The people of God must have a visible, tangible, experiential shape. This is not, however, simply a sociological or organizational necessity. It is essential to the mission Dei. The witness to God’s loving and saving work in history is through the people God calls and sets apart for this mission. Every mission community is a historical witness to the work of God being carried out; it is concrete evidence of God’s purposeful action. This is what the Holy Spirit does: it forms mission communities so that the gospel may be incarnated in particular places, to be the witness to Jesus Christ.
Category Archives: Discipleship
Yesterday was a crazy day. It was one of those days where I needed to be in 10 places all at the same time. I am trying to be more aware when I feel this way so that I can slow down and not rush. Because I had slowed down, I got into a conversation. Actually it was not a conversation but just me listening. When I could tell that this was the route the interaction was going to take my first desire was to disengage as quickly as possible. After all there were things that needed to be done.
Thankfully God did not let that happen. I continued to listen and I could see a change come over the other person even though I didn’t say anything or offer any help. The longer they talked the more life came into their eyes and their countenance seemed to lift. As I saw this happen, I began to focus more on the person. I asked a couple of small questions to allow the conversation to continue but they were merely moments of permission for the other person to continue to share what they wanted to share.
The conversation ended naturally. As I left, I felt energized. I saw how grace can be extended through listening. I was also convicted about how much I listen not to extend grace but to prove a point, steer a person in a direction I want them to go, or to highlight something I did. Most of my listening is self-centered. Yesterday reminded me that there is a ministry of grace called listening. God models it well and expects us to also.
All truth must be experienced personally before it is complete, before it is authentic. This truth, that God shapes us, that we are shaped by God, was Jeremiah’s from the beginning. He had lived it in detail. He had been on that potter’s wheel from before his birth. No word would mean more to Jeremiah than this one, formed by God. Jeremiah experienced his life as the created work of God. He was not a random accumulation of cells; he was formed by loving, skilled hands….
The life of faith is very physical. Being a Christian is very much a matter of the flesh – of space and time and things. It means being thrown on the potter’s wheel and shaped, our entire selves, into something useful and beautiful. And when we are not useful or beautiful we are reshaped. Painful, but worth it.
Most churches desire to impact people with the Gospel. For many churches, there is a recognition that people in their community do not know about their church and the great experience they can have at their church. Questions arise, how do we let them know about us? How do we best move our congregation to action to address this question?
This perspective assumes that people have an informational problem about their church. They don’t have the information. The assumption is that if the information was provided in a warm and welcoming format people would show up.
Thomas Rainer, in his book The Unchurched Next Door, states that many unchurched people who come to church will come if brought by a current attendee of the church. “As I have also indicated, inviting them and taking them into the church building is very important.” (Rainer, 246) Even the most resistant groups toward churches that Rainer studied would be open to a personal invitation to church (Rainer, 240). But current attendees are not inviting and the answer many churches arrive at is a professional presentation (advertising blitz) of our church will help them to get over the fear of inviting.
I wonder if in God’s great wisdom the best thing for churches is that the advertising campaigns are not successful. Why would I say such a thing? First if the tools worked, as we dream and pray they would, the churches would be unprepared for the influx of needs, questions, and growth opportunities that this mass of people would bring. They would simply overwhelm the systems of many churches.
Second, they would enjoy a great service but would they be able to engage in a helpful and meaningful way through the rest of the churches’ growth processes? The discipleship systems many churches have in place are not exceptional at producing disciples who actively engage others.
This goes back to the initial problem. People are not active and engaged enough in the community to provide the large scale introduction to their church. Again the problem is that churches’ internal systems are not actively producing, on a large scale, disciples who are impacting their world in a way that causes others to come and see why they are the way they are. It is not an informational problem, it is a discipleship problem.
A people’s lives are only as good as their worship. The temple in Jerusalem was the architectural evidence of the importance of God in the life of the people. All the lines of life crisscrossed in the temple. Meaning was established there. Values were created there. Worship defines life. If worship is corrupt, life will be corrupt. For fifty-five years lust and violence in the temple had percolated into the streets and homes and villages of the nation. Josiah began by cleaning up the temple.
Jeremiah ends inconclusively. We want to know the end, but there is no end. The last scene of Jeremiah’s life shows him, as he had spent so much of his life, preaching God’s word to a contemptuous people (Jer 44). We want to know that he was finally successful so that, if we live well and courageously, we also will be successful. Or we want to know that he was finally unsuccessful so that , since a life of faith and integrity doesn’t pay off, we can get on with finding another means by which to live. We get neither in Jeremiah…In Egypt, he continues determinedly faithful, magnificently courageous, heartlessly rejected-a towering life terrifically lived.
The perfect family, if there is such a thing, is not an idealized nuclear unit of consumption, but an inclusive, warm, inviting environment where people can get a glimpse of true community, and therefore of heaven …This is no family-first approach as we now conceive it. Rather, for disciples, it must be Jesus first and all things in relation to Him.
Acceptance of Jesus and reading the Bible, having personal prayer times, and going to church are all good Christian things. Make no mistake about that. But Jesus did not frame things this way…Jesus wanted people to know the Bible…so they could follow him more closely and know him more deeply and live for him more completely. In other words, he wanted people to follow him, and the only way we can follow him is to take up his kingdom vision and let it shape everything we do.
He had theologically refined the Christian life as something active, not reactive. It had nothing to do with avoiding sin or with merely talking or teaching or believing theological notions or principles or rules or tenets. It had everything to do with living one’s while life in obedience to God’s call through action. It did not merely require a mind, but a body too. It was God’s call to be fully human…
A leading man in the Confessing Church recently said to me: “We have no time for meditation now, the ordinands should learn how to preach and to catechize.” That seems to me either a complete misunderstanding of what young theologians are like today or a culpable ignorance of how preaching and catechism come to life. The questions that are seriously put to us today by young theologians are : How do I learn to pray? How do I learn to read the Bible? If we cannot help them there we cannot help them at all. And there is really nothing obvious about it. To say, “If someone does not know that, then he should not be a minister” would be to exclude most of us from our profession. It is quite clear to me that all these things are only justified when alongside them and with them – at just the same time!-there is really serious and sober theological, exegetical and dogmatic work going on. Otherwise all these questions are given the wrong emphasis.