Archives For discipleship

This post was originally published at the SEND Network website here.

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Building a Disciple-Making Culture

Many people much smarter than me have wrestled with the question “what is culture?”  At the heart of it though, culture is composed of beliefs, values and practices shared by a group of people.  Building a disciple-making culture in the local church is driven by foundational beliefs, shared values and common practices.

Beliefs

When it comes to core beliefs in a disciple-making culture, the fundamental belief that drives movements is the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  While there are many orthodox truths that all churches must believe, the foundation of the church is Christ’s person and work, and a disciple-making culture is built on the foundation that Christ’s death and resurrection prove his Lordship over all creation.

If Christ is Lord, then Christ is worthy of worship and obedience!  A culture of disciple-making makes this explicit and fundamental by every means possible.

Values

Beliefs express themselves in values in a culture.  Values are manifestations of beliefs amongst a particular group of people.  When it comes to a disciple-making culture, one of the key values is the priesthood of all believers – the idea that everyone has a part to play in making disciples.

A disciple-making culture won’t be widespread until leaders in the church believe that everyone has a role to play in ministry and mission.  The greatest barrier to disciple-making movements in America is that we cater to consumers in our churches rather than expecting everyday people to get off the bench and play in the game.  Disciple-making isn’t for experts, it is for everyone who believes Christ is Lord!

Practices

In addition to shared beliefs and values, a disciple-making culture is committed to simple, reproducible and transferrable practices.  A football team can believe they need to score touchdowns and value winning, but without a clear game plan and playbook, chances are good they won’t win a game!  One of the challenges in establishing a disciple-making culture is providing a simple, understandable way to live out the vision.

Leaders often make discipleship so complicated that it requires a Ph.D. to understand, but it’s pretty straightforward.  Living under the Lordship of Christ means committing to reading His word, repenting of sin and believing the gospel, demonstrating the kingdom and sharing the gospel with others.  At the Austin Stone, we embed discipleship in a very simple, reproducible, transferrable tool we call a Life Transformation Group.

These groups are meant to reinforce the basic disciplines of healthy disciples, do it in a reproducible way, and make them easy to multiply with other people.

Conclusion

Finally, it’s important to remember that strong cultures are created over time.  Being committed to the basics for a long period of time can seem tedious, especially for leaders in our day, but creating culture happens by doing simple things repeatedly over time.

The following article was originally posted on the SEND Network site here.

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I am ecstatic that much of the conversation in church planting and church leadership has been moving towards the topic of discipleship.

Books are being written, conferences are being themed and leaders are calling the church to consider the core mission of the church—making disciples of Jesus.

The church is certainly talking about disciple making, but at the core, what is it?

THE GREAT COMMISSION

When it comes to the essentials of disciple-making, the most crucial passage we must consider in all of Scripture is the Great Commission.  In the Gospel of Matthew, it is recounted like this:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)

While the basic content of discipleship is simple, the missing ingredient in most churches is not one of content, but one of obedience in action. As a pastor committed to the local church and making disciples of Jesus, I must consistently remember both the simplicity and the urgency of Jesus’ commission to his first disciples, and recognize that disciple making has not changed in 2000 years.

The Great Commission is commanded on the authority of the risen Christ, who reigns as Lord now and forever. We are also reminded in verse 20 that the Great Commission is pursued with the presence of Jesus, who will be with us in the task of bringing glory to God.

But what is the essential content of disciple making?

Go

The first essential component of making disciples is “go.”  Discipleship at its very core requires obedience to follow Jesus and make him famous in the nations. By God’s design, the gospel will be proclaimed by His people among those who do not yet know Him, and we as God’s people must go to the nations.

While some people are called of God to move overseas to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, every believer in Christ is called to participate in making disciples of the nations.

For some of us, engaging in discipling the nations means intentionally crossing the street to have a conversation.  It means doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality, and showing others how all of life is submitted to the reign and rule of Christ—even buying groceries, coaching soccer or enjoying hard work to the glory of God.

Baptize

In addition to going, disciples of Jesus are commanded to baptized.  Baptism is primarily about identifying with Jesus and his lordship.  Baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality that we no longer live for ourselves, but for the sake of God and his glory.

Baptism is a clear reminder of our new identity in Christ, and a reminder to those who have participated in this ordinance that we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection.  The church of God must tell the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and if people respond in repentance and faith, we must baptize them!

Teach to Obey

After baptism, we must be committed to the final command and teach people to obey. Disciple-making involves both teaching content and obedience.  At the very core of discipleship are the commands of Jesus.

If you were to ask the people you are leading “what are the basic commands of Jesus?” what would they say? In my experience, many people in our churches and ministries are woefully lacking when it comes to knowing the basics of the teachings of Jesus like repent and believe the gospel, love God and your neighbor, give generously, serve the poor, make disciples and many others.

While the basic content of discipleship is simple, the missing ingredient in most churches is not one of content, but one of obedience in action. Part of being an effective disciple maker is to expect people to actually obey the commandments that Jesus gave us. Quite simply, if you are teaching great content but not holding people accountable to obeying the commands of God, you are not making disciples of Jesus!

Conclusion

While this post may seem rudimentary to many, the simplest and most foundational truths are often the ones that become assumed.  The moment you assume something, you lose sight of its importance and begin searching for other things to fill its place.  Discipleship at its essence is incredibly simple—Go, Baptize, Teach to Obey.  We complicate discipleship when we make it about anything more than those simple things.

Much of what I have written here in the past focuses on the formative work of discipline in the church – discipleship.  Within Scripture, however, we also find another form of corrective discipline, commonly called “church discipline”.  This series forms the basics for a primer I wrote for The Austin Stone to understand church discipline.

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Frequently Asked Questions – Church Discipline

Matthew 18:17 says we are to treat a person as a Gentile or tax-collector, which is just an unbeliever in my understanding. Why wouldn’t we eat with a person who is an unbeliever?

This seems to be good logic based on Jesus’ behavior in the gospel of Matthew, and it would indeed be appropriate to eat with a professing nonbeliever. Likewise in the case of someone who has been excommunicated, meals should be shared only on the condition that they profess to no longer be a believer in Christ.

In this case, we have the biblical mandate to love them with the affection of Christ Jesus, and to consistently share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for their sin.

If however the hard-hearted brother or sister still confesses to be a Christian and yet lives in open rebellion to the explicit commands of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 5:11 gives us clarity on Matthew 18 that we are to “not even eat with such a one.”

Isn’t church discipline judgmental?  I thought we were not supposed to pass judgment on one another!

This is an excellent question as well, and thankfully, the Bible is not silent to it. Again, we refer to 1 Corinthians 5:12-13:

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

After indicating that we are not to eat with a person who confesses Christ but lives in open rebellion, Paul tells us in this verse that we are not to judge “outsiders” – those who are not Christians – but we actually do have the mandate to judge those inside the church. And we judge insiders through Jesus’ prescribed course of discipline.

This is not the self-righteous judgment that says, “How dare you!” or “I am better than you,” but rather the loving judgment of the elders and the church that, based on the evidence of a person’s open rebellion, they may not be born again and are certainly resisting the Spirit. We lovingly and with great grief remove them from fellowship for the church’s purity and their good, as to bring about repentance.

Church discipline is never a punishment that we give for sin – Christ took all the punishment for sin on the cross! Rather, church discipline is a loving, heartfelt rebuke that comes with great grief on behalf of those who are meting the discipline.

Finally, we want to reiterate that the objective of discipline is repentance and restoration. If the person who has been removed from fellowship repents, we are to receive them gladly back into the church and restore them gently!

Additional Resources

If you would like to study the topic of church discipline further, below are some suggested resources:

What have you found to be helpful in processing through this critical practice of the church?

Much of what I have written here in the past focuses on the formative work of discipline in the church – discipleship.  Within Scripture, however, we also find another form of corrective discipline, commonly called “church discipline”.  This series forms the basics for a primer I wrote for The Austin Stone to understand church discipline.

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The Outcome of Church Discipline

As we have faithfully practiced discipline as a body, we are overjoyed that in almost every circumstance the individual has been brought to repentance and restored with joy.

As to how we receive repentant brothers and sisters back into the fold, Paul gives us a very clear admonition in his letter to the Galatians:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:1-2)

As a grace-filled community of Christ-followers, we have the privilege to welcome and restore a brother or sister who has repented with great joy!  In the same way that God rejoices in the repentance of His children, so too should the church of God rejoice and restore a brother or sister who has turned from their sin. This means that we all forgive our brother or sister and seek their restoration in the community.

The church of God is the place where sinful people can forgive, restore, and rejoice together in a God who rescues us from our sin!

In the case of the unrepentant Christian, the process of discipline should produce a great brokenness for that person and a deep sense of urgent love for that brother or sister to repent of their sin.  Although we cannot associate with a brother continuing in sin, we can love them through persistent prayer and pleas to come back to the fountain of joy, Jesus.

A Prayer for The Church

It is our sincerest hope that as we pursue faithfulness to the Word of God, that He would produce the outcome Peter prayed for in the churches of Asia:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. (1 Pe. 1:22-23)

As we seek holiness, may it produce in us a sincere love for one another and an earnest worship of our great Redeemer, Jesus!

Much of what I have written here in the past focuses on the formative work of discipline in the church – discipleship.  Within Scripture, however, we also find another form of corrective discipline, commonly called “church discipline”.  This series forms the basics for a primer I wrote for The Austin Stone to understand church discipline.

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The Process of Church Discipline 

The elders of The Austin Stone have studied, prayed and labored over the process of discipline as we put it into practice in our community.

Before we even begin to talk about the process of discipline, each and every step is covered in prayer and always practiced in plurality.  Through this, we ensure that multiple individuals are thinking sincerely and soberly about any given circumstance.

If we are made aware of or receive an accusation of sin, the first step an elder takes is to determine if that information is accurate. We lovingly approach the individual accused as well as the accuser with questions about the situation.

After careful observation, prayer, and consulting with one another, our elders will typically discern a process of restoration and give some practical guidelines for repentance. Each circumstance is unique and treated with a great deal of wisdom from Scripture and careful attention to the individuals involved.

The repentance process is usually overseen by a particular elder with great care over a period of time. We have seen God work in power through this kind of discipline – He has reconciled marriages, freed individuals from perpetual sin, and unified broken relationships between believers.

In a small minority of cases, individuals remain hard-hearted, and we then involve their wider community or close friends, which has resulted in some repentance.

Finally, should an individual persist in sin, we bring it before the church – our partners at the individual’s particular campus in most circumstances. In the life of our church we have seldom had to do this, but occasionally we will need the body of Christ to know about a hard-hearted brother or sister.

The hope of informing the body in the circumstances above is not to punish or shame the person in sin, but to help the body pray for and – as appropriate – lovingly challenge that person to consider their heart and seek repentance. We know that if not for God’s grace to us we would all be in a similar situation, so we beg him for more mercy for ourselves and that individual.

A Few Practical Concerns

When the elders inform the body of an individual who is unrepentant, we often receive a number of questions, such as:

  • What happens if I see this person in public?
  • How do we respond to their family?
  • What did that person do?

Much of how we handle these scenarios is rooted in our understanding of Paul handling something similar:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Co. 5:11)

We believe this text gives us guidelines for how to handle someone who will not change – we remove the intimate fellowship of communal life together, which most often occurs around meals.

The heart of Paul, and the rest of the Scriptures, is that every believer who comes in contact with an unrepentant brother or sister cannot pretend that nothing is wrong. We have the obligation to love that person, and to love them in this case is to remind them of their continued ongoing sin.  We simply cannot be in their presence without the acknowledgement of their ongoing disobedience.

In the same way unrepentant sin grieves the heart of God, unrepentant sin grieves God’s church. In the same way God cannot tolerate sin apart from faith in the work of Christ, God’s church also cannot tolerate unrepentant sin from someone not seeking faith in Christ.