bicker and quarrel over who is the greatest. It seriously looks like they will all fail their final exam. In actuality, they do. Peter denies he knows Jesus. They all scatter. We know what Judas does.

But Jesus’ resurrection is God’s answer to our failures. Matthew tells of only two of his post-resurrection appearances (Matthew 28). He sends the women from the tomb to remind his “brothers” to go to Galilee “to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go” (Matthew 28:16). By obeying Jesus they reveal they are finally ready to be sent out as teachers. But note with me once again, their teaching is narrowly defined—“teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

I believe we damage ourselves with a Harmony of the Gospels approach, because we miss the unique depths of each of the Gospels. I am convinced Matthew’s five great teaching sections grapple with core issues of discipleship:

  • chapters 5-7 the teaching on the mount in Galilee
  • chapter 10 the sending of the twelve
  • chapter 13 the parables on the Kingdom
  • chapter 18 the teaching on greatness in the Kingdom
  • chapters 24-25 the teaching on the mount of Olives.

Each section ends with the same phrase: “And when Jesus finished these sayings…” (Matthew 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). These large blocks of material should be prominent in our discovery studies on the nature of discipleship. But we also must give careful attention to how Jesus made disciples—his actions—as well as what he taught. Making disciples calls us to follow Jesus!

Who Is a Disciple? (part 2 of 3)

Now that you have spent time investigating the appearance/disappearance of the term “disciple,” let’s move on to consider one of the New Testament books where the word does appear. I will confine myself to Matthew’s Gospel.

When different people use the same term, they often have nuanced connotations. This is why graduate theses and dissertations require their authors to define terms as they are using them. While the old adage, “Words don’t mean things, people do!” overstates the matter, there is a kernel of truth embedded into this memorable exaggeration.

“Disciple” appears 81 times in Matthew. Seventy-seven uses refer to people who have been called into a transformational learning relationship with Jesus. The four exceptions (Matthew 9:14; 11:2; 11:7; 14:12) heighten this point because there the followers of John the Baptizer are being differentiated from Jesus’ disciples.

Matthew sub-divides his presentation of Jesus’ story into three sections by two uses of the phrase “from that time on Jesus began to” (Matthew 4:17; 16:21). The first section reveals the hidden identity of this man, Jesus. Yes, he is the son of David and the son of Abraham (1:1), but he is also the beloved Son of God (3:17) who brings much pleasure to his Father! His genealogy and birth narrative place him squarely within Israel’s salvation history and reveal that Israel’s amazing God has even been known to work through women who were the objects of others whispers!

Until the narrative moves from the man to his ministry, there is no mention of disciples. The second major section opens with the notice that “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 4:17). His ministry was done “throughout Galilee” and consisted of “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good new of the kingdom of heaven and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).

The first mention of “disciples” is found in Matthew 5:1 when they are differentiated from the crowds. Jesus began to teach the disciples and the crowds overhear this introduction to discipleship. The first gospel does not call chapters 5-7 a sermon. No, Jesus teaches on the mountainside. This is not a call to repentance. This is teaching par-excellence!

To this point we have only been introduced to four by name. Peter, Andrew, James and John have left their boats, nets and Zebedee (father of the later two) to become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-22). In following Jesus they witness his teaching, preaching and healing ministry. But they also find themselves being called to a radical, life-changing application of Jesus’ amazing, authoritative teaching (Matthew 7:24-29).

Please note, “disciple” has only been used once (Matthew 5:1). A disciple of Jesus must do more than hear his three-chapter teaching! (The crowds hear it and are even amazed at his authority.) Jesus closes by revealing that his hearers will either be wise or foolish (Matthew 7:24-27). They will either build on rock or sand. What is the actual point of delineation? Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).

Matthew’s first and last texts using this word stress the importance of practicing Jesus’ teaching. His final directives are spoken to the “the eleven disciples” who put into practice his call to meet him on this mountain where he had earlier told them to go. Now he will involve them in the teaching component of that three-fold ministry.

Yes, he had earlier “called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 10:1, 7). But only Jesus teaches in Matthew—until the final scene.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18b-20) Jesus declares.

The only teaching disciples get to do in the first Gospel is to teach the disciples they make to obey all of Jesus’ commands. Disciple-making entails going, baptizing those being discipled and teaching them to obey everything the one with all authority has commanded.

Who is a disciple?

Everyone who hears Jesus’ teaching and obeys it.

Sitting and Watching is not Biblical (part 1 of 3)

Last year a friend who is a missionary in Tanzania asked me to write a series of articles on discipleship to post on his blog. He was going to be traveling and wanted to continue to engage his readers. Since I am traveling this week (I covet your prayers) I have decided to share those articles with you this week.

Have you noticed how many people start driving the same make and model of vehicle as you, right after you purchase that “new-to-you” auto? Few just bought theirs. What has changed is your awareness. After I was asked to write about discipleship I noticed many people doing likewise. Consider the following quote I saw in the Jan-Feb 2011 issue of Mission Frontiers http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/avery-willis-last-dream:

“Sitting in a pew watching the paid staff put on a Sunday show is all too often the American view of discipleship; this view is not biblical, and it is killing the Church.”

Likely I would have missed that statement if I had not agreed to write this series. We see and/or hear what we want (to a large extent).

Brett asked me to write a 3-part series on discipleship:

  1. Introduction to—and/or importance of discipleship.
  2. What does it mean to be a disciple? And/or how do I become a disciple?
  3. What does it mean to make a disciple? And/or how do I make disciples?

But how do I introduce this topic? How do I convince you of its importance if you think what the quote said? Since Brett has already told you I am part of the pastoral team of his sending church, then you expect me to be angling to get people to Stones River. Or maybe you think I want more to buy-in to our programs. Or maybe we want your money.

Preparing to write this series I stumbled onto something that puzzles me. I even wrote my deepest theologian friend asking for any insights he could share (of course he will probably get back to me after I hit “Send” on this series). The word “disciple” appears hundreds of times in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts. But it never appears in the rest of the New Testament. Zip, zilch, nit, notta!

How does that happen? How does such an important word disappear?

I do not know! Not even my wildest ideas help.

How Long Will it Take?

DMM counter-intuitives—“Prepare to spend a long time making disciples, but anticipate miracle accelerations.” Jesus took 3 years (Mark).

Before a team of apostolic disciple makers enter a new region to find Persons of Peace, there will have been a devoted season of intercession, careful research and deliberate tactical planning. The goal behind each of these is to determine, to the best of our abilities, what God is already doing in this region and discover how we can join him. Making disciples is about obeying Jesus. It is about surrendering our plans to his will.

Often we have found that this process takes time (months, if not years). We anticipate it will be three months or longer before the first disciples come to faith in Jesus—and that is counted from the time you have already discovered the first Person of Peace. But we have learned that God’s ways are not our ways when it comes to this timetable.

We have discovered that when intercession reveals God is ready for a village or region of a city to be reached, when those who are entering have good insight into the world view of the inhabitants and when there are good tactical plans for gaining access into the lives of these people there are often surprises. The God who spoke the world into existence is not restricted to the normal harvest cycles (consider for example the remarkable events surrounding Aaron’s staff, Numbers 17:8). While experience correctly teaches us to expect months before planted seeds yield a harvest, faith reminds us God is greater than the process he created.

Making disciples is a time-consuming process. It is relational. Unless hearts are knit together by a supernatural process, friendships take time to form. Trust is earned. Through the ebb and flow of life the right to speak into a life is incrementally developed.

The God who snapped the Philippian jailor awake by an earthquake is still able to move mountains today. The Creator who opened Pharoah’s court to Joseph by a dream can still invade the sleep of people. We are learning to praise God for miraculous accelerations whenever they come!

We are also learning that the training, coaching and mentoring needed to produce disciples who make disciples still must be accomplished. While we intentionally plan to “disciple people to conversion,” we realize God is free to call them spontaneously and miraculously. But he still calls us to help them grow up into the image of Christ. He still calls us to equip them to reproduce. He calls the body of Christ to disciple them into disciple makers.

God is not restricted by the “Creation to Christ” counter-intuitive. But when those who were miraculously transformed enter another village we want them equipped to sow, water and harvest. We want them to know a process that exposes other people to the Word over a period of time. By such training we do not limit the function of the Holy Spirit any more than Jesus did when he invested three years into the twelve, discipling them. We trust Jesus to not only provide the content of our discipling, but the strategy also. We expect God will use us to equip people to make disciples. To call others to Christ is inadequate for fulfilling the Great Commission! We must make disciples who make disciples of all the nations.

You Will Lose Your Job!

DMM counter-intuitives—“It’s about discovery not preaching.” Jesus used questions so people discover the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 13:44-46).

I first heard about what we are calling Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) in November of 2003. My wife and I had been invited to a fund-raising dinner and we just could not say, “No.” As we listened to stories about what God has been doing among the Bhoujpori in Northern India, I noticed a passion in my heart to go to West Africa to envision what he might do there. While I did very traditional up-front teaching there that first trip, I was invited back to do something that was revolutionary the next year.

Between those trips in 2004 and 2005 I listened to CDs of the training that was held in March of 2005, many times. As I began to formulate my plans for training Africans in doing their own inductive Bible studies, I shared some of my thoughts with a College/Young Adults class I was teaching. One of the students told me after class one Sunday, “You realize that if people here buy into this you will end up losing your job, don’t you?” I told him I was willing for that to happen for real transformation to happen, but I figured there would be training I could do even if my position as a preacher was no longer needed.

DMMs are not dependent upon preachers, pastors or other religious professionals. These roles often become obstacles to movements. As we know them, they generally reflect a spectator/performer cultural role more than the biblical function of proclamation upon which they were originally based. But I am talking more about Western traditions than the heart of this counter intuitive.

Biblical proclamation calls hearers to investigate truth claims. It engages the audience in a process of evaluation of spiritual insights. Jesus was the best at it the world has ever seen. He called his disciples and his audiences to a process of checking out the validity of his claims. He launched them into an exploratory process of discovering what God has revealed of himself and whether or not Jesus truly is God’s Son—his exact representation. Everyone comes to personal faith through a discovery process—everyone! God does not have any grandchildren. You don’t get into his family on someone else’s faith. You may start down the road on the faith of others, but ultimately you will accept or reject it based on your life experience (which includes others much more significantly in non-Western areas of our world).

Watching Jesus make disciples in the gospels has convicted me of the incredible role good questions play in the process of discovery. He asked the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). They needed to chew on the options that people were batting around. After that happens, “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Are they going to agree with one of the current theories? Does Jesus make them think of John, Elijah or Jeremiah?

After Peter answers, Jesus pronounces a blessing upon him for getting this revelation from God. Who taught Peter, Jesus’ identity? Who is going to teach the identity of Jesus to people today? We intentionally pursue a process of discovery for this very reason.

Yes, it is easier for us to give people the answers, in the short-term. But there are tragic consequences when they don’t learn to discern them. We avoid damaging dependency through discovery.

Yes, I lost my job. Not because people decided they did not need me any longer. I fell in love with the discovery process and my passion for training others in that overwhelmed my desire to have people dependent upon me.

STARTING RIGHT

CPM counter-intuitives—“Start with creation not Christ.” Our view of God impacts our capacity to understand Son of God (Acts 17:22ff).

Many cross-cultural missionaries have taken a Western evangelistic approach to other parts of the world resulting in numerous unintended consequences. We have failed to recognize that our presentation of the gospel is highly contextualized, therefore it should not be wholesale administered to diverse contexts.

Okay, let me unpack that paragraph. If you grew up in Europe or North America you probably have a Western worldview. You likely view faith decisions as matters for individual choice. You have been schooled by your culture to demand that no other groups or individual has the right to control how you choose to express your spiritual or religious convictions. Guess what? Much of the unreached world does not share that conviction with you. You may be right, but they do not share your understanding. And you will not readily win them over to your way of thinking—and maybe you don’t have to change their mind. Maybe there is a better way to evangelize people who disagree on this issue.

Because our perspectives have been shaped by an individualized society, our most fruitful evangelistic strategies were actually developed for our context. Because we have failed to recognize this we have uncritically exported it to very different cultures and not realized why it has worked so poorly. “But it was how I came to know Jesus, surely it must be THE way others will come to know him!”

Another part of our Western culture that shaped our evangelistic strategies is our assumption that everyone here knows of God and just needs to know Jesus. While that may have been a safe assumption at some points in our history, we can no longer assume it here and we should never take it for granted in the least reached people groups of our world. How people view God directly shapes how they hear the phrase “Son of God.”

How did God reveal himself? Did he jump in with the story of Jesus?

Notice what is written in Hebrews 1:1-3—“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” These last days were prepared for by the past ways God revealed himself.

Most people need at least an overview knowledge of God to be ready to grasp the significance of the message that Jesus is the Son of God. When we fail to help them discover God’s character as the Creator who calls men into relationship and establishes a sacrificial system, then many of the descriptions of Jesus have no context to be deeply meaningful. DMM requires us to begin with creation, unless God miraculously accelerates the timetable. He is sovereign and can do that. We always go with him. But then our discipling will be sure to help these new believers to be grounded in God’s self revelation so they can know how to disciple disciple makers, too. While God accelerates things at times, there are other times when he does not. We start with Creation. We start where scriptures begin.

Going Slow to Go Fast!

Recently I posted the following to my Twitter feed:

CPM counter-intuitives—“Go slow 2 go fast…focus on few 2 win many.” Equip indigenous family heads 2 facilitate discovery of God (Ax 10:33).

Since that is linked to my Facebook account, it showed up there, too. A Facebook friend commented, “Sounds like Confucius. Haha.” I chuckled with him. Later I realized that this is a pretty good way to describe the list of Disciple Making Movements (DMM) Counter-Intuitives.

These Counter-Intuitives are short pithy observations of typical things that happen in DMMs which swim upstream when compared to general mission/evangelistic practices. Let me unpack the one mentioned earlier by way of illustration.

“Go slow to go fast.” Every day the population of the world increases. The growth rate is significantly higher among the nations and people groups who are most resistant to the spread of the gospel. If we keep getting the results we have typically experienced we will grow further behind. This awareness pushes us to find quicker ways of spreading the gospel of the kingdom. Mass evangelism, for example, is an attempt to get the Word out to larger numbers of people at the same time in the hopes of going faster.

But what if the best way to go fast is actually to slow down? Sounds contradictory! We have found that Jesus actually modeled a “slow” method to reach the world. Mass evangelists have often taken us to the passages where Jesus spoke to multitudes as the grounds for their strategy. For example, they might say, “Jesus preached to a huge group through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chs. 5-7). Yes, the multitudes overheard Jesus teaching on the Mount, but he directed it to the twelve that he had hand-picked. While the crowds heard, Jesus models the practice of intentionally training a few. He knew how fickle the crowds are prone to be. He knew he personally had only a short time to set in motion the process by which the world would hear the gospel. He was not going to turn the future over to the crowds; he was going to put it in the hands of his disciples.

If you want to disciple your youth group, hand-pick a few disciplers and train them to train, coach and mentor the members of the youth group. Spend most of your time pouring into them so they can and will reproduce what you are doing (not only discipling, but discipling disciplers). That is the way to produce fruit that lasts.

If you are called to reach a city, it will require you to focus on a few to reach the many. Duplicate this several times and equip them to duplicate it, too, and you have the means to reach the city.

But this Counter-Intuitive has another element that you should not overlook—the people you disciple should be seen by the target audience as insiders. Indigenous family heads are the best means to reach people groups who still have strong family-based systems.

When we transplant Western individualistic strategies into these places we set ourselves and our disciples up for failure. To pick-off an occasional person from these large, tight-knit families insures that they despise Christians. They view us much as we view a cult—“They’ve kidnapped and brain-washed the weakest member of our family!” Such a strategy only works in the Western individualistic worldview regions of our planet (and causes problems with some here, too). We will have greater success if we slow down and train an insider to facilitate a process by which his/her family discovers together who God is and how great his loving provision is for our spiritual needs. Rather than rupturing families, this strategy holds hope for the whole household to come to faith together. Even some of those who do not come to personal faith value being given the opportunity to consider it as part of the family.

But this process can be slower on the front end. You have to find such a person who is open to learning the process and facilitating the discovery. How in the world will that happen?

In Luke 10 Jesus sends the 72 out in 36 pairs. These teams are looking for “persons of peace”—those who are receptive to the peace that comes with the proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. They are not to go from house to house, but find and stay with the receptive person who is hospitable to the gospel. Focus on equipping this person to lead the family in a guided discovery of God’s nature and what surrendering to Jesus’ Lordship entails.

Luke reveals a story of just such a person in his sequel (Acts 10). Cornelius is an excellent example of a Person of Peace. He spends the three days between when he sends for Peter and his arrival gathering the people he influences and has them ready to listen to anything God will tell them to do. God’s Spirit still prepares people like this in our world. God wants the nations to come to know himself. His Son modeled for us a strategy of going slow in order to go fast. (The speed comes because the process is infinitely reproducible and new harvesters are able to come from the harvest. Disciplinig disciplers needs to become our strategy.