discipleship gospel leadership theology

The Difficulty of Balancing Ministry and Discipleship

I’ve found that it can be extremely difficult to continually cultivate the centrality of discipleship, or the process of selectively investing a small number of individuals in order to teach obedience to what Jesus taught (Matthew 28:18-20).

I tend to think of Ministry and Discipleship in two different grids:

Ministry Discipleship
Reactive Proactive
Low relational investment, relative degree of anonymity High degree of vulnerability, involves a long term commitment
Meets immediate, felt needs Transformational and replicating
Often leads to immediate results and draws crowds, results in addition Often painstakingly slow with a few, but results in multiplication

The question to ask, I think, is why is balancing them so difficult?  Why is it so tough to remain faithful to the model of discipleship which Jesus demonstrates?  Here are a couple reasons that distract me:

  1. Ministry often times leads to immediate results and draws crowds (for examples from Luke, see Jesus casting out demonsJesus healing people, and Jesus’ miracles).
  2. Discipleship often is painstakingly slow and difficult with one step forward and two steps back (Peter confesses Jesus as the Christthen immediately denies him, and the disciples making mistakes).
  3. Ministry tends to involve a much lower level of relational investment, and for both parties there is a relative degree of anonymity (crowds don’t know who Jesus is).
  4. Discipleship requires a high degree of vulnerability for both parties (Jesus weeps in front of his disciples).

Both types of investment in people are important (see Pauls discussion about he and Apollos in 1 Corinthians 3), but the two are designed for the purpose creating multiplying disciples who participate in the Great Commission.  To do one to the exclusion of the other is to be patently unbiblical in our approach to either.

Ministry, however, needs to have an end in discipleship (the public ministry of Jesus reaches its pinnacle in Luke with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ), and discipleship should utilize ministry for teaching (Jesus had his disciples observing most of his public ministry) and as an entry point into relational investment for discipleship (Jesus teaches and performs miracles before calling his disciples).

I find in myself, however, that the design of what I am calling ministry often is easiest to default because it offers quick successes and I can remain fairly distant from those to whom I am ministering.

The process of discipleship is exhausting, inconvenient, and difficult, which make it so much easier to simply enjoy the fruits of ministry (just like the seventy-two after returning from Jesus assigned task) rather than labor with love toward replication.

I am thankful that Jesus did not simply minister to the crowds, but instead remained faithful to the twelve. The movement of the Gospel hinged so much on their faithfulness to replicating disciples.  You don’t hear much throughout the rest of the New Testament about the crowds or those whom Jesus did something miraculous, but the disciples were at the epicenter of the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Let us remain faithful to a few, while ministering to many, in hopes that God would redeem and renew all things!

church pastoring theology

The Church and The Surprising Offense of God’s Love

I’ve been reading The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love by Jonathan Leeman, and although I’ve had some disagreements with the book, it has been an excellent read.   I wanted to share a few quotes that have been particularly challenging for me.

Below is a good challenge to teaching “community” as the solution to our problems in the church rather than the gospel:

When the theologian or pastor talks the talk of relationship and community rather than the talk of obedience and holiness, he just might be hawking a postmodern prosperity gospel. The poor man’s prosperity gospel is: “Never mind all that stuff about obedience and holiness; Jesus wants to make you rich and happy!” But many of us today in the West are rich. We don’t need the poor man’s prosperity gospel. Rather, we suffer from ennui, angst, and media overload. The relationships we do have are shallow and unsatisfying, so the intellectual sophisticate offers a postmodern prosperity gospel instead: “Never mind all that stuff about obedience and holiness; Jesus will give you relationships, purpose, community.

Next, some thoughts regarding the degradation of external authority, and the true problem of individualism:

I do not believe that the communitarian proposal provides any true antidote to individualism and its corollaries such as consumerism. They argue that community is the antidote to individualism. It’s not, which brings us to one of the central themes of this book: the real problem is anti-authority-ism. At the risk of sounding like the late modernist Friedrich Nietzsche or the radical postmodernist Michel Foucault, it’s all about power. At the risk of sounding like a fundamentalist Sunday school teacher, it’s all about disobedience. Some contemporary writers get this; others don’t. It’s not quite enough to say that the problem of modernity was individualism, because the term is too vague. The problem bequeathed by Descartes and everyone of his ilk is more accurately described as autonomous individualism—auto-nomos meaning “self law”—where we’re letting the adjective, not the noun, do the real work of making our point. The solution to individualism is not community. The solution—one fears to say it without pages of qualifications—is to reintroduce a conception of submission to God’s revealed will as it’s located in the local church. The campaign that Western culture has been waging for several centuries for the individual has been a campaign waged against all forms of authority. From elementary school through graduate school, Western educators have taught us to question authority: the authority of the church because of what it did to Galileo; the authority of the king because of his usurpations; the authority of the majority because of its tyrannies; the authority of males because of their exercise of brute strength and acts of oppression; the authority of the Bible because of its alleged contradictions; the authority of science because of its paradigm shifts; the authority of philosophy because of its language games; the authority of language because it has been deconstructed; the authority of parents because they’re not cool; the authority of the market because of its extravagant inequalities; the authority of the police because of their fire hoses and night sticks; the authority of religious leaders because they’ll make us drink the Kool-Aid; the authority of the media because of its biases; the authority of superpowers because of their imperialism. Are there any authorities left to question? When it comes to what we should believe and how we should live, a ubiquitous suspicion of authority lurks in the minds of most Westerners today, in part because we’re familiar with authority’s savage history of abuses.

With respect the previous thoughts, below is the solution Leeman proposes:

The solution to individualism is not community. The solution—one fears to say it without pages of qualifications—is to reintroduce a conception of submission to God’s revealed will as it’s located in the local church.

His basic argument is that submission the the local church is essential to the nature of biblical community which rightly reflects God’s glory in the world.  We simply cannot reject authority in favor of egalitarian community because it undercuts the very nature and character of God.  This book has been an excellent balance to many of the other books I have been reading as of late.

Finally, in an unrelated note, I found this quote to be helpful in articulating a God-centered view of the value of human life:

What’s interesting to notice in the Genesis 9 passage cited above is why human life is described as “precious”: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (v. 6). The preciousness of human life, it seems, is found entirely in the fact that humans image God. Our worth is derivative. It’s derived from the one we image. Killing a human is wrong not because God loves us more than anything, but because he loves his own glory more than anything.

gospel personal theology

Good Friday – Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53

53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? [1]
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected [2] by men;
a man of sorrows, [3] and acquainted with [4] grief; [5]
and as one from whom men hide their faces [6]
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief; [7]
when his soul makes [8] an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see [9] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, [10]
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, [11]
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

gospel theology

Without the Gospel | Challies Dot Com

The following quote is from John Calvin, via Without the Gospel | Challies Dot Com.

It is some really great stuff, and very much encouraged me yesterday.

Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God. But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free. It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit. If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation [life] is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation [verbal abuse], abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

adoption personal theology

Adoption and Redemption

Reflecting on Ephesians 1:1-14 the other day, God struck me with a profound truth about the very nature of salvation:

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

I’ve certainly reflected on this passage often from a theological perspective, generally focusing on the predestining work of the sovereign God, but also in understanding the theological nature of adoption.  The fresh revelation for me was that I don’t often think of them together with the experience of a loving Father, rather as theologically distinctive aspects of salvation.

Our redemption through the blood of Christ, however, is an experience of the adopting love of a Father, not simply an historical fact.  In the same way that my friend Aaron Ivey longs to rescue his son, so too did God have the same longing as a Father, who sent his only begotten Son as a propitiation and sacrifice for redemption. Reflecting on the earthly process of adoption and fatherhood in general is giving such a fresh perspective on my own theology.  To think of adoption and redemption independently of one another is the residue of cold, theological calculation and divorced from the experience of God as my daddy, and I desperately need God to transform my mind and heart.

My prayer for the coming year is that I would continue to experience the fatherhood of God through the work of Christ.  May the knowledge of my head continue to be fused the affections of my heart.