Discipleship Part 3
By Jared & Laura King
Discipleship is one of the most important parts of the Christian life. Remember, discipleship is an intentional relationship where two or more people are working together to be WITH Jesus, to BECOME LIKE Jesus, and to DO what Jesus did. This is inherently the point of our churches, our relationships, our service, and all the things we choose to be a part of as communities of faith. If what we do is not leading people to look more like, act more like, and sound more like Jesus, then we need to really ask the question, is this about Jesus or is it about something else?
I really don’t like talking about or writing about the failings of kingdom work, particularly the failings of discipleship. I love sharing the inspirational, the parts of walking with Jesus that will change us and shape us for good. Those are fun things to discuss and share about. But there is a part of Church work and discipleship that we have to draw attention to if we want to be the best disciplers we can be who help people genuinely grow closer to Jesus. And that is the failings that can happen in our discipleship work, or more generically, our kingdom work.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this that the church world has had some pretty egregious failings over the past couple decades and, specifically, the last few years. Things like sexual abuse, sexism, racism, toxic leadership environments, and so much more have been called to light. Some of what has been discovered has been called “rumor” or “divisive” by people who believe bringing these types of things into the open will damage the church.
I believe this urging to “unity” by refusing to draw attention to detrimental systems and structures has often caused us to ignore or explain away things that should be addressed in the Christian world. If being WITH Jesus, becoming LIKE Jesus and DOING what Jesus did is what we are striving toward, then we should not ignore or cover up the things that cause us to do the opposite.
The 2 Most Common Failings of Discipleship
In the past 7 years living and working in Seattle I have seen both failings first hand. They are Narcissism and Burnout.
Narcissism often leads to abuse, toxic leadership, sexism, and personal fundamentalism that, when challenged, is met by anger and vitriol. Burnout is most often seen in people wanting to give up.
In March of this year, the Barna Group reported that 42% of pastors had considered quitting ministry in the past year. There are many culprits of this alarming statistic, however, one of them is undoubtedly an unhealthy view of needing to be the one who disciples and leads everyone on their journey with Jesus. “Going it alone” is often seen as a value of Christian virtue that allows the pastor or leader to be on a moral high ground above his lay-people. However, it is killing people’s ability to remain in places of leadership long term.
I want to start by discussing the most egregious and difficult failing…narcissism.
Some of you may have listened to the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast put out by Christianity today this time last year. This particular podcast chronicles the story of Marc Driscoll and his church in my backyard, Seattle, WA. This was a painful podcast for me to listen to. I have sat with and listened to countless people who walked away from faith because of a man who saw his brand as more important than the kingdom. I also found it disturbing to read Facebook posts or comments on other platforms from people, a lot of them pastors or leaders in churches, from around the country, who called the podcast out as divisive, speaking poorly about the church, or only out to gain some kind of moral high ground.
The problem with these is that the people who said those things didn't live in Seattle or know anyone personally who had experienced the atrocity of Driscoll’s legacy. When we hear from people in this city, we feel the weight and the pain of narcissist leadership in the kingdom.
When the Kingdom of God and the discipling of others becomes about “my brand” over helping form people into the image of Jesus, we have shifted the purpose and intent of discipleship off of Jesus and on to ourselves. This is what most often leads to narcissism.
In the top/down model of discipleship, narcissism, or wanting people to be with YOU, become like YOU, do what YOU do, can become very tempting. As I have lived and worked in Seattle, I have seen first hand the desire of narcissistic pastors to shape their churches to look more like themselves. It can be difficult to recognize because these same pastors and leaders will say they are living like Jesus, but define living like Jesus in a way that there is no space to live or act in a way that contradicts the person in power.
If you are unfamiliar with Marc Driscol or others like him, let me shed a bit of light on his story for you. Driscol imposed a way of living faithfully that mirrored his personal brand and harsh style. He sought to build churches that were highly aggressive toward non-masculine Christianity. As soon as someone questioned his leadership, they were fired, excommunicated, and cut off from the entire church. Forever.
This is obviously an extreme narcissistic tendency in leadership. However it rings true in smaller ways as well. In smaller examples, narcissism creeps its head up by making leadership and discipleship about the personality, brand, prestige and popularity of the one in charge. It becomes about power and control. Longing to see people loyal and subservient to you as the leader rather than to Jesus as savior. It almost always is masked by drawing people to “Jesus.” If you were to head north on I-5, the closer you get to Snohomish (a suburb of Seattle) you would see a giant billboard with the words “Sin Bad, Jesus Good, Come to Church” on the far right side of the billboard. The rest of the billboard is a giant image of the lead pastor holding a microphone as if speaking to a crowd.
When our image replaces the image of Jesus we have fallen into narcissism. (The photo above was pulled from that church's Facebook Page)
How can discipleship minimize narcissism?
The most obvious solution is to demand that people in leadership or discipleship roles actually be disciples themselves. One of Marc Driscol’s famous statements, which was also in the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast, was of him saying that he couldn’t be subservient or discipled by certain national Christian leaders because those leaders had smaller churches than he did. The moment we determine our own ability to be discipled based on the human and earthly success of our ministries is the moment we will fall deep into our own savior complex, believing that we are Jesus’ gift to the nations for their benefit and spiritual formation.
Second, we must constantly hold the truth and intent of discipleship before ourselves. Which is an intentional relationship where BOTH parties learn to BE With Jesus, BECOME LIKE Jesus, and DO what Jesus Did. The more we keep this intention in front of us, the more we will realize that WE are not the goal of another person’s discipleship. Jesus is the goal.
Finally, discipleship has to be paired with a deep sense of humility. None of us has completed our growth and discipleship with Jesus. We all have areas of our lives where we look less like Jesus than we should. As leaders, we must enter into discipleship relationships with a great sense of humility, believing that we have something to learn on the journey that will further shape our own hearts.
The second failing of discipleship is burnout. Probably a more common problem than narcissism is the feeling that “we can’t do this anymore.” It’s the feeling of being stretched so thin by caring and leading others that you throw your hands in the air and declare, “I’m Done.” Burnout is a very real problem created by a culture of top-down discipleship where the pastor or leaders are the only ones pouring themselves out and who never receive back from the people they are discipling.
If you remember the blog on discipleship as a web of relationships, we mentioned that discipleship is a horizontal line with Jesus in the middle pulling both people closer to himself. This model demands that we create vulnerability in our discipleship so that we are also, at moments, being filled and led by the people we are discipling. The web of relationships also sets you up to visually see who you can go to in order to be filled and cared for when things are difficult in your own life. You cannot and should not feel responsible for every person’s spiritual walk with Jesus. You are a guide who is going to train others to be people who disciple as well and help carry the burden. Paul talks about carrying one another’s burdens in Galatians 6. You cannot disciple every person you see or know. So teach other people to become disciplers as well.
I recently heard a pastor say that he and his wife have had no friends for 14 years. He was telling this to a church who was supporting him, as if it was a badge of honor to show how sacrificial they had been. When we see ourselves as “above” our people who can’t be discipled or cared for or friends with our people, we will almost always look around at a room of our friends and find ourselves standing alone. This should not be a place of joy for us, rather a place of deep failing. Friendship in ministry and life is critical. Discipleship can and should lead to deep friendships.
When both you and the person you are discipling are growing closer to Jesus, learning how to be WITH Jesus, BECOME LIKE Jesus, and Do what Jesus did, then friendship will be a natural outcome. And burnout will be far less frequent.
Guarding against burnout means that you will constantly be looking to hand off discipleship of others to the people around you. This can sound like you are skipping out on people’s discipleship. Isn’t it your responsibility to disciple them? No. It is your responsibility to help people get into discipling relationships, which often means passing the baton of their discipleship to someone else. The Church should be a place where we work to develop a culture of discipleship, a culture that trusts the people around you to help the people around them grow toward Jesus. This is certainly a place of vulnerability and great trust because it releases our control and empowers others to lead. This is exactly what we want for people, though: discipleship that intentionally creates opportunities for people to disciple and lead other people. It is the greatest way to create a culture where everyone is carrying the burdens of everyone else. This will help to minimize the burnout we experience from feeling like we are the only ones discipling the people in our church.
Discipleship is the key to forming deeply connected churches of people all growing toward Jesus together. But if we are not intentional, it can lead to these two common failings of narcissism and burnout.
Let’s be people who are intentionally working to grow closer to Jesus alongside the people we are discipling and who are actively working to minimize the pitfalls of narcissism and burnout in ourselves.
Discipleship, Part 2
By Jared & Laura King
Have you ever heard the song “Jesus is the Answer”? It goes something like this.
“Jesus is the answer for the world today, without him there’s no other, Jesus is the way.” If you grew up in church or have had any long term experience in churches that sing hymns then you know this song quite well. I love the simplicity of what it communicates. That our guide for life and faith is found in the person of Jesus.
When looking at what it means to “disciple” and to “be a disciple” there have been numerous methods and strategies developed for explaining what we are envisioning. Most of these strategies assume we are trying to look more like Jesus, which is the wrong order to start the discipleship process.
In the previous blog we mentioned John Mark Comer’s “Be WITH Jesus, become LIKE Jesus, DO what Jesus did” method for discipleship. We love this framework because it puts things in their proper order. A lot of discipleship strategies start with what we are supposed to DO and hope that will lead us to be WITH Jesus and become LIKE him. However, Jesus’ model begins with who we are as God’s children, being invited into God’s presence, and then as a result of that closeness with Jesus we are moved into the activity of Jesus.
When Jesus was baptized by John, he came out of the water and immediately heaven opened up and God declared that Jesus is his son, whom he loves, and in whom he is well pleased. Then the next section begins in Matthew 4:1 saying, “Then Jesus was led up by the spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil.” After Jesus’ testing, he began his ministry to humanity.
This sequence is important. God’s declaration of Jesus as his son whom he loves shows a deeply connected Father WITH his son. The season in the desert helped further form Jesus as the savior of the world. And as a result of who Jesus is WITH God and his forming as savior, he then stepped into the activity of God for the good of the world.
This WITH, BECOME LIKE, DO sequence is Jesus’ method for discipleship. He invited Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the others into closeness with him. He taught them, forming them into people who could carry the mission of Jesus, and then gave them moments to step into that mission before fully handing it over to them in Acts 1.
The sequence is critical because it seeks to form our character before our capacity. Too often we have leaders in the Christian world whose capacity far outpaces their character. In the next blog we will talk about the damage that takes place when this is the order.
But in this blog we want to show what it looks like to be WITH Jesus first in our discipleship and how that forms us into his image.
First, being WITH Jesus will cause us to be deeply shaped and motivated by love.
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Paul honed in on the simplicity of Jesus’ love. In 1 Cor. 13 he wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Without love as a starting block for discipleship we will miss everything else along the way. Discipleship begins by being shaped by the love of Jesus which then begins to cause us to look more and more like Jesus.
Second, being WITH Jesus will cause us to obediently follow his commands.
2 John 1:6 says “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”
It can sometimes feel too simple to say “obeying Jesus’ commands means we will love others.” But look at what Jesus himself says in John 15:9-17. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”
Jesus himself says his command is to love one another. The simplicity of Jesus is astounding. He says, if you want to remain WITH me then learn to love the people around you. Discipleship begins on the foundation of love. The love Jesus has for his people and the love we then have toward him and toward the people around us. If we miss this deeply critical truth about our discipleship then we will never BECOME LIKE Jesus and we will certainly not be able to effectively step into DOING the work of Jesus.
Be WITH Jesus. BECOME LIKE Jesus. DO what Jesus did. When we allow Jesus to be our guide this will be the method of our discipleship.
Discipleship As a Web of Relationship and Why This Is Important In Leading People in the 21st Century
Discipleship, Part 1
By Jared King
Discipleship…discipleship….discipleship. A word every church talks about and yet it seems like one of those elusive ideas that we all struggle to put our finger on. Every few years the church world hangs onto a new buzz word or idea. Books are written about this idea. Conferences title their big events after it. And churches seek to make themselves more focused on it. It’s not uncommon for “discipleship” to be one of these buzz words or ideas that pops up in christian and church culture every few years. Yet for all the ink that has been used writing about it and all the classes taught on discipleship, it seems, at least to me, that we still wrestle with what discipleship is, how our churches participate in it, how we as individuals make it a part of our lives.
Why is this?
We all know discipleship is important. Then why do we struggle to be disciple makers or to be disciples ourselves?
Laura and I had the opportunity this summer to build a “1 to 1 Discipleship” course for Lipscomb’s Hazelip School of Theology. It was a great experience. To build it we looked back at the seven years we have lived in Seattle working to start a new church. We are now several years into the life of our church and are discovering what we feel like is a useful, healthy, and effective understanding of discipleship. In the next few blogs we will share a bit of this discovery and, hopefully, it will serve you as you seek to be both a disciple of Jesus and to be a discipler of others.
How Do We Define Discipleship?
At its most basic understanding discipleship is an intentional relationship that encourages both parties to be WITH Jesus, BECOME like Jesus, and DO what Jesus did. John Mark Comer has been instrumental in helping us better understand some of the simple language of discipleship. At his church in Portland, Bridgetown Church, he taught a series with this framework of being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing what Jesus did. I’d encourage you to go listen to those teachings as they are excellent.
With this simple definition in mind we can begin to piece together some of the major elements of discipleship that are important for our 21st Century world. Namely, that discipleship is an intentional relationship with another person where both you and the person you are discipling are growing toward Jesus.
One of the greatest flaws we have committed in churches is teaching that discipleship is a top/down relationship where you sit on top and you are imparting your wisdom and knowledge of Jesus onto another person. This top/down kind of discipleship relationship has 2 main failings, that we will discuss in a couple weeks, which are narcissism and burnout. But beyond those two failings, the top/down model does not accurately describe the nature of two people walking together toward Jesus. But if it’s not a top/down model that is the best for discipleship, then what is the best model?
Discipleship As A Web of Relationships
The model we have used to describe discipleship is, what we have been calling, the “Web of Relationships.” If you draw a straight line and on one end write your name and the other write the name of a person you have a relationship with. The line between your two names is Jesus. What happens in discipleship is not that you pull someone else up to where you are in your relationship with Jesus. But rather it is Jesus pulling the two of you closer to him. As Jesus pulls the two of you closer to himself then the two of you actually grow in your relationship with one another as well.
This is the beauty of discipleship. Discipleship will bring you and another person closer together because Jesus is standing between each of you pulling each of you closer to himself. This means that each of you have something to bring to the discipleship relationship that Jesus will use to teach, develop, and grow you. In the top/down discipleship model discussed above, often the person who is the discipler is taught that there is either nothing for him/her to learn from the disciple, or, there may be regular everyday life things you can learn, just not spiritual things.
However, a discipleship relationship with you and another person on an even plane, with Jesus in the middle pulling each of you closer to himself, will naturally assume that, while one person may have been a Jesus follower for longer, both have something to learn about being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing what Jesus did. Fundamentally discipleship is about you, another person, and Jesus working to be WITH Jesus, BECOME like Jesus, and DO what Jesus did.
What Does a Relationship Web Look Like?
With this focus on the 3 relationships that make up discipleship (you, another person and Jesus as the connector between you both), we can begin picturing what a web of our relationships can look like. If this discipling line is one relationship, let’s begin to draw out all of our relationships in this way.
If you were to draw out a web of your relationships, you would start with your name in the middle. Then think of mentors and people who have discipled you in your life. Draw lines out from your name and at the end of the line write their names. They may or may not be currently discipling you. But somewhere along the way they served in that role for you. Then think of peers you have. Draw lines out from your name and write their names at the end. These peer relationships will have a lot of give and take in them. Some seasons you will more actively disciple them. While in others they will disciple you. Finally, think of people who see you as their mentor. Draw lines for them and write their names down. Hopefully what you begin to see is your web of relationships. And each line on this web, connecting you to some other person, represents Jesus as he is pulling both of you closer to himself.
How This Helps in the 21st Century
There are two really important points to consider about this Web of Relationships. First, this web should not overwhelm you and cause you to stress about all the people you have to disciple and make plans for their formal discipleship. There will always be people you are formally discipling with a greater sense of intentionality, planning, and teaching. However, with practice, what I hope you will find is that all your relationships will naturally become these mutually beneficial discipling relationships. The web of relationships should not cause you to feel overwhelmed but rather feel empowered.
The second important aspect of this web is to begin to see beyond your own web and realize that each person who is connected to you on your web has a web of relationships of their own. The more interconnectedness we have the more evenly the burden of discipleship is spread out. This is what discipleship is supposed to look like. Unfortunately, our church and Christian culture has created an unhealthy structure where the pressure to solve the problems of both the church and the individuals in the church rest primarily on the shoulders of the pastor. The pastor then not only has to carry all of his own struggles but all the struggles of the people in the church. But as you model your relationships in this discipling web you’ll begin to see people learn to do the same. And when you’re called away from your dinner table to help someone in crisis you’ll find that someone from your church has already invited them to dinner to listen, and someone else sent them an encouraging text, and so on. And there is nothing like the joy in seeing your people disciple one another.
Why This Matters
Changing our understanding of discipleship from a top/down model to a Web of Relationships matters a great deal. It means that we will accurately see ourselves as people who can learn from the person or people we are discipling. There has been a deeply troubling trend of narcissistic pastors and leaders in our nation. Again, we will talk about the major failings in a future blog. But this Web of Relationships will help us create less narcissistic pastors and leaders. It also helps eliminate burnout by sharing the burden of discipleship with more people. We have seen how effective this is numerous times in our ministry. When we allow people to be discipled by a plethora and diversity of individuals, we are setting them up for a lifetime of following Jesus. Churches, at times, have forgotten that discipleship is not a short term endeavor. Nor is it something you will be able to stick with for the entirety of a person’s life. Which makes helping people see their relationship web so valuable as you teach people to rely on a host of discipling relationships rather than one.
This also matters as it helps weed out the types of things that cause Christians to NOT look like Jesus. If we are to truly become like Jesus then we need a plurality of voices who help us see more than just a single (American, male, white, etc.) way of relating to Jesus.
Next time we will look at Jesus as our Guide to Discipleship.
By Caleb Borchers
Recently I’ve found myself more and more drawn to learning more about space exploration and various things that humanity is doing to understand the cosmos. The Webb Telescope’s images have caused me to wonder at the size of the universe. I am excited for the Artemis I to finally lift off, if it ever does! More recently, I was intrigued by the DART program. Essentially, NASA is learning how to aim unmanned space crafts at meteors to push them off course. While this may seem an enormous waste of time and money for many, it will be an imminently helpful program if we ever face a giant hunk of rock hurtling right for Earth!
The DART program has an incredible task in front of them. I struggle to hit the trash can with a balled up piece of paper. Calculating how to hit a football stadium sized piece of rock with a rocket golf cart at a distance of 7 million miles in the immense emptiness of space blows my mind. As I watched the video of the spacecraft approaching for impact it was aesthetically pleasing, like watching a golfer hit a tiny ball 300 yards directly into a hole just large enough to hold it. I can only imagine how much of that project was sitting with a calculator and doing the math, then checking it, then rechecking it . . .
Then my cynicism started to creep in. If we can knock meteors out of orbit 7 million miles away, why can’t people parallel park? Why is the grocery store parking lot full of people that can’t fit their SUV into the lines? More seriously, why do millions of pounds of food go bad while people starve? How hard is it to make sure every kid in our community gets a good education? My complaint isn’t a political one. I am not fussing that funding for NASA should go to other things. It is more a question of care and focus. Why do human beings aspire to greatness yet can hardly bring themselves to empty a clearly full trash can? Why are we drawn to the flashy stuff but struggle to bother with the mundane?
Our sermon series right now at The Feast Church is about following Jesus and the process of discipleship. One thing that we have been investigating is how we actually become more like Christ. Surely that transformation happens by the work of God’s Spirit, but we are also called to participate in the work. Our habits and routines make a difference in how quickly we grow. It has struck me that we all want to do the lofty thing (be like Jesus) but most of us avoid the detailed work that will actually help us to get there.
If we really want to care for people like Jesus, it requires us to spend time with people who need help! Learning compassion necessarily requires time with people who drain us because they feel so needy. We marvel at Jesus' forgiveness on the cross, but we get offended whenever someone hurts our feelings. How do you learn grace if no one does anything to you that requires forgiveness? We want to share our faith, but also never want to be in a conversation that gets awkward or risks someone misunderstanding our motivations. I sometimes tire of aphorisms, but you truly cannot make omelets without breaking eggs.
As I have explored this disconnection between our high aspirations and failed experience, I realize how much our pride is wrapped up in it all. Peter is the example disciple of the Synoptic Gospels, the POV character for the reader. He is chronically mocked or patronized in modern sermons and classes. “That old impetuous Peter, always sticking his foot in his mouth!” Increasingly I think that Peter gets a bad reputation. Early adopters, those who step out in faith, inherently will make mistakes. Was he impetuous or courageous? How much did he learn on the Sea of Galilee? How much did Bartholomew or James the Less learn? Trying things, messing up, and trying them again is how you learn. That is the grind of being a disciple. Many of us fail to grow because we chronically avoid experiences where we might fail, and thus avoid experiences where we might learn.
We never learn without grinding away at the mundane tasks. It is much easier to preach a sermon that finishes with some grand, obscure idea, like “Go be Christ in the world!” or “Let us transform our minds this week!” then it is to state the harsh reality of how that happens. Those goals are good and true. The reality of getting there, however, sounds more like, “Go change those diapers!” or “This week, eat lunch with that co-worker no one likes!” or “Finally have that conversation you are dreading!” People leave church much less enthused when you talk that way! But that kind of thing is what is required to succeed at the big tasks. They are the hours of math that helps you meet a goal 7 million miles away.
Paul Lived For the Lost
As we address the Church in Crisis, we have seen the importance of placing our identity in the Gospel story. With that foundation we have looked at how we can address our challenges as architects of something new rather than just workers in something old. We then learned how Paul built his Gospel network - through radical partnerships. We conclude today by seeing how much effort will be required to accomplish our mission.
How much effort is it worth to make a new friend so that you can share with them the love from Christ? What time is worth spending? What resources are worth sacrificing?
Paul thought this question deserved a long answer. To his young disciples in Corinth, he wrote 27 verses to communicate how much he valued loving people by introducing them to Christ, even when that love came at tremendous personal cost.
“We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ. … Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. … When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:12, 19, 22-24)
For Paul, sharing his faith was not optional. It was an obsession he could not shake. Though undoubtedly saved by grace, sharing his faith was the way he measured how much he had been receiving God’s grace. It was a way of measuring his relationship with Christ. If Christ’s work was the world, and if he was caught up in Christ, then surely his mission should be the world as well. It was not good enough to just be one of those who share faith, he wanted to be the very best. He didn’t want his disciples to be content at their level of love or faith sharing. Instead they too should strive “to win.” His measuring stick was not about the number of conversions. It was about how much he was willing to sacrifice. Sacrifice and selflessness – agape love -- was the measure of success.
Question: What are we sacrificing to share our faith?
Is loving sacrifice the measure of our success?
We certainly can point to a history of giving time and money to send others on mission (missionaries/evangelists/church planters). But has the sacrifice gone into a personal place for us as disciples? Am I willing to open my time, my heart, my pride for the sake of someone else? Has sharing faith gotten into the core of how I love others?
Let me share a somewhat embarrassing story that Jesus made right. Last fall I was growing a new front lawn. I’m a grass guy and I was excited about the progress. Thousands of light green seedlings were off to a good start. I was watching TV when I noticed someone in my front yard. I stood up to see a woman and her dog leaving the yard. The dog had just peed on my lawn. Now when I say on my lawn, I don't mean on the edges or on the corner. I mean she allowed her dog to come right next to my front door and urinated on my brand new lawn!
Immediately, I told myself “Okay, don’t yell. You can’t raise your voice. Love thy neighbor!” All this while the other part of my spirit felt more than a tad violated. I called out to her as she rounded the corner, "Excuse me!"
She popped her head back and came along with her pit bull in tow.
“Did you just allow your dog to pee on my lawn?”
She replied with no hesitation “Yeah, I really don't see what the big deal is . . . It's just grass.”
“Uhhhh…” I drew out the word looking for time and composure to deal with the shock of being told what offense being done to me is not a big deal. “Uh, okay but ya know I just spent a lot of money on this lawn that I just put in. I’m trying to make it nice. And I would really appreciate it in the future if you didn’t allow your dog to go to the bathroom on my lawn.”
With that little nudge she agreed. We said a few more words and went our separate ways.
Later that afternoon, when my engines had cooled off, I felt a penetrating word from the Lord.
“Bruce, you need to apologize.” I knew I needed to do it as sure I knew anything. Even if she was a little rude, her actions did not give me the right to be so judgmental. I was not loving my neighbor. I was not granting mercy the way Jesus gave it to me. I decided to apologize for my tone the next time I saw her. But she moved away before I saw her again, which saddened me. My chance to repair or improve our relationship was gone.
Or so I thought.
A few weeks later, I started getting Amazon packages to my front door that were not mine. They were for this neighbor at her old address. Now that I had her name, I looked her up on social media and contacted her to tell her I was holding her packages and she could pick them up.
She thanked me and asked, “By the way, which one of my old neighbors are you?”
She didn't know it was me! I sheepishly wrote, “I live in the gray cape, right next door.”
“Oh you’re the lawn guy!!”
I answered, “Yes, that’s me. Ya know I’ve been meaning to apologize to you about my attitude that day. I was too animated. I was too caught up in the moment. I am so sorry.”
To which she replied, “Oh no worries. It’s understandable. I get it.”
And thus began the friendship of Bruce and Brittany.
She wrote me back a few hours later to tell me she’d picked up the packages, “You guys are the cutest!! I LOVE your wife!” (Yes, Janet is the best, I’m thinking.) We chatted a bit more and she told me she was moving out west.
I immediately asked, “Would you like for me to pray for your success there?”
She enthusiastically responded, “Yes please!”
Brittany is now in Las Vegas. We are still in touch. It doesn't feel like our tales are over. I hope not at least! I sure have enjoyed loving her and look forward to sharing more of my faith with her.
Now how did that story happen? How did we turn our relationship from being gruff neighbors to being people who care about each other and can even pray for each other?
I’d say on my end we got there because, to coin a Paul-like phrase, “to those I wronged, I made my apology.” (Granted I wish I had not placed myself in a position where I needed to apologize, but I am confident in the grace of Jesus Christ!) Apologies are a tremendous foundation for new and restored relationships. Apologies communicate, “I’m not better than you.” They say, “I want to love. I’m sorry for how I hurt you. Let’s figure this out together.”
If the church in our time is going to make any headway in our mission, perhaps it would be good to start with some apologies. Paul was willing to sacrifice his very life for his countrymen and for nations he knew nothing of. Shouldn’t we at least be willing to sacrifice our lawns? And our pride?
I began this article pointing to how much effort it will require to accomplish our mission. It will require all of our heart. It will require considering others better than ourselves. It will require an admission by the church (to God and perhaps even to the world directly) that we have hurt our relationship with the world, that we have not been a consistent light of kindness and love, and that we need to ask for forgiveness. Now, here is the super news: God is rich and abundant in mercy! He can heal and make relationships where formerly there was none. He has done this for millennia and he can do it in our time as well.
May we respond well to the challenge of our times.
Paul and His Unlikely Partners
Recently I gained a new BFF. (Surely, I’m not the only one with multiple BFF’s?)
We are very different. She grew up in the multicultural city of New York in a vibrant Puerto Rican heritage. I grew up in the restrained American South, in the state that proudly housed the capital of the Civil War Confederacy. She is fully fluent in Spanish and English. I still struggle on when to use “lay” or “lie.” Her skin is brown. Mine is white. We have spent tens of thousands of work hours in different locations. She has worked in our local government for almost four decades. I grew up in a ministry family and have served the local church for nearly thirty years.
We should have nothing in common. Except that we do. The Son created us both. And on top of that, the Son has called us both to partner together for the Gospel. And we both love each other and love working together in the local church. I am so thankful for my partnership with Carolyn.
As we try to address the Church in Crisis we have seen the importance of placing your identity in the Gospel story. With that foundation in place, we looked at how you can address your challenges as an architect, the builder of a local church. Now that we know who we are, and what we have been empowered to build, a couple of questions naturally arise: How do we build the church? And what materials do we build with? Again, we can count on Paul to help us think through this problem. Paul expanded the Kingdom, not with a program but with the pinnacle of God’s creation: People.
“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. … So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:3-5, 7-8).
Paul never took his fellowship partners (κοινωνίᾳ in Phil. 1:5) for granted. They were sacred relationships. I’d argue the single greatest joy of Paul’s life, after his union with Jesus, was in unearthing and developing his partnerships for the Gospel. Though we may think of Paul’s contrarian nature, there is no doubt he had thousands of admirers and perhaps hundreds of partners who were actively sharing their time, money, strategy, and/or exposing themselves to great risk for the cause.
F. F. Bruce says the New Testament records over 70 names in what he dubs the Pauline Circle, the cadre of Paul’s associations/partners for the Gospel. In a pre-modern world, with no means of mass communication, no way of rapid travel, battling life and death, trans-regional obstacles, the accumulating of dozens and dozens of Gospel coworkers, hosts and financial supporters, who spanned the different cultures of the Mediterranean, is an astounding and unlikely accomplishment for a Jew and Pharisee. And of course the New Testament does not come close to naming all of Paul’s partners.
Paul, the Israelite scholar and gospel herald extraordinaire, had partners that no man of his breeding should have had. The entire Gentile mission and sponsors he developed from it are beyond unlikely; they were spiritually illegal. The number of women Paul worked with is so unlikely. Acts and the Epistles refer to at least 19 women who took part in advancing the Gospel. Paul lived with, dined with, and spiritually defended (Galatians 2:2-14) Gentiles, so much so he called himself "the apostle to the Gentiles" (Romans 11:13). Despite the differences and challenges, for Paul, developing these relationships was at the center of not only the strategy of the Gospel but also the very message of the Gospel.
Who are your unlikely partners for the Gospel in your local ministry context?
The Gospel should be collecting for us all kinds of people, with all kinds of different life stories. The Gospel is not just for some of us. It is for all of us - and it is especially needed by Christendom.
At Kairos Church Planting, where we see the Gospel story advancing and where we see new people being baptized in faith, we are seeing unlikely partnerships. We are seeing burgeoning international partnerships. We are seeing partnerships between churches and public schools and partnerships where ministers are embedded in police and fire departments. We are seeing where politics and political taboos are gladly back-seated for a grander story. We see unbelievers fighting domestic violence and are partnering with those in Christ because it is no longer about “them and us.” It’s just about us. We are seeing traditional Christians having food delivered to LGBTQ houses of compassion, because if the Gospel is the Gospel, we may come from different experiences. but what we have in common is greater than that which is different. Because the Gospel of Jesus destroys all walls of hostility and mistrust. It creates unlikely partners.
Unlikely partners were the means of the advance of the Gospel in the ancient world. Unlikely partners will be our means too.
Who are your unlikely partners? If you have few then ask, seek, and knock on the door of heaven and on the doors of your local community leaders. And the God of grace will give us an opportunity to be the means and the messengers of the mission we all so long to see accomplished.
Next time--Part 4, Living for the Lost
Paul the Architect
In part 1 we looked at how Paul responded to the people of God (Jesus-following Jews and-Jesus following Gentiles) when they found themselves in a time of crisis. The solution was to find identity. Once you know who you are and what you should be doing, you can address the crisis. Identity for Paul is the Gospel story. He no longer considered his former self alive; it passed away on the cross. A new self was born! But what does one do with the new self in Jesus?
As a kid I would read Acts and would be blown away by the person of Paul. Who was this guy? What kind of human travels and re-travels the ancient world in seemingly constant danger? Who gets shipwrecked? (Think about it, do you know anyone who has?) Who bobs up and down in open waters for a day, seemingly abandoned by God, and later willingly hoists another sail, after such epic trauma? Who gets tenderized via stoning, to the point of death, gets dragged out of town with the trash, only to stand up and walk right back into town? I get why people in Lystra regarded Paul as a god. Mere mortals don’t do these things. Truly Paul’s new self was caught up in Christ. Thus, Paul was the archetype missionary and reflection of Jesus. He would do anything – anything! – to be able to declare the Gospel which saved him.
Yet in my youthful hero worship of Paul the MIssionary I think I missed out on one of Paul’s most important job titles, one that we, the shepherds of the church in crisis, really need to see right now.
“Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. …
Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-13
Most translations render the original here (σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων) something akin to “skillful builder.” But Paul was more than a talented laborer. Though he was certainly that, Paul describes the builder here as the selector of building materials and the designer of the building. Those aren’t decisions day laborers get to make. This may be a new paradigm for you but Paul regarded himself as the literal translation of the original Greek - a “wise architect!”
Paul did not just see himself as an evangelist or even as a church planter. Paul saw himself as the architect of a church planting network. He had a definite plan for places where he wanted to work and for places he wanted to avoid. He was careful to revisit works he had started while also making time to start new faith communities. When he could not be physically present he wrote letters of instruction and encouragement to build up the network and he encouraged his churches to pass on his letters to other churches in his network. He had a team of apprentices he was purposely raising up to bolster the greater building project for Asia Minor. He leveraged burgeoning friendships with people he had never met to plant churches in places he had never been. These aren’t just the actions of a willing firebrand (though few have ever burned hotter). These are the actions of a thinker, a planner, and a designer for the skillful and strategic distribution of the greatest story ever told. Paul saw God as a planner and designer of masterpieces to be used for good works (Eph. 2:10) It should not surprise us that Paul tried to image God in the same way.
Now how can Paul the Architect be a game changer for us? By redefining our job in the present church crisis. No longer do we have to see ourselves as just willing servants, charged with the excruciating task of dispensing spiritual services to a dilapidating church, helpless to make systemic changes even though we know the system needs change. No, we too can become architects. We can rebuild the house with a new layout. We can become designers of new things, new faith communities, new approaches, selecting from the best of our materials to hand out a timeless faith for this place in time. Paul the Architect becomes a role model for our task for our time. If we can adopt this view of self, whose personal identity is in the Gospel story and whose job it is to distribute it with planning and network coordination, this would be a task not only worthy but also deeply fulfilling. God the architect has selected us for this time and place. Can we see our challenge afresh, becoming coordinated designers and builders of a new house for the lost of our generation?
Next time: Part 3, Partnerships for the Gospel
In a chaotic time, Paul clung to his personal identity
Have you ever lived in a time when church felt more uncertain? I have not. Over the past 2 years I have been blessed to have front row seats on nearly a dozen new church projects, and have had the opportunity to visit several established churches, and visit with dozens of church leaders, from coast to coast.
What word would I pick to describe the collective mood? … crisis. “What is happening to our church? Why is attendance so low? Why aren’t people here? How do we get our young people more interested? When can we get back to normal? Will we turn this around or is this a new normal? If we don’t do something soon, this church could die in a generation,” are very typical summary statements. Even in places that are growing, the growth seems tenuous. It feels the very structure of things we have taken for granted (e.g. paid full-time ministers, owning church buildings, Sunday and mid-week worship formats) are all of a sudden “on the table.”
To be honest I find “crisis” to be a fitting and appropriate description for our dilemma. Yes, I know God’s church will never fail in any eternal sense. It will not. But we have to be honest with ourselves. We have never seen the church in North America in a poorer state of health. Should we not have deep concern for her decline? And, a sense of crisis is not all bad. It is a blessing to recognize when something is in trouble. This awareness can get us emotional. It can spur us to immediate and necessary action to promote our long-term health.
What should we do when the church is in crisis?
A reading of Paul in the New Testament reveals a time of radical crisis and questioning of self-identity for the people of God. The covenant between God and his people, which was centrally unchanged for 1500 years, was going through unimagineable change. The changes were not tweaks or fresh coats of paint. Fundamental plates were shifting. Definitions of righteousness, worship, fellowship, and salvation were all on the table. Paul the missionary par excellence reflects on the crisis for the disciples in Galatia. They were in crisis because of what the church was becoming, because of what the people of God were losing, and because they feared the future. Feeling lost and anxious, Paul gives the church this compass point.
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. Galatians 2:20-21.
For Paul, the solution to the crisis - for a confused collective identity is to remind himself who he is first. So who is he? He is not what he used to be. He is what Jesus is doing inside of himself. He is someone who will live on this earth, trusting in Jesus, knowing Jesus loves him, because Jesus exchanged his own life for Paul’s. And Paul vows to never become blasé about the miracle that has happened. Grace can’t be swallowed up by crisis. This is personal. This is the paradigm. This is not just a theological point.
As we look to addressing our church crisis, it begins and ends with the Gospel, with the work of our Christ. It begins with a firm immovable foundation. A rock of love, grace, and trust. It begins by knowing who we are so we act positively in peace and not out of panic. In our time of church crisis, we must cling to the cross first. In our time of doubt we cling to the Gospel. And we clutch the cross with total confidence! We know it is the solution not just for our personal destiny but also for the collective destiny of God’s work here on earth is his church. If we cling to the Gospel, we can step forward with confidence, without fear, and without worry. This is how the first believers were launched and the world was transformed. This is how we should be launched too. Once the foundation is established we can then address the rest of God’s building - his church.
For next time: Part 2: Paul the Architect.
Right after having a difficult discussion with his 12 disciples in Luke 9, Jesus sent 70 others in pairs ahead of him to every town and place he was about to go.
He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to “kick out” workers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Do not carry a fanny pack with money, backpack, or flip flops; and do not stop to greet people on the way. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Shalom to this house!’ If there is a person of Shalom, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid.
"Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what they serve you; heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest”. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’"
In Luke 9:51 Jesus “turned his face toward Jerusalem.” As he followed the trade routes through Samaria it became clear to these villagers that he was not caught up in culture. Their rejection of Jesus created a stir with his disciples, yet Jesus reminded them that he had come to save all people, not just the Jewish nation. His challenge to three Samaritans who considered following him on this journey was a reminder that his ministry required focus, commitment, and a willingness to suffer. This hostile territory required stubborn and focused leaders.
Jesus sent his disciples into this hostile community. Samaritans had their own temple (Mt. Gerizzim), their own translation of the Torah, a culture that clung to witchcraft and idolatry, and typically distrusted and disliked Judeans. It is not until Acts 8 that we read of this community embracing the Good News of Jesus. However, Jesus saw the need to prepare them for the future by sending disciples to preach and teach in their villages.
Jesus described this community as a field that had fruit ready to harvest. Harvesting is hard work, must be done quickly, creates and requires “all hands-on deck.” Unfortunately, Jesus reminded them that there were “few hands-on deck.” The Greek clause in Luke 10:2 reads, “on the one hand there is a full harvest, but, on the other hand, there are only a few workers.”
This is the dilemma we face in ministry today.
None of this really matters to the Mission of God. Jesus sent his disciples into hostile territory with a simple request, ”Pray for the master of the harvest to ‘throw people out into the field’.”
The word we usually translate “send” is a Greek word that means to “kick out,” “cast out,” or “throw out.” Throughout the Bible God’s people have had to scatter to follow the original call to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). Whether it was languages around the tower of Babel, allotted land, exile, or fleeing Jerusalem of the murder of Stephen; God’s people have needed a “shove” to embrace missional life. For Jesus, the call to follow was a call to an active missional lifestyle.
He also asked the disciples to have both a public and intimate ministry. They were to stay in the home of a person of Shalom. While the Greek word in this text is “peace” the Jewish culture understood it as Shalom.
Shalom is more than peace—it includes justice, integrity, honor, and safety. Disciples were to find a man (and family) of integrity, justice, peace, love, and safety. In Samaria this would be important as it would be a base of operation for the disciples. They would eat what they were served (difficult for Jewish males in Samaria), serve the family and their extended connections, confront the evil in their area of influence, and bless the homeowner in the eyes of his community. In those homes with corruption, injustice, and lack of safety due to a person who was not “Shalom,” the disciples would publicly distance themselves from their influence and lifestyle by rejecting the behavior of the owner. This would clear Jesus of any accusations from the community. Additionally, the disciples' public display of justice would create space for other people of Shalom to invite them into their homes.
Finally, Jesus twice mentioned that the Kingdom of God was close. This is not a temporal event, but spatial. When Jesus’ disciples preach and live out their faith in hostile communities, they illustrate the presence of God’s Kingdom. When Jesus’ disciples get to work and harvest the crop, people see the presence of God. When Jesus’ disciples choose to do mission, rather than talk about it, they bring the presence of Jesus into any community.
Kairos Church Planting Support has experienced a tremendous surge of young couples and individuals seeking to join the harvest. During Covid, the Holy Spirit has responded to our prayers to “shove” workers our way. Our Discovery and Strategy Labs continue to be full; ministries have decided to “reboot” and found growth; our church plants are taking on interns and apprentices, and new works are preparing to begin. During these events we continue to receive requests from more and more interested disciples who feel the call to join the mission of Jesus. As with the disciples, an “all hands-on deck” ministry in the US is still met with a “few hands-on deck” pool of future leaders. However, we continue to pray, and the Lord is faithful.
Continue to pray for us as we train leaders to plant new churches in new places for new people. Please continue to offer praise to the Lord of the Harvest, who is always faithful in any time, season, and among hostile villages.
Here is our latest snail mail newsletter with lots of what's been happening the past couple of months. God's Spirit is moving and we are excited to be witnesses and participants in his work.
Download this newsletter for easier reading.