Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Defining A Discipleship-Making Process In A Local Church

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Luke 14:26-27  “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."


In their landmark book: "Simple Church", Eric Geiger and Thom Rainer note the following observation about churches that have defined how they make disciples:

"Churches with a simple process for reaching and maturing people are expanding the kingdom. Church leaders who have designed a simple process to make disciples are effectively advancing the movement of the gospel. Simple churches are making a big impact."

The church where I serve is a remarkable church. God is doing exciting things. One thing I pray for and am compelled to lead God's church where I serve to understand is Christ's designated process for making disciples. Put another way: how can our church become more effective than ever in leading people to pursue a closer relationship with Jesus Christ in their spiritual growth? Now in a moment I will define what I mean by the word "disciple", but first, let's look at what Jesus says on this topic.

The above opening text in Luke 14 is one of two main chapters in Luke (the other being chapter 9) that lay out Jesus' master plan for discipleship. As we look closely at what Jesus taught, we discover that his disciples would take His teachings and expand them into the early church. The church in the Book of Acts grew because it understood its main task: make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

So what is discipleship or a disciple? 

Discipleship is a God-centered lifestyle that pursues learning to live like Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence, a disciple is a person that pursues such a lifestyle. This act of embracing comes about in the reception of the Gospel by trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and Treasure. As we follow Jesus' core teaching on this subject in Luke 14:26-33, we can note the following three traits of a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ:

1. Dying to self. Luke 14:26-27

2. Counting the cost. Luke 14:28-32

3. Radical follow-thru. Luke 14:33

Daniel Lim has written a wonderful book on church leadership entitled: "No Silver Bullets". In the book he lists out eight defining traits of a disciple that I find particularly helpful:

1. Bible engagement. 
2. Obeying God and denying self
3. Serving God and serving others
4. Sharing Christ
5. Exercising faith
6. Seeking God
7. Building relationships
8. Unashamed (Transparency)

Imagine a church that has this as the centerpiece of all they do. I myself as a Christian desire to develop in my walk with the Lord. I cannot do it without that God-called community of the local church. I thank God for the wonderful church family he has placed us with to serve. All of them together and individually spur me on to want to know Jesus better. 

At the church where I serve, we ought to be about the primary task of helping people grow wider and deeper in this process. Just as a lumber yard has a well-defined process for making boards and just as a pizza-place has a well-defined process for making pizzas - churches in turn must know how to execute Jesus most fundamental command "to make disciples" (Matthew 28:18-20).   

Discipleship making is the engine that must drive the automobile of vision

At our church, we spent a year working on a vision statement. A vision is God's preferred future that motivates His people to get from where they are to where He wants them to be. Every Sunday I recite the following statement as a way to welcome new people and to remind our people why we are together and where we are going: "Our vision at New Hope Baptist Church is living life together to bring new hope in Jesus to all people."

As I think of Jesus' Great Commission to his church "to go make disciples of all nations", the execution of the command must involve a well-defined process.  The engine that must drive this vision is our process to equip people in their journey towards knowing Jesus. This process is called “the discipleship-making process”.

Below are some thoughts that I plan on communicating to the church about our discipleship making process. One of the underlying assumptions is that our church has all it needs to achieve what Christ has called it to do. We have a complete Bible, the Holy Spirit and a godly group of converted persons ready to do God's bidding. The thoughts below are but a sample of how the process for making disciples at our church may unfold. Other churches will envision it slightly differently in the details. The underlying "big-ideas" can be cross-pollinated to other contexts.  

What ought to be the discipleship process at New Hope Baptist Church?

Hunger for God ignited by key gathering times. Lk 14:15-24

Whenever we read this opening parable told by Jesus, we find people making excuses as to why they cannot follow Jesus. Discipleship is a call. 

When I envision this first tenet of "hungering for God", I primarily think about our worship services, Sunday School and small groups as key moments that should motivate people to hunger more for God. When New Hope Baptist Church worships together – the desired outcome is to ignite a hunger for God. Our Sunday morning and Sunday night services represent the main places where this first element of “hunger for God” begins. We could also include Bible studies and prayer gatherings. Some good biblical texts that speak on this first point are Psalm 63:1-3 and Ephesians 1:18-20.

Ongoing Discipleship/Evangelism generated by Sunday School, small groups and mission opportunities. Lk 14:25-33

We've already defined discipleship at the beginning of this post. Discipleship and evangelism go hand-in-hand. Evangelism has been defined as: 

"Communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results up to God."

So whenever we have gathered together as a church body to hear God’s Word and sing God’s praises  – hunger for Him ought to result. But how does one feed that hunger? Sunday school or any small-group is where relationships are developed. This component of the discipleship-making process generate life application in our church and 
community. A good sample of texts that illustrate this thought are: Acts 2:38-42; Hebrews 10:24-25

Prayer/Proclamation reinforced by corporate prayer-times, conferences and resources. Lk 14:34-15:3

In this third aspect of what I would classify as our church's discipleship-making process, we emphasize the need for prayer and the dispersion of God's Word through various methods. As we hunger after God and participate in ongoing discipleship and evangelism, what comes next? Prayer
and proclamation. Are we inviting others and going to others for the Gospel’s sake? Prayer is the greatest tool in the disciple’s arsenal. 

Proclamation takes the discipleship process outside the church walls. To reinforce prayer and  proclamation, we will emphasize prayer, conferences, print, video and audio resources. Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Exaltation of Jesus expressed through unity events, music and the Word. Lk 15:4-32

As we round out the discipleship process that I pray will become even clearer at the church I serve, we consider exaltation of Jesus. This last leg of the process brings us full-circle. As we hunger after God and participate in ongoing discipleship and evangelism, as well as prayer and proclamation, where does the process end and begin again? Exaltation of Jesus. This is expressed through unity events. Hearing God’s Word, music, celebrating the Lord’s Table, working together in outreach/evangelistic events or baptizing new converts are examples of unity events. This goal feeds back into our hungering for more of God. I find it interesting that in the three main parables told by Jesus in Luke 15:4ff, all of them contain thoughts of "celebration" and "rejoicing". Whenever God is exalted, the joy of God's people spills over into wanting to hunger more for Him. As this cycle repeats itself over time, the church's influence and spiritual growth can only expect to deepen and broaden. Appropriate scriptures for these thoughts might be: Matthew 22:37-39; 28:18-20; Hebrews 12:1-2

Closing thoughts:

If the reader might take a second look at the above four points, each starting letter of each point spells out the word h.o.p.e, hence: hungering for God, ongoing discipleship and evangelism, prayer and proclamation and exaltation of Jesus. Jesus' most important command in Matthew 28 was to make disciples. Would it be that every church and all its members work together with their respective church leadership to do the bidding of the Master by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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