Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth Book Review

Move_1000 Churches

            Greg L. Hawkins is executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. For twenty years, he has assisted senior pastor Bill Hybels in providing strategic leadership and his prior management experience came as a consultant for McKinsey & Company. Hawkins received his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M University and an MBA from Stanford University. In 2011 he became co-author of Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, which combines sound research with practical application on ways to improve the spiritual growth in churches. Cally Parkinson, the other co-author of Move… serves as the brand manager for REVEAL, an initiative within Willow Creek Association who utilizes research tools and discoveries to help churches better understand spiritual growth in the multiplicity of congregations. Following a twenty-five-year career with Allstate Insurance, she has also served as the director of communications at Willow Creek Community Church. Her diverse background and skills were formulated at DePauw University, where she received her bachelor’s degree and the American Graduate School of International Management, where she earned her master’s degree.[1]

            Facts on their own can be overwhelming, so what Hawkins and Parkinson set out to do was provide a model for any church, no matter the size, denomination, or location to become effective in producing spiritual growth within the congregation. After surveying one-thousand churches, Hawkins and Parkinson found that no matter the size, denomination, budget, or geography, the churches that were highly effective excelled in the following four best practices: (1) Getting people moving; (2) Embedding the Bible; (3) Creating ownership; and (4) Pastoring the community. This discovery was profound because for centuries, church leaders have known the primary goal of disciples is to produce more disciples, but the how has alluded many who have tried. Hawkins and Parkinson illustrate, “Jesus wants us to love God and love others, and it is pretty straightforward, making the what the easy part of church leadership… However, each new generation of Christian leaders has struggled to get a handle on the how: How do we foster the transformation of our people into disciples of Christ and how do we extend His love to others?”[2] Every church has a limited amount of resources, so it only makes sense to use those commodities in areas that provide the best return on investment. Move… provides the answers to these questions by utilizing thorough research, time-tested-principles, and by then providing sound practices to move people along the path to being more Christ-centered. There should be a deep desire in every believer to become more Christ-like and this book provides twenty-five high impact catalysts, which promote spiritual growth in the believer. In addition to the catalysts, there are numerous strategies, insights, models, and patterns to help any church become effective in producing spiritual growth within the body. The book is nicely divided into three parts focusing on: (1) The Spiritual Continuum: moving people from exploring Christ, to growing in Christ; (2) Spiritual Movement: identifying the spiritual catalysts, needed in the evolution of becoming Christ-centered, while also illustrating potential barriers to spiritual growth; and (3) Spiritual Leadership: defining best practices, analyzing spiritual vitality, and preparing leaders to get the body of Christ moving and doing what God has called them to do.

Critique

            Reading this work was very similar to reading something by George Barna, but Hawkins and Parkinson go a few steps further, by providing real-life-application and strategies to employ in order to bring about spiritual growth in any church. These premises are bold, but the statistics presented are frightening for any western church. To think, “The longer someone attends church, the less likely they are to become Christ-followers”[3] is terrifying. Hawkin’s and Parkinson’s research actually found, “people who have attended church for more than five years are far more likely to become spiritually stalled or content with their spiritual growth.”[4] This only shows the importance of engaging people in ministry as soon as possible because the longer an individual is classified in the getting to know Christ stage, the less likely he or she will feel compelled to serve in ministry. This is enlightening, especially since believers find so much about themselves and God through serving in some form of ministry or outreach. Hawkins and Parkinson have termed a church, which is only exploring Christ as being stalled in the rust belt. This is because the majority of the congregation is stuck on the spiritual fringe, investigating, but undecided about the claims of Christianity, attending, but not involved in church, and possibly a long-tenured churchgoer.[5] This is spot on and evident in all generations of church attenders, as the Abrahams feel any dues have already paid: monetarily or service oriented, the Isaacs are too busy with life to commit any more time to the church, and the Jacobs have a sense of entitlement, where everything should just be provided. All of these warped perceptions are wrong and indicate just how many churches are still stuck in the first stage of exploring Christ. Once someone truly begins to know Christ, the next logical step is to grow in Christ, which represents the largest segment of people surveyed at thirty-eight percent.[6] Hawkins and Parkinson provide valuable information as to exactly what this largest segment is looking for from the church: (1) Help in developing a personal relationship with Christ, (2) Help in understanding the Bible in greater depth, (3) Church leaders who model and consistently reinforce how to grow spiritually, (4) Compelling worship experiences, and (5) Challenge to grow and take next steps.[7] A problem many churches make is babying new believers, instead of issuing challenges and showing them how to find God and answers to life’s questions in Scripture. It is also crucial for church-attenders to see the leadership embodying Christ-like character in word and deed. Those considered to be growing in Christ are: on board with core beliefs, are comfortable with spiritual practices, and are poised for great spiritual advances and impact.[8] As the largest segment, Hawkins and Parkinson do a good job illustrating how to move this group closer to Christ, by teaching them how to love God and others.[9] Hawkins and Parkinson explain this is so crucial because those who are close to Christ engage in a deeper level of personal spiritual practices.[10] The next stage of evolution involves the, “Christ-centered believer emerging from a battle between two sets of values: the secular values that define personal identity, happiness, security, and success for much of the world, and the spiritual values of selfless love and dedication to others that characterize a life centered on Jesus.”[11]

Application

            Hawkins and Parkinson do a wonderful job explaining the “what and how” behind ministry, by pointing out the importance of each member taking ownership. This principle is true in many business models, as those who are involved during the inception of something, or feel a sense of being needed will have a much stronger commitment to see it succeed. It also follows the 80/20 principle, where twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the work. Sadly, this is also the case with giving in the church. For these reasons, this is an area this writer will be focusing on. If twenty percent of the people are doing all the work, this eventually leads to burnout. Hawkins and Parkinson suggest three ways to create ownership are: (1) To empower people to be the church, (2) To equip people to succeed, and (3) To hold people accountable.[12]

            Another area of importance is evangelism outside the four walls of the church. Terry Inman once made the comment, “I do not pastor a church; I pastor a community.” Hawkins and Parkinson use this illustration to explain the flocks pastors are called to shepherd over are actually all the people in the local community. For many churches, this is a huge paradigm shift, but for this writer’s church, this is an area that has already been targeted. Hawkins and Parkinson found, “best practice churches pastor their local communities by bringing the same inspirational energy… to outreach strategies and initiatives that they bring to designing and executing weekend services.” Hawkins and Parkinson break this strategy down into three strategies: (1) Set a high bar for serving the church and the community. Often the senior pastor will set the tone for this model; (2) Build a bridge into your local community. This will develop strong and long-term relationships, which will also help address any immediate community needs; and (3) Make serving a platform for the gospel. Hawkin’s and Parkinson’s research shows there is a natural affinity between evangelizing and serving those who are struggling and broken.[13] Love and compassion are the best motivators for evangelism and by meeting the most basic needs of the community; the outreach initiative will poise the church to not only gain new people, but also advance the gospel at the same time. This book is a great resource for any church or individual looking to grow spiritually. In life, if something is not living, then it is dying and for many churches, they have essentially become stagnant cesspools, but by applying these principles and models, churches will experience real growth, as the result of the development of the congregations’ spiritual formation and desire to be more Christ-like.

Bibliography

Hawkins, Greg L. and Cally Parkinson. Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

 


[1] Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 6.

[2] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 12.

[3] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 37.

[4] Ibid., 38.

[5] Ibid., 44.

[6] Ibid., 50.

[7] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 55.

[8] Ibid., 61.

[9] Ibid., 75-77.

[10] Ibid., 75.

[11] Ibid., 84.

[12] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 231.

[13] Ibid., 239-240.

Hawkins, Greg L. and Cally Parkinson. Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, 286 pp. $21.99 (Hardcover).

Pentecost and Role of Holy Spirit Pre/Post

            Pentecost-front.jpg

            The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts is one of the most significant events in history.  It was more than just the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy[1] and it did so much more than just provide the disciples with what Jesus had promised would come after His ascension to heaven.[2] Through an understanding of the triune nature of God establishes that all parts are equal, infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. This conclusion means God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have existed everywhere since the beginning of time itself. What have changed, over the course of the metanarrative, are their roles and functions in the redemptive plan.

            The primary goal of this project is first to answer exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost, and to clarify whether this event marked the beginning of the Church Age. This will be accomplished by contrasting Old Testament Pentecost practices versus what took place in the New Testament Pentecost account. In addition, a clear biblical exegesis of the Acts account will be conducted demonstrating the new role of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, this research paper will systematically look at the Holy Spirit’s role throughout the canon of scripture, by contrasting what role the Holy Spirit played in the Old and New Testaments, compared to what role the Holy Spirit plays in a modern-day context and application. Lastly, this paper will look at the Apostle Paul, and examine how the Holy Spirit impacted his life, from his conversion experience, to his supernatural encounters, and lastly the divine inspiration the Holy Spirit imparted on him, which are found in his letters. From Paul, much can be learned about the Holy Spirit, so understanding how the Holy Spirit impacted his life-story is pertinent in showing how the coming of the Spirit not only inaugurated the Church Age, but also established what role the Holy Spirit plays today.

Origin of the Holy Spirit

Creation Account

            The earliest mention of the Holy Spirit occurs in the creation account: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”[3]  Scholars have debated the translation of this passage, but Philo, the first century philosopher from Alexandria and Victor Hamilton provide the clearest picture demonstrating how, “God caused a wind rûaḥ to blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. [Here,]‘Breath of God’ or ‘Breath of Life seems most natural for rûaḥ.”[4] This same wording is used to describe and symbolize the Spirit of God in the coming of the Holy Spirit, during Pentecost, in the Acts account.

Roles of the Holy Spirit

            Anytime the role of the Holy Spirit is mentioned in scripture, there are four primary purposes: regeneration, indwelling, the control and conviction over sin, and the empowerment for service. F. F. Bruce highlights:

 The Old Testament prophets foretold a coming age, which would be marked in a special way by the activity of the Spirit of God. Two strands of this expectation are especially important. In one, the activity of the Spirit is associated with a coming figure – variously depicted as the ideal ruler of David’s line and the humble and self-sacrificing Servant of the Lord, who would be anointed with the Spirit in order to discharge a ministry of mercy and judgment for Israel and the nations. In the second, the promise is given that in the days to come, the same Spirit will be poured out on ‘all flesh,’ so that the gift of prophetic utterance will no longer be confined to a chosen few, but will be widespread.[5] [6]

Regeneration

            The Holy Spirit’s role in regeneration can also be interpreted as rebirth and the classic example is found in the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus: “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[7]  Bruce explains, “Even if earlier He had impressed on Nicodemus the necessity of the new birth ‘of water and the Spirit,’ this new birth, with the eternal life to which it was the gateway, could not be experienced until the Son of Man had been ‘lifted up’[8] Luke, makes it clear that John the Baptist’s prediction was ultimately fulfilled at Pentecost. Leon Morris further explains, “Being born “of water” may point to natural birth, which must then be followed by being born ‘of the Spirit,’ that is spiritual regeneration. Or better, we may take ‘water’ and ‘Spirit’ closely together to give a meaning like ‘spiritual seed.’”[9]

Indwelling

           The indwelling of the Spirit in the Old Testament was vastly different than the New Testament encounters. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, judges, and kings would receive the infilling of the Spirit for specific tasks and once the task was completed, the Spirit would depart. Joshua,[10] David,[11] and Saul[12] were all anointed by God and received the Spirit and the indwelling was a representation of God’s favor and if God’s favor left, the Spirit would also leave.[13] Bruce explains, “Jesus alone had received the Spirit of the new age. John the Baptist indeed had been filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb,[14] but that was the Spirit of prophecy. When John baptized Jesus in water, God simultaneously baptized Him with the Spirit: It was then ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with Power.’”[15][16]  God filled Jesus with the Spirit at His baptism, which demonstrates up to that point, the Holy Spirit was not yet in Him. Interestingly, after this encounter, the first narrated episode of Jesus’ public ministry takes place in His hometown of Nazareth. This sets the precedent that the Holy Spirit plays a major role in the equipping and empowering of ministry. It is also here that Jesus unrolls the scroll of Isaiah and proclaims, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[17]

Control Over and Conviction of Sin

            The Holy Spirit’s third function is vital in both resisting the temptation to sin and also the conviction of sin, once it has been committed. God is holy and righteous and man is prideful and deceitful, so the Holy Spirit’s role in keeping followers of Christ righteous through their faith in Christ is paramount. Genesis 6:3 establishes that God’s holiness stands in direct opposition to sin and given enough sinfulness, His Spirit can leave. Hamilton illustrates, “The withdrawn Spirit of 6:3 calls to mind the hovering Spirit of 1:2. Where it hovers there is order, and chaos is restrained. Where it is withdrawn, chaos flourishes unchecked.”[18] This role of the Holy Spirit will be crucial during the end-times when the man of lawlessness is revealed and a growing apostasy exists.[19] After Pentecost in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit would be available to Jew and Gentile alike to convict, regenerate, indwell, and empower anyone who would accept Christ as their Savior.

Empowerment for a Specific Task

           Steven Studebaker argues, “Only in the Holy Spirit does the triune nature of God find fullness of fellowship as the Spirit plays a liminal, constitutional, and consummative role within the Trinity.”[20] The significant difference between the role the Holy Spirit played in the Old Testament versus after Pentecost was after the Spirit was poured out on those gathered in Jerusalem, now when a believer was filled with the Spirit, he or she received the permanent indwelling of the Spirit and became a new creation.[21] In the Old Testament, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was only temporary and was used to accomplish a specific task, like leading the Israelites. However, the indwelling after Pentecost represented a time where the Holy Spirit would take up permanent residence inside the believer’s heart, fulfilling the prophecy.[22] J. A. Thompson illustrates how, “Yahweh Himself proposes to bring about the necessary change in the people’s inner nature, which will make them capable of obedience. He will set his law (tôrâ) within them and write it on their hearts, that is, on their minds and wills.”[23]

Outpouring of Holy Spirit

            Bruce provides one of the clearest pictures of what happened on Pentecost: “In the upper room, the Spirit brought to the disciples minds all the teachings of Jesus, showing them truth and what was to come. The Spirit then enabled them to bear witness and proclaim the gospel with conviction, while also performing signs and wonders in the name of Jesus.”[24] In addition, as John Wesley points out, there were 120 in attendance, which is significant because it points back to the original dedication of the Temple, built by King Solomon.[25] In the Temple, there were 120 priests performing the required rituals of purification, leading the people, and praising God. As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and sacrifice. This parallels the Acts 2 account as they too were waiting for God’s presence to come and once again fire would come down, representing the divine presence of God, going back to the Moses and the burning bush.[26] Wesley further illustrates:

 At the Pentecost of Sinai, in the Old Testament, and the Pentecost of Jerusalem, in the New Testament, where the two grand manifestations of God, the legal and the evangelical; the one from the mountain, and the other from heaven; the terrible, and the merciful one. They were all with one accord in one place – So here was a conjunction of company, minds, and place; the whole hundred and twenty being present.[27]

Acts Account of Pentecost

           Arguably, the most significant event in church history and the beginning of the Church Age, Pentecost plays a huge part in Christianity. It would forever change the face of Christianity as Johannes van Oort explains how, “The authors of the New Testament speak of the all-encompassing work of the Spirit in both the world and mankind, as well as the inhabitation of the Spirit within Christian believers, the gifts of the Spirit and baptism, the specific guidance of the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit.”[28] However, despite the detailed Acts account and all the other references and occurrences in the canon of scripture, there is still much debate as to what really happened on that day and what is applicable to the church today. What cannot be contested is the Spirit’s main purpose was to equip and supernaturally empower them to proclaim the gospel.

            Oort poses the question, “Should [the outpouring of the Spirit] and other special charismata be regarded as a peculiar privilege of the apostolic and primitive church?” Oort then shows, “In past centuries, the gift of special charismata was often considered to be appropriate only for the very first time of diffusion of the gospel, that several church fathers did not accept this view, [and] ages later, during the Protestant Reformation, such a view was also not the common opinion.”  Oort is correct in asserting, “There is no denying the universal emergence of charismatic movements brought with it a new consciousness of the biblical charismata and their significance to the contemporary Church.” However, Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit set in motion the Church Age and empowered the body of Christ of fulfill the work Jesus had started.

Old Testament Pentecost

            Pentecost is the Greek word for fiftieth and is associated with the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. This religious holiday began in the Old Testament and was originally a festival that expressed thanks to God for the blessing of their harvest.[29] The celebration has deep Jewish roots and is also associated with the Torah and the Ten Commandments, which were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. There are a great number of parallels between the Word of God being given to the Israelites at Shavuot and the outpouring of the Spirit during the Pentecost account in Acts 2. It was only after Moses had come down from the mountain and the Jews had accepted the Law that they truly became servants of God. Similarly, it was only after the disciples and new converts had received the outpouring of the Spirit that they truly became witnesses of Jesus Christ. In both cases, it has been said, “The Jews celebrated a joyous harvest on Shavuot, and the church celebrated a harvest of newborn souls on Pentecost.”[30] When God would speak through Moses to the Israelites, it is interesting to note he had to wear a veil so as to not blind them with glory of the Lord.[31] This glory would fade over time in the Old Covenant, but in the New Covenant, as Paul Barnett shows:

Paul continues to contrast the old covenant with the new, based on his Midrash of Exodus 34:29-35. He turns now to the people of the old covenant, with whom he will compare the people of the new covenant… The “hope,” which is of the “glory that remains” makes Paul “very bold.” This “boldness,” or, more probably, “openness,” is opposed to the “veiled”ness that was interposed between “Moses”—symbolizing the old covenant—and the people of Israel, which prevented them from seeing the “end” of the “glory, which had been abolished.” “But” —in contrast with Paul’s and others’ “opened”ness and consonant with Israel’s “veiled”ness over their hardened minds—the same veil remains unlifted at “the reading of the old covenant”; only in Christ is the veil abolished.[32]

          Daniel Block also illustrates in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones something very similar to the creation account. Once again, rûaḥ is used to represent the winds or divine breath that blows in every corner of the earth, giving life to all creatures.  Block further explains:

Here Yahweh, the sovereign of the universe, is summoning the winds from around the world to direct their life-giving energy to these corpses lying in the valley. In John 20:22, the risen Christ breathed on his disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” By breathing on the disciples he constituted them the new people of God. The early church fathers were less ambiguous in their interpretation of this text. In fact, references to Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones appear frequently in their discussions of the resurrection.[33]

New Testament Pentecost

          On the morning of Pentecost, which occurred fifty days after Passover, Thomas Lea and David Black explain, “[this event] celebrated the wheat harvest, but was also the traditional day on which Moses received the law at Mount Sinai.”[34] In Luke’s account, the place where the disciples were gathered was suddenly filled mighty rushing wind from heaven. During the descent of the Spirit, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”[35] Bruce illustrates how, “The Spirit pours the love of God into the hearts of believers[36] and brings them into conformity with the Character of Christ.”[37] Douglas Moo further explains, “Paul’s choice of the verb ‘pour out,’ means it is certain that we should paraphrase ‘the love of God for us’ rather than ‘our love for God.’”[38] This love of God for us had sent the Spirit and immediately, there is evidence of unity, as people from many different nations could understand each other, despite any language barriers. Those who were not filled with the Spirit mocked what was happening, accusing them of being drunk on wine. It is here that Peter addresses those gathered and proclaims, “This is what was said through the prophet Joel and today marks the fulfillment of God’s promise.”[39] Joel’s prophecy spoke of a time when the Lord would act in righteousness and mercy and Bruce demonstrates, “The “last days” began with Christ’s appearance on earth and will be consummated by his reappearance; they are the days during which the age to come overlaps the present age. Hence the assurance with which Peter could quote the prophet’s words and declare: “This is it.”[40] Paul Wegner shows:

One of the most important theological concepts in the Old Testament is the New Covenant.[41] This passage demonstrates three specific outcomes: (1) “I will write My law within them,” which was promised in John 14:16-17 and is fulfilled in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was poured out into the believers’ hearts; (2) Believers can go directly to God without the need of a human priest because Christ had fulfilled that role; and (3) Christ’s atoning work on the cross provided the forgiveness of sin. The events of Pentecost were the final promise, thus ushering in the Church Age and New Covenant.[42]

Holy Spirit Precedent

           Ralph Martin speaks on the highly debated topic of Pentecost and what potential applications they play in today’s believers by explaining this supernatural and divine encounter of the baptism in the Spirit describes an experience of the Spirit, accompanied by a deeper personal encounter with Christ. He then shows how this encounter is, “Characterized by a glimpse of His Lordship, a personal and liberating experience of the Father’s, and a new awareness that we are truly not orphans but that the Holy Spirit is truly present and ready to encourage, convict, guide, and help us understand the things of God.”[43] These roles of the Holy Spirit fall directly in line with doctrine, but have caused schisms in many Christian religions. What Paul said should unify the church but has, in many ways, come to divide her. Robert Wright further demonstrates, “The history of the Holy Spirit in the early Church can best be understood as a development from experience to doctrine.”[44] The sign of the age to come was the presence of the Spirit, which would bring about a call to repentance rooted in the hope of divine forgiveness. Peter echoes this as Bruce explains, “Peter told them that there was hope even now. Let them repent of their sin and turn to God; let them submit to baptism in the name of Jesus, confessed as Messiah. Then not only would they receive forgiveness of sins, but they would receive also the gift of the Holy Spirit—the gift which had been bestowed on the apostles themselves only a few hours before.”[45]

Holy Spirit Implications

              Bruce postulates whether it was only the disciples who heard the rushing wind, or if it was audible to others? He contends, “There is no way of knowing. What is certain is that the wind was held to symbolize the Spirit of God. When Ezekiel, by divine command, prophesied to the wind and called it to blow on the dead bodies in the valley of his vision, it was the breath of God that breathed into them and filled them with new life.”[46] [47] In any event, Pentecost was a complete reversal of what had happened with the tower of Babel. N. Stonehouse illustrates:

Peter interprets the days of the Spirit as constituting “the last days” (Acts 2:17), and this eschatological evaluation of Pentecost gives perspective to the ensuing history. Pentecost itself is not repeated… In what follows there is nothing comparable to the “tongues as of fire” or the “sound as of a mighty wind being borne along”. And evidently the speaking with tongues described in Acts 2 is not repeated.[48]

        Pentecost represented the beginning of a new age where the Holy Spirit made salvation available to the Gentiles, not by conforming to Jewish Law, but through faith and repentance in Jesus Christ. Stonehouse adds, “When the Jews heard them speak with tongues and magnify God, they were assured that the Gentiles had received this gift.”[49] This ushered in a new age.

Open to Jew and Gentile Alike

            Up until Pentecost, there was animosity and misunderstanding between the Jews and Gentiles, but the Spirit’s indwelling unified all believers to Christ and to one another. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”[50] George Richards explains:

           What happened on Pentecost in one sense is not repeatable. The Spirit came into the followers of Jesus as a new fellowship of men came to birth… It is the church, the body of Christ; and there is one body and one Spirit. As Jesus was born but once, so the Spirit came, and the church was born, once only. Yet Paul tells us to “be filled with the Spirit.” It is an admonition that we are to heed; otherwise it would have no meaning.[51]

            D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo illustrate Luke’s purpose in writing the Acts account of the infilling of the Holy Spirit was to show how, “God’s salvation was revealed in, and made available through, His Son, Jesus Christ. That message of salvation was entrusted by Christ Himself to His apostles, and through the empowering and directing of the Holy Spirit, they have now brought that message, and the salvation it mediates to the ends of the earth.”[52] The Great Commission and the Great Commandment were enacted to make salvation available to all.

Longevity of the Holy Spirit’s Presence

            Once a believer comes to faith in Jesus Christ, the Spirit takes up permanent residence in the believer’s heart, which seals them as a child of God.[53] As Moo affirms, “Paul believes that every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of God. Indeed, this is just what Paul affirms in the last part of the verse, where he denies that the person who does not have the ‘Spirit of Christ’ can make any claim to being a Christian at all. In other words, for Paul, possession of the Spirit goes hand-in-hand with being a Christian.”[54] Paul also refers to the believer’s body as being the temple of the Holy Spirit. Here, Gordon Fee demonstrates, “The body is the present habitation of God’s Spirit, meaning by implication that one belongs to the God whose Spirit dwells within.”[55]

New Role of the Holy Spirit

          Robert Pyne clarifies, “In John 16:8-11, Jesus described one aspect of the Spirit’s evangelistic work. As part of the Upper Room Discourse, in which the Lord comforted the disciples and gave them instructions before His death, He told them they should be encouraged, for it was to their benefit that He was leaving.”[56] The reason this was true is that His departure would result in the coming of the Holy Spirit,[57] who would comfort them, teach them, and help them in their evangelistic mission through His ministry of reproof.[58] Bruce also adds, “The Spirit is the sanctifying agency in the lives of the believers as He wages perpetual warfare against the flesh. [The Spirit] is more powerful than the flesh and can put the flesh progressively out of action in those lives, which are yielded to His control.”[59] Charles Stanley best explains the Holy Spirit’s new role: “Since Pentecost, every believer has received the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, then the Spirit is the sap equipping us for the Christian life. Furthermore, He no longer comes and goes but rather remains permanently. He seals us in Christ—proof of the promise that we are forever in God’s presence.”[60]

Role of Holy Spirit in Apostle Paul’s Life

            One of the best representations of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit is found in the transformation of Saul, known as the persecutor, who would instead be remembered as Paul, the preacher of Christ and martyr for Christianity. For Paul, the primary function of the Spirit was the reproduction of the Christ-likeness in his people, so there would be unity in the body of Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians, Bruce demonstrates: “It is by faith that the people of Christ are united to Him, and in being united to Him they realize their own unity one with another.”[61] [62]

Conversion Account

            Paul claimed his gospel came to him through a divine revelation from Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and he believed his gospel came to him supernaturally and not through or by any human means.[63] However, Paul does give credit to the Christians before him, as is evidenced in his letter to the Corinthians. Carson and Moo show, “What Paul seems to be asserting is that elements of his gospel teaching, such as the truth of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection were handed down to him by other people.”[64] Lea and Black add, “Any analysis of Paul’s thoughts, which ignores his gospel came to him as a revelation from Jesus Christ cannot do justice to his theology.”[65] Lea and Black add, “the content of Paul’s gospel, received by direct revelation, affirms that Jesus was the Son of God and that He died to redeem sinners for the curse of the law.”[66] For Paul, being in the Spirit was the opposite of being in the flesh. From this belief, Bruce asserts, “There is no difference between the indwelling of the Spirit and the indwelling of the risen Christ, so far as the believer’s experience is concerned.”[67] This does not mean Paul equated the Spirit with the risen Lord, but he did see a dynamic uniformity between them.

Supernatural Encounters

            Paul had two specific mystical and supernatural encounters, which had divine and lasting effects on him and his ministry. Paul’s first encounter with the exalted Christ occurred on the road to Damascus. Bruce explains, this encounter allowed Paul to proclaim a direct and personal acquaintance with the exalted Christ despite not knowing Him during His earthly ministry.[68] Lea and Black explain, “Paul’s entire belief system was Christocentric, [meaning,] he did not emphasize theology for its own sake, but to stress the urgency of a vital, living encounter with Christ.”[69] [70] This divine encounter allowed Paul to receive a supernatural revelation of Christ and the redemptive work of the cross. Carson and Moo also contend this experience would turn, “Paul into more than a follower of Jesus, rather it would turn him into a preacher of Jesus.”[71]

            Paul’s second mystical experience occurred around 42/43 A.D., which was fourteen years following his first. In his letter to the Corinthians, he tells them, “To keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, I was given a splinter in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, and to keep me from being too elated.”[72] This thorn in Paul’s side has been said to be many things, but it ultimately led him to truly understand and embody how the Lord’s grace was completely sufficient and how His power was made perfect in humanity’s weakness. Bruce adds, “the sequel to Paul’s mystical experience was a distressing, indeed humiliating, physical ailment which he feared at first might be a handicap to his effective ministry, but which in fact, by giving his self-esteem a knock-out blow and keeping him constantly dependent on the divine enabling, proved to be a help, not a handicap.”[73]

Inspired Letters

            The letters of Paul provide some of the best illustrations of Paul’s theology following Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he says, “He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him.”[74] Gordon Fee demonstrates how, “The illicit union is now contrasted to the believer’s union with Christ: “But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” In light of vv. 19-20, Paul probably is referring to the work of the Spirit, whereby through the “one Spirit” the believer’s “spirit” has been joined indissolubly with Christ. The believer is united to the Lord and thereby has become one S/spirit with him.”[75]  Later in this letter, Paul stresses the unity of God, by explaining while there are a variety of gifts, they are of the same Spirit.[76] Diversity and unity in the body of Christ were and still are essential to maintaining a healthy church, as Fee expounds further: “The one God who is Himself characterized by diversity within unity has decreed the same for his church… Everything, absolutely everything—gifts, persons, church—owes its origin to the one God who works all things in all of his people.” In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”[77] Throughout the Old and New Testament, the Spirit stands in direct opposition to the flesh. Bruce emphasizes, “The Spirit is the antithesis of flesh and God, by implication, is Spirit; not only so, but the Spirit of God energizes men and imparts on them physical power, mental skill, or spiritual insight that they would not otherwise have.”[78] In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says, “If you are under the Spirit, you are not under the law.”[79] Paul wanted everyone to experience the freedom in Christ by casting off the yoke of bondage that came from the law. The law’s primary purpose was preparing the people for the arrival of Christ. Ronald Fung demonstrates, “That the guidance of the Spirit can be experienced as a reality in the life of the believer is a sign that Jeremiah’s prophetic word about the New Covenant has been fulfilled. Additionally, [the believer] must let himself/herself be led by the Spirit—that is, actively choose to stand on the side of the Spirit over against the flesh.”[80] The overreaching theme of Paul’s letters was putting to death the things of the body combined with the flesh and Spirit antithesis. David Wenham has identified a close parallel in the story of Jesus’ agony and betrayal in Gethsemane with Paul’s flesh-Spirit opposition.[81] In Matthew and Mark’s gospel,[82] Jesus makes known the Spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. This theme comes from a similar passage in the Old Testament, “The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not Spirit. When the LORD stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together.”[83]  John Oswalt shows how this verse continues the contrast between Egypt and God by asserting that flesh is hardly equal to Spirit. He says, “We human beings have continued difficulty acting upon it, because we tend to value tangible things more than intangible ones. So the Scriptures remind us in various ways that flesh can neither help us nor harm us in the face of God.”[84] The Spirit was essential in Paul’s theology and was much more than the fulfillment of prophecy. Fee shows, “That God Himself would breathe on us and we would live, that He would write His law in our hearts, and especially that He would give His Spirit into us, so that we are indwelt by Him.”[85]

Modern-day Roles of the Holy Spirit and Application

            The Bible is clear that the Holy Spirit has been at work since the beginning[86] and for people today, some of the main roles the Holy Spirit plays are convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.[87] When people come to faith in Jesus Christ and experience salvation,[88] the Holy Spirit then acts as a comforter and helper, which Jesus promised would come before His ascension to the right hand of God.[89] As the Holy Spirit indwells within the believer, He comforts them, allowing a sense of encouragement, even during times of great need. The closer a believer grows to the Lord, the more the Holy Spirit will take an active role in their life, thus supernaturally guiding them to what is pure and true.[90] As the Holy Spirit is allowed to take root in the believer’s life, they are compelled to worship and glorify the Lord because the work of the Spirit is Christocentric, meaning all praise, honor, and glory are directed towards Christ. As believers grow in their faith, the Holy Spirit also provides special gifts to aid in fulfilling the Great Commission, in meeting the needs of others, and in glorifying God.[91] Paul writes the following to the church in Corinth: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”[92] Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh in his letter to the Galatians, because it is impossible to bear fruit and reflect the desires of God without the fruits of the Spirit being active in the believer’s life. The Holy Spirit places the believer under the protection of God, which Paul writes to the Ephesians: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”[93]

            Julie Ma demonstrates, “God initiated mission and intends to achieve it by work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, mission—which God commands His church to accomplish—belongs to God, not to human agency. Prior to ascending to heaven, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and asked them to wait in Jerusalem. This Holy Spirit is given to enable them to be witnesses of Jesus from Jerusalem to the end of the world.”[94] The Holy Spirit enables and empowers believers to fulfill the Great Commission, by aligning the disciple’s motives with the Father’s. As Ma highlights “This implies that the church has to partner with the Holy Spirit to fulfill this mission. Missionaries need to consciously work together with Spirit and be directed and guided by the Spirit.”[95] Roy Zuck additionally shows how, “The Holy Spirit, as the παράκλητος “Helper”,[96] is available to help believers ascertain the correct meaning of the Bible’s statements, commands, and questions.”[97] Lastly, as Leon Morris illustrates: “The Spirit is called ‘the Spirit of truth,’ for His work here is to guide the followers of Jesus into all truth.”[98]

Conclusion

             The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts marked the beginning of the Church Age and the most significant part of Pentecost was how the Holy Spirit indwelled inside Jew and Gentile alike. This fulfillment of prophecy equipped and empowered the disciples and converts for the work of the church and it bestowed divine inspiration to the writers of the Bible. The Holy Spirit plays just as active a role today, in the believer’s life, as it did on Pentecost. One of the greatest gifts the Spirit imparts to those He indwells is the revealing of truth. Satan attempts to destroy, counterfeit, or pervert everything God stands for, and the Holy Spirit pierces through the concealment of lies and cuts to the heart of the matter, revealing truth and life.

Bibliography

Barnett, Paul. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Block, Daniel I. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.

Bruce, F. F. and Frederick Fyvie. “Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles.” Interpretation 27, no. 2 (April 1973): 166-183. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 3, 2016).

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Fairchild, Mary. http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefeastsandholidays/p/pentecostfeast.htm  (accessed June 28, 2016).

Fee, Gordon D. God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1994.

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Lea, Thomas D. and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003.

Ma, Julie. “The Holy Spirit in Mission.” Dialog, 54: (2015) 171–179. doi: 10.1111/dial.12172 (accessed June 3, 2016).

Martin, Ralph. “A New Pentecost?: Catholic Theology and “Baptism in the Spirit”.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 14, no. 3 (2011): 17-43. https://muse.jhu.edu/  (accessed June 12, 2016).

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

van Oort, Johannes. “The holy spirit and the early church: the experience of the spirit.” HTS Teologiese Studies 68.1 (2012). Academic OneFile. (accessed June 13, 2016).

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Pyne, Robert A. “The role of the Holy Spirit in conversion.” Bibliotheca Sacra 150, no. 598 (April 1993): 203-218. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2016).

Richards, George Warren. “Spirit-filled.” Interpretation 4, no. 1 (January 1950): 36-39. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 3, 2016).

Stonehouse, N. “Repentance, Baptism And The Gift Of The Holy Spirit,” – Westminster Theological Journal 13, no. 1 (Nov 50), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 5-6.

Studebaker, Steven M. From Pentecost to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012.

Thompson, J. A. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Jeremiah. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Wenham, David. Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Wegner, Paul D. Using the Old Testament Hebrew in Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2009.

Wesley, John. Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament. London: Wesleyan-Methodist Book-Room, n.d. WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 2”.

Wright, J. Robert. “Holy Spirit in Holy Church: From Experience to Doctrine.” Anglican Theological Review 83, no. 3 (Summer, 2001): 443-54, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/215264412?accountid=12085 (accessed June 13, 2016).

Zuck, Roy B. “The role of the Holy Spirit in hermeneutics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 141, no. 562 (April 1984): 120-130. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2016).


[1] Ezekiel 11:16-20; 36:24-27 & Joel 2:28

[2] John 14:16

[3] Genesis 1:2 (ESV)

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 112.

[5] Joel 2:28

[6] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 207.

[7] John 3:3 (ESV)

[8] John 3:5

[9] Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 191.

[10] Numbers 27:18

[11] I Samuel 16:12-13

[12] I Samuel 10:10

[13] I Samuel 16:14

[14] Luke 1:15; Isaiah 61:1

[15] Acts 10:38

[16] F. F. Bruce, (Frederick Fyvie). “Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles.” Interpretation 27, no. 2 (April 1973): 167. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 3, 2016).

[17] Luke 4:18-19 (ESV)

[18] Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 267.

[19] II Thessalonians 2:3-8

[20] Steven M. Studebaker, From Pentecost to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 274.

[21] II Corinthians 5:17

[22] Jeremiah 31:33

[23] J.A. Thompson, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Jeremiah, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 581.

[24] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 208.

[25] II Chronicles 6:1-7:10

[26] Exodus 3:2-5

[27] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, (London: Wesleyan-Methodist Book-Room, n.d.), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 2”.

[28] Johannes van Oort,  “The holy spirit and the early church: the experience of the spirit.” HTS Teologiese Studies 68.1 (2012). Academic OneFile. (accessed June 13, 2016).

[29] Exodus 34:22, Leviticus 23:15-22, Deuteronomy 16:16, II Chronicles 8:13

[31] Exodus 34:29-35, II Corinthians 3:12-18, & I Corinthians 3:7-8

[32] Paul Barnett, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 188.

[33] Daniel I. Block, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 389.

[34] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. 2003), 292.

[35] Acts 2:4 (ESV)

[36] Romans 5:5

[37] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 141.

[38] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 304.

[39] Acts 2:17

[40] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 60.

[41] Jeremiah 31:31-34

[42] Paul D. Wegner, Using the Old Testament Hebrew in Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2009), 82.

[43] Ralph Martin, “A New Pentecost?: Catholic Theology and “Baptism in the Spirit”.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 14, no. 3 (2011): 17-43. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed June 12, 2016).

[44] Robert J. Wright, J. “Holy Spirit in Holy Church: From Experience to Doctrine.” Anglican Theological Review 83, no. 3 (Summer, 2001): 443, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/215264412?accountid=12085. (accessed June 13, 2016).

[45] Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts, 69.

[46] Ezekiel 37:9-14

[47] Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts, 50.

[48] N. Stonehouse, “Repentance, Baptism And The Gift Of The Holy Spirit,” – Westminster Theological Journal 13, no. 1 (Nov 50), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 5-6.

[49] Stonehouse, “Repentance, Baptism And The Gift Of The Holy Spirit,” 8.

[50] I Corinthians 12:13 (ESV)

[51] George Warren Richards, “Spirit-filled.” Interpretation 4, no. 1 (January 1950): 37. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 3, 2016).

[52] D. A. Carson, and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2005), 306.

[53] Romans 8:9 & I Corinthians 6:19-20; 12:13

[54] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 490.

[55] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 263.

[56] Robert A. Pyne, “The role of the Holy Spirit in conversion.” Bibliotheca Sacra 150, no. 598 (April 1993): 202. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2016).

[57] John 14:16-17; & John 16:7

[58] Pyne, “The role of the Holy Spirit in conversion.” 202.

[59] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 210.

[60] Ephesians 1:13-14

[61] Ephesians 4:13

[62] F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 350.

[63] Galatians 1:12-16

[64] D. A. Carson, and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2005), 371.

[65] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. 2003), 335.

[66] Lea and Black, The New Testament, 336.

[67] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 209.

[68] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 113.

[69] Colossians 3:1-5

[70] Lea and Black, The New Testament, 354.

[71] Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 359.

[72] II Corinthians 12:7-10

[73] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 135.

[74] I Corinthians (ESV)

[75] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 260.

Ibid., 283.

[76] I Corinthians 12:4 (ESV)

[77] Romans 8:5-6 (ESV)

[78] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 206-207.

[79] Galatians 5:18

[80] Ronald Y. K. Fung, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 248-251.

[81] David Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 275.

[82] Matthew 26:41 & Mark 14:38

[83] Isaiah 31:3 (ESV)

[84] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 572.

[85] Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1994), 6.

[86] Genesis 1:2

[87] John 16:8

[88] Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 6:19-20

[89] John 14:16-17

[90] John 16:13

[91] Matthew 28:16-20

[92] 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (ESV)

[93] Ephesians 1:13 (ESV)

[94] Julie Ma, “The Holy Spirit in Mission.” Dialog, 54: (2015) 171. doi: 10.1111/dial.12172 (accessed June 3, 2016).

[95] Ma, “The Holy Spirit in Mission.” 171.

[96] John 14:16; 15:26

[97] Roy B. Zuck, “The role of the Holy Spirit in hermeneutics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 141, no. 562 (April 1984): 120-130. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2016).

[98] Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 620.

Unreached People Group Project: The Soninke of Mali

Soninke People

In order to fulfill the Great Commission in today’s world, one must first understand the command Jesus gives to His disciples, “to make disciples of all the nations,” flows from the very heart of God. Throughout the Old and the New Testament, God is seen moving toward the lost and broken-hearted. As part of His redemptive plan, God sent Jesus to restore the communion that was corrupted between man and God, and Jesus gave His life, so that all who would call upon His name would be saved. Jesus tells His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[1] This means anyone, any nation, and any people group can be redeemed, forgiven, and receive salvation.

Over time, the word “nations” has become synonymous with people groups or cultural groups and according to the Joshua Project; the world is currently made up of 16,464 people groups. Of those groups, forty percent or 6,659 are considered as being unreached, meaning the evangelical population is less than two percent and they lack the ability to evangelize their own people.[2] The 1982 Lausanne Committee defines people groups as, “The largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planning movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”[3]

This project will focus on a region within the 10/40 window of the world because as A. Scott Moreau et al. illustrate, “this [region represents the] vast bulk of people who have yet to hear a clear communicated invitation to repent, return to Christ, and worship God…”[4] While Christianity ranks as the number one religion in the world, Islam follows closely behind it. Within the 10/40 window, this paper will specifically target the people group called the Soninke who are located primarily in Mali. In order to do this, this project will first endeavor to give a brief background of their history, language, culture, economy, religion(s), and family structure and values. Secondly, a brief overview of past and present mission efforts will be detailed, demonstrating the current state of the church, number of known believers, challenges, and any successful strategies. Lastly, a proposed strategy will be presented detailing how best to evangelize and reach the Soninke people. Given this writer’s role as a church pastor, a plan will be designed centered on taking the gospel to the unreached people of Soninke, in the form of church laborers to work among them, with the end-goal ultimately being the establishment of a mission’s outpost/church and the digging of a water well.

Background Information

Status of the World

In a world with 7.3 billion people, where every second that passes two people die and four babies are born,[5] there has never been a greater need for evangelism and missions. John Piper believes, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more.”[6]  Daily, between 150,000 – 175,000 people perish and 325,000 – 350,000 births occur.[7] The good news is everyone has everlasting life; the bad news is not everyone will spend it in heaven. These are unsettling statistics because out of the world’s population, only 1.9 billion people profess to be Christians, and of that number, only two percent regularly share their faith with others, and only five percent have ever led someone to Christ.[8] To make matters worse, the Barna Group recently found that seventy-five percent of Americans who said they were “born again” could not even define what the Great Commission[9] was.[10]  This is the fundamental problem facing Christianity today, as George Barna explains, “The gap between the churched and the churchless is growing, and it appears that Christian communities of faith will struggle more than ever to engage church outsiders…”[11]

History of Soninke People

The Soninke people primarily live along the Senegal River where it enters the western border of Mali in the Kayes, Yelimane, Nioro, and Nara regions. According to the Joshua Project, other small tribes settled along the borders of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso and due to influence by a large nomadic tribe known as the Fulani, the Soninke have become farmers and herdsmen.[12] One of the earliest Soninke settlements was established in Ghana around A.D. 750 and because of persecution by the Berbers, the Soninke dispersed into small groups within the neighboring regions. The three main sub-groups of the Soninke are the Marka, the Nono, and the Azer. Often, these three tribes are further broken into even smaller clans that specialize in various crafts. Four of the most important Soninke tribes are the Sisse, the Drame, the Sylla, and the Kante. Some of these groups eventually intermixed with the local Wolof, Serer, and Malinke tribes.[13] Today, there are roughly 800,000 Soninke in Mali, making up seven percent of the country’s total population.

Map of Soninke in Mali

Soninke in Mali

[14]

Language, Culture, and Economy

The Soninke are believed to have descended from the ancient central Saharan people and archeologists believe they used to make and trade woven textiles through a process called strip weaving. It was from this region that led to the Songhai Empire expanding across West Africa and some of the earliest evidence of the Soninke people can be traced near the Tichit-Walata and Tagant cliffs dating back to 2500 BC to 2000 BC. There is also evidence, which supports the Soninke were early producers of stone settlements. Some these establishments still have traces of the massive defensive walls that once stood. Mali’s most famous Emperor was Kan Kan Mussa, also known as the Lion of Mali. Under his rule, this became an extremely rich area and during his pilgrimage to Mecca, he brought over one hundred and eighty tons of gold with him. As Global Prayer Digest illustrates,

Looking at the poor farmers working their fields in Ghana, one would never guess that the ancestors of these Soninke people once ruled a powerful empire along the banks of the Niger River. Gold flowed like water from the mines of the Ghana Empire. This people group also once traded in salt, copper and slaves. Then in the 13th century Berber invaders from Morocco drove the Soninkes from their homeland along the Niger River scattering this people group across West Africa and pillaging them as they had once pillaged others. Greed had come full circle.[15]

The social structure and organization of the Soninke are typical of the Mande-related people groups, who speak many of the Mande languages of the region of West Africa. They are now mostly farmers who raise rice, peanuts, and millet. They also raise large numbers of livestock including: goats, sheep, horses, chickens, and cattle. Because little to no fishing and hunting is done, trade among their neighbors is extremely important. While the Soninke trade in the local markets, it is also common for them to travel to markets in other regions to trade their goods. Interestingly, while in the past, the Soninke men worked the land and cultivated the crops and the women worked in the gardens, today things are much different. Part of this may be attributed to their high migration rate, but the primary factor is directly related to roughly half of the men leaving anywhere from two to five years doing migrant work. This is common practice, so the men can send money back to dig wells and provide for their villages and families in ways not possible if they were back home. As a result, the Soninke people have taken on more of a matriarchal society, where the women hold prominent positions of power and authority over the older men and children who are left behind. Recently, two hundred thousand Soninke people up and moved to Paris, making them the largest West African group in France. This has led to many problems in France, partly because of the unsanitary condition they live in and because they brought their religious customs with them (i.e. polygamy, high birth rates, and female genital mutilation).[16]

Religion(s) and Family Values/Beliefs

The poor Soninke live in small villages, with homes made out of brick and thatched roofs, while the wealthier people have brick homes, flat terraced roofs, and an interior court. Houses will typically line both sides of the main road, and a mosque will be positioned in the village square. Much like other cultures, the town square was where the market was located as well as where the religious influences were made known. According to Islamic law, the men are allowed to have four wives and while a dowry is customary in their culture, the payment goes to the bride instead of to her parents, which is vastly different from other cultures. Pre-marital sexual relations are strictly forbidden, so they do possess moral integrity, but there inheritance laws only give daughters half shares, while sons get equal shares, and the widow only gets a one-eighth share.

The Soninke were forcibly converted to Islam beginning around the 11th century and currently Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the Soninke in Mali at seventy percent of the population. Just less than thirty percent of the population is made up of ethnic/syncretistic religions, which are more animistic in nature. As with most Muslims, they follow the teachings of Mohammad, who they believe to be the Islamic prophet. Their holy book is known as the Koran, and they believe it was given to Mohammad by the angel Gabriel. The Muslim faith is centered on the five pillars or duties of Islam. They are extremely devout followers who believe there is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet. They pray five times a day while facing Mecca, they observe religious holidays, and if possible they make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca.

According to Global Prayer Digest, “This Soninke for centuries looked to the north for inspiration, adopting Islam, brought to them by Berber traders from North Africa. Despite their conversion to Islam, some still practice Animism, the worship of nature spirits.”[17] Ernst Dammann illustrates, “Though Islam has gained a footing in these parts of Africa in the thirteenth century already, and though since the middle of the nineteenth century there has taken place an intensive Islamization here as well as elsewhere in West Africa, the tribal religions are far from being extinguished.”[18]

 Paolo Gaibazzi details the influence the outside world has had on the Soninke people stating: “The end of internal slavery in West Africa is generally associated with an increase in labor mobility. However, in Sabi, a Soninke village in Upper River Gambia, economic migration intensified and globalized from the 1950s onward. Although they have since been free to move, the descendants of slaves have migrated less than those of the freeborn.”[19] Gaibazzi argues, “the persistence of social liabilities linked to slave descent after emancipation has partially prevented slave descendants from accumulating the resources needed to out-migrate.” He then demonstrates while emancipation from slavery and migration are usually seen as closely related events, which lead to a free and mobile labor market that is not the case in people groups like the Soninke.

Survey of Missions Work

History of Missions Among the Soninke People

Missions can be dated back to the early church, which shows God desires that everyone come to faith in Him through Christ, but that not all will. Romans 10:13-14 demonstrates the significance of Christian evangelism when it comes to reaching those who have never heard: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” A great example is Cornelius who knew about God, but not about Christ; however, because of his sincere desire to know God, Cornelius came in direct contact with the Apostle Peter who told Cornelius about Jesus.[20]

The first Christian missionary translators began working among the Soninke in the 1980s. While there are only a few books of the Bible that have been translated into their language, they do have access to the Jesus film[21] and global recordings.[22] [23] After consulting with several missionaries based in Mali, it became abundantly clear Christianity came at a great cost. The missionaries consulted for the purposes of this report were very cautious about giving any information, they did not want their names mentioned anywhere, and they all insisted only exchanging information if it happened using FaceTime, so they could see whom they were talking to. All of the missionaries have had multiple death threats on themselves and their families from followers of both Islam and from the people who still follow the animalistic ethnic religions.

One missionary couple had been down there for two years working to finish a complete Bible in Soninke’s native language. They have just come back to the states to raise additional funds so they can go back and hopefully finish what they had started, and they said raising money is one of the hardest parts of missions’ work. While they have many people who sponsor them, the effects on the economy in the United States has had worldly impacts and all the missionaries consulted said raising money has become harder each year. The missionaries who are working to finish a complete Bible said part of the difficulty was there are five different dialects for the Soninke language in Mali alone: Touba, Serecole, Azer, Kinbakka, and Xenqenna. They cannot wait to go back and finish what they started and they expressed gratitude to the instructor who encouraged this project of his graduate students. Some of their work on can be found at http://bienvenueafricains.com/en/soninke/ and at http://www.wycliffe.org. They have played a huge role in presenting the gospel to a people group who had not previously heard of Christ and the sacrifice He made for anyone who would respond. Despite their amazing work and contributions to the Soninke people, they wanted it to be known there are still over 1,800 languages that are still waiting for complete Bible translations, so while Wycliffe just celebrated twenty-three new languages receiving access to scripture, they stressed, there is still much work to be done.[24]

Current Status of the Church

            Seek first the kingdom of God are lofty words, but without action behind them, the result is a lukewarm Christianity. Bruner illustrates, “The church exists by mission… [And] when a church is no longer on mission, it is no longer a church.” The question that is highly debated is whether the church should meet the physical needs or the spiritual needs first. This writer is of the opinion that both must be reached, and through meeting both needs, a bonding relationship will form. In the past, Islam has been the religion observed by the majority and as a result, much of their infrastructure and supplies are from fellow Muslim believers. If Christianity wants to take root among the Soninke people, there are many physical needs that must be considered. While these needs provide great opportunities for God to produce wonderful miracles of blessings and new ways for converts to grow their faith, they cannot be ignored when attempting to evangelize, convert, baptize, and teach the Soninke people.

Known Believers

The Soninke people group is represented in eight different countries around the world: Cote d’Ivoire, France, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, and the United States, with a total population of 2,390,700. Currently, the Soninke in Mali have a population of 1,440,000 and Islam represents 94.99% of the population, with only .01% being Christian and .00% being evangelical. Of the .01% of known believers, 85% are Roman Catholic and the remaining 15% are Protestant. Among the Soninke in Mali, there are very few known Christians and those who convert to Christianity are severely persecuted by the Muslims. This has made evangelizing efforts extremely difficult.

The second missionary interviewed for this report said, “For most Soninke, they have still not yet heard a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” When asked the question whether it was harder to evangelize someone who believed in Islam or someone who held no religious beliefs at all, he responded saying, “It was easier evangelizing someone who already believed there was a God versus someone who did not believe in any god, held to ethnic religions, or had no religious values.” He also said, “the main obstacle was building trust with the locals and making provisions for those who are open to the gospel.” After asking what role the Holy Spirit played in their mission, he replied: “The Holy Spirit was relied upon heavily and that he had seen the Spirit at work on a constant basis, both in converts and in those who were open to hearing what he had to say.” This writer holds to the belief that the Holy Spirit has the power to undo what happened at Babel, but for missionaries in this region, the language barrier still seems to be the biggest stumbling block to bonding and forming lasting relationships. Peter Wagner illustrates, “An estimated 48% of the world’s non-Christians find themselves in unreached people groups. That means over two billion individuals for whom Christ died will not hear of His love unless someone follows the call of God and leaves their own culture.”[25] A research team from Link Up Africa (LUA) reported, “We know of only one born-again believer among the Senegal Soninke and five to ten Soninke Christians in Mali. This believer in Jesus is like a flickering candle that the Holy Spirit can use to ignite a spiritual awakening to bring deliverance from sin, deception and the bondage of evil spirits.”[26] Darkness, by definition, is the absence of light, and all it takes is one spark to lead to a wildfire revival, with the power of the Holy Spirit. This is currently happening in other regions of Africa and LUA’s prayer is that the Lord would raise up messengers to carry the good news of the gospel across the Soninke territory, so they will no longer be isolated from the knowledge of the truth.[27] From this report and the information gathered from the missionaries consulted, there are now approximately twenty professing Christians among the Soninke people. This is a good start, but there is still much that needs to be done, especially as it relates to forming an indigenous church and teaching them how to evangelize their own people.

Challenges

Currently there is still no complete Bible in the Soninke’s native language, which all the missionaries cite is one of the primary obstacles in spreading the complete gospel and evangelizing the unreached. Wycliffe research shows, “When people finally get the Bible in their own language, lives often change in amazing ways. People are transformed as they are led to Jesus Christ and a right relationship with God.”[28] Both missionaries said it was important to also know the culture and traditions, which meant it was often necessary to go with the flow, almost like what the apostle Paul was referring to when he said: “Do whatever it takes.”[29] The only exception to this notion would be anything that would violate the inherent and infallible Word of God.

While each new day has presented different obstacles, it has also allowed opportunities for God to show up and meet a need. According to Claude Hickman et al., “When it comes to God’s will, many of us want the GPS version of God’s plan, [but] the Bible does not lay out a map, it gives us a compass.”[30] The missionaries said there are still many obstacles that stand in the way of evangelizing the Soninke people. Some of the biggest they have faced were: lack of understanding, language barriers/dialects, or cultural variations. When a complete Bible is available, the missionaries will be able to show how much of their Koran is found in the Bible, and how the chosen people of God came from the descendants of Isaac, not Ishmael. It will also rightly portray Jesus as the Son of God and not just a prominent prophet.

For the second missionary team consulted, they said their end-goal was for the indigenous people to begin evangelizing within their own communities. This model will cause churches/communities of faith to be self-sufficient and become multipliers of people of faith. In some cases, this process can be lengthy, since new languages must be learned, the translated Bible may not yet be available, or the people group may be resistant to Christian missions. This however was an area the two missionaries consulted differed on. One thought the notion of an indigenous church was great and the other had mixed emotions about it. This was something William Smalley believed was extremely misunderstood by many missionaries asserting, “An indigenous church is one in which the changes taking place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, meets the needs, and fulfills the meanings of that society and not of any outside group.”[31] As Americans, it can very easy to try and duplicate and impose one’s own ideas and values in the people group trying to be reached. This is also an area that must be watched very carefully because syncretism has a tendency to blend a new believer’s previous customs and traditions with any newfound faith.

A great resource in helping to fulfill the Great Commission is the Joshua Project, which is a research initiative focused on taking the gospel to all unreached people groups. They use Revelation 5:9 and 7:9-10 to show that there will be some from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people before the Throne of God. Their goal, through the collaborative efforts of missionaries, is to help define the unfinished task of the Great Commission by highlighting unreached people groups. Their data and information is extremely helpful to: mission agencies, different denominations, churches, and missionaries to accelerate the Gospel’s advance into each of the least-reached people groups.[32] For the Soninke people, they are specifically praying for, “the Lord to send forth laborers into Mali to share Christ with the indigenous people, that Christian broadcasts will soon be made available in their region, that God will give the small number of Soninke believers’ boldness to share Christ with their own people, and that God would rise up people who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Mali through worship and intercession.”[33]

Global Connections is another great resource that believes missions are at the heart of the church and the church is at the heart of missions. They illustrate some additional challenges that they have personally faced in country: “Soninke live in difficult areas with a hard climate, their living conditions are primitive, there is little to no technology, they are subject to tropical diseases, and witnessing to them is very hampered by the mobility of the population.” Interestingly, over the last few years, through their continued commitment to the Soninke people, they have been leading a small number of people to the Lord and some have even expressed an interest in obtaining more Christian literature. Global Connections also found the Soninke people preferred reading in Arabic rather than Roman script.”[34]

Proposed Strategy

For the Great Commission to be truly fulfilled the gospel must be taken to every tribe, tongue, and nation, otherwise this commandment becomes nothing more than the “Great Suggestion.” R. T. France further illustrates,

The phrase panta ta ethne, “all the nations,” has occurred already in Matthew 24:9, 14; 25:32, to denote the area of the disciples’ future activity, the scope of the proclamation of the “good news of the kingdom,” and the extent of the jurisdiction of the enthroned Son of Man. In each case we have seen that the emphasis falls positively on the universal scope of Jesus’ mission rather than negatively on “Gentiles” as opposed to Jews.[35]

Survey of Past and Present Mission Work

Missions and evangelism are being done with great success in the “Global South” and according to Todd Johnson, places like “Africa have seen the most vigorous growth, exploding from 10 million Christians in A.D. 1900 to 360 million in A.D. 2000.”[36] This is in sharp contrast to what is happening in America as Johnson demonstrates, “After A.D. 1980, Christians from the southern hemisphere outnumbered Northern Christians for the first time since the 10th century.”[37] Considering in A.D. 1500, ninety-two percent of all Christians were European, the future of Christianity in the south is exciting, while the future in the north is in trouble. For a nation, which was founded on biblical principles, America has hardened their hearts and turned their backs on God. While North American missionaries, over the last few centuries, played a huge role in the outpouring of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, it is now the sending nation of America that needs an awakening and spiritual rebirth.

Larry Stockstill recently said that missiologists tell us that over one million souls are being saved every week around the world and that over 180,000 new churches are being planted every year and even among Muslims; there is a huge influx of Christianity. It is interesting to note, when looking back over the history of Christianity, the times when it thrives were and still are during times of the church’s greatest persecution and turmoil. For example, before ISIS, there were one million Christian believers in Egypt and now there are 4 million.[38]

As Luke Keefer illustrates, “We live and minister in a world that is changing quickly and much. But God has given the church a genetic code, a particular DNA, which gives us an identity in a world that is losing its face, and a mission in a world that is losing its way. That genetic code is the gospel, which has endured from the first to the twenty-first century.”[39] At PeopleGroups.org, their goal is to fulfill the Great Commission by informing the body of Christ about the people groups around the world: who they are, where they are located, and the progress of spreading the Gospel among them. Their vision is to see a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ.[40]

Phase One: Going There to Work Among the Soninke People

C. Peter Wagner illustrates, “The teeming multitudes of all colors, languages, smells, and cultures are not just a quaint sideline in our nation; they are America. And it is America that God has called to evangelize, [but] the first step in reaching [people] for Christ is to want to do it. Motivation is key.”[41]

For the purposes of this report, this author has decided to team up with Operation World, an organization dedicated to evangelizing the world. Their key strategy is prayer and Patrick Johnstone believes, “When man works, man works; when man prays, God works, [demonstrating] the ministry of the children of God is not just doing but praying, not just strategizing, but prostrate before God seeking His will, not just clever strategies for manipulating people and events but trusting in God who moves in the hearts of even His most implacable enemies.”[42] They believe firmly that prayer changes people, situations, and even the course of history. Only after prayerfully considering the mission that waits and counting the cost will a team be sent. Given the relationships formed with several missionaries in country and other organizations through the research of this project, it became clear there were many physical needs that needed to be addressed, in addition to the spiritual needs. As a result, the initial team going down will consist of people trained in the medical field, to heal the sick; contractors, to help build key infrastructure and begin work on the multipurpose mission outpost/church; and also laborers to help both in the treatment of the sick and in various construction roles. Another initiative will be the drilling of a well in a key location. Upon visiting the people and discovering where the greatest needs are, the goal will be drill a well very close to where the mission outpost will be. This will act as a central point where people will travel, not only to receive water for human consumption, but also to receive water from the river of life, that will cause one to thirst no more.[43]

After addressing their most basic human needs, the focus will then turn to meeting their spiritual needs. Fulfilling the Great Commission always leads to planting churches and involves three parts: going, baptizing, and teaching them to obey. Beram Kumar, when talking about the Western and non-Western church demonstrates, “We need one another. We need to be careful to guard that relationship. Of equal importance, however, is the need for the Church in the West to move out of the ‘they are emerging’ mentality and recognize that non-Western missions movements are equal and able partners.”[44] When looking at unreached people groups, what separates them from other groups is they lack an indigenous community of believing Christians who are able to engage with the group and have a church planting strategy, consistent with evangelical faith and practice. Emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s guidance is key, as Ed Stetzer illustrates, “Without the Holy Spirit’s work, we are not planting churches; we are starting religious clubs.” The end-goal must be the gathering of believers and planting churches to establish an effective and multiplying presence among the people group.[45] This will be the vision and strategy for this project. Training and equipping the people to do the work is fundamental to the health of the church. The same is true for any church, as it is the job of the church pastors to teach the laity of the church how to do the work of the church. This model has gotten lost, been forgotten, or blatantly been ignored out of a desire to control and do everything themselves, but in doing so, they are essentially robbing the people out of the blessings they would have received in doing the work they were called to do. The body is made up of many parts for a reason and each one contributes something specific according to the giftings God has given them.[46]

For some of the Soninke, it is harder to become a Christian because they already believe in a god, while for others it is hard because they do not believe in any god. However, the majority of the Soninke people believe in some form of god, so a strategy must be developed to illustrate how the Koran is really accounts from the Bible twisted to show it was the offspring of Ishmael that were God’s chosen people. Once the complete Bible is available, this will be a huge benefit to present the entire gospel meta-narrative. Next, a strategy must also be implemented to deal with the animalistic witchcraft currently being practiced. By showing God created all the animals on the earth in the Genesis account would be a good starting point to showing God’s supremacy over animals and man’s dominion over them, once that part of the Bible is completely translated.

One of the biggest obstacles faced in evangelism is explaining how a loving God can send people to hell. In their book, Faith Comes by Hearing, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson write, “How could it be fair and just for those who have never even had a chance to hear the gospel, which is necessary for salvation, to be condemned to hell? The question sounds powerful, but behind it lies faulty assumptions.”[47]  Morgan and Peterson demonstrate the first mistaken assumption is that, “our condemnation is based on a rejection of the gospel.” They then show Scripture teaches that our condemnation is based on the fact that we are sinners, not because at some point in time we rejected the gospel. Morgan and Peterson then show, “God’s wrath is revealed against everyone who suppresses His truth revealed through creation … [And] strictly speaking, the Bible denies that there are persons who have never heard of God.”[48] Another faulty assumption that will have to be addressed pertains to “a confusion of justice and mercy.”[49] God is gracious and merciful in that He has provided a way of salvation through faith in Christ for those who will accept Him, but God also cannot let un-repentance go unnoticed. Ultimately, God will deal fairly with those who have not received a direct presentation of the gospel, just as He will deal fairly with those who have. God’s way is wide enough for everyone willing to accept it and receive Christ. The most important question any of us can answer is the one Jesus asked his own disciples, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”[50] This will be the question every Soninke will eventually have to answer.

Phase Two: Setting Up a Mission Outpost/Church and Well

The American Missionary Fellowship has developed a four-tier goal/system of planting churches where there is presently no clear gospel witness to reach the un-churched by: influencing future generations by reaching their children and young people; establishing ministry centers in the areas of trade and commerce, where there are desperate spiritual needs; and by multiplying leaders who can then take the gospel even further, and by developing ministries to target peoples of other diverse cultures. David Schenk and Ervin Stutzman affirm, “Church planting is thus the most urgent business of mankind. It is through the creation or planting of churches that God’s kingdom is extended into communities, which have not been touched by the precious surprise of the presence of the kingdom of God.”[51] Planting churches matters because people matter.

Eugene Scott explains, “One of the biggest mistakes pastors of white evangelical churches can make is not addressing policies that affect the poor. Coming to urban environments and endorsing policies that only benefit new transplants and businesses directs attention away from issues that have affected neighborhoods for generations.”[52] If someone is starving, you should first offer him or her bread for their body and then talk to them of the bread of life for their eternal soul. Efrem Smith says church planting has to be about serving the undeserved, not just following the latest trends: “We don’t simply need more churches… We need church planting and leadership development movements. These movements should specifically center on the empowerment of the poor. This will call church planting movements to connect evangelism, discipleship, and a liberating witness to the marginalized and outcast.”[53] These are whom Jesus sought out in His ministry and Wagner believes new church planting is the single most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven,[54] but as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. popularly said, “Sunday is also the most segregated hour of Christianity in America.”

David Mechanic and Jennifer Tanner illustrate a fundamental issue facing any outreach effort is: “The behavior that the public views as personally controllable is fundamental to whether they see people as sinners or victims. Governments provide assistance to those who are not seen as responsible for their vulnerability. When people are seen as responsible for their life circumstances, there is less public compassion and often stigma.”[55] Making disciples and multiplying churches must be the unified goal. At the first Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) was founded as part of “one sacred effort, for the propagation of the Gospel.” Southern Baptist churches believed that by working cooperatively, they could accomplish more for God’s kingdom. Today this organization is know as the International Missions Board whose focus has shifted from geographic countries to people groups, with a concerted effort to start church-planting movements among unreached peoples.[56]

With this team-focused approach, the goal will be to identify a key location to setup a mission outpost/church, and also dig a well within a close proximity. For the water well, World Vision will be consulted, as they have just dug their 1,000th successful borehole drilled in Mali since 2003 marking a substantial breakthrough in the effort to provide as many as 120,000 Malians a year with access to clean water and improved sanitation and hygiene.[57] Having access to clean water is of the utmost importance, as nearly one thousand children die everyday as the result of unsanitary water conditions. Depending on the location of the well will determine how deep it needs to be dug. The deeper the well, the more expensive it is to have access to clean water. For shallow wells, a hand pump is sufficient and only cost between five to ten thousand dollars. For deeper wells, where a diesel motor is required to bring the water up, the cost can be as high as thirty thousand dollars. However, with the deeper and larger well, the pump can tend to the consumption needs of several thousand people.[58]

The overall goal with the mission outpost/church will be to have versatility with the space, so it can be used for medical needs, teaching, church, and even a place where the local people can come together under one roof. Most of the villages all have mosques, so presenting this location, as a church may be problematic. In addition, Africa requires numerous permits for both building and drilling, and this process varies greatly at every location. The assistance of locals and organizations familiar with the process will be relied upon heavily. Before phase two can be implemented, a significant fundraising effort must be started back home, in addition to soliciting any support from the local Soninke people.

The Stone-Campbell Movement in Mali is a great example of sustaining a long-lasting partnership with the Soninke people. The missionary couple began their ministry in the late 1980s and made the commitment early on that they were going to stay for at least fifteen years to establish a local church that would be indigenous and self-sufficient apart from missionaries and the mission. Their plan was, “instead of focusing on a quick growth in numbers in the church, they concentrated on laying a firm foundation for the church.”[59] This meant a great deal of time and resources were spent on teaching new believers, building cement block structures, establishing irrigation and agriculture projects, and raising up natives to function in leadership roles within the church. This team also used their medical training to help better the lives of those they came to serve. One of the things, previously stated, that must be avoided is offending the Muslims; this regrettably was a reality this missionary team eventually faced:

Unfortunately, as time went by, the work had become more of a “church,” and except for programs on the radio station, their outreach was greatly diminished. When it was still at its beginning and the assorted buildings in the villages were seen as multi-purpose buildings, most Muslims did not object to participating, but when the local Christians insisted on setting up a large sign with a church name and hours for the service, the Muslims quit coming. Muslims do not want to be seen going to “church”. Church traditions are prevailing over the need to reach out to the un-reached.[60]

This is what will prevent growth from beginning and it will stop it even quicker. The mindset of the mission team must be focused on meeting the needs of all, both physical and spiritual, and not segregating those who are not Christians. This is what has happened in America, and as a result, the world knows more what the church is against than anything it is for. Love must be the motivation behind all actions, as reflecting the image of Christ is the ultimate goal and the only way the Great Commission will truly be fulfilled.

Conclusion

This project has given a brief background of the Soninke’s history, language, culture, economy, religion(s), and family structures/values. By understanding the people, their past, and their culture/religious views, an action plan was presented to reach the Soninke people. A detailed presentation of past and present mission efforts was then presented demonstrating the current state of the church, number of known believers, challenges, and successful strategies. Lastly, a proposed strategy was then presented on how best to evangelize and reach the Soninke people. Given this writer’s role as a church pastor, a plan was be designed, which was centered on taking the gospel to the unreached people of Soninke, in the form of church laborers to work among them, with the end-goal ultimately being the establishment of a multipurpose mission’s outpost/church and a water well to provide clean water for consumption. The location picked will be the Antioch of Mali, as this project will be the epicenter of missions to the Soninke people. By meeting the physical needs of the Soninke people, bonding will be developed and relationships will be formed. Over time, this will open the door to meeting their spiritual needs and fulfilling the mission Jesus passed onto the church after He ascended to heaven. By being imitators of Christ and showing love to the Soninke people, the mission effort will have the best possible chance of making an eternal impact.

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Hickman, Claude, Steven C. Hawthorne, and Todd Ahrend. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Life on Purpose, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Joshua Project Website. https://joshuaproject.net (accessed April 19, 2016).

Johnson, Todd and Sandra S. K. Lee. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: From Western Christendom to Global Christianity, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Keefer, Luke. “The Changeless Gospel,” – Ashland Theological Journal 32, no. 0 (NA), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 20.

Kumar, Beram. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: No Longer Emerging, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Link Up Africa Website. http://linkupafrica.com/peoples/Interior/80/personal-visit         (accessed May 10, 2016).

Mechanic, David and Jennifer Tanner. “Vulnerable People, Groups, and Populations: Societal View.” Health Affairs 26, no. 5 (Sep, 2007): 1220-30, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/204641146?accountid=12085. (accessed April 21, 2016).

Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015.

Morgan, Christopher W. and Robert A. Peterson, Editors. Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008.

Operation World Website. http://www.operationworld.org/prayer-and-nations (accessed April 21, 2016).

People Groups Website. http://www.peoplegroups.org/Understand.aspx (accessed April 19, 2016).

S. J. Global Prayer Digest. “Soninke People.” http://www.globalprayerdigest.org/index.php/issue/day/Soninke-People5/            (accessed May 7, 2016).

S. J. Global Prayer Digest. “Soninke People in Paris.” http://www.globalprayerdigest.org/index.php/issue/day/Soninke-People-in-Paris/ (accessed May 7, 2016).

Schenk, David W. and Ervin R. Stutzman, Liberty University GLST 500, Week 7 Course Content. Fulfilling the Great Commission through Church Planting. https://media.liberty.edu/cqhne (accessed May 6, 2016).

Scott, Eugene. “Evangelizing in the inner City: the role of white evangelical churches in urban renewal.” Kennedy School Review 15 (2015): 23+. Academic OneFile. http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=vic_liberty&id=GALE|A414840773&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&userGroup=vic_liberty&authCount=1# (accessed April 21, 2016).

Stockstill, Larry. Why I Give a Flip About Missions, http://larrystockstill.com/missions/  (accessed May 2, 2016)

Smalley, William A. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Cultural Implications of an Indigenous Church, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Smith, Efrem. “Church Planting Among the Urban Poor,” Christianity Today, 15 May 2014.

The Water Project Website. https://thewaterproject.org/digging-wells-in-africa-and-india-how-it-works (accessed May 10, 2016).

Wagner, C. Peter. “A Vision for Evangelizing the Real America.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 10, no. 2 (Apr 01, 1986): 59, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1299982994?accountid=12085. (accessed April 21, 2016).

Wagner, C. Peter. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: On the Cutting Edge of Mission Strategy, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

World Convention Website. http://www.worldconvention.org/resources/profiles/mali/    (accessed May 10, 2016).

World Vision Website. http://www.worldvision.org/news-stories-videos/1000-clean-water-wells-mali (accessed May 10, 2016).

Wycliffe Bible Translator Website. https://www.wycliffe.org/celebrate (accessed May 9, 2016).


[1] John 14:6 (ESV)

[2] Joshua Project Website, https://joshuaproject.net (accessed April 19, 2016).

[3] Joshua Project Website, https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/what_is_a_people_group (accessed April 19, 2016).

[4] A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 281.

[6] Moreau et al., Introducing World Missions, 75.

[8] Bill Bright, The Coming Revival, (Orlando, FL: New Life Publications, 1995), 65.

[9] Matthew 28:18-20

[10] Dave Earley and David Wheeler, Evangelism Is… How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2010), 35.

[15] J.S. Global Prayer Digest, “Soninke People,” http://www.globalprayerdigest.org/index.php/issue/day/Soninke-People5/ (accessed May 7, 2016).

[16] J.S., Global Prayer Digest, “Soninke People in Paris, http://www.globalprayerdigest.org/index.php/issue/day/Soninke-People-in-Paris/ (accessed May 7, 2016).

[17] J.S. Global Prayer Digest, “Soninke People,” http://www.globalprayerdigest.org/index.php/issue/day/Soninke-People5/ (accessed May 7, 2016).

[18] Ernst Dammann, Review of La Societé Soninke (dyahunu Mali). Journal of Religion in Africa 6 (2). 1974. Brill: 153–54. doi:10.2307/1594893. (accessed May 10, 2016).

[19] Paolo Gaibazzi, “THE RANK EFFECT: POST-EMANCIPATION IMMOBILITY IN A SONINKE VILLAGE.” Journal of African History 53, no. 2 (07, 2012): 215-216, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1041238287?accountid=12085. (accessed May 8, 2016).

[24] https://www.wycliffe.org/celebrate (accessed May 9, 2016).

[25] C. Peter Wagner, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: On the Cutting Edge of Mission Strategy, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 577.

[27] Ibid.

[28] https://www.wycliffe.org/about/why (accessed May 9, 2016).

[29] I Corinthians 9:19-23

[30] Claude Hickman, Steven C. Hawthorne, and Todd Ahrend, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Life on Purpose, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 725-726.

[31] William A. Smalley, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Cultural Implications of an Indigenous Church, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 499.

[33] Joshua Project Website, https://joshuaproject.net/people_groups/14996/ML (accessed April 27, 2016).

[35] R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1114.

[36] Todd Johnson and Sandra S. K. Lee, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: From Western Christendom to Global Christianity, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 387.

[37] Johnson and Lee, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 388.

[38] Larry Stockstill, Why I Give a Flip About Missions, http://larrystockstill.com/missions/ (accessed May 2, 2016)

[39] Luke Keefer, “The Changeless Gospel,” – Ashland Theological Journal 32, no. 0 (NA), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 20.

[40] People Groups Website, http://www.peoplegroups.org/Understand.aspx (accessed April 19, 2016).

[41] C. Peter Wagner, “A Vision for Evangelizing the Real America.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 10, no. 2 (Apr 01, 1986): 59 & 63, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1299982994?accountid=12085. (accessed April 21, 2016).

[42] Operation World Website, http://www.operationworld.org/prayer-and-nations (accessed April 21, 2016).

[43] John 4:14

[44] Beram Kumar, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: No Longer Emerging, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 369.

[45] People Groups Website, http://www.peoplegroups.org/ (accessed April 20, 2016).

[46] I Corinthians 12:12-27

[47] Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, editors, Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008), 241.

[48] Morgan and Peterson, Faith Comes by Hearing, 241.

[49] Morgan and Peterson, Faith Comes by Hearing, 242.

[50] Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20

[51] David W. Schenk and Ervin R. Stutzman, Liberty University GLST 500, Week 7 Course Content, Fulfilling the Great Commission through Church Planting, https://media.liberty.edu/cqhne (accessed May 6, 2016).

[52] Eugene Scott, “Evangelizing in the inner City: the role of white evangelical churches in urban renewal.” Kennedy School Review 15 (2015): 23. Academic OneFile. http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=vic_liberty&id=GALE|A414840773&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&userGroup=vic_liberty&authCount=1# (accessed April 21, 2016).

[53] Efrem Smith, “Church Planting Among the Urban Poor,” Christianity Today, 15 May 2014.

[54] Wagner, “A Vision for Evangelizing the Real America.” 63.

[55] David Mechanic and Jennifer Tanner, “Vulnerable People, Groups, and Populations: Societal View.” Health Affairs 26, no. 5 (Sep, 2007): 1221-1222, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/204641146?accountid=12085. (accessed April 21, 2016).

[56] International Mission Board Website, http://www.imb.org/about-us/history.aspx#.VxknPj-J-8U (accessed April 21, 2016).

Theology of Missions

missionary 101

          Before one can begin to understand the scope of missions, they must first realize the very notion of missions flows from the very heart and character of God.  This theology of missions paper will investigate scripture to illuminate that the Bible is essentially a missionary book. Throughout the Old and the New Testament God is seen moving toward the lost and broken-hearted. This paper will also explore how the nature of God relates to missions, as well as how it compares to other aspects of theology. Lastly, this paper will demonstrate how mission theology relates to missionaries, church leaders, and laity who are not involved in full-time ministry.

Old and New Testament Examples

         Mission is the driving theme of scripture and the mission of God is at the very core by offering redemption and salvation to all who respond.  A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee demonstrate, “Mission in the Old Testament is best encountered by exploring it as a divine drama in four acts: (1) the creation and the fall, (2) God’s calling and setting apart a people for Himself, (3) God’s work in rescuing His people, and (4) God’s work in sending His people into exile.”[1]

         One of the first examples of a missionary God is found in Genesis 3:9-15. Shortly after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, the first person on the scene was God, to begin the process of restoration for them and for all of humanity who would follow after. As Victor Hamilton illustrates, “The Lord addresses a question rather than a command to the secluded man, for God ‘must draw rather than drive him out of hiding.’ He is the good shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. Such a context calls for a display of tenderness rather than toughness.”[2]  As scripture unfolds, God is continually moving towards the lost, as evidenced by Him sending the prophets, the judges, His Son, and then the church to proclaim the gospel, to redeem humanity, and to ultimately restore their relationship and fellowship with God. As Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God’s clear instructions unfolds, it becomes immediately apparent there was now suffering, isolation, and consequences, as a result of their actions. It is in this account; the reader is also presented with a foreshadowing of Jesus and the promise of a future battle between Eve’s offspring and those of the Satan.

          As Moreau et al. illustrate, “With the fall came banishment from the Garden and from intimate contact with the creator… The curtain closes on this act with a world of people scattered and unable to communicate with one another. With people broken, separated from the creator, and successfully lured by a clever enemy, the stage is set for the story of redemption…”[3] In the second act of this divine drama, God calls Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 as the second representation of God being a missionary God, as Moreau et al. demonstrate:

God gives three promises all with the same purpose in mind. First, God will make Abraham into a great nation, a promise tied to the land. Second, God will give Abraham a great name. The purpose of both blessings is that Abraham be a blessing to others. The third blessing and purpose clarify that although Abraham is the means he is not the goal. It is through him that others will be blessed by blessing, but the purpose goes beyond Abraham to all the peoples on the earth.[4]

          It is interesting the shift that has taken place in this account. God’s universal intent is to now be manifested through Abraham and all of his descendants. Abraham would be God’s chosen heir of the world and it is in this act that Moreau et al. show, “God’s love and concern is clearly seen… [And] that God’s goal is not limited to any person or people… In Abraham, God manifests His reign… [And] Abraham is blessed not only for his sake but also for ours.”[5] God was calling a people through Abraham and as Walter Kaiser points out, “The fact remains that the goal of the Old Testament was to see both Jews and Gentiles come to a saving knowledge of the Messiah who was to come. Anything less than this goal was a misunderstanding of the plan of God. God’s eternal plan was to provide salvation for all people…”[6] It is through Abraham answering God’s call that the kingdom revealed to Adam and Eve in the creation account is once again restored. It is during this time where God’s love and missionary heart is clearly seen as He restores communion with His children. His missionary heart will always expect more, care more, love more, and risk more. His love for His children drives His every motive.

          In the New Testament, Paul refers to the Abrahamic covenant still being in effect in Galatians 3:14 and in Romans 4:13 Paul refers to Abraham as the heir of the world, as Douglas J. Moo illustrates:

Paul makes his case for the exclusion of the law from God’s dealings with Abraham on the basis of simple chronology—the law, given four hundred and thirty years after the promise, cannot annul or substantially alter this previous agreement between God and Abraham… Rom. 4 does not focus on the Christological implications of “seed” that Paul brings out in Gal. 3. The word here is purely collective, the reference being to all who are numbered among the “descendants” of Abraham… This language… summarizes the three key provisions of the promise as it unfolds in Genesis: that Abraham would have an immense number of descendants, embracing “many nations”[7] that he would possess “the land,”[8] and that he would be the medium of blessing to “all the peoples of the earth.”[9] Particularly noteworthy is the promise in Gen. 22:17b that Abraham’s seed would “possess the gate of their enemies.”[10] 

          This covenant blessing with Abraham and the promise it represented to all future generations is yet another clear example of God’s missionary heart. This writer is continually amazed at the wondrous nature of God and the lengths He goes to in order for His children to restore their fellowship and communion with Him. No better representation could be made to prove God’s love for His creation and the missionary heart He possesses.

          For Paul to be effective in his evangelistic efforts, Arthur F. Glasser believes that the first step began with making the people conscious of their personal needs, which would illuminate the Lord was willing and sufficient to meet every need.[11] Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus would be an unforgettable lesson in how he was to spread the gospel to a nation blinded by their own sin. Acts 26:18 is a beautiful representation of Paul’s mission, “I send you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”[12] This is a wonderful portrayal of what lengths God will go to, in order for His children to open their eyes. His word tells its readers, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”[13]God desires no one to experience eternal separation from Him and that is why He is so passionate about missions.

          While Paul is a pillar of the New Testament, he would be nothing without the foundational sacrifice Jesus Christ made. It was through this selfless act: God sends His Son to fulfill the promise of the One prophesied in the Old Testament. All of the Gospel accounts reveal the love and compassion of Jesus and His sincere desire to save humanity, despite the cost. Just as Jesus was sent, He then passes on the mission to His followers in the Great Commission[14] while stressing the importance of the Great Commandment.[15]

How Nature of God Relates to Missions

            As Moreau et al. explain, “Mission is God’s project, and He graciously allows Christians to take part in it… [And] the conflict between God and Satan is not a dualistic battle. Satan’s defeat was provided for even in God’s judgment against Adam and Eve.[16] This initial promise of salvation is the assurance that Jesus will come for all people.”[17]

            Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’ Brien expound on this further:

There was no ‘mission’ in the Garden of Eden and there will be no ‘mission’ in the new heavens and the new earth. From the first glimmer of the gospel in Genesis 3:15 to the end of this age, however, mission is necessitated by humanity’s fall into sin and need for a Savior, and is made possible only by the saving initiative of God in Christ.[18]

            God has chosen to use mankind who are created in His image to fulfill the work of the calling and to bring glory to Him. The nature of God is then most reflected in missions by His deep desire to restore the intimacy and fellowship that was violated during the fall. God cares deeply about everyone and everything He has created and He wants nothing more than for humanity to find their purpose in living, which is to bring glory to God.

Mission Theology Compared to Other Theology

            Mission is best defined as the sending of someone to complete a specific task. However, as Moreau et al. demonstrate, “When it comes to defining the particular mission of the church, contradictory and competing agendas make the picture less than clear.”[19] Missions is commonly referred to the practice of fulfilling the Great Commission while mission is used to refer to everything the church does to advance the kingdom of God.

           In systematic theology, one studies Christology, which is the study of Christ. It teaches that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who was one hundred percent man and God and analyzes His teaching, His miracles, and His death, burial, and resurrection. Mission theology involves cross-cultural ministry, which comes from a posture of humility and not nobility. In many instances, Christ actually allows His children to suffer for the sake of the gospel, to grow their testimony and faith.

            Missiology is the academic study of mission(s) and as Moreau et al. illustrate is made up of three central concerns: (1) the identity or nature of mission, (2) the goal of mission, and (3) the means or method of mission.[20] There is an undeniable connection between the Bible and missions as Christopher Wright beautifully portrays, “Mission is what the Bible is all about; we could as meaningfully talk of the missional basis of the Bible as of the biblical basis of mission.”[21] In terms of concentric circles, missions would be on the inside and comprised of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. In the next circle would be mission, which is what the church does for God in the world. In the last sphere is Missio Dei, and this circle encompasses all the others and comprises of all that God does to build the kingdom.[22]

            David Bosch believes, “Mission became the ‘mother of theology,’” while other scholars believe mission lies within the core of theology. Under this assumption, Moreau et al. make a bold statement, saying, “Then mission is at the heart of who Christians are and what the church is to be and do.”[23] John Piper goes even further saying, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church, [but that] worship is. Missions exists because worship does not. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man… Missions is a temporary necessity, but worship abides forever.”[24] The biggest difference between mission theology and other fields can be traced back to the original initiator: God. If it was not for the missionary heart of God, mission theology would not exist and any other field would be inconsequential. Piper is correct in his assertion why missions exists, and until the church understands their corporate and individual purpose, mission(s) will always be needed until the return of Christ.

Key Themes of Mission Theology

            When people think of missions, they typically view its representations as only being practical. However, biblical missions, on multiple levels, keeps all its forms from simply becoming another humanitarian effort or initiative like the Red Cross, by the motivation behind them. Justo Gonzalez once said, “The history of the church is the history of missions,” so if one is truly going to study the theology of missions, they must look to the early church and how the gospel and Christianity were spread. It was God who chose humanity to take the message of the gospel of salvation and redemption across borders and cultures, to the four corners of the earth.

            Interestingly, it was not until the mid-1900s that there was any distinction made between mission and missions. Moreau et al. establish, “Mission was not limited to what the church was doing, since God has always been active in the world… Essentially, missions has been relegated to the specific work of the church and agencies in the task of reaching people for Christ by crossing cultural boundaries. By contrast, mission is broader, referring to everything the church is doing that points toward the kingdom of God.”[25] In the early church, there was no issue of trying to identify their mission or what they were supposed to do. They saw a need and they met it, as is evidenced by their assigning men of proven character to care for the widows.[26] However, today there are multiple viewpoints as to the purpose of the church and despite any good intentions, in most cases, Christians are working against each other, instead of working together to bring glory to God.

            The evangelistic model of missions cannot be ignored as it plays a huge role in fulfilling the Great Commission. Moreau et al. split the core themes into three concentric elements:

(1) Calling those who do not know Christ through the activities of evangelism and church planting, (2) growing in the capacity to live God-glorifying lives through the processes of discipleship and church growth, and (3) reflecting God’s glory to a needy world through living lives of salt and light.[27]

            It is from these three concentric elements Moreau et al. develop the six motifs that are the guiding theme of mission theology: First is the kingdom of God, which is in this world, but not of it. Second is Jesus, who the entire Christian faith is centered on and Whom Christians should turn to in trying to understand their role in mission(s). Third is the Holy Spirit, which is a member of the Godhead that empowers Christians for the work of the church. Moreau et al. describe the Holy Spirit being the agent who reversed Babel at Pentecost. In a form of parallelism, just as the Father sent Christ, Jesus also sends the Holy Spirit when He ascended back to the right hand of God. Christ sends the Holy Spirit to act as a comforter, counselor, and to empower Christians with the same power that raised Christ from the dead. Fourth is the church, which is defined as both an organism and an organization, whose ultimate purpose is to submit to Christ. In relation to the world, the church is to call the people of the world to repentance by proclaiming the gospel. Fifth is Shalom, which expresses not only a sense of personal peace, but also a sense of community peace and wholeness. Sixth is the return of Christ, which is a vision of the future that determines the responsibilities in the present.[28]

            Moreau et al. then show how eschatology relates to each of three levels at the core of mission: “First, evangelism is God’s response to the fact that people apart from Christ are destined to spend eternity separated from God. Second, the certainty of Christ’s return provides Christians with hope, enabling them to persevere in their own growth as followers of Christ. Third, the coming of Christ motivates Christians to be preservers in a lost world.”[29]

How Mission Theology Relates to Missionaries, Church Leaders, and Laity

            According to Ada Lum, “A missionary is a prepared disciple whom God sends into the world with His resources to make disciples for the kingdom.”[30] Every Christian should be a missionary at some level and as Moreau et al. point out, “Mission that does not include evangelism is missing the core.”[31] Mission is so much more than just evangelism and the ultimate purpose of mission(s) for church leaders is to be used by God. The church must then witness to people about the reconciliation available to them through the sacrifice of Jesus. They must also foster an environment where people are welcome to come and worship and submit their lives to Christ. They must continually train and equip the laity of the church for the work of the church by teaching them how to obey all that Christ commanded. These lessons are better observed than taught as each leader’s life is a reflection and testimony of their relationship with God.

            Mission theology, when properly understood, should be at the heart of every believer, leader, missionary, and church. Once this principle is implemented and all decisions are filtered through this verifier to determine if what you are doing is a reflection of mission(s) being at the heart of who Christians are and what the church is to be and do, one will truly be in acting according to God’s perfect and complete will.[32]

Conclusion

            This paper has illustrated that mission(s) flows from the very heart and character of God.  By examining scripture, it has been shown that the Bible is essentially a missionary book and throughout the Old and the New Testament, God is seen continually moving toward the lost and broken-hearted. This paper has also revealed how the nature of God relates to missions, as well as how it compares to other aspects of theology, like Christology. While Christology is centered on the person of Christ, mission theology has a much larger impact on the role God’s children play in continuing the mission for which Christ was originally sent. Lastly, this paper has demonstrated how mission theology relates to missionaries, church leaders, and laity who are not involved in full-time ministry, by showing each party has a role to play, and until all parties involved are working towards a common goal, as Piper said, “Missions will always be needed!”

Bibliography

Daniel, Robin. Mission Strategies: Then and Now. Chester, England: Tamarisk, 2012.

Glasser, Arthur. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: The Apostle Paul and the Missionary Task, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Kaiser, Walter. Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

Köstenberger, Andreas and Peter O’ Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001.

Lum, Ada. A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Missions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015.

Piper, John. Let the Nation Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993.

Wright, Christopher. Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, edited by A. Scott Moreau, s.v. “Old Testament Theology of Mission.” Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 2000.


[1] A. Scott Moreau, A., Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 29.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 192.

[3] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 32.

[4] Ibid.

[5] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 33.

[6] Walter Kaiser, Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 10.

[7] Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 17:4-6, 16-20; 22:17

[8] Gen. 13:15-17; 15:12-21; 17:8

[9] Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18

[10] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 273-274.

[11] Arthur Glasser, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: The Apostle Paul and the Missionary Task, 4th Edition, Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 149.

[12] Acts 26:18 (ESV)

[13] II Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

[14] Matthew 28:16-20

[15] Matthew 22:35-40

[16] Genesis 3:15

[17] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 30-31.

[18] Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’ Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 251.

[19] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 69.

[20] Ibid., 16.

[21] Christopher Wright, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, edited by A. Scott Moreau, s.v. “Old Testament Theology of Mission.” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 2000), 29.

[22] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, Diagram 5.2, 71.

[23] Ibid., 72-73.

[24] John Piper, Let the Nation Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 11.

[25] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 15.

[26] Acts 6:1-7

[27] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 76.

[28] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 76-81.

[29] Ibid., 81-82.

[30] Ada Lum, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Missions, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984), 21.

[31] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 83.

[32] Ibid., 73.

Philosophy of Small Groups

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INTRODUCTION

It takes personal relationships to earn the right to speak into someone’s life, it takes time to develop these personal relationships, and they are impossible to form within the four walls of the church during weekly services, so an approach must be found to use in the church’s endeavor to turn disciples into disciple makers.

For many churches, the answer has been found in small groups. Since every church is different, there will be diverse models, which correlate to the DNA of each church, but the premise behind all the models is you are either going to be a church “with” small groups, a church “of” small groups, or a church that “is” small groups.

As a new disciple is produced, they carry with them, in essence, genetic markers specific to their conversion experience, so making sure they are involved in proper discipleship and a small group is crucial in reproducing healthy disciples who will continue to share the same saving knowledge, love, and support they received. Too many believers think coming to faith is the finish line, but it is merely the beginning of the race to save humanity through faith in Christ.

With that understanding, this paper will explain this writer’s philosophy of small groups in general and in the context of Generations United’s ministry as well as the importance of relational groups in authentic disciple making. Because relationships are essential in the disciple making process, this paper will also show how missional groups can help the body of Christ move out into the community fulfilling the Great Commission. Lastly, this paper will demonstrate how to live within a community with other believers, while also maintaining a missional mindset inside that community.

PHILOSOPHY OF SMALL GROUPS

As Rick Warren said, “A church must grow larger and smaller at the same time. Larger through worship and smaller through small groups [And] when Jesus started His ministry, the very first thing He did was form a small group.” As Harley Atkinson demonstrates:

As the apostles proceeded to carry out the Great Commission, they utilized a two-fold approach of meeting in the temple courts for large-group meetings and in the homes for more intimate small-group encounters. Very quickly, the house church became the definitive expression of church in the early Christian movement. In the wake of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, numerous churches sprang up and virtually all of the New Testament churches mentioned in the letters of Paul were in private homes. The house church remained the most significant context for early church worship, fellowship, and Christian education up to the early part of the fourth century, when Constantine legitimized Christianity.

Between the three small group options, a church “with” small groups is not a model that bears much fruit because the group acts detached from the vision and mission of the church, with no oversight from any staff member. Over time, these groups also tend to crystalize, preventing new people from joining and they also become more relational instead of being missional during their existence. Despite good intentions, even if they were started about the Father’s business, they end up just satisfying individual needs.

A church “of” small groups is intentional about getting people plugged into a group ministry as soon as possible. This group strategy has proven effective because they are connected to the church through a pastor and they carry the vision and the mission of the church as their ethos. The challenge in finding the right philosophy has to do with balance as Larry Osbourne proposes, “A group needs to be small enough that everyone has a chance to contribute, but large enough that no one feels forced to speak up or share more than they want to.” In addition, as Carl George suggests, “A healthy small group consists of people at various spiritual levels and must be led by a leadership nucleus.” As a result, this writer contends this system “of” small groups is the best system for most churches to strive for.

The final system is a church that “is” small groups and this is a complex system of groups that generally meets in their member’s homes, but is still connected to a senior pastor or point person in the organization. Perhaps the best example of this model is Larry Stockstill’s Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, LA who believes small groups are, “A group of people who have laid down their personal agendas to work together as a team and that as the relational “cauldron” heats up in a cell, the “scum” rises to the top [And is able to] be removed. It may not sound pretty, but it sure is healthy.” At one point in time, as Dave Earley discovered during his investigation of “cell groups,” “[Bethany had] more than six hundred cell groups and was growing like wild fire.”

As Joshua Knabb suggests, “Within the contemporary Christian church, community is heavily emphasized and encouraged. Drawing from the Acts of the Apostles, Christians are to, among other things, fellowship with one another, disciple one another, minister to those in need, evangelize, and worship together.” At Generations United, we have developed a small group system centered on care. The vision and mission of this church is rooted out of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to ensure that no one has to fight alone. With this mindset, we set out to place a leader over four to six families so when a need arose, that family or individual had someone to reach out to putting a cord of three not being easily broken to the test. The program has been in existence for just over a year now and we are already seeing the benefits. More people are becoming members so they can be involved in this ministry, we are finding out about more needs allowing the church to meet them, and we are putting action behind our vision and mission. As Knabb’s research showed, “Groups that scored higher on Care, i.e., loving one another and treating each other like a family, were more likely to add members to the group; whereas those who scored lower on Care had a smaller growth rate” and we are seeing the same results.

IMPORTANCE OF RELATIONAL GROUPS IN DISCIPLE MAKING

As Jim Putnam illustrates, “The relational group forms the backbone for discipleship [And] the key is that the small group’s purpose is defined as encouraging discipleship – not primarily fellowship or counseling or even outreach.” From the beginning, the nature of the small group must be defined because if this is not established it opens the door for the group to constantly be in transition and lacking purpose. Granted, each group starts at the relational level, but must strive to evolve into fulfilling some part of the vision and mission of the church they are attached too, unless they are using some version of the church “is” model. Over the last decade, there has been considerable literature geared towards small group ministry and as Knabb illustrates, “Several themes permeate this growing literature base for lay audiences, including a biblical emphasis both on deepening relationships within small groups and on utilizing small groups to further the Kingdom of God and become more like Christ. Thus, small groups play a central role in relational development within the contemporary Body of Christ.”

Putnam identifies the leader of the group as a shepherd with the primary goal of, “Creating an environment in which people shepherd one another [And] in the end, he [or she] seeks to teach the group’s members to become shepherds themselves in their families and in future groups they may lead.” Being relational is all about doing life together and that means helping strengthening the weak, caring and praying for the sick, and sharing one another’s burdens much like Jesus did during His ministry. Members of a small group are in essence a spiritual family where teaching takes place and where authenticity and accountability run deep. These traits make it possible for people to feel safe in the group setting while also allowing one another to speak truth and life into individuals without our natural human defenses going up. John Baergen adds that:

When stripped of their masks (and we of ours), there is invariably an underlying longing for connection. Loneliness stalks Christians and non-Christians alike. Belonging to a church provides no guarantee against this deep sense of aloneness. In reality, this does not occur in the Sunday worship service nor does it automatically transpire in smaller settings such as Sunday school or small group Bible studies. Small groups don’t simply happen; they require careful, intentional planning. Healthy small groups will share a similar profile of characteristics as they focus on questions and needs that are real to the participants.

Whether your church uses the “of” model, or the “is” model, Dr. Rod Dempsey offers great advice pertaining to building and maintaining healthy small groups and he stresses the importance of the why and who more than the what and where when dealing with relational small group discipleship. To be successful and relational, Dempsey offers the acronym “SMALL GROUPS” to highlight each trait or characteristic, which are imperative:

Secure God’s vision in fulfilling the Great Commission by enacting the Great Commandment while also engaging the entire body of Christ in the vision.

Make sure the senior pastor is in the lead position casting the vision and the group is part of the team working towards the same common goal. Without the support and backing of leadership, small group ministry is doomed to fail.

Adopt the model that fits who you are and where you are. This means you must understand the history of your church, location, and context, while also discovering and recognizing the DNA of the organization.

Leader training is essential as well as learning to recruit, empower, and deploy. Jerry Falwell said it best, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Critical to the success of every small group are the qualifications of the leader because it is up to the leaders of the church to find capable people who, with a little help, can discover their giftings and put them to use. The training process should be a fun positive experience if done correctly, because you are not imposing or forcing someone outside their comfort zone; you are simply helping them develop the gifts God has already given them through the indwelling of the Spirit.

Launch the groups with the ultimate goal being groups forming new groups, as members become leaders through the discipleship process. This is a sink or swim moment, so making sure you set the ministry up for success is critical. Public relations, marketing, and recruiting are essential is this process and must be ongoing to ensure the survivability of the ministry.

Grow the groups in quality as well as quantity and make sure the group is lead by a strong leader or is overseen by a mentor who can act as a coach. Quantity and quality are not an either or; they are a both and status quo, so you must not sacrifice one for the sake of the other. Initially quantity is what everyone gauges success on and while quantitative growth is important, so is the qualitative aspect.

Reward the right behavior and continually retrain the leaders, while also understanding you cannot bring correction without first bringing instruction. By focusing on the good rather than the bad, you are encouraging future good behavior. Stressing the importance of having regular meeting times is also critical, so people can get used to meeting regularly every week or at the least twice a month.

Over-communicate the vision of the church to the small group so the end result is believers who know Christ, grow in Christ, and then go forth in Christ’s name proclaiming the good news. This process begins by opening God’s word, spending time in prayer, and meditating on what God is truly calling you to do. It is a pleasure to be involved in something especially when you know what is going on and even more so if you were involved from the inception. Lack of communication has destroyed everything from fortune 500 companies all the way down to small groups, so it is imperative to stay in constant contact with your leaders and members so they can continually feel the pulse of your vision and mission.

Utilize and develop coaches while also being united in serving is fundamental to showing members their role in the group and also by embodying how Jesus came to serve and not be served. As a general rule in life, you should always have someone in your circle who is less mature in faith who you can personally help grow and you should also have someone in your life who is more mature in faith who can help you grow by serving as a mentor. Tom Landry said it best, “Coaches make you do what you do not want to do, so that you can achieve what you have always wanted to achieve.”

Pray for one another, pray together, and use your interaction as a catalyst to fuel the mission God has called you to fulfill. Also, pray for the lost, the members in your church, your leaders, and for opportunities to share the Gospel and what God has done in your life personally. God answers prayers, so prayer must be vital in your small group ministry.

See God’s blessing in recognizing as you fulfill the Great Commission, God promises He will be with us as we make disciples.

These goals and initiatives form the umbrella of a healthy group and while the list is not exhaustive, it is a great starting point for those wanting to transform their small group ministry. Baergen also demonstrates:

Healthy churches know the fundamental difference of viewing small groups as one of many ministries of the church or as the basic building blocks of the church. When small groups are viewed only as a ministry, it becomes obvious the church does not understand that life-change occurs in small groups. Natural Church Development states, “The essence of true church is worked out in small groups.” When small groups are fully valued, pastors of healthy churches agree it is actually “more important … for people to be involved in a small group than to attend church.” That places small groups in proper perspective.

HOW TO USE MISSIONAL GROUPS IN THE COMMUNITY

This writer agrees with Steve Sjorgren that, “Every small group or church needs to have some form of evangelism going on in order to maintain health.” However, as Joel Comiskey highlights, “Small-group ministry constantly faces a dilemma: maintaining the intimacy of a small group while fulfilling Christ’s command to evangelize [with] the ultimate goal of each cell [being] to multiply itself as the group grows through evangelism and then conversions.” Ultimately, using missional groups in the community must first start with prayer and sound spiritual disciplines. Praying about what God is calling you and your group to do must be the priority because as Donald Whitney illustrates, “To abandon prayer is to fight the battle with our own resources at best, and to lose interest in the battle at worst.” As believers, we must continue steadfastly in prayer and pray without ceasing so that the line of communication with God is never broken. Dave Earley demonstrates, “After 25 years of leading small groups and coaching small group leaders, I have come to one clear conviction: prayer is the most important activity of the small group leader.”

Perhaps the best example in scripture of being mission minded in the community comes from the parable of the Good Samaritan. Just prior to this story, we are presented with an expert scholar attempting to perplex Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor.” Instead of answering the man’s question directly with a response to who his neighbor was, Jesus told the man what a neighbor was, He responded with what the neighbor needs, He told him what a neighbor looks like, and then He said, “Go and be a neighbor.” This story is so powerful because at the time the Jews hated and despised the Samaritans calling them half-breeds and would intentionally go out of their way to avoid traveling through Samaria. The art of community and God’s radical design to love your neighbor flows directly from His nature and it is from the heart of God that the Great and New Commandment resonate. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap. The lowly He sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise, says the Lord and I will protect them from those who malign them. He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; He will crush the oppressor. Though the Lord is on high, He looks upon the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar. God has a heart for the needy and He will always arise to protect them.
A great modern example of loving your neighbor is a paradigm shift that is taking place in South Africa where Jurgens Hendriks demonstrates how:

Congregations in South Africa empower [their members] to become involved in development work as a way of serving their neighbor. It also opens the possibility of working interdisciplinary without compromising theological and faith values… The new paradigm is a missional one, taking the focus on God as its point of departure and describing the identity and purpose of the church by looking at God’s identity and plan or mission with creation and humankind. Social development is seen, as being in line with God’s mission and as such the church should not have difficulty in working with those who pursue the same goals.

Part of understanding your community and how to be intentional in your missional focus comes from understanding who the needy are and how you can meet their needs. God hears the cries of the needy, even if they remain silent, so we must continually be looking for: orphans, widows, the poor, the sick, the unpopular, the outcasts, the neglected, and those who are left out because you can destroy someone’s’ life when you treat them like an outcast and the heart of God weeps for them. Christianity has already changed the world and it still has the power to continue doing so, but not until believers become active in evangelizing their communities. C.S. Lewis demonstrates how, “There are no ordinary people [and] you have never talked to a mere mortal…[because everyone is either an immortal horror or an everlasting splendor.]” Regardless of whether people believe it or not, they are going to have everlasting life; where they spend it rests solely on whether they have a relationship with God, so it is imperative in our mission to be Christ-like in order to love others to the same saving knowledge we have attained. Lewis believed, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

LIFE IN COMMUNITY WITH A MISSIONAL PUROSE

Jeffrey Arnold believes, “A small group is intent on participating with Christ in building his ever-expanding kingdom in the hearts of individuals, in the life of the group and, through believers, into the world.” The sad reality is the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few and the only way this dilemma will change is when missional groups become focused on making an impact in their local communities. Week after week, we go to church waiting for people just to wake up and decide today is the day they are finally going to go to church. This mindset is nothing more than a façade! For our communities to change, we as the body of Christ need to be active in showing the love, grace, and mercy of Christ to those in our own backyards. This only happens when as believers, we are intentional in making sure all we do and all we say is centered on bringing glory to God. The people in our lives should see Christ in us, but unfortunately because evangelism has barely made the radar in discipleship, the world knows more what the church is against than what we are for.

Seeing Christ in us is a mystery that Dietrich Bonhoeffer brilliantly explains as, “Our human eyes see Jesus the human being; faith knows Him as the Son of God. Our human eyes see the body of Jesus; faith knows him as the body of God incarnate. Our human eyes see Jesus in the flesh; faith knows him as bearing our flesh.” Understanding this depiction, Martin Luther would say, “To this human being you shall point and say, ‘Here is God’” If those in our life do not see something in our lives that they want, in most cases, then we are not living a life which reflects the image of Christ. Bonhoeffer further explains, “The body of the exalted Lord is likewise a visible body, taking form [in] the church-community… [And] a body lacking differentiation is in the process of decomposition.” As a result, our spirit, our reactions, our wants, and desires should represent the salt and light in this dark world. The definition of darkness is the absence of light, so the only way darkness can overtake people, communities, and nations is either when we as the body of Christ hide the light, or when Jesus ultimately removes the lampstand.

As Christopher Beard suggests, “The missional church movement has emerged as a voice calling for a return to the church’s inherent missionary nature and identity. As a part of that call, “discipleship” has been identified as the key to success of the movement as well as the success of the Western church as a whole.” One of the key components missing in most discipleship models is teaching believers how to make an impact in their neighborhoods, at their workplace, and in their daily interactions. Every day there are countless opportunities to speak truth and life into the people’s lives around us, but until we are intentional in how we conduct our lives, we will never earn the right to. We have to be willing to pay the price to earn the right to enter into a conversation about how Jesus loves us and how Jesus loves them. Beard suggests, “Missional discipleship is the experiential process of identity formation which results in a disciple who exhibits tangible evidence of mission, community, and obedience in his or her life.” This is the heart of what life in a community with a missional purpose is all about and Ralph Neighbour illustrates why the early church was so successful using homes as their base for ministry:

There is a very important reason for the early church to be shaped in homes. It is in this location that values are shared. It may be possible to transmit information in a neutral building, but few values are implanted there. Value systems are ingrained through living together in a household. Something stirs deep within when life is shared between the young and old, the strong and the weak, the wise and the foolish. In the house groups, all participated and all were impacted by the values of the others as Christ lived within them.

CONCLUSION

Small groups are all about relationships and it takes personal relationships to earn the right to speak into someone’s life and it also takes time to develop these personal relationships. Because these relationships are impossible to form within the four walls on the church during weekly services, small groups have become the ministry most churches are turning to. Since every church is different, this paper has detailed you are either going to be a church “with” small groups, a church “of” small groups, or a church that “is” small groups. As a new disciple, proper discipleship and being involved in a small group is crucial in reproducing healthy disciples. As demonstrated, everyone is our neighbor; this means the people we like, the people we dislike, and even the people who hate us. Jesus died on the cross for all of humanity, He gave his life even for the people who spat on Him, beat Him, and crucified Him. If He can forgive and love us, the least we can do is love and forgive our neighbors as ourselves. Lastly, maintaining a missional mindset in everything we do will keep us focused on fulfilling our purpose and destiny and it is through this process where we will find true joy, peace, and happiness. Baergen reminds us, “Where aloneness, disconnection and fragmentation define life, small groups offer the opportunity for a life-changing connection. Acts 2:46-47 sums this up: ‘They broke bread from house to house and ate together with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people’” and now as Banks stresses, “The challenge to the early Christians was to redeem a network of existing relationships; our challenge is… to create community where little has existed before.”

Bibliography

Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Atkinson, Harley T. and Joel Comiskey. “LESSONS FROM THE EARLY HOUSE CHURCH FOR TODAY’S CELL GROUPS.” Christian Education Journal 11, no. 1 Spring, 2014: 75-87, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1517636268?accountid=12085 (accessed 12-10-15).

Baergen, G. J. “Cultivating Christian Community in Small Groups Series: Natural Church Development.” The Presbyterian Record, 03, 2000. 22, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/214349456?accountid=12085 (accessed 12-10-15).

Banks, Robert J. and Julia Banks. The Church Comes Home. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.

Beard, Christopher. “Missional discipleship: Discerning spiritual-formation practices and goals within the missional movement,” American Society of Missiology, April 2015 vol. 43 no. 2 175-194. doi: 10.1177/0091829614563059 (accessed 12-10-15).

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship. Minneapolis, MN: First Fortress Press, 2003.

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.

Hendriks, Jurgens H. “Missional theology and social development,” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies. ISSN 2072-8050, 05/2007, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp. 999 – 1016 http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v71i3.3116 (accessed 12-10-15).

Knabb, Joshua J. and Joseph Pelletier. “”A Cord of Three Strands is Not Easily Broken”: An Empirical Investigation of Attachment-Based Small Group Functioning in the Christian Church.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 42, no. 4 (Winter, 2014): 343-58, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1735314366?accountid=12085 (accessed 12-10-15).

Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishing, 1980.

Putnam, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014.

Discipleship and a Healthy Church

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Becoming a true disciple comes only after discovering God’s will for your life, while true discipleship involves discovering God’s will for your church and the role you will play in achieving that vision. Both of these stages only emanate after studying, interpreting, meditating, and applying the word of God to your life through sacrifice, relationships, and transformation, and in discipleship by developing healthy disciples who know Christ, grow in Christ, and go forth in Christ’s name sharing His love with others. To ensure the success of this process, it is the church’s primary mission to ensure this development takes place in a healthy environment. This paper will examine the characteristics of a healthy church and explain why a healthy church is the ultimate goal of discipleship. In addition, it will also highlight the specific roles and importance of the local church and emphasize specific ways to create a healthier body of Christ in preparing disciples to fulfill the Great Commission.

WHY A HEALTHY CHURCH IS THE GOAL OF DISCIPLESHIP

For an organism to be considered healthy it generally means all systems and parts are operating at optimum levels and are working in conjunction with each other. In a like manner, the church, which is the body of Christ must also be healthy by using all its parts to be effective in the mission and mandate that Jesus has passed on to the called out ones. In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth relating to the body, Gordon Fee points out:

With a set of parallel rhetorical questions, Paul begins to apply the analogy, but does so by keeping the analogy itself alive. Taking up the two members of Ch. 12 v. 16 (eye/ear), he asks: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?” Then, keeping to the sensory organs, he adds: “If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” This interchange of the sense organs makes it clear that Paul’s point is not the “inferiority” of one to the other. The point is the need for all members; otherwise some function of the body would be missing.

As Dr. Jay Sulfridge further illustrates, “Christians are called out of the world and [are] called to a Savior who calls them to a mission. The church is a fulfillment of the kingdom and the kingdom is a fulfillment of the mission of God and the mission of God springs from His nature and love.” By engaging in this mission, the church essentially becomes a living organism as people find their role in His body and begin to engage in proclaiming the gospel. Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus broadens the emphasis on “His body” as F.F. Bruce explains:

Because “we are members of his body,” and collectively “his body,” Christ “nourishes and cherishes” us. The church as the body of Christ and the church as the bride of Christ are two concepts with distinct origins, but a link between the two is found in Gen. 2:24, where husband and wife become “one flesh.

If a healthy body equals a healthy church then a sick body would point to sick church. Using this methodology, understanding the vital signs of the church and the principle: if you take care of your body, the body will take care of you gives great insight to the importance of discipleship as a goal in becoming a healthy church. In the diagnosis, as Dave Earley points out, “The world tries to measure health by externals, [but] Jesus is looking deeper; He is looking inward to see the condition of the body… [And] Jesus… is analyzing the health of His body and we would be wise to follow His example.”

These passages of scripture denote an undeniable sense of unity, which must be attained within the church where despite diversity there is harmony and oneness. To accomplish this, there must be a deep connection that exists between disciples and leaders in the church to ensure the success of the mission. A true spiritual leader is someone who not only follows God’s will for their life, but also helps others to influence God’s will in their lives as well. It is the job of the spiritual leader to move people from their own agenda onto God’s plan for their lives. An effective spiritual leader also knows how to equip, empower, and then release disciples to do God’s will in fulfilling the Great Commission. Dietrich Bonhoeffer poses the question if it is harder to be a disciple today than it would have been when Jesus physically walked the earth. With the mindset that Jesus was physically with the twelve, but that He is not with us, Bonhoeffer illustrates:

This question refuses to take seriously that Jesus Christ is not dead, but alive and still speaking to us today through the testimony of scripture. He is present with us today, in bodily form and with His word. If we want to hear His call to discipleship, we need to hear it where Christ Himself is present [and] it is within the church.

Part of being a healthy church means you have healthy leaders who understand the importance of growing further in their spiritual disciplines because as Donald Whitney points out, “The greatest danger of neglecting the Spiritual Disciplines is the danger of missing God.” Leaders are meant to train and equip the saints so the saints can do the work of the church, but the problem is as John Maxwell highlights, “Most Christians are educated well beyond their level of obedience.” Obedience and submission are true signs of a healthy church, but our culture has twisted the meaning of these words to mean oppression and judgment.

Healthy leaders know their roles and giftings and understand how and why it is so important to grow new disciples and teach them spiritual disciplines. Thomas Frederick illustrates how, “Spirituality as defined from a purely psychological perspective is inadequate to capture the depth of this human experience because it misses the core of spirituality—discipleship and discipleship in the contemplative tradition fosters a deeper experience of the divine in the believer’s life.” This knowledge comes from proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. There must be no doubt of the importance of winning new believers to Christ and teaching them how to grow by surrendering and sacrificing for the kingdom of God, and by devoting time with them so they can truly appreciate the price that was paid to make them a new creation.

Healthy churches are vital to the advancement of the gospel and proper discipleship in the process is the only way people are going to grow closer to the Lord in understanding their role as disciples and the big picture role of the church. Baptism is a crucial act in this process, because as Sulfridge illustrates, “The person who accepts Jesus as Savior also accepts Him as Lord , and the evidence of this submission and surrender is baptism [and] the church that does not baptize new believers is not healthy.” This public declaration of faith should just be the beginning of their changed life and it should serve as a promise to fulfill the Great Commission.

The discipleship process is crucial in helping believers understand exactly what God is calling them to do and one of the most important principles to teach new believers is the principle of the tithe because a healthy church is one where the members understand where their time, talents, and treasures are, so will their hearts be also. Teaching the word of God is not enough because it is not truly effective in the discipleship process if you cannot add practical application. James tells his readers, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” The scriptures should be taught for the purpose of obedience by understanding how they apply to the church today. Stressing the importance of missional discipleship, Christopher Beard believes, “The missional church movement has emerged as a voice calling for a return to the church’s inherent missionary nature and identity. As a part of that call, “discipleship” has been identified as the key to success of the movement as well as the success of the Western church as a whole.”

As the leaders begin to take a more active role in equipping and empowering the saints and the pastor begins to focus more on pouring into the leaders, the church will naturally begin to become healthy. Depending on how far removed from this model the church is determines how long the progression may take and how many parts may need to die off. Using the analogy of the human body, which is full of complex systems, we recognize when they are all working together, the body matures and grows with little effort. In a like manner, when all the systems and parts of a church are working together and you do not have people or ministries trying to go against the flow and vision of the church, the natural outcome is health, vitality, and longevity. As the saints begin to mature and truly recognize Christ as the head of the church they will begin to love others even more, so a healthy church must have an environment where love flows freely. In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Another key indicator of a healthy church is one where people are plugged into areas of ministry where their spiritual gifts are being best utilized. In order for any church to be healthy, they must be intentional in helping believers identify, grow, and use their giftings. In just about any model you will see, eighty percent of the work being done by twenty percent of the people. This 80/20 principles carries over to almost every aspect of the church, especially in giving, so one of the priorities of any church that wants to become or remain healthy needs to focus on recognizing and developing the spiritual gifts of more of their members, so they will know how to use them properly and so they can become part of the Great Commission.

Finally, the importance of prayer cannot be overstated for believers, laborers and non-believers. For those currently serving, they need prayer so they do not burn out; for those who just started believing, they need prayer so they will get plugged in some form of ministry and for the non-believers, they need prayer for opportunities to arise for someone to speak life and truth into their lives and that their hearts would be receptive to God’s word. The sad reality is that the harvest is plentiful, but those willing to work are few. A healthy church understands what they do for the least of the people they do for the Master. The members of a healthy church through sound discipleship know they must practice what they preach, they must constantly be equipping and empowering new believers, and they must be moved by what moves the Lord’s heart.

PERSONAL CHURCH / MINISTRY AND AREAS FOR GROWTH

The mission for the church I am a pastor at is to create an environment where anyone at any stage of life can experience the dynamic presence of God. We are a church built on love, acceptance, and forgiveness with a heart to make sure that no on has to fight alone. Life can be brutal and is often the cruelest teacher, so the primary ministry of my church is to be a healing center. The DNA of our church is very multigenerational so we continually look for ways to use the wisdom of our Abrahams, the creativity of our Isaacs, and the energy of our Jacobs. Just as there are many parts to the body, we have found how much can be accomplished when all the generations work towards a common goal like advancing the kingdom.

Area One

The top three areas that our organization needs to focus on to become a healthier body of Christ starts first with getting people who are not serving into some role where their giftings can be identified and then utilized. There is a spirit of apathy and complacency that runs rampant in congregations where believers think once they are saved they can just sit back, relax, and turn church more into a club of whose who instead of actively becoming involved in the Great Commission. It is the role of the pastor to equip the saints so they are able to do the work of service. By helping saints grow spiritually, they will be able to grow closer to God and by equipping the saints, they will learn how to share the love of God with others. As a mother bird pushes a young chick out of the nest, there are full-grown individuals that need the same nudge. After getting people engaged in ministry, focusing on spiritual disciplines like Bible intake is crucial, because the more one reads the word of God, the more they will understand His ways; the more they understand His ways, the more they will learn to trust Him; and the more they trust the Lord, the more confidence they will have standing upon His promises and proclaiming them to others.

Area Two

The second area that will help develop a healthier body of Christ is by being better shepherds over our flock. In I Peter 5:2, we see Peter addressing the elders proclaiming, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.” As Putman points out, “This verse points to the pastor’s responsibility to see that the people are being cared for spiritually.” After we get a declaration of faith, we fail at moving the new believer immediately into a developmental stage where they can begin to serve and learn about their giftings and callings. Peter Davids elaborates further on this imagery illustrating how, “The image of shepherding God’s people ‘or His people’s being his flock’ is an OT image that is common in the NT, but the command to elders to shepherd is found only here and in Acts 20:28-29. Both places significantly connect shepherding with ‘watching over it,’ showing that shepherding is a job of oversight.” By failing to use our elders as mentors and teachers for new believers, we are also robbing them of the growth they can attain by pouring into someone’s life. Just as the body is made up of many parts, so too are there many gifts and when we do not allow them to operate fully, essentially we are quenching the work of the Spirit. As the church, we also need to make it as easy as possible for others to come to faith while at the same time providing goals and setting realistic expectations for new followers of Christ. In essence, the goal is to win them to Christ, grow them in Christ, and then to send them out in Christ’s name and this only happens by continually developing spiritual disciplines and through training them on how to evangelize and make new disciples.

Area Three

The third area our organization can still work on is the care and compassion of our attenders. We have a catchy motto of “no one fights alone,” but without a system in place to put action behind it; they are just empty words. My primary role as the care pastor is to keep up with all our members and the turmoil and disasters life often presents. Since our church has become a healing center for people who have been wounded in their past, this often presents many obstacles to speak truth and life into people who have been so broken as a result of deep hurt, legalism, or any other number of ways the church has handled issues poorly. This is an area I believe would drastically improve the overall spiritual health, if we were able to develop a discipleship program where individuals more mature in their faith could come along side and stake themselves next to new believers or spiritually wounded believers and help them navigate the stormy waters of life back to the calm waters of God’s will. As a church, we have chosen to operate with complete transparency because even as pastors, we have the same temptations and face many of the same struggles as the congregation faces. We want the congregation to know they are not alone and that we all have fallen short of the glory of God because we live in a fallen state. This has been well received by the majority, but for some, it was too much and as a result, they chose to leave the church. The interesting thing has been watching some of the same families who left come back when they were facing a crisis. Without a doubt, pastors are far from perfect and there is no way they can do all the ministry alone and I have never understood why some pastors insist on trying to because in the end, it spreads them too thin and makes them ineffective. Sara LeGrand conducted an amazing study of pastors, which revealed:

Female pastors felt guilty for taking personal time and experienced pressure to prove themselves; local pastors reported financial strain and utilized a variety of interpersonal relationships; young pastors indicated child-related stress but also greater interest in nutrition, exercise, and church-based health promotion; and large-sized church pastors expressed increased confidence in negotiating personal time and reported more sharing of pastoral duties.

Pastors should focus on excelling in their areas of giftings while looking for others who are strong in their areas of weakness. This is contrary to academia that says to turn your weaknesses into strengths. I disagree and submit that by concentrating on your strengths and delegating your weaknesses the entire organization will thrive and produce more healthy disciples. This lack of confidence and insecurity puts a lid on any organization and causes you to never hire someone or put someone in a leadership position that could be potentially better than you in an area.

INITIAL STEPS TO IMPROVE SPIRITUAL HEALTH

Just as when you are sick you go to the doctor to get a diagnosis by evaluating your overall condition and symptoms, the same can be done when establishing the spiritual health of a church. The first question you need to answer is, are your leaders spiritually healthy? Things have a way of trickling down and if the prominent people in your organization lack the spiritual maturity and discipline to be leaders; that is an immediate red flag. In addition, the church staff as William Tuck points out should model this standard:

In the total organizational structure of a church, it is essential that the paid professional staff base their understanding of each other and their varied ministries on a strong theological and biblical foundation. An understanding of the theological foundation on which healthy leadership rests will hopefully enable ministers to labor more effectively and respect and appreciate the services of their fellow workers. Attitude toward and treatment of one’s fellow staff workers are indications of one’s theology. The practice of ministry is intrinsically involved in one’s understanding of theological truth.

By allowing someone to serve or lead who violates God’s word or the bylaws of the church you are basically saying that behavior is acceptable since you have not dealt with it, but you must tread carefully here and you must always bring instruction before correction. Michael Beasley reminds us, “Quick-fix solutions to the challenges of enabling church growth simply do not exist. Rather, ensuring the growth of churches is incidental to the more important task of ensuring their health; an endeavor that demands time, honesty and commitment.”

The second question you should ask is do your leaders have the proper understanding of their role in helping to grow believers? The role of the spiritual leader must be to help move people closer to God’s agenda by encouraging, equipping, empowering, and then releasing them to continue the work God has started in them. To improve the spiritual health in the church, your spiritual leaders must understand the importance of communicating God’s plan and will in their lives, which involves knowing Christ, growing in Christ, and ultimately joining Him on His mission to save the world.

Each church is made up of multiple systems i.e. evangelism, stewardship, mobilization, discipleship, or other mission mindsets, so having a clear definition of these are crucial. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses in your systems, you not only can gauge the health of your church, but you can also implement a plan to improve the overall condition. Through strategic planning and accountability you will position yourself for maximum results.

CONCLUSION

A healthy system equals a healthy body of believers and a healthy body of believers leads to a reproducing church. As disciples learn God’s will for their life, through spiritual discipleship, they begin to see God’s will for their church and will become engaged in that mission. By ensuring this process takes place in a healthy environment, a healthy church full of healthy believers will be the end result. Lastly, by understanding the role of pastors is to equip the saints and the role of the spiritual leaders is to equip and empower new believers to do the same will multiply and reproduce new believers and will follow the teachings God has provided.

Bibliography

Beard, Christopher. “Missional discipleship: Discerning spiritual-formation practices and goals within the missional movement,” American Society of Missiology, April 2015 vol. 43 no. 2 175-194. doi: 10.1177/0091829614563059 (accessed 12-2-15).

Beasley, Michael. “The Healthy Churches Handbook Review.” Theology March 2013 vol. 116 no. 3 224-225 http://tjx.sagepub.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/content/116/3/224.full.pdf doi: 10.1177/0040571X13475404s (accessed 12-2-15).

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship. Minneapolis, MN: First Fortress Press, 2003.

Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Davids, Peter H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Frederick, Thomas V. “Discipleship and Spirituality from a Christian Perspective,” Pastoral Psychology. July 2008, Volume 56, Issue 6, pp 553-560. http://link.springer.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/10.1007/s11089-008-0148-8/fulltext.html (accessed 12-2-15).

LeGrand, Sara et al. “Healthy Leaders: Multilevel Health Promotion Considerations for Diverse United Methodist Church Pastors,” Journal of Community Psychology. 41: 303–321. doi: 10.1002/jcop.21539. 2013. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/doi/10.1002/jcop.21539/abstract (accessed 12-2-15).

Putnam, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Tuck, William Powell. “A theology for healthy church staff relations.” Review & Expositor 78, no. 1 (1981 1981): 5-14. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed 12-2-15).

Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014.

Centrality of Christ in Discipleship

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IMPORTANCE OF THE CENTRALITY OF CHRIST IN CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP

To properly understand our role as disciples, we must first understand Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost, but in order to save, He first had to be willing to serve. In a like manner, Dave Earley illustrates what is necessary when we join Christ on His mission, “The growth and development of the believer is both internal: becoming like Christ in word, thought, and attitude and external: becoming like Christ in action.” Because Christians are called to be Christ-like in our words and actions, this writer finds it especially interesting when you look at the group dynamics of Jesus’ disciples. He had His twelve, but within that sphere were the three in His inner circle and the one whom He beloved. Greg Ogden cites two reasons for His model. The first is “Internalization: by focusing on a few Jesus was able to ensure the lasting nature of his mission. The second was by Multiplication: just because Jesus focused much of his attention on a few does not mean that He did not want to reach the multitudes.” We see Paul continue the same approach by investing in the lives of a few to reach the many.

HOW OBEDIENCE & SUBMISSION REFLECTS THE DISCIPLESHIP OF CHRIST

Our hunger for significance has turned the Great Commission into the Great Suggestion by putting one’s needs ahead of God. Christ told His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” As Earley states, “Discipleship is not merely a matter of information remembered. It is about a lifestyle that is practiced. It is a lifestyle of absolute abandonment to loving God and obeying His commands.” If one truly believes the word of God to be real, they should do what He commands, but as Soren Kierkegaard writes, “We pretend to be unable to understand [God’s word] because we know that the moment we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly.” This is profound! If the words of Christ were to be taken seriously, only complete obedience and submission would be the result. Ogden summarizes the struggle that takes place in each believer as: “Coming to Christ is therefore a battle of our wills. No one makes a decision to follow Jesus without wrestling. Jesus will only have one place— first. Even once we are “in Christ,” there is a constant need to align our will with His desire. To love God with all of our heart is to seek to obey all of His commands and live under His authority.”

To obey every command of Jesus is a tall order by any stretch of the imagination, but to even come close to obeying them is only possible by depending on God to give us the grace needed to live a life, which brings glory and honor to His name. When we are obedient and submissive to the word of God, following the Great Commission , the Great Commandment , and the New Commandment are possible because of the trust we put in God’s word to be true.

3 STAGES OF DISCIPLSHIP

The three stages of discipleship involve a declaration, development, and deployment. In the first stage one is asked, “Will you believe in Jesus”? In the second stage one is asked, “Will you follow Jesus?” Finally in the third stage, one is asked, “Will you obey God’s commands and go and make disciples?” Just as Jesus made disciples, we are called to do the same. The first stage of declaration leads to a believer, the second stage of development shows one how to follow Jesus, and the third stage of deployment puts into practice all you have learned by multiplying new disciples. David Walker poses the question, “If the chief role of the church is a mission to the world, surely that form of discipleship that primarily exercises it must be seen as significant in itself, alongside other discrete expressions of Christian discipleship.” This writer believes each stage of the discipleship mission plays a crucial role in fulfilling the Great Commission effectively and the goal in the entire process is sharing in the life of Christ. Gareth Robinson illustrates, “The faith we have received is the faith we are to pass on: through the Church [by making it] clear that anyone may come and find acceptance, no matter their lifestyle. But coming to Christ and becoming his disciple requires a life change.”

How Stages Work Together

Each stage builds on the skills and lessons learned previously. In our walk with God, there is no such thing as standing still. We are either moving ahead with Jesus in our daily walk or we are losing ground. We see this model played out as a new believer moves from being regenerated to being transformed and ultimately turning into a disciple who reproduces and multiplies other disciples and teaches them to observe everything God has commanded. In an ideal model, a new believer should turn into a disciple through an apprenticeship process and by studying God’s word so that disciple can learn to do the same thing for others. As Earley concludes, many people just follow the first part of the Great Commission without the teaching and mentoring aspect, which only leads to immature followers.

Earley demonstrates, “Each level called for greater faith, obedience, and commitment; each level yielded greater intimacy with Jesus, and each level produced greater impact on others.” As the disciple becomes convinced and moves through each stage what began as curiosity leads to conviction and ultimately a committed conversion and desire to multiply. Anthony Gittins proposes the purpose of discipleship is mission oriented and says, “Discipleship requires the recruitment and formation of believers who will continue the work of Jesus wherever they may be and wherever they are led.”

How Disciples Take the Steps of Obedience

One of the first things a disciple must do is lay aside their doubts and trust in God completely. Miriam Seyler poses the question, “What might our lives look like if we graciously accepted this grace of God, of which Paul speaks, as the terribly expensive gift that it is? If God could give to all humanity this extravagant gift of salvation, can we offer anything less than unfettered obedience in return?” Where He calls you, He will provide a means of transportation and what He calls you to do, He will equip you with the necessary giftings. God does not build staircases that go nowhere and He is intentional in what He has called each of us to do. As a disciple begins to trust and believe in God we see Jesus move from being a Savior to a Master and finally as being a Commissioning Officer. Earley in his obedience model equates it to, “Coming to Jesus, Being with Jesus, and Going for Jesus.” In obedience, a disciple of Christ is always looking to take the next step with total disregard of self, out of complete faith, and commitment.

During the second stage of commitment, the disciple moves into a deeper relationship with Jesus as they learn to pray, love one another, and live a life centered around community. Faith should lead to obedience as James Thomson illustrates: “The Christian faith, like all things that enter upon the mind of man is never free from the dangers of a one-sided emphasis. The Gospel is a ‘Divine-Human Encounter,’ having its origin in God, but intended to be realized in the lives of men.” All of our desires come from God and our most basic desire is to love and be loved by. This is why the story from Genesis to Revelation is about relationships. Humanity is created in the image of the Triune God and as believers we are invited into the Godhead by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As a disciple learns to devote themselves to one another the next step is learning to love one another. If we love the Lord we will obey His commands. This powerful declaration is rooted out of love. Just as Christ loves us, He commands us to love one another.

The more we immerse ourselves in the word of God, the more we discover not only the nature of God, but also who we are in Christ. It is here where the believer must count the cost of what it now means to move from being a believer to being a follower. One of the best examples is the story of the rich young ruler. Canon McAdams illustrates, “His desire for eternal life is strong, but misguided. He can’t bet everything on Jesus. He needs a back-up plan in case Jesus and His God don’t or won’t deliver.” This story has a very sad ending, but no one should follow Christ without first understanding the cost. When we surrender completely, we catch a glimpse of the unending love God has for us. Ogden conveys, “We love God with our minds by absorbing the truth about who God is as revealed in Scripture and aligning our lives accordingly; in other words, it is through the absorption of Scripture into our way of thinking that we take on the mind of Christ.”

The final stage of obedience occurs when everything we do and everything we are is about advancing the kingdom of God and bringing glory to His name. Charles Spurgeon said it best, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” Everywhere we go is a mission field and we are commanded by Jesus to be missionaries; the question remains if we will be obedient? Before attaining this final stage you must be able to answer yes to that question. As Robert Garrett concludes, “The greatest missionary in history was Jesus Christ.” Jesus was not only sent into the world to save us; He was also a Rabbi and disciple maker. Jesus sacrificed everything for humanity as Earley conveys, “Jesus willingly left His Father, home, possessions, position, culture, comfort, convenience, safety, and security in order to come to earth and carry out His assignment.”

CONCLUSION

In summary, Jesus sent His disciples into the world to make disciples. That mission has been passed to Christians today. Jesus emphasizes the urgency when He said, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.” The fact that only two percent of believers regularly share their faith with others, that only five percent have ever led someone to Christ and barely half of born again believers know what the Great Commission is does not look well for the future of Christianity. It should compel us when we contemplate that over one hundred people die every minute because death is only the beginning. Whether one wants to admit it or not, we all have everlasting life; where we spend it is determined solely on whether you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As disciples, we are being called and sent out into the world so that through our love, all would know we are His disciples and through deep personal relationships we are able to open the door to evangelize and lead others to the same loving Savior who rescued us. Jason Dukes eloquently summarizes our mission as, “The Sender has sent you and me to be His letter of love unto humanity. May we live sent daily and may we begin now.”

Bibliography

McCord Adams, Canon Marilyn. “Diagnostic Discipleship Mark 10:17-31 Proper 23 [28].” Expository Times 117, no. 12 (September 2006): 509-510. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 6, 2015).
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Garrett, Robert. The Gospels and Acts: Jesus the Missionary and His Missionary Followers in Missiology. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1998.
Gittins, Anthony. Called to Be Sent. Liguori, MO: Liguori Press, 2008.
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Ogden, Greg. Essential Commandment: A Disciple’s Guide to Loving God and Others. Westmont, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 5 November 2015. Copyright © 2011. InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved. http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/lib/liberty/detail.action?docID=10768107 (accessed 11-5-15).
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Seyler, Miriam. Guest editorial: “Obedience to Jesus Christ.” Sewanee Theological Review. 48(3), 267-269. (2005). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/214715328?accountid=12085 (accessed 11-6-15).
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Walker, David. (2015). Christian discipleship and consecrated life. The Australasian Catholic Record, 92(2), 131-140. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1700064508?accountid=12085 (accessed 11-6-15).