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Dr. Walt Russell on The Biblical Concept of Discipling Others

MULTIPLYING COMMUNITIES THROUGH DISCIPLESHIP

Two surfers walking on the beach

In many respects the last generation’s barrage of literature on the subject of “discipleship” has generated more heat and smoke than light. Many contradictory  constructs have been offered. What does the Bible say about being “a disciple” and “discipling” others? Is there a word from God upon which we in the church can build a biblical and consistent philosophy of ministry discipleship? Where do we fit in all of the valuable data about character development gained from research in the social sciences? Is the integration of the biblical view of a discipleship ministry with the social science view of character development ever possible? Hopefully, this article will begin to answer some of these vital questions. This attempt will first seek to lay a biblical foundation and framework for discipling others; and secondly, to suggest a general philosophy of discipleship from the biblical concept.

THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF “DISCIPLE”

The Derivation of the Concept of “Disciple” One searches the Old Testament in vain to find the term “disciple” or even to find the contemporary concept of “discipleship” within the pages of Israel’s history and literature. One wonders if persons were “discipled” in Israel since the Word of God does not emphasize such a concept. The only possible answer is “Yes, they must have been ‘discipled,’ but perhaps through somewhat differant means than normally advocated by contemporary advocates.” The Hebrew theocracy was set up by Yahweh to emphasize the nation’s relationship as a whole to Yahweh. The emphasis was corporate and all teaching and learning were related directly to the revealed will of God. There was no room for men to speak authoritatively to other men apart from the revelation from God (Kittel, 427 – Much of the research data in this section has come from the article mathetes in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol, IV, pages 415-460), edited by Gerhard Kittel. This article will be referred to in this essay as “Kittel,” with the appropriate page number). Also, the training and maturing of the youth was centered in the home (e.g., Deu. 6). Israel found no room in such a structure for the classic discipler/disciple relationship as pictured today. Moses did not “disciple” Joshua per se. rather, Joshua was Moses’ “servant” (Hebrew, ebed). The prophets did not have disciples, but rather they had assistants and servants (e.g., na’ar in 1 Kings 18:43) (Kittel, 428).

The basic concept of “disciple” that one finds in the gospels and the concept that is used as the model for discipleship in the church is derived from Greek philosophy and Rabbinical Judaism (Kittel, 431-441). The Greek term mathetes “disciple” was used of a member of a philosophical school, a student of medicine, or an apprecntice of a trade in hellenistic culture (Kittel, 438-40). In Rabbinical Judaism a “disciple” attached himself to a teacher or rabbi in much the same manner as was done in Hellenistic culture (which was the source of Judaism’s practice). The disciple subordinated himself in almost servile fashion to his rabbi in order to learn all that the rabbi had to teach. In both the Hellenistic and Jewish cultures two very significant observations could be made about the rold of the disciple:

(1) The time spent as a “disciple” was only transitory until the disciple could become the teacher, rabbi, doctor, tradesman, etc.

(2) The emphasis in both cultures wa generally on objective content (e.g., learning a trade). There are notable exceptions like Socrates’ methodology, but generally this observation holds true. Jesus’ usage of the concept “disciple” in the gospels is obviously derived from Rabbinical Judaism (and ultimately from Greek culture). However, He greatly midified the general concept by emphasizing at least four unique aspects:

(1) Being a “disciple” of His was not a transitory stage that one passed through on the way to a more sophisticated and respected level. Rather, being a disciple of Jesus was a permanent relationship and was the climax of every man’s aspirations (Kittel, p. 448).

(2) Jesus called His disciples they did not select Him as their Rabbi.

(3) Jesus emphasized commitment to His Person first, and then commitment to objective content about His Person. In a sense these are inseparable, but according to Jesus’ emphasis the commitment to His Person not just His teaching was given priority (e.g. Mark 1:17 and John 21:21-22).

(4) Jesus emphasized faith in Him as the true test of a disciple’s commitment (e.g. John 6:60-66). This emphasis is totally unique and unparalleled in Greek and Jewish culture.

At this point one may question the need to go so deeply into the historical derivation of the concept of “discipleship”. Very crucial and necessary applications will be drawn from this historical data that will be foundational in forming a biblical structure for discipling others. These applications will be made in the second part of this essay. First, we must explore the biblical usage of the term “disciple”.

The Biblical Usage of “Disciple”

The word mathetes (“disciple”) occurs 268 times in the New Testament. Thirty of these occurences are in the Book of Acts and the rest are distributed among the gospels, particualrly in matthew (74 times) and John (81 times). Perhaps at this point it would be interesting to see how contemporary writers feel “disciple” is defined. The following is a representative example of the plethora of such definitions: “Disciple: A Christian who is growing in conformity to Christ, is achieving fruit in evangelism, and is working in follow-up to conserve his fruit.” (Gary W. Kuhne, The Dynamics of Personal Follow-Up, 130). This comprehensive disciple

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

walter_russell_faculty

WALTER RUSSELL is a Professor of Bible Exposition at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA. He earned his degrees at Westminster Theological Seminary (Ph.D.); St. Mary’s Seminary (M.A.); Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.); and University of Missouri (B.S.). Dr. Russell’s areas of expertise are exegesis, hermeneutics, and New Testament theology, especially as they relate to world evangelism and the spiritual growth of the church. He has an extensive background in collegiate ministries, university teaching, and the pastorate, having planted two churches. He authored The Flesh/Spirit Conflict in Galatians and Playing with Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul. Dr. Russell has contributed articles to Bibliotheca SacraJournal of the Evangelical Theological SocietyGrace Theological JournalWestminster Theological JournalTrinity Journal, and Christianity Today. His life themes are the primacy of the Great Commission in the life of the church, the renewal of the church through the development of dynamic community, and the strengthening of the church through vibrant teaching of the Scriptures.

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Posted by on March 27, 2018 in Discipleship

 

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BOOK REVIEW FOR STICKY CHURCH BY LARRY OSBORNE

“Assimilating and Making Disciples in the Local Church”

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Reviewed By Dr. David P. Craig

Larry Osborne is a pastor’s pastor and a leader’s leader. He has successfully made and multiplied disciples in the same local church for over thirty years. Whenever he writes a book I read it; re-read it; and make sure my staff and leaders read it as well. Larry started with a small struggling church and has successfully developed multiplying disciples of Christ in San Diego and all over the world through their simple church model of assimilation and discipleship through their intentional and strategic implementation of small groups.

In Sticky Church Osborne writes about a simple strategic process for developing a small group ministry that is extremely effective in assimilating attenders and new comers in the church and helping them become connected and committed to making and multiplying fully devoted followers of Christ for the long-haul.

Part 1 is composed of four chapters whereby Osborne makes a compelling case for a simple model and strategy in developing a “sticky church.” A sticky church is a church where people “stick” or stay because they immediately become convinced and unified around the vision; and live out this vision in the context of a small group. In Osborne’s church in Vista, California (a suburb of San Diego) 80% of church attenders (over 7,000 adults) become committed to their small groups – what they call “growth groups.” The whole idea of “stickiness” is keeping people in the church (what he calls “closing the back door”) so that you have a high retention of attenders who stay and grow because they commit to a small group that’s committed to their growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Here are some insightful quotes from the first four chapters:

“But we’ve often become so focused on reaching people that we’ve forgotten the importance of keeping people.”

“What does Jesus’ parable about the four soils have to say about the way we do church? To my thinking it says a lot. And one of the most important things it says about churches is that stickiness matters.”

“They [the principles in this book and the sermon-based model used by North Coast Church) worked just as well when we were a small church of less than two hundred adults as they do today in a multisite megachurch with more than seven thousand in weekend attendance.”

“Almost all our growth has come by word of mouth.”

“We’ve simply tried to serve our people so well that they’ll want to bring their friends, without needing to be asked to do so.”

“Everything we do is aimed at helping the Christians we already have grow stronger in Christ. But everything is done in such a way that their non-Christian friends will understand all that we’re saying and doing.”

“Bottom line: We’ve tried to create a perfect storm for come-and-see evangelism while velcroing newcomers for long-term spiritual growth.”

“In fact, the most important number to know about North Coast Church is not the weekend attendance. It’s the percentage of adults who participate in one of our small groups. Since 1985 that number has equaled 80 percent of our average weekend attendance.”

“It’s as though they assumed (people that think that sermon-based small groups only work in a megachurch) that North Coast was always big church—or at least became one overnight…Not so…North Coast grew quite slowly in the early days. It took five years to go from 130-180. It took another five years to reach 750.”

“This is not an anti-marketing or anti-programs book. It’s a pro-stickiness book.”

“What matters is not the size of the church or the slickness of the programming . What matters is that those who come find a ministry and relationships worthy of spontaneous word-of-mouth recommendations. When that happens, a church is primed to hold on to the people it already has and the people they bring with them.”

“A sticky church needs a healthy leadership team composed of people who genuinely like one another, share the same vision, and pull in the same direction (talking about the first big change necessary to developing a sticky church – retaining new comers).”

“The second big change was in the way I taught and led our congregation. Focusing on the front door aimed everything at two kinds of people: the not-yet Christian or the super saint who was ready to help me charge the hill. There wasn’t much room for people who came to Christ but didn’t grow at a fast enough pace or carried lots of old baggage.”

“The third change involved launching a small group ministry focus primarily on building significant relationships rather than growing the church.”

“Instead of celebrating how many people came, the most important measurement would be how many came back.”

“Churches that close the back door effectively do so by serving their congregations so well that the people don’t want to leave. And happy sheep are incurable word-of-mouth marketers.”

“Whatever you do to reach people you have to continue to do to keep them (this is why they keep their ministries simple, consistent, and excellent – North Coast doesn’t do a lot of special events or programming).”

“High-powered front-door programs can have the unintended consequences of sending a message that some weekends and programs are for brining guests—and the rest aren’t.”

“There’s a second unintended obstacle that highly programmed front-door churches can put in the way of natural evangelism. If most of the people who come to Christ come as a result of a complex and high-powered event, it sends a subtle message that it takes lots of time, planning, and money to lead someone to Christ.”

“Instead of complex assimilation programs, a sticky church simply needs to provide plenty of ministry on-ramps to which members can easily connect the friends they’ve invited.”

In Part 2 Osborne writes five chapters on “How Small Groups Change Everything.” Here are some important points from this section:

“Most spiritual growth doesn’t come as a result of a training program or set curriculum. It comes as a result of life putting us in what I like to call a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation.”

“The focus of a sermon based small group is not so much on the curriculum as it is on the process.”

“The ultimate goal of a sermon-based small group is simply to velcro people to the two things they will need most when faced with a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation: the Bible and other Christians.”

“When the New Testament was written, the typical church was so small that it was, in essence, a small group.”

“The best tool I’ve ever seen for connecting people to one another and engaging them with the Bible for the long haul is a sermon-based small group. It offers a format that fits the way we spiritually grow, while providing a framework for a healthy and sticky church. Nothing compares.

“While many church leaders claim that small groups are an integral part of their ministry, I’ve learned that two simple measurements will always tell me their real place in a ministry’s pecking order: (1) the percentage of adults who attend a small group, and  (2) the participation level of senior staff and key lay leaders.”

“Getting there (the key to reaching critical mass – that all-important stage at which the full power and benefits of a small group ministry begin to impact the ethos, DNA, and spiritual health of nearly everyone and everything in the church) usually requires that somewhere between 40 to 60 percent of the average weekend adult attendance be involved in a small group. If fewer people participate, small groups will still have a profound effect, but it will be primarily on the individuals in them, not on the entire church.”

“Small groups undercut this Holy Man myth (The Holy Man myth is the idea that pastors/clergy somehow have more of a direct hot line to God) because they typically meet in widely dispersed settings. This makes it impossible for the pastor (or any other staff member) to carry out all the pastoral roles and functions. They simply can’t be everywhere at once…As a result, small group leaders inevitably step up and assume roles of spiritual leadership that they would have otherwise deferred to the pastoral staff.”

“That not only changes the way small group leaders view themselves; it changes the congregation’s outlook as well. Once people begin to realize that God’s anointing and spiritual power aren’t restricted to the guy who speaks on Sunday, they whine a lot less when he’s not available.”

“Another spiritually crippling falsehood that began to lose its grip on our congregation was what I call the Holy Place myth. It’s the idea that God’s presence is somehow greater in some places than in others.”

“With the demise of both the Holy Man and the Holy Place myths, our ministry was, for the first time, genuinely unleashed. People started bringing God to the workplace and into their neighborhoods rather than trying to bring everyone to the church building.”

“Let’s face it: In most churches there aren’t many opportunities for high-impact, life on life ministry. There are usually few up-front teaching roles, a handful of worship leader positions, and some youth and Sunday school spots to be filled. After that, most roles are pretty much part of the supporting cast, designed more to keep the machine running than to touch lives.”

“Small groups open up lots of new opportunities for frontline ministry. At North Coast every group has a leader and a host, most often made up of two couples. That means in every group, we have four people who teach, counsel, disciple, pray, visit hospitals, lead in worship, provide communion, and even baptize members of their little flock—none of which they would do without the platform for ministry we call growth groups.”

“As a former youth pastor, I learned long ago that no one steps up until there’s a vacuum that needs to be filled. Every year when my seniors were about to graduate, I would wonder if we’d survive without their leadership. But as soon as they were gone, the juniors and sophomores stepped up—often doing a better job than their departing upperclassmen.”

“Still another powerful advantage that small groups can bring is a marked increase in the practice of spiritual disciplines. That’s because a small group takes our good intentions and puts them on the our calendar.”

“Here’s the irony: if we canceled our small groups and filled our facility once a week for a prayer meeting with standing-room-only crowds, we’d probably get some great write-ups in the Christian press. But in reality we’d have almost 70% fewer people praying than we already have in our small groups.”

“Our young adult dropout rate is a fraction of what I’ve seen in the past. And I’m convinced it’s because we’ve focused on giving our children and youth the powerful gift of a growing mom and dad.”

“Sermon-based small groups also made it much easier for our teaching team to keep the entire church focused and headed in the same direction. Whether we’re casting vision, clarifying direction, or simply dealing with an important issue, it’s much easier to get people on the same page and keep them there.”

“One reason I want my messages to be more memorable (on why sermon based small groups make the preacher a better preacher and make the sermon go further in people’s lives) is that I want people to apply the important truths and doctrines of the faith. I know that if I can change the way people think, it will change the way they live.”

“It’s a relatively short step (for a marginal attender) from listening to a sermon to joining a small group that discusses the sermon he’s already heard. But it’s a much bigger step into a traditional small group Bible study.”

“There’s still another advantage that comes with a sermon based small group model. It’s that most people (including the marginally interested and new Christians) come to the meeting far more prepared than they would if they were using a typical workbook or study guide.”

Part 3 recounts ten chapters on the Why’s and How’s of Sermon-Based Small Groups and why this model works better than some of the more popular models out there for small groups. Here are some practical realities of sermon based small groups:

“A group needs to be small enough that everyone has a chance to contribute, but large enough that no one feels forced to speak up or share more than they want to. That means the ideal size for a group of introverts will tend to be larger than the ideal size for a group of thin-it-and-immediately-say-it extroverts. One needs more people to break the silence. The other needs less people so that there will be some silence.”

“The ideal size for a group of married couples is usually twelve to fourteen people. For singles, eight to twelve can be ideal.”

“We’ve found that whenever a couples group reaches sixteen people (or a singles group reaches fourteen), attendance becomes predictably inconsistent. It’s strange, but we can have three groups of twelve people, and all thirty-six will be present at almost every meeting. But two groups of sixteen people will hardly ever have all thirty-two show up. Perhaps it has to do with those in the smaller group feeling more needed and feeling a greater sense of responsibility.”

“We’ve found that the sermon-based small groups that have the greater life-on-life impact and stay together the longest are always those in which the friendships are deepest. That’s why we tell people to choose a group primarily according to who else is in it rather than where or when it meets.”

“Although we allow people to pick any group they want as long as there’s room in the group, we’ve found that those who make their choice based on a convenient location or time have a much lower stick rate than those who look for a group with which they already share an interest or station in life.”

“In almost every case, the first thing you’d notice at one of our small group meetings is that it starts with some light refreshments as people arrive—especially something to drink.”

“Once the meeting starts, most groups spend fifteen to thirty minutes sharing prayer requests and updating one another on what has been going on in their lives…As a group jells, this part of the meeting tends to expand and move to a much deeper level. In new groups, it can be perfunctory and shallow at first. But that’s fine by us. We don’t try to force depth. We simply provide an opportunity for great depth and vulnerability t show up when both the group and the Holy Spirit are ready.”

“The next part of the meeting is dedicated to the study and discussion of the previous weekend’s sermon…To improve the quality of the discussion, we work hard to make sure that everyone comes with the answers to the study questions already filled out. One of the most effective ways we do this is by having our leaders periodically ask people to read what they’ve written down, especially if it appears that someone is deviating from their original answer.”

“The homework (discussion/study guide) always consists of three types of questions: Getting to Know Me (These questions offer a nonthreatening look into our past or current life situations. They’re designed to help us get to know each other at a safe but accelerated pace), Into the Bible (These questions take the group to biblical passages that are either complementary or parallel to the main text of the sermon but were not covered in the message), and Application (These are designed to take home the main point or points of the sermon and drive them home. They typically deal with attitudes or life-change issues).”

“We ask every group to take at least one service project a year (the ideal is two) and to have at least one social gathering per quarter).”

“As a rule of thumb, most people will participate in only two time slots per week. No matter what the third meeting is for or when it takes place, it’s hard to get anyone to show up.”

Osborne goes on to discuss how to overcome the time crunch of developing and sustaining leaders; determining your primary purpose; how groups can grow deeper; why dividing groups isn’t the best strategy; how to find and develop leaders; how to train leaders; and these five key questions to ask before starting small groups:

  1. “Who are you trying to reach?” By that I mean, “Specifically who do you imagine being in your small groups? Who is likely to opt out? Who are you willing to leave out?”
  2. “What you plan to do in your meetings?” The options are endless. But once I know what happens in a small group, I can predict with uncanny accuracy who will come and who won’t.
  3. “How well does who you want to reach match up with what you plan to do?”
  4. “How do you think people are best trained to live out the Christian life and best prepared for leadership?”
  5. The final question to ask before launching a new or revamped small group ministry is, “Who already does what we want to do well—and does it in a church we would go to if we lived in the area?”

There is a large appendix section in the back of the book containing helps for the following topics: (1) Writing Great Questions; (2) Sample Sermon Note Sheet and Study Questions; (3) Sample Growth Group Covenant; (4) End-of-the-quarter Evaluation Form; (5) Leader Training Topics; (6) Leader Responsibilities; (7) Host Responsibilities; (8) A List of NT “One Anothers.” The Last section contains a Study Guide of Follow Up Questions for each chapter in the book.

Osborne’s model is simple; practical, proven, and effective. I don’t know of a better model for helping a local church reach out; equip; serve; raise up leaders; and unleash people for multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ. I have used this model in three churches; and now about to embark on launching this model in another church. I am grateful for it’s simplicity and yet the profound impact it has made practically in so many lives that I have been in community with. It has made a profound impact on my own belief that discipleship is done best in community and is a process not an event.

 

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Dr. Walt Russell on The Biblical Concept of Discipling Others

MULTIPLYING COMMUNITIES THROUGH DISCIPLESHIP

Two surfers walking on the beach

In many respects the last generation’s barrage of literature on the subject of “discipleship” has generated more heat and smoke than light. Many contradictory  constructs have been offered. What does the Bible say about being “a disciple” and “discipling” others? Is there a word from God upon which we in the church can build a biblical and consistent philosophy of ministry discipleship? Where do we fit in all of the valuable data about character development gained from research in the social sciences? Is the integration of the biblical view of a discipleship ministry with the social science view of character development ever possible? Hopefully, this article will begin to answer some of these vital questions. This attempt will first seek to lay a biblical foundation and framework for discipling others; and secondly, to suggest a general philosophy of discipleship from the biblical concept.

THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF “DISCIPLE”

The Derivation of the Concept of “Disciple” One searches the Old Testament in vain to find the term “disciple” or even to find the contemporary concept of “discipleship” within the pages of Israel’s history and literature. One wonders if persons were “discipled” in Israel since the Word of God does not emphasize such a concept. The only possible answer is “Yes, they must have been ‘discipled,’ but perhaps through somewhat differant means than normally advocated by contemporary advocates.” The Hebrew theocracy was set up by Yahweh to emphasize the nation’s relationship as a whole to Yahweh. The emphasis was corporate and all teaching and learning were related directly to the revealed will of God. There was no room for men to speak authoritatively to other men apart from the revelation from God (Kittel, 427 – Much of the research data in this section has come from the article mathetes in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol, IV, pages 415-460), edited by Gerhard Kittel. This article will be referred to in this essay as “Kittel,” with the appropriate page number). Also, the training and maturing of the youth was centered in the home (e.g., Deu. 6). Israel found no room in such a structure for the classic discipler/disciple relationship as pictured today. Moses did not “disciple” Joshua per se. rather, Joshua was Moses’ “servant” (Hebrew, ebed). The prophets did not have disciples, but rather they had assistants and servants (e.g., na’ar in 1 Kings 18:43) (Kittel, 428).

The basic concept of “disciple” that one finds in the gospels and the concept that is used as the model for discipleship in the church is derived from Greek philosophy and Rabbinical Judaism (Kittel, 431-441). The Greek term mathetes “disciple” was used of a member of a philosophical school, a student of medicine, or an apprecntice of a trade in hellenistic culture (Kittel, 438-40). In Rabbinical Judaism a “disciple” attached himself to a teacher or rabbi in much the same manner as was done in Hellenistic culture (which was the source of Judaism’s practice). The disciple subordinated himself in almost servile fashion to his rabbi in order to learn all that the rabbi had to teach. In both the Hellenistic and Jewish cultures two very significant observations could be made about the rold of the disciple:

(1) The time spent as a “disciple” was only transitory until the disciple could become the teacher, rabbi, doctor, tradesman, etc.

(2) The emphasis in both cultures wa generally on objective content (e.g., learning a trade). There are notable exceptions like Socrates’ methodology, but generally this observation holds true. Jesus’ usage of the concept “disciple” in the gospels is obviously derived from Rabbinical Judaism (and ultimately from Greek culture). However, He greatly midified the general concept by emphasizing at least four unique aspects:

(1) Being a “disciple” of His was not a transitory stage that one passed through on the way to a more sophisticated and respected level. Rather, being a disciple of Jesus was a permanent relationship and was the climax of every man’s aspirations (Kittel, p. 448).

(2) Jesus called His disciples they did not select Him as their Rabbi.

(3) Jesus emphasized commitment to His Person first, and then commitment to objective content about His Person. In a sense these are inseparable, but according to Jesus’ emphasis the commitment to His Person not just His teaching was given priority (e.g. Mark 1:17 and John 21:21-22).

(4) Jesus emphasized faith in Him as the true test of a disciple’s commitment (e.g. John 6:60-66). This emphasis is totally unique and unparalleled in Greek and Jewish culture.

At this point one may question the need to go so deeply into the historical derivation of the concept of “discipleship”. Very crucial and necessary applications will be drawn from this historical data that will be foundational in forming a biblical structure for discipling others. These applications will be made in the second part of this essay. First, we must explore the biblical usage of the term “disciple”.

The Biblical Usage of “Disciple”

The word mathetes (“disciple”) occurs 268 times in the New Testament. Thirty of these occurences are in the Book of Acts and the rest are distributed among the gospels, particualrly in matthew (74 times) and John (81 times). Perhaps at this point it would be interesting to see how contemporary writers feel “disciple” is defined. The following is a representative example of the plethora of such definitions: “Disciple: A Christian who is growing in conformity to Christ, is achieving fruit in evangelism, and is working in follow-up to conserve his fruit.” (Gary W. Kuhne, The Dynamics of Personal Follow-Up, 130). This comprehensive disciple

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

walter_russell_faculty

WALTER RUSSELL is a Professor of Bible Exposition at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA. He earned his degrees at Westminster Theological Seminary (Ph.D.); St. Mary’s Seminary (M.A.); Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.); and University of Missouri (B.S.). Dr. Russell’s areas of expertise are exegesis, hermeneutics, and New Testament theology, especially as they relate to world evangelism and the spiritual growth of the church. He has an extensive background in collegiate ministries, university teaching, and the pastorate, having planted two churches. He authored The Flesh/Spirit Conflict in Galatians and Playing with Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul. Dr. Russell has contributed articles to Bibliotheca SacraJournal of the Evangelical Theological SocietyGrace Theological JournalWestminster Theological JournalTrinity Journal, and Christianity Today. His life themes are the primacy of the Great Commission in the life of the church, the renewal of the church through the development of dynamic community, and the strengthening of the church through vibrant teaching of the Scriptures.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2015 in Discipleship

 

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Book Review of Dodson and Watson’s “Called Together: A Guide To Forming Missional Communities”

Outgrowing The Ingrown Church

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Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig

One of the most difficult things for churches to do is to stay missional when they are established or become missional when they are plateaud or declining. For years theologians and pastors have asked the question: “How can we outgrow the ingrown church?” Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson have planted thriving churches that are missional and constantly reaching out in the context of community in their respective cities: Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon. There are many ways to be missional as a church, but perhaps one of the most simple, flexible, and successful ways is via small “missional” groups. This book is written as a guide or handbook on a proven and effective way to reach out in your community without compromising the Gospel, edification, or fellowship.

The error that most churches fall into is establishing small groups that are ingrown – what I like to call “holy huddles.” These are groups that are inward (people already in the church) focused. There is nothing wrong with care groups or specialized groups for individuals that are focused on certain needs. However, churches also need to have groups that are outward focused and missional if they are going to keep the gospel alive and thriving in their communities. In this guide the author’s model and teach how this can be done in your own church context and community.

The goal of this guide is to establish and equip missional communities so that the church can be outreach oriented, focused, and intentional. The author’s define a missional community as “a group of people who are learning to follow Jesus together in a way that renews their city, town, village, hamlet, or other space. They aren’t fancy. In fact, they can be a messy community of everyday citizens who are devoted to Jesus, to one another, to their neighbors and their city.” In writing this guide the authors will help you “imagine and form a missional community that is true to your calling” of being salt and light in your community. Crucial to the success of a missional community is in its intentional application of the following: (1) sharing life together; (2) a focus on the gospel and its daily application of faith and repentance; (3) care for your city; (4) caring for your neighbors/hood; and (5) making and multiplying disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The guide is divided into three parts designed to be studied and applied by a small “missional” community group. Each week the session consists of a biblical theme with handouts composed of key themes, verses, and applications and ideas for next steps for missional endeavors in your community. The appendix contains weekly handouts; leadership role distinctions (each group is composed of a host, discussion facilitator, prayer coordinator, meal coordinator, and missional leader – the qualifications and roles for these individuals are described in detail at various points in the guide). Missional communities invite people into a community that “isn’t centered on their needs, hobbies, or passions but the gospel of Jesus and His mission (essentially the opposite of most small groups).

Part One consists of four sessions/weeks on the Gospel: (1) What is the Gospel? (2) The Gospel is Personal. (3) The Gospel is Missional. (4) Living the Gospel. Crucial to the success of a missional community is its understanding of, implementation of, and application of the gospel which they define as: “the good news that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through His own death and resurrection and is making all things new, even us.” The gospel is essentially composed of three aspects: (1) The gospel is doctrinal: it changes what we believe about ourselves and Jesus. (2) The gospel is personal: it changes who we are by transforming us into the image and likeness of Jesus; (3) The gospel is missional: it changes where and how we live for the sake of Jesus and His glorious Kingdom. The focus of these four sessions is that the gospel ceases to be something you agree with or can recite and rather becomes something you live in community with your missional community. This bucks against the individualism of western culture and is actually a return to the model that Jesus set for His own disciples – “missional community.”

In Part Two the focus of weeks five and six are on how the gospel of Jesus is at the center of community by reminding one another of the gospel. Community is based on the early church model from Acts 2:42-27. Both what makes for biblical community and what does not make for biblical community are studied and discussed with great ideas for the application and implementation of true biblical community centered in the gospel. The focus is very much on meeting needs in your neighborhood and with your neighbors as you live out the gospel in community together.

Part Three is composed of what it means to be a “missional” community and how to be missional “together” in your community. The last session (9th week) talks about the commitments that the missional community will make with one another. These commitments are based on what the missional community will do “by God’s grace.” The authors give multiple ideas for the application of what it means “specifically” and “intentionally” to live out the gospel in community. There are many examples of ways that missional communities can attempt to be outreach oriented in their respective cities.

I can’t recommend the concept of “missional communities” highly enough, and this book is a wonderful place to start to launch your own missional communities wherever you are. I hope and pray that this book will be the first of many guides in helping outgrowing the ingrown churches of America and beyond. I personally want to thank Jonathan and Brad for writing this book and hope it’s the first of many to be written as a  very practical guide to help churches make and multiply disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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Jonathan Edwards on the Life of a Christian

5 Things Jonathan Edwards Teaches Us about the Christian Life

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This is a guest post by Dane Ortlund. He is the author of Edwards On the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.originally posted @http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/08/5-things-jonathan-edwards-teaches-us-about-the-christian-life/

Jonathan Edwards for the Rest of Us

For many of us, Jonathan Edwards is a skinny white guy who never smiled, except when talking about hell. If we know anything more, it’s:

  • that he wrote a lot of really dense books

  • that he talked a lot about the glory of God

  • that he was part of the Great Awakening

  • that John Piper likes him a lot

And that’s about it.

But there are riches to be mined in Jonathan Edwards far beyond what you may have been exposed to. Reading Jonathan Edwards is not for historians and professors mainly, but for the rest of us.

Here are five things Edwards teaches us about the Christian life—your Christian life:

1. If you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically different and freshly empowered you now are.

When sinners repent and believe for the first time, it often feels as if nothing much has happened, and it often looks as if nothing much has happened. Our wrinkles don’t go away. Our Myers-Briggs personality profile doesn’t change. Our IQ isn’t improved. Our driver’s license photo looks the same after conversion as before, just a few years older and grayer.

Similarly, a foreigner who has just attained citizenship in their country of residence will not feel or look much different, upon receiving formal declaration of citizenship. Yet they now belong to an entirely new nation. More than this, they now have all the rights and privileges that belong to citizens of that nation.

Edwards teaches us that the quiet, seemingly innocuous change that takes place in the new birth is of eternal—even cosmic—significance. A fallen sinner has just become an invincible heir of the universe. The Holy Spirit has just taken up permanent residence in the temple of this soul. In new birth, Edwards writes, the Christian “is a new creature, he is just as if he were not the same, but were born again, created over a second time.”

For a Christian to wallow in sin and misery is for a butterfly to crawl miserably along the branch as if it were still a caterpillar.

2. Even if you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically fallen and blindly dysfunctional you remain.

If we understate the positive change in new birth, we also tend to understate the fallenness that remains. But Edwards knew of the strange dysfunctions that remain among all of us, including true believers. He saw it in himself.

Edwards spoke frequently, for example, of the lurking dangers of pride: “It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath.”

We often don’t feel the weight of our sin. Why? Because of our sin. The disease is itself what prevents us from detecting the disease.

How do we get out? One answer is: read Jonathan Edwards. His sermons will do wonders to re-sharpen your blunted conscience and re-sensitize your heart to its fallenness.

3. Authentic discipleship to Jesus Christ calms and gentle-izes (not radicalizes and excites) Christians.

Edwards is famous for his hellfire sermons, but it is striking to trace the evolution of his preaching over his three decades in the pulpit. Scholars point out that the hellfire sermons were more typical of the young Edwards and gradually decreased over his career, while other themes grew increasingly strong: the beauty of Christ, the loveliness of holiness, the calmness of a justified life, the gentleness of God.

A sermon that nicely sums up the core of Edwards’ ministry is “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,” based on 1 John 4:16. There we read statements like:

  • “The very nature of God is love. If it should be enquired what God is, it might be answered that he is an infinite and incomprehensible fountain of love.”

  • “He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life. There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection.”

  • “God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it.”

That, more than anything else, is the pulsating core of Edwards’ ministry. Radical godliness is not obnoxious, showy, or boisterous. It is quiet, gentle, and serene.

4. Christianity is gain, and only gain.

Toward the end of his life, Edwards was kicked out of his church by a vote of ten to one—by professing Christians, upstanding church members. This, and other trials he encountered during his life, lead me to conclude that the lofty vision of Christian living that he has left to us is not naïve idealism. He felt the pain not only of rejection, but of rejection by close friends and family members who were part of his church. And yet, having his eyes opened to present pain did not close his eyes to future glory.

Why? Because we will have God, in heaven, unfiltered, forever. Consider the following breathtaking statement:

The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or in each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them.

Christians leave nothing behind when they die. All is gain.

5. Revival is not what you think it is.

When evangelicals today hear the word “revival,” we generally picture tears, loudness, animated preaching, exuberance, humiliating confession of sin, and so on. Some of these things may be present in revival, perhaps, but Edwards came to long for revival because he saw that it is not a move from the ordinary to the extraordinary so much as a move from the sub-ordinary to the ordinary. We become human again. We breathe once more.

Edwards witnessed two revivals. One was local, contained to New England, in the mid-1730s. The other, six years later, was transatlantic and became known as the Great Awakening. Edwards made the fascinating observation that, in the first revival, God’s people tended “to talk with too much of an air of lightness, and something of laughter,” whereas in the second revival “they seem to have no disposition to it, but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy.” The first revival’s joy was real but frothy. The second revival’s joy was deeper and more calm.

Simply put, revival isn’t weird. True revival is rehumanizing. It re-centralizes not the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit so much as the ordinary fruit of the Spirit.


Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway. He is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God, and serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible study series. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids in Wheaton.

 

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Baptism and Christian Discipleship: The Case for Believer’s Baptism

*A CASE FOR BAPTIZING CHRISTIAN DISCIPLES (CREDO BAPTISM)037930_w185

All Christians throughout history have agreed, on the basis of Scripture, that baptism is important. Historically, baptism has not been understood to be an optional practice. It is commanded by God. But there has often been disagreement about whom baptism is for, how it should be done, and why it is significant. The dominant practice throughout church history has been to baptize infants by sprinkling or pouring water on them. In Catholic theology, this is done primarily to wash away original sin. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, however, baptism is understood primarily as the rite by which a baby or adult is joined to the church, the mystical body of Christ. Many forms of Protestantism also practice infant baptism, but they vary in their understanding as to what this practice accomplishes. For example, the theology of traditional Lutheran churches is similar to the Catholic understanding: Baptism washes away original sin. Presbyterian churches reject this understanding, however, believing instead that baptism is the means by which children are included in the covenant God made with his people, similar to what circumcision signified in the Old Testament.

Other forms of Protestantism believe baptism is reserved for people who have made a personal decision to believe in and follow Jesus. Some groups perform this ordinance by pouring water on a believer’s head, but most carry it out by immersing the person in water. Here, too, there is a variety of understandings. A few groups who practice adult baptism believe that baptism is God’s means of remitting sin in a believer’s life. Others hold to a more Presbyterian view, seeing it as the rite that publicly initiates a person into God’s covenant. The most prevalent understanding among those who practice adult baptism, however, is that it is an outward public testimony of God’s inward work. This is the most common view among Baptists. All of these issues are debated within evangelicalism, but the issue most debated is whether baptism should be performed on children of believing parents or only on people who have made their own decision to believe in and follow Jesus. Hence, this is the issue the two essays in this section address.

The Biblical Argument

Early on in church history, the church began to practice infant baptism. According to adherents of the believer’s baptism view, this was a mistake. Baptism is intended as the initiating rite into Christian discipleship and thus is intended only for people who are old enough to make a decision to believe in and obey Jesus Christ. Baptism is meaningless apart from a personal decision to follow Jesus. The New Testament supports this perspective. In contrast to the Old Testament, in which God entered into a covenant with an entire nation, in the New Testament, God’s covenant is with all believers. The class of those who are in covenant with God changed from a national class (the Jews) to a class of people who personally decide something (believers). Consequently, it made sense in the Old Testament to give the sign of the covenant (circumcision) to infants, since they were part of the nation with which God was covenanting. It makes no sense in regard to New Testament teaching, however, because God’s covenant is with believers, and infants cannot believe.

Throughout the New Testament, salvation is offered to and baptism is commanded of only people who can meet the conditions of repenting, believing, and obeying Jesus Christ. We see this even in the ministry of John the Baptist, who was preparing the way for Jesus Christ. Mark writes: “People from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him [John] and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5, emphasis added). The ones who were baptized were the ones who confessed their sins. Infants, of course, cannot do this. Hence, there is no reason to suppose that infants were among those whom John baptized. The same may be said about the ministry of Jesus. Though Jesus did not personally baptize people (John 4:2), his message was essentially the same as John’s. “The kingdom of God has come near,” he taught, so people must “repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). What made a person a participant in the kingdom of God was his or her willingness to repent, believe, and obey the gospel. This is why Jesus’ disciples baptized only people who were old enough to be made disciples (John 4:1-2). The same point is reflected in Jesus’ Great Commission when he says, “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 that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Baptism was intended to be part of the process of making someone a disciple and makes sense only in the context of disciple-making. It was not intended for people too young to be taught and to decide whether they wanted to obey all that Jesus commanded.

The truth that baptism is a part of disciple-making becomes even more evident in the ministry of the earliest disciples. They obeyed Jesus’ command to make disciples and therefore to baptize and teach them. In the first sermon preached after the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, Peter exclaimed: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him. Acts 2:38-39 Whereas in the Old Testament it meant something to be born a Jew, as opposed to a Gentile, in the New Testament, the only thing that mattered was whether a person repented and submitted to Jesus Christ. This is why the sign of the covenant was different. In the Old Testament, the sign was given to any male born a Jew. In the New Testament, it was given only to those who were born again into Jesus Christ (John 3:5). Only if one repents of sin does baptism into Jesus Christ mean anything. It is true that in this passage Peter promises that the gift of the Holy Spirit is promised not only to adults but also to their children. Those who practice infant baptism argue on this basis that baptism must be administered to children of believing parents. This interpretation reads too much into the text, however. Peter goes on to say that the promise is “for all who are far away,” but no one believes Peter was suggesting that we should baptize all Gentiles. The promise is for them in the sense that God wants to pour out his Spirit on them (Acts 2:17). But they become recipients of the promise-and we should baptize them-only when they make a personal decision to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. This is why Peter immediately adds that the promise is for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” It is not for everyone in general. It is for everyone who will repent and believe and thus for everyone whom God calls. The same holds true for Peter’s assertion that the promise is not only for adults but also for their children. God wants children to receive the Holy Spirit, but the promise is applied to them and we should baptize them only when they personally repent and believe. Baptism is an act of discipleship that can be entered into only by people old enough to be disciples. This is why every example of baptism in the New Testament involves a person old enough to decide to follow Christ. Never do we read about infants being baptized. For example, it was only after the Samaritans “believed Philip” as he preached the good news that “they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). It was only after the Ethiopian eunuch embraced the good news about Jesus that he was baptized (Acts 8:35-38). The apostle Paul was baptized after he encountered Jesus and obeyed the heavenly vision (Acts 9:18). Peter commanded Cornelius and his household to be baptized only after he saw evidence of their faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 10:44-48). It was only after God opened Lydia’s heart and she believed that she and her household were baptized (Acts 16:14-15). And it was only after the disciples of John the Baptist accepted Paul’s teaching about Jesus that they were baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6). Without exception, baptism follows faith and constitutes the first act of discipleship made by a responsible person who has decided to follow Jesus. Defenders of infant baptism argue that the references in Acts to households being baptized suggest that infants were baptized along with adults (Acts 11:13-14; 16:15, 30-34; 18:8). There is no reason to assume this, however. While all servants were included in a “household” in the ancient Roman world, children generally were not. This seems to be Luke’s perspective, for in the same context in which he speaks about households being baptized, he speaks about households being taught, believing, and rejoicing (Acts 16:32, 34; 18:8). Finally, some of the meanings given to baptism in the New Testament imply that it is intended only for people old enough to be disciples. For example, Paul says that baptism shows that “our old self was crucified with [Christ]” (Rom. 6:6) and that now we should “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Infants can hardly do so. Similarly, Peter says that baptism “now saves you” not as a literal washing “of dirt from the body” but “as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:2 1). But how can an infant have a good (or bad) conscience? Baptism should be administered only to those who are old enough to make a decision to die to sin, walk in a new life, and enjoy a good conscience before God.

Supporting Argument

The importance of discipleship. History testifies to the truth that infant baptism produces nominal, apathetic Christians. If someone is considered a Christian by virtue of being born to Christian parents (or in a Christian state), then the urgency of stepping out on one’s own and making the radical decision to follow Jesus is compromised. This is not to suggest that all Christians baptized as infants are passionless or that the practice of infant baptism causes one to be passionless. But this practice invariably tends in that direction, and for obvious reasons. By contrast, the practice of adult baptism forces each individual to make his or her own decision to follow Christ.

Responding to Objections

1. Scripture passages oppose this view. Paedobaptists point to several clusters of texts that they believe support their practice. For example, they often point to the New Testament practice of “household” baptism. But as already shown, these passages do not require or even suggest that infants were baptized. Some try to support infant baptism on the basis of Paul’s statement that children are “sanctified” by believing parents (1 Cor. 7:14). But this passage says nothing about baptism. Paul is simply claiming that children are “set apart” -namely, for a unique godly influence-when their parents believe. Finally, some try to support infant baptism on the basis of Jesus’ practice of accepting and blessing little children (e.g., Mark 10:14-16). But again, this passage says nothing about baptism. Of course Jesus loved and accepted children! But he never tried to make disciples out of them. Why should we suppose, therefore, that he would approve of baptizing them?

2. This view ignores the continuity of the old and new covenants. Some argue that believer’s baptism ignores the continuity between the old and new covenants in general and their signs-circumcision and baptism-in particular. Admittedly, the covenant concept does connect the Old and New Tetaments, and the Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled in the new covenant. However, those who baptize infants have failed to see the decisive shift in the new covenant as it relates to the fulfillment of Abraham’s promise. It is no longer a genetic connection that determines a child of Abraham but rather the conscious act of faith. Paul makes this unequivocally clear: Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed (Galatians 3:6-9). God’s elect people are no longer a nationality. They are a people who do something, namely, believe. Hence, while the sign of belonging to the covenantal community could be given to physical newborns under the old covenant, it should be reserved for spiritual newborns under the new covenant.

3. This view has been influenced by modern individualism. Some argue that the practice of believer’s baptism has been unduly influenced by Western individualism, which rejects the biblical view of familial corporateness within the saved community. In the Bible, it is argued, infants of covenant keepers were regarded as members of the covenant because people in biblical times, unlike people today, did not define individuals apart from their association with a community. In reply, it is not Western individualism that drives the believer’s baptism position. Rather, it is the New Testament’s concept of personal salvation. Each individual must be “born from above” just as each individual must be born from the womb (John 3:3-6). Believers are to belong to and be mutually defined by their involvement in the community of God’s covenantal people, but first they must individually decide to become disciples. According to New Testament teaching, the first act of obedience they perform as disciples is to be baptized.

4. This view runs counter to church tradition. Finally, the believer’s baptism position is often rejected on the grounds that it runs counter to the majority view throughout church history. Two things must be said in response. First, evangelicals cannot appeal to church tradition to settle an issue. The affirmation of sola scriptura means that Scripture is the sole authority on matters of faith and practice. Christians should not easily set aside traditional perspectives, but they can and must do so if traditional views disagree with Scripture. Second, while it is true that the infant baptism view has been the primary perspective throughout church history, it is also true that there is no explicit evidence of infant baptism until the second century and no evidence that it was dominant until much later. This is plenty of time for an aberration of Christian practice and theology to take place. Indeed, most evangelicals would agree that the dominant theology of baptism was becoming aberrant by the mid-second century, because Christians at this time were increasingly holding that baptism literally washed away sin and was necessary for salvation, a view almost all evangelicals reject.

*Article authored by Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy. Adapted from Chapter 14: “Baptism and Christian Discipleship (The Believer’s Baptism View) in the Book Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002.

 

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God’s Part In Ministry by Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt

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Christian workers must clearly understand the role God plays in evangelism, discipleship and other aspects of ministry. Unless we consciously operate out of a God-centered model of ministry, we will automatically default to a human-centered model, and all the defeat that comes with it.

A moment’s reflection tells us that what we propose to accomplish in Christian ministry is supernatural. To reach people’s hearts with conviction of their need for Christ, to train them up in the faith, to impart the deep things of God in a life-changing way, to oppose and defeat powerful evil spirits—these are acts that no human can hope to accomplish, no matter how intelligent and competent that person may be. The key to ministry success is always the same: That God moves through us “leading us in his triumph.” (2 Cor. 2:14) Spiritual failure in ministry is predictable when leaders try to supplant the power of God with human charisma, ingenuity, marketing skill, force of will, or social manipulation, even when these are supplied from the best of motives.

Although no real ministry will go forward without the power of God, we should not deny the human part in this process, which would be “super-spirituality.” Paul declares that he and the other apostles are “God’s fellow workers.” (1 Cor. 3:9) Yes, “neither he who plants nor he who reaps are anything but God who causes the growth.” (vs. 7) But this is a figure of speech meaning that compared to God, the planter and reaper are nothing. We should not understand this hyperbole literalistically. Do we really think that everything would have come out the same even if Paul had never gone to Corinth to plant? We hold that his planting did make a difference, and Paul argues this as well, as the whole point of 1Corinthians 3 is that every Christian leader should “take care how he builds.” (vs.10) An honest reading of the Bible reveals a strong doctrine of human agency in ministry. God has elected to work though human beings, and therefore our actions are important.

What, then, should we anticipate God will do from his side in our ministry?

In the first place, God directs our ministries. Leaders are to come to the scriptures, and to the Lord in prayer, seeking to know his will for our ministry. Ministry that departs from the direction God wants may bear some kind of fruit, but becomes “wood hay and stubble” the further we depart from the leading of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, God seems willing to continue using ministries that are off-target, apparently because he places a higher value on reaching the lost than on complete fidelity to his leading. Paul observed this phenomenon in Rome. (Phil. 1:15-18) This is probably the meaning of Mark 9:38-40 as well. Even in 1 Corinthians 3, the “wood hay and stubble” may be used by God, but it will not be rewarded. In fact, the Bible abounds with examples where God continued to use leaders who went astray, sometimes very badly. What are we to conclude?

On one hand, since it is God’s will to direct our ministries, we should seek that leading often and earnestly. Even though God may continue to use off-target ministries, we assume that we will bear more spiritual fruit the closer we are to God’s ideal. This is increasingly obvious as time goes on. In the short term, human-based ministry may look good, but it tends to deteriorate over time or bring disgrace upon the Lord’s name. On the other hand, we should never become paralyzed by the notion that “Unless I know exactly what God wants in each situation, I can’t move forward.” We can move forward based on the general knowledge of what God wants, and in areas we are unsure, we can remain open to any correction in our course that God may want to show us, knowing that he will not let us come to irreversible harm (Phil. 3:15).

The direction of God extends not only to major issues like whether to preach the word or to practice church discipline, but to more subjective areas like when someone is ready for leadership, or with whom to invest our discipling time and effort. Teachers have to consult God on what slant to take when teaching a particular text. Evangelists must ask when to make a more direct call on the lost. Leaders must plead for insight as to how much to expect from a particular disciple. All believers need discernment as to Satan’s next move. In all, there are thousands of decisions in ministry requiring divine guidance.

Secondly, God empowers our ministries. Jesus’ declaration that “apart from me you can do nothing,” is again a figure of speech. He doesn’t mean we can do nothing at all, but that we can do nothing of spiritual value apart from him. As Christian leaders, we realize that we depend absolutely on God for things like:

Evangelism. While a warm demeanor, patience, good arguments, and heartfelt pleas matter in evangelism, only the Holy Spirit can finally convict a person of their need for Christ and bring them to repentance. (John 6:65)

Conviction. We can preach truth, but we depend on God to convict people’s hearts to follow the truth. Apart from spiritual conviction, people will listen to the truth with passive curiosity. This is likely the power Paul referred to in 1 Cor. 4:19,20.

Development of Christian character. No amount of blustering and Bible thumping will transform human lives, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

Overthrowing demons. How could any human hope to impact a spiritual being like Satan apart from the power of God? (Rom. 16:20)

Filling Christian meetings with spiritual power. Paul asks his friends to pray that he be “given utterance” when preaching. (Eph. 6:19) He knew that preaching must be anointed by the Holy Spirit in order to be effective.

Failure to understand or believe in God’s role in ministry will always have negative results. These results include arrogance during “in season” times, as well as panic, pushiness and discouragement during “out of season” times. On the other hand, reliance on God’s role in ministry will promote thankful humility during “in season” times, and stable perseverance during “out of season” times. Those who depend on God’s part have confidence in God’s adequacy through us.

The effect of a God-Centered Perspective on our Attitude

Consider the likely effect that a proper outlook in the area of God’s role will have in each of the following areas. On a three column grid, describe the outlook and actions of the human effort minister on the left, the God-centered minister in the middle, and the reason for the difference on the right.

A. Witnessing 

1. Less fear of rejection because we know they are not rejecting us, but God. Unlike the man-centered witnesser, we realize God must quicken people’s hearts, and if they don’t respond, there is nothing we can do about it.

2. Less tendency to push because human or social pressure would not result in conversion anyway. The God-centered minister learns to wait on the power of God.

3. More likely to use the Word. God-centered ministers know that God works through his word. While using the Bible with one who doesn’t believe the Bible may seem absurd to the natural mind, God says his word “will not return void.”

B. Discipline

1. No fear of sin. Instead of reacting out of fear that sin will ruin our church, the God-centered minister has a settled confidence that Christ will build his church. We become free to discipline sin for the good of the sinner.

2. No doubting of God’s ability to change lives. Man-centered ministers are tempted to become fatalistic about those in chronic sin, thinking “they’ll never change.” The God-centered minister knows God’s power is great.

3. Less apt to try to force people. Again, human pressure is not an adequate motivation for permanent and real spiritual change. While the Bible does prescribe pressure in certain extreme situations, God-centered leaders are less prone to jumping to this conclusion.

4. More patience. Human-based ministers lose patience because they are waiting on fallen humans to change, rather than waiting on God to bring change.

C. Teaching and preaching

1. More boldness and confidence. God-centered teachers and preachers know that God infuses our utterances with power, and that it is his will to bless the church. Instead of relying on self-confidence, which often withers, these rely on God-confidence which is reliable.

2. More tendency to pray against the Devil. The God-centered speaker knows that each talk is a spiritual battle that must be fought with the weapons of righteousness.

D. Discipleship

1. The God-centered discipler tries to get in line with what God wants to do with particular lives. They realize that God’s gifting of individuals is an indication of his will for their lives.

2. More emphasis on discernment, and less on program. The key becomes recognizing what God is doing, rather than having the ultimate method that can’t fail.

3. More relaxation, leading to more trust from disciples. Since the God-centered minister sees himself as a facilitator of God’s development of another’s life, people sense that they aren’t being made to follow the discipler’s will, but that both are trying to follow God’s will.

4. More willingness to teach in-depth Bible study. Those who conceive of discipleship in sociological terms see little reason to waste large amounts of time learning God’s word. They prefer to teach techniques and formulas and consider deep critical issues in Scripture a waste of time. The God-centered leader knows that people are sanctified through the word of God.

5. Less likelihood of bossing. God-centered disciplers know that convictions to follow the Lord must come from within disciples as they respond to the Holy Spirit. Change that results from external pressure would be pseudo-change.

E. Leadership

1. Easier to admit problems in the church. Unlike the human-based leader, who is ego involved with the well-being of the church, the God-centered ministry has no reason to avoid looking at bad news.

2. Easier to avoid pessimism. At the same time, God-centered leaders don’t become negative, because they know God has the power to handle even severe problems.

3. More inclination to raise up others– less need to “hog the ball.” Human-centered leaders secretly think their own competence is the key to the success of the church. Since they interpret the growth of the church in terms of cause and effect on the natural level, it makes no sense to have a less-experienced, less competent new leader speak and lead. The result is a man-centered ministry, where the significant public roles are always filled by the great man.

4. More time and effort devoted to prayer. The God-centered minister knows that only God can build the church, and that every advance requires his power.

Many more examples could be cited. This perspective affects every area of ministry. As in personal sanctification, learning to rely on God’s power instead of our own power is a process which takes time. No leader can claim to have this area down completely.

One of the main ways we learn to depend on God is by experiencing failure (see II Cor. 11:30-33; 12:9,10). As we respond properly to these failures, we gradually learn to minister in dependence upon God’s power.

– See more at: http://www.xenos.org/classes/leadership/godmin.html#sthash.fJLueUZO.dpuf

 

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