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

Small-Groups-Logo
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).
Dukes, Jason. Live Sent: You Are a Letter. Birmingham, AL: New Hope, 2011.
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.
Earley, Dave and David Wheeler. Evangelism Is… How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010.
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.
Ogden, Greg. Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ, (Expanded Edition). Westmont, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 2009. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 5 November 2015.Copyright © 2009. InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved. http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/lib/liberty/detail.action?docID=10734189 (accessed 11-5-15).
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).
Robinson, Gareth. “Three keys to mission: Kingdom, incarnation and discipleship,” Theology March/April 2015 118: 107-114, doi:10.1177/0040571X14559158. http://tjx.sagepub.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/content/118/2/107.full.pdf+html (accessed 11-6-15): 110.
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).
Spurgeon, Charles. The Soul Winner: Or, How to Lead Sinners to the Savior. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965.
Thomson, James Sutherland. 1951. “Gospel of life.” Theology Today 8, no. 3: 302-312. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost. http://rx9vh3hy4r.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=The+Centrality+of+Christ&rft.jtitle=Theology+Today&rft.date=1951-10-01&rft.issn=0040-5736&rft.eissn=2044-2556&rft.volume=8&rft.issue=3&rft.spage=294&paramdict=en-US (accessed November 6, 2015).
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).

DiscipleShift: What should a disciple look like?

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The question everyone should ask is are they following Jesus, or are they asking Jesus to follow them; the answer to this question will define if they are simply a convert or truly a follower of Jesus. Jim Putnam shows how, “Conversion is [merely] the first step in the discipleship process.” Putnam then contrasts the two states by claiming, “Conversion is the beginning of a journey, whereas discipleship is ongoing.” This essentially means at the point of conversion, a mental decision is made to follow Jesus, but in addition to that decision there is also a spiritual response to the Holy Spirit and an acknowledgment of our God-given purpose. Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey illustrate, “A disciple is someone who seriously considers the cost before following Christ… [And] is totally committed to Christ, [meaning] our love for Christ is so great, so consuming that, in comparison, it feels like hatred (disdain) for others” (Luke 14:26).

To live we must die; to save our life, we must be willing to give it up: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus was and is the model for us to follow as we are now called to fulfill the Great Commission by way of the Great Commandment. Dr. Rod Dempsey gives a great definition of a disciple as, “Someone who knows Christ, grows in Christ, and goes forth in Christ,” meaning they have surrendered completely to God and to the calling God has placed on their life. Anyone who claims to be a disciple, but does not show God in his or her words and actions is not one.

Putnam offers three characteristics of following Jesus as: “1. Accepting Jesus as Lord, leader, and master of our lives, 2. Being changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and transformed by the renewing of our minds, and 3. Action, which leads to a change in what we do with our hands after we have made the decision to follow Him in our heads.” Essentially being a disciple means: Following Christ (head), being changed by Christ (heart), and being committed to the mission of Christ (hands).” As a disciple of Christ, we are on a mission to love others to Christ by sharing our life experiences and what God has done in our life with them (John 13:35). This is why it is so important that we reflect the image of Christ in our words and our actions. As a disciple we are to abandon the things of this world because they are only temporary and will pass away, but everyone’s soul is everlasting and it is up to disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit to ensure others spend eternity in heaven and not hell.

Earley and Dempsey take a similar approach in defining a disciple by extracting the principles, which should be evident. A disciple must be, “1. Sacrificial: submitting to Christ no matter the cost (Luke 14:28), 2. Relational: loving God, loving neighbors, and loving other disciples, and 3. Transformational: understanding spiritual growth is directed toward becoming like Christ in word, thought, attitude, and action.” The more a disciple emulates Christ’s nature and character, the more they will live their life according to His values. Earley and Dempsey close with an important fact: “You cannot be a follower of the person of Christ without being a follower of the mission of Christ.” You also cannot serve Christ without totally surrendering to Him by carrying your own cross and surrendering your will to God.
Great Commission of Disciples This writer’s personal definition of being a disciple begins first with 1. Accepting Christ into one’s life (John 3:16), 2. Recognizing Jesus as Lord, master, and Savior forsaking all else (I Corinthians 8:6), 3. Submitting to His will, word, and purpose by changing one’s ways and transforming their minds by loving others (John 8:31-32 and I Corinthians 5:17), and lastly 4. Reproducing other disciples by showing them the way of the Lord so they too can lead others to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Relationships and bearing fruit is paramount in being a true disciple (John 15:5-8). Ultimately, true disciples of Christ must die to themselves daily and live to bring as much glory to God as possible while thanking Him for all the blessings and giftings He has provided.

Bibliography
Putnam, Jim, et al. Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2013.
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.

Incarnational vs. Informational Apologetics

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PART I
As evidenced by reality, actions speak much louder than words and in a society so engrossed with self-actualization where everything is about them, no one is going to care how much we know until we show them through acts of kindness layered with love, acceptance and forgiveness how much we truly care. If we are not willing to build relationships with the people in our lives, it leaves little room for any influence. In addition, no one is going to listen to what we say if we do not practice what we preach. It is not just our duty or obligation to share with others what Christ has done in our lives; it is our moral imperative, which must be rooted out of our love for God and for all of His children.

Incarnational Apologetics and Informational Apologetics, as David Wheeler stated are essentially two sides to the same coin much like how evangelism and worship must be combined to be truly effective. Humanity is flawed, but despite our fallen state, God has still chosen to use us to advance His kingdom by spreading the Gospel. The sad reality is most Christians profess their faith with their mouths, but deny the Lord by their lifestyle. Mahatma Gandhi said it best: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Wheeler adds to this quote by stating, “The sad fact is that many people will never understand the reality of biblical ideals such as forgiveness, unconditional love, or even salvation, because they cannot move beyond the inconsistent ways in which Christians communicate their faith through daily living.”

So the question remains: Is evangelism only the communication of proper information, or does it also include the total person in reference to one’s outward behavior that validates the information to the world, or is it both informational and incarnational? This writer believes it is both based on the combination of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Jesus told His disciples to spread the Gospel, but He also told them the world would know they were His disciples by the love they showed. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you do not have a love for the people you are trying to reach, you will never reach them on a deep and personal level. Will McRaney states, “The greatest resistance to the spread of the gospel is within our minds and spirits.” Barriers to spreading the Gospel can be internal, which prevents the believer from sharing their faith, or they can be external, which relate to defenses the unsaved build to keep people out. If we are going to be successful in sharing Christ with others, we must find a way to tear down all barriers and sometimes this must be done brick by brick. McRaney attributes fear, apathy and insecurity as the top reasons for internal barriers essentially saying if people do not want to do something, they are always going to find an excuse. As Adrian Rogers says, “Your zeal is never any greater than your conviction.”

Fear has been defined as false evidence appearing real, but in relation to barriers in sharing one’s faith, it ranks among the highest reasons for not spreading the Gospel. Whether one’s fear is real or imaginary does not matter because they both cause a distorted perspective to the power, which dwells inside every believer. Fear is one of Satan’s favorite tactics to use because no one likes to fail, but the key to success in reaching others is transparency and dependence upon God. McRaney argues, “Lost people do not expect us to be perfect; they expect us to be honest with our successes and failures. They want us to be authentic.” This is an area I constantly have to remind myself about especially relating to events in my past. As embarrassing as some of my failures were, they are part of my testimony and they open the door to speak life and truth into the lives of lost and hurting people. God causes all things to work together for good when we love the Lord and are called according to His purpose, so we must trust Him to use everything we have walked through to advance His kingdom. Another important aspect we must remember when spreading the Gospel is to be Christ-like. Jesus sought out the lost and undesirable people in places any civilized person would not venture, He never forced people to follow Him, and He regularly met the immediate physical needs of a person before beginning to address their spiritual needs. Evangelism is spiritual warfare, so we must be sure all areas of our life line up with God’s word before attempting to lead others to Christ. I am by no means saying we need to be perfect because if that were the case, no one would be able to evangelize, but what I am saying is what McRaney concludes, “Most people will be loved to Jesus, not convinced to Jesus” and our part in this process should be communicated both in our knowledge and by our actions.

PART II

Upon watching the video about Lindsay, her approach to life is becoming more common in the younger culture where the premise is all roads lead to God. It became immediately evident that her ex-boyfriend’s Universalistic theology took root in her belief system combined with all her previous negative experiences with other doctrines and religions. I too moved all around the world, which exposed me to many different cultures in military postings where your Chaplain often was responsible for speaking to many denominations of faith, so I can relate to the melting pot theology she has made in her mind. If she were a neighbor of mine, I would know immediately that her conversion would be one of much prayer and continued acts of kindness and not condemnation to build a relationship with her. As is common with her generation, she had a bad experience with organized religion, which has left distaste for most communities of faith, so I would not press her into just believing in everything I believe. Instead, I would listen to everything she has to say and use her answers and beliefs to further her understanding of who God is and why Jesus had to die for her sins. She believed in the Bible, but struggled to understand its relevance today, so this is an area I would attempt to help her comprehend. She recognized God has many different names, which He reveals throughout scripture, however, she also believed false gods were included, so this would be an area I would try to build a bridge to help her understanding. She believed God is in everything and is everywhere, so I would try to help her recognize the omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience of God. She also believed that we should treat others with love, so I would share with her the Great Commandment not only in word, but also in my actions.

One of the major points I would emphasize early on would be who Jesus was and what He did for all of humanity. She believed he was a great leader, but did not know for sure if He was fictional or not. Although her belief structure was very polytheistic, she believed in miracles and even life after death. With that response I would walk her through the consequences of sin and show her the reason Jesus had to die on the cross for our sins and emphasize to her without a personal relationship with Christ she would go to hell regardless how good of a person she was. Despite her beliefs, she seemed fairly intelligent in why she believed what she did. Because of her past negative experiences with churches, I would apologize even though I had nothing to do with them because when bitterness takes root there is little hope of anything positive growing in the same soil. Hearing her story and knowing three out of five children will leave the church, as they become adults reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son. I prayed for her this morning and I hope her parents continue to as well. There is nothing greater than what was lost being found again. Satan is scared of what we can become when we submit our lives to Christ and engage in the biggest battle the world has ever known: the battle for our souls and even though Satan has the gates of hell, Jesus has the keys!

Bibliography

McRaney, Will McRaney. The Art of Personal Evangelism. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2003.

Caner, Ergun, and Ed Hindson (eds.) The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Incarnational Apologetics by David Wheeler. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.