discipleship


The sermon on the mount has been taught in many ways, but one useful approach is less common.  You can see it as a 12-step program.

 

  1. When he saw the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain.  When life presses in, and it becomes overwhelming, change your physical surroundings.  Get out.  Go to a quiet place that’s different from the daily routines.  It may be a simple as  a day of Sabbath Rest (rather than a day of Sunday meetings)
  2. His disciples came to him.  Or as James 5:14 suggests, call for the elders.  Get around people that support you.  Nurture that support system in good times and call on them in the bad.
  3. He began to teach.  Jesus gave of himself in a way that affirmed his authority over circumstances.  What are you good at? Go do it.  Who needs  your help? Go volunteer.
  4. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Admit your weakness.  The beginning of healing is to admit you have a problem.  Often we need to do steps 1-3 before we can get to this stage.  That’s natural.  Admit your condition and turn to the path of looking for God.
  5. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.   It’s OK to grieve over past mistakes.  Admit them and let God forgive you, then agree with God and forgive yourself.  Take comfort that the past is past and you can make a new start.
  6. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Begin again.  Don’t rely on your own devices.  They got you where you were, and you didn’t like it there.  Adopt the position of a humble learner.  
  7. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  We have so many resources around.
  8. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Forgive.  It’s said that nurturing a past offense, holding a grudge, is like you drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.  Instead.  Show mercy. Forgive even if they don’t deserve it.  
  9. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.   When you remove other distractions, and try to see life from God’s perspective, you begin to see the true nature of God.  
  10. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.   The most respected people in history are the ones that stopped the arguments, that spoke out and acted to create peace.  They are called children of God by their society.
  11. Blessed are those who are persecuted. Not everyone will agree.  Expect opposition from those not as far along.  Forgive them with love and humility.  (see steps 6 & 8)
  12. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,  Take joy in the things of God.  Celebrate with friends.  Be the support to someone else in step 2.

It’s not an easy journey, and not always linear.  Sometimes we feel we can jump to step 10 or 11, then fall back to needing step 4, or step 1.  Start again.  Practice daily.  The rewards are out of this world.

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Stephen Gray at Church Central posted his review of essential church? by Thom and Sam Rainer by taking the book’s “7 deadly sins” and adding 3 more. 

I’m not going to copy the whole article – you need to read it and the Rainers’ book yourself.  But the topic headings are worth mentioning:

1. Doctrinal Drift – watering down the Gospel
2. Evangelism Atrophy – a loss of passion to win the lost
3. Failure To Be Relevant – not contextualizing the content of our message
4. Inwardly Focused – most of the money and effort is on doing stuff in the church, for the church
5. Personal Conflict – power struggles
6. A Priority Of Comfort – this refers to doing the same things over and over, instead of new ventures
7. Biblical Illiteracy – preachers who ignore vast sections of the Bible and parishoners who don’t know the difference.
8. Hording – Gray is talking about dormant savings accounts, but I’d add the lack of openness to use the church building for anything that doesn’t drive the bottom line (see #4)
9. Failure to Follow – not respecting congregational leaders
10. Idolatry – worshipping anything but God, including the building, the schedule, the agenda, or the stuff of our lifestyle.

http://churchcentral.com/blog/Ten-Deadly-Sins-Of-A-Dying-Church

In a new report from the Barna Group finds that nine out of every ten Americans (86%) describe themselves as “caring deeply about social injustice.”

We in the church want to think it’s our influence, but in reality it’s part of our God-given nature to help out.  Americans in general care about justice and fairness, and feel a desire to help fix the issue if they have it in their power to do so.

What the church can do is make opportunity to participate.  Rather than restrict who can help to “us only”, find a way for outsiders to help.  Of course you want insiders to lead and need for the newbies to follow guidelines, but maybe the taste of and place of service is all that’s needed to bring someone in.

When my daughter was young, I coached her church basketball team.  My assistant was another dad, not a church member, not strong in his faith.  He sat through each of 10 weekly devotionals and watched me show love and compassion on the court.  He started attending church regularly and soon was an active member of the congregation.

The church used to do a big Easter production.  It took a lot of people to pull it off.  Mike had been attending only services, floating in and slipping out.  But there was a need for more people in the parking lot, and one night of duty turned into regular service and a sense of belonging.

For myself, I was a teenager when I noticed the oldest members had trouble using the ancient church elevator.  I helped them on and off, pulling back the metal cage and holding the heavy door.  When one of the deacons complained about me being there, a more senior elder countered and let me continue that little service.  Small as it was, it was training me for a life of church involvement.

So look around.  My church is handing out food for Easter, using lots of new volunteers.  The greeting committee has doubled itself for that day to stand at the doors and smile, saying “thanks for coming” at both the walking in and the walking out.  How hard is that?

So go ahead.  Get creative.  Let the people serve.

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From the Barna survey:

On social awareness, matters of lifestyle, and the desire for simplicity, the self-identities of born agains and others were very similar. Only two of the non-spiritual self-perceptions showed any difference, and those gaps were minimal: born again Christians were slightly more likely than others to see themselves as making a positive difference in the world (83% versus 74%, respectively) and slightly more likely to be fulfilling personal life calling (76% to 67%).

The Christian Science Monitor has published an editorial about the decline and perhaps demise of modern Evangelicalism.  Titled “The coming evangelical collapse” Michael Spencer gives current examples and reasoned predictions that validate what Barna has been warning for some time.  I disagree with some of his predicted outcomes (or maybe I don’t want to listen), but he does make a point that “fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.”

The crux of his argument is that Evangelicals have gotten distracted with social issues, and

“Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we’ve spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture wars, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures. “

This is not a new finding.  In his 1972 work Why Conservative Churches are Growing, Dean Kelly quoted Franklin Littell’s The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism (1964).  Kelly and Littell say that parents – even at that time – hadn’t fully passed on their faith, so the children did not even have a full faith to teach their own children.

“In churches in the US, they have not only ‘halved the covenant’ for their children again and again until there was scarcely a sliver left, but also progressively relaxed the standards of membership … members often had only the vaguest notion of what the church they were joining believed or required. …As a result, Littell observes, the churches became filled with baptized pagans, who soon far outnumbered those who had gained and kept some understanding of the obligations of discipleship.”

Even in 1972, Kelly, who wrote the book while on sabbatical from the National Council of Churches, noted “Renewal does not take hold unless it is embodied, exemplified, lived out by a particular group, who show the way to a stronger faith by taking it themselves.”

And that is exactly the problem Michael Spencer is addressing. He claims that “denominations are going to become largely irrelevant” and “many marginal believers will depart.”

Spencer is spot on when he says that if churches survive they must move from maintenance mode to a “new evangelicalism” that returns to the authority of what the Bible says instead of what we want it to say, while continually reinterpreting the form for our culture.

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References:

Barna, George “Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions” Barna Seminar, 9/30/03
Kelly, Dean M, Why Conservative Churches are Growing (NY: Harper & Row, 1972), p104, 114
Littell, Franklin H. The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism (NY:Macmillan Co., 1964) and From State Church to Pluralism (NY: Doubleday, 1962)
Spencer, Michael “The coming evangelical collapse” in The Christian Science Monitor, 10 Mar 09, http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p09s01-coop.html

The books of Edward McKendree Bounds remain the definitive sources for why and how to pray.  Of the hundreds of books about such a simple topic, his stand high and are effective not just for his home denomination (Methodism) but for all modern Christendom.

The Christian Classics Etherial Library has collected  his eight books on prayer in  one location, to be read on-line or purchased.  Here are the titles:

I commend them to you.

Are we making disciples or are we just playing church?

Mick Turner suggests that the way we do “discipleship” is usually misguided and rarely as effective as we had hoped. In his recent post, he suggests that most attempts at “small groups” are “little more than social gatherings with scripture readings and a few prayers thrown in.”

Turner says “the mission of the Body of Christ, as given by Jesus in the Great Commission, involves going into all the world making disciples. This noble commission requires more than just seeking converts or adding names to church rolls. It necessitates exactly what Jesus called for: disciple making. While an increasing number of churches are becoming more involved in disciple making, many, like my friend Judd’s church, don’t really know where to start.”

But too many of us either ignore the new believer training, or give them more / deeper instruction than they can handle. Its like giving prime rib to a baby. They can’t process the theology and it does them no good. New believers need simple discipling.

He’s also got an odd 6-step program that sounds a little new age (almost heresy) as a fundamental understanding. Still, I take his conclusion to heart. As we “continually incarnate that plan and purpose in the world, …we develop Sacred Character” which is the likeness and representation of our God on this earth. And the only way to continue the functioning of the faith is by properly discipling new believers.

If you want your congregation to be renewed, disciple them, starting with the simple basics of faith and make sure they have them down pat before moving on. It will pay great dividend.

c2008, Mike Mitchell, all rights reserved