Thursday, November 29, 2007

Making Disciples (Part 12)

Another practical way the church can work together to make disciples is through the spiritual gifts. Why does God gift us? What is the purpose for the gifts? Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts is within the context of the church. Paul implies the gifts were given to God’s people by the Spirit for the building up of the church (Ephesians 4:12). In other words, God’s people are equipped so they can in turn equip others. Through the diversity of people and their gifts God can fully disciple His people.

Spiritual gifts tests can make people aware of how God has gifted them. If used properly they can become a means to making disciples. Just beware they do not become an excuse for laziness (e.g., “I’m not gifted in the area of evangelism so I don’t have to do it.”). Spiritual gifts tests could be given as an entire church event. This would allow the body of Christ to recognize in each other the uniqueness and diversity of God’s gifts. It also teaches that spiritual gifts are best discovered within the community of saints. Following the test, it would be wise to find ways together to use each other’s gift. This is how they are most effective. How can people with different gifts work together? How can they compliment one another? You will find answers to these questions as God’s people synthesize their diversity through coming together to form the body of Christ.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

First Sunday of Advent

This coming Sunday will be the first Sunday of advent. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to comment. This is a time for Christians around the world to celebrate together the coming of the Christ. The Old Testament lectionary reading for this Sunday comes from Isaiah 2:1-5. This portion of Scripture is a prophecy about Judah and Jerusalem.

In verse 5 Isaiah says,

“Come, O house of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.

In the Old Testament the word “walk” was commonly used to describe one’s life. It spoke of how one was living. Peppered throughout the Old Testament Israel is asked to walk with God; to make Him a part of their daily life. In 1 John 1:7 we are encouraged to walk in Christ,

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, his Son,
purifies us from all sin.

The invasion that happened two thousand years ago on planet Earth allows every person on the face of this green and blue planet the opportunity to walk with God. It truly is a time to celebrate and rejoice!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Making Disciples (part 11)

2. Discipleship involves the entire church working together

First, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Enjoy the turkey.

Before writing and studying discipleship, I had inadvertently narrowed discipleship down to one-on-one Bible studies. By doing this I left out one of the most important components in making disciples, the community of believers. In the Great Commission Jesus addresses His people collectively. My journey through Scripture opened my eyes to this truth. The constant in Scripture, from Old Testament to New Testament, is that the community is the place where disciples are made. Why? Because each individual is gifted differently and these gifts come together and work best when the community is working together. Paul constantly urges his churches to work together to build one another up in love. Hebrews reminds us to not neglect meeting together, but to encourage one another in the faith.

Our faith is about community. God is about community. In the Old Testament God made disciples through the community of Israel. God used such things as the Temple, Law, rules, sacrifices, festivals and feasts within the community to teach and disciple His people. If a person neglected God’s community He neglected God’s faith. It was nearly impossible for a person to have faith in God and not be a part of Israel. In the New Testament the church was God’s community and people. To be a disciple meant you belonged to a local church. Together, the churches made up the body of Christ. The body wasn’t complete in just one person, it involved persons. In There Is No i In Church Keith Drury reminds us, “From families to extended families to future generations to nations to the entire world, God is always working with a people, not just with persons.”[1] So, how do we implement this principle in our churches today?

A good beginning point for implementing this principle is to effectively communicate (through sermons, teachings, church activities, etc.) the value of relationships and community within the Bible. Here is an outline showing the development of community in the Old Testament. This might be a valuable resource tool for pastors/Sunday school teachers/small group leaders to use in preaching/teaching community:

0 In Genesis 1-2 God creates Adam and says it is not good for him to be alone. Right off the bat we have the establishment of the family and community. Where does this come from? There is community within God. God is three persons who harmoniously exist with each other. Being made in His image and likeness means we are made for community.

0 Genesis 1-11 focuses on the family of Adam up until Noah. Chapter 4 focused briefly on the other half of Adam’s family (Cain’s side) who walks away from God to do life on their own apart from God. This is the last we hear of them.

0 The rest of Genesis, chapter 12-50, focuses on Abraham and his descendents (the Hebrews), who were chosen to bless the other nations. Through bad relationships within the community the nation of Israel ends up enslaved in Egypt.

0 In Exodus God delivers, protects, provides, and leads His people to the Promised Land.

0 The rest of the Old Testament focuses on God’s care, discipline, and provisions for His people. Even though the Israelites were unfaithful to God, He remembered His covenant and stayed faithful to them.

Looking at the way God worked with His people in the Old Testament is an eye-opening experience. What God does He does for the community.

[1] Keith Drury, There Is No i In Church, (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2006), pg. 15.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Making Disciples (part 10)

How do we teach God the Father’s, Son’s, and Spirit’s involvement in the discipleship process? Unbelievers and new Christians need to know about God’s involvement in our world and lives. This is a very real and tangible thing. Of course they can be taught about this in a Sunday school classroom, but the best teaching will come from real life examples. Those in the church who are mature believers need to be active in sharing God’s work in their lives. The most effective way others can hear about this is through testimonies. Here are several ideas for how testimonies can be done in our churches today.

§ They can be video taped. Ask for volunteers to be recorded giving their testimonies. You could play these as part of the morning worship service or as a prelude to the service. There might be someone in your church who is handy with video editing software that might love to work on something like this. This could be a great opportunity to get the shy and quiet personalities who would rather help out behind the scenes involved in the church. You never know unless you ask.

§ They can be written out and put on a church website or in a monthly newsletter. Our church has a website and every couple of months we have someone submit their testimony to be highlighted on the home page. Many churches distribute monthly newsletters that could include a member’s testimony. A good idea might be to put a picture of the person giving the testimony so people who aren’t good with names could put a face with the story. As a pastor you might want to edit and look over the testimonies first. If you are not good with editing ask someone else to do it. You could also take written testimonies and pass them out Sunday morning, mass mail them to the community, or ask the local newspaper to feature one (you never know!).

§ They could be given live during worship service. Not everyone will be comfortable with this idea, but you may be able to make things easier by giving them time to practice and helping them deliver it. Sometimes if you give a short time limit (e.g., 2-3 minutes) for the testimonies, people will more likely step up to the challenge. The main objective is to ask people to share and give them the opportunity to do it. You could also use poster board and have them tell their testimony with written words while a song plays in the background. This is a great way to get people who fear public speaking to share their testimony with others. A person could use very simple phrases on the poster board to tell their story (e.g., I was an alcoholic/1st poster board, then I met Jesus/2nd poster board, He saved me from myself/3rd poster board).

§ They can be given during small group times. Sunday school classes or small groups can be a great place for believers to share their testimony. Just be sure to plan ahead and invite unbelievers and new Christians.

§ They can be given through the sacrament of Baptism. Baptisms are a wonderful opportunity for people to hear testimonies. Any of the above means will work. Baptisms bring family members out of the woodwork and into church. If you make this a big deal and ask the person getting baptized to send out invitations you could easily wind up with twenty five or more people in the service. Pastors should strive to take advantage of this special opportunity. A special salvation message could be given at the end of the service to allow and call for new commitments.

Testimonies are the best way to teach others about God’s involvement in our world. A testimony is not limited to the story of how a person came to Christ. God is always at work in our world and we should announce this weekly to encourage one another and testify to the involvement of God in our lives.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Making Disciples (part 9)

Principles for making disciples
Now we will seek to elaborate further on these principles. The goal is to come up with practical ways these principles can be used to make our church effective in making disciples. Here again are the five principles for discipleship from the Great Commission.

­ - Discipleship involves God the Father, Son, and Spirit
­ - Discipleship involves the entire church working together
­ - Discipleship involves God’s people going to others
­ - Discipleship involves a growing relationship with Jesus
­ - Discipleship involves teaching God’s Word for the purpose of obedience out of love

1. Discipleship involves God the Father, Son, and Spirit
One cannot deny or forsake the role of God in the discipling process. After all, we are making disciples of Him. If it were not for the Father sending His Son to die for our sins we would be estranged from God. But God reconciled Himself to us so that we may know Him and walk with Him. God has sought to involve Himself in our lives (John 1:14). As His creation, we have the freedom to either reject or accept Him. Rejecting Him cuts us off from reality and hinders true freedom (John 6:53).
What does God do in our lives? God, through the Spirit working in our lives does several things:
­ - He gives us power to witness. This is evident in Acts 1 where the disciples are told to wait for the Spirit so they can receive power to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.
­ - He makes us into new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. Sins are wiped away and believers are given a fresh start.
­ - He guides us into all truth. Jesus reminded His disciples in the Gospel of John that the Counselor (Holy Spirit) would guide and teach them. The Spirit is at work in the life of the new believer and their optimism is contagious. New Christians sometimes seem more open to God’s leading than older Christians.
- He gives us strength to resist evil. God’s Spirit enables us to say no to temptation and sin. His Spirit also does a deeper work too if we let Him. He eradicates our sinful nature allowing us to have a pure heart.

Your thoughts?