Disciples making disciples
“This country’s going down the tubes!” You can almost hear him. The guy says it with such force, you realize that, in his mind, there is no truth more self-evident. His friend is nodding in agreement, but redirects the first man by stating that the reasons for the decline aren’t as cut-and-dried as the he might believe. A strong, but still somewhat civil, argument ensues.
The first man points to all the ‘moral decay’ he has observed as the society tolerates ever more of what was once considered indecent, improper, or just bad manners. The other, with equal conviction, argues that the ‘real decay’ is found in those who inhibit the choices of others with intolerant, old fashioned ideas and norms.
The discussion degrades as the labels and name-calling ensue, both attempting to drive home their point by generalizing the other’s ideas and convictions with labels meant to belittle and even demonize. Neither likes the others jabs, as each dig gets more personal and closer to home.
Emotions are up and the friendship is straining, but the level of conviction drives them on, to the point of division. Internally, each is conflicted, as each knows, deep inside, that the other is truly more important to them than the chasm they are creating, but neither knows how to slacken the tension, fearing they may appear in retreat or lacking complete conviction.
Ultimately, one turns and, with a snort, declares the other unbearably lost and beyond the pale. The other, frustrated by missing the opportunity to take the last word, shouts painful epitaphs at his retreating friend. Both withdraw, mumbling to themselves as the emotions ebb and the inevitable regret begins to set in.
The pain has accomplished nothing. The friendship goes on hiatus. Another tear in the fabric of their souls. Each silently swears they’ll never let it happen again. But they likely will.
Polarized we are. The rancor is at a fever pitch. Accusation rules the day. In homes. In businesses. In civic settings at every level. In media. The call for justice by folks on all sides of any issue has never been more intense. Blame. Shame. Ridicule. Disgust. Humiliation. Derision. And all of that compounded by an inevitable sense of foreboding, hopelessness and despair.
Often it feels like being stuck in the middle of a bare-knuckled, verbal brawl. And, sadly, since we’re all equipped with tongue, we can all participate... and quite often do.
At this point, there are some popular platitudes that are often prescribed. None are necessarily wrong, but they prove feeble as they typically call us to live moderately or generously, or simply passively. The problems seem simple enough, but, in real life, it’s never really like that. Ignoring, pacifying, or stuffing it is only a band-aid, because inside we’re either dying or fuming. And growing apart.
If I were the Enemy, I suspect I’d be all over this. And instigating more. At the risk of adding my own over-simplified platitudes, I would suggest that somewhere in the family of God, there needs to be some insulation from this kind of thing. Not that Christians should strive to “be above” the rancor, but maybe instead, below it.
It’s pretty incredible how Jesus-followers -- all who we presume have read the books describing the life and teaching of Jesus (we call them Gospels) -- somehow manage to gain the reputation of being narrow-minded and bigoted. The Jesus we’re looking at in the book of John seems completely taken by the grubby sinners he encounters and, in the same encounters, rolls out some pretty strong words for the religiously high-minded around him. And he does this consistently! In our self-centered ‘piety’, we somehow become polarizers not unlike the (former?) friends mentioned above . We might even cite our own causes for the degradation of society as justification for our righteous indignation, which often leads us to smugly separate ourselves from folks who live ‘worldly’ all the while freely blaming them for the decay of our society. Makes sense. But what if we’re wrong?
It seems logical that disciples of Jesus would follow His lead when it came to making disciples; doing His work the way He did it. If that’s true, then perhaps we’ve made a mistake when we shrink away from relationships and interaction with people other than those who are already in the family. Not only did Jesus hang around these folks, he seemed rather at ease with them.
Remember that the religiously-minded of his day criticized Him specifically for being too involved with those they deemed ‘beneath’ themselves! Jesus recounts these criticisms as He challenges their thinking; “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19) Earlier, Jesus questioned a Jewish leader who was critical of Jesus when he tenderly encouraged a ‘sinful’ woman who anointed Jesus’ feet as she wept in repentance (Luke 7:36-50). It’s almost like Jesus actually enjoyed them... imagine that!?
As we move ahead, I’m challenged by the fact that we’re called to the same. Jesus made it clear that he never expected people who didn’t know Him to behave any differently than they did. It’s pretty obvious that His process started with knowing their Heavenly Father and then becoming a member of the family before the process of being a disciple would initiate the transformation to become like Jesus. Adopting new members into a family can be a messy thing since everyone comes with their own background and spiritual DNA. Which might help us understand our tendency to make the church what we like, guarding the doors from the messiness outside, instead of welcoming them home where their Father and the family can help them heal and grow into maturity.
The conversations were real. Even intense sometimes! And we could go on for hours if nobody interrupted. Close? We were really close. But somehow I don’t remember his name. Weird! As important as he was at the time, I probably could have gotten along fine without him. Which probably explains why I jettisoned him somewhere along the way. Imaginary Friends make the preschool years just a bit more manageable. And that’s a fact.
In the intervening years, I’ve come to appreciate most of the folks who’ve crossed my path, and come to cherish the many who’ve become friends. Real friends. The kind that are anything but imaginary. Like glue. Reliable no matter what your season; no matter what messes you find yourself slogging through... always there.
At this point, I think I’m supposed to add something like, “You know what I mean.” But I won’t, because I’m learning that not everybody knows what I mean. Over the past several months, I’ve had several conversations with people whose ‘friend’ experiences aren’t like this. They watch quietly from the sidelines as others seem to make friends effortlessly and wonder what that’s like. It’s not a jealousy thing, or even envy, it’s just not something that happens for them. At least not easily.
As I’ve listened, I found out that many of them have endured some really hard stuff, but after some exploration I realized that this wasn’t necessarily the issue. Not realizing how arrogant and insensitive I was, my extroverted self wondered, sometimes out loud, if they just lacked friend-making skills... you know, “Let me show you how it’s done, it’s so easy!” (What a schmuck). The reality is that they are wired differently. And this sometimes hurts because our culture tends to attach higher value to people who are at ease in crowds and who connect easily; even in the church.
I voiced this concern a few times earlier this year in our Sunday services, worried what unintentional messages we might be sending when it came to worship experiences and church culture. I remember wondering if there were folks at FCC who were coming, watching, feigning a sense of ease or belonging, and leaving more empty or desperate than when they came. Nobody ever affirmed this directly, but that it continued gnawing at me made me think there was something to it. And there was.
The confirmation came in the form of a book recommended by my sister, Dondi, and her daughter, Austin (my niece & Word With Friends nemesis). The title was intriguing enough; “Blessed Are The Misfits,” by Brant Hansen. But it was the subtitle, “Great News for Believers Who Are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They're Missing Something,” drew me in. The author, Christian talk-show host Brant Hansen, opens the book by explaining that he had never felt comfortable with modern church culture and had come to the point of assuming he was just a misfit who never would.
It’s compelling as he unpacks the ‘why’ of his disconnection, because in the reading you begin to realize that he represents a considerable number of people who either attend church but struggle deeply with not fitting in or, worse, simply move on, unable to overcome the disconnect. They often feel like there’s something wrong with them, especially when they are regularly urged to being more expressive and outgoing... “like us!”. It was hard to hear, especially since connecting has typically been easy for me. How much I didn’t understand or even care to.
I won’t attempt to tell you the rest of the story because I wouldn’t do it justice and, honestly, I’d like you to read the book, too. As I consider Jesus’ command to love God and to love others like God does, I can’t escape the sense that I’ve got some work to do. And, collectively, we have some work to do. Loving others like Jesus does will continue to challenge and stretch us to make a safe place for those who feel odd or out of sync with the way we’ve been doing it, but we’re His family and Father is calling us out. For the sake of others. For the sake of the Kingdom.
Eating breakfast in the greasy spoon restaurant in Clackamas on our way to a Cruise-In, Woody interrupted my conversation with another of his friends and quipped, “You’re a motorhead, aren’t you?” His words made me smile. His eyes twinkling, he went on, “I’ve never met a pastor who was a real motorhead.” (Definition: ‘motorhead’ - “someone who spends an inordinate amount of time in -- and derives a great deal of pleasure from -- thinking, talking, reading, fixing & hopping up any and all vehicles with motors or engines”). That really made me grin, mostly because I’d never met a worship band director who was a true motorhead!* With that, I had to disappoint him just a little by explaining that my interests stretched to anything with wheels, since I also have a passion for bicycling. Fact is, I even get a kick out of Pinewood Derby cars! If it rolls, I’m in... and the faster the better!
So imagine how cool it was when I came across a way to share FCC’s vision in the form of a wheel! (Remember: If it rolls, I’m in!) As we head through the summer, we’ll continue to unpack the nuts and bolts (motorhead talk) of becoming a church that Makes Disciples Who Make Disciples.
The wheel illustration is derived from Jesus words in Matthew 28:19-20, often called the Great Commission: “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.” It’s a pretty straightforward plan, and it worked incredibly well from the very beginning. Those early disciples pretty much turned the world upside down in a matter of a few generations!
So what about the wheel? Take a look:
The wheel illustrates the process of growth and commitment each follower of Jesus makes when they journey into becoming a true disciple. We all started spiritually dead, no matter how great we might have thought of ourselves in those days. What changed it all was surrendering our lives to the Good News (Gospel) that God had made a way back to himself through Jesus, who lived the life we couldn’t live, and died the death we had earned, so we could be adopted as kids into God’s family! So we were born... again!
What happens from our infancy depends on a number of factors, but generally our growth is dependent, like that of children, on our nurture and our will. The folks who showed us the way to Jesus are tasked with the responsibility of raising us up to maturity, but we have to be willing to go there!
The three quadrants that follow describe our growth in Jesus. The Child is, as kids are, self-centered and focused on what they want and what they get from Father and the rest of the family. They are pretty heavy into expectations, and determine if they are pleased or unhappy based on how they like things and whether their needs are being met. They show little interest in the deeper things of God, and find the rigors of growing and changing laborious and even taxing! This is normal for new Christians, but was never meant to be a stopping point. Every church has at least a few longtime members who have never gotten past this stage. Enough said about that, at least for now!
Young Adults have turned the corner in their lives, as they are stepping up to serve and doing so with excitement. They have also become motivated learners, enjoy studying and have even began taking responsibility for their own walk with God. They are eager for mentoring, willing to be corrected and motivated to grow. Young Adults really love Jesus, are eager worshipers, and find themselves quite naturally telling people about their faith They naturally complain less, as they are sensing the big picture and see their gifts and time as essential investments in building Jesus’ family. They are a delight to others in the church and truly bless those who they serve. They are also a joy to those who disciple and lead them.
Parents are all the things already described in the Young Adult brought to maturity and possessing the crucial character and skills of multiplication. Their eyes are now on the complete mission of the church and they are sold out to seeing it through. Parents are consistently sharing their faith, and are equipped and enthused by the responsibility of pouring their lives into (discipling) this new generation. Their great joy is to guide others through these same stages of growth -- around the wheel again -- until they, too, become multipliers.
The Wheel is a simple way of envisioning where we’re going at FCC. If you’re already a Christian, you can also use it to evaluate where you are in this process. As we roll (remember, if it rolls, I’m in!) through the summer, listen for opportunities to plug in, regardless of where you fall on the wheel. Whether you realize that you’ve not really grown and needs a Discipler in your life or if you’re a Parent; mature in Christ with a desire to begin leading others to Jesus and to that same maturity you’ve already experienced. As always, stay tuned!
*For those who never met him, Woody Aanestad was an incredibly gifted and skilled musician, band director and worship leader who faithfully served us at FCC for nearly 13 years before he graduated to heaven... many of us still miss him greatly!
Spine tingling! Awesome! Changed my life! Amazing! Blew my mind! The guys were absolutely exhausted but totally wired up as they piled into the vans and SUV’s for the overnight drive to our homes seven hours north. Even a midnight traffic stoppage for bridge construction couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm. As we drove through the night, one by one the guys dozed off until I was left alone with my thoughts and reflections. If you’re awake, night driving on a nearly deserted interstate can be pretty cool, especially when you’re fresh from an experience like nothing you’ve ever had before.
That was May of 1994 at Anaheim Stadium. About 40 of us from our church in suburban Sacramento had traveled to Promise Keepers on Friday morning, not sure what to expect. It really was amazing... and all those other things. The music was indescribable with more than 64,000 men moved by the Holy Spirit singing... loudly! Even the timid guys were belting it out! It was cool, but the stuff I continued to mull over on that quiet overnight drive were the messages. Some of that teaching was so crucial it still influences my thinking today. Some of it really didn’t connect. And some went into a file for later... in some cases way later! Like 20+ years later. Like the teaching on ‘The Three Essential Men for Every Man to Fulfill His Mission’, which came rattling back through my brain a few weeks ago.
The Three-Others were, in simple terms, a Peer to walk with us, a Mentor who disciples us, and another believer to whom we are a Mentor. Being a men’s conference, the teachers used a men from the Bible to help us process it, but the principles apply to everyone.
As we’ve embraced Jesus’ call to become a church that intentionally makes disciples who make disciples, this simple principle found it’s way back into my thought process. It makes so much sense, and can be put into action by anyone of any age from JH students to Super Citizens. Not to dwell on “what if’s”, but I’ve been pondering how much more I might have grown and influenced others if I had been more intentional in the intervening years... But wait, there’s more!
Last week, as I was ruminating on this blog entry, I ended up on the phone with my friend, Sean Thome. Sean heads up the church planting and pastor mentoring ministry, NWCEA, in the Willamette Valley and is coming to teach here at FCC on May 27 & June 3. As we were discussing his insights into the process of disciple-making, I mentioned that I was preparing to write on this Three-Others principle, and he responded that it really should be Five-Others, not just Three. Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate and I loved what he said.
He noted that there was a missing element at both ends of the original three. Starting with the obvious, he said every Christian must start with a solid relationship with God! (Insert forehead smack: Duh... why didn’t I see that!?). Rightly he noted that the richness we intend for the other relationships are a direct reflection of how closely we walk with God. If we’re tight with the Father, we will walk in humble teachability and wisdom. With that, Sean moved to the other end, the fifth relationship every one of us need: Someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus. In keeping with the other three, he represented this person with the biblical character of Zacchaeus, a man who was not a follower, but had a genuine interest in what Jesus was about.
It’s a fact that people like Zacchaeus are often the most overlooked folks by those who are already believers. I won’t imagine what all the reasons would be, but I’ll highlight one: The perception that folks aren’t ready for discipling until they make the commitment to follow Jesus. Using Zacchaeus as an example, we realize that his interest in Jesus predated his conversion by quite some time. He clearly knew of Jesus and had likely even heard his teaching or witnessed miracles some time previous to his actual conversion. He was probably a friend of the Matthew, a fellow tax-collector who had left to became a disciple of Jesus. Regardless, God’s Spirit had clearly working in his life prior to his commitment. His eagerness to surrender his life to Jesus was already in play by the time Jesus came back through town. Just like the Spirit will be working on our friends and family members... way ahead of us!
Give it some thought. Five key relationships. But go the next step. Begin making plans, in deliberate prayer and action, to put these folks in place in your life. Go and get it started... and then watch your life change!
Interesting conversation, it was. A dear friend of mine asked if we could meet and talk about his need for repentance. Curious as I was, my heart was instantly heavy, imagining what might be on his mind. I’ve always admired him for his utter transparency and I know his heart for what’s right and good, but it still seemed a bit ominous. Imagining some kind of looming crisis, I prayed for peace and moved forward to the meeting. Now, there are two kinds of imagination: One is a holy imagining where, by seeing a bigger picture beyond the immediate, we’re empowered as we slog through the muck of our lives with peace and confidence because we know the Father’s faithfulness. The other, much less holy, takes our thoughts to a negative and anxious places, leaving us full of dread or loathing. Yes, that’s where I went.
I should have known, of course! Leave it to my dear brother to bring something completely unexpected. It was a simple, but profound, insight. Typically, his request for forgiveness was untarnished and without condition: Simply that the Lord would restore him back to humility and forgive his desire to be recognized for his skills in the performing arts. Let me interject here that he is greatly gifted in these ways. He had, in his typically humble way, come to realize that his desire to be recognized was quietly siphoning away credit from God. I wouldn’t have known. His prayer concluded by declaring that all that mattered to him was his identity as a son of the Heavenly Father... and nothing else. It was priceless, and, as I said, profound.
Listening as he poured out his heart in prayer, reminding himself (and me) that all of his skills, abilities and gifts were from the Lord alone, I felt a twinge of holy guilt resonating in my spirit. How easy it is to imagine that us getting recognized is somehow good for God’s Kingdom! In fact, just writing that reminds me how ludicrous that really is! As he prayed, I began doing a bit of self-inventory. It really didn’t take long, as I was immediately reminded of my own battle with the same temptation. So, our meeting became a time of mutual confession and repentance, ending by exchanging reminders to keep our pride and desire for recognition in check through prayer and accountability. Certainly not what I expected, but that’s the way of our Father. He loves us too much to let us stay distracted or in sin. And, concurrently, we love Him so much that we are humbled to listen and obey when He illuminates an issue.
As I reflect on our meeting, Solomon’s familiar saying came to mind, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). That simple idea was at work in that meeting. My brother, in his humility and through the Holy Spirit, drew me to a clearer understanding and deeper conviction of my spiritual gifts and the defective attitudes deep in the recesses of my mind. Thus, we both left stronger and sharper than before we met. The writer of Hebrews says a similar thing, but with an even a more deliberate quality, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). In other words, purposefully tune your mind, ponder, consider how to help each other move closer to Christian maturity.
When it comes to being disciples of Jesus, fostering a few of these deep, trusting peer-to-peer relationship is essential to growing. One who walks out your journey alongside you. One who knows your stuff. One who has your back, but from whom you can’t hide. One who loves you as you are, but has been given permission to call you out when you need to hear it. One who reminds you of the Father’s heart and the ways of Jesus. Deliberately. On purpose. By design.
My old friend Leonard and I started this process together back in 1990 by asking each other four specific, ‘can’t squirm out of it’ questions each week. We asked about our devotional life, about our marriage, about the purity of our private thoughts, and then concluded by asking if we had lied about any of the previous questions! One guy joined us but then quit because he didn’t like to answer for his stuff! Over time, we didn’t even have to ask the questions because we would come primed to discuss where we were going in each area. When one of us confessed, the other would follow up with, “How are you going to take to deal with that?” The next time we met, we’d start with a report on how we followed through. Over the course of 9+ years, a lot of garbage got cut out of our lives because there was no comfortable way for it to stay.
Sound a bit intimidating? It is. It think it’s the vulnerability that gets to us. But we gotta’ have it. We flounder without it, too easily glossing over the stuff that’s getting in the way of God’s intentions, and finding it easy to ignore the Holy Spirit’s prompting. It takes a bit of time to get to the place where we were, but oh, was it is good. Give it some thought. It’s time.
It was a classic scene repeated in with little variation in spoof movies and sketch comedy many decades ago. The scene always seemed always to focus on the good doctor, one leg slung casually over the other, looking rather bored, sketch pad in hand, occasionally jotting notes, and eventually mugging the camera in mock disgust as the conflicted patient lay on the couch, face contorted with anxiety, pouring out some minor tale of woe that had been ridiculously inflated to the point of crisis. The gag line varied little, perhaps accompanied by a different look or nuance, as the overwrought patient finally paused for a breath, the doctor would mutter, deadpan and clinically, “And how does that make you feel?” The effect was humorous, as the poor patient, becoming ever more agitated and distraught each time the doctor, never offering advice or counsel, repeated the question again. So the sketch would continue, the culmination coming with some kind of assault upon the doctor (in good fun, I promise) or with the patient running from the set completely out of their mind in frustration and despair.
While I recognize there is a legitimate need for good counseling (I’ve been grateful for the many good counselors who have poured out their lives in my behalf on many occasions) and that there is nothing light-hearted about mental illness, what made it funny to me, as a teen and young adult, was the obvious jab at our cultures’ compulsion to make feelings the most important factor in life. Living that way can certainly lead to trouble. After all, we know how feelings can skew our perceptions of others, steer us to unwise choices, and even affect our health, right?
In the smugness of my youth, however, I forgot one important thing: Feelings are real. “Feelings can’t be trusted,” I would say to myself, trying to mask my youthful pride behind a face of intense thought and a rational posture. And I’m sure the irony is not lost on anyone who knows me, since I tend to leak rather profusely at even the sappiest commercials or a hint of family sentiment. It was a tough act, trying so hard to appear detached and objective while all the while a bundle of, well, feelings!
In the context of real, day-to-day life, the issue isn’t just feelings, it’s their origin. In my thinking, feelings are the tentacles of emotion - the outgrowth, the expression. Remember, by the way, emotions were created by our Heavenly Father! This being true, then the outcome depends on we’re feeding our minds and our emotional state. Thus, some feelings are good, helpful, and even true. Like the joy of a newborn baby or the elation of realizing that you really are God’s kid! Others, though, not so much. Like bitterness, which causes utter corrosion of the soul on every level.
As I’ve been considering Jesus’ call to be a disciple who also makes disciples (who make disciples), it struck me how crucial it is to understand the human heart as we build relationships with new followers and not-yet-followers. Our current study in the book of John portrays Jesus as the master of taking people right where they were and presenting truth in a way that helped them see things clearly. They sensed the True Life that He carried. The key was his compassion - he loved people first. Bad ideas and the crazy feelings they created were taken as they were. Never endorsed, just accepted at face value. That’s the way real love is.
His ability to speak into their lives wasn’t dependant whether they agreed or disagreed, but rather on whether he cared first. What set him apart from every other rabbi/teacher was that His internal compass was fixed somewhere much deeper than feelings, emotions, thoughts... his anchor was his Heavenly Father. That relationship is what compelled John to describe Jesus as “full of grace and truth”. Not a balance between them, but a fully integrated ‘fullness’ reflection of the Heavenly Father! The complete package -- full of grace & truth -- put skin on and came to live so we could reflect the Father, too! Pretty amazing.
Even as we stumble and falter, we still bear the reflection -- His grace and His truth. We’re compelled to tell about Him. Even to those who oppose it. Gracious to the wounded, compassionate to the lonely, and a challenger to the self-righteous. He loved them all enough to share all of his life and shepherded those who would become followers until they became followers, too. We’re called to the same; take people where they are, love them like He did, and, when He opens the door, offer them His story of grace and truth. And, even if they never respond, love them anyway, just like He did.
Maybe you know that awkward moment? It sneaks up on you when, in casual conversation, a friend or family member makes a comment or asks a question about something or somebody and you realize you really don’t have a clear comment than you can muster on the spot? It’s one of those weird things, assuming that the person, thing, or organization they mentioned is important to you, but you find yourself fumbling for words or some kind of explanation of why it’s significant in your life. Whether it’s the great aunt who hardly remembers you or maybe an old club you’ve been a member of for decades. They are a crucial part of your life but you sometimes have a hard time expressing exactly ‘why’.
This happened to me last year, and it was a little embarrassing, considering what I do. Somebody asked me about the distinguishing characteristics of FCC and what made it important to those who were a part of it. Simple enough... right? I immediately started talking (quite natural, as you know!), but realized after a few sentences that I didn’t really have an succinct answer to the question. Feeling very inarticulate, I fumbled through ideas like good friendships, the sense of family, our efforts in reaching families, and our commitment to solid bible teaching, all the while very aware that I was just rambling.
The conversation went on to other things, but it left me pondering several questions. Was our purpose really that fuzzy? What would other members of the congregation say? Was my answer even to the point... or really more of an loose assemblage of ideas mashed together simply because...?
As I mulled all of this around, I was struck by the possibility that, if we asked the same question of other FCC folks, we might find as many answers as members. It even seemed likely, since I would typically assume the leaders should have a fairly clear sense of our purpose... don’t ya think!? Adding to the puzzle was the reality that, if this was really Jesus’ Church -- and not just some religious ‘family’ or club we could shape to our liking and our tastes -- then our purpose and goals should be a direct reflection of whatever He had set out for us and thus pretty simple to define. Then why the fuzzy? And why so many different answers, some which might even be opposed to one another!?
Thus the roots of our current journey. We decided to start with what Jesus said! Novel idea, this. While allowing for creative variation in how each of us might approach it -- depending on our diverse gifts, skills, and maturity levels -- Jesus laid down a rather straightforward and doable strategy. Recorded in Matthew 28, as He completed His ministry here on earth, He told those who he had raised up as disciples -- followers -- to replicate the process He had taken them through in others, teaching them to replicate themselves, and so on. To their credit, they took Him at His word, each leading individuals and small groups to become obedient, replicating followers. The result was they turned the world upside down in less than a generation. And the ripple effects are still in play today in any society or church who will do the same: Make followers who make followers who are equipped to make followers who are also equipped and so on.
Back to the conversation last year. Even though I did manage to muddle through, I keep thinking about how different it would have been if I had been taking Jesus seriously, not only in strategy but in practice. Not only would the strategy have been on the tip of my tongue, the stories of changed lives and families that resulted would naturally follow. Strategy, purpose and outcome all in one package. From embarrassed fumbling to enthusiastic reporting. On point instead of grasping for ideas. Clear purpose rather than a compilation of actions. That’s quite a change! And it represents exactly the mission that Jesus left for us in a much more authentic and appealing way. Stay tuned!
It’s probably happened to you, too. One of those conversations that leaves you kind of stunned because of the insight that came from it!? So it was with my rather new friend, Ed Wilgus, who serves as the Lead Pastor at Family Church in down in Sutherlin. I met Ed through Ty Travis last August when Ty and I traveled to Sutherlin to get a look at what Family Church was about. About 12 years ago, Family Church set its course on becoming an intentional Disciple-Making church. Ty had suggested that Ed might be a good resource for FCC’s transition, as Ed had been a key shepherd in their transition and was more than willing to share their story, insights, mistakes and ‘lessons learned’ with other churches who also wanted to become disciple-makers. He has already proven to be a great help!
A few weeks ago, Deb and I were heading for Southern Oregon to see some of our friends, so we made a lunch appointment with Ed and spent a couple of hours talking over the necessary transition steps that are needed in the near future. Now, Ed’s a doodler. By that I mean he carries out a lot of conversations while sketching out diagrams and illustrations on a yellow pad. It may not come as a complete surprise to you to note that this works great for guys like me, since I’ve always preferred books with pictures! Anyway, at one point, he drew three overlapping circles, each with a mathematical symbol in the middle. From there, he shared three ways of thinking into which every church fits. It looked something like this:
As he talked us through it, he started from the left, noting that any church in a ‘Declining’ season was usually very aware of it, likely a bit alarmed, but often at a loss as to how to turn it around. The same was true for churches in the ‘Plateauing’ stage; struggling but often uncertain on what to do about it. We’ve been there. We know. (In another book I recently read, it is estimated that more than half of American churches are in one of these two stages... and slipping. Yikers!)
Ed then described a church that is ‘Adding’ as what a church we would typically consider healthy, meaning that there is a sense that God is leading and things are in an upswing. Having been in this place before, it is pretty nice! Of course, with this in mind, we became immediately curious to really understand what was up with the Reproducing and Multiplying churches! I mean, really, if ‘Adding’ seems healthy, then what was he driving at!?
Before we went there, Ed outlined the common strategies for the ‘Adding’ church, which typically center around events and programs, pointing out that if the core purpose is simply addition, then the source of growth and the actual spiritual depth of the members can quite easily become less of a concern than perhaps intended. Deep breath. He noted that a strong ‘Adding’ church will often grow with very few new converts, instead relying on their momentum in local Christian community to provide growth. This isn’t as terrible as it might sound, it simply means that most Christians are accustomed to the ‘Adding’ paradigm and so tend to gravitate to whichever church is doing it best. Not too many new kids added to the Kingdom, but a lot of excitement for those moving from here to there!
With this in mind, then, Ed drew another picture and took us back to Jesus’ command in Matthew 28 to bring new people to Him, teaching them to be disciples who would in turn, introduce others to Him, and so on.
The transition takes a church through ‘Reproducing’ -- a first generation experience -- to ‘Multiplying’, where every generation of Jesus Followers are multiplying their Kingdom work by guiding new brothers and sisters to become disciple-makers just like themselves: Making Disciples who Make Disciples. Ed’s statistic here was stunning. Only 4% of North American churches are actually doing it this way. Seems odd, no, since this is the only ‘strategy’ Jesus ever gave!? Putting this into practice and basic math makes it clear how God’s church has often historically overtaken entire regions or even a countries... simply by taking Jesus at His word! Brand new brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family being equipped from Day One to do the same for others! I can’t wait!
Looking back at it, it’s been a bit of a puzzle for me to explain how my in 58+ years of involvement with churches, I hadn’t really taken this seriously! You’d think that somebody who has never known a day when they didn’t identify with Jesus and His church, even in seasons of drifting and doubts, would have picked up on a glaring omission. You’d think. But no, it slipped right by.
When we review Jesus’ final words to the disciples, he spoke what has become known as the ‘Great Commission.’ If you’ve been around God’s church for even a short amount of time, you’ve likely heard it quoted and maybe even discussed. It’s pretty simple: “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.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Pretty straightforward. Bring them to the point of surrendering their lives to Jesus. Baptize them. Then show them how to be a follower (‘disciple’) of Jesus, which includes teaching them to become disciple-makers on their own. Pretty straightforward, right? Indeed. But this points up the disconnect. In my 58 years, I’ve never been a part of a church that actually modeled this!
It’s almost embarrassing, since this is clearly what Jesus had in mind! And when it was the model, it worked very well. It’s obvious when we look at the exponential impact of the early church established by those first disciples as it rippled through the Roman Empire and created a titanic change in the culture itself. The world has never been the same. Reports of similar growth in the church in China today, while the church in the West languishes in mediocrity and decline, should cause us to ask, “What’s going on!?” Or maybe, “What’s gone wrong?”
It’s telling when we recognize that all the ideas and efforts the American church has employed over the past 30-40 years to shore up our decline haven’t really changed the outcome. We’re still waning. We tried political power, city-wide campaigns, church-growth schemes, and just about every other kind of marketing, but have little to show for it. It’s ironic is that these schemes always claimed to be the new/best way to do the Great Commission but typically side-stepped the very process Jesus described. Strange. And I still didn’t notice.
People like me have been taught to “do church” in a certain way for all of our lives and we got comfortable with it, even though only a handful of us were actually following Jesus’ stated process of making disciples who make disciples. Meanwhile, Jesus is known to fewer and fewer people, and the culture disintegrates before our eyes. And, I must confess, my tendency is to revert back to what I know simply because it’s what I know and what I’m familiar with. Something inside of me is pretty sure Jesus would suggest we get back to His process, not only because He set it in place, but also, because it’s what really works.
Disciples making disciples is the process that made that first-century church overrun the entire known world. It’s the process that is transforming China in spite of their government’s often brutal efforts to stamp it out (best estimates are that we have 100 million brothers and sisters in China!). All of this without the benefit of church buildings and paid staff. Wild!
So would you begin working through this for yourself? This isn’t a program. It’s not a scheme. It’s a process that starts with each of us looking with the eyes of Jesus around our scope of influence with the intention of becoming a disciple-maker in someone’s life. Or you might realize that you need someone to become that mentor in your life. It begins by building a reliable friendship and moves toward intentional growth. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct your eyes and He will! It can happen one-on-one or in a small-group setting. It all depends on the needs and personalities involved.
As you begin, know that the Disciple-Making Team will be working diligently to prepare training, support, direction, tools and resources for your journey, even as they become disciplers, too. Stay tuned!