Discipleship (as it was designed by Jesus) was meant to be passed on. Each of us, regardless of our spiritual status were designed to grow into spiritual fathers and mothers who encourage and raise other spiritual sons and daughters. But often we don’t because we think discipleship is more complicated than it needs to be.
In order for the Gospel to move from generation to generation, from house to house, or from person to person, it needs to be a simple message and an encounter with a person: Jesus Christ. Think of the church in China, or the church in India, or the church in the Middle East. Without seminaries, Sunday schools, buildings, and in some cases without even Bibles the Gospel has spread to more people than our Western minds can get our heads around.
Our complaint about growth like this is that these people can’t truly be real disciples. In order for this kind of gospel explosion to take place, surely the people can’t have deep walks with Jesus!
I would challenge that assumption. These people preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, taught to them by others. In these places, the act of being baptized can be a death sentence, not to mention sharing the Gospel and teaching others to obey Jesus. Many of them consider their time in prison to be a seminary of sorts, where they learn lessons from Jesus. These same people are constantly spreading the Gospel and raising up new disciples. Many have seen miraculous healing and heard God’s voice clearly. This certainly sounds deep to me.
Often what we mean by deep is a type of discipleship that is focused on our minds. We feel like if we are educated, we will disciple people better. We’ve even created programs that saddle our fieriest believers with large amounts of debt in order to learn how to be good leaders. For those who don’t go to seminary, we often provide long hours of training before we release them into “ministry.” This approach often slows the spread of the Gospel.
Friends, this is different than the model Jesus gave us. Jesus didn’t say go into all the world and teach people Greek and Hebrew. He didn’t sit down and have a systematic theology class with His disciples before He sent them out. He was looking for men whose hearts had been wrecked by the goodness of the Father and the Kingdom of God. When He had enough of them, He taught them simple stories that illustrated truth and asked them to pass that Gospel on. He wasn’t afraid to give these men the clear truth and let them run with it.
The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.
– Charles Spurgeon
Our discipleship has to be able to work with only a Bible and a willing heart. We should be able to teach others how to follow Christ by our example and by teaching them how to read and apply God’s word. This not only spreads rapidly but if done well will create the kind of believers that make disciples who make disciples.
Often, our responsibility is to not let things get too complicated. If we can do that, the Gospel will spread further than we can possibly imagine.
For more on discipleship, check out these posts:
Yesteday I had a follower on Twitter ask me a question in response to a quote I posted by John Wesley. (This is a great time to mention, if you’re not following me on Twitter, you should.)
This was followed up by the following comments:
First, let me say that these type of questions are fairly common within the body of Christ. The sister from above was talking about a split between what average believers can/should share and the type of teaching that can/should happen in a church building. Even within the house church movement, I’ve met brothers and sisters who don’t believe they can make disciples or start house churches.
Much of this thinking comes from an over-complication of roles within the body of Christ. Somewhere along the way, each body seems to decide that there are certain people who could/should “lead” others and deal with difficult truth, while the rest should leave that job to those who can/should. This type of thinking keeps us from reaching the God-given potential, not just that we as individuals have, but that the body of Christ as a whole has.
Let’s start with some facts: Jesus tells the apostles that they are to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded them. Most of us think that involves things like loving our neighbor, forgiving, etc. And while all of that is true, we often forget that one of the commands of Jesus that we are supposed to teach is the one where He commands us to teach others to obey everything He commanded. The task hasn’t been completed until we’ve taught others to teach still more people to obey Christ in every way.
If you think about it, this has been happening, to some degree, for hundreds, nearly thousands, of years. Obeying Jesus is being passed from one person to another so that to this day there are still millions, if not billions, following Christ. Paul described this same process in 2 Timothy 2:2 where he told Timothy “[t]he things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Paul wanted the Gospel to get passed down to multiple generations of believers because he had learned from someone else that his job was to disciple the nations the way Jesus commanded.
Brothers and sisters, that command hasn’t changed. There isn’t a lack of need for that kind of obedience just because there are many churches in our cities or because we have books, podcasts, and seminaries. The whole body of Christ should be walking out the Great Commission in some way in their lives. If you are a disciple of Jesus, you should be able to fully disciple others to the place where they can disciple still more people. This is a function of maturity, not special gifting and we should all want to grow up in Christ to the place where we are discipling others.
So while I’m hugely encouraged by churches that empower believers to share the gospel and teach the basics of the faith, I long for the church to empower believers to fully disciple and raise up believers wherever they are. Its only when we do this will we reach people who would never darken the door of the church. When we live out this reality we become the movement Jesus started and intended, doing the things he commanded.
*For the record, I actually love the passion in our sister’s question, because she is taking sharing the gospel and simple discipleship seriously.
Often I have conversations with brothers and sisters in the West about house churches. After enough conversations about house churches with people, you start to recognize the books people have read already by the way they talk. And I inevitably have the same advice for people: Learn from the church around the globe.
Why do I tell this to those interested in house church? I find that in the United States, the house church movement1 is a movement of choice. We don’t have to be a part of a house church in order to survive as believers. It’s voluntary. There are very few economic realities that force meeting in homes. And I think because of this, those who chose to be part of a house church come in for a few different reasons: pain or purpose.
Pain is a regular reason people I know choose house churches. They express it different ways. Sometimes they express it through tears with stories of how more traditional churches have hurt them2. Others express it through stories of burnout that begin in a traditional church and end with them swearing never to do what caused them to burn out again. Often those I talk to have a sense of being cheated when they find out church can exist without the traditional trappings. Sometimes, not always but sometimes, I’m concerned about the level of bitterness in these discussions.
Purpose is the other reason people find their way into house churches in the US. This is usually expressed in the fact that people began studying the nature of the church and realized that many of the churches they see don’t match what the Bible describes as church. These purists attempt to build a church that is faithful to what they see in the New Testament, with differening results.
Regardless of which of these two doors3 people choose, the result is often pride. Whether that pride is expressed in “I’m not going to be the same kind of church that hurt me” or “I’m more biblical than the church I used to be a part of” or “We have the true angle on what church is,” the result is an attitude that Jesus says leaves us unjustified before God.
Which is why it’s so important for the house church movement in America to learn from the church around the world. There are precious, precious saints in China, Iran, India, Africa, and South America that have practiced church that meets in homes because they love Jesus and this is the only type of church they have known. They are stunned by the love of God that they have found. They know what it means to live in true community. They aren’t ashamed of the Gospel and are willing to give their lives for their fellow brothers and sisters to hear it. Being part of a house church and coming to Christ are the same experience, without any pride.
I remember being in a coffee shop with an Ethiopian before I ever traveled to Ethiopia. He told me of the glories of Ethiopian coffee, explaining how the use of coffee beans to make coffee started in Ethiopia and then was exported around the world. In each place around the world, the beans began to take on the flavor of the particular new soil in which it was planted. For example, one of the places it went was to an Indonesian island called Java and since that time the island has faded into obscurity, but it’s impact on coffee continues. Today you can buy Brazilian Coffee, Kenyan Coffee, Columbian Coffee, etc., each tasting a bit like the soil it came from. But the truest coffee, my friend argued, –coffee the way God intended it–was grown and prepared in Ethiopia.
This is a fun story. Whenever I think about it, I’m reminded that churches, like coffee beans, take on the flavor of the culture around them. Often, we’re not aware of it because we’ve only “tasted” our flavor of church. Now, we don’t have a church we can go back to in order to see the original, unlike my Ethiopian friends and their coffee. But if we were wise to learn from our friends in the underground house churches around the world, I think we would perhaps get a little bit closer to the church that God designed, untainted by our American experience.
Tomorrow, I’ll share a little about how the church around the Earth has informed what we do. For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’ve been part of a house church (or even a traditional church) how has your experience been informed by the soil of American culture?
1 I’m going to speak in broad generalities here. Please understand there is no way I could ever speak about all house churches as a single, similar unit. That would be like saying all of my kids are the same.
2 Note, by saying this, I’m not saying every traditional church hurts people. Though, I’m sure if we’re humble enough to admit it, every church hurts people, whether it’s their intent or not.
3Again, I’m speaking in generalities. Not everyone comes in through these two doors.
Over the last ten years, God has had me on a journey learning from the Church in the global South and East. Many of these lessons I’ve been able to learn directly from those from other parts of the world. But while I have had the privilege of spending time in other countries with believers I would never meet here, not everyone will have that opportunity. Thankfully, in order to learn from the church in other parts of the world, you don’t need ot be able to afford a plane ticket, you just need to be able to read.
Even earlier than my trips overseas, God was beginning to teach me about His Kingdom through books that were written by saints from other nations. For those of you who haven’t experienced or read much beyond your own borders, the following books can be helpful:
For those of you who remember that my story started in the midst of revival, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that the topic of revival was near and dear to my heart. Early on I started reading books on revivals in the West, but I quickly discovered there were books that talked about revivals going on in other nations of the Earth. This book documents the story of the revival that took place in Argentina over the 80’s and the early 90’s. This revival had ties to what was currently happening in the United States in the mid-90’s and talks about how Argentina was affected by this move of the Spirit. C Peter Wagner’s book not only talked about revival, but it sowed a vision for apostolic church planting in the midst of a move of the Spirit that I had never conisdered before.
I picked up this copy shortly after I read “The Rising Revival.” Carlos Annacondia was featured in that book in a short way. This book is his story of becoming the Pentecostal Billy Graham of Argentina. I think the draw of this book is Annacondia’s reliance on the Holy Spirit to direct him and draw in a harvest, not just hold revival meetings. His meetings were marked by demons being cast out, the sick being healed, and the Holy Spirit filling new converts. I loved seeing how the movement of the Spirit was playing out in a fairly modern nation like Argentina. I should note, while many of the things mentioned in “The Rising Revival” and “Listen to Me, Satan” were pivotal to my spiritual growth, I probably no longer hold to some of their views on how the church is structured like I did back then.
Technically this breaks with my theme of learning from the church of the global South and East, since this book was written by a German. However, much of the insight that Wolfgang shares comes from studying house church planting movements all over the Earth. Most notably, Wolf spent a number of years in India trying to understand what the Lord was doing through the house church movement there with a goal of applying the lessons learned to the church in the West. This book changed my understanding of the nature of the church and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted a good book on house churches.
I read this book a year after I read “Houses That Change the World” and these two books helped change the direction of my life. While Houses was more of a “how to” manual for meeting as a church like in the New Testament, the Heavenly Man read like the book of Acts. This book tells the story of one of the leaders of the underground house church movement in China. Through persecution, Brother Yun spreads the gospel, raises up leaders, and mobilizes the Chinese church to take the gospel back to Jerusalem, the very place that it came from. You will not walk away from this book without being personally inspired and challenged. And, as a bonus, for the first time in reading, I saw a house church movement and the power of the Holy Spirit tied together in a way I hadn’t read about outside of Acts. In many ways it’s why I’m still able to contend for the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a church planting movement. Many of us hear about how God is moving powerfully in the Chinese Church. This book give you a front row seat.
This may be cheating to have two books by the same author. This follow up is not really a sequel, as much as it is Brother Yun’s attempt to teach after having told his story. If you finished reading “The Heavenly Man” and were left wondering “How, then, should we live?” Living Water is the answer. It’s full of solid teaching on the Kingdom of God in the life of a Christian, from a Chinese perspective. Reading this book is like asking Brother Yun to disciple you a little bit each day for a month. It’s well worth your time.
It’s hard to put into words how refreshing this book was. I picked this up last year at the recommendation of some friends. It follows missionary Nik Ripken as he tries to grapple with horrible darkness and incredible fruitlessness that he encounters in Somalia. When he leaves the mission field for a season, he and his wife use the time to meet and research how the church survives and thrives under persecution. The stories he encounters and the people that he writes about are some of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard recently. They pages are also filled with a challenge to endure for Jesus under long-term sustained pressure. This is truly a global book, starting in Africa, moving to Russia, China, and the Middle East. Reading this book will convince you that God can work on your behalf anywhere you go. Because of all of this, this book was my number one book recommendation for last year.
This one deserves a mention though its a book I’m currently working through right now. The book is written by a church historian and a missionary to Thailand. Both of them use their background and education to reveal how we in the West read the Bible through lenses that the original audiences of the Bible never wore. When we do this, according to the authors, we come up with a different message than the one the Bible was intending us to hear. This book has been a fascinating look at concepts like honor/shame and individual/corporate interpretations that I think most Western believers never get exposed to. There is a lot of eye-opening thoughts here. Reading it with an open mind will change (for the good) how you interpret Scripture.
Well, that’s enough for today. I could go on. But my point in listing these books was that you see you can learn from the church around the world without buying a plane ticket.
Many of you have already written me some of the books you’ve read about similar things. If you’ve read a book from an author from a dramatically different part of the world that has strengthened your walk with Christ, leave a comment for us and tell us the name of the book and how it impacted you.
Over the last ten years the Lord has taken me on a journey of learning from the church in other parts of the world. Part of this process has involved me realizing that while there are many good churches here in the United States, there are places in the Earth where the gospel is exploding unlike anything we see here. China, India, and the Middle East are the easiest examples of this. I don’t want to just cheer on the church in other countries, though, I want to learn from their example and take the lessons that are universal and apply them here.
So, in no particular order, here are a few things I’ve learned from the church scattered across the Earth:
- They take the Gospel seriously. Maybe it’s because many of my friends live in a world where the people around them don’t know Jesus, or maybe it’s just that my friends believe the Great Commission more seriously than we do. Whatever the case, I’ve been inspired by friends in Africa who travel many miles into remote villages to share the Gospel with unbelievers.
- Their lives are not their own. Needless to say there is plenty of risk in sharing the Gospel in hostile environments. Some of our friends have taken the Gospel to the least reached places at the risk of losing their lives. These are people with wives and families and yet they trusted God to be with them, and if things go badly, to be with their wives and children.
- Prayer is the foundation of all they do. I’ve never met a fruitful servant of the Lord in Africa who hadn’t given themselves significantly to prayer. The apostolic men that I’ve met in Africa spend time praying for the churches they serve as they travel to those churches. Others have regular times of prayer from midnight to five in the morning. And it’s encouraging to hear the insights they have gained and the fruit they have seen as they continue to persevere in prayer.
- Faithfulness under persecution and in the harvest has formed them. Those who I’ve had the privilege to work with came to Christ in the context of either terrible persecution or incredible awakening. Many had to learn how to follow Jesus when others resisted them. Others learned how to follow the Holy Spirit during seasons where He was moving mightily across their country. But these believers’ consistency in following Jesus during tumultuous times has lead them to be fruitful servants of Jesus.
- They do not see America as the Kingdom of God. This may sound elementary, but I think sometimes Christian Americans still believe that America is a gift to the Earth second only to Jesus Himself. While my African friends and I are thankful for the good America has accomplished, they (and I, because of their example) understand that America has a fair share of weakness. One friend I have regularly reminds us that many of his co-workers who served alongside of him in persecution and revival are now living dull lives chasing the American dream here in the US. Others have clearly warned us about the dangers of the American church condoning sexual immorality. Because they aren’t in the boiling kettle of America or American Christianity, they have helped me to see where our culture doesn’t reflect God’s Kingdom.
The list could continue, but the reality is I’ve been greatly impacted by the church around the Earth. My hope is that by sharing a few of the larger areas where the church in other countries has challenged me, it will encourage you to learn from the church somewhere else. Read a book, listen to a testimony, or better yet, go on a trip to another nation and learn how much bigger God’s Kingdom is than the church in your country.
I guarantee you will not be disappointed!
I grew up very patriotic. It’s safe to say that I believed the United States was the best country on the face of the planet. So when I came to Christ as a teenager and started looking around the landscape of Christianity, it wasn’t hard for me to develop a very “American-Centric” or “Western-Centric” view of Christianity. In my mind, the hot spots of Christianity had gradually moved over the centuries from Jerusalem to Rome to Great Britain, finally landing in America some time over the last two or three hundred years.
About ten years after coming to Christ, I had the privilege of hearing John Cava speak about how the Kingdom of God was expanding in the nations of the world. John shared that he could go to Russia and could start a church in the amount of time most high schoolers have for summer vacation. His argument was that we should spend time engaging in the harvest where there is significant results, not just limiting ourselves to our current locations. I was stirred to see this kind of ministry and learn how it worked.
A year or two after this, a mentor of mine began taking me on trips to Africa. Soon it became clear that not only were there many people coming to Jesus in these other countries, but that my Westernized view of Christianity had led me to believe that I had all the answers and the church in the rest of the world didn’t. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had ended up spending time with spiritually mature figures in the church of Africa. Many of the people I spent time with will never be written about in a magazine or ever write a book, but they had done more than most of the Westerners who had. It was eye-opening.
I think in many of our minds what perpetuates these ideas is a First World vs. Third World mindset that we’ve inherited from previous generations. We look at the world and see the Church in the West with buildings and rights and money and education and think we must be further along than those without those things. But these are the things that puff us up, friends.
Instead, I look at the results of the church in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America and am in awe of what they are accomplishing without those things. Today, many, MANY more people will come to Christ in these regions than they will in the cultural West. And over the years, something has shifted in my heart so that I’m willing to say “If that’s true, maybe we have something to learn from the church in these areas.”
Friends, God has one church. One day it will be made up of a people from every race, tribe, language, and tongue. This church will reflect the incredible diversity of the nations of the Earth. But we as the church in the cultural West must be willing to learn from the rest of the church, or we risk walking in a kind of pride that says we have nothing to learn from anyone else.
We’ll talk about what we can learn from the church around the world in another post. For now, have you experienced learning from Christians in a significantly different culture? Share your story for us to learn.
Jesus never promised us security. While there is a reward for following Christ, we are called to walk a dangerous path that has real implications for our lives. But where does the church fit in? How do the people of God together encourage each other to follow Jesus and not love their lives, even unto death?
Often I hear the church described as a place where believers should be safe. I understand what people mean when they say that, but I don’t know that Jesus meant what we mean when we say safe. I think what we mean is that the church should be a place where people are loved despite their sin. This is true. We don’t want to become a house of Pharisees. But the New Testament church was also a place where those who lied to the apostles died and those who exercised their spiritual gifts where required to submit themselves to the judgment of others. In many of the ways we think about safety, it wasn’t safe.
I think a big part of the challenge is that our culture is obsessed with safety. We have safe spaces and talk about people “being safe.” In some ways, because our culture is not connected with the Gospel, they’ve begun to idolize safety and security over other virtues: love, courage, freedom, etc. In some places, the church has followed suit. This is sad because the church’s job is to disciple believers to love something beyond their own life. Each church we are part of has to become a place where we impart a love for Jesus that compels us to love Christ and others more than we love ourselves.
How do we do this? A particular passage of the The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe has been helpful for me in this process. In this passage, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are telling Lucy, Susan, and Peter about Aslan, who serves as a type of Christ in the story:
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.
As the people of God, we help disciples embrace the danger associated with the Gospel by showing both the willingness to embrace risk for the Gospel and also embracing the goodness of God in the midst of danger. Jesus–who is always and forever good–has not only His Kingdom’s best intentions at heart when He sends asks us to do dangerous things, He has ours as well.
What we all need are followers of Jesus who model the trust in Jesus’ goodness, even when that trust could cost us our very lives. This kind of radical trust reproduces itself in the lives of disciples who witness it. It teaches us that there is a better Kingdom, even then the kind we enjoy in this life, that we are willing to trade this life for. May we all learn how to say, with Shadrack, Meshak, and Abednego: “Our God is able to save us from the fire. But if He doesn’t, we will stand firm.”