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All Church Development Spiritual Development

Make Disciples of All People 

Author: Charles Hegwood

Why are there so many resources on discipleship? I think the reason is because God has placed within the very DNA of believers the drive to make more disciples. One of the ways we worship God is to bring as many people as we can to Jesus. Discipleship is one of my greatest passions. I hope it is yours too. I want to look at Acts chapter 10 and peek into how Peter leads Cornelius to Christ and disciples him. We will see that through the blood of Christ, all that come to Jesus will be made clean. They will be made whole. As disciples, we are to be faithful to go and tell people the great news of the Gospel. 

Setting the Scene 

Let’s set the scene, we are introduced to Cornelius, a Roman soldier and God-fearer. He is charitable and always praying. This is a man who is seeking to know God. Let us learn from Cornelius that God answers those who seek Him. After all, here was a man, a Roman, and by that distinction alone would disqualify him from the love of God especially if you were Jewish. You would have hated this man. He was an enemy and a leader in an oppressive regime. Yet he sought God and God answered.  

God called Peter to share the gospel with this Roman soldier. For Peter this was uncomfortable. Decades of cultural education taught him that going to the house of a Gentile, moreover, a Roman soldier, would make him unclean. Even after walking with Jesus for three years, he heard the cultural echoes of “unclean”, “unworthy”. There were some Gentile believers, but at this time the burgeoning church did not know exactly how to incorporate them. Would the blood of Christ extend to these ‘unclean’ people? These would have been the thoughts rattling around the head and heart of Peter during this story. God however, has another message for Peter, for the growing church, and for us today.  

Preparing the moment: Prayer 

Prayer is essential for discipleship. We see that Peter had a habit of praying in Acts 10:9. He went up to the roof but soon became hungry. God uses Peter’s hunger during his prayer time to teach him an invaluable lesson about making disciples. If we have no prayer life, we will struggle to make disciples. We must have a habit of prayer built into our lives. 

We must pray for opportunities to make disciples as well. We must approach prayer as a time to meet with God. The result of spending quality time with God in prayer is that we will be ready to make disciples in our daily lives. Making a habit of meeting with God in prayer is the first step in biblical discipleship. 

 Tilling the Field: Having the Right Heart 

Verses 9-15 capture a very strange vision Peter had during his prayer. He saw a sheet with all kinds of unclean animals on it. We may be tempted to read this and assume we should never pray on an empty stomach. All kidding aside, many times we read this story and miss the point. We may be tempted to conclude that God is telling Peter that all foods are clean. However, the context does not support this interpretation. There are other verses to argue all foods being clean. The context of this story is a story about Cornelius, an ‘unclean’ gentile, becoming a follower of Jesus. It is about crossing cultural and ritual boundaries for the gospel.  

The theological emphasis is not on the food but on the words ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. The food here merely serves as an object lesson for Peter’s heart. The issue was not what Peter thought about eating certain foods, but instead what he thought about talking to certain people that were “unclean”. Acts 10:15 is the key verse to understanding this story and what God is trying to tell us today. “What God has made clean, do not call impure.” Soon Peter understood in full what God was trying to tell him. We see Peter demonstrate verse 15 as he talks to Cornelius and leads him and his family to Christ. The point here is that we too need to make our hearts right.  

Before we go and talk to people, let us first pray and make our hearts right before the Lord. This is what Peter needed  so that he could go to Cornelius. As we look at Peter putting the proverbial rubber to the road, let us see the need for a prepared heart in our discipleship ventures. 

Reaping the Harvest: Go and Tell  

Back to our story, Cornelius sent men to Peter. In God’s providence they arrived as Peter was praying and perplexed by what he saw. He went with these men to the house of Cornelius. We see that while Cornelius had been waiting to hear from Peter he had also been gathering more people to hear Peter’s words. Verse 28 undoubtedly shows that Peter now understands the vision. Here is Cornelius and friends; gentiles, unclean, and forbidden. Peter saw that the vision had prepared him to not see people as clean or unclean, worthy or unworthy. Instead, God wanted Peter to tell this Roman soldier about Jesus and disciple him as someone who was clean. God may be wanting you to go to someone you think of as ‘unclean’. Hear this message loud and clear. No one is unclean that God has made clean. Cornelius believes and so do those who were with him. The visible presence of the Holy Spirit only further confirms that this was the will of God. So go and tell. Make disciples!  

Disciple who? Everyone God puts in your path. What about mean people, people who don’t think the same as me, poor people, rich people, or uncool people and so on? Go and tell. Read your context. Who is it that you perceive as impure and unworthy of your time or the gospel? Understand that through the blood of Jesus what was unclean has become clean. His blood washes away our impurity and our sin. This is good news! So as you go and engage in discipleship; pray, prepare your heart, and go and tell everyone as God leads you to them. The Biblical model for discipleship has no place for favoritism. Discipleship has no place for thinking of anyone as unworthy of the gospel. Go with this in mind, “What God has called pure do not call impure,” no matter who it is or where they are from. Now, go and make disciples of all nations.  

Categories
Church Development Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Character of Barnabas

Author: Mithun Borde & Andrew Sargent, PhD, Contributing Authors for Foundations by ICM

 

Question: How do you think the newly formed church thrived in the face of persecution and prospered spiritually in spite of the martyrdom of Stephen and James?

First Answer: The Twelve Apostles were leading the church through the power of the Holy Spirit as an effective witness to the Jewish community concerning Jesus Christ.

Second Answer: God used this persecution to forcibly expand their efforts beyond Jerusalem to include even the gentiles themselves. Just as the power of the Spirit led on Pentecost, He continued to empower a new crop of leaders for this global expansion… men like Barnabas, who plays a special role in the gentile church and in the lives of men like Paul and John Mark.

We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36 when a supernatural manifestation of love moves some in the new community of faith to sell land to provide the material sustenance for needy believers.  Joseph, whom the Apostles have nicked-named “Barnabas.” (Which Acts 4:36 interprets as “Son of Encouragement) is one of them. Being from Cyprus, many have suggested that this signals a severing of ties with his old life there, and his full commitment to the new community of Faith in Jerusalem.

We learn several things about Barnabas in Scripture. It is interesting to note that his revealed character sets Barnabas out as the exact opposite of the description of the sinners condemned in Revelation 21:8. For fun, we’d like to present those characteristics using the man’s English name as an acrostic.

  • B – Bold, not coward
  • A – Authentic, not unbelieving
  • R – Righteous, not immoral
  • N – Noble, not an idolater
  • A – Admirable, not abominable/detestable
  • B – Believable, not a liar
  • A – Appreciative of the things of the Spirit resisting sorcerers
  • S – Sufferer, not a murderer

B – Bold, not coward

Barnabas was not just bold to speak the word of God but was also brave to give Saul, the Christian killer, a chance when others fled him. In Acts 9:19-25, Saul proves a powerful advocate for Christ in Damascus, winning disciples. In Jerusalem, however, he is shunned until Barnabas risks his very life to embrace him.

A – Authentic, not unbelieving

Barnabas is a faithful man, full of the Holy Spirit. When he witnesses God’s grace in gentile Antioch, he rejoices & encourages them to remain true to Jesus. Seeking their betterment rather than his own glory, Barnabas brings Saul to them. The ministry prospers greatly. (Acts 11:25–26). It is the authentic minister of Christ who lives out John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

R – Righteous, not immoral

The Greek word translated as immoral in Revelation 21:8 is derived from a base word that means to sell one’s self… prostitution. It speaks of the unwillingness of most for sexual restraint. Barnabas, however, is a prophet and teacher, a trustworthy man granted authority to collect and deliver large sums of money to sustain the believers in Jerusalem. (Acts 11:29-30). He is trusted as a righteous man who will not succumb to his passions and misappropriate their charitable gifts.

N – Noble, not an idolater

Barnabas has a noble character. He works to support himself in the ministry, just as Paul does, rather than bring the gospel into disrepute among those who are suspicious of their motives. Barnabas’ generosity in giving the proceeds from his land sale also heralds noble character. He strikes a contrasting figure with Ananias & Sapphira, whose greed leaves them unable to part with all the money from their own sale, after boasting that they had. (Acts 5:1-11). Greed is one form of idolatry, and Barnabas resists the common temptation to make a god out of money.

A – Admirable, not abominable/detestable

Barnabas is admirable. He is admired by the Apostles who call him Barnabas and by the Holy Spirit who choses him for missionary service along with Saul, also called Paul. (Acts 13:1-7). Although this mission is labeled Paul’s first missionary journey, Barnabas plays a leading role. When the time comes, Paul moves to the front without a fight for control by Barnabas. He recognizes Paul’s gifts and is happy to see them well-employed for the benefit of believers everywhere.

Here he stands in stark contrast to the detestable leaders of so many Synagogues whose greed (Luke 16:14-15) and jealousy (Acts 5:17 & 13:45) render them abominations before the Lord.

B – Believable, not a liar

The church at Jerusalem entrusts Barnabas’ witness concerning the grace of God in Antioch (Acts 11:22-23; 15:12). When the crowds at Lystra call Barnabas, Zeus (Jupiter—the supreme god), & Paul, Hermes (Mercury—the messenger of the gods & spokesman of Zeus), they restrain them from offering sacrifice to them. Barnabas doesn’t exploit this lie, even when the Jews from Antioch & Iconium coax these very crowds into stoning Paul. (Acts 14:8-20).

A – Appreciative of the things of the Spirit resisting sorcerers

Barnabas is full of the Holy Spirit and manifests the right kind of respect and humility in appreciation of the grace shown to the gifted. It is all about Christ, not himself. (Acts 11:23-24).

Thus, when arriving in his home region, Cyprus (Acts 13), Barnabas stands with Paul against the Jewish sorcerer and false prophet Bar-Jesus, just as Peter stood against the selfish wiles of Simon the Samaritan sorcerer in Acts 8.

When Barnabas witnesses the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon Paul, he appreciates that gifting and allows Paul to assume leadership in their work. (Acts 13:1-13). Acts 13 shows a swift transition of responsibility changing up the phrase Barnabas and Saul (v. 2,7) to Paul and his companions (v.13) to Paul and Barnabas (v.42,50).

S – Sufferer, not a murderer

Both John and Jesus saw the heart of murder in the violent self-interest of those who give way to hate for others. (Matthew 5:22; 1 John 3:15) Barnabas, however, shows again and again that he is an encourager of others, rather than a self-interested brawler. He lives to see others promoted, even if, by the gracious gifts of God, they are promoted ahead of himself. He sees the good in others and stands for them even when it costs him personally… like the time he stood against Paul himself on behalf of John Mark when that young man fails in ministry.

Barnabas influences both Paul and John Mark at crucial points in their spiritual lives, and thus, though superseded by both, has a share in their inspired writings. That which makes men murderers has no foothold in Barnabas’ soul.

Conclusion

We need leaders like Barnabas in our churches. We need leaders who are selfless and act honestly without any ulterior motives. We need leaders who are faithful, staying true to who they are in Christ, and focused primarily on keeping others close to Christ, rather than seeking to become the object of hero worship. Behind every Paul, there is a Barnabas, and we need a Barnabas in every local church. Those whose aim is not competition for prominence but only a deep desire to hear the Lord say to them, “Well done.”

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All Church Development Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The First Church in Acts 2

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

I love discovering deeper layers of meaning in books and movies than stand out on the surface. I get excited when, having read or watched something on one level, I discover upon further personal meditation or discussion with others the true profundity of the work. Of the many things I love about Scripture, one is its ability to prove deeper in intention than my ever-expanding mind and heart can fathom.

In this vein, let me say that Acts 2 is a wonder of Old Testament quotation and allusion. Its subtlety in drawing in the full theological weight of Israel’s sacred writings and weaving the Pentecost event into Israel’s sacred history is, to wildly understate it, masterful. Though a thousand pages could scarce unpack the whole, here, I’d like to provide just a nibble on the role given to the hopes of Isaiah 59 in the Pentecost narrative.

From Corrupt Society to Spirit-Filled Community

Isaiah 59 begins with a diatribe of the general corruption of human society and man’s ability to escape his own depravity enough to create a thriving world. This plagues both Israelites and Gentiles and plays a role in Paul’s own summary of world corruption in Romans 3. In verse 16, Yahweh determines to bring both justice and salvation. He promises to come to man Himself and plant a redeemed, Spirit-transformed community in the world. His coming is described in verse 19 as a fear-inducing, glorious, “rushing stream” driven on by the Spirit of Yahweh. This Spirit is both upon them and in them overflowing in prophetic speech as spirit-filled families and communities continue expanding in the world.

In Acts 2, the story does not begin with neutrality, but with darkness, with a murdered messiah. The people and religious leaders and Gentiles preyed on Him for His righteousness and continue to reject Him through His followers. Into this comes the Spirit of God, sounding like a mighty rushing wind, with holy fire upon them and divine speech flowing from them. They rush into the streets where those hearing the sound witness the wonder of their emergence from the upper room.

Pentecost

On this day of Pentecost—the historic celebration of the coming of Torah, the creation of Israel, the mighty works of God, and the sending of David—the witnesses hear the disciples of Jesus declaring the mighty works of God to the gathered Jewish representatives of the nations. Peter stands up and delivers a Spirit-inspired message about the resurrection of the rejected son of David and calls upon those under the Spirit’s conviction to repent and cry out to God. In addition to several other allusions to Isaiah 59 already noted, Peter follows his call for repentance with a composite of Isaiah 59:21, Isaiah 57:19,  and Joel 2:38 in Acts 2:39.

He says,  “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Thousands respond and join these believers in the creation of the Church of Jesus, who is the Christ.

This is not the end, however. The crescendo of Acts 2 is not with coming power or prophetic speech. It is not with inspired preaching, apologetics, or evangelism. It is not with a massive altar call or swelling church numbers. The crescendo of Acts 2 is found in Acts 2:41-47 in the establishment of a community of love and devotion that stands out as a miraculous light in the great human darkness around it.

Community summaries like the one in Acts 2 play an important role in the unfolding of Acts.

The First Church

We have an early depiction of the 11 with their followers—in one accord, devoted to prayer… both men and women, Jesus’ family— in Acts 1:14. We see the filling up of the Apostle’s ranks in 1:15-26, a typological restoration of Israel.

3000 are added at Pentecost (2:41), who are devoted to the Apostle’s teaching, fellowship, eating together and prayer, experiencing signs and wonders with divine fear, sharing with each other freely, worshiping in the temple, well received by the community and growing daily in number (2:42-47).

At the end of 4:4, another 5000 are added over the incident with the lame man. We hear of the oneness of the community in sharing all things (while defending property rights which are an important social foundation throughout Scripture). We hear of the power at work among them as they preached in 4:32-37.

Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead by God causing great fear in the community as signs and wonders continue. They continue as one. Many men and women are added, but others, while admiring keep their distance. (5:11-14) In 5:42, they meet daily in the temple and from house to house.

Growth of the Spirit-Led Community

With Paul’s conversion, the church enters a period of Peace throughout Judea and Galilee, and Samaria, being built up, fearing God and finding comfort in the Holy Spirit. They multiplied. (9:31) After Peter speaks to Gentiles who come to faith, some of those scattered begin to speak to Gentiles as well, and a great number turn to the Lord. (11:21) In 11:24, “a great many are added.” In 12:24, “the word of God increased and multiplied.

Paul and Barnabas have Isaiah’s Servant mission proclaimed over them in 13:43-49 as they turn away from the Synagogue in Perga to the Gentiles there saying, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed,” (13:48) and  “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” (13:49)  In 16:5, “they increased in number greatly.” In 19:20, the word prevails and increases greatly. Throughout, we find prayer 21x, worship 7x, fellowship, and breaking bread 5x.

This depiction stands in constant contrast with the darkness around them. Isaiah 42 is quoted over Paul and Barnabas in 13:47. Thus, the context of the church’s light is the darkness of the Jews & Gentiles, lowly & Great.

The Beauty of the Mundane

What does all this mean to us?

While anecdotal, my experience in schools and churches has convinced me that, like the Corinthian community, many have a tendency to measure spirituality by “spiritual” looking manifestations (the weirder the better) and to ignore the more meaningful measure of the fruit of the Spirit in community.

The idea that the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 climaxes in the uncommon “mundane” should be a check for us. Heavenly signs, fire, tongues, exuberance, bold proclamation, miracles, and massive “altar-calls,” find their intentional end in a community of devotion to God and to each other. We are excited by and eagerly seek Acts 2:2-41, but pause little over our failure to produce Acts 2:42-47.

Many others have given up the whole paradigm, contenting themselves with little more than a doctrinal reflection on the transforming power of the Spirit in life and community. Don’t be one of them. Cry out to God for His transforming power in your life and the social and societal fruit that it should bring.

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All Church Development Spiritual Development

Guest Blog: 5 Tips for Finding a Bible Study

Author: Kayla Hyatt, Guest Author Ministry Assistant Services

 

A Bible study is an excellent place to start if you’ve wanted to dive deeper into Scripture but don’t know how to get started, or if you’ve been studying a specific topic or book of the Bible but want more information or a different perspective. Finding a Bible study that is a perfect fit for you can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are five tips to help you get started.

1. Pray

Sometimes we want to plug a topic that we are interested in into our search engine and go from there, but the best place to start is always with prayer. Ask the Lord if there is something He wants you to research or learn in this season. Maybe it’s a topic or a specific book of the Bible that He wants you to focus your attention on. Perhaps He has already laid a topic on your heart that you have been thinking about for a while. Trust that the Holy Spirit will guide you in the right direction. I always ask the Lord to help me find the right study for what He wants to teach me. I also ask the Lord to open my ears and heart to His Word.

2. Decide what version suits you.

You know what way you learn and focus best. Sometimes the best Bible study is a book you can read at your own pace and highlight along the way. Another option is a Bible study that is video-based. Video-based studies are a great resource if you are an auditory learner. Video studies usually come in six to eight weekly sessions and coincide with a daily workbook. This is great if you have a lot of time on your hands or are trying to cultivate the habit of daily study in the Word. Another great option is a podcast. While finding time to sit down and focus all your attention on the Word can be so beneficial, sometimes we want or need something on the go. It should never be the only time you spend with Jesus, but it is great to listen on your commute to work, when you’re taking your kids to school, on the run, and traveling. There are some great Bible teachers on podcasts, so if that’s for you, download the app and get listening. 

3. Find Someone In The Know

Now that you’ve prayed and hopefully know your topic or book of the Bible you want to look at and know what version suits you, it’s time to find someone in the know. That person may very well be you! If you have a favorite Bible teacher or author, see if they have a book or Bible study in the area you want to learn about. If they do, that might be a good place to start. If you’re new to the Bible study world or can’t find what you’re looking for in your area of study, I highly suggest going to your local Christian bookstore and asking them if they have any recommendations. They do this all the time and will have some ideas for you. While you’re there, you can also browse. Sometimes the Lord leads us to the exact thing we need.

4. Talk to your Pastor

Maybe by now, you’ve already found the perfect study for you. If you’re still having trouble, your pastor can be a great resource. Ask him if he has any Bible study recommendations. The great thing is he probably has some on hand, and if he knows you well, he might already know the perfect one for you. Your pastor is hopefully reading and studying the Bible a lot of the time, so he will be an excellent resource for you. 

5. Gather your Friends

While having an independent relationship with the Lord is essential, the Lord does not call us to live life alone. Talk to your friends and see if they are doing a Bible study already and if they would want to do one together. This is a great way to stay fresh in the Word and have accountability while reading. You can decide together to meet, read the book, watch the video together, and then discuss what you’re learning and what the Lord may be saying to you. This also keeps things fresh and fun and is something you can look forward to every week (or however often you choose to meet). 

Bonus

When in doubt, the best thing you can do is go straight to the source. Invest in a study Bible or find a free one online and read directly from the Word. Bible studies can be great resources, but they are no replacement for the Word of God and how the Holy Spirit speaks to us through it. So, if finding a Bible study has been difficult, maybe the best thing to do in this season is read straight from the Word.

I pray this article is a helpful resource for you because the joy found in knowing God and His Word is incomparable to any earthly joy we could have.

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All Church Development Spiritual Development

What Does it Mean to Make Disciples?

Author: Jon Slenker, M.A., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Jesus was the original disciple-maker. It is safe to say, making disciples was a focal point of his ministry. Not only did Jesus command his disciples to make more disciples, he modeled and taught them for around three years how to do so. His ministry principles recorded in the New Testament reveal the difference between a leader that people have to follow, and a leader that people want to follow. Disciple-making in simple terms is leadership. It is one Believer shepherding another to be made more into the image of Christ, our supreme example (2 Cor 3:18). So when Jesus was discipling his “flock”, he was teaching them to be like him, and to do what he did.

 

Calling and Commissioning

First words and final words hold great importance. When Jesus called out his disciples he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men (Matthew 4:19 ESV).” After he assembled his twelve disciples for the first time, he provided them with more detail about what “fishing for men” means. These first words of Jesus to the Twelve are recorded in Mark 3:14-15, “…he appointed twelve so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons (ESV).” Similarly, Jesus’ final words to his disciples were a commission,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20 ESV).’”

This passage is known as one of the Great Commission passages and almost perfectly resembles his first words to the disciples. The Gospel author, Matthew, intentionally emphasizes Jesus’ first and final words in the structure of his writing. Disciples are called and commissioned by Jesus to make other disciples of Jesus.

 

Who is a Disciple-Maker?

A disciple is a repentant worshiper and follower of Jesus. The term translated as disciple in the New Testament means learner and refers to a student or apprentice.  Jesus did not invent the term or practice of discipleship. In fact, the practice of being a disciple or apprentice was discovered in ancient Greek writings five centuries before Jesus began his incarnate ministry.1 When he called out his twelve young disciples, he said, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’, he was inviting them into a discipleship relationship to learn how to be like him (Matt 4:19). After they were called out they, “went where he went, saw what he saw, heard what he heard, and attempted to do what he did.” A disciple is to be a close and obedient follower of Jesus. One church planter says, “It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person.”2 Thus, a disciple-maker is a disciple of Jesus, who teaches others how to follow and obey Jesus also. When disciple-makers gather and covenant together, they birth communities of discipleship the Bible calls a church. Because we, the Church,  are a nation of priests, Jesus’ command to make disciples has been passed down to every follower of Jesus. Discipleship is not reserved for pastors alone, but for the whole body of Christ. Pastors, then, are lead disciple-makers in a local community of discipleship.

A disciple maker:

  • Is a follower of Jesus who has been sent with his authority and responsibility.
  • A Shepherd who humbly cares for others.
  • Has others’ best interest in mind and fights for their highest possible good.
  • Equips and empowers others to do greater works than they have accomplished.

 

Making Disciples

One of the famous great commission passages, Matthew 28:18-20, offers a simple but profound call for all believers that may be applied through a series of questions.

Am I willing to be obedient to:

  • Commit a few hours a week to share my life with others?
  • “Go” and preach the gospel to a different people group than my own to whom the Lord sends me?
  • Baptize new believers?
  • Teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded in the Scriptures?
  • Trust that Jesus’ Spirit is with me everywhere and always?

If you answered yes to these, you need no other authority than Jesus’ to make disciples. However, a first step may be that you need someone to disciple you. Pray for this person, and be encouraged that Jesus is our primary discipler and his Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

The apostle Paul stressed Jesus’ principle of multiplication to one of his disciples, Timothy. In writing his final letter to Timothy, Paul’s final words mirrored Jesus’ final words, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:2 ESV).” Effective disciple makers equip and empower others to equip and empower others. The intention of discipleship is that those whom we disciple will be obedient to go and disciple others. This is popularly referred to as making disciple-making disciples. One of the men who discipled me through a season of life reminded me that we all multiply. The question is what or who are we multiplying? Disciple makers’ aim is to multiply disciples of Jesus, not simply themselves.

 

What Discipleship is Not

In my experience, the men who discipled me that had the greatest impact on my life did not just fill my head with a lot of knowledge, they shared their own lives with me as well. They led by example and often invited me on short trips to the market, to help neighbors, and oftentimes to sit with them at their family dinner table. They made time for me even when it was not always convenient for them. They used the bible as the training material and taught me how to read it prayerfully and apply it carefully to my own life. While information transfer is an easier form of discipleship, information alone is incomplete. As disciple makers, we must share not only our knowledge but our very lives as well.

 

Model, Assist, Watch, Leave

A helpful paradigm for discipleship exists in the four phases of modeling, assisting, watching, and leaving (and launching). First, a disciple-maker models for others how to follow Jesus in obedience. Second, the discipler assists the new disciple in living out Jesus’ character and commands. Third, the discipler watches as the new disciple grows in confidence and competence. Fourth, the discipler leaves and launches the equipped and empowered disciple to go do the same for others. Jesus and Paul most clearly represent this fluid paradigm in the Scriptures. While leaving their disciples physically after a time, Jesus sent his Spirit and promised he would be with them even after he left them. Paul also continually visited and wrote back to those he had once discipled and left. The goal of discipleship is that we would empower others to “do greater works” than we have (John 14:12).

 

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.

 

1Robinson, George G. “Grounding Disciple-making in God’s Creation Order: Filling the Earth with the Image of God,” Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Accessed November 10, 2021, 3. https://www.academia.edu/33940384/Grounding_Disciple_making_in_Gods_Creation_Order_Filling_the_Earth_with_the_Image_of_God.
2F. Chan, Multiply (Farmington Hills, MI: Walker Large Print 2013), 16.

 

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All Church Development Studying the Bible

The Importance of the Bible

Author: Jim Thompson, D.Min., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

A Theological and Biblical Basis for Making Scripture Engagement the Priority for Healthy Global Church Development

In a prior article, I addressed the problem of the Worldwide Bible Gap, with a focus on the Global South. I pointed out that in the Global South (Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East) we have a major distribution problem with getting God’s Word to those who hunger for it. There are at least 500 million Christians who want a personal Bible for their own spiritual growth, who do not have one. The logistic and economic challenges of the distribution of Scripture keep these believers without a Bible or New Testament for their spiritual nourishment.

In addition to these, there are millions of people in the Global South who are not followers of Christ yet but express a desire to read the Bible if they could ever get their hands upon one. These seekers, also cannot obtain a copy of Scripture because they are either not being made available in the villages and towns they live in, or they cannot afford to pay the costs being charged for a Bible. We, the Church of Jesus Christ must step up to meet these needs and disciple people to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Why is this important? The answer to this question is what I hope to answer in this article. A 1000-word article is not long enough to give all the reasons. However, I will attempt to at least start a conversation on the subject.

I am beginning this article with two presuppositions. First, that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. Secondly, the term Scripture which was a word used by both Jesus and the Apostles who wrote the New Testament letters refers to the written Word of God. Specifically, it is used for the Old Testament writings.

The Nature of the Word of God

Why is Scripture, or the Bible, so important to the Church? Why is the Bible so important to disciple-making, and healthy Church development? What was Jesus’ view of Scripture? These questions, and many more need to be answered in order to understand the importance of Scripture engagement. Regular Scripture engagement is the most important tool available for disciple-making and healthy Church development.

God is often referred to in the Bible as “the Living God”. He always has existed, and He always will exist. He has no beginning and no ending. He is also a “speaking God”. He eternally communicates. Thankfully, for human beings, God desires to communicate with us. This is a part of His desire to have a personal relationship with His children. God does not speak, just to speak. God always has a purpose in His communication. It is to always accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 55:9-11). God rules the universe by the Word of His power. God exercises His authority and power over His creation by His Word.

God not only speaks in the Old Testament; He speaks in the New Testament Scriptures as well (John 1:1-14). The attribute of God speaking is so closely connected to God Himself, that they are one and the same in this passage of Scripture. Jesus is called the Word, and Jesus is called God. There is even an intended connection between Genesis 1:1, and John 1:1. Hebrews 1:1-3 continues this theme, showing it is God’s nature to speak. His nature and desire are to reveal Himself. The chief means He uses is to speak in terms and ways that human beings can understand. He has spoken to us by Words, and He has spoken to us by His Son.

Eternal

God’s Word is eternal (I Peter 1:25). God’s Word stands the test of time. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Since God’s Word is eternally true, it does not change. Men change. Creation changes. Yet, as God is eternally unchanging, so is His Word. This fact should give us great confidence; in God, His Word, in the Scriptures, and in the Bible. Psalm 119:89 affirms this same truth. “Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.”

Foundational

God’s Word is also foundational for life. It is a rock-solid foundation upon which to build a disciple’s life. Jesus explains this in Luke 6:46-49. He explains that the person who hears His Word and puts it into practice is like a person who builds a house on a solid foundation. When storms such as doubt, temptation or persecution come against that person, the faith of that person in Jesus will stand. It is inevitable that these trials will come. Healthy discipleship and healthy Church development need the foundation of Scripture engagement and application.

Powerful

A third element of the nature of God’s Word is that it possesses absolute power. We see this as God created the heavens, and all galaxies by speaking them into existence (Psalm 33:6, 9; II Peter 3:5). He not only creates all things by His Word, but He also sustains all things, both visible and invisible by “the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 29:4). Jesus said that His Word is spirit and life. It is important that we understand God’s Word not only as communication of linguistic content but as a great power that makes things happen.1

This is especially important to remember when it comes to discipleship and church health. It is God’s Word that has the power to transform believers into healthy disciples.

Authoritative

A fourth element of the nature of God’s Word is that it is authoritative. It carries the supreme and ultimate authority that is unique only to God. God, as our Creator, Savior, and Lord has every right to tell us how we should live our lives. He does this primarily through His Word. He does nothing or says nothing, except through the prism of His love and wisdom. He expresses His wisdom, knowledge, desires, intentions, love, and grace through His Word.

When God shares His love with us, we have the obligation to treasure it. When He questions us, we should answer. When He expresses His grace, we are obligated to trust it. When He tells us His desires, we should conform our lives to them. When He shares with us His knowledge and intentions, we ought to believe that they are true.2

A final aspect related to the authority of God’s Word is the importance of the disciple embracing God’s Word with faith and obedience. Faith and obedience to God always bring blessing. Disobedience to God and His Word will bring about disappointment, defeat, and discipline from the Lord. This principle is found throughout Scripture (I Corinthians 10:11). Grace does not negate this principle to the disciple. It may blunt its force when forgiveness is sought, but it is a serious matter to neglect God’s commands or intentionally disobey them (Deuteronomy 30:16; Joshua 1:7-8; Psalm 1:1-3; Proverbs 29:18; Luke 11:27-28; James 1:22-25, and Revelation 1:3).

Conclusion

Jesus is Lord of His Church. He is the Master Teacher and Supreme Disciple-Maker. We must put His Word at the center of our evangelistic, disciple-making, and Church Planting efforts. This will help us bring about the healthy global Church development that we all desire.

 

1Frame, Doctrine of the Word, 50.
2Frame, Doctrine of the Word, 56.

Categories
All Church Development

How Closing the Bible Gap Will Impact Healthy Global Church Development

Author: Jim Thompson, D.Min., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

The Church of Jesus Christ faces many challenges today as it seeks to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. However, there is one problem that I intend to address today in my blog. This problem is known as The Bible Gap or Bible Poverty.

For those in North America, you may be familiar with State of the Bible. This is a collaborative research report done by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society. It provides insight into the health of the Church in America, and the direction we are headed. Every Pastor should read it and take its findings to heart in their ministry.

The purpose of this blog is to address the problem on a broader scale. It is to look at the spread of the Gospel worldwide and its implications for fulfilling Jesus’ last command “to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…”. Though there are many aspects of this command that need to be addressed, my focus will be on the process of disciple-making and the importance of the Bible in healthy Church Development. I will also focus on this taking place in the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East). I believe that Jesus wants us to work towards building a strong, healthy, and victorious Church among every people group on earth.

The Global Church

Research shows us that the Gospel of Jesus is spreading fastest in the above regions of the world. The Center of Christianity has moved from North to South. There is much to be thankful for. We rejoice in these developments of great growth, of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ taking place throughout the Global South. However, despite the spread of faith in Christ, there is still the problem that often is referred to as the ‘one mile wide and one-inch deep’ phenomenon. There has been much preaching about Jesus, but little disciple-making of the followers of Jesus. The result is many people believe in Jesus, but not near as many transformed disciples of Jesus. The Church is growing larger, but not necessarily healthier. What does the Bible, and both access to Scripture and engagement with Scripture, have to do with solving this problem?

The Worldwide Bible Gap

Some also refer to this problem as “Bible Poverty”. Whatever term you use, it is a problem that we have to face and solve. In simple terms: The Bible Gap is the gap between those who want a Bible and those who do not have access to a Bible.

The Bible Gap is normally viewed in four parts; translation, distribution, engagement, and transformation. Translation of the Bible is the focus of most current writing on this subject. It is true that the whole Bible has yet to be translated into 100 percent of the earth’s languages. In fact, there may be one billion people yet to have the whole Bible translated into their heart language. The major translation ministries are doing a good job of highlighting this need to the Church. Providing all people on earth with a full Bible is a worthy cause.

Closing the Bible Gap: Distribution

Currently, approximately 95 percent of the earth’s population have access to a complete Bible, New Testament, or one of the Four Gospels in a language they can read and understand. This gives most people access to Scripture so that they can meet Jesus as Savior and Lord if they so desire.

However, although there are Bibles, New Testaments, and Gospels translated and available, they are not getting to millions of believers and seekers who want them. A great shortage of Bibles and New Testaments exists in many parts of the world among people who can read and who desire a copy for their spiritual nourishment. This problem seriously inhibits the spiritual growth of Christians and hinders the healthy expansion of the Church. This is especially true in the Global South. 

The Bible Gap describes the gap that exists between those Christians who have a Bible for their personal use and those Christians who want a Bible or New Testament that is available in their language but are prevented from receiving one. This is a distribution problem for the Church to face, and solve. In fact, it is a devastating problem because at least 500 million Christ-followers are without a Bible or New Testament in the Global South. 

There are also many more seekers who, if they had an opportunity to read or listen to God’s Word, would do so but no one is providing them this opportunity. Just as there is a famine and scarcity of physical food in many parts of the Global South there is also a famine of the Word of God in this Region. It is the Church’s responsibility to meet this need. This is a spiritual justice issue of our day. There is great curiosity and hunger among the masses of the Global South to read or listen to the Bible.

Closing the Bible Gap: Engagement

There is a second part of “The Bible Gap” which I want to bring to your attention. It relates to engagement with Scripture. Engagement speaks to the issue of Christians who have access to a Bible, whether in print, on an audio device, or on a digital platform, but who do not regularly engage with God’s Word and allow it to transform their lives. There are also millions of believers in the Global South who fit into this category. Again, this is an engagement problem the Church must face and give priority to. These problems are at the very core of disciple-making. If we are to be faithful to Jesus’ Great Commission, we must address these problems and work at solving them. 

 

1 Matthew 28:19-20
2 https://www.gordonconwell.edu/blog/the-100-year-shift-of-christianity-to-the-south/
3 https://www.asiamissions.net/dealing-with-the-one-mile-wide–but-one-inch-deep-syndrome-an-african-initiative-on-transformational-discipleship/
4 Thompson, James. Closing the Bible Gap In the Global South. Chapter Six, 2018.

Categories
All Can You Trust the Bible? Church Development

Is Jesus Coming Back in 2022?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

When you read the letters of the Apostle Paul, you may notice something surprising – he seemed to think the world would end in his lifetime. Was the Holy Spirit inspiring an error when he wrote about Jesus returning soon? It’s been two thousand years… was he crazy? What possible justification could there be for his “wrong” opinions to be codified in inspired texts? Well, I think both he and the Holy Spirit were justified in preserving these thoughts. Let’s take a few moments to consider Paul’s words, and to think about why, perhaps, we should think the same.

 

The End of the World As We Know It

First, let’s recognize that Paul did believe Jesus could return very quickly – possibly while he was alive. This would be the climax of history, the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of the age of the Messiah. Consider his words to the church in Thessalonica who were distressed about believers who had died. These believers were confused because they did not know what would happen to believers who had ‘gone to sleep’ prior to the return of Christ. Paul reassured them, saying:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 NIV)

Do you see his argument? He said, “we who are still alive will be caught up.” His grammar, at least, anticipated that even he would be included in this great event.

 

Who’s Crazy?

So the question remains, was Paul wrong? Did he misunderstand the words of Jesus or the teachings of the other Apostles? And more importantly, did the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to write in error? The simple answer to each of these questions is No. Here’s why: every believer should think exactly the same thing that Paul thought and taught – that Jesus could (and would) return in their lifetime. Consider more from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6)

In the first verse of this passage, Paul explains: “about times and dates we do not need to write to you…” Why? Because, first of all, times and dates don’t matter: we need to be ready all the time. But, second, because Paul and the Thessalonians don’t know when the return will happen.

So, while Paul expects Jesus to return soon, he understands that ‘soon’ could be quite literally any time. His emphasis is not about when Christ will return, but that we should be ready when he returns.

In several parables, Jesus tells stories of those who are waiting for their master to return (Luke 12:35-40, 42-49, Matthew 25:1-13, 14-30). He severely warns those who wait to watch at all times, expecting their master’s return at any moment. Jesus summarizes, saying: “You also must be ready because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.Don’t be caught sleeping, distracted, or unprepared just because he’s been gone longer than we expected.

 

 

What’s Our Response?

Be crazy, therefore, as Paul is crazy. Expect the return of Christ in your lifetime. Live as if Jesus will return tomorrow, next week, next month, three years from now… Live like you believe what Jesus, Paul, and other New Testament writers say about the end of the world. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul and others to write about the return as imminent, meaning that it could happen at literally any moment. They were not wrong, they simply did not know when it would happen (and neither do we). This imminence of the return hasn’t changed even though it has been two thousand years since the time of Paul.

Jesus says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32 NIV) He also says, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:40 NIV) If you believe in these words, they will radically change the way you live.

Peter encourages us toward this end, saying: “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:7-8 NIV)

The End

The Holy Spirit allowed Paul’s expectations to pepper his inspired writings because this is exactly how we should think, how we should live, how we should speak. Jesus is coming back soon… are you ready and watching?

Let’s close with the words of Jesus, the very last words in Scripture, which were repeated four times in the book of Revelation: “Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20 NIV).

 

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