Saturday, January 24, 2015

Making disciples

When Jesus was finished with His earthly ministry, He gave us one job. Do you remember what that was?
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Make disciples. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Partly because it's something our church struggles with a lot. We know it's important ... but how exactly to go about it? And partly because I know it's key to the young adults ministry in which God has placed my wife and I. How does one go about making disciples? Baptizing and teaching obedience to the commands of Jesus are obviously a part of it. And also, Christ's presence (with us, through the Holy Spirit) is absolutely critical. But is there more to it than that?

In Pulse we've been studying the Gospel of Mark, and I've been seeing some things there, in how Jesus interacted with His disciples, that I think are instructive to this discussion ...

There's no substitute for quality time. Jesus spent TIME with His disciples. His disciples occurred in four main "layers" ... first there was the big group of followers (estimated to be around 500 people, give or take). Most were probably "fringe" hangers-on. Nonetheless Jesus spent time teaching them and they followed Him, usually, but not to the same extent (and with the same level of commitment) as the next layer ...

The 72 apostles. What? you say ... weren't there just 12 apostles? Luke 10 records how Jesus sent out 72 of His disciples out to do ministry, two by two. The word "apostle" simply means "sent one," so these 72 could certainly be called apostles.

At the core of this group, however, were those specifically selected by Christ for the ultimate mission ... The 12 Apostles. These were those He spent all night wrestling with the Father in prayer about, whom He selected carefully. These were those in the Upper Room, celebrating the Passover with Him. They went most everywhere with Him, spent most of their time with Him ... but not to the same extent as the next group:

The inner 3 Apostles. Peter, James, and John were the special focus of Christ's attention. During His Transfiguration, they alone accompanied Him up the mountain. They alone were invited to witness His most amazing miracles, like raising the little girl from the dead (Mark 5:37-43).

So, what does all this mean? I think it's a recognition that, as human beings called to make disciples, we surely must focus our efforts. You may be a pastor and may have a large church of 500 that you preach to each Sunday. But you will need to focus your efforts when it comes to disciple-making. Only a portion of that congregation (perhaps a fifth?) will be available and willing to be used for the next phase of disciple-making: sending out. Doing ministry.

And of course you won't be able to spend huge amounts of quality time with such a large group, of 72. Instead you must focus on a smaller group, say a dozen, and who comprises this smaller group should be a matter of very specific prayer.

Note that even in Christ's 12 Apostles, one (Judas) was a major, catastrophic failure, at least in the disciple-making sense of the word!

But, the bottom line was that even Jesus selected carefully whom He should focus his time and energy on. And there is no substitute for the time He spent with them, simply living life together.

Do you have two or three close mentoring relationships you are pouring yourself into? Leaders who comprise a core of a larger "small group" of believers, perhaps a dozen in size? And are you engaging with an even larger group in shared ministry?

Making disciples is all about doing ministry together. The people whose lives really are being changed in any church setting, the people who are getting their socks blessed off, are those who understand the principle expressed by Matthew 6:21: "... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Treasure? Substitute any resource which is valuable to you ... time, money, talent, influence, whatever. If you invest in something, your heart follows after that thing. You are changed by that investment. Your sense of personal ownership increases.

If you are investing in ministry, serving people ... if you take the time and trouble to figure out your spiritual gifts and how to use them on a regular basis to bless others ... then your own heart will begin to beat faster for those things that God's heart loves. You will be following in Jesus' footsteps, one step further down the path of being a true disciple.

So it follows that, if we want to make disciples of other people, we need to help them find a ministry "fit." We need to encourage them to invest their own resources in heavenly things, so that Heaven will begin to capture their hearts.

This was what happened with Christ's 72 apostles in Mark 6. He sent them out, two by two, without even a staff in their hand, to do ministry in His name, to teach and to heal and even to cast out demons. They returned -- tired but excited, invested, and thrilled to discover the joy of ministry.

Come away with Jesus for awhile. At this point, where they had invested in ministry and experienced some spiritual victory, Jesus knew they were vulnerable to Satan's attack ... either filling them with pride, or accusing them of being failures. So the solution was to "take a vacation with Jesus!" To go away to a quiet place, and debrief, and get some rest.

God knows we are vulnerable, weak, feeble, greatly in need of constant rest and renewal. Did you ever wonder why He invested so much in the creation of Sabbaths and Holy Days? We certainly need to be strengthened by these times of rest and renewal. And not just for the sake of taking a vacation, but to hear from the Master Himself. And this leads me to my final point. True disciple-makers help the people whom they are discipling to ...

Understand the End Game. Everything Jesus did had a purpose. He was quite clear, shockingly clear, about the end game when He spoke to His disciples. Mark 8:31 records:
31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
Christ had His eyes on the prize the entire time. The big picture for Him, the goal, the end game, was His death and resurrection. Only through His sacrifice would the entire world be saved. Only because of His resurrection would the hope for the eventual transformation of all of society into the coming Kingdom of God be realized.

Did His disciples "get it?" No, obviously not. Verse 32 says that Peter "took Him aside and began to rebuke Him" for such talk. But Christ was crystal-clear in His mission: "Get behind Me, Satan!" he looks directly at Peter and warns. "You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns." The end game, for Jesus, was God's concern, God's plan.

Which is where I will leave off, today, because this is ultimately the most important test of true leadership, and (to me) its most rigorous challenge. Is your end game in sync with God's end game? Is what consumes your mind the plan of God for the people you are seeking to turn into disciples of Jesus?

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