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Doing Discipleship Post-Resurrection Style

Sermon on the MountI’ve heard plenty of talk about discipleship and multiplication recently, and it usually goes something like this…

If you want to make disciples the way Jesus wants, you have to do it the way Jesus did it. And Jesus, in His earthly ministry, chose only a few people, weeded out those who weren’t true followers, and avoided letting crowds follow him. Therefore, discipleship is one-on-one, takes a year and a half, and doesn’t involve seeing masses of people come to know Him.

If you’re arguing that the model of true discipleship is found in Jesus’ earthly ministry, you’re forgetting a few vital facts.

  • Jesus invited, accepted, and received tons of people who weren’t counted among the twelve.
  • Jesus was very intentionally laying the foundation for the church, which really took off after his earthly ministry was over, and now serves as God’s “plan A” for the discipling of the nations.
  • Jesus’ earthly ministry was not the end of His ministry. He was alive and well on Pentecost where He proceeded to add 3,000 souls to the church, all at once.
  • Jesus was alive and well when He empowered the first missionary movements under Paul which put whole towns in uproar and eventually disturbed Rome, the capital of ancient culture.
  • Jesus inspired the epistles, which provided structure for a young and rapidly spreading church.
  • When Jesus talked about the future of the kingdom, He compared it to a mustard seed becoming the largest tree in the garden and a tiny bit of leaven which would spread to fill the earth.
  • Jesus spent a lot of time with a few people, but then commissioned those people to tell the whole planet about Him, empowered them by sending the Holy Spirit, and promised that they would do even “greater works” than He had done (in my interpretation, referencing the great commission).

So what can we learn from Jesus’ earthly ministry? Let me be clear – there is nothing wrong, and everything right about spending a great deal of time with a few people whom we are mentoring. But to dogmatically proclaim this as THE way Jesus wants discipleship done is to ignore the rest of the New Testament, to minimize the role of the larger church community, and to reduce the level of faith we place in the Comforter who is fully capable of growing new believers into mature followers.

In other words, to argue that Jesus’ earthly ministry is the ultimate model for disciple-making is to focus only on His pre-resurrection ministry. But we serve a risen Savior who is in the world today. And it seems He has been doing some pretty big things since He sent His original posse of twelve to turn the world upside down.

Keep doing one-on-one discipleship. It’s vital. But don’t knock big movements that seek for the larger church context to occupy a central role in the discipling of the nations.

Why Grace Hills Church Is In Jeopardy

Thin IceGrace Hills Church is eleven Sundays old, officially, and about eight months old, unofficially. And we’re in trouble. If we don’t do something, all of our effort will be in vain and all hope of planting the kind of church Jesus had in mind will be lost.

No, we’re not out of money. God has provided every step of the way. No, we’re not losing people. In fact, we’re seeing new attenders every week. And no, we’re not losing our leaders. We’re seeing new leaders emerge as each week passes. But I still contend that we’re in jeopardy of losing everything important to us… if we don’t fight for it.

Churches do not automatically thrive. The American church, as a local institution, has proven that it can coast along in almost-dead mode for many years. But there are no churches that are effectively reaching and changing their surrounding culture by accident. Recently, Rick Warren wrote a brief piece on Pastors.com about breaking three common barriers to church growth. In the comments, a troubling attitude emerged that is probably not too uncommon among believers in American churches – that growth is up to God (which I wholeheartedly agree with) and so any intentional effort to cause growth is somehow wrong (which I couldn’t disagree with more).

We’ve been having “good Sundays” at Grace Hills, but I’m still very much on guard. In fact, I sometimes find myself troubled at the rising threats against our success, not from any force outside of our fellowship, but from within it. Let me elaborate on some ways I believe the mission is in jeopardy even now…

If we fail to intentionally be the church, we will unintentionally just do church. And that’s true, no matter how much we say we’re going to “be the church.” Doing the Sunday gathering thing is what we’re good at, and even though we spend a lot of time and money on it, it’s still easier than scattering to be the church in our community.

If we fail to intentionally make disciples, we will unintentionally just make fans. I believe in making Jesus famous and bringing people into the enjoyment of His glory, but our mission is more than increasing the popularity of the church. The mission is to help people become reproducing, sold out Jesus-followers.

If we fail to intentionally be authentic, we will unintentionally just perform. I’ve performed before. In fact, I’m a recovering performer and have struggled with an addiction to the approval of others, so admitting my weaknesses is tough, but essential. I no longer trust my autopilot to lead me into genuine authenticity. Being real takes effort, and if we aren’t real, nobody heals.

If we fail to intentionally embrace all people, we will unintentionally play favorites. And the apostle James warned us about the danger of insulting the cross by picking and choosing those with whom we want to do ministry. Rather than hanging out with only the “churchy” people, of our color, of our political persuasion, of our cultural background etc., the gospel itself demands that we purposely break free and seek out new friendships for the gospel’s sake.

If we fail to intentionally be generous, we will unintentionally consume everything. By default, we spend it all, and we tend to spend pretty much all of our resources on ourselves. Churches tend to fall into the trap of sustaining their institutional machinery, maintaining their buildings and budgets, and begging for more volunteers and bigger offerings to keep the snowball rolling. Generosity requires purposeful sacrifice (if we can even use that word in light of the cross).

Grace Hills is in jeopardy of existing for us rather than them. We’re in jeopardy of growing the institution of the church rather than the people of the church. And we’re always in jeopardy of becoming a well-liked brand rather than pointing the culture to the infinite goodness of God.

So what should we do? How do we stop our drift and shift out of autopilot? With focus, intention, and effort, we need to:

  • Check our hearts and our motives.
  • Remind ourselves of the mission often.
  • Repeat the vision regularly.
  • Keep Jesus at the center.
  • Put people before the organization.
  • Do it all with a sense of desperation.

After all, if we fail to take the reins, we’re already as good as dead no matter how long we keep the doors open. So… go.

Approaching Easter Sunday As a Pastor

EasterEaster Sunday is special. In spite of the competition from little furry bunnies who deliver colored eggs and sugar-induced hyperactive episodes among children, it’s still a holiday that is fairly “religious.” That is to say, Jesus still gets a fair amount of attention, possibly because it’s always on Sunday and churches draw such attention to the resurrection. This is good.

As a Pastor, I know that Easter Sunday excites me because I’ll see new and unfamiliar faces in our weekend worship service. Most Pastors (those who aren’t jaded toward the occasion) get the warm fuzzies as we approach this big day because of the opportunity to address an unusually large crowd of attenders. As my own church gears up for this special Sunday, I wanted to pass along some wisdom I’ve learned from fifteen years of celebrating this special time as a congregational leader.

Here are tips for approaching Easter as a Pastor…

  • Remember Jesus. It’s all about Him. His resurrection is the first half of the Easter story and the promised and guaranteed hope for the future resurrection of all believers is the second half. Make it a day of worship.
  • Remember family. Easter Sunday afternoon has always been as meaningful to me as the morning service because our family gets to spend quality time together.
  • Remember Jesus as a family. I love peeps and chocolate bunnies as much as the next guy, but it’s even more important to have family conversations about the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Read it from the gospels together and talk about the wonder of that morning.
  • Remember children. I like church Easter egg hunts simply because we’re smiling at kids for the 4.2 minutes it takes for them to locate our carefully hidden plastic eggs. If having an egg hunt means you will welcome more kids to church on Easter Sunday, go for it. I know you’ll be faithful to present the gospel to them and their parents since you’re remembering Jesus already.
  • Remember to celebrate. This is a day of victory and triumph. It kinda deserves a smile.
  • Remember a lost world. People will come to your church on Easter who may only come once or twice the rest of the year. You can try to shame them into coming more (and it probably won’t work), or you can just love them and have compassion on them the way Jesus often had compassion on crowds who only showed up when he had food. Love them. Treat them lovingly. Maybe they’ll be back because of love.
  • Remember the questions of a lost world. The resurrection is unbelievable… if you’re a naturalist. If you don’t embrace the supernatural God of Creation, you’ll have a tough time with the miracle of the resurrection. Remember this. Don’t fear the big questions, and don’t be afraid to let Scripture give answers.
  • Remember to be the church. What do you do every Sunday when guests come? Do that, but do it even better. Welcome newcomers. Smile. Serve them. Love their kids. Guide them around your campus. Meet their need for friendship.
  • Remember who you are. Don’t try to be the church you’re NOT on Easter. Be you. Pastor, you should preach. Your worship leader should lead. And while the day is special, the worship service should give people an idea of who you always are, not just who you are on a holiday.
  • Remember that people count. So don’t just count the people. Metrics are valuable and big attendance days can help us envision what our church will look like if we work together. But don’t forget that every face is the window to a soul deeply loved by God.

And… remember Jesus… no matter what else you forget.

Graphic by Pierce Brantley.

14 Great Books on the Subject of Prayer

Handle with Prayer by Charles StanleyI’m wrapping up a message series on the subject of prayer this Sunday, and I’ve grown in my personal prayer walk as a result of preaching it. I’ve learned from some great sources and wanted to pass along a list of my favorites…

Handle with Prayer: Unwrap the Source of God’s Strength for Living by Charles Stanley

Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer, The: Experience the Wonders of God through Prayer by E. M. Bounds

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray

Prayer, the Great Adventure by David Jeremiah

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey

Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster

On Prayer and the Contemplative Life by Thomas Aquinas (currently free in Kindle edition)

On Earth as It Is in Heaven: How the Lord’s Prayer Teaches Us to Pray More Effectively by Warren Wiersbe

Prayer: Asking and Receiving by John R. Rice (out of print, but one of the best)

Praying the Lord’s Prayer by J. I. Packer

The Power of Prayer and Fasting and How to Pray by Ronnie Floyd

Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels

A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer by John Piper

What books are missing from my library? What has inspired or instructed your growth in prayer?

One Day In the Life of the Internet

The people at MBAonline.com have put together a detailed infographic representing what happens in a 24 hour life cycle on the internet. It’s fascinating, but even more, it’s important for church leaders to “know the times” and understand how churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike tend to think, interact, communication, and consume information. So study it well…

A Day in the Internet

Created by: MBA Online