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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).

 

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