Discipleship Revitalization

Worship, discipleship, and mercy – these are the three strong legs of the stool Metokos helps churches to build as they seek God’s direction in revitalizing themselves. I have given some thought seeds on worship. Now, let’s do the same for the second leg of discipleship.
The word discipleship, to some folks – especially those who might call their church flat – can sound like work that takes too much time and yields results somewhere between disappointing and/or full-on absent. Perhaps you have been in a group or program that you went to because it was to focus on discipleship – but your life never seemed to change. For others, discipleship has the ring of a gateway drug to legalism or performance-based Christianity. But for others – those happy few – discipleship is the honey that keeps them nourished, grounded, and connected to Jesus. After all, the gospel of Matthew ends with these mountain-top words, these words that give us Christ’s explicit directions re discipleship:
“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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus was telling his close followers to go out and duplicate themselves so that the numbers of his followers would grow. And grow. And grow. He also told them the basic framework of how to do this joyful task. Make disciples. Baptize them. Teach them. And, by the way, you are not alone as you are doing these steps. These final words of this gospel have both haunted and led generations of Christians. How might Metokos help your church to be more led by this passage than haunted?
First, I can share with you how I was blessed with pastors who disciple me. In college, seminary and then in post seminary internship, men spent time, asked questions, listened, advised and taught me on my journey of following Jesus. I also think of many Sunday school teachers and youth workers and their part in my discipleship journey. Most of all, I give credit to my parents and our family devotions of simple, consistent Bible reading and prayer. That prayer time always included Mom dealing out the missionary prayer cards from around the world. I must also mention my wife, Celeste. God has used her to shape my life as we have shared our 46-year journey or following and obeying Jesus as I (and we, together) have served God in 42 nations.
Relating back to the “too much work with no results” theme, it seems we too often turn what was to be a “relationship first” directive into a “program with a to-do list.” Notice that I first learned to read the Bible and pray by doing it with my family. No matter how long Christians have been in God’s kingdom, and even if they did not bring family experiences to the present, they can experience this fundamental tenant of discipleship. One-on-one is best, but a small group with a leader and no more than three newer Kingdom members can also get people on the path. I saw this method used with blessings in a church of mine where the women’s group elected to divide into pairs and threes for weekly Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. My wife and another professional woman met with a home-bound saintly lady. Besides the spiritual growth, there was personal growth. The elderly lady began, in this small context, to call my wife by her given name rather than, “I have always called my pastors’ wives Mrs. !” This blessed privilege is a time-intensive relationship that will not be a straight line of Christian growth and devotion. Nevertheless, the relationships go back to the active commands at the end of Matthew’s gospel. We all know of times in our church culture where souls have made the decision and then been left at the altar with no follow-up discipleship.
In the Matthew 28: 19 passage there is another active command/directive: Go. Notice how the commands begin with Go and end with a reminder that we don’t “go it alone.” What is the textual context of the verse? In verse 17 we read Matthew’s observation, “And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some of them doubted.” Matthew is describing the 11 disciples here – that chosen group that had journeyed so long with Jesus. We learn that of that chosen 11, a certain unnamed group from among the 11 total who worshiped Jesus – doubted him.
Doubt is so often the detour in the life of a Christian. As Jesus moves into the commands/directives of verse 19 we read something that is counter intuitive. “All authority is heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus means these words to redirect the doubters to worship, and from that sense of worship of Jesus we see the one who has all the authority in the world – a world so fraught with insecurity that it has made that security into not only an idol, but also a global multi-billion dollar military industry for our communities, nationals, and way of life.
This worship to which we are directed as verse 19 begins is at the core of the life of a church, and from that worship churches and Christians are called both to make disciples and to minister in a merciful way. In a world and culture that has the mistrust of all authority in its DNA, Christians hear the words of Jesus, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” as they worship and then go to the nations. These words should motivate, inspire, chase away our doubts of insecurity, and be our north star for the “Go” of verse 19.
“Go to the nations with a sense of vision and mission” sounds like a business plan or a road map to a faraway destination. It is also “Go” to today’s people who have grown up to be consumers and think interaction is what you do on a screen. We have become spectators to our own lives and the globe through our screens. People feel safer texting rather than talking, messaging rather that meeting face-to-face. But the call to make disciples often begins with the task of evangelism which means meeting strangers from your neighborhood and community. Again, discipleship goes against the idol of security, especially evident when Jesus uses the word nations. In our political, social context for many of us, people from other nations threaten our personal security and wellbeing. We need to take to heart how the command, “Make disciples from all nations” echoes the covenant promise made to Abram in Genesis 12, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” As God’s word begins to conclude in Revelation 5, we celebrate this promise as part of the new song, “for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,…” Here we have the heart of the message, the proclamation of the good news about who Jesus is and what he has done: it is global. Some folks might never travel outside their birth state, but many will, and some will move to another nation. As our neighborhoods and communities reflect the global diversity of the nations, so should our churches reflect that diversity in our ministries of worship, discipleship (with evangelism) and mercy.
“Think global, act local” is a great place to start in both your life and the life of your church. Find someone you can help in a discipleship journey and find someone who can help you. This first step will take time, but begin with the people you know while keeping a commitment to go, in time, to strangers. Stay simple: talk about a Bible passage, pray and talk about your daily life, concerns, struggles, work, your marriage and children if that applies to you, and your dreams. This simple process is where verse 20 gets fleshed out, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The teacher/pupil model often makes people today feel uncomfortable. We live among many who view religion as buffet of choices to mix and match, who might be reluctant to have a teacher. “Teaching to obey” could be a stumbling block for some of our neighbors. For many of us humility is often the first lesson, followed by patience. Remember these are words of Jesus and discipleship is his divine plan.
Then there is the experience of the promised presence of Jesus – words to move us from doubt to worship to going! You are not alone. You are never alone as a disciple. This promise is to a world filled with doubt and fear, and is part of discipleship relationships. This promise frees us to go to the nations, including and beginning with our neighbors and the neighborhood of our church. Also, in understanding what it means to go to the nations, we cannot forget or overlook our families – both close and extended. The discipling directive for families is illustrated in a beautiful way when parents, along with their congregational communities, commit by covenant promises at baptism to disciple their children.
Discipleship is the work Jesus has called us to as part of our sanctification. The Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us in question 35, “What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” We are called to make disciples of Jesus for Jesus, and to assist those disciples in their sanctification – for our sanctification. It is a work to which we are all called.

To sum up these thoughts on discipleship revitalization-
1) Move from doubt to worship to making disciples under the authority and presence of Jesus.
2) Move from being a screen spectator of life to the adventure of “Go.”
3) Start small and local. Don’t forget your family.
4) Remember the nations as you begin in your neighborhood and the neighborhood of your local church. See your neighbors through the covenant and the cross of Christ.
Will 2016 be the year you hear the words of Jesus at the end of Matthew 28 in a renewed way that moves you to action? Remember, these thoughts of mine are not a final complete word on this topic of discipleship revitalization. The conversation must develop and progress. This week, first look at the family and friends you have – Whom can you help, and who can help you?
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