I’ve created a poll on my linkedin profile that asks “what is the most effective environment for making disciples?”
Please go and vote, see what others are saying, and return here to share your thoughts.
Making disciple-making disciples (or making DMD’s) seems rather redundant. Yet, in practice, very few are doing it. Making DMD’s is what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 28:18-20. Instead, many church leaders interpret the commission to “make disciples” in one of two ways. Some “make disciples” by making converts and then telling them to attend a church service. Others gather converts together and attempt to “go deeper” but place no emphasis on being a witness to their neighbor. This is the danger of separating evangelism and discipleship. The former is engaged in evangelism, the latter is engaged in what he or she believes to be discipleship.
Discipleship Training or Transforming Disciples?
Our “discipleship training” has become merely a class or a Bible study that helps us grow in our knowledge about God but it doesn’t always encourage us to live for God. Making DMD’s is a much more robust commitment to the spiritual transformation of another. When Jesus told His disciples to go and make disciples, He was literally telling them to make disciple-making disciples. Just as He invested in them, now they were to invest in others.
Matthew 28:20 says to teach the disciples to obey (or “observe”) all that Jesus commanded. Paul reminds us of this concept in 2 Timothy 2:2 which says, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Of course, this is not the definition of what it means to make disciples because Paul is only talking about teaching “what you have heard”.
Making DMD’s isn’t just about teaching, it’s about a lifestyle that invites others into your life. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.” This goes beyond the important teaching aspect to the equally important but much more vulnerable lifestyle of making disciples. Sermons, seminars, and classes need to be extra-curricular to the more risky and time consuming core curriculum of modeling a transformed life in front of others.
So what does it mean to “make disciple-making disciples”? The point of stating it redundantly is to emphasize the necessity of reproducibility. Disciples make more disciples but non-disciples don’t make disciples. But understanding what making DMDs is all about is like trying to explain swimming to someone who has never been in a pool of water. The best way to do it is to jump in and splash around. There are some principles and theories about how to do it but if you understand that the goal is to make disciples who will then make more disciples there is at least more motive for making DMDs in the first place.
Once you have the motivation for reproducible disciple making, the how-to becomes clearer. For example, in order for discipleship to be reproducible it can’t be specialized. The leadership training and scholarship of a seminary student is important and certainly plays a role in the body of Christ but it can’t really be referred to as disciple making. Making DMDs is much broader and less specialized. It should be universal to all followers of Jesus. There is no dichotomy between Christians and disciples. Instead, all who desire to follow Jesus will be compelled internally to share Jesus with others; mostly for their love for Him, but also because He commanded it. Anyone unwilling to make disciples as Jesus commanded cannot truthfully consider himself a disciple.
Being a seminary student or a pastor or any other church leader doesn’t automatically mean you are a DMD. Stated in another way, seminary students need to not only engage in their seminary studies, but also need to engage in those activities that are universal to all followers of Jesus. The same goes for pastors and other church leaders. This is just one example of what can be gleaned by understanding that the goal of disciple making is reproducibility. We haven’t defined what making DMD means, we’ve just narrowed it down by shaving off what it is not. Not everyone calling themselves Christian is truly making disciples.
It could be said at this point that making disciple-making disciples should be the goal of all disciple making activity. It should further be stated that it is the responsibility of all followers of Jesus to be involved in making DMDs. The seminary student might happen to be studying Greek and translating passages of Scripture (a worthy and important activity) but she must also be involved in making DMDs. An Administrative Pastor might be responsible for the finances and logistics of a church but he must also be involved in making DMDs. A musician might do her best to learn the guitar and play it well for God’s glory but she must also make DMDs.
These should all be true much like it is also true that a business person or a stay-at-home mom or a consultant must make DMDs if he or she desires to follow Jesus. For some reason, though, our church leaders aren’t even involved in this most fundamental activity in the Kingdom. Jesus told His disciples to make disciples, it follows then, that to follow Jesus we will also make disciples and equip them to make disciples. Those first disciples did what He commanded and that has been the method God has used to advance His Kingdom for nearly 2,000 years.
Making DMDs goes beyond calling people to the least common denominator of devotion. Jesus’ call was to radical commitment, so why do we call people to a fraction of that commitment? Worse: why do we as church leaders often model a fraction of the devotion and commitment that should be inherent in the life of any Jesus follower. It’s like we’re selling life insurance rather than showing someone how to live the transformed, vibrant, abundant life that Jesus offers. Jesus doesn’t offer life insurance, He offers a new life. Making disciple-making disciples is about calling people to live that radical new life and walk along the Way with Jesus while simultaneously inviting others to walk alongside.
I wrote a post a couple of days ago about the need for Southern Baptists to change their name. I gave a compelling argument in my opinion. Now, after receiving a flood of comments and responses on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and via email, I want to refine my remarks to reflect some of the follow up thoughts to my previous post.
The Intended Outcome for this Article
I hope two things will happen as a result of this post:
1. You, the reader, will comment on this post and use all the means of communication at your disposal to let delegates at this year’s SBC convention know about this debate. Online social media as well as blog posts, email forwards, phone calls, letters and telegrams are all strongly encouraged!
2. Someone versed in the parliamentary procedure at the SBC will need to draft a proposal that we research a name change. In 2004 such a proposal was voted down but only by 55%. 44.6% of all Southern Baptists at that meeting were in favor of researching a name change! Today, I believe it would be 51% if you act now!
Reasons to Change Our Name This Year!
1. We aren’t all Southern.
2. A new name could be the first step in throwing open doors for new church plants in non-Southern states.
3. Churches seeking a denominational affiliation in areas outside the South might consider affiliating with us if we had a different name.3. A good name reflects a good reputation.
4. Keeping our current name suggests complacency. Changing our name reflects boldness and innovation.
5. A name change might promote innovation and boldness in other needed areas in the convention.
6. Southern Baptist wasn’t a good name to begin with when it was created during the Civil War era.
7. Our culture responds to brands and ‘Southern’ has become irrelevant.
8. Names have to do with reputation and identity. ‘Southern’ doesn’t.
9. There are 6.5 billion people in the world. (that’s “b” as in billions)
10. There are only 105 million people in the South. (that’s “m” as in millions or less than 1% of total world population.)
11. There are 3.8 million square miles in the US and 92 million square miles in the world.
12. There are 905,322 square miles in the South. (that’s “th” as in thousands or less than 1% of the total world land area.)
13. A new name could perpetuate a closer bond in our denomination with sister churches around the world.
14. Most people have a bad perception of what Southern Baptists are about…a new name could refocus our denomination in a positive direction.
15. Thousands of SBC leaders and pastors are in favor of a name change from WA Criswell to Jack Graham and Danny Akin. Ignoring that challenge for the past half century is insulting to SBC leaders who are not currently located in the South.
16. Some true Southern Baptists (those actually located in the South) tend to have an arrogance that they are the decision-makers for the denomination.
17. A new name and branding would help us truly become a denomination for the 21st century.
18. We may disagree on what a new name might actually be, but ANYTHING is better than ‘Southern’.
19. SBC church leaders outside of the Bible Belt often hide the fact that they are SBC.
20. Some non-Southerners wouldn’t attend an SBC church simply because of their perceptions of the SBC. Changing the name would remove that barrier.
21. In most other areas, people are looking for relevant, transformational churches. Based on the media coverage of the SBC, many wouldn’t even think to look at an SBC church no matter how relevant it actually is. It simply wouldn’t cross their mind much like many of us wouldn’t even think to go to a Roman Catholic Church to find solid Bible teaching and an active engagement with the community.
22. Nothing about our name or logo excites our postmodern, post-Christian culture.
23. Would our Southern churches want to be called the Northern Baptist Convention?
24. People have stereotypes about the South (although they are often unfair and misguided). All the negative stereotypes are then glued to our denomination.
25. Many organizations that go through changes over the years adopt a new name to reflect their fresh identity. This is found in the corporate world AND in our own convention (Think Lifeway, NAMB, the IMB, Guidestone Financial etc.)
26. Our current name is based on a location, not on a vision.
27. Our current name reflects who we were, not who we are or who we want to be.
28. Regardless of what we want the SBC to stand for, what it is perceived to stand for is fundamentalism (if you don’t know that’s a negative term today then you probably won’t be voting in favor of a name change will you?)
29. Our name is not a Baptist distinctive. Changing it would not be a departure from our convictions and distinctives..
30. It won’t cost as much to research a new name as it would have in 2004. Through the use of technology we can get thousands of Baptists involved in brainstorming ideas for a new name and its potential impact.
31. No one comes to faith in Christ because our name is Southern Baptist, but how many have refused to even come to an SBC church, much less start an SBC church or affiliate with an SBC church because of the name?
32. There is absolutely no good reason why ‘Southern’ must be in our name. I challenge you to find one!
33. Half of all the Southern Baptists in the world are located in 5 Southern states: TX, GA, NC, TN, AL. Could that have to do with the name?
34. A good name reflects a good reputation.
Some Names to Get Us Thinking
We’ve come a long way since 1845 in how we organize and in how we name our organizations. Our name should be something that everyone in the denomination can be proud of. It should reflect who we are and who we want to be. It should generate excitement.
Think of all the conferences and networks that are cropping up today: Acts29, Resurgence, Elevate, Exponential, Fusion, Catalyst. If we were just starting out would we call it the Southern Baptist Convention? A name should represent something about our vision and not just something about our past.
Great Commission Baptist Convention | Cooperative Baptist Convention | Bible Baptist Convention | Great Commission Baptists | Lottie Moon Baptist Convention 🙂 | North American Baptist Convention | International Baptist Convention | Global Baptist Convention | Missional Baptist Convention | Global Baptist Movement | Immersion Baptist Convention 🙂 |
My personal favorite is the Great Commission Baptist Convention but I’d like to hear your ideas.
I realize that some of these names are already taken. I’m simply providing them here to get us thinking about who we are rather than who we once were. I don’t even like some of the names (indicated by the smileys) but I offer them here as proof that ANYTHING would be better than Southern Baptist Convention.
Take Action NOW!
I want to hear from you! Southern Baptists need to hear from you! What would you call the Southern Baptist Convention? Do you have other reasons why we need to change the name? If you pastor or serve in a church outside the Bible Belt, do you proudly display your Southern Baptist roots or keep it hidden? Have you seen our current name to be a hindrance to your work in the local church? Why or why not?
If you have answers to these questions or if you want to just express your agreement or disagreement, please do so in the comments section below. Let us know who you are (name, church, etc.). Don’t forget to share this today online AND offline. If you link to this post, I will link to yours. If you tweet this post, I will tweet one of yours. Let’s get this name changed once and for all!
[New Post: I’ve written a newer post entitled 32 Reasons (and counting) Why Southern Baptists Must Change Their Name! It builds on this post so once you’ve read this post, I encourage you to check it out.]
I usually don’t say much about the Southern Baptist Convention since I am not in the South. The name means little if anything to New Englanders.
If SBC means anything to anybody here, it usually means “fundamentalist” or “anti-something” (anti-gay, anti-Disney, anti-abortion, anti-fun, anti-reasonable, anti-interesting…emphasis on the “anti-“)
For years now I’ve heard of people wanting to change the name of the SBC, but many in our denomination who are primarily located in the South refuse to think progressively towards the future. Many think that if we lost the brand “SBC” we’d never get back our influence and name recognition (what about the costs of remaining the same?). In their view, people wouldn’t know who we are anymore. There might even be some who decide to split off from the new movement and remain “Southern Baptists” as if that were a hill on which to die.
Would it be so bad if some people got confused as to who we were? We haven’t exactly had a stellar, “reputation with outsiders” over the years. Wouldn’t this give us a chance to push the reset button on a denomination that can’t seem to keep up with the growth of the society around us?
Would it be so bad if some extreme “Southern Baptist Only” pastors left the newly named convention? Yes, it actually would, but maybe our 16 million member denomination needs some pruning. Get too big and you lose your pioneering edge. The trouble is, our denomination is “mainline” only in the South. Everywhere else it’s emerging. We may lose some people but we need to do the right thing and encourage people to join us rather than do the irrelevant and non-innovative thing and try to please people.
Newsflash: Probably more people are leaving the SBC thanks to our lack of innovation and relevance in a postmodern, post-Christian culture than there ever will be thanks to a simple but necessary name change.
What would a name change do for the SBC?
– A name change would remove a Civil War era title that means nothing to a post-Christian society.
– A name change would remove a regional brand that means nothing to those of us in emerging regions in North America or those planting churches internationally. After all, we are in the South AND the North, South America AND North America, Southern hemisphere AND Northern hemisphere. “Southern” is irrelevant. It means nothing. There are 3.79 million square miles in the US and 306 million people. Those states that could most easily identify with being called Southern only account for 905,322 square miles and 105 million people.
– On a related note, currently, only Southern Baptists IN THE SOUTH are proud to be called Southern Baptists. Most people in other areas go by their association name or leave it out altogether. A name change would actually improve our brand, not destroy it.
– A name change gives us a chance to choose a name that focuses on what we stand for rather than what we were once against hundreds of years ago. (We were on the wrong side of the debate when we were anti-abolitionists, and even though we are on the right side of the debate when it comes to abortion and homosexuality, does it improve our chances of being heard to constantly be the “anti-” denomination?)
– A name change would maintain our Biblical convictions and Baptist distinctives but would move us to a new era in Great Commission endeavors.
What Do We Call It?
Building on the momentum that has come (especially among younger Southern Baptists) from Dr. Danny Aiken’s call to a Great Commission Resurgence, I want to propose that we name our convention the Great Commission Baptist Convention (GCBC). Should we be known as Southern Baptists? Or Great Commission Baptists? You decide! I think “the GCBC” has a nice ring to it.
– This name would brand us as the Great Commission denomination (if you care about branding which I don’t).
– This name would give our denomination the ability to get out of the way of the local church and become the supporting structure that it was always meant to be.
– This name places the focus on making disciples of every nation. In other words, it focuses on the positive, not the negative.
– This name gives us a fresh start and a new vision for the future.
Will the denomination split as a result of a name change? If it does then it simply feeds the perception in many people’s minds that SBC churches would split over any issue (how many times have I heard people say they wouldn’t be SBC because they heard of one that split over the color of the carpet). The fact that that’s the perception in many people’s minds should be reason enough to change our identity in the first place. The SBC needs to be stronger than that. We need a new name and we need our churches to come together on this issue – NOW! The SBC is already declining in influence among younger generations and I believe the name and the baggage it carries with it is part of the problem.
A Final Plea
Most people know the SBC based on what they’ve heard publicly (usually from the conventions when we’ve voted on controversial issues). As a result, people will rarely give Southern Baptists a chance on a local, more personal level. Our denomination has a proud history, but our name has nothing to do with that. We aren’t the largest Protestant denomination in the US because our name has Southern in it. We aren’t the largest missions sending agency in North America thanks to someone’s genius idea of calling us Southern in 1845.
When the people who are most involved in the Great Commission in the SBC are serving internationally and in emerging, pioneering regions, why are we stuck with a name that doesn’t reflect our identity? Those of us who are trying to pioneer works in difficult areas feel like the most effective way to be a Southern Baptist is NEVER to let anyone know what denomination you are aligned with. Doesn’t the denomination exist to support the local church? Or just the ones in the South?
We know what we WANT “Southern Baptist” to mean, but no one else does. Instead, “Southern Baptist” means anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality and nothing else. As a local church leader I want to deal with issues like abortion and homosexuality on a local level in a personal and loving and Biblical way. Making resolutions and statements about what we are against is not going to change our culture. If we really believe in the local church, then we need to let the local church lead. Our name hinders us from doing that effectively in MOST areas of the world.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey, the “Nones” (those who have no religious affiliation) have grown from 8.2% in 1990 to 15% in 2008. They are the only group to have seen growth in all 50 states, most other groups are declining. In fact, people identifying themselves as “Christians” shrunk from 86% to 76% in less than 20 years. Massachusetts has seen a 21% increase in “Nones” and Vermont has seen the largest increase with 34% MORE people claiming no religious affiliation. If people in New England had a hard time identifying with “Southern” Baptists before, does anyone seriously think that things are going to improve until we change our name? I have a friend in Chicago who told me that the radio talk show hosts STILL make fun of “the day the Southern Baptists came to town” (referring to our strategic focus city initiative that tanked in Chicago though they have been more successful elsewhere).
What are the arguments against changing our name? I can’t think of a good one so please respond in the comments section if you’ve got one. Our denominations refusal to change our name is one more indication of how we are a denomination that is against and not for. I think “Great Commission Baptist Convention” is a great start to removing this perception. But I’ll let others make the innovative decisions necessary for our future because.
I strongly encourage our convention this year to draft, propose, and vote in favor of a resolution to submit a new name to the convention delegates at next years convention.
Oh, and we need a new logo anyway. Living in a macbook, iPhone, Google sort of world, we don’t need something that looks like it came from Word ’97 … just sayin’.
Next Post in Series: 32 Reasons (and Counting) Why Southern Baptists Must Change Their Name!
Most Christians in America are overwhelmed.
The typical Christian in America works 50+ hours per week and sleeps about 50 hours per week. That leaves about 68 hours to spend on everything else: family, friends, hobbies, exercise, cooking, eating, housework, watching TV, playing video games, homework, lectures, and – oh yeah – God.
Our culture is on the move. A typical church attending Christian doesn’t want to spend more than an hour on Sunday spending time with other believers. In fact, many Christians have the perception that they go to church instead of recognizing that they are the church. As a result, church has become a place rather than a people, an hour rather than an identity, and an obligation rather than a privilege. The Christian begins to view their responsibility to church as the minimum set of requirements necessary to be considered a “regular”.
There are a lot of ways we can simplify our lives so that we can spend more time with other members of the church. I want to explore that in more detail in a forthcoming post entitled A Gathering Church. Meanwhile, how are we to perceive our role in the world?
#Should there be a secular vs. sacred dichotomy in our minds?
#Should we feel guilty if 95% of our time is spent in the world and only 5% is spent in “sacred” activities?
#How can we move from “regular attender” to become a faithful follower of Jesus (regardless of how much or how little time we spend in a church building)?
#How can we be the church when we aren’t with the church?
I’m Glad You Asked
Too many Christians are not asking those questions. If you are one of the few who is genuinely asking questions like these then you are on the path of a disciple. You are learning what it takes to truly follow Jesus. Keep asking those questions and others like them. Now let me see if I can provide some thoughts on the matter.
A church that merely packs out a church building for an hour each Sunday with regular attenders may look successful but is in fact disobedient to Christ. If the leadership of a church isn’t calling its members to costly discipleship then it is ignoring one of the most central teachings of Christ. We aren’t called make converts or church attenders, we are called to make disciples. But where do we look for new recruits (so to speak)?
A Church on the Move
In the Matthean Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus tells his followers, “As you are going, make disciples…” Every pastor has pointed out this nuance that “Go” is not the command because it is a participle and it means “as you are going”. In other words, this isn’t new stuff but it is a very important point: “Make disciples” is the command. Jesus commands his church to be on the move. It’s hard to escape from the busy pace of the American lifestyle, so let’s take advantage of the fact that much of our day is spent with unbelievers.
We are on the move because we are Americans and we are the church because we are Christians. So, as we go about our daily activities, let’s keep in mind that we are ambassadors for the kingdom of God. It’s kind of silly to think that we would try and be ambassadors only when we are in the walls of a church building during “holy hour”. America doesn’t send out ambassadors to America, they send ambassadors to places and people that need to hear the message we have to communicate. In the kingdom of God, our role in the world is to go to the people that need to hear God’s message of love and truth. We are going anyway (job, gym, restaurant, store, etc), so why not fulfill Christ’s commands “as you are going”?
Following Jesus 9 to 5
I once waded through every single verse in the gospel of Mark to determine where Jesus spent his time. Jesus spent most of his time on the seashore and in the marketplace with business people. Coming in as second to spending time with business people, Jesus spent his time with his disciples. Then, Jesus spent time in homes, and finally he spent time in the temple complex. So, in order of importance Jesus spent most of his time in the marketplace, then with his disciples, then in homes, and finally in the temple complex. Jesus made disciples as he was going.
We are called to be the church, not just when we are with other believers, but significantly we are called to be the church when we are not with other believers. It’s easy being the church with like-minded friends, but discipleship wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for Jesus’ original Twelve was it? We don’t just choose to be disciples when it’s easy for us. Peter and John said they considered it a privilege to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) Suffering was one of the core values of the early church. We will never experience the kind of suffering of the first disciples, so can we not have enough boldness to share with a co-worker or a friend about our relationship with Jesus?
We freely talk about our spouse, our children, our pets, our hobbies, and our interests, but not about our God?!
The reason God never comes up in conversation is because we have misplaced priorities. Our job is something that is of absolute necessity so that we can pay the bills and eat meals. We forget that we are a child of the King. He is the source of our needs and He has placed us in our jobs and in our circles of friends to share God’s love with others. That is why we are employed: not to make money but to make disciples. Rather than view the workplace as a mission field for making disciples, too many Christians just try to get through the day so they can collect their paycheck and go home, never thinking about what “as you are going, make disciples…” might mean for their lives.
The church needs to develop the habit of calling its members to follow Jesus. Our leaders are often not willing to challenge the church to go beyond regular attendance at worship gatherings. Success for a church is not in filling a building on a weekly basis. Success is determined by how many lives are being transformed. It’s about quality not quantity, depth not width. Followers of Jesus recognize that church gatherings are pointless if the church is never going. But when the church is a going church, the church gatherings are that much better!
Related Post: My Top Concerns for the Local Church
Recently I was asked by my pastor to start a new small group. Our group has grown to about 16 people and that gets to be too intimidating for some people to share. This has led me to reflect on the question “Why community?” This has certainly been a question I have visited before, as small groups were the building blocks of my previous church. But I thought I would take things I’ve learned in the past and merge those with what God is teaching me at present and give a concise but thorough Case for Community.
Biblical Foundations for Community
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus encourages His disciples to make disciples. Paul echoes that commission when he writes to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). As we are making disciples helpful to be reminded of Jesus’ prayer for us as disciples and disciple-makers in John 17:21 “May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You send Me.”
In thinking about this prayer, Francis Schaeffer writes, “we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.” Gilbert Bilezikian says, “According to that prayer, the most convincing proof of the truth of the gospel is the perceptible oneness of his followers.” Without love and unity the world will disbelieve. On the other hand, it is our love and our unity that enables the world to understand and receive the Truth. Jesus’ prayer is the one we should be praying for ourselves and for those we are discipling that we would be one. Colossians 3:14 reminds us that “Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.”
“May They All Be One”
So, the goal of our discipleship should be unity – unity with God, and unity with each other. But how do we get there? Ephesians 4 gives a great answer. Verses 12 and 13 tell us that the leadership of the church is a gift from God “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” Step one, train the saints to do the ministry! Does it even seem feasible for one man to do all the hospital visits, to people he hardly knows, on time he hardly has? Instead, the members of the church should be mobilized to care for the sick, reach out to the lost, feed the hungry, and care for the spiritual needs of their neighbors and friends. The leaders are mobilizers and it should be all of the body serving one another and those outside the faith.
Step two is spiritual maturity. Notice that this step follows service and ministry. We don’t wait until we are seminary trained to begin our ministry. It is precisely that service that we perform with and for one another that develops our maturity. We don’t grow in isolation. We need community! It’s within the community that our faith is formed. Our relationship with God is personal but it’s not private.
I have discovered that I have no problem reading my Bible and praying daily when I know a friend who is in need, or when I have a stimulating discussion about God’s Word, or hear a challenge to the faith that I’ve never heard before. These interactions with others is what fuels my relationship with God. It is my connection to people that reinforces my connection with God. If I hadn’t had that discussion I might not be interested to see what God has to say on the topic. If my friend weren’t in need, maybe I would be spending less time in prayer. You get the idea. Close, spiritual, open, and honest friendships within the family of faith are vital to my personal walk with God.
The Cost of Community
It’s hard to be unified with someone you only see once a week. Especially if you are staring at the back of his head from the pew behind him. In fact, it’s quite easy to have a disagreement with such a person and never resolve the issue because there’s no reason to resolve it. You can just stop talking. But, if you are serving together in ministry, if you are helping him and he is helping you grow stronger in faith, then you are unified. It is this unity that is so essential to the mission of the church. Without this unity that is brought on by serving together and growing together, the world is hopelessly lost. The world needs us to be the family they never had. They need us to love one another.
But we need one another too. We were created for community but that doesn’t mean it comes easy (or even naturally). Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” We need to be together regularly if we are to show one another the care that is necessary to promote love and ministry. Do we want to be followers of Jesus? Do we want to make disciples, as He commanded us? Then we will regularly meet together because of our love and our concern for one another. I know I won’t grow in my relationship with God in isolation, but that means my brother or sister won’t either.
To be a disciple is to be in community. In order to make disciples, we need to encourage them to be in community. To change the world we need to invest in community. As the church, we are the final apologetic and it’s because of community. Jesus is only going to make one more appearance and that will be to call His Church home. Until then, we have a definite commission, and a definite course of action: As disciples, we are called to live in community with one another. This is achieved as we get together regularly and care for one another and serve together and grow together and show the world that we are disciples because of our love for one another. We need this! They need this! No longer can we simply come to a building once a week and expect that to be enough. In fact, we can’t merely come to a small group Bible study for a couple of hours per week and expect that to be enough. We are a family and a family is a huge time commitment. So let’s be disciples and not just complacent Christians. It’s messy and scary and you might just have to open up and share your life with someone, but don’t all the good things in life cost something?
I am currently attending a two week course at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary on the subject of World Missions. This winter session is the start of my final year of seminary and this particular class ensures that it will be a good year. Yesterday I simply shared some of my notes from Day One and thought I would share, not necessarily the outline, but maybe some insights from Day Two. Hopefully, I will keep doing this for the next two weeks (with a few unrelated posts besides). As always, I invite conversation in the comments section because this is helpful to you and me as we think through these issues together.
The Great Commission
Today, Dr. Tennent spent the entire 3 hours discussing the Great Commission. There were a few things that were familiar and a few things that were brand new to me. The outline was quite simple. He went through each of the gospels and ennumerated all of the references to Jesus’ mission to the Gentiles. This culminated into the Great Commission passages from Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 (and Acts 1:8), and John 20.
The Usual (but still good) Insights
1. The Matthean Commission
The command in Matthew 28:19 is not “Go” as most people seem to think, it is “make disciples”. I’ve personally been saying this for quite some time and wish more people got it. My professor talked about the imperatival use of the verb “make disciples” whereas, the other verbs are participles that modify the main verb: “as you are going”, “as you are baptizing”, “as you are teaching”. This is a church that is already on the go, and their task is to make disciples.
The full phrase is to “make disciples of all the nations”. The nations here are not meant to be geo-political entities. They are specifically meant to refer to people groups.
2. The Markan Commission
Mark 16:9ff are not included in the earliest Greek manuscripts. As a result, we cannot place the same authority on this text as we do on the rest of Scripture. Mark’s ending could’ve been lost, or he intentionally meant to end His gospel abruptly in the middle of a theological point. The new ending is anonymous but has been accepted by the church and it is not inconsistent with the thought of Mark and can still be preached.
3. The Lukan Commission
Luke emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the fact that we don’t “do” missions, we join God in HIS mission. He opened the eyes of the men in Luke 24 so that they would recognize Him. He opened the minds of His disciples so that they would do His will. Apart from God’s work in people’s hearts, there is nothing that we can say or do to make someone trust in Christ.
The New Insights (that I hadn’t thought of before)
1. The Matthean Commission
Most people in the Church associate the phrase “Great Commission” with Mt 28:18-20. We should delete that file and talk about the Great Commission (singular) that is found in all four Gospels. The Great Commission refers to the overall mandate that the One who was sent is now sending the Church.
2. The Markan Commission
Mark’s account seems to focus on individuals rather than people groups. Jesus says to “Go into all the world” World is less specific than Matthew’s “nation”. The imperative here is to “proclaim the message to all creation”. Since the world population of Jesus’ day was only 250 million and now is around 6.2 million, world population has changed the scope of Jesus’ commission to His first disciples. We have to go where the people are. Right now, around 60% of the world’s population are in China and India. If they are not receptive to the Gospel that will have huge implications on the future of the Church.
3. The Lukan Commission
There are no imperatives in the Lukan Commission. In fact, Luke is the first one to record actual content OF the Gospel that is to be proclaimed in the commission. The content of the commission starts with the prophecies that the Messiah would come and be killed but would rise on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached to the nations. The next verse simply calls attention to the fact that the disciples are witnesses that this has taken place and He tells them that He is sending them the Spirit to help them. No command, just observation, but it’s an observation with implicit action involved.
Though Matthew, Mark, and Luke share some material, the Great Commission passages found in the Synoptics and also in John and in Acts 1:8 appear to be 5 separate sayings. For one thing, they take place in at least three different settings: Bethany, Jerusalem, and a mountain in Galilee. For another thing, they have completely different wordings and emphases.
Tomorrow I will be learning about the Johannine Commission. I’m looking forward to it. Meanwhile, what thoughts do you have in follow up to these other points. I should point out that these insights are not the entire content of the lecture. I just wanted to give you a couple of things that Dr. Tennent pointed out that were of interest to me.
I am a seminary student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Each day brings new insights so I thought I would try and reflect upon my day and the big ideas I’ve learned. It’s hard to find space to ponder and meditate when I’ve got so much to read, so many papers to write, so many lectures to attend, and so many tests to take. But I think the most valuable times in seminary are the times we can reflect on the big ideas, talk them over with friends, and put them into practice. These posts will be an attempt to engage with you who are reading so that we can process these ideas conversationally.
How do we go about forming an ecclesiology? What are the essential ingredients of church life that should be universal to all followers of Jesus living in community? Are there Scriptural norms that should inform the way we live life together and the beliefs that we believe together?
The Pre-Constantinian Model
Today I was speaking with a couple of friends about a book we have been reading called Journey to Jesus by Robert Webber. I really enjoyed the book but just like most books about ecclesiology, the author seems to get stuck on one system or one paradigm that seems best to him. A lot of it is great stuff but I find it hard to believe that this is the best or only way. This particular author wants to renew the ancient traditions and rites of the pre-Constantinian church. I like studying the ancient church but I think this is a bit short-sighted. Even the second and third century church was a product of its culture. Some of that culture is similar but much of it has changed in our Post-Constantinian Christendom of today.
Another friend of mine believes we need to focus on today’s culture to the exclusion (almost) of the ancient way of life of the church. He would argue that in our postmodern culture, preaching and singing are antiquated and no longer connect. Organized religion is out and there is no need for elders and hierarchy. He would say that every believer has access to the Bible today so there is no need for one person to teach, let’s learn communally. Again, I find this to be limited and, though I think it’s important to understand the modern culture, I don’t want to reject all of the ancient practices and habits of the church.
New Testament Models
Then there are those who believe we should be going back to the New Testament church. This sounds great, but what do they mean? The Corinthian Church? The Church in Ephesus, Jerusalem, or Laodicea? Do we model the leadership of our churches around Paul’s tent-making, bivocational ministry or his full-time missionary journeys? I love discovering principles in the New Testament that informs the way we structure (or unstructure) church life today but is it right to do the house church thing or the large church thing…or both separately, or both together?
Yet another friend has rejected all of these concepts and is trying to be like Jesus before the church was established. He believes the church should grow and develop organically as we try and live like Jesus. So, he spends time in his neighborhood making disciples and gathering them together in intense and intentional community. As leaders emerge he empowers them to serve God and make disciples in their own neighborhood. If it grows into a large church, fine. But if not, he will always be discipling men and women to become true followers of Christ.
Wonderful ideas! One person is concerned with embracing our modern culture and making church relevant to them. Another person wants to revisit the ancient church and reestablish its rites and routines. Another person studies the New Testament for insight. A fourth person tries to live like Jesus lived with His followers. Why can’t all of these be viable options? What do they have in common? I think everyone would say our Greatest Commission is to make disciples. Is it best to do that in a large church or a house church, a postmodern church or a traditional church? No matter what way a person decides, I think there is room for all of them, even all of them together as one church, perhaps. I know a girl that never went to church until she found a small group of believers who met in a house and ate meals together and shared life. I know a guy who hated the intense scrutiny of such an intimate setting and needed (at first) the anonymity of the large crowd and the option to go deeper as the Lord led. Could one local church incorporate all of these ideas in their ecclesiology?
An Integrated Ecclesiology
As for me, where do I land on the issue? I’m not sure. I was the pastor for four years of a new church that focused on intentional, relational discipleship. Could I one day pastor a large church that has programs and policies and procedures? Maybe, if I can still invest in a few people one-on-one and encourage church planting rather than simply making our church as large as possible (numerically). Could I one day pastor a small house church where we don’t preach sermons or sing songs of praise together but spend most of our time in table fellowship? Maybe, if at various times we can gather together with a larger body of believers to celebrate what God is doing corporately. Whether in small or large churches I think the essentials remain the same.
So here are the essentials in my opinion: Love God, Love People, Make Disciples, and teach them to do the same. If there are ways that the ancient or New Testament churches have found to do that successfully that still work today, then let’s integrate that into what we are doing. If there are new ways in modern culture that demand a shift in thinking about how we do those essential things today, then let’s do that too. But let’s not get swept away by methodology and “tactics”. Let’s meditate on how we can love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and how we can love our neighbor as ourselves. Let’s pray for opportunities to make disciples and teach them to obey all that our Lord has commanded. What has He commanded? To Love God, Love People and to make disciples and to teach them to obey. It’s a beautiful circle that is clear and unchanging regardless of culture. These are the things we are to do as a church. It’s simple. It’s hard, but it’s simple. Love God, Love People, Make Disciples, and repeat.
I think Paul had this in mind when he told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Here we find four “generations” of disciples. Paul taught Timothy to love God, love people, make disciples and teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded. Timothy then entrusted that to reliable men who would then go on to teach others. These commands that we have been taught to entrust to others is why we have a church today. The church has stood the test of time because of the “ecclesiology” that Jesus instigated at the very beginning. Sure there are other commands and other aspects of church life: sacrifice, hospitality, preaching, fellowship, service, etc. But everything that we do should be out of love for God and people and from our desire to help others to do the same.
Related Post: An Unnatural Life
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