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For many years even saying the word “discipleship” raised suspicion. It is tempting to feel stuck today where we were stuck in the past. We aren’t stuck there anymore and we don’t need to act like we are. We can openly talk about discipleship, not because we “got over it” but because it is in the Bible and it is perfectly biblical.

And we are talking about it. Lots of people are talking about it. Movement is happening. Traction is being gained. From the New Day conference to and the Renew gathering to the work of and the National Disciple Making Forum…the discipleship movement is gaining steam. In an article two articles back, Scott Sager outlined how Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration (their lectureship) will focus on discipleship and making disciples this Summer. I don’t believe they will be the last. Other gatherings associate with Churches of Christ will eventually do the same because what God is doing is becoming so much in our faces it cannot be denied!

This is only just a start but it demonstrates that God is getting our attention. If you want to dwell on the past when it comes to discipleship don’t dwell on 30 years ago or 40 years ago (Crossroads)…dwell on 2000 years ago when making disciples was the norm. Dwell on 40 minutes ago when people all over the world were (and are) in Bible studies with non-believers. Movements are happening. The Spirit is working. The mantle of ministry is being passed from professionals to lay people. That is, by the way, the only way for a movement to be viral – you can’t have bottlenecks if you want to see viral.

It is all so refreshing and so hopeful. I am as hopeful about the future of Christianity as I have ever been in my life.

At a time when we point to so many things unhealthy in the way we “do church” here is something that is healthy. This is something Jesus told us he wants and somehow we turned discipleship into a teachings and attendance thing – we mapped his teaching onto our practice, rather than the other way around.

In the next 10 years we are going to see our people get healthier by engaging in this work. People are being trained right now and sent to make disciples, right in their own neighborhoods.

I asked God a year and a half ago to show me how to make disciples. I promised Him if he would show me, I would do it. People came out of the woodwork, unsolicited, to show me how. He will show you too. The resources exist. God put people to show us the way in our path decades ago – it is just now bearing fruit in our backyard.

So buckle up. Please be in prayer. Be in study. Read Jerry Trousdale. Read Kingdom Unleashed. Read Miraculous Movements. God is moving and His people are moving. I couldn’t be more excited! This is real. Watch and see.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual gathering in Washington D.C. hosted by members of Congress. It was a wonderful experience and I was grateful to receive the invitation. I was especially encouraged by the bipartisanship the event seemed to foster, as both Democrats and Republicans took the stage to read Scripture and pray together. But the highlight of the event for me was the keynote address delivered by Arthur C. Brooks, a social scientist, author, and Harvard professor. Brooks delivered a stirring monologue about our present culture of contempt and the ways in which it permeates our political discourse. This crisis of contempt and polarization, Brooks says, is tearing our society apart.

Perhaps you’ve noticed.

Brooks defined contempt with a quote from German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “the conviction of the utter worthlessness of another human being.” For decades, psychologist and marriage researcher John Gottman has been touting contempt as the kiss of death for married couples. Contempt can be measured both verbally and non-verbally: interruptions, biting sarcasm, constant criticism, and eye-rolling are some of the usual suspects. When interrupting, sarcasm, criticism, and eye-rolling become common at home, you probably want to call a marriage counselor. But when they take place in the political arena, we televise the whole thing and call it a presidential debate.
Brooks noted that contempt has reached a toxic level in our culture. We seem to have lost the ability to disagree well, content to simply retreat into our our respective ideological camps which function quite effectively as echo chambers of like-mindedness. And because we don’t spend very much time among people with whom we disagree, it becomes all too easy to label those individuals as “evil” or “stupid.” Or worse.

I was fully tracking with Brooks as he delivered his address. Like most Americans, I bear a few scars resulting from fractious political conversations with friends over the years. And like most Americans, I can point to several relationship casualties, friendships that ultimately could not stand the freight of our political differences. And like most Americans, this grieves me.
I found myself thinking, “What does the way forward look like?” And as Brooks delivered his speech, I expected him to advocate for greater tolerance for one another. We basically live in the golden age of tolerance; it is hailed as one of our highest cultural ideals. But shockingly, Brooks said tolerance is not the answer. The problem of contempt can only be solved one way: through love. Brooks said, “Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew didn’t say tolerate your enemies, he said love your enemies.”

The way forward isn’t greater tolerance or civility.

The way forward is love.
The way forward isn’t disagreeing less.
The way forward is disagreeing better.
The antidote to contempt — according to Brooks but, more importantly, according to Jesus — is to love one’s enemies. What I loved about Brooks’ speech was his desire to maintain the relevancy of the words of Jesus, even amid a political climate such as ours. All too often, we rush to easy reductionism when it comes to the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. “You can’t act that way in the real world,” we’ll say when Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek or go the second mile. We reduce the clear teaching of Jesus to the level of religious aphorism, as if whatever “spiritual” meaning we find there has no translation into tangible action. “Loving your enemies doesn’t work in the real world.”

Father, forgive us for presuming that we understand reality in a way that Jesus does not.

I appreciated Brooks reminding us that if Jesus is truly Lord as we claim, then His words are resonant with relevance today. If Jesus is truly the Lord that we believe Him to be, then He is the one with the proper view of reality, not me. His call to love my enemies comes to bear precisely in the midst of fractious, contemptuous contexts such as our current moment. To paraphrase the old adage: If He isn’t Lord of this moment, then He isn’t Lord at all.

In the weeks since the National Prayer Breakfast, I have tried to be more aware of the dangers of contempt, especially among followers of Jesus. It would be a misnomer to identify political contempt in this country without also naming the spiritual analogue. I’ve been forced to examine my own heart for any traces of contempt, any temptation to treat another as if they were worthless. I have to fight the urge to retreat into my own ideological bunker, even among my sisters and brothers in Christ. And I’ve been reminded of something Jesus said a long time ago: that the way forward isn’t tolerance or civility, but love.

This week, we experienced some conflict in the church I serve. As a career churchman, I can say this conflict was of the standard issue, low level variety, but it was conflict nonetheless. And for the sake of full disclosure, I was simply an ancillary figure in the whole episode. But even from my vantage point in this conflict, I witnessed the power of disagreeing better in real time, and it was beautiful. Those who were offended voiced their concerns without accusation. The offender went directly to the individuals who were hurt and asked their forgiveness. Reconciliation flourished. Feelings were hurt, yes, but reactions were godly. The entire episode was handled with grace and truth, a reminder of the One who perfectly embodies both of these qualities.

As always, love is the way forward, the antidote to contempt.

“Let’s Again Make Jesus’ Last Words Our Top Priority”
Summer Celebration 2020, June 30-July 2
by Scott Sager

Where did things go so wrong?

Do you listen to the news and marvel at where we have arrived as a country? Democrat or Republican, the election cycle is wearying—even more it is confusing. The very terms “Democrat” and “Republican” don’t seem to mean much as the current president was once a Democrat, the billionaire Democratic candidate was once a Republican, and the Democratic front-runner evidently claims to be more a socialist than a Democrat himself. Isn’t this at least a little confusing?

And speaking of confusing, as quickly as political affiliations confuse and splinter us, American Christianity is apparently coming apart at the seams as well. The Methodists are organized enough to actually split, but across the Christian spectrum religious affiliations are breaking down. We are splintered, polarized and dividing into camps around issues we once thought unimaginable as disputable issues of faith.

Thankfully (I think), we in Restorationist churches and in Churches of Christ particularly are not organized enough to split. But we are dividing along two camps, with perhaps a middle path emerging as a third trajectory to lead some forward as well. My almost nine years as VP of Church Services at Lipscomb University has shown me up close and personal that our congregations largely fall into two primary categories of churches.

I. Two Primary Categories of Churches

Old Line/Old Guard Churches of Christ- These significant congregations have stayed committed to maintaining a connection to the past in the midst of a rapidly changing culture. These churches have remained committed to the patterns that have guided God’s body for over two centuries, and have maintained a legacy of faith by staying true to the faith structures and tradition handed down to them. I visit in these congregations regularly; love the people and know they have a deep desire to honor God through the way they worship and maintain their obedience.

Sadly, these congregations are dying of old age or irrelevancy—and doors are closing regularly. The Pew Research Center 2014 Report (see chart below) as well as our own internal data at Lipscomb University shows this strategy for church growth is not effective—it is in steep decline. Some may report they know of old guard Churches of Christ still in a growth mode, and I sincerely wish this were true. But what is being termed “growth” is merely one centrally located congregation expanding through the transfer of members from the congregations whose doors are closing. Interestingly, this is further crystallizing the existing churches to “stay true” to a past that is no longer viable. This is a strategy for ultimate extinction.

Mainline Progressivism – These congregations of Churches of Christ are generally urban and highly educated, and committed to much the same agenda as the Disciples of Christ from a generation ago. The strength of this segment of Churches of Christ is a commitment to social justice, fairness for all and a more prominent role for women in leadership and public worship. These churches are thoughtfully engaged in ecumenical discussions and striving to build bridges to other faiths through community initiatives. Much of what is being attempted is laudable, and a desire to treat everyone as a child of God deserves to be strongly affirmed.

The approach to biblical texts is often by a “theological modernism”–which reads scripture through a lens (or trajectory) towards a social justice move or “cause” that might seemingly run counter to the biblical texts themselves (pro-choice, LGBTQ+ affirming, etc.). These churches champion social justice and the virtues of the Christian faith like love, empathy, hospitality and acceptance that become dominant moves in relating to our neighbors. The Pew Research Report of 2014 likewise shows churches moving in a mainline Protestant stream to be in a steep decline as well. These churches across the United States are decreasing in membership and those once their leaders are, with some regularity, abandoning ship as well.

II.Is a Third Category of Churches Re-Emerging?

Discipleship and Disciplemaking Churches- Many leaders in Churches of Christ are looking at the two options above and feeling alone and without a home in Churches of Christ. Neither option is overly appealing, and neither is bearing fruit that will last. Thankfully, existing churches and church plants are returning to the great themes of obedience-based discipleship and to the mandate of the Great Commission to make disciples. This is not a new strategy, but a fresh wave of disciplemaking that has similarities and differences to that which emerged in earlier generations.

The evangelistic explosion of the 1940-50’s among Churches of Christ returning from the Great War came from a commitment to make “evangelism” the central thrust of the church. A generation later, the Crossroads/Boston/International Churches of Christ experienced an incredible flourishing of growth in the 1980’s-2000’s through a focus upon the multiplication of disciples as the best pathway for evangelism. Although the Jewell Miller filmstrips only served a generation, and the Crossroads/Boston Movement was subject to internal abuses it is important to note that in my lifetime the only time the Churches of Christ has experienced significant growth was during these seasons when the church focused upon disciplemaking as the “Great Commission Strategy” of our Master. These churches today are returning to a disciplemaking, church planting strategy that is seeing the blessing of God and sustained (and sometimes amazing) growth around the globe.

III. The Internal DNA of Disciplemaking Churches

Several recent surveys have analyzed the new churches coming out of disciplemaking movements and church planting. Several of these have occurred within Restoration churches while many more have emerged without knowledge of our Restoration principles, but have found in our heritage a friendship and collegiality. The research into these fast growing, deeply formed congregations outlined nine characteristics common to these churches worthy of elaboration here:

1. Vision for Making Disciples. The leaders of these churches have a remarkable sense of “vision.” Vision is a characteristic of the age of the Spirit. This vision is arrived at through prayer, and is bathed in prayer and fasting. Making disciples is top priority.

2. Radical obedience based on vision. The call to make disciples and win lost people is kept before the people, and becomes the directive vision of the church. These churches make high demands of their members and call them to obedience-based discipleship. These churches are clear on what is sin, and preach grace that calls people to repentance and changed lives.

3. Worship. The main emphasis of the church life together is worshipping God and lifting up King Jesus as Lord of all. Therein lies the public demonstration of the power of God. People are being saved and are bearing witness to life-change in every service. There is an air of great expectancy. Many of these churches have no choir and no “organized” music program. Emphasis is placed on praise, teaching, and body life.

4. Prayer and Fasting ministry. Some of these churches have ministers of intercession that not only intercede themselves, but teach others how to pray. Behavioral emphasis is placed on prayer. It is not only taught; it is organized. Church communities pray, fast and seek the Lord for spiritual power and abundant mission.

5. Discipleship groups. The great commission as Jesus’ last words becomes their strategic priority. Followers of Jesus are being mentored into discipleship in models that are reproduceable and model a strategy of multiplication. Leaders of large churches invest heavily in a few people who can then multiply by discipling others.  

6. Training for professional ministry. These churches take seriously the evangelization and training role of the church. Many of these churches have their own Bible college for the training of their own people for professional ministry at all levels, including that of ministers and missionaries. These churches would rather train people themselves—generally in apprenticeship models. These persons are then sent to other locations to plant churches and minister.

7. World-wide, hands-on church-planting. These churches take the Great Commission seriously. Almost all of them send mission teams from their local churches to plant churches across the city and around the globe without any other sending agency. These churches support the mission directly until it is fully matured, then it becomes autonomous and plants other churches as well. The entire congregation believes that it now has a direct part in the Great Commission and can plant a church in their own context.

8. Financial support. Money is never an issue in these churches. It is not an issue in its beginning stages because the leadership has been assured by their own vision regarding the success of the church. The vision is also large enough that people see the significant life and history-changing work of the church, and support its efforts.

9. The leaders have seen the ministry modeled. The leaders who pastor these churches have all been part of other churches in which the congregations have been large and/or have rapidly grown. They have the assured sense that it not only can be done; they have seen it done. Principles of growth and vision can be taught, and prayer powers this ministry model.

IV. Nondenominational Disciplemaking Churches are Growing

In a season when organized religion is in decline across the denominational world, the one hope for American Christianity seems to be coming from the Holy Spirit’s blessing on the nondenominational churches. These churches are kindred cousins of ours, but are the cousin we often have never met. These churches are often young churches planted to make disciples in an urban center, a suburban strip mall or a college campus. At the same time, older churches that have stagnated are finding new growth and energy in a return to the premises of nondenominational Christianity and relational disciplemaking. The data from the Pew Research Center 2014 below shows that nondenominational Christianity is on the rise—growing 2% faster than the population growth and faster than the rest of American Christianity.

Interestingly to note as well from the Pew Research below, “Restorationist” Christianity is holding steady among all Protestant churches in America, while declining slightly compared to the population as a whole. This trend could be the result of the “restorationist” category also including the Independent Christian Church (predominantly found in the north and middle of the country). These ICC churches are a “renewal” group that broke from the Disciples of Christ when the Disciples became a more mainline Protestant group. Based upon a commitment to evangelism as the central mission of the church, these congregations are experiencing sustained growth in many cities and have over 200 churches with 1,000+ in attendance and at least 5 with an attendance near or over 10,000 each week.

A renewed fellowship with leaders from these churches has been good for Churches of Christ and has led to positive collaboration and growth. Over the past few years, Lipscomb University has educated the children of several of the leaders of the Independent Christian Church and collaborative efforts have increased. These churches are excited by what they see in our liberal arts schools like Lipscomb, and hope to see more of their children aligning with our schools in the future. At the same time, we are learning from them about spiritual leadership, evangelism and discipleship as well.

V. Summer Celebration 2020—June 30-July 2, 2020

With all this in mind, I am excited to announce that Lipscomb University’s Summer Celebration 2020 (Tuesday, June 30-Thursday, July 2, 2020) will focus upon, “Disciplemaking: The Jesus Who Would be King.” The theme lectures will be based upon David Young’s upcoming book to be released by Zondervan titled, “King Jesus: and the Beauty of Obedience Based Discipleship.” Our goal is to make Jesus’ last words in Matthew 28 our top priority in the years ahead.

Summer Celebration keynotes will include: David Young, Shodankeh Johnson, Buddy Bell, Anthony Walker, Leonard Allen, Dave Clayton, Bobby Harrington and special guests Dave Stone & Matt Reagan.

Summer Celebration will feature over 100 classes and seminars from people including Joseph Shulam, Jeff Walling, Lauren Calvin Cooke, Randy Harris, Ginger Ravella, John Mark Hicks, Rhonda Lowry, Mark Lanier, Uduak Afangideh, Steve Hemphill, Jessica Stern Foster and many more….

The keynote schedule is below and all messages are Live Streamed for those who just simply cannot be with us in person.

June 30 at 6:00 pm “King Jesus: Surrender to His Authority”

  • David Young, “King Jesus: What That Means”
  • Shodankeh Johnson, “King Jesus: Surrender to Him” (leader in Sierra Leonne)

July 1 at 9:00 am “Embrace the Mission of King Jesus”

  • Dave Stone, “Embracing the Mission” (guest from Southeast Christian)
  • Leonard Allen, “The Holy Spirit’s Work in Disciplemaking”

à Resource Class: Bobby Herrington of Renew.Org, “Seven Rhythms of Disciplemaking”

July 1 at 6:00 pm “Immerse Yourself in the Life of King Jesus”

  • Buddy Bell, “Immersed in the Life of King Jesus”
  • Matt Reagan, “Line in the Sand Moments” (guest from Southeast Christian)

July 2 at 9:00 am “Obey the Teachings of King Jesus”

  • TBA soon, “King Jesus Requires Obedience”
  • Anthony Walker, “Obedience to Disciplemaking is Evangelistic”

à Resource Class: Bobby Harrington, Shodankeh Johnson, “Prayer, Fasting and Disciplemaking Movements”

July 2 at 4:30 pm “Behold the Presence of King Jesus”

  • Dave Clayton, “The Powerful Presence of King Jesus”

In Conclusion…

We believe the future growth of the Churches of Christ will be tied to the churches committed to growing by making disciples as Jesus both did, and commanded. Strategically aligning, equipping and supporting the churches (both Churches of Christ and Nondenominational Churches) committed to this task is both an excellent Kingdom investment and also a winning strategy for Summer Celebration. We want the Summer Celebration program to lead churches into the pathways God is blessing so that more vibrant churches might emerge through our efforts and the Lord’s Holy Spirit blessing. This commitment will help churches stay rooted in the best of our past, and will also help schools like Lipscomb stay rooted to the practices and principles of New Testament Christianity which have formed disciples for over 2,000 years.

Please join us for Summer Celebration 2020! Early Bird registration runs through March 31, and we also have group rates for 5 rooms or more being reserved together. To find out more, visit our web site HERE.

Why is it that when it comes to the Bible, the scandalous label always seems to apply to the women but the men often get a pass? It is as if we remember the best moments of the men and the worst moments of the women. I know it isn’t all of us but it is prevalent enough to bring it up and shine a light on it.

When it comes to the genealogy of Jesus, many find the female tie in to be women of questionable sexual ethics. We gawk at Rahab making it in (but she may have been an innkeeper). The same with Tamar. Again with Bathsheba. Both of them were sinned against with the power dynamics severely not directed in their favor. Do we stop and pause for a moment of judgment on the women without recalling what Judah did? Go back and read Genesis 38…check out verse 25 where Judah wants to burn Tamar to death when he was propositioning and sleeping with Tamar, thinking she was a prostitute.

Ruth seducing Boaz? We aren’t really sure about that either. It is murky. Should we be stigmatizing people for situations that are confusing at best? Should we be stigmatizing people at all?

Again, what about the men?

Matt 1:2 – We think of Abraham in his best moments (Gen 12, 15, 17 and 22). Abraham passed his wife off as his sister to save his own bacon, putting her in jeopardy on multiple occasions.

Matt 1:2 – Jacob wasn’t the most straightforward person…a swindler at times. A trickster and deceiver. His name even means he trips people up.

Matt 1:3 – Judah took advantage of Tamar in a very scandalous way in Gen 38.

Matt 1:6 – David had Uriah killed after having an affair with Bathsheba.

Matt 1:7 – Solomon went after false gods after marrying many women and having concubines (mistresses).

Matt 1:7 – Rehoboam – rejected the council of the elders and put heavy burdens on the people.

Matt 1:9 – Ahaz – worshiped idols, sacrificed one of his sons to the “gods”, and did detestable things. His son, not the one he sacrificed to false gods, was Hezekiah (2 Kings 16:20).

Matt 1:10 – Hezekiah’s son was Manasseh. He was horrible and did terrible things, including sacrificing his kids to the false gods (2 Kings 21).

Matt 1:10 – Amon – just as bad as his father, Manasseh.

The women get the stigma and yet not one of them was a murderer. Not one of them led nations into immorality (imagine the ripple effect of that and the responsibility). Not one of the women had the power dynamics in their favor. Nor did any of them lead the nation of Israel into idol worship and even sacrificed their own children to the “gods”.

This is not to say the men are especially worse, necessarily (although a case could be made that some were definitely worse). This info about them teaches us something about us. The way we read the stories and the conclusions we read display our inner filters and presuppositions and even values.

What this does is cause us to introspect a bit and ask ourselves about the way we read scriptures and our how our conclusions about people may well reveal some of our own inner workings and meta-cognition about how we label people based on criteria like race and gender. It might be safe to assume if we do that with Bible people we may well do that with the people right in front of us. And that’s a BIG problem!

This problem of perception, value (or lack thereof) and meta-cognition is not just a gender issue – it crops up any time our team is on the field. It happens in our politics – when we can only find praise for our side and flaws for the other (even when the truth clearly points the opposite direction). It happens in our marriages – when we justify our own behavior while condemning our spouse for their faults. We see this in our view of other religious groups, particularly those who are most like us – we give the flaws in our view a pass while nit picking someone else’s view for lesser problems.

Maybe deep down inside it is an insecurity issue – that we worry to pick at one thread might make the whole knit sweater come undone. So we defend to the bitter end things and people who shouldn’t be defended while condemning those who least deserve it.

We never know what someone is going through. Let us be inclined, as God is inclined, toward grace and mercy. This takes heart training. It takes a growing awareness of our inner workings and thinkings…this is soul work, hard work…necessary work. May God have mercy on the men and women in the Bible…and on us today because Lord knows we need it more than ever before!

God has a way of asking us to do things that are part of our transformation process. Behavior is not always for behavior’s sake. Behavior is often for being’s sake. Read Leviticus sometime and try to find a rule or two. Obedience was not just to see if people could remember and follow the rules. Obedience was about holiness and distinctiveness as God’s people – it was formative more so than just punitive.

In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 we are told that a disciple is someone who is baptized and who is taught to obey the teachings of Jesus.

To what end do we obey the teachings of Jesus? Because he said so? Well, that would be a start but it wouldn’t be a good end.

God wants us to obey what Jesus taught because our obedience impacts and influences something deeper – our being.

We aren’t “doings.” We are “Beings.”

That is a very important difference. Too often we get caught up on labeling and assessing the value of our doings over the value of our being. Would we rather be a highly successful scoundrel or a person of low position but impeccable character? In today’s influencer, social media culture, many would opt for the first.

Who we are matters a great deal. Character matters. Character is formed over the course of time and is influenced by our behavior.

Yes we want to obey Jesus, that is what disciples do. Why? Because he is King and he said so…takes us a little ways down the road. But ultimately it is for our inner formation. To live a life obedient to the teachings of Jesus opens up new vistas for us. It is living life to the full. It is a life engaged in the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.

Too often we are focused so much on our being perfected “in heaven” that we neglect the very biblical idea that God has already started that transformation process NOW!

As we make disciples and we find workable processes that are simple and repeatable, let’s keep the end goal in mind. Disciples are little versions of the one they follow, growing into big versions – not just in actions but in thought, mind, attitude, image, and being.

Jesus is not after box checkers to be box checkers. He is looking for those who will follow him into a new way of living and being.

As we disciple people let us keep in mind what we are really doing so that we can help others in their formation. Part of that formation will come as we walk and act and live and obey – the obedience opens us up and makes us pliable for the work of the Spirit to continue to shape us more and more into the likeness of Christ.

This is important work. Let us know in the comments what you are doing to make disciples where you live!

While God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our own, God often uses simple things for maximum impact.

Jesus called mostly uneducated men to be his disciples and apostles. This doesn’t mean we devalue education. Education is a wonderful thing (my wife and I have 500+ hours of college under our belts!). It does mean we often have to fight our propensity toward complexity and exclusivity if we want to participate in a movement.

Our current paradigm is not movement prone or movement friendly.

Complex things don’t spread quickly. That is why there are few astrophysicists and surgeons who do full face transplants than we have professionals of various other occupations.

Many of us are looking for, praying for, and dreaming of a movement of God’s people by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. If history has anything to say about it, any movement is usually characterized by simplicity. If it requires a seminary degree to pull off, it can’t be easily or quickly replicated and movements have to self-replicate to move.

We won’t find movements if the requirements for replication are complicated, require years of advanced training, and are expensive.

The last I checked the Holy Spirit doesn’t charge an admission fee!

Again, I am not discounting education or budgets or buildings. I am saying that what is often our default, go to, may not lend itself to the outcome we desire, but rather the outcomes we are used to and comfortable with.

Pray with me for fresh movements among the people of God. Pray for God to use the simple, the foolish, and the organic to show the corporate institutional structures our churches are mired in, a new (old) way forward where disciples make disciples.

More soon!

While God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our own, God often uses simple things for maximum impact.

Jesus called mostly uneducated men to be his disciples and apostles (See Acts 4:13). This doesn’t mean we devalue education. Education is a wonderful thing (my wife and I have 500+ hours of college under our belts!). It does mean we often have to fight our propensity toward complexity and exclusivity if we want to participate in a movement.

The Gospel itself is both simple and complicated. It has layers. The core of the gospel contains simple truths that just about anyone can wrap their mind around. But you can dig deeper to more complex components of the message.

The more we study, often, the more complex things to get and if we are not careful we can very easily create the idea (inadvertently) that it takes a trained professional to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.

Our current paradigm for church is not movement prone or movement friendly. It is far too complex for that both in our operations and our doctrine. Again, our argumentation has become so complex that the uneducated might think there is no seat at the table for them.

Here is my main point – Complex things don’t spread quickly. That is why there are few astrophysicists and surgeons who do full face transplants than we have professionals of various other occupations.

Many of us are looking for, praying for, and dreaming of a movement of God’s people by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. If history has anything to say about it, any movement is usually characterized by simplicity. If it requires a seminary degree to pull off, it can’t be easily or quickly replicated and movements have to self-replicate to move.

We won’t find movements if the requirements for replication are complicated, require years of advanced training, and are expensive.

The last I checked the Holy Spirit doesn’t charge an admission fee!

Again, I am not discounting education or budgets or buildings. I am saying that what is often our default, go to, may not lend itself to the outcome we desire, but rather the outcomes we are used to and comfortable with.

Pray with me for fresh movements among the people of God. Pray for God to use the simple, the foolish, and the organic to show the corporate institutional structures our churches are mired in, a new (old) way forward where disciples make disciples.

More soon!

Why do we lead the way we do?  How does that impact disciple-making?

For Christian leaders to respond to the lack of discipleship/disciple-making in the Church (what Dallas Willard referred to as The Great Omission), we’ll need to think critically and carefully about our own leadership framework.  It may be helpful to consider the cultural symbols that shape our understanding of power and influence.  By pulling back the curtain on the symbols that shape us, we may be able to lead in a way that is more conducive to developing a culture of disciple-making (living out the Great Commission). 

Erwin McManus reminds us that, “Cultures sing their own songs, tell their own stories, and carry their own aromas.  A culture is a beautiful art piece that uses people as its canvas… In every culture you’ll find essential metaphors that define and shape its ethos.  Your symbols hold your secret stories.  The metaphor causes an eruption of images, ideas, dreams, beliefs, and convictions all at one time.  The story of an entire people can be contained in one symbol.  A culture often has two or three symbols that are fundamental to the identity of the people.” (An Unstoppable Force, 112-113)

When I think about cultural symbols that shape an American ideal of leadership, Mt. Rushmore looms large.  The faces of these ideal Presidents were carved in stone on the side of a mountain – a good indicator of how much we value and honor their example!  I’ve had a goal over the last few years of reading biographies about each of the Mt. Rushmore Presidents to help me better understand how they shape our image of ideal leadership.  While I’m certainly not a historian and have more reading to do, I’d like to share an admittedly half-baked hunch to see if unpacking this symbol can help us lead more effectively.  Reading about these four Presidents’ leadership styles, it seems that each of them hold a symbolic place in the American imagination as an ideal leader in a particular way: Washington has been idealized as having the proper heart; Lincoln is the soul of America; Jefferson’s intellect and his role as the architect of the Declaration of Independence are the standard for the mind of a President; while Roosevelt embodies something of the strength we value most in a leader.   The U.S.A. has carved her greatest leaders in stone, the ones who model for her people what leading out of heart, soul, mind and strength are all about.

Now… is my simplistic interpretation of how Mt. Rushmore matters for our cultural perceptions of leadership shaped by what Jesus has to say about the greatest commands in Mark 12:28-31? Certainly.  Could this viewing of that national symbol potentially aid us in choosing who to vote for in an upcoming Presidential election – helping us evaluate our candidates based on how well they lead out of heart, soul, mind and strength?  I hope so.  But, more important than that, is my conviction that churches should take their leadership cues from the one who lived out a life that best honored God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.  A King who knew that there would be no crown without the cross.  A King who made disciple-making the crux of his work.  A King whose leadership focused on empowering those he discipled, entrusting them to take his Kingdom project to the ends of the earth. By unpacking the influence of national symbols, like the stone images of Mt. Rushmore, on our conceptions of leadership, we may begin to see how Christ, the living stone (1 Peter 2), calls us to put disciple-making at the center of our leadership strategy.  If a symbol like Mt. Rushmore matters for the shaping our leadership ideals, how could we lift our eyes to our Savior, who offers an even better leadership framework, and let that guide our own identity and influence?

Discipleship and making disciples has had a bad wrap in many of our circles. The abuses of Crossroads are hard to forget, especially for those who went through the worst parts of those movements (extreme, non-mutual accountability; hierarchy, etc).

Some get suspicious just hearing the word discipleship.

For others, all they hear is another program like children’s ministry, or Bible class ministry.

Neither of these responses really align with what we see in the New Testament. Jesus made disciples who made disciples. This was part of the DNA of the early church. We hear that built into the great commission in Matthew 28 – we heard “Go and baptize.” Jesus said “Go and make disciples.” How do you make a disciple, Jesus? By baptizing them and teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded. Well, he instructed them to go and make disciples so that is part of what is taught to be obeyed as they make disciples. It makes a circle that shouldn’t have ever been broken.

We do many things but too few churches are actively, intentionally discipling people, much less training people to be disciple-makers. There is a big difference between the two (thanks to Bobby Harrington and others for making this point over and over again…the difference between making disciples and making disciple makers is huge). One replicates the other probably doesn’t.

And this instruction wasn’t just for the 11 there in Matthew 28. We see in Acts that disciples made disciples apart from the 11. This is specifically stated in Acts 8:1-4,

“That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.

Who was it that were scattered? “all except the apostles” and what did those who were scattered do? “went from place to place proclaiming the word.” I have heard people say the great commission was just for the 11. I don’t know how to arrive at that conclusion from the text itself. Going back to Acts 8, I wonder what they proclaimed and what their aims were? We aren’t told so I know I am operating on assumption here. I can imagine it had something to do with what the apostles taught and that what they taught had something to do with what Jesus taught going back to the great commission and the gospels.

Here is my point – I believe we need to allow the negative stigma on discipleship and making disciples to make sure we don’t embrace unhealthy practices once again…but instead of rejecting it all together, we will go back to the Bible and look to see how Jesus did it so we can imitate him.

In circles like Wineskins we have finally made a turn from a myopic focus on church out to a renewed focus on Jesus and imitating Him…if we did that we would get back to discipleship and making disciples as normative. Imitating Jesus is not just about morality. It is also about mission. The mission is more than evangelism/proclaiming to the lost. It is about making disciples. At least that is what Jesus said!

Regardless of claims to the contrary no one merely reads the Bible. The Bible is interpreted, by everyone. When Christians say that women do not have wear veils; we do not have to greet each other with a kiss; we do not have to lift up hands in prayer; women are not saved by having babies; we do not baptize for the dead; that we are not eager to prophesy and we do forbid tongues; we are not obligated to keep the Sabbath; etc we are interpreting Scripture.

The question will never be if we will interpret the Bible. Rather the question will always be will our interpretation be a good one or a bad one.

Good Christian hermeneutics will always begin as a response to the God of all grace who has done great things. Good Christian interpretation, discipleship of communing with the Word, will be rooted in the soul that is humbly seeking to reflect God’s glorious image back into the created world around us. Good Christian biblical interpretation will begin in prayer and will be understood as “an act of worship.”

Thus interpretation that does not begin in prayer and worship that results in the Spirit flowing redemptively through us to a vandalized world, then we have a right to question if such is good Christian interpretation of Scripture. Good hermeneutical discipleship is also known by its fruit.

Prayer, worship and reflecting God’s image back into creation, these are the beginning points and the ends/goals of interpretation. I have found the following big picture ideas helpful as a framework for good Christian interpretation of Scripture in God honoring ways.

First. The Bible is inspired of God’s Holy Spirit through the words of human beings in specific historical circumstances. Thus it is literally the word of God and the word of humans. Just as the Living Word, Jesus, is both divine and completely human so too is the written word. Thus the text was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and not Spanish, English or Southern. God’s word addressed them in that situation and may not be God’s directive for all time and all places. We see examples of this within the biblical narrative itself.

Second. Because of the historical nature of revelation we must pay close attention to the historical occasion of the text. Why was this text said or written in the first place? We assess the meaning of words in their historical and literary context if we respect God’s word. I cover this point usually by saying there are two rules for reading the Bible, “Context and Context.”

Third. The Bible is not simply a hodge podge of propositions or syllogisms. The Bible is not a jigsaw puzzle that is poured into a box to be assembled by ourselves. The Bible, rather, tells a Story that each historically conditioned text contributes in some fashion. The Gist of that Story is this: The Triune God created the universe as an act of love so that created life can have communion/fellowship with him. Creation Rebelled and vandalized that good creation erecting a barrier between Creator and Creation. And the Triune God is working within creation to redeem, restore and even glorify his creation. This is the “grand narrative.”

Fourth. That Grand Narrative, story line, is the skeleton on which the various individual and historically conditioned, texts “hang.” Genesis 1-2 and Rev 21-22 are the bookends to the macrostructure of the canon of Scripture. This narrative is broken into Six stages or “Acts” as some call them. They are:

1) God Establishes his Kingdom in Creation (Gen 1-2)

2) Shalom vandalized in the Kingdom – Rebellion (Gen 3-11)

3) Triune God chose Israel by grace alone to bring creation back into communion with him. Israel was to be leaven in the rebellious world. Redemption is initiated. (Gen 12-Malachi)

4) The Triune God sends the King thru Israel. Thru his work in his physical body, rebellious creation becomes obedient to the will of God and is redeemed through the death, burial and resurrection of the King (Matt – John)

5) God’s renewed creation is placed in the world through the church. Here the values of the King, the values of God, are lived out and performed on Earth as they are in heaven. These are the people of the Resurrection. They are not of the old fallen order rather they are in the world to be the seasoning of redemption to, demonstrate what “Heaven” is supposed to be like. The Fall is turned on its head in the church (Acts – Rev 19)

6) The Return of the King. Redemption is consummated and the evil and corruption that has marred God’s creation intent is fully recognized as defeated and cast out by the resurrection of the body of Jesus. Vandalism is replaced with beautification and glorification (Rev 21-22)

This basic outline can reap rich rewards. Remembering the Grand Narrative of the Bible helps us to see the actual goal of the Bible. The Narrative points us to the “point.” It is eschatological. When we know the goal that shapes our present not just from one command or example but in light of the entire Narrative that is lurching forward by the power of the Holy Spirit toward the redemptive goal of God. We want to live our lives both individually and corporately sharing in God’s own mission.

Remembering this basic outline in light of prayer and worship and seeking to reflect God’s true image into the world can go a long way towards sound good Christian biblical interpretation. The story enables us to see how a given text is attempting to bring about the restoration of God’s good created order and is a step to its glorification in the End. Those bookends also remind us that individual texts are often conditioned on the events that called them forth.

In the End, good hermeneutical discipleship calls us to love with ever deeper love.

But the goal of this command/instruction is LOVE, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from the these and have turned to meaningless talk. These want to be teachers of the Bible, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Timothy 1.5-7)