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Getting the Deacons on Board

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Getting the Deacons on Board

Blog 3 in the series “Obeying Jesus 1st Century Command in the 21st Century.” 
Blogs two through five address what needs to be done and how to do it in four scenes.

Pete, having been convinced that he should be discipling leaders in his church and knowing he will have to get others on board, decides to begin with the deacons of his church. At their next regularly-scheduled deacons’ meeting he begins with an interactive study in hopes of helping the deacons understand what he has come to believe: every believer should be a disciple-maker. The last deacon has arrived, everyone has been greeted, and Pete is ready to begin.

Pete: Hey guys, I’d like to get started tonight with a question that will lead us into our study. Here it is: ‘Am I really supposed to be making disciples?’ Now I’m not asking if I, Pete, am supposed to be making disciples. It’s a question for you—for all of us—to answer personally: Am I supposed to be making disciples?

Karl: (the chairman, speaks up first) Well, I guess so. (Pause) That’s what you want us to say, right?

Pete: Prove it.

Will: What? What do you mean?

Pete: That does seem to be the answer we think we should come up with: we’re all supposed to be making disciples, but prove it. What are Bible verses that would indicate that we all are to be making disciples?

As some grab their Bibles and begin leafing through them, Bob answers quickly: Matthew 28:19-20. It starts with “Go therefore, and make disciples.”

Sean: Okay, good. But is that verse for everybody? Didn’t Jesus share that with the 12 apostles? How do we know that verse is intended for everyone?

Pete: That’s a good question, Sean. I’d like to let an author I’ve been reading lately answer that. His name is Dale Losch. He’s the president of a small mission board called Crossworld. It’s a lengthy section, but I think it’s good. Here’s what he says: (Reading from his kindle)

The idea that the greatest of Jesus’ mandates should be reserved for a select few who spend years just preparing for a “missionary call to full-time, church-planting ministry” seems out of sync with two things: what I hear Christ saying and what I see the early disciples doing.

The very notion that there is such a thing as “full-time ministry” is one of the greatest disservices we in the West have done to the body of Christ. I have heard pastors and missionaries speak countless times of being “called to full-time ministry” as if it were some intermediate step between heaven and earth! We have wrongly communicated to 99 percent of Jesus’ followers that there are two classes of Christians—those who are “called to ministry” and everyone else. We have marginalized the vast majority of believers from actively participating in the Great Commission by essentially saying, “You can pray, you can give us your money, and you can even take a short-term trip. But leave the full-time missionary task to us professionals.”

I do not question that God gave to the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. But why did he give them? He did so “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service . . .” Ephesians 4:12a). The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase, “for the work of the ministry . . .” (emphasis added). Every single believer is called to do ministry![1]

Lee: (Letting out a low whistle.) I guess that passage is for all of us. Your job is to get us ready, Pastor Pete, but then we all are to do the ministry of discipling others.

Ron: (Holding up his Bible) I’ve got Matthew 9:38 here that says we are to pray the Lord of the Harvest will send forth laborers.

Pat: And in Luke 10:2 Jesus said since the harvest is so plentiful and the laborers are few, we should pray earnestly that laborers would be sent. These verses, along with John 20:21, (Reading, now) “As the Father sent me, even so I am sending you,” (Looking up from his Bible) all talk about people being sent. I guess that’s us.

Pete: It really is. In fact, instead of being only the apostles that went out to make disciples in the beginning, it was just the opposite. Acts 8:1-4 tells us that nearly everyone but the apostles left Jerusalem preaching as they went.

Karl: Seems you made a similar point a couple weeks back in your sermon, Pastor Pete. You told us how Paul—now you could call him one of those “professional preachers”—anyway, missionary Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, said those people were doing such a good job at making disciples that he didn’t have to say anything.

Pete: That’s right. 1 Thessalonians 1:8 tells how the word of the Lord had spread from them so much that “in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.”[2]

Lee: (Holding up his Bible.) I’ve got another verse here which seems to indicate that we all ought to be making disciples. (Lowering his Bible to read.) . . . and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Seems like missionary Paul challenges his disciple Timothy to make disciples of faithful men who were to continue the process and make even more disciples.”

Pete: Good. Thanks, Lee. So, it looks like we all are to be making disciples. Is that right? Do we all agree?

(Nods, affirmative answers and grunts of assent come from all around the table.)

Pete: So I’ve got another question: If you aren’t making disciples, why not?

(Silence reigns in the room while heads are lowered.)

Pete: We came up with plenty of indication from Jesus’ own words, the early disciples’ example, and encouragement from epistles. (And I’m sure there is more we could find.) So why aren’t we doing it; each of us making disciples?

Lee: (After a short pause) I know we are all feeling kind of bad right now, but maybe this will help: How many of you have been discipled; someone, in a systematic fashion, consciously made a concerted effort over a period of time to make a disciple out of you? As you know, I was a pastor for 40 years, but no one ever discipled me.

Karl: Yes, maybe we aren’t discipling others because we have never been discipled by anyone.

Pat: Yeah, we don’t know how.

Sean: I know I wouldn’t have a clue about where to begin!

Pete: I understand. I was never discipled either, but our missionary friend Jerry Sponaugle in Italy does it all the time. He has given me some suggestions.

But before we get to that, I wanted to say that I got to thinking about this, and some other verses came to mind that might help us. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is—what it was intended to do and how it is meant to be used.”[3] Well, I think that applies to us, too. According to what we’ve seen already, we are all disciple-makers—or at least we should be. So what is the purpose or what are the purposes of a disciple-maker? How does God mean to use us? Let’s look at these verses. Pat, open to 2 Corinthians 1:23-24; Sean, you have Titus 1:1; Ron, 2 Peter 1—I’ll have you read several verses there; and Lee, open to Colossians 2:7.

You see, I believe these verses were all written while Paul and Peter were in disciple-making mode. So, as they talk about why they acted a certain way or did the things they did in disciple-making mode, then they will be telling us a little (or a lot!) about the purpose of a disciple-maker. If we know the purpose behind being a disciple-maker, we should have some idea about what we ought to be doing. Right? Let’s take a look. Pat, read 2 Corinthians 1:23-24 for us, please.

Pat: (Sheepishly.) I have my J.B. Phillips paperback with me.

Pete: No problem! It will be great to hear the passage in a bit more of a vernacular style.

Pat: (Reading.) “No, I declare before God that it was to avoid hurting you that I did not come to Corinth. For though I am not responsible for your faith—your standing in God is your own affair—yet I can add to your happiness.”

Karl: Humph. I’m not sure I follow. What was going on there?

Pete: Good question. Paul was going to visit them again and had written to them about it, but in the end he didn’t come. The Corinthians were confused and apparently even complained about it. Paul was letting them know that he did want to come, but in the end decided against it. Even so, he wanted them to know that he did not “lord it over” their faith—he wasn’t trying to control them or be bossy—but he worked with them for their joy. They were responsible for their own walk of faith, but Paul, as the disciple-maker, could help them along. As Paul did that, he contributed to their joy, their happiness.

Pat: So, a purpose of discipling would be to help people grow in the joy of the Lord?

Pete: Yes, the joy of living for Jesus. Losch says, “God did not create us to simply experience a heartbeat, brainwaves, eating, sleeping, growing up, working, retiring, and dying. He created us for joy.”[4] From the Garden, to the Samaritan woman’s thirst for true life, to Jesus saying he came that we might have “life more abundant,” to His statement in John 17:3 that eternal life is knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent, it’s clear in Scripture that God created us for a joyful life. “In a few short words, Jesus essentially brings us right back to the beginning in the Garden of Eden. Life, eternal life, life as it was meant to be, is to know God—fully, satisfyingly, perfectly.”[5] If we are helping disciples to grow in Christ, we are contributing to their joy! Paul even told Timothy that better than being rich was being generous and sharing with others “so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”[6]

Sean: I could get excited about this!

Pete: Go ahead and read your verse and let’s learn more about why we should disciple.

Sean: Okay, I’m reading from Titus 1:1 in the ESV. (Reading) “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.”

Pete: A few weeks ago I read this verse and it really grabbed me. Paul tells Titus that he (Paul) does what he does for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones and their growth in truth and godly living. His purpose in doing what he did (making disciples) was so people would come to faith in Jesus, grow in their knowledge of Him, and be more like Him.[7] It hit me hard that this should be my reason for living: “for the faith of God’s elect” (to be bringing people to faith in Jesus), and “their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (to help them grow in their understanding and living out of God’s Word). That’s what got Paul up in the morning. It should be our motivation, too.

Ron: Whew! Helping people have joy by bringing them to Jesus and helping them grow. Making disciples could be very rewarding! What else?

Pete: Here’s where you will read a few verses from 2 Peter 1. Paul wasn’t the only one who made disciples who were to make more disciples. Peter did it, too. Read verses 3 to 11, Ron.

Ron: (Reading) His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Karl: That’s quite a passage. But I didn’t see anything about the purpose of disciple-making.

Pete: You’re right, Karl. These verses just give us the context. As we already saw, disciple-making will grow people in their knowledge of Jesus and their proper living. Verse three tells us that Jesus’ divine power gives us that ability to grow in knowledge and life skills. He then lists several of those life skills that should be ours and growing which, if we are disciples and are developing them (verse 8), will demonstrate that we are fruitful. Now notice what he says in verse 12. Ron?

Ron: (Reading again) “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.”

Pete: Do you see Peter’s purpose in that verse?

Karl: He wants to be continually reminding his readers of those qualities or life skills.

Pete: That’s right! And who are his readers?

All: His disciples.

Pete: Very good. Joy. Knowing Christ. Growing in the knowledge of Him and living like Him. These were key. But Peter thought it important to remind them of these things, also. Ron, can you read verses 13-15? And emphasize words you see that might relate to this reminding idea.

Ron: Sure. (Reading) I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” Whoa. Three times in four verses.

Pete: Yep. But in 3:1 he says it again: “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder.”

Pat: Peter didn’t have any qualms about reminding his disciples that his job was to remind them how to live for Jesus.

Ron: He even said he wrote both of his letters for that purpose—not just 2 Peter, but 1 Peter, too.

Sean: Hey, look at this! I was thumbing through Titus (I read from Titus 1:1 a bit ago.) and look what I found in Chapter 3, verse 1: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.” Paul considered reminding to be a part of the discipleship process, also.

Pete: He did, Sean, and I’m glad you pointed that out. I want to go back to Titus. But first, Lee, could you read your passage, Colossians 2:6-7?

Lee: Yes, here it is. (Reading) “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Pete: Paul doesn’t use the word “remind” here, but that is exactly what he is doing: reminding them that “as they received Christ Jesus” (rooted in Him), they were to walk in Him (built up and established in the faith) just as they were taught previously (reminding). This, I believe gives us a good transition to the type of material we may be able to use in the discipleship process. But before we consider that, how might we define discipling?

Sean: Contributing to people’s joy by bringing them to the point of faith in Jesus, developing their knowledge of, and living like Jesus.

Ron: (Quickly, right when Sean finishes.) Key word: Reminding.

Pete: Wow! You guys are good.

Karl: (Grinning) We had a good disciple-maker.

Pete: Titus 3 and 2 Peter 1 give great topics for discipleship, but it’s got to be more than just teaching. It’s spending time with people—life on life. Losch says, “Truth, relationship, and life are an incredibly powerful trio. Anyone who loves God’s Word supremely, loves people sacrificially, and shares life incarnationally will impact this world eternally.”[8]

Ron: I appreciate that emphasis. My wife led some ladies through a Bible study written by Becky Pippert recently. Pippert wrote in her study guide that the leader’s role “is not to be a ‘sage on the stage—but a guide on the side.’”[9] So we’re just fellow disciples in this whole process—leading at the time maybe—but learners along with those who would be our disciples, living life with them and impacting them for eternity.

Pete: You know, I’m beginning to see how powerful this can be. I regret that I have not emphasized this sooner in my own ministry. One of the books Jerry Sponaugle suggested I read was by a pastor named Randy Faulkner. In it he says “the personal investment of Barnabas in the life of Saul was a catalyst for propelling Saul’s own ministry of disciple-making and church planting.”[10] Barnabas lived life with Saul. He found a man he could spend time with and influence “and the extent and magnitude of that man’s influence far exceeded his own.”[11] Only God knows what one of you will go on to do or one of your disciples.[12]

Will: I have to admit I’ve been skeptical, and that’s why I’ve been quiet this whole time. But I’m in now. Disciple-making is for all of us, and we can make an impact. Pastor, you said you wanted to show us what might be taught in a disciple-making session. What about that?

Pete: Well, let’s save most of that for the next time we get together. We do have a fairly full agenda we still need to get through related to the needs of the church. But let me finish our discussion with a quick overview of possible subject matter. If disciple-making is life on life, bringing people to faith and helping them grow in their knowledge of and living like Jesus, and if “reminding” is a big part of that, then there are a lot of sources from which  we can get our material. Titus 3 and 2 Peter 1—where Paul and Peter say we must “remind” our disciples—have a whole list of characteristics about which disciples must be reminded.

            Also, think about Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. As we are accompanying our disciples through life, observing their growth . . .

Karl: (Interrupting) or lack of it.

Pete: Right. As we are accompanying our disciples, observing the growth in their lives or lack of it, we can deal with issues we see surface in their lives. We can use the four epistles I mentioned above to help us with those issues. Each of these parallel passages gives us lifestyle characteristics that need to be added or subtracted. These passages deal with the same ideas, but through different metaphors. Everybody open to one of those letters.

(Turning of pages)

Sean: Okay, I see. In Colossians Paul says to put off and put on.[13]

Pete: That’s right. We can observe our disciples’ lives and help them see what needs to be taken off—put out of their lives—and what needs to be put on—developed in their Christian walk.

Will: Ephesians says we need to walk a certain way and not to walk another way.

Pete: Give us an example of that.

Will: Sure, uh, in 4:17 it says we must not walk like the Gentiles any longer, in futility. Then in (Pausing, looking for the verse) . . .  5:2 it says we are to walk in love like Christ. In verse 8, it says we were darkness, but we now are light so we should walk as children of light. In 5:15 we are to be careful how we walk: not as unwise, but as wise.

Pete: Exactly! Anybody have one of the other books open?

Pat: Well, it looks like Galatians contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. I guess we would help our disciples to quit “working” at doing all those negative things: impurity, idolatry, sorcery—there’s quite a list of them (!)—and help them let the Spirit develop in them His fruit: love, joy, peace, etc.

Ron: Wow! I’ve always seen the difference between the list of “bad” things and the list of “good” things in that passage, but I never noticed the contrast between works and fruit.

Pete: Yes, Pat made a good catch there. Very insightful.

Lee: I have Philippians. Maybe we could just say Paul talks about living one way and not another in Philippians. In chapter two it looks like he contrasts selfish ambition and conceit with being of the same mind; looking only after your own interests with humility.

Pete: Great! All right, we really need to stop the study for today and get on to other deacon business. (As he hands out sheets of paper to everyone) I’m going to give you these sheets to be looking over until our next meeting. Think about how we might do discipleship with these passages. But also, remember: before we can deal with these issues in the life of someone, we need to see that person trust Jesus as personal savior first. Think about this: how do we address that need? What can we do and share with our unbelieving friends to bring them to the place they trust Christ as savior? Do you understand your assignments?

All: Yes. Got it. Yep. Okay!

Pete: Now, the first item of business on the agenda . . .

What About You?

Will you begin talking about what you have been learning with others? Will you share with them the importance of every believer being a disciple-maker?

Will you begin work to develop a plan for disciple-making in your church?

Will you talk with the leadership in your church, strategizing for disciple-making?

[1] Dale Losch, A Better Way, (Kansas City: UFM International, 2012), 14.

[2] Losch also makes this point on page 17 of A Better Way. He finishes that section of his book emphasizing that the apostles “were back in Jerusalem while the missionary movement was being carried out by ordinary believers.”

[3] C.S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost, (London: Oxford Press, 1942, 1961, 1969), 1.

[4] Losch, page 52.

[5] Ibid, page 63.

[6] “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

[7] Losch defines disciple as “one who is learning to live and love like Jesus and helps others to do the same.” A Better Way, page 80. That fits with what Pete is saying Paul did in making disciples.

[8] Losch, page 43.

[9] Rebecca Manley Pippert, Spirituality According to Jesus, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 53.

[10] Faulkner, 39.

[11] Ibid, 39-40.

[12] Andy Stanley at “Catalyst One Day” in Lancaster, PA, on November 5, 2015, said to a crowd of 2200 people, “Wouldn’t it have been cool if you discipled Rick Warren?  Or Billy Graham. Charles Stanley? Someone you disciple may be someone like one of these who goes on to greater things than you ever do.”

[13] Specifically, Paul says, “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. . . But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.” (Colossians 3:5, 8-9). He also says to put on “your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” and “you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (3:10, 12-14).

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