Intentional Battle: Recovering the Disciplines

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Within the sphere of church planting, there’s much talk about the Great Commission—Christ’s command for the church to “go and make” disciples (Mt. 28:18–20).

While some are going and being sent, the struggle is real. I hear the confessions and feel the angst of many planters. My heart and prayers are with always with you—it’s lonely, depressing (at times), and an uphill spiritual battle (home, streets, & church).

So, I would like to encourage you today with some sound advice.

The words of Christ are powerful, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). The urgency to stay plugged in and get back to the basics, carry the purpose and veracity of the spiritual disciplines.

Let’s re-examine a few—

Prayer

You have been called to a specific and courageous task. You have been awarded enemy territory for the kingdom. Like Joshua, God speaks to your heart, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9; Matt. 28:20).

However, I think we march off to war without getting the day’s battle plan. As Martin Luther once declared, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” We neglect the spiritual discipline of prayer—connecting to our Lord and Master. By example, Jesus demonstrated the importance of being alone with God: “he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matt. 14:23).

Let’s ask the question: how many hours do you devote to prayer? Do you set aside alone time with the Almighty? Maybe things are so busy that you need to write down your daily thoughts in a prayer journal? Or utilize an App like Evernote?

Note-taking and journaling allow you to quickly jot down needs/concerns and pick them up later— praying over the contents? Prayer journaling sets up intentional organization, which leads to good discipline—especially during times of trial. Try it; click here for some cool affordable prayer journals, or here (and here) for some special ones.

The Word

            Jesus is the Word (Jn. 1:1, 1:14; Rev. 19:13). Jesus declared, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). The work of the Holy Spirit is to teach us all about Jesus and to glorify God (Jn. 16:6–15). Therefore, studying and being in connection with the Word of God brings us into connection with the Trinitarian Godhead.

Assuredly, you read the Word of God when you felt called into church planting. But perhaps over time, you’ve been so busy that you neglect your time in the Word?

How important is praying over what you’re about to read? In my book Sanctificagious: The Sanctifying & Contagious Fire of Scripture, I mention how vital it is to seek God’s heart and wisdom before reading. I believe that! There is something holy and devout about getting into the Scriptures—there should be a fire within us that becomes contagious.

The spiritual discipline of reading the Word for transformation, challenge, and change becomes neglected when we count our “ministry” more important than our spiritual formation. Reduced down, we’re called to be disciples of Christ, first and foremost. Following a daily schedule of reading through the Bible (and not hunting for verses) should be a foundation for our spiritual growth.

Fasting

Let’s be honest—this is probably the most neglected discipline of all. But, the reality is that you’re encountering spiritual forces of wickedness—celestial giants of deception and evil (Eph. 6:10–18). You need focus for the task at hand and protection from the adversary. Fasting sets aside the carnal for the spiritual. You enter the realms of spiritual warfare.

Jesus didn’t say, if you fast, but joined fasting with an expectation of “when” (Mt. 6:16). We should have intentional periods of fasting. Fasting sets the Spirit in control of the flesh. From the onset of creation, man has been tempted by food—and miserably failed.

The enemy knows our weaknesses and our need for sustenance. Humanity must have food for nourishment, but there are times when it is better to remember, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Sacrificing food, not to manipulate God, but for a closer walk with God is vital. Fasting replaces eating with prayer and nourishment with God’s presence.

Devotionals

While it is imperative to have time to study the Scriptures and to reflect upon God’s magnificent grandeur and sovereignty, devotional reading can be necessary. There are many great men of the faith that have poured out their souls with the pen. We should look to their inspiration to encourage our journey, walking with them.

Devotionals should bring glory to God, exalt Christ, and challenge us by the Holy Spirit. They should manifest the presence of God. I would recommend that you read them with a pen—meaning, take notes as you scour over the pages. Don’t read for completion, but reflection. Take your time—it’s not a race. Pick it up. Put it down. Think. Pray. Meditate. These should be used as field manuals for your journey.

Here are just a few that have inspired me:

  • My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers
  • Prayer Treasury, Richard Foster
  • The Imitation of Christ, Thomas A Kempis
  • The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard
  • A Serious Call To a Devout and Holy Life, William Law
  • The Confessions, Saint Augustine
  • The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of Religious Imagination, Esther De Waal
  • The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Recalculating Discipleship

Recalculating—Recalculating—Recalculating. You’ve probably heard those words. I’m guilty. If I’m not sure of the address, I plug it in my smart phone and drive. Sometimes I’ll hear—make a U-turn—this usually happens when I’m not paying attention.

I’ve been driving for thirty years. Growing up in New York there were hundreds of highways and expressways: north, south, east, and west—even diagonally! As I began to venture out, I would grab a paper map and write the directions down on a piece of paper. The first time in the City was a little nerve-racking—cabs don’t slow down—or use blinkers! But always, with directions in hand, I set out, carefully observing signs, buildings, road conditions, and routes. I quickly learned my way around an unknown place. The next time I went, I knew where I was headed, and stopped at some great delis (NY is known for their delicatessens—and super good ethnic foods).

But technology has made things easier! I’ve been living in Richmond for almost five years—confession—I still rely on my smartphone. As I was driving it hit me—this is a great analogy regarding discipleship—and I believe it’s time for recalculating—for the church to make a U-turn.

Everything traditional is not bad and everything new is not good. The modern church has become so enamored with growth and numbers that we’ve neglected discipleship. But, we have a mandate and command from Christ, to go and make disciples and be disciples (Mt. 28:18–20). Unfortunately, what we label as discipleship is someone lecturing about what the Bible says.

I notice that when I use my smartphone’s directions, it’s easy—I just follow the voice—but I rarely pay attention to the actual side streets, buildings, billboards, and such. Basically, I’m not learning or navigating the area—I’m just driving it.

I think the modern church views discipleship this way. We’re not learning how to navigate life with others in Christ. We’re listening to the pastor or Sunday school teacher speak, or even small group leader in discussion, but we’re rarely engaging what the message means, applying it, and watching where it takes us. We’re not observing the “streets” of life—we’ve boxed up discipleship and are selling it as a program or format.

Discipleship is becoming more like Christ. It’s living with others and cannot be done in isolation. Discipleship is about learning and navigating gospel-centered life with others. It’s not about getting to a destination (namely, heaven). The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

The church needs to make a U-turn, back to the 1st century principles of devotion, fellowship, and discipleship. It’s time for us to recalculate where we’re headed—to be intentional about our direction—not blindly moving along in our faith, but growing in maturity and dedication.

Are Church Planting and Disciple-Making the Same Thing?

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This article is posted in September 2016’s issue of Church Planter Magazine.

            Let’s get right to it. This is becoming a hot topic.

I’ve heard the arguments, “We shouldn’t call it church planting—it should be called sowing the gospel,” or “Let’s call it missional disciple-making,” or how about this one, “Nowhere in the Bible does it command disciples to plant churches”—and the list goes on and on.

So, to find our answers, let’s go to the source, the Word.

Why do we plant churches? The answer: to obediently follow the Great Commission, right? Why do we make disciples? The answer: to obediently follow the Great Commission, right? So which is it? Is it one, and not the other? Are both synonymous? Are they interchangeable? What does the Bible say…?

What is the Great Commission?

What is the Great Commission? At the close of Matthew’s Gospel, he records a missionary meeting with Jesus and the disciples (Mt. 28:16–20). The resurrected Christ was given ultimate authority as the cosmic king and would provide his presence on a continual mission to baptize and make disciples of people from all nations. The Commission from Christ ordered the newly assembled Israel to go forth into the world with a mandate, a mission, and a promise.[1]

Matthew’s “Great Commission” displays an all-encompassing divine rule of Christ; Jesus has “all authority” (28:18), sending his disciples to “all nations” (28:19), to obey “all that” he commanded (28:20), being with them “all” of their days (28:20).[2] The Great Commission exalts Jesus as the missional Lord over all the earth and all people, sending obedient servants to teach everyone how to rightly serve and obey him. Lastly, Jesus reassured his disciples that his perpetual presence would be with them throughout their missional days. The Immanuel, God with us—has been fulfilled.

Are We Making Disciples or Church Planting?

Most notably within the Great Commission is the command to make disciples and to “baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). Baptism becomes a major part of the command—along with teaching people to obey Christ’s commands (28:20).

Interestingly, within the New Testament (NT), we read that Paul did not baptize the Corinthian church (Acts 18:8b; 1 Cor.1:13–17)—so, then who did? If Paul was sent to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:14–17) then we believe baptism was an ordinance that belonged to the local church.[3] Christian baptism was the first obedient action of a new convert and “an expression of solidarity with Jesus.”[4] Through baptism, new disciples identified with Christ and were initiated into his community of followers. John Lightfoot expressed to make disciples signified to, “bring them in by baptism, that they may be taught.”[5]

So, the church baptizes new converts with the expectation of them becoming obedient Great Commission disciples. While there are a few examples of individuals receiving baptism within the NT (Eunuch & Centurion; Acts 8:27–36, 10:47–48), a question was posed whether someone could prevent the person from being baptized. The new convert was baptized and became a member of the body of Christ, with an expectation, of himself, being discipled and a disciple-maker. It’s reciprocal.

Can We Have One Without the Other?

We can have discipleship without church planting (sort of), but we cannot have church planting without discipleship—if that makes sense. In certain circumstances, church planting and disciple-making are interchangeable, but they’re also unique. In essence, a church planter must make disciples who will gather together and become a church (ekklesia).

But, if a planter merely gathers people, but lacks the observance of the ordinances (baptism & Communion) and does not teach obedience to Christ’s commands then it’s never a church—it may be partial discipleship—or mentorship, but not a church. Yet we know that discipleship occurs more effectively within a community of believers that engage and apply Christ-like actions to the daily rhythms of life. As the word ekklesia implies, the church are “called out ones” that gather together.

As well, the uniqueness of the terminology shows that an existing church can (and should) be engaged in discipleship—but they may not be engaged in church planting. One may argue (and rightly so) that if you’re not church planting then your not making disciples, or applying the Great Commission. Technically speaking (I despise that term), if you’re not church planting then you’re not following the Great Commission. Why?

Church Planting Fulfills the Great Commission

Ott and Wilson declare, “Church planting is essential to God’s salvation purposes and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”[6] In my opinion, church planting is discipleship, so I agree with Ott and Wilson. I don’t think a planter can effectively sow the gospel into a community of people without making disciples (see what I did there?). In this aspect, church planting is directly related to and engaged in discipleship.

By obediently following Christ’s directives, we may say that church-planting reaches unreached peoples, gathers them together to form an ekklesia, baptizes them, and makes disciples of them by teaching them the commands of Christ; thereby, fulfilling the Great Commission. Essentially and foundationally, church planting is disciple-making and disciple-making (done right) is church planting. Therefore, church planting obediently fulfills the Great Commission to make disciples—the two cannot be divorced from one another.

[1] Michael W. Goheen, Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History, and Issues (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 61.

[2] David L. Turner, Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 687.

[3] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission: Paul and the Early Church, vol. 2 (Leicester, England: IVP Academic, 2004), 1370.

[4] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2005), 1268.

[5] John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 379.

[6] Craig Ott and Gene Wilson, Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 20.