Saturday, December 25, 2010

What is a Disciple of Jesus?

When Jesus told His followers to "Go into all the world and make disciples He added ans important proviso: "Teaching them to do everything I taught you to do". WOW! That is a heavy assignment and I do not think most of the leaders I know even try to do that. In fact, few believe it is possible and even if it were would feel completely unable to accomplish it.

I minister to struggling Pastors and Christian leaders every week. Many are depressed, overwhelmed and frustrated. Few, if any, were prepared in seminary or Bible school for the daily, practical, real issues that confront them now as a Minister.

One Pastor told me he had never been taught how to do a baptism, a funeral, a wedding or any service. He had never seen anyone anoint a sick person with oil, comfort a widow, counsel and parent whose child had just been killed or led a church council, dealt with church conflict or advised a parent on discipline. All of which are the daily activities of all persons in ministry.

His entire seminary experience had focused on the teachers being "Talking Heads" who told him and his classmates how to be better "Talking Heads". No wonder seminaries are dying. With that kind of curriculum they need to die and be resurrected as schools that teach the way that Jesus did: through personal interaction, practice, feedback and making mistakes.

One of my ministerial friends told me a story about his first year in ministry that is bot tragic and funny. He joined the staff of a rather large church in the summer and shortly thereafter the Senior Minister left on vacation. The new man was supposed to baptize by immersion two adult converts in the local lake. The only thing that saved all of them from drowning was one of the converts who could swim well. (Perhaps this is a reason so many churches sprinkle now.)

As I think about the terribly inefficient and ineffective ways Christians try to operate I am struck by the fact that the church is indeed supernatural. Any organization not supported by the Holy Spirit would have died long ago with such pitiful training programs.

So, if a leaders has never been trained to DO THE STUFF how can he/she teach others to DO THE STUFF? Many Ministers stumble through and over time learn how to do the stuff but it usually takes a long time and a lot of pain. Why not do ti the way Jesus did and see what happens.

Go Make Disciples of Jesus

Can you imagine adults sitting in a large classroom listening to the same tired old talks about adding 2 + 2 and how to spell c-a-t? Yet we do that in many church assemblies. No wonder so many Christian people stop attending services. They are bored to distraction by elementary teachers repeating elementary teachings to adults.

As an educator I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that for several years of church work I failed to realize that some adult believers are babes in Christ who need milk but others are grown-up adults who can chew meat. I suppose I came by that point of view because I always attended churches that gathered adults together in one big room to be "fed" by the "Pastor/ Shepherd of the sheep." (We were the sheep.) Everybody ate the same food and we all sat with mouths open in anticipation whether we had just come to the Lord or were veterans of fifty spiritual years.

Hebrews 6 gives us a completely different point of view. When I read it I can clearly see that the Spirit who inspired the Bible understood developmental stages of growth and change. God is an educator who develops some teachings for Babes and others for Disciples and still more for us in Ministry. Would we present the same things to my four-year-old grand daughter as we would to her mother?

1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

3 And God permitting, we will do so. (NIV)

Any Pastor who wants to really feed his/her people will develop ways to discern where they are spiritually and offer them food that is specifically designed for that stage of spiritual growth. Most people covet large numbers with lots of money and bottoms in the pews. They love fat churches not big, strong, healthy churches. No wonder there is so little long term change happening. Only by making strong disciples will we become effective in our ministries.

How Do I know if I am Growing into Maturity?

I have seen various scenarios that say how we ought to grow and signs that we are mature. I must say that I have not found any that really seem to click with me.

I have tried myself to devise a system or way to see if folks are getting more mature but they all seemed to break down under close scrutiny. Then this morning I had an insight. During worship at church it suddenly struck me that scripture tells us how to judge spiritual growth. The place to look is Galatians 5 where Paul contrasts the Fruit of the Flesh with the Fruit of the Spirit.

19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

It also struck me that the fruit of the flesh are all indications of a lack of peace or what we call "Emotional Reactivity" to situations and people that are greater than what is prudent. For example, a waiter spills a glass of water and some of it falls on me. What do I do as a result? An immature person will be Reactive and yell, curse, attack the waiter or threaten to sue the restaurant. A mature person will be Peaceful and reason with patience, long suffering and kindness.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.