BETA

Facts of the Matter

A weekly letter of encouragement and challenge to business and professional men and women

Archive for May, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

EIGHT REASONS WHY THE CHURCH IS FAILING IN ITS CALLING TO MAKE DISCIPLES: (4 of 8)

#4 We have been unwilling to call people to discipleship. 1

In many churches there seems to be an inherent fear that if the bar is raised to total commitment, attendance will drop. The exact opposite is true. It is the growing churches who call people to sacrifice and engagement with Gods grand plan of bringing his precious creation into his kingdom.

At age 18 I heard Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ say, Come, help us change the world for Christ. Man, for a young buck who wanted to do something significant for God, my heart leapt within me in eager response.

In our post-Christian world, the common wisdom is to lure seekers in our message by helping them see the faiths relevance to lifes daily challenges. This usually means appealing to self-interest, felt need, personal fulfillment, or a persons search for happiness. Oftentimes the message received is it is all about me, not about finding me only as I lose myself in Jesus. 2

Jesus was without hesitation in calling people to total commitment:

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it (Lk. 9:23, 24)

Jesus said to them, I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (Jn. 6:53)

The third time [Jesus] said to him, Simon son of John, do you love me? Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, Do you love me? He said, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you. Jesus said, Feed my sheep.  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, Follow me!"  (Jn. 21:17b-19)

Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.  (Lk. 14:33b)

Dietrich Bonheoffer martyred in Germany during World War II for his stance against Hitler and his open confession of Christ stated, When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and dieCheap graceis grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.

QUESTION: Could it be that our reluctance to call people to a no holds barred commitment to Christ reveals our reluctance to radical commitment? The fact is that our own measured commitment produces a mediocre commitment in our portages.

1 Key ideas in this Facts are derived from Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship, Downers Grove, IL Inter-Varsity Press, 2003,  2 Ibid, p.50

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

EIGHT REASONS WHY THE CHURCH IS FAILING IN ITS CALLING TO MAKE DISCIPLES: (3 of 8)

#3 We have reduced the Christian life to the eternal benefits we get from Jesus, rather than living as students of Jesus: 1

In the Great Commission, (Matt. 28:18-20) Jesus commanded the Eleven to make disciples, which included baptism and instruction to obey all that Christ had taught them.  These new believers were to place themselves under the transforming influence of Jesus and his disciplers. The obvious result would be conformity to Christ.

Everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Lk. 6:40)

Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:13)

A disciple is one who, in the context of community, places himself or herself under the shaping influence of Jesus so that there is no doubt as to who is deploying the formative power. 1  The emphasis today however, seems to be on the benefits we get from receiving Christ. The focus is on the abundance without the obedience. The crown without the cross. The push for decisions for Christ, and the milquetoast fare they are fed often places little emphasis on daily obedience to Christs teaching. Remember Jesus penetrating question, So why do you keep calling me Lord, Lord! when you dont do what I say? (Lk. 6:46)

In much that passes today as Christianity, Christ is not viewed as the discipler, teacher, Lord, and trainer in life, but the one who doles out the benefits of forgiveness, peace and abundance.  Top priority is not about conforming to Christ and his teaching but to enjoying his remunerations.

Dallas Willard poses the question, Should we not at least consider the possibility that this poor result is not in spite of what we teach and how we teach but precisely because of it? 2 The most telling thing about the contemporary Christian is that he or she simply has no compelling sense that understanding of and conformity to the clear teachings of Christ is of any vital importance to his or her life, and certainly not that it is in any way essential. 3

If you and I are engaged in the discipling process and are reaping such anemic self-serving results in our charges, we must face the fact that there is something fundamentally wrong with how we are going about it.

QUESTION: Living as we are in an era where anything that remotely suggests absolutes is categorically rejected, do you have the courage to expect nothing less of your protgs than true spiritual transformation that conforms to the very life of Jesus?

Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus livedNot everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  (I Jn. 2:6 Msg.; Matt. 7:21)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

EIGHT REASONS WHY THE CHURCH IS FAILING IN ITS CALLING TO MAKE DISCIPLES: (2 of 8)

2 We have tried to make disciples through programs. 1

Jesus approach to discipleship was relationship based: [Jesus] appointed twelvethat they might be with him (Mk. 3:14) It was the disciples close proximity to Christ in the context of real life that truth was modeled, taught and then caught Because meeting personally with an individual is so costly, we often opt for the easier programmed approach. Thus, we herd groups of people through pre-packaged material much like cars on an assembly line. Yet Paul reminded the Thessalonians of his relationship based approach to discipleship.  We dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children (I Thess. 2:11). Paul consistently followed this individualized approach with Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Priscilla and Aquila, and numerous others.

Here are three problems with a programmed approach to discipleship:

Programs tend to be information rather than relation based. The assumption is that if we can expose people to the right information, it will change their lives. Information may inform, but does not transform lives. As a boy, Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), the brutal, godless General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union memorized the New Testament in its entirety. Obviously, it had little if any positive impact on his life. James reminds us that Satan and his minions are well-versed in the things of God, but to no avail: You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. (Jms. 2:19)

Programs assume that one size fits all. When we lived in Singapore, we learned that without exception, students at age 12 were required to take a test to determine whether or not they were college material. It was an iron clad rule that how a child did on that test determined his career path. While our son did well in college, at age 12 was not even close to being ready for such a test. Programs fail to allow for individual differences in how people process and apply truth. Because each person is unique, the discipling approach needs to be individually tailored. In the programmed approach, large amounts of information are disseminated with little, if any time for processing.  The information is not learned in the context of life but pushed at you in the sterile environment of a class room. When a person completes the course he is considered disciple with little regard given to ones degree of inner transformation.

Programs usually expect a low degree of accountability. Years ago I began meeting with a businessman who was on the brink of having an affair with one of his co-workers. He was attending a discipleship class of 30 men early each Wednesday morning. So I asked him if the leader of the class knew anything about his fractured marriage and the temptation he was facing. No, the leader had never spent individual time with him and had no idea of his personal life. If I had asked the leader of the mens group if this businessman was growing spiritually, he probably would have responded in the affirmative on the assumption that he was being exposed to excellent material. In the following months my wife and I invested time with this couple in helping them deal with their marital and spiritual issues. The husband got back on track spiritually, the marriage was healed, and they have since enjoyed many years of fruitful ministry.

1 These key ideas are drawn from Greg Ogdens Transforming Discipleship – Inter-Varsity Press, pages 40-55. The expansion on Ogdens ideas in these articles is mine.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

EIGHT REASONS WHY THE CHURCH IS FAILING IN ITS CALLING TO MAKE DISCIPLES: (1 of 8)

Many followers of Christ feel there is something fundamentally wrong with their church, but cant quite put their finger on it. In all probability, the general level of spiritual maturity is woefully weak. The majority is undisciplined in the word of God and prayer, and is in dire need of help in living holy lives separated unto Christ. Few give evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, much less fruit bearing. Few, if any are being truly discipled and equipped for life and ministry. As a committed participant in my local church, which I dearly love, this reality is a source of grief to me.

In the following eight Facts, I would like to make observations as to why the church is generally failing in its calling to make disciples. 1

#1 Christian leaders have been diverted from their primary calling of equipping believers to do the work of the ministry.

Jesus commanded us to make disciples, and informed us that he would build his church (Matt. 16:18; 28:18-20). It appears that we have it backwards in that we are building the church and leaving the discipleship to him.  Certainly he demonstrated this priority of discipleship, given the fact that he gave 90% of his time to the training of the Twelve.  In Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul clearly spells out the responsibility of spiritual leaders to equip believers so that they, the believers, do the ministry: And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (NKJV)

The Greek word for equipping in Ephesians 4:12 is katartizo and means to equip for service. Put another way, these gifted men (vs. 11) are to specialize in equipping the saints for the work of the ministryIn short, Christian service (vs. 12). 2 When the laity is equipped, believers grow into the stature of the fullness of Christ (vs. 13), become spiritually stabilized (vs. 14), and prepared to minister the truth in love (vs. 15). In this environment, all the gifts naturally function to the effect that the body grows (vs. 16).

During the early formation of the church, pressure built on the apostles to meet the physical needs of widows. Rather than divert their attention to this important but secondary task, they chose spiritual men to address this need, thus freeing them to fulfill their calling to the ministry of the word and prayer: Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." (Act. 6:3, 4) Today, many church leaders under pressure to build the church, have been sidetracked from their primary mission of disciple making to becoming program directors, administrators and care givers.  

QUESTION: Where are you putting your primary ministry efforts? In running programs, or in equipping people for the ministry? The former is busy religious toil; the latter is the Lords work of making disciples. The former produces hay, wood, and straw; the latter gold, silver, and costly stones. The former will fail the searing test of the Refiners fire; the latter will not only survive the fire but will be rewarded for its labor. (See I Cor. 3:10-15)

1 These key ideas are drawn from Greg Ogdens Transforming Discipleship – Inter-Varsity Press, pages 40-55. The expansion on Ogdens ideas in these articles is mine. 2 Wuest's Word Studies – Wuest's Word Studies Volume 1: Word Studies in the Greek New Testament.