As children we played a game of connecting numbered dots on a piece of paper. It was probably the way some of us learned to count. Of course, the connected dots always gave us a picture of something – a cow, house, car. Etc. It wasn’t much fun to connect dots that didn’t result in anything. Didn’t go anywhere. Just random dots. (Show examples)
Sometimes the way we present our Christian faith is like asking people to connect the dots. But it is like doing so when the dots don’t end up as a picture.
Take, for example, the doctrines that are a part of our faith. These may be the dots:
Creation Sanctification Christianization
Degeneration Incarnation Regeneration
Separation Crucifixion Spiritual formation
Desperation Resurrection Transformation
Revelation Salvation World-wide Mission
Adoration Redemption Tribulation
Restoration Evangelization Pre-destination
Post-millenial The Fall Original Sin
If each word is a dot, how do we join these dots? How do we connect the salvation dot to the sanctification dot? – The Fall to Revelation? How are they numbered? What is their sequence?
My original set of words for teaching new Christians were much simpler: confidence, consistency, stability, Christlikeness, evangelism and discipleship. Then at another level we had motivation, conservation, proclamation and multiplication.
All these words can be frightening. They can be like random dots with no picture. No wonder some who accept the gospel shy away from any growth. Salvation is enough. How can they begin to sort out all these words? How can they begin to honestly say they understand the ultimate picture? Some just fake it and trust the preacher or the teacher or someone else. After all, only the super-saints can achieve the level of spirituality represented by all these words.
Sometimes all our activity in a church is like giving our members and visitors another dot – but failing to reveal how the dot fits into a picture of God’s making. We just hope they can hang on to the dots long enough. We hope they won’t forget what they are or which number they are on. We hope they can eventually connect things properly.
Christians end up with many points of knowledge but no pattern. A little design and a little direction is enough. Some hide in large churches, content to stand when they are told to stand, sit when they are told to sit, pray when they are told to pray and so on.
One way we can help people connect the dots is by means of discipleship. As a deacon, this is my responsibility and role and I am eager to do it.
My commitment began in 1975. I had planted churches, trained leaders, created songs and dramas – but I had not made disciples. I was busy making churches. God asked me why I was not doing the one thing he had commanded me to do – make disciples. He made me compare Matthew 16 and 28. !6 – Jesus: I will make the church; 28 – make disciples. I had reversed this – making churches but not disciples. I finally got back to disciples first and got serious about it in 1984 here in Kenya. Two of us became 37,000 by 2015. Still on-going.
The gift of God’s LIFE (my talking point for three weeks) relates to discipleship (my talking point this morning (Matthew 28:18-20).
Discipleship is based on God’s purpose to bring his LIFE to human life (Rom.8:10; II Cor.13:5; Col.1:27). Each person, Christian or non-Christian alike is made in God’s image to bear his LIFE. Every believer is a recipient of the gift of God’s LIFE (John 10:10). That gift is the basis of discipleship. It is like the paper on which all the above dots appear. At first, I wanted to say, the gift is like the first dot. The basis of discipleship is not following the dots and their connections.
The basis of discipleship is the gift of God’s LIFE. It is the paper upon which we find the dots. It is the paper covered with God’s LIFE. Discipleship is the gift of God’s LIFE opened and utilized in our daily living. We would not fail to utilize a gift like a car, house etc., yet, we often fail to utilize the gift of LIFE. The gift is not something to hoard, put on a shelf, take down and look at times of crisis. Discipleship is our usage of the gift.
Here at Lifespring, then, we want to make disciples on the basis of this simple premise: God desires his LIFE to come to the lives of people. That is God’s purpose.
God brings his LIFE to our lives when we believe in Jesus. Discipleship begins at a new birth (John 3:3). It begins on a clear piece of paper, a clean slate. The basis of discipleship is not just listening to something, reading something, or even doing something. Discipleship begins at the new birth – an act of God when his LIFE comes into our lives. People don’t need to be patched up. They need to be made new, to be born again. A man was heard to pray, “O Lord, make me a better man.” A friend said to him: “It would be easier to make you a new man.” Someone once asked a great preacher, why he preached so often on the text: “You must be born again.” The preacher had preached on that text over three hundred times. He looked the questioner in the face and said: “Because you must be born again” (Selwyn-Hughes 1988:10th Sep.).
First, then, discipleship is based on God’s purpose to bring his LIFE to our life.
Secondly, discipleship is display of God’s passion to complete human life (Eph.3:17-19). Discipleship is a journey. Every dot on that gift of God’s LIFE becomes a mark of that passion’s journey. For me, the dots have been confidence, consistency, stability, Christlikeness, Evangelism and discipling itself. Every dot is established on the basis of God’s gift of LIFE.
This is God’s passion – that his LIFE would complete human life. In discipleship we agree to God’s plan to bring completion and fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t settle for what people were. He focused on what they could become. He looked into human lives, saw what wasn’t there, and invested himself in people so that his vision of their lives became the reality of their lives (Williams 2002:15). That’s what we do when we make disciples.
It takes a proper understanding of the gospel to gain a proper understanding of discipleship. The gospel is the good news that God has created us in order to complete us. He gave us our lives so that we could bear his LIFE. He died to set our lives free from our sins, yes, but ALSO to plant his LIFE in our lives. Someone has said, “This is the gospel that takes our breath away” (John Eldridge) It is the gospel that makes us alive. This is the gospel that remains the core of discipleship: his LIFE continues to work in our lives. We see it even in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 when Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always.”
1996 was a year of correction for me in discipleship. We were drawing near to the first 1,000. I was eager, having waited eleven years for those first 1,000. We had told people that one can become 500 in ten years if we just work together. Then the 500 become 1000 the next year. During that year, my Bible reading led me right through Isaiah until I came to Isaiah 60:22a. I was ready to become the smallest if I could just become a thousand. This verse became my verse for the year. But after some weeks and a few months, I finally allowed the rest of the verse to sink in: “I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.” I was humbled. I was corrected. The kind of result proclaimed in this verse would never be of my doing, it would always be of the Lord’s passion.
God alone completes the changes he begins in our lives (Phil.1:4-6). He works from the inside out while the world works from the outside in – and tries to get us to fit its mode. The world tries to shape human behavior but God wants to change human nature. Philip Yancey, has said, “I can barely grasp the reality that God has come down to live within me and now loves me from the inside out” (2000:165). Discipleship is not worked up from within ourselves but is a passion that comes down from above.
Discipleship is the working out of the gospel. It is tracing the progress of God’s LIFE across our life. Just as salvation is the working into our lives of this gospel, discipleship is its working out. For salvation, we believe the gospel. For discipleship, we live the gospel.
We are forgiven? That’s good. But God’s forgiveness was never intended to be the end of anything. God did not send His Son to die on a cross just so He could get you and me into heaven. He wants to display the power and the glory of who he is. He wants to complete in our lifetimes the process of discipleship when he gace us his LIFE (adapted from MacDonald 2000:122). We are saved? That’s good. But being saved is not so much a line to be crossed as a road to walk, a journey to take. Discipleship is God’s on-going project of the gospel in our lives. James MacDonald has said, “If your faith isn’t changing you, it hasn’t saved you” (2000:57). Chuck Colson has said, “I don’t just want to be saved. I don’t just want to be forgiven. I want to be changed.” Max Depree has said, “In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” It’s a fact that when you’re through changing, you’re through.”
So, discipleship occurs when Christians demonstrate a godly passion for the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Selwyn Hughes said: “Disciples are passionate people whose passion is fed by (a passionate God)” (April 29, 2004). Disciples are men and women set on fire by God’s passion, not men and women smoldering in a fireplace. This man had counseled Christians for 50 years. At the end of his life he asked, “What did they all have in common – these people I had counseled?” They were saved, believers, converts. Why did they come for counseling? What did they lack? His discovery – they lacked a passionate love for Christ (Hughes 2001:194). They were proper Christians but they weren’t passionate Christians. They were passive instead of passionate and they had problems. They needed ‘counseling’ because they had not become confident and consistent in the Lordship of Christ.
Discipleship occurs when Christians have a personal, passionate devotion to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
With passion they dare to think big and start small with Jesus.
With passion they hang on long after others have given up. They keep going.
With passion they refuse to leave well enough alone.
With passion they stick their necks out: daring to give their best shot to something they care about and asking others to do the same.
With passion they take a stand, take a position and remain true to it even in the face of opposition and the temptations to please, be accepted, and welcomed.
With passion they are open to criticism, disappointment, disillusionment and failure.
With passion they combine high purpose and intense pragmatism in their lives.
With passion they care deeply .
With passion they inspire energy, excitement and intensity.
So, let me repeat: discipleship is based on God’s purpose – LIFE in our lives and itis blessed with his passion – God’s LIFE expressed through our lives.
Thirdly, discipleship belongs to God’s plan. His purpose, his passion, and finally, his plan. Of all the things Jesus could have told the disciples – why make disciples? Why not make churches? Make converts to a new religion? Religious organization? World-changing plans? Why did Jesus command us to simply make disciples. Because discipleship best relates to the gift of LIFE. Disciple-making is closest to God’s purpose and passion for every human being – that his LIFE would come to our lives. To complete what he began at our creation.
Here I want to refer to the ship that is discipleship. (might be more appropriate in Mombasa). Someone said that fellowship is a bunch of fellows in a ship heading in the same direction. Likewise, discipleship is a bunch of disciples in a ship heading in the same direction. God created the ship. It was constructed according to his plan. Discipleship is a SHIP – it is not a little life preserver or a set of water wings. Compare a huge ship docked at Mombasa strongly crossing any ocean and a small inflatable life belt that we can buy at Nakumatt – and you get the contrasting picture. Both will get you through the water but only one will get you to a significant destination. Biblical discipleship plunges into the vast ocean of God’s dream, it is not just a few tentative strokes of a little swimming activity in a pool of our making.
We face the danger of constantly ignoring God’s ship and creating our own. I want to contrast our creations with God’s creation. Please note that there is nothing wrong with the activities. They have their place. I mean no criticism. A church needs to provide them. Some Christians need water wings. Some Christians may just want to test the waters in a small pool. That’s OK. It is important, however, to see these activities in the context of discipleship, not to see discipleship in the context of these activities. We must never confuse discipleship with such activity. Discipleship is more.
There are three common creations of our own making when it comes to something that looks like discipleship. The three alternative activities follow: 1. One activity is to join a class or a group. These activities are popular. Gathering information and opinions is important. We do grow by doing so. But these classes and group activities should not be confused with discipleship – the ship that God designed. It is a form of relationship but not discipleship. 2. Another activity is to join a program or an organization’s effort, and here I speak to myself because I run such a program and organization. It, too, is a form of relationship but not discipleship. 3. A third activity is to join a church. Membership becomes our ship instead of discipleship.
We missionaries can take some blame for a skewed emphasis on these alternative activities. We often worked harder to get people to join us than to join Christ and we got denominational rivalry. We trained people to be our kind of leaders instead of Christ’s kind of servants and we got educational rivalry. We introduced people to all kinds of exotic religious names and, today, as we travel around the continent, we see how this naming has become more important than the Name above all names and we got identity rivalry. We assumed leaders would make disciples – but it seems membership became a distracting focus. Leaders became busy making members while the habits and values of converts remained unrecognized, unchallenged, and unchanged – and we got the AIDS pandemic.
Joining a church is a good activity. It is helpful to go through membership classes. But, we may do that and never get to discipleship. Look at Ephesians 6:10-17. The book itself is about the church and about growing Christians. We err, however, when we take all its good instruction and feed into a leadership and membership drive for spiritual formation. But attention to this popular terminology has not gone far enough. These verses warn us otherwise. Discipleship is about spiritual warfare.
Membership may put water wings on our arms but fall short of putting the sword into our hands. Spiritual formation may teach us how to splash around in the water with other nice spiritual people, but it may never get us into the discipleship vessel taking us somewhere “into all the world.” We may be so intent on staying above the surface that we will have no preparedness of life for the battles addressed by radical discipleship.
How can we summarize these alternative activities? The ships we build (relationships and memberships) are like water wings and life preservers may embolden us to splash around in the water. Such activity, however is not discipleship. It is not the journey designed by God that takes us to the world. These add-ons begin from the wrong vision. With them, we only see activities in a swimming pool of our making instead of those in a rough, unpredictable ocean. The wrong vision leads to the wrong processes, the wrong doing. Discipleship becomes a finished class, a program among programs, a book, a qualification for church not a journey, not part of something going somewhere instead of anywhere. Discipleship becomes the vision of an organization or a personal vision of oneself. Wrong vision and wrong processes indicate a wrong understanding of the gospel. The gospel becomes a doctrine to be believed instead of a life to be lived. The gospel becomes something we talk about but not something we live. So, what is better than water wings and life preservers? What is better than splashing around in safe waters? What is better than being informed, reformed, or even “spiritually” formed? The answer: discipleship.
Discipleship is not a program. It is God’s purpose, passion and plan. We may join a program – and never get to discipleship, because discipleship is not a process of religious association. 6. It is not a process. It is not just a process of collecting information, of becoming informed. It is not a matter of forming a group or belonging to a group. Discipleship is something else and we must invite both Christians and want-to-be Christians to something more.
A king prepared to build a cathedral in Europe and sought the best workmen in his kingdom. He went to the quarries. “What are you doing,” he asked the workers. He received various answers: making a living, making blocks, cutting stone. However, he went on to employ only those stonemasons who replied, “I’m building a majestic building with the King.” Doing the same with the carpenters and artisans, he employed only those who saw the end result, the beautiful cathedral in rocks and wood needing to be finished.
The King has come. He’s asking the question: What are you doing? How do we answer? Making a living? Doing a job? Going to church? Going to this activity or that? Connecting dots? Trying to pieces of a religious puzzle together? Or, can we be those who see the beautiful in our own unfinished lives and in the raw unfinished lives of others?