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Bring Them Up

Make Disciples, Not Dependents

One temptation for teachers is that they expect to be treated as Teacher for all time. This isn’t to say that their students won’t move on to other classes, but that as teachers they expect to always be treated as the ones with the answers for their students.

Should a teacher know more than her students? I mean, duh, yes, but also not forever. This is one of the benefits of thinking in terms of discipling. I know that the word disciple includes the idea of learning, but built in to the idea of discipleship is that a disciple matures and makes more disciples. A student can gather up truth to understand and call the work done, a disciple understands that the work isn’t done until there’s another disciple, until there is reproduction of true understanding. When we realize that our goal is beyond us, then we come to worry less about our students needing us.

When a grammar teacher is working on helping her 10 year-old student learn math, she is also helping him learn submission. There is the lesson represented on the worksheet, and there are numerous lessons impossible to represent on a worksheet; he’s learning how to multiply and how to be a man under authority. But she should remember that she is teaching submission to one to whom she may need to later submit. Her student, for example, might grow up to be her pastor, who will hold her hand and sing hymns at her hospital bed. His ministry to her at that point won’t be because he needs answers from her.

Pastors who think of teaching as their ultimate telos have the same problem, and will find themselves the (informed) hindrance rather than help to the growth of their people. Make disciples, not dependents.

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Every Thumb's Width

The Disciples Missionaries Made

A disciple-maker should know where he’s going. If he does, then he probably knows his end depends on starting in the right spot. He also won’t be surprised when he arrives at his goal.

John Piper wrote a concentrated post on missions two weeks ago pointing to the January/February cover story in Christianity Today, “The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries”. The CT article describes the findings of sociologist Robert Woodberry who spent a decade researching “the effect of missionaries on the health of the nations.” Piper quotes Woodberry:

Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

When men “convert from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ” things start to change not only for them as individuals, but also in their community. That’s why a map showing First World, Second World, and Third World countries relates directly to the presence of the gospel in those places. Most of the First World knows, or at least once knew, gospel roots.

Woodberry observed, and Piper presses, that cultural change surprised the missionaries. Woodberry says, “Colonial reforms (came) through the back door” and “all these positive outcomes were somewhat unintended.” Piper concludes,

The implication is that the way to achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation is not to focus on social and cultural transformation, but on the “conversion” of individuals from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life.

In other words, “Tree first, then fruit.”

But saying that we should “focus on…conversion” is similar to saying that farmers should “focus on planting.” Trees grow from seeds and seeds must first be sown. Sowing, however, is only the start. Farmers must also water, weed, fertilize, and cultivate the tree to health and strength. They expect and work for more than a successful plant. When buds turn into branches and branches bear fruit all across the field farmers don’t say “these positive outcomes were somewhat unintended.”

It is true that we won’t “achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation” without conversions but, brothers, we are not conversionists. Christ commissioned us to make disciples, not converts. Discipleship starts with conversion but it ends with “teaching them to observe all that [Christ] commanded.” We labor to present every man complete in Christ and that includes teaching them to think like Christ, to talk like Christ, to act like Christ. That kind of stuff gets out.

Why would we seek, and even expect, conversions by God’s sovereign grace but not also expect an entire culture to change as grace grows whole groups of men in their obedience to Christ? Why would we call men to repent and believe, then move on to other fields? Evangelism is only the opening stage of discipleship. What is surprising about believers obeying in obvious and coordinated ways? We don’t say that our arrival at the supermarket was unintended because we had to get out of the driveway first.

“The fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11) only grows from new creations of the Spirit, but the fruit of transformation affects votes, vocation, parenting, medicine, schooling, economics, government, and every other lawful cultural activity on earth. If Christ cares about it, then image bearers can and should, too. If we’re supposed to make disciples of all men, but not all men are supposed to be teachers, then disciple-makers are responsible for knowing how to disciple Christians of every calling. That means we will need a plan for the many at some point down the road since, where two or three sheep are gathered together, they will need to learn how to get buy or sell car insurance from each other.

So, “missionaries that will do the most good for eternity and for time–for eternal salvation and temporal transformation–are the missionaries who focus on converting the nations to faith in Christ. And then on that basis and from that root teach them to bear fruit of all that Jesus commanded us.” But many missionaries and pastors want proselytes and then have nothing else for the proselytes to do except read their Bibles and make more proselytes while they wait for heaven. That’s why talking about our aim as making disciples helps us approach our work better than making converts. When we remember that conversion is the start, not the end, we won’t be surprised that God takes whole cultures to better places.

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Every Thumb's Width

Rabbits with Greek Names

We finish our Omnibus class discussion on The Histories: The Landmark Herodotus in the morning. The long intestines of Herodotus measure more than 700 pages followed by 21 appendices and a hundred more pages of indeces. The rabbit trails in this book get more attention than the timeline, but I don’t want to split hares. At least most of the rabbits had Greek names.

I did not read the whole thing. I listened to Books 4-7 in this audio version which is neither the same translation as the hard copy I have nor did it shake the typical ennui that chaperones dates between audio books and me. It was free. Also, the audio edition has no maps. I will admit that somewhere around Book 9 I actually started paying attention to the maps which also meant that they no longer helped me skip forward in my reading. Such is learning. By now I even have an opinion on whether the Battle of Marathon or the Battle of Thermopylae was more important. Who’da thunk it?

There are many things that could be said about this book; I’m sure of it, whatever they are. That said, here’s one threatening riddle from Book 6 that has kept me thinking for a couple weeks.

Now Miltiades was highly respected by Croesus the Lydian, and when Croesus learned what had happened to him, he sent a declaration to the Lampsacenes commanding them to release Miltiades, threatening that if they did not do so, he would wipe them out as if they were a pine tree. The Lampsacenes who tried to interpret this message were at first belwildered as to why Croeses would use the phrase “wipe them out like a pine tree” in his threat, but then, after much hard thinking, one of the elders came to the realization of its true significance: the pine alone of all trees does not produce any new shoot once it has been chopped down, but is utterly destroyed and gone forever. (442)

Part of the reason that we started a school, and part of the reason that we’re paddling the river of Western Civilation with Omnibus oars, including the one supplied by Herodotus, is that we want our students to come back even when we’re “cut down,” whenever and however that might happen. If Christians reproduce true disciples, then our disciples will live and grow and bear much fruit even when we die. By God’s grace we won’t be wiped out like pine trees, instead we’ll keep popping up like irrepressible bamboo shoots.[1]


[1] Credit for the bamboo analogy goes to our school Headmaster. I texted him this question: “What kind of tree/plant is virtually impossible to kill, even if you chop it down?” He immediately replied that it was a good question and gave four answers, a few from personal experience. He also thinks Herodotus is fantastic. That’s why he’s the right person for the job, and the teacher of our Omnibus class.

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A Shot of Encouragement

Two Great Things

Two great things go together: the great commandment and the great commission. They do not compete with each other, they compliment each other (and they do so even better than peanut butter and chocolate). Obedience to the great commandment makes obedience to the great commission a no-brainer. Obedience to the great commission requires seeing others become obedient to the great commandment.

So evangelism and worship meet in the disciple-making process. That’s why worship can have an evangelistic impact. That’s why evangelism isn’t finished unless it leads to worship.

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A Shot of Encouragement

Organizing Answers

A couple nights ago someone asked me if I thought that believers are lazy in sharing their faith. I answered, without a doubt, yes. I don’t think, however, that believers are lazy in terms of learning the way to evangelize like the Master, giving directions down the road in Romans, or carrying tracts to leave with the tip after dinner at Denny’s. I think believers are lazy mostly by failing to cultivate their faith, hallow Christ as Lord, and grow in hope that would make others ask what’s going on (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, in our evangelical camp, most of us work harder collecting verses and arranging our apologetics outlines than we work at living with hope. I suspect that’s because organizing answers requires less effort than being Christians.

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The End of Many Books

The Trellis and the Vine

by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

Very good. I hope it becomes a standard reading and EVALUATING tool for all disciple-making centers/churches and disciple-making trainers/pastors.


I’m rereading this, especially since TEC is wanting this imagery to stay central.

4 of 5 stars

Categories
He Will Build His Church

Making Disciples Booklet

I’ve blogged through a series on Making Disciples, and here is the whole thing put together in a couple formats by my friend Jesse.

Here’s a PDF in portrait view:

And here’s a landscape format that works well as a booklet.

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He Will Build His Church

From Disciple to Discipler

The Practical Discipleship Plan of Attack aims to take in a disciple and produce a discipler. The following chart gives an overview of the whole process.

To recap: the discipler instructs his disciple in doctrine, illustrates truth in daily practice, involves the disciple in the work of the ministry, helps the disciple improve his effectiveness, and inspires the disciple when he’s discouraged. These five stages of development span the Biblical Discipleship Bulls-eye from evangelism to edification to equipping. Disciplers labor to help new coverts grow in Christ and train them to make disciples in fulfillment of the Great Commission. Maturity and multiplication are beautiful things.

As we wrap up this series, here are some final thoughts on disciple-making.

We learn about discipleship from Jesus!

Jesus already walked the road ahead of us and all we need to do is follow Him. As I mentioned before, The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman traces Jesus’ steps and is must read material. Jesus called disciples, lived and associated with them, taught them, modeled for them, partnered with them, delegated assignments, did follow-up, and then He left. We are here, not because Jesus filled stadiums with hundreds of thousands of people and preached great messages, but because He focused on twelve ordinary men (Yes, this is a shameless reference to John MacArthur’s book by the same name.). Apparently making disciples like Jesus it is effective (not to mention biblical).

Though not complex, discipleship is not easy.

In fact, discipleship may be the toughest thing we’ll ever do. It’s so easy to focus on other things. It isn’t always pleasant having other people look into our lives and it’s often messy when we get involved in theirs. But no matter how difficult, making disciples is our Lord’s commission.

Discipleship is all about the people and not about the program.

The best curriculum cannot guarantee growth. There are no checklists to complete or shortcuts to maturity. Some structure (like organized small groups) may be helpful, but the best program with the wrong people won’t make disciples. On the other hand, the right people with the worst program–or even no program at all–will move forward.

You are missing out if you just partake and don’t participate.

I changed the person of the pronoun on purpose. If you come and soak and don’t give you won’t grow like you should. Your joy will be half of what it could be if you’re not using your spiritual giftedness and pouring back out into someone else’s life. Besides, it would probably help you stop whining about your own life.) There is always someone who knows less than you. You can encourage someone. You’re ready. Every believer has a responsibility to reach out to someone else and make a disciple.

What stage are you in? What will it take to get you to the next level? My prayer is that God would give us all a passion for discipleship, that not just the pastor or the youth staff or parents, but that all of the saints would take ownership. May He give us a vision and burden for others and keep us from sitting on the sidelines. Let us commit to make disciples of all the nations until everyone is complete in Christ.

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He Will Build His Church

Stage Five – Inspire

This is the final stage in the practical discipleship plan of attack. In Stage Five the disciple exits the process as a discipler.

The disciple has been taught. He’s watched how it’s done. He’s rolled up his sleeves in the work of the ministry alongside his discipler. He’s received constructive criticism to help him get better. By now the bulk of his training is complete and he’s ready to be on his own. So the fifth TASK of the disciple-maker is to inspire. This is probably my least favorite word, but it fits (for more than just alliteration). The PURPOSE is encouragement. Making disciples is hard work. Difficulties and heart heaviness are regular occurrences. Sometimes disciples need a shot in the arm.

The ROLE of the discipler becomes that of a resource. The need for constant interaction diminishes, but the disciple turned discipler may run into something he hasn’t encountered before. Maybe an unusual circumstance or knotty theological question surfaces. Maybe he needs seasoned counsel, wisdom from experience, or just someone to pray for him. But he has access to advice whenever he asks. Therefore the discipler utilizes the MOTTO of “Keep it up.” and is always available for assistance.

The PRINCIPLE is spiritual reproduction, much like the proper goal of parenting. Good parenting isn’t about providing or doing everything for the children. It aims to train kids how to be adults; how to accept and fulfill responsibilities. That doesn’t happen if dad always builds the Soap Box Derby car or never lets his son make a decision. Mom hinders growth by always being the one to braid her daughter’s hair or by constantly defending her. Yes, kids need more care at the beginning and it may be a slow train to maturity. But parents find out whether they were successful when their young person leaves the house, not by them living at home forever. Even then, however, they provide a different kind of attention when the kids are grown and have families of their own. So a discipler knows he’s succeeded when he sees and serves spiritual grandchildren.

Jesus was gone when the disciples took the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth. He could do that because everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Of course, Jesus didn’t leave His disciples without a Helper). When we entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also the process continues even when we’re absent.

Our goal is to see every person complete in Christ. Another way to say it is, we work to see each person independently dependent on Christ. An independent person is one who looks for things that need doing and does them without someone else constantly looking over their shoulder. A mature disciple doesn’t need constant supervision though every disciple remains dependent on Christ. So a discipleship purpose statement might look something like this:

We labor to help every person establish godly habits, motivated by love for Christ, that will cause them to be independently dependent on Christ for the rest of their lives, while helping others do the same.

We don’t expect to complete this objective in student ministries, even by the time a senior graduates. But we do aim to equip students as much as possible in the six years we have them and hope they enter the next stage of life more like Christ in character and service than when we got them.

The relationship between a disciple and his discipler purposefully changes over time if discipleship is effective. But whether disciples move on to minister near or far, disciplers are always ready resources.

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He Will Build His Church

Stage Four – Improve

There are always more ways for a disciple to grow no matter how well instructed they are or how many examples they’ve observed or even if they’re heavily involved the process. That’s what Stage Four is for.

By this point in the process the disciple should be busy reaching out to others. He’s been pushed out of the comfort of the nest and is learning to fly on his own. If he’s normal he will suffer through at least a few crashes. So the fourth TASK of a disciple-maker is to help the disciple improve, not only in personal obedience but in ministry. The PURPOSE is to increase their effectiveness. Though no technique exists that guarantees spiritual success, the discipler can give guidance and encouragement even when it appears the disciple flopped.

As the disciple ventures out on his own the discipler takes the ROLE of a constructive critic. This evaluation isn’t for the sake of discouragement but for betterment. Maybe an evangelism exchange could have been more accurate or a counseling conversation could have been more gentle. But mistakes and failures are not the doom of discipleship, instead they provide platforms for development. In this stage the MOTTO is “I watch you.” and then help make it better.

Again, the Master lived with His disciples, taught them, trained them, modeled for them, sent them out, and then debriefed them. For example, in Mark 6 He sent them out with partners and gave them all the instruction they needed for their short term assignment. Later they returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. This retreat was for rest and no doubt they also discussed their successes, setbacks, and what they could do better next time.

The PRINCIPLE is supervision; follow up for the sake of adjustment, correction, and encouragement. In order to make progress disciples need to make decisions and do the work without always having their hand held. But diligent and regular review will realign and reinforce where necessary.

Maturing disciples don’t always need their discipler present. But they do need faithful follow up in order to move forward with only one more stage to go.