Buried in the account of Paul becoming a Christian and a leader in the church there is a small phrase that I think has some fairly significant implications for how we understand discipleship:
Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.
-Acts 9:19-25 (emphasis mine)
This story is about the tremendous transformation that happened in Paul’s (then Saul’s) life. Just prior to this, Saul had just been killing Christians and was finally stopped when the Lord knocked him to the ground, blinded him, and subsequently healed him. But one of the indicators of Saul’s total transformation was that within a few days (and possibly a few weeks) of his conversion, Saul had his own disciples.
Don’t miss this. These weren’t just random disciples. These weren’t disciples that already existed in Damascus. These weren’t disciples that were made by Paul after he had known the Lord for a decade or better. These were *his disciples*. Saul’s. They were disciples of a man who had come to know the Lord only days or weeks before.
Why is that significant? Well, when was the last time you expected a new believer to have disciples? When was the last time you saw someone who had just come to Jesus preach Christ in a way that caused others to gather around them? When was the last time you expected your new convert to begin pointing others to the Christ they had just received?
What this story tells me is that discipleship is not for the oldest believers or the most experienced believers in our midst. Discipleship is the responsibility and the inheritance of even the youngest believers among us. When we teach them to wait until they know more about Jesus, the church, and everything, we teach them discipleship is about knowing stuff. But discipleship isn’t about knowing stuff, it’s about obeying Jesus. Even relatively new believers can teach newer converts how to obey, if they’ve learned how to themselves.
My point isn’t that this is the story for every believer or we should expect this out of everyone who has come to Christ yesterday. Instead, I want us to be open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit can do this. The Holy Spirit can so transform a person’s life in an instant that they can make disciples quickly. There will be those that the Lord powerfully moves on and can start making disciples from day one or day two following their conversion. It’s not impossible.
More specifically, what if instead of doubting this possibility, we encouraged those who came to Christ to do this? What if we
stopped believing that God only works through those with seminary degrees started believing that Christ within someone is enough to point others to Jesus and help grow them into maturity? What if we encouraged people in this direction instead of encouraged them into immaturity and dependency on us?
Saul had disciples within days or possibly weeks. Not everyone you lead to Jesus will be like this, but I think we sell our disciples short when we don’t believe that it’s even possible.
Maybe it’s time we started encouraging our disciples to make disciples, even right out of the gate. Who knows? Maybe we might find a few more Paul’s that way.
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
Peter and John were uneducated and untrained men. In this way they are almost the exact opposite of the kind of people we would prefer to serve our churches or share the Gospel. We like people to be educated and trained–we believe they are better to lead and to guide others. Instead, Peter and John were the construction worker, the pizza delivery guy, or the car salesman of their day.
The difference was that these two men had been with Jesus. They had both trained underneath of Him as followers while He was here on Earth and by the presence of the Holy Spirit, they had been with Jesus in an ongoing way since Pentecost. It was the fact that they had been with Jesus that made these guys different from the other unlearned and untrained men that the rulers and Elders were used to.
Often in Christianity, we do this backwards. We select workers who are trained and educated but haven’t been with Jesus. We’re content with well-trained men who know theology and how to teach, but don’t bear the marks of having been with Christ.
On the other hand, we cannot just look to people who are untrained and uneducated to serve and proclaim the good news apart from Jesus. We have to teach people, trained or untrained, to be with Christ. They have to understand the vitality of a life lived close to the resurrected Jesus.
The sweet spot…the place where Christianity becomes alive and infectious and reproducible…is where we can equip normal, everyday people who many would look at and call untrained and uneducated to be with Jesus. If we can put the Gospel and the truth of Christianity in the hands of a common man who knows how to be with Christ, we are that much closer to turning the world upside down.
Missional community is a buzz word right now.
The phrase was meant to describe a Christian group who were not just committed to each other, but to Jesus and the lost. The goal was to live on mission as a people in a way that drew others to Jesus. Like most buzzwords, though, it has begun to be applied to lots of different things to the point where it can mean just about anything. I find in these circumstances, examples are far better at giving meaning than definitions.
Case in point: Our house churches this Wednesday did a fantastic job on living on mission together.
My awareness of this began on Wednesday over my lunch hour. My friend Josh and I had needed a chance to catch up. We were able to catch up for lunch, tell each other about what the Lord has been doing in each other’s lives, and encourage one another. Make no mistake, true missional community means continuing to encourage each other because the mission can be hard sometimes.
Fast Forward to after work. A couple of the families from two of the house churches had decided to get together that night, but due to circumstances it was going to be me, the children, and the wives of all the families, but none of the men. So, I asked my wife if after we had dinner I could go and take care of some yard work a neighbor had flagged me down and asked for. So after eating together (missional communities eat together a lot!) the ladies allowed me to take off and go help the neighbor with the hopes of preaching the Gospel to them. Here is another facet of missional community: serving the lost out of the love of Christ in ways (we hope) give us opportunities to share the good news.
One of the reasons I happened to be the only guy at our dinner on Wednesday night was that Josh, who I had mentioned before, had to meet with a guy he has begun a discipling relationship with. I wasn’t there and can’t speak to what happened there, but the important thing to note is that missional community is about more than just serving. It’s about sharing the Gospel AND discipling those who come to Christ. The mission isn’t complete until we’ve made disciples.
I was forced to return earlier than I planned from helping neighbors. The neighbors I had gone to help weren’t home and shortly after that a big storm rolled in. I ended up on my front porch with my kids and several of the kids from the other families, while the ladies got a chance to encourage and fellowship with each other. For me, this is part of missional community as well–serving the body so each part is strengthened to share the Gospel.
The storm passed. One of the families left. Josh arrived from his meeting to pick up his family. After spending some time together enjoying our kids and talking, Josh and his family left to put their kids to bed. We thought our day was pretty much done. We put our kids to bed and began the process of winding down for the night.
At about 9:00 PM, my wife realized that she had a missed text on her phone. A neighbor and someone that’s been part of our church had been trying to get a hold of us. Her neighbor and friend had a window broken out of her front door by a disgruntled “guest.” Our friend and her neighbor were looking for some help fixing the situation. I sent my wife over to help (long story, but she was better in this particular situation) expecting her to help fix the door and have her back by 9:30.
Instead she returned around 10:30. She told me the story. When she arrived, it became clear that the situation was much larger than she thought. My wife realized that we might need to bring in a professional, but didn’t know who to call at that hour. We had a friend who repaired auto glass professionally that was part of yet another house church we hadn’t seen that day. She called him to get a recommendation about who to call. Instead, he came over, assessed the situation, and miraculously had the right tools to make the door secure that night. Tim, our friend, was the perfect blend of consistent and flexible that night. With the door secure, our neighbor and her children could rest easier knowing she was safe. This was yet one more example of serving the community with the hope of getting to share the Gospel.
I laid down in bed that night thinking of everything that had happened. Encouragement between the body. Discipleship. Attempts to serve the lost. Prayer. After going through the list, I was thankful that the Lord had allowed our body to pursue mission the way we have.
I don’t write this to boast in our house churches. Rather, I write this so that you can have a window into what missional community might look like on a given day. How do you get here? Find a group of people who love Jesus and want to walk out mission. Give yourself to encouraging the body and attempting to serve the lost around you. Always have the name of Jesus and the Gospel on your lips.
Often we think the workers are many and the harvest is small, but when we venture outside of our fellowships, we find that the harvest is great and the workers are few. If your community is truly committed to being a missional community you will find needs and as you try and meet those needs you will have the opportunity to share the Gospel. I guarantee it.
It occurred to me the other day that Christians frequently handle information in the same way the world does. We often think more information will change our situation. If we only knew the Bible more, if we only understood theology correctly we could win more people to Christ, if we only had that seminary degree then people would really respect and listen to us…if…if…if.
I understand the situation. As a believer in Jesus, I believe that the Bible is the standard of truth and that knowing Jesus involves knowing how Christ is revealed in its pages. This has lead me [and many, many others, but hey we’re talking about me here…] to pursue knowledge, thinking that knowledge itself is how I grow up spiritually. Even typing those words, it sounds so wrong, but that is how we as Christians act.
Paul spoke directly to this idea when he said, “…while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church,” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Paul knew there was a deception in the church that would cause us to substitute knowledge with true love and maturity. A.W. Tozer, echoing these sentiments hundreds of years later said, “You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically, and as empty as one spiritually.” Again, the idea is knowledge can make us feel like we arrived, but can leave us empty at the end of the day. If information was all we needed, we’d have completed the Great Commission by now and each made hundreds of disciples. There’s more to Christ than just mental understanding.
The other day I feel like the Lord spoke this to my spirit: “There are people alive today who have better theology than the apostle Paul, yet there are fewer apostle Paul’s on the Earth.” What I felt like He meant by that is there are people alive today who know the Gospels, they’ve dissected the epistles, they know historical theology and probably have a more articulate handle on the Bible than even the apostle Paul did. But these same people aren’t living Paul’s life. They aren’t turning the world upside down. They’re bookish, but not Kingdom-ish.
So to you are caught in that same trap that I’ve been caught in, I say this with love: repent. Don’t put your trust in your learning. Put your trust in a living Jesus who wants to encounter you, teach you to love, and carry the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, raising up disciples along the way. Don’t abandon a sound understanding of God’s word, but let the understanding be birthed out of love for Jesus and obedience to what He’s commanded, not out of a pursuit to know more.
Over the years, our house churches have sought to live out the mission of Jesus. Living out this mission has not always been easy. One of the realities that we’ve learned over the years is that there are two important qualities in someone wanting to truly live out mission: They need to be simultaneously consistent and flexible.
Consistent, because many of the people that are far away from God aren’t. Their lives can be erratic, often driven by the need or desire of the moment. But if you become the person that shows up at the same place, at the same time, and consistently represents Jesus, being a vessel of mercy and a safe place in the hectic world they live in, you stand out and can be found. They know where to find you if they need you and can count on you to help in a world that seems like is always chaotic.
And flexible for the same reason. The life of someone who doesn’t know Christ can be chaotic, but even if it’s not, emergencies happen. Being open and available to serve at the right moment requires a certain amount of flexibility in schedule and priorities. Showing up to help move, babysit, or just talk when things get bad are all significant in-roads we’ve had into the lives of people who don’t know Jesus. Leonard Ravenhill used to say, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.” Nowhere is that as true as in missional living. This has required us to hold lightly to plans and schedules, so we can be available on short notice.
A consistent person will be someone who can be counted on by those whose lives aren’t consistent. A flexible person can respond to a crisis when it comes. But a consistent and yet flexible person is able to meet lost people in both situations and allows us to quickly become helpful to those who don’t know Jesus. This requires us to die to ourselves and live for Christ and His mission in a different way that non-missional living won’t.
Years ago we started serving our community at a local park. We brought food, we played with the kids that were there, and generally loved our neighborhood. The neighborhood began to count on us being at that same place every week. But emergencies and life situations started happening that couldn’t be dealt with on Sundays, so the rest of our lives had to be flexible enough to deal with situations as they came up. It was a busy season for us, but it taught us a great deal about serving people who don’t know Christ.
If you’re struggling with missional living, it may be time to look in the mirror. Are you consistent? Are you flexible? You might be one or the other. Can you be both?
A couple of days ago I wrote about serving people in a way that makes it obvious that God is real and active, not just serving people in a way that an atheist or agnostic can serve them. Some of the examples I gave are praying for the sick to be healed and hearing things that only God can speak to people and sharing them. You’d be forgiven if you thought I was making an argument for the supernatural. I was.
But there is another “tool” we have that the Buddhists, Atheists, or other “ists” don’t have: The Gospel. This retelling of the life of Jesus as the doorway for God drawing near to mankind isn’t just a story we tell people to convince them God is real. It *is* the power of God. Literally telling people the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and soon return unleashes the power of God in the lives of those you tell it to.
When we do share the Gospel with people, we unleash Christ’s power to transform a person. This story of God offering His leadership in spite of our sin because of the sacrifice of Jesus is the story that will fix every human issue. It will fix poverty, because it fixes the brokenness of the human heart hat causes people to be unproductive, greedy, and wasteful. The Gospel heals the sexual perversion that is killing us because it tells us about a God who loves us despite what we’ve done or what’s been done to us. Literally, the Gospel is a seed of life that transforms a person from the inside out.
Now, people share the Gospel all the time and nothing happens. Sometimes, it’s because the Gospel isn’t shared from a heart of faith and encounter. No one will believe you’re message of transformation if you haven’t tasted the transformation in your own life. But other times, people remain under the power of the evil one after hearing the message. Jesus told us this would happen (Mark 4). But if we share the Gospel from a heart that has been changed by its message, we will inevitably see it give birth to new disciples.
So you may not be good at praying for the sick. You may not think you hear God well enough to tell people what He’s saying. Both of these things are things you can (and should try to) get better at. But everyone can share the Gospel. Everyone can share what Christ has done in their lives and connect it to what Christ has done for humanity. Every time we do this, it’s an open door to access the power of God to see a broken human life transformed.
Do you want the power of God? Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel. Share it.
Often in pursuit of a more missional, incarnational lifestyle we spend a lot of time serving people. We feed the poor, help where help is needed, and act as family for people who are not yet part of God’s family. Our hope is that in doing these things, people see the love of Jesus, hear the Gospel, and turn to Christ. This is good and part of God’s plan to draw people to Himself.
Let’s not forget, though, that Buddhists and atheists feed the poor, help where help is needed, and even act as family to those who aren’t part of God’s family. While these are all things God’s word instructs us to do, they are also things humans can do.
Without stopping doing these things, we should also begin to seek to do the things only God can do. We can listen to the Holy Spirit while we are serving people and see what He is saying. Then say it. One word from the Holy Spirit will unlock someone’s heart. If we’re serving someone and find out they are hurting or sick, we should pray for them, right then and there. God can and does heal and healing is a sign that the Kingdom of God has drawn close to people who are far away from God.
So don’t stop being servants or feeding the poor, but in all your doing, make room for God to do the things only God can do. Let’s introduce people to a God who can do more than just what nice humans can do. Let’s show them Christ who can do what only God can do.