oreos

The key aspect of effective discipleship. (Spoiler alert: Oreos ARE involved.)

I’ve been co-teaching a three-semester Systematic Theology class at my church for the last 18 months. (And it has been a BLAST! If you’re in the area, I highly recommend joining us the next time we teach it.) Our class is coming to an end in a couple of weeks, and one of our students asked, “So, what’s next?”

While we do have some ideas on classes we want to offer in January, my mind keeps coming back to discipleship.

Kandi Gallaty defines discipleship this way:

Discipleship is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.

The reason we teach scripture and theology (and are students of them ourselves) is not just so our students will know everything Jesus has commanded us to do. That’s not the Great Commission. We teach the Bible so our students will obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do. That is the Great Commission.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:18-20

Specifically, we need to teach our students to obey Jesus’ command to go and make disciples (that’s the “replicate” part in the definition of discipleship).

Some of our students are already discipling others, praise the Lord! But some aren’t. For a myriad of reasons that no longer include, “I don’t know enough about the Bible to disciple someone else.”

It kills me that many of us teach the Word but never get around to lovingly, but insistently, pushing our people to obey it!

Sure, when we speak to a class of 30 or a group of 80 we hope they will take away a truth that they will then apply to their lives that week, but we can’t know that they do… Because groups that large don’t lend themselves to accountability.

In other words, we are only capable of partial discipleship in large group settings. We can intentionally equip believers with the Word of God in large groups…but we can’t have effective accountable relationships, without which our students might, but probably won’t, replicate faithful followers of Christ.

The essential accountability factor is only consistently possible in one-on-one or very small groups (3-5ish people). This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where we can teach them to obey all Jesus has commanded us. Including, but not limited to, them discipling others, eventually.

It’s not rocket science. But it’s also not easy.

Discipling and being discipled on a small scale require vulnerability, commitment, a teachable heart, dependence upon the Holy Spirit for direction and sanctification, and, oh, yeah, TIME.

These are all legitimate concerns people raise in the form of excuses for why they aren’t discipling others or being discipled by someone. (And I say that as someone who has used all of them on many occasions.)

The actual reasons we don’t participate in real discipleship are because we are afraid, and we are just a tad self-centered. (These are the same reasons we don’t evangelize.)

We don’t really want to spend our precious Netflix and Oreos time on other people! Especially if it is going to get uncomfortable.

But if we don’t prioritize discipling people who will disciple other people, we are in direct disobedience of Jesus Christ.

Let that sink in a minute.

The shock of that statement ought to make all of our excuses for not participating in discipleship fade away faster than I can eat ten Double Stuf Oreos (I don’t even know why they still make Single Stuf).

Are you scared? That’s fine, Jesus didn’t say you have to be fearless.

Do you not have time? Uh, yeah, you do. Find it. Start by looking in the Netflix directory.

Do you not know how? Ask someone who does. Read a book on the subject.

Do you not have anyone to disciple or to disciple you? Uh, yeah, you do. Ask God to bring you people. Sit back. Eat some Oreos. Pay attention.

Even if you’ve never read the Bible, you qualify to be discipled by someone. There are, in fact, no pre-requisites at all.

Even if you’ve never taken Systematic Theology, if you have a general grasp on the Bible and a general understanding that it’s better to obey God than to not obey God, you qualify to disciple someone.

Stop waiting. Start now.

What is the purpose of the Church?

“What is the purpose of the Church?”

The question gave me pause. I didn’t have a memorized answer I could just spout off when I read those words a couple of months ago. I guess that’s because I hadn’t really taken the time to consider the purpose of the Church… I knew the purpose of a Christianto know God and to make Him known (Exodus 9:15-16, John 17:3, Matthew 28:19-20). That answer I had worked out long ago…

The Church is just a bunch of Christians, so I reasoned the answer should be the same: a Christian’s purpose and the Church’s purpose is to know God and to make Him known.

Eight weeks later I’ve realized that, while my answer is technically correct, it’s slightly too vague. It’s too vague for our churches to implement, and it’s certainly too vague for our post-modern world to realize it must be understood within biblical terms of who God is.

A more specific answer is the purpose of the Church is to make disciples. Unfortunately, people have wildly varying ideas on what a disciple is.

Too many Christians, even Christian leaders, confuse disciples with church-goers or self-identified Christians or people who have prayed to receive Christ as their Savior or people who have been baptized or people who know a lot of Bible stories or people who serve their communities while wearing Christian t-shirts.

To be sure, all of those things are things disciples should do (although, we could stand to leave our “Serve Team” shirts at home…), but none of those things make someone a disciple in and of itself.

Why not?

Jesus said to the original disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Do you see the part we usually skip? We may go, we may share the Gospel, we may baptize converts, but then, at least in the culture I’m in, we stop… we don’t follow through and teach new converts to “obey everything [Jesus has] commanded”.

Oh, sure, we may preach tremendous sermons and offer fantastic Bible studies – really meaty stuff that teaches people the Word – but that’s not the litmus test for whether or not we’ve taught anyone to obey everything Christ has commanded…

What is?

When our people are telling others about Christ, training them in the ways of the Bible, showing them how and challenging them to live obediently to the scriptures, we’ve made more than converts – we’ve made disciples

And the cornerstone way in which a true disciple obeys Christ is by going and making more disciples who will mature and make more disciples who will mature and make more disciples who will… you get the point.

With a weak voice I have to ask, Church, are we doing that? Am I doing that?

The stats show, as a whole, we aren’t. And when I look around my community – Bible Belt, USA – I see a lot of believers doing a lot of good things, but not many doing the main thing – making more disciple-makers.

It’s time to stop being content with entertainment “Christianity” where our churches’ main focus is making sure people have a satisfying “experience” on Sunday mornings. It’s time to stop preaching the Gospel, helping people convert, and then letting them fall through the cracks of the mega church machine, never to be heard from again. Believers, it’s time to stop being content learning more Bible but not doing anything with that knowledge.

We are fooling ourselves if we think we’re living the Great Commission but we’re not 1) currently investing time and love into a relationship with an unbeliever in which we both model the Christian life for him and, when the Spirit leads, verbally share the Gospel with him, 2) walking a younger believer through his next steps in growing in his relationship with Christ, and 3) helping more mature believers take that final step of obedience by equipping and encouraging them to reach out to the lost, share the Gospel, teach and model the scriptures to younger believers, and help equip them to duplicate the process in someone else.

In short, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we are disciples but we aren’t making any disciples.

In the words of Michael Jackson, it’s time to make that change.

If you’re interested, I recommend reading DiscipleShift for a more detailed explanation of what I’ve summarized. If you’re super interested, I recommend reading Disciple Making Is next. If you’re still interested and/or refuse to read books, shoot me an email below and I’ll send you a short paper or two on the subject. And, lastly, if you’re local to me and want to be a part of making a change in how we do discipleship in our area, let’s chat.

Cheap Grace

I started reading a Bonhoeffer book last week. He wrote it in the 1930’s, but it reads as if he wrote it yesterday.

Is the price that we are paying today with the collapse of organized churches anything else but an inevitable consequence of grace acquired too cheaply? We gave away preaching and sacraments cheaply; we performed baptisms and confirmations; we absolved an entire people, unquestioned and unconditionally; out of human love we handed over what was holy to the scornful and unbelievers. We poured out rivers of grace without end, but the call to rigorously follow Christ was seldom heard.

Bonhoeffer coined the term “cheap grace”. When we share with others that Jesus died on the cross for them and “all they have to do” to get to heaven is accept that, we are setting them up for the biggest fall of their lives (perhaps of their eternities as well). We tell people they just need to check that belief box, and then they can go about their way, living however they want to because all is covered by grace.

But that’s not the message of the Bible.

Belief in Jesus without repentance (defined as being truly contrite and resolving to do the opposite of the wrong you have been doing through the power of the Holy Spirit) is not true recognition of the depth of one’s sinfulness, of the holiness God requires of us, and of one’s need for Christ’s substitutionary death.

When we limit our sharing about Jesus with others – whether individually or from the pulpit – to “cheap grace”, we are only telling one half of the story. Yes, Jesus died to save us, and, yes, there is not one “good work” we can or need to do in order to be saved. But the grace God offers us through the killing of His Son is not cheap at all. As Bonhoeffer says, it is costly grace.

God’s extension of grace to us cost Him His Son. Go back and watch Jesus be beaten to a pulp and crucified in The Passion of the Christ. Not easy to watch for us; how much harder for Jesus’ Dad?

And the Christianity to which Jesus calls us is not cheap either. Go back and read Jesus’ commands to the disciples to give up everything and follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22); to hate their families in comparison to how much they loved Him (Luke 14:26); to die to themselves (Luke 9:23-24). If they wanted to be saved by grace, not having to do anything to earn salvation except believe the Gospel (Ephesians 2:8-9), the disciples would have to do it on Jesus’ terms. And His terms were/are, “accept Me as your Lord and Savior”.

When we offer people cheap grace, we erase “Lord” from Jesus’ terms. We shout Savior, but we don’t even whisper Lord. And that’s not biblical. People think they are becoming Christians because that go-to-Heaven-without-doing-anything deal sounds pretty good to them. But they aren’t surrendering any part of their lives, much less all of their lives to Jesus. They aren’t making Him their Boss. Cheap grace.

So our churches fill up with people who are fat on cheap grace and have never even heard of costly grace, if they attend church at all. The Christians who shared the gospel with them are to blame. And the pastors and Bible teachers they sit under are to blame. Our congregations swell with people who don’t live like Christians because they haven’t been taught the full picture of what it means to follow Christ. They prayed a prayer for cheap grace and think that’ll do. They go to church because it makes them feel good and/or just in case there was some fine print on that cheap grace that says they really DO need to attend church in order to get into Heaven. But after awhile, they don’t really see the point of attending church… they are confident they have their Get Out of Hell Free card, and sleeping in on Sunday mornings or going to brunch early to beat the church crowds is much more appealing. They stop attending altogether, only to be replaced by other people who have bought cheap grace. And on and on the cycle goes.

[Note: many people who accept cheap grace sincerely understand their need for a Savior and believe that Christ is the only Savior who will do. If this is the case, hear me: I believe they are just as saved as people who understand grace is costly. The difference that burdens me is not necessarily their eternal destinies being different. What burdens me is that when people stop at cheap grace and never come to understand costly grace – when they never move beyond belief in Christ to actually following Christ – THEY MISS OUT! They miss out on having a relationship with God that is more intimate than any relationship they have with a human. They miss out on being set free from sin patterns that hurt them and their loved ones. They miss out on being a part of the miraculous, powerful things the Lord is doing all around them. Cheap grace robs them of the life God has for them now.]

As I continued to reflect on what I was reading in the Bonhoeffer book, the Spirit politely insisted I take a look at myself.

I began to wonder if I am guilty of preaching cheap grace to people. I tell people about Christ every week. I share the Gospel. But have I shared cheap grace to the neglect of costly grace? Do I make it a point to emphasize to seekers that their decision to accept Christ as Savior must also include accepting Him as Lord? Boss? Master? I also teach Christians the Bible every week. But have I really been teaching believers cheap grace to the exclusion of costly grace? Am I too quick to offer grace when believers really ought to be challenged to follow after Jesus more completely?

Last week I read this:

Costly Grace

What is our Christianity costing us, really? If we are not committed to doing whatever He wants however He wants whenever He wants no matter what, we need to seriously consider whether we’ve been sold cheap grace. If our being a Christian isn’t costing us anything – everything – we don’t understand what being a Christian really is. The good news is Jesus wants to lovingly teach us.

Are you willing to be taught? 

How to Study the Bible

At the end of the month, my church is rolling out a new program called EQUIP to help our congregants become mature believers who impact the world for Christ. I’m pretty excited about it.

EQUIP

As a part of this program, I’m going to teach a new course called How to Study the Bible.

My aim is to teach women how to observe, interpret, and apply Bible passages themselves.

This is a distinct departure from other video and workbook-driven studies I’ve led in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I lovBeth Moore and Priscilla Shirer studies. Adore, actually. I think the world of these women and their ministries. In fact, I am sad I won’t be able to participate in Priscilla’s latest study this semester. They are brilliant women used mightily by the Lord, and if I become 5% of what they are, I will consider myself to have lived a full life.

(Have I made my point yet?)

That being said, it is of unparalleled importance, in my view, that women know how to study the Bible when there is no Beth or Priscilla around to explain it. And I know Beth and Priscilla agree.

When you’re by yourself with nothing but the Bible and the Lord, do you understand what you read in the Bible? Do you accurately observe the nuances of what’s happening in each passage? Do you consider who is writing, why they’re writing, what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, and the chronological order of events that are being reported? Do you know when to interpret verses as cultural or universal, literal or figurative? And, most importantly, does what you read in the Bible have any bearing whatsoever on your day-to-day life? Are you changed?

If you’re a woman in the Memphis area, and you’d like to grow in these areas, I’d love for you to join me. We’re going to learn these principles (and more), and we’ll spend class time practicing applying these ideas to the book of Philippians the first 6 weeks and to the book of Micah the second 6 weeks.

We’ll meet on Wednesday nights from 6:30-8p for 12 weeks beginning August 28th. This is a free course, and childcare is provided. All you need to bring is your Bible. If you want to register online, you can do so here (check the box next to How to Study the Bible). If you don’t register, no worries. Come anyway. And if my class isn’t what you’re looking for, check out the other courses being offered. With 22 to choose from, offered during 4 different time slots, there is something for everyone!