Purpose of Apologetics

Apologetics2

Why do we engage in apologetics?

            Rich Holland clarifies, “apologetics should be used to break down the rational or intellectual barriers one may have, so [he or she] can be more receptive to the gospel [and that is why apologetics] is often referred to as pre-evangelism, because it helps explain and remove barriers, so people become more open to the gospel message.”[1] Holland closes the presentation summing up apologetics as what believers do when they love God and others. This profound truth explains why followers of Christ should be compelled to engage people in apologetics, by defending the faith and evangelizing the lost. Douglas Groothuis adds, “apologetics is offered not only in response to the doubts and denials of non-Christians; it also fortifies believers in their faith, whether they are wrestling with doubts and questions or simply seeking a deeper grounding for their biblical belief.”[2]

What is the audience of apologetics?

Holland further demonstrates, “the love of Christ should compel believers to become ambassadors of God and engage in apologetics. [However,] apologetics is not evangelism because it cannot lead someone to Christ, but apologetics should be directed towards the lost, those who do not follow Christ, atheists, or followers of other religions.”[3] Apologetics and evangelism do share a common goal in pointing people towards Jesus Christ, but it should not come, as a surprise the majority of people may not immediately be open to the message of the gospel. Thus, every believer should be prepared to offer a good defense and reason for God’s plan of redemption, since people are naturally going to have questions and objections.

A basic definition of apologetics:

            James Beilby defines apologetics as, “the attempt to defend a particular belief or system of beliefs against objections… The term derives from the Greek word apologia and was originally used in a legal context.”[4] The apologia was then used in the defense of a plaintiff, in an attempt to show an accusation was untruthful, or to prove innocence.

The biblical basis for apologetics:

            The clearest picture for the biblical basis of apologetics is found in Peter’s first epistle,   “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”[5]  Peter Davids illustrates how, “Both ‘make a defense’[6] and ‘question[7] indicate formal legal or judicial settings, but were also used for informal and personal situations.[8] Rather than fear the unbelievers around them, Christians, out of reverence to Christ, should be prepared to respond fully to their often-hostile questions about the faith.”[9] Beilby demonstrates, “Christian apologetics is the task of defending and commending the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a Christ-like, context-sensitive and audience-specific manner.”[10]

Internal and external apologetics:

Beilby defines, “Internal apologetics taking place with those inside of or internal to Christianity, [while] external apologetics engages skeptics, agnostics, or those outside of or external to Christianity in an apologetic conversation.”[11] Beilby adds, “Christian apologetics involves an action (defending), a focus of the action (the Christian faith itself), a goal (upholding Christianity as true, and a context (the circumstances in which apologetics occurs.”[12] The clear distinction between the two involves internal apologetics focusing on reinforcing faith, removing intellectual barriers, and helping to clarify issues, while external apologetics focuses on changing the mind of skeptics, atheists, and agnostics.

Bibliography

Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

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.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Holland, Rich. Liberty University. APOL 500, Week One Presentation “Introduction to Apologetics–What Is Apologetics?” (Video), 2015, 9:47, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462346_1 (accessed August 30, 2016).


[1] Rich Holland, Liberty University, APOL 500, Week One Presentation “Introduction to Apologetics–What Is Apologetics?” (Video), 2015, 9:47, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462346_1 (accessed August 30, 2016).

[2] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 25.

[3] Holland, Liberty University, APOL 500, Week One Presentation “Introduction to Apologetics.”

[4] James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 11.

[5] 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

[6] Acts 25:16, 26:2; 2 Timothy 4:16

[7] Romans 4:12; 1Peter 4:5

[8] Plato, Pol. 285e and 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:7 respectively

[9] Peter H. Davids, 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, 131.

[10] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 30.

[11] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 27.

[12] Ibid., 13.

Advertisements

The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement: Book Review

Sweeney-American-Evangelical-Story-cover-195x300

        The American Evangelical Story examines the role American evangelicalism played in the scope of evangelical history and demonstrates how evangelicals have continued to change the world. Douglas A. Sweeney, professor of church history and chair of the department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School[1] offers this work as an introduction to evangelicalism for Christians interested in the historical roots of evangelicalism’s recent, massive growth. Sweeney first, “provides a summary of recent debates concerning the scope of evangelicalism, he then tells the story of its birth in the transatlantic Great Awakening, and its development in the United States through many cultural changes and challenges. [Lastly, he] accounts for the broad range of individuals, institutions, issues, and doctrines that have made us who we are.”[2]

Brief Summary

       Sweeney sets the tone for the reader, by offering a prayer to demonstrate his underlining purpose: “I pray that the burden of this book – to refresh our shared, historical memory – may help us to regain our spiritual bearings. And I trust that a fresh appropriation of our common heritage, though surely limited by our own historical blinders, can be used by God to bless the church for many years to come.”[3] Sweeney begins by explaining evangelicals are gospel people, but quickly demonstrates the difficulty in defining evangelicalism, claiming there is no clear consensus among scholars. Sweeney then shows, “at the center of the movement lies a firm commitment to the good news (euangelion) that ‘a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law’[4] [demonstrating] evangelicals’ doctrine clung to the gospel message as spelled out in the Bible (sola Scriptura).”[5] Other defining convictions include: the majesty of Jesus Christ, the lordship of the Holy Spirit, the need for personal conversion, the priority of evangelism, and the importance of the Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship, and growth.[6] Sweeney also connects the emergence of evangelicalism to the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, crediting missions and evangelism as the catalysts. Sweeney concludes: “Evangelicals comprise a movement that is rooted in classical Christian orthodoxy, shaped by a largely Protestant understanding of the gospel, and distinguished from other such movements by an eighteenth century twist – the impact of the Great Awakening.”[7] This renewal movement forever changed the course of history of Protestantism in North America and the rest of the world.

Critical Interaction

       It is obvious Sweeney comes from an evangelical heritage he is proud of.[8] His narrative style, his attention to chronological detail, and his personal insights provide the reader with an unbiased view of history. Leading up to the Great Awakening, Sweeney correctly shows the conflict, which existed between Catholics, and Protestants and how the Reformation led to the Transatlantic Great Awakening pioneered by John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, George Whitfield, who actually convinced John Wesley to take up field preaching,[9] and Jonathan Edwards, who helped Calvinists come to terms on predestination and election. This era marked the first time Protestants worked together to spread the gospel internationally. Sweeney makes it clear the goals of this movement were made with the best intentions, but he also demonstrates when human nature is involved; there will always be division. “No sooner did the Great Awakening hit America’s shores than it led to some major realignments and rivals.”[10]

       Sweeney explains, “Despite the gains of the Great Awakening, by the end of the eighteenth century, many evangelical leaders had grown concerned about the spiritual life on the new United States,”[11] giving rise to the Second Great Awakening. This era shows immense diversity as some revivals split and new ones were formed. Sweeney illustrates, “the first major theater was New England, where Edwardsian evangelists prevailed, and the second stretched along the Erie Canal in Upstate New York, dominated by Presbyterians and Congregationalists, and the third was Cumberland River Valley, led by the Armenian Methodists.”[12] Sweeney highlights, “the best known event in this third theater was the Cane Ridge Revival (1801), often called ‘America’s Pentecost’ for the amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit there.”[13] Charles Finney is portrayed as the most important leader of the revivals in New York as he had immense influence teaching, “religion is the work of man and that revival is not a miracle, but the result of the right use of appropriate means. As a supernaturalist, he acknowledged that neither revival nor conversion ever occurs without the help of the Holy Spirit, but as an experienced revivalist, he claimed these things do not occur without human effort either.”[14] The second Great Awakening seemed to be more about man than about God, as it emphasized the role of a sinner needing to choose to repent. Regardless, it still led to more conversions, and it also formed more institutions, which helped the spread of the gospel. Overall, Sweeney accomplishes a comprehensive overview of evangelical missions, by detailing even the racial prejudice, which was rampant, and the birth of the Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement. Racism remains a sore spot in the history of the church and “while evangelicals did not invent the sins of racism… millions of white evangelicals have participated in or sanctioned one or more of these things, leading to four million slaves in America by 1860… and evangelicals are still untangling themselves from this sordid legacy.”[15] A. Derwin illustrates, “less than five percent of evangelical churches are multi-ethnic… [making the] evangelical church one of the most segregated people in America on Sunday morning. The gross smell of racism still lingers in our churches like a bad odor that will not dissipate.”[16]  Sweeney rightly emphasizes, “the importance of never forgetting the utter enormity of this evil or the extent to which evangelicals condoned it.”[17] The lines of color must be crossed and perhaps one of the best examples is the Azusa Street Revival. This Pentecostalism was interracial and as Frank Bartleman noted, “The ‘color line’ was washed away in the blood.”[18] Paige Patterson best sums up the viewpoint of evangelicals, “If God has spoken, then one must heed what He says. For evangelical believers, the authority of the Bible must remain unassailable and un-debatable. We must applaud those who make other kinds of telling arguments against racism and join the chorus in at least a thirty-fold “Amen.” But, the time has come for evangelicals to bring the mother load, if you will forgive the pun. If we believe the Book, let us appeal to its lucid position on race and say to all of the tribes of the earth, “Eve is the mother of all living.” That, in effect, settles the issue!”[19]

Conclusion

       Sweeney makes a strong case, “the church needs evangelicals, evangelicalism functions as a renewal movement within the larger, universal church, and evangelicalism is not enough.”[20] Sweeney provides a well-balanced and clear history of American evangelicalism, while also demonstrating the major shift, which is currently taking place. No more is America or Europe the front-runners in evangelicalism; instead the shift is in Africa and Asia. While America and Europe used to be the nations sending missionaries to these countries, now those countries are sending missionaries to America and Europe. The future of evangelicalism rests on solely on whether denominations and ministry leaders can set aside minor differences and unify one another by embracing the Great Commission[21] and the Great Commandment.[22] The church is made up of many parts, and when those parts are working together, God will do mighty things as the world will come to know the love of Christ.

The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. By Douglas A. Sweeney. Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2005, 208 pp. $22.00 (Paperback).

Bibliography

Baker Publishing Group Website, http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com/authors/douglas-a-sweeney/344 (accessed August 11, 2016).

Bartleman, Frank. How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles: As It Was in the Beginning, in Witness to Pentecost: The Life of Frank Bartleman. Ed. Donald W. Dayton. New York, NY: Garland, 1985.

Derwin, A. “The Emergence Of The Emerging Church,” Christian Apologetics Journal 07, no. 1 (Spring), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 35.

Patterson, Paige. “The SBJT Forum: Racism, Scripture, and History.” – Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 08, no. 2 (Summer), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 82.

Sweeney, Douglas A. The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2005.


[1] Baker Publishing Group Website, http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com/authors/douglas-a-sweeney/344 (accessed August 11, 2016).

[2] Douglas A. Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2005), 10.

[3]  Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 185.

[4] Romans 3:28

[5] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 25.

[6] Ibid., 18.

[7] Ibid., 23-24.

[8] Ibid., 5.

[9] Ibid., 41.

[10] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 55.

[11] Ibid., 66.

[12] Ibid., 66-69.

[13] Ibid., 70.

[14] Ibid., 68.

[15] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 108.

[16] A. Derwin, “The Emergence Of The Emerging Church,” Christian Apologetics Journal 07, no. 1 (Spring), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 35.

[17] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 108.

[18] Frank Bartleman, How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles: As It Was in the Beginning, in Witness to Pentecost: The Life of Frank Bartleman, ed. Donald W. Dayton, (New York, NY: Garland, 1985), 54.

[19] Paige Patterson, “The SBJT Forum: Racism, Scripture, and History,” – Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 08, no. 2 (Summer), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 82.

[20] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 184.

[21] Matthew 28:16-20

[22] Matthew 22:36-40

Explanation & Response to the Gospel

JESUS_NOTHING

            Greg Gilbert best describes the gospel as, “The proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the one, true, and only Lord of the world.”[1] Gilbert also demonstrates how Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great place to find the most basic explanation of the gospel. In chapters 1-4, Paul first wants his readers to know they are accountable. Gilbert illustrates, “We are made by Him, owned by Him, dependent on Him, and therefore accountable to Him.”[2] Secondly, Paul tells his readers that their problem is that they rebelled against God. This applies to Jews and Gentiles alike because every single person in the world had sinned against God.[3] Thirdly, Paul says that God’s solution to humanity’s sin is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gilbert demonstrates, “Having laid out the bad news of the predicament we face as sinners before our righteous God, Paul turns now to the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[4] Lastly, Paul tells his readers how they themselves can be included in this salvation. This is where every individual must decide if the gospel is good news for him or her or not. Gilbert summarizes these four points as: God, man, Christ, and response.[5]

How One Properly Responds to Gospel

            Gregory Faulls provides four steps as a response to the gospel: (1) Confess before God any sin and responsibility. The first response to the gospel always begins with repentance and then faith.[6] (2) Turn away from life apart from Christ and toward a life of following Christ. This step is critical as many Christians are currently asking Christ to follow them instead of following Christ’s lead. (3) A Christian must believe that Jesus died on the cross for his or her sin and that He rose again. The believing has to do with personally trusting what Jesus did for the believer’s salvation.[7] (4) The believer must completely surrender his or her life to His leadership.[8] Using these four declarations as a foundation, every believer should strive to spread the gospel while also showing love and compassion to everyone. A true response to the gospel causes a transformation to take place in the believer’s life, one in which the work of the cross is central to what is said and done. Gilbert demonstrates by keeping the cross at the center of one’s life, he or she will become dependent on the cross both for salvation and sanctification.[9]

Vital Connection Between Evangelism and a Believer’s Spiritual Growth

            Spiritual growth is vital in the life of a believer because if one is not growing, then he or she is essentially dying. For growth to occur, the believer must maintain intimacy with God in the form of praise, prayer, and daily reading of God’s Word. The natural progression of spiritual growth leads to evangelism, as the believer is transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ. Another crucial component to spiritual growth is obedience, which combines the Great Commandment[10] with the Great Commission[11] to form powerful evangelism as the believer shares the love and mission of Christ with others. Gilbert reminds the reader that despite all the evangelism efforts, “The kingdom promised in the Bible will only come about when the King Jesus Himself returns to make it happen, [so] our social and cultural [evangelistic] victories will never bring about the kingdom of God. Only God Himself can do that since the heavenly Jerusalem comes down from heaven and is not built from the ground up.”[12]

Ways to Improve Evangelistic Commitment

            For something so life-changing, it is a mystery why people are so afraid to share the gospel with friends, family, co-workers, and the people they interact with on a daily basis. Fear of rejection, insecurity of not having all the answers, or any other number of excuses prevent the spread of the gospel. For this writer, watching what is said as well as what is done remains at the forefront of daily living. People are always watching and since actions speak louder than words, a Christian’s life should be his or her testimony to God’s love and forgiveness. Scripture says, “They have overcome [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”[13] Robert Mounce shows, “Not only does Satan suffer defeat at the hands of the archangel, but he is overcome by faithful believers as well. The primary cause of their victory is the blood of the Lamb. The great redemptive act that freed them from their sins and established their right to reign is the basis for their victory. Their share in the conquest then stems from their testimony.”[14] These saints’ willingness to proclaim the message overcame even the natural fear of death, so it is interesting to look at the areas of the world where Christians are experiencing great persecution and witnessing that those are the only areas that are experiencing real growth. In America, the culture has made everything about them by providing things, easier, cheaper, and faster. A real relationship with God cannot be obtained through some six-minute video to get six-pack abs routine. Instead, God must come before all other things, so that He becomes the motivator behind everything the believer says and does. It ultimately boils down to loving God and loving others.

Bibliography

Faulls, Greg. From Dust to Destiny. http://prevailinglife.com 2014. (accessed July 27, 2016).

Gilbert, Gregory D. What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.


[1] Gregory D. Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl), (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 19.

[2] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 28.

[3] Ibid., 29.

[4] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 30.

[5] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 31.

[6] I John 1:9

[7] Romans 10:9-11

[8] Greg Faulls, From Dust to Destiny. http://prevailinglife.com 2014, 39. (accessed July 27, 2016).

[9] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 110-111.

[10] Matthew 22:36-40

[11] Matthew 28:16-20

[12] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 92-93.

[13] Revelation 12:11

[14] Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 238.

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.

How and Why We Must Make Disciples

Caesarea Philippi

INTRODUCTION

Before the subject of making disciples can be detailed, the definition of what a true disciple is must be established. To do this, one must look to the scriptures, specifically in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus starts by saying, “If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” While this passage uses strong language, it does so to portray a disciple’s love for Christ must be greater than any other person, place, or thing. Jesus continues saying, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” This essentially means a disciple must be willing to lay down their life by surrendering their complete will to God. Finally Jesus says, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not sit down first and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” This passage illustrates disciples must ask themselves if losing everything, possibly even their life, is worth the cost of following Jesus.

Ultimately, being a disciple requires sacrifice, relationship, and transformation. As Dr. Rod Dempsey says, “A disciple is someone who knows Christ, grows in Christ, goes for Christ, as well as someone who shows and shares Christ with others.” With a proper definition established, this paper will give a detailed description of how disciples are made in the context of the local church and a Christian community. In addition, it will also highlight the specific roles and importance of the local church, pastors, saints, and the spiritual giftings God has equipped followers with to make and prepare new disciples in order to fulfill the Great Commission.

DISCIPLE MAKING IN THE LOCAL CHURCH

While each church is unique operating with different visions, they all have the same mandate from God, which is to fulfill the Great Commission. At Caesarea Philippi, a place full of pagan idols, temples, and a place of horrible sacrifices where the blood of babies flowed down the streams, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” After this declaration, Jesus told his disciples, “”I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” This passage contains the first mention of the word church, so a proper understanding of the context and exegesis is critical. The word church here refers to an assembly of called out ones and as R.T. France illustrates, “The gates [of Hades] thus represent the imprisoning power of death: [but also how] death will not be able to imprison and hold the church of the living God.” Ultimately, the church was meant to become the fulfillment of the kingdom of God with a specific mission: to complete what Jesus had started. God sent His Son to save the world, but He would have to die on the cross in order to make atonement for humanity’s sin. Because of this, Jesus commissioned His disciples saying, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Leon Morris portrays how, “The charge given added solemnity from being linked thus to the mission of the Son: their mission proceeds from His. It is only because he has thus accomplished His mission, and indeed precisely because He has accomplished it, that they are sent into the world.”

While the Great Commission should be the mission of the church, the Great Commandment should be the church’s primary motivator. Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it and through this New Commandment, He had essentially reduced over six hundred laws down to two: love God and love your neighbor. These can only be accomplished when one loves the Lord with their entire heart, soul, strength, and mind and it is only out of a complete devotion to God and submission to His will that a disciple will be truly effective in advancing the kingdom of God.

For a local church to be successful in making new disciples, they must focus on three things. They first must be intentional; with their motivation rooted out of love for God and others for it was the love of God that made a way for everyone to be saved. Second, they must focus on the individual by identifying giftings, callings, and helping them grow by learning how to use their gifts to advance the kingdom and make new disciples. Lastly, they must be missional by teaching disciples it is their mandate to reach a lost and hurting world by pointing people to Jesus. The more a church can help their disciples reach their full potential, the greater impact the church will have in fulfilling its purpose.

Disciple making is going to look different in every church to some extent, but as Malcolm Bartsch illustrates, there are several key principles, which must not be overlooked:

While extensive and careful work has been done on the concept ‘discipling’, there are at least two areas, which seem under-represented in the discussion. One of these relates to the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion and their significance in the discipling process. While various church traditions place different emphasis on sacramental theology, the treatment of one of the key texts relating to ‘discipling’ (Matthew 28:18-20) gives baptism only a brief passing reference, while Holy Communion is only obliquely referred to. The other area of concern relates to the person and work of the Holy Spirit, particularly in the gospel of John. While there is brief mention of the Holy Spirit, this receives surprisingly little development considering the emphasis placed by Christ on the role of the ‘Helper’ (John 14-16) in the future work of his disciples.

DISCIPLE MAKING IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITY

As the church helps believers grow in their spiritual maturity and become active in fulfilling the Great Commission, the next step is for the believer to start evangelizing in their local community, within their family, their places of employment, and everywhere they go by sharing what God has done in their life. Jim Putnam identifies these individuals as, “Spiritual Parents [who] live out God’s Word in their daily lives. They are kingdom-centered and God-dependent.” The more a disciple grows in Christ-likeness, the more they will find purpose, worth, and identity. It is important to note a disciple can never teach someone something they themselves do not know, just as they can never lead someone to a place they have not yet been, so it is crucial for every disciple to continually stay focused on growing closer to Christ.

People are constantly watching and it is often during times of trials and persecution where one’s devotion is tested and when the true depth of one’s faith is revealed. It has been said Christianity and the process of discipleship is something that is more caught than taught, so being imitators of Christ is crucial especially in times of great adversity. Paul said it best, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Despite being imprisoned, Paul still found joy in serving the Lord and wrote four of his letters to the churches. He did not allow his circumstances to deter him from living a Christian life. Paul, in spite of his suffering and persecution allowed God to use him in a capacity that would not have been possible if he had lost faith or given up. Instead, he counted it as pure joy and the more the world and life attempted to stop him, the more his circumstances seemed to motivate him in spreading the gospel and serving God.

Relationships are critical in making and training new disciples in the community. In this culture, it is necessary to earn the right to speak into someone’s life and this normally takes time, but there are small windows of opportunity, which God opens up that followers of Christ must always be ready to capitalize on by speaking truth into a situation or by being able to help through acts of service rooted out of love. The goal of every believer is a transformation that happens with the renewing of one’s mind. In essence, after coming to faith, an individual is given a new lens to view the world through. It reveals just how broken we are, but also how lost and hurting the world is and the only remedy is Christ Jesus. As followers of Christ, it should be one’s ambition to make coming to church and faith as easy as possible, but for many churches they have instituted high walls of entry and low expectations after coming to faith. God wants to see every believer grow in faith, not just stay where they are when they come to faith and that is why living a transformed life is more about the process and journey and not just about attaining perfection, which is only possible on the other side of eternity.

The message of the Gospel is all about love and reconciliation; God through Christ has reconciled Himself to us and as followers of Christ we must never forget that. At the moment of salvation, we are a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come. Essentially, the Gospel transforms our perspective of life and through the development of one’s spiritual formation a transformation of the heart takes place. What breaks the Lord’s heart begins to break ours and the love and compassion the Lord has for His children begins to be poured out through us. We live for the glory of God and by loving others, by leading them to Christ, and by helping them grow in their faith realizing their full potential is the greatest way we can bring glory to His name.

ROLE, PURPOSE, AND GOD’S PLAN

Just as the Gospel transforms our heart, it also transforms our purpose. Before Christ, everyone lived according to his or her own agenda and goals, but after coming to faith, every believer has a new identity and purpose found in Christ. That purpose is to be ambassadors of God’s kingdom exercising love, hope, peace, and reconciliation as our message to a lost and hurting world. Believers must learn how to allow God to not only to work in them, but also through them as they fulfill the Great Commission.

Church

The primary role of the church, as Jim Putman suggests is, “To create biblical disciples in relational environments.” The church is the body of Christ and all parts must be working together to achieve maximum efficiency. The body grows in love and becomes healthier when all parts are functioning correctly. This means, with and through disciples, the mission Jesus passed on to the church must be intentional and focused on individuals. In a world where four babies are born and two people die every second, there has not been a greater need for the church to become what God intended it to be. The churches’ first goal should be to win people to faith in Christ. Secondly, it should be to help believers find their giftings and callings by providing an environment where they can refine their skills, and lastly it should be to send them out to make new disciples teaching the same principles which they were taught. Every believer has a part to play and the church has the potential to become what God intended it to be when people find their role in the body and engage collectively proclaiming the Gospel.

Another characteristic of the church, which must be defined, is why does the church exist both globally and locally? As Ruth Ann Sigurdson illustrates:

When we looked at the church in a global sense it was for the purpose of sharing the love and gospel of Jesus Christ… It serves the community and has strong doctrinal teaching… It also offered a service to them and our families in weddings, funerals, and baptisms. The question was more difficult to answer than we had anticipated because we soon came to realize that locally it was to meet our own needs and globally it was to meet the needs of others.

The church must also teach believers how to study, interpret, and apply the word of God to their life. By observing some of the habits of the early church the importance of several things are apparent: they regularly studied the Apostle’s teaching, they fellowshipped with each other, they shared meals together, they prayed together, and they regularly met and praised together. The culmination of all these habits led to unity in the church as well as favor with all the people. A sad reality Tim Nichols highlights is:

Across North America today most churches are experiencing very limited growth or even decline. There are multiple factors that contribute to this systemic problem. These factors include, but are not limited to (a) a maintenance mentality, prioritizing the sustaining of church programs and facilities; (b) pastoral dependency, limiting lay member’s participation; (c) apathy and complacency about the lost in the community around the church; and (d) the lack of clear vision, purpose, and direction to unify and inspire the energy and resources of the congregation.

God does not want the church to play it safe as is illustrated in the parable of the talents. He desires His followers to have a heart for the lost and hurting rooted out of love. God’s will for the church is centered on discipleship and how to teach believers to be in this world, but not of it. The foundation of discipleship must be helping people grow in their love, obedience, and reverence for God. One area of major disconnect occurs between a believer and God when their relationship with Him is not intentional and all encompassing; if it is not then they truly do not love the Lord. God requires our all and if we truly love the Lord, we will obey what He commands. The importance of the church is critical to the discipleship process as Dietrich Bonhoeffer illustrates, “No one can become a new human being except by being within the church, that is, through the body of Christ. Whoever seeks to become a new human being individually cannot succeed. To become a new human being means to come into the church, to become a member of Christ’s body.”

Pastor

As Nichols illustrated above, “One of the greatest needs in the North American church today is to energize a shared ministry between clergy and laity.” This primarily rests upon the pastor to cast a vision to the visionless, one they can be a part of and rally behind. As God’s word says, “Where there is no vision, the people will perish.” Bill Hybels asks the question: “How does a leader best communicate vision? [They do so:] By embodying it. By personifying it. And By living it out.”

It is also 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 are able to grow closer to God. In addition to equipping the saints, pastors must also teach about God’s love, because the more they learn to love God, the more they will love others. In a like manner, 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.

Upon examination of 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.” Peter Davids elaborates further on this imagery illustrating, “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.”

As shepherds over God’s flock, pastors are often called to oversee, rescue, feed, comfort, lead, cast vision, and protect those under him or her. It is the job of the shepherding pastor to find the lost sheep and bring them home. Sheep are notorious for wandering off and getting lost. In fact, in extreme cases of sheep wandering off, the shepherd would actually break the sheep’s legs, mend them, and then carry the sheep on his back until they were healed. Upon healing, the sheep would no longer stray away from the pastor’s side. The question every believer must ask themselves is would they rather have a little discomfort now or do they want to be completely lost with potentially no way of being found again?

The writer of Hebrews says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Essentially this means that pastors will be held accountable for how they lead, just as the flock will be held accountable for how they follow. The best example of a pastor was Jesus and He lived a life of service and sacrifice. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” As with most principles in life, all you must do is observe what Jesus did and figure out how you can replicate His methods in your own life.

Saints

Paul’s letter to the Romans is often considered the guide to living a Christian life. In chapter twelve he urges believers to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God equating it to a spiritual act of worship. He warns them to not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. Paul cautions the reader to not think too highly of one’s self, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Paul describes the church as the “body of Christ” noting each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. In addition to the various parts, we also have different gifts, according to the grace given us. Some will have the gift of teaching, serving, encouraging, contributing, prophesying, governing, or showing mercy; the important principle is to use whatever gift God has given you in proportion to your faith. Douglas Moo draws a comparison between the parts of the body and spiritual gifts saying, “Moreover, the parallels between the sequences of exhortations here and in other Pauline texts also suggest that Paul may be rehearsing familiar early Christian teaching. Note especially how Paul, as in 1 Cor. 12-13, follows a discussion of gifts with a reminder of the importance of love.” It was by one’s love that the world would know we were His disciples and what better way to show love than by all parts of the body working together as the saint discovers and identifies his or her gifting.

Paul also warns the saints to hate what is evil, while clinging to what is good. We are to be devoted to one another, submit to authority, love one another, and honor one another, while being joyful, patient, faithful, and hospitable. Lastly, Paul address trials and persecution saints experience instructing them to bless those who persecute you; rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn; live in harmony with one another, do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited, do not repay anyone evil for evil and be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Paul urges saints to live at peace with everyone while not seeking revenge in order to leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Unbelievers are not the enemy and they should instead be viewed of prisoners of war in this spiritual battle for souls and while Satan has the gates of hell, Jesus has the keys. The only way to overcome evil is with good and the only way to not be overcome by evil is to continually do what is right and good in the eyes of the Lord.

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, continues to emphasize the importance of unity within the body. He urges believers to be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing one another’s burdens in love. Paul stresses the importance of peace in unity saying, “There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Paul also identifies it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers in order to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. By speaking the truth in love, Paul proclaims we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. In Christ we are a new creation, so Paul instructs saints to put off their old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Paul closes this chapter warning saints not to sin in their anger and never to let the sun go down while you are still angry: a timeless principle! His reason for this was to stop the devil from gaining a foothold in the saints’ life. He also cautions not to let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen while getting rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Instead, he encourages the saints to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.
The final role of the saints is to evangelize. This presents an area for debate especially when using Ephesians 4:11-12 as context. While this passage does say, “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” it does not mean evangelism is reserved for a select few. Regardless of misinterpretation, the main reason for not evangelizing comes down to spiritual apathy and laziness turning the Great Commission into the great suggestion. Donald Whitney points out, “God does gift some for ministry as evangelists, but He calls all believers to be His witnesses and provides them with both the power to witness and a powerful message.” Every believer should proclaim the goodness of Christ and be witnesses in all they do and everywhere they go.

Spiritual Gifts

Paul, in I Corinthians 12 is dealing with the issue of what it means to be spiritual as well as the abuse of gifts: mainly speaking in tongues. In verse 11, Paul establishes every Christian has at least one spiritual gift, given by the Holy Spirit, which God wants us to use for His glory. The question for some is how do they find what their gift is but the more apparent dilemma is after finding it; why do most choose not to use it? For some, they may be embarrassed or confused how to, so they simply hide it or choose not to acknowledge what God has given them. However, this is an affront to God because He expects us not only to use our gifts advancing the kingdom, but He also expects us to grow in those gifts by using them.

Just as spiritual gifts were a topic of debate in the early church, they continue to be today as Michael Horvath illustrates how, “Spiritual gifts have quickly moved into the forefront of discussions of personal spiritual growth.” While there are different types of gifts, they are of the same Spirit. Even in the diversity of gifts, one can observe unity because God is a god of order. Horvath defines spiritual gifts and their roles as:

Individual difference characteristics that are relevant to behavior in a Christian context. Second, spiritual gifts are not argued to be specific to the professional pastorate; all Christians are thought capable of possessing them. Third, most definitions include the provision that spiritual gifts are either new abilities, or newly augmented natural abilities, that are given to individuals after they become Christians. This is in contrast to natural abilities, which are characteristics possessed by all individuals.

The primary role of spiritual gifts, as Gordon Fee illustrates, is rooted out of love for the edification of the church:

Their passion for tongues in the assembly was further indication of their failure to love one another. Love, however, is not set forth in contrast to tongues, but as the necessary ingredient for the expression of all spiritual gifts. The reason for the gifts is the edification of the church, which is precisely what love aims at, but uninterpreted tongues does not.

Paul in Ephesians 4:7 says “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Again in Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” These gifts are to be used in spreading the gospel from our within our neighborhoods and communities to the four corners of the earth while also in building up the body of Christ. As believers in and followers of Christ, we exist solely to glorify God and we do this most effectively by testifying of His love, mercy, grace, and redeeming power. As part of the body of Christ everyone has a part to play and if a spiritual gift is not being used, it is the equivalent of missing a body part. As the body of Christ, we are meant to be connected and we are meant to use our gifts in conjunction with each other’s as I Corinthians 12:12 states, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”
God’s greatest gift is love, so it should be no surprise He expects our attitudes and actions to be rooted out of love. The Great Commandment is at the heart of the New Testament and played a pivotal role in the spread of Christianity as Claire McLisky illustrates:

The idea of Christian love has been central to the Christian religion since its inception [and] Christian love played an important part in early Christian theology… In teaching Protestant Christianity, Martin Luther believed, the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. For Luther, Christian love was universal and undiscriminating, mirroring God’s love for humanity. The aim of the Christian faith was, therefore, to cultivate a “pure heart” and be so in accord with God’s Word and his example that he will wish everyone well and do good to all, as God wishes him well and gives his divine love to him.

CONCLUSION

Disciples are the legacy of Jesus. Out of pure love, God sent Jesus on a mission to save the world and upon completing His task, He has now entrusted the church to complete the mission. This paper has shown a disciple is someone who knows Christ, grows in Christ, goes for Christ, as well as someone who shows and shares Christ with others. First and foremost, a disciple must make sure their relationship with God is in order and that they are using their gifts to edify the church. Then one needs to be intentional about making and equipping disciples in the church and local communities. Followers of Christ must show love to all because that is how the world is supposed to know they are His disciples. Christians must also deepen their relationships with the people in their lives by focusing on the individual and their needs. Lastly, believers must maintain a missional mindset because Christ died for everyone, so one’s focus cannot be limited by their own thinking. God has called us, He has equipped us, and now He is sending us out to find, feed, and rescue His lost children by winning them to Christ, growing them as disciples, and sending them out as witnesses of God’s glory. Becoming a disciple is a choice made at the moment of salvation. It is one that demands complete love, sacrifice, and submission to the will of God. While the cost may be great, it will never amount to the sacrifice and price Christ paid.

Bibliography

Bartsch, Malcolm. “Making Disciples: The Significance of Jesus’ Educational Methods for Today’s Church.” Lutheran Theological Journal 40, no. 1 (05, 2006): 44-5. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/213743289?accountid=12085 . (accessed 11-18-15).

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

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.

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.

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

Horvath, Michael. “Spiritual Gifts Inventories: A Psychometric Perspective.” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 32, no. 2 (Summer, 2013): 124-33. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1437251886?accountid=12085. (accessed 11-18-15).

Hybels, Bill. Courageous Leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2002

McLisky, Claire. “And They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love”: Exploring the Role of Christian Love on Maloga Mission, 1874–1888. Journal of Religious History, 39: 333–351. 2015, doi: 10.1111/1467-9809.12181, (accessed 11-18-15).

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

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

Nichols, Tim Nichols. “THE PASTOR’S ROLE IN VISION-BASED LEADERSHIP.” The Journal of Applied Christian Leadership 2, no. 1 (Summer, 2007): 20-31. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/751869916?accountid=12085. (accessed 11-18-15).

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.

Sigurdson, Ruth Ann. The Purpose Driven Process: a Church Asks Some Hard Questions and Unearths Some Uncomfortable Answers.” Presbyterian Record July-Aug. 2006: 30. General Reference Center GOLD. Document Number: GALE|A150910354. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA150910354&v=2.1&u=vic_liberty&it=r&p=GRGM&asid=70382952919dad2e74ae770435039d37 (accessed 11-18-15).

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

Incarnational vs. Informational Apologetics

apologetics-nature-pic

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.