Making Disciples

There is an interesting article in the Summer 2006 publication of the United Methodist Men’s magazine.  The heading of this article reads:  “Nearly half of U.S. congregations did not receive a member by profession of faith.”  Of course, the article is speaking only of United Methodist congregations, although I remember reading somewhere else that this is true for most Christian denominations.  In this same article, it is reported that Bishop Michael Coyner, president of the General Board of Discipleship, told the Board that this situation, which is steadily growing worse, is causing all kinds of other problems, “including,” he said, “our ability to stand before God and say we are doing a good job in making disciples.”

I suspect the bishop is correct in saying this, and I fear that our own congregation is not doing too well either in terms of living up to our mission statement, i.e., Making Disciples for Jesus Christ.  Although some of you may disagree, this isn’t just me talking.  Our consultant, Tom Bandy said pretty much the same thing in his written report.  Except for one adult baptism that I recall pastor Daniel performed last year, I do not think that we had any other new members by profession of faith.  If this is a good measure of how well we are doing our mission, what then are we doing wrong?  What should we be doing to make disciples?

It seems self-evident to me that, before we can make disciples, we must first be disciples ourselves.  Scripture is pretty clear on what it means to be a disciple.  In the Old Testament, MICAH 6:8 says, “The Lord has told you, human, what is good; He has told you what He wants from you:  to do what is right to other people, love being kind to others, and live humbly, obeying your God.”  In the New Testament, Jesus Himself tells us in MARK 8:34-35, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

Hmmm… deny himself.  OUCH!

Alright, let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that I do deny myself and that I do take up my cross daily.  Although I admittedly have much room to grow in this regard, let’s say that I am a disciple, even if only a fledgling one.  How do I begin making other disciples?  What does the Bible say about this?

Well, the most obvious reference that I’ve found is in MATTHEW 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Go, therefore, and make disciples…  baptizing them… teaching them.  Hmmm… Sounds a lot like evangelism to me, something that most of us would say that we’re not very good at doing.  Of course, we do have to leave the baptizing to our clergy, but the other we can do, we can teach.  And what’s the best way to teach?  Why, by example, of course.

Making disciples, I believe, is pretty much like assuming the responsibilities of being a parent.  What I remember about that is this:

  • Until they learn to feed themselves, we must make sure they are fed.
  • We teach them how to feed themselves as soon as possible.
  • If they get into trouble, we help them — even if it is inconvenient, because they are, after all, our top priority.
  • We train them to do what they need to do.
  • We teach them what we know.
  • We protect them from danger until they can protect themselves.
  • Last but most important, we spend time with them, because people do learn best by example.

Our goal, in making disciples, is to eventually reproduce ourselves, assuming, of course that we are already mature, adult disciples ourselves.  We produce other believers who can stand, as we do, on our own, and reproduce themselves.  Of course, few of us individually have the opportunity to be in such close relationships with others.  We touch others briefly, then we go our separate ways.  Few of us too ever get a chance to be involved in the whole process, or to even see the harvest.  All we get to do is plant seeds here and there, cultivate the soil now and again, cast a little fertilizer or give a little drink.  It does take a village, after all.  And Church of the Disciple is a village.

Some so-called Evangelists seem to think that making disciples means imposing their “Christian” morality on others through legislation.  But this, I believe, is wasting missional energy.  Christ did not impose Himself on others.  He was given all power to do so, was he not?  But, instead, He used His energy to do good works, to teach, and show love and mercy.  Then He gave His people a choice, clearly distinguishing between the secular and sacred in MATTHEW 22:21, saying, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus turned sadly away when others, such as in the story of the rich young ruler told in LUKE 18:18-23, found discipleship too much of a cross to bear.

May I suggest to you that, to be an effective maker of disciples at Church of the Disciple, you would do well to commit yourself in a ministry or mission cell group.  An adult Sunday School class would be a good place to start.  Other cell groups at the church include:  the United Methodist Men, the United Methodist Women, Stephen Ministry, the Missions committee, the Worship committee, the Ushers, the Choir, etc.  You will find like-thinking people in these cell groups, people who will minister to you and people to whom you can minister.  Lovingly hold yourself and others accountable.  Then, invite others into your group.  Give them opportunities for service, and teach them all that you know.  Together, ably led by our new pastor, the Reverend Dr. Ouida Lee, we can all grow in discipleship.

May the Lord Himself be with you as you live out your faith, denying yourself and taking up your cross daily, that you might bear much fruit in the process of making disciples.

Amen ~

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Published in: on July 1, 2006 at 4:27 pm  Comments (4)  

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  1. I am excited about this article on Disciple making. Through the word of Scripture, we are called as a community of faith to lead others on the path that we have chosen.  I agree with you that we are not all to teach others to follow a set of rules, but to allow the love of Jesus Christ to abide in our lives as we seek to connect with those who need the love of Jesus Christ, and that includes all of us. The genuine loves that abide in each of our lives should attract others to come alongside of us and walk together.

    Small groups that are focused on life situations invite others to come and walk with us as we learn together. They give us faith sharing opportunities. The Great Commission of the Church is located in Matthew 28:18-20 and essentially says to us “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore 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.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    We are compelled to go and to invite our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers to share with us as we form new small group ministries. That will require that we all must put our hand to the plow and never look back. We must seek to grow ourselves through our personal study, prayer and meditation time. We must be willing to share our faith. Share not just Scripture, but how we have experienced our own personal encounters with the Divine.

    Our church will grow through new cell groups where we will see each other in need of a touch that is our own, but is motivated by the love of Jesus Christ that is in our lives.

    Thank you for allowing me to share with this dynamic thinking group what I believe that God is calling us to do as we not attempt to become so formal that we will miss Jesus, but so that we may connect with Jesus. And finally, may we never forget the power of the Holy Spirit that will give us the right words to say about what Jesus has personally done for each of us. The personal stories will make evangelism easier.

    Blessings.

  2. This is an excellent article. Thank you for writing it, Kent. It touched my heart because, to be honest, I have doubted that my consultation with the church was very successful.  Your article is very much in line with my recommendations and thinking.

    I think the key phrase in your article … which you may wish to elaborate on in future articles … is about holding onself and others accountable. The more the church retreats from its original expectations of deep spirituality and outreach, toward a position of internal focus and happy relationships, the less accountability there is. Churches begin to tolerate behavior and indiscipline to preserve harmony or good feelings … which is a turnoff to newcomers. Strangers to grace want to experience Christ, not a club. This is the key issue lying behind the statistic about the lack of people joining by profession of faith that you mention in your article.

  3. I love what has been said that church is not a club. It is not the week’s entertainment either. It is a place for learning, worshipping, teaching, for resting the soul, reaching out for/to help or just being quiet and listening to the spirit.

    One needs to keep in mind that we are “one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord”, and we all need to work at keeping the spirit moving by volunteering in some form of ministry (your gifts and talents) where we keep the church and its function alive and even hopping :>)

    God gave you so much, what do you have to offer? (not monetary)Share yourself because as you share so those gifts improve and become more. Let’s not be culture or rule bound, but spirit led. I’ve always believed in that, after all that is what started the church all those years ago.

    Thank you for letting me share :>)

  4. Making disciples.

    Profession of faith.

    Starting the journey of faith with Christ and leading others by our talents, gifts, presence and prayers; to join us is our charge- our covenant to build a community of faith. That is making disciples.
    Church of the Discilple was unique in it’s mission to make disciples of all within our community- everyone. The focus was to appeal to the unchurched, at least that was what I understood of it, to everyone.

    The unchurched is where you find the fertile field of disciples to be. Get them excited, get them involved, move forward in Christ’s promise, encourage them on their own journey of faith and share your walk with them.

    To profess their faith in Christ.

    There really are no rules, no programs, no formulas, much less any examples of how to do what we did early on but we were good at it. I greatly admired- and grossly under appreciated- Matt Gaston’s vision and influence in steering Church of the Disciple into a vibrant place that welcomed all. It is this constant changing of the vision every so often “because the previous vision is needed somewhere else” that blinds us into changing what is effective, and ultimately forgetting what we did best- make disciples. Typically, in a typical church, this type of change does not matter. The church just does what they have always done, the way it is always done. The problem comes when those that do not understand, appreciate or possess a similar vision and unique mission impose a change to the typical. Once typical, you can change at will; that requires no vision that must be preserved.

    It goes back to who are you trying to appeal to? Are you a place that appeals to one used to having things done everywhere else or a place that shows the way to eternal life to a person not even going to church?

    Preaching to the choir is easy; discipling the lost is a whole different matter.


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