Making Disciples

Making Disciples – First & Last Words of Jesus (2 of 2)

I have been personally and professionally challenged with Christ’s call to make disciples. For too long I have reduced “disciple making” to being only about information and not about imitation and transformation. I’ve been through countless Bible studies on discipleship—filling in all the blanks, reading through all the printed scripture, and thinking great thoughts about all the application points—only to put the book back in my bookshelf while I’m on to the “next thing.”

Have I made disciples? Only a handful. I’ve preached many more sermons, taught far more bible studies, and led many more church meetings than I’ve made disciples. And I have invested (wasted?) so much more time on the former than on the later—until lately. During these past three years, my ministry as a “pastor” has been redirected (I might say “reclaimed”) from solely leading the organized church toward that of making disciples. It’s not that the church doesn’t need structure or organization; it’s just that church structure or organization shouldn’t be that which receives the most attention, from me or from anyone else within the congregation.

We need to heed our Savior’s call, and live and serve his first and final instruction to us to make disciples. And our world is ready for this. Have you noticed how many people do not like the organized church? But I bet they’d be glad to know a friend who they know loves them and is actively investing in their own good.

And I’ll bet that you’re ready for this, too. Don’t you long for relationally-based Christian living? Investing in your friends, and being invested in by them, rather than scurrying from one church event to the next? Jesus didn’t give us a charge to make disciples that he didn’t intend for us to achieve. But I’m guessing there might be little room left in your crowded schedule or your circle of friends for you to make a serious effort toward disciple making.

Perhaps this little article is meant for only a few; for the few who are ready to walk in the pathway of Jesus. Might that be you. Hear this gracious invitation from your Lord Jesus: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly (Matthew 11:28-30 Message).

This is the life rhythm in which Jesus made disciples. He calls you to the same. And Jesus has promised his presence and authority in doing so. What’s holding you back?

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Discussion

7 thoughts on “Making Disciples – First & Last Words of Jesus (2 of 2)

  1. Rev. Mathison,

    I also submitted this reply on the Faith and Fellowship magazine website since that is where I first read your article.

    This reply is meant to be a “high challenge” to you in Christian brotherhood. Hopefully it comes across as loving and respectful.

    In this article, you state that the passage from The Message was an invitation from Jesus. However, these are not the words of Jesus, but the words of Eugene Peterson, author of The Message. To imply otherwise is to undermine the inerrant, infallible, God-breathed Word of God that is the Holy Bible.

    Jesus never asked if we were “burned out on religion.” Jesus never told us to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace” – whatever that means. Jesus never told us that we would “learn to live freely and lightly.” As you should know from your ability to translate Greek, The Message is not a translation of the inspired original Bible texts or even a paraphrase. We should not be using The Message or encouraging others to use it. As a pastor, you have a special role in upholding the Word of God, but in using The Message you are undermining it. We are blessed in this age to have many excellent translations available in English. In the future, please stick to translations that attempt to faithfully represent the original languages and honor the Word of God.

    I am also concerned about the underlying topic of this article. I will grant that you can only cover so much ground in a magazine article. Perhaps you assumed some underlying basic knowledge of critical Christian theology. However, comments like “I bet they’d be glad to know a friend who loves them and is actively investing in their own good” and “Investing in your friends, and being invested in by them” could be written by a Mormon, a Muslim, or a Roman Catholic. Neither that message nor our relationship with them will save them. We need to be preaching repentance and the Gospel (death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins). As we saw with Jesus, the Apostles, and the early church, the true Gospel often did not win them friends, but led to their persecution and often death. Further, they preached this Gospel to many people they had no relationship with. I hope the preaching of repentance and the Gospel does not get lost in efforts to establish friendships, built relationships, and invest in people.

    Finally, I am also concerned about your message that you “wasted” time preaching and teaching Bible studies. As Hebrews 4:12 states, “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” Further, how else can we make disciples of Jesus besides teaching them the Word? The definition of a disciple is “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another” (Merriam-Webster online). The disciples we make must know and accept the doctrines of the Christian faith. 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” It is the inspired Scripture that we must use to make disciples.

    With Love in Christ,

    Dale Wilson
    Member of Lutheran Brethren Church of Nampa, Idaho

    Posted by Dale Wilson | January 19, 2012, 2:02 pm
    • Reply: RE: use of The Message paraphrase

      Hi, Dale,

      I was beginning to wonder if anyone had read the post, and if they had, if I hadn’t been provocative enough to elicit some kind of response. Thanks for reading the post and taking the time to comment. I am going to respond to your comments by topic.

      I used The Message intentionally, knowing that it’s not a translation but a paraphrase. As you may know, even translations are granted some measure of interpretive space; a paraphrase extends that space beyond being a translation. Reading the Matthew 11:28-30 from The Message side-by-side with a translation (your choice) will reveal similar intent, though the words are not precise translations. Our Statement of Faith notes that our view of scripture goes back to the original languages. While I feel that Peterson sometimes tries too hard to craft the Word of God in fresh ways to grab out attention, there are nuances that I appreciate about The Message. Please, however, do not assume that I hold a low view of scripture if I use a paraphrase from time-to-time.

      Posted by Todd Mathison | January 31, 2012, 10:19 am
      • I am glad that you do not hold a low view of Scripture. But then why would those of us who hold a high view of Scripture want to read a paraphrase from someone who has a very low view of Scripture? Here are Eugene Peterson’s own words:

        “Why do people spend so much time studying the Bible? How much do you need to know? We invest all this time in understanding the text which has a separate life of its own and we think we’re being more pious and spiritual when we’re doing it….[Christians] should be studying it less, not more. You need just enough to pay attention to God….I’m just not at all pleased with the emphasis on Bible study as if it’s some kind of special thing that Christians do, and the more the better.”

        Yikes! We should be studying the Bible less? We can get too much of the Word of God?

        The Message is not merely a bad paraphrase, but it is heretical. There are numerous examples I could use, but here is just one. John 10:30 of The Message states, “I and the Father are one heart and mind.” All other major translations and even paraphrases agree that this is “I and the Father are one.” Adding “heart and mind” strikes at the divinity of Christ. This addition to the text would be welcomed by Mormon’s who believe in multiple gods who are united in purpose.

        For more examples of the false teachings of The Message, I refer you to either of the following resources:

        http://justinpeters.org/images/stories/TheMessage2.pdf

        http://www.crossroad.to/Bible_studies/Message.html

        Posted by Dale Wilson | February 1, 2012, 8:41 am
    • RE: “could be written by a Mormon, a Muslim, or a Roman Catholic. Neither that message nor our relationship with them will save them”

      I agree. I am not asserting the our relationship with others in any way “saves” them. What saves people is faith in Jesus Christ who lived, died, and was raised again – Christ crucified; that is what distinguishes Christian friendship compared to other religions.

      What I am concerned about is an attitude that some Christians hold that ignores the increasing challenge to first “earn” the right to be heard before sharing the law and gospel with people. “Preaching repentance and belief” is our call, but the context increasingly needed in our post-Christian society is first to be with people who need the Gospel, and then to proclaim it to them in the context of friendship – meaning that we are on their side, that we want them to be saved because we genuinely love them, not just because we “have the truth and they need to hear it.”

      Jesus was known by the religious people of his day, not for preaching repentance to sinners as much as he was castigated for “welcoming sinners and eating with them.” I wouldn’t assume that Jesus did not share his message of repentance and belief with “sinners,” but he didn’t do it in a “hit-and-run” mode; he was prepared to share his message in the context of friendship.

      Put another way: I believe our increasingly post-Christian society requires us to begin our witness of Christ to the world by listening more before we begin talking. This does not mean that we do not speak words of law and gospel, but we do so from a heart of genuine love, not condescension.

      Jesus was not crucified by the “sinners” of his day (as identified by the approved religious order); he was sent up to the cross by those who were the approved religious people of his time. Jesus told us to expect to be treated the same way he was. True that.

      Posted by Todd Mathison | January 31, 2012, 10:28 am
      • I am going to reply to this in sections. Unfortunately, there is not much formatting I can do in a blog comment to make this easily readable.

        You said:
        What I am concerned about is an attitude that some Christians hold that ignores the increasing challenge to first “earn” the right to be heard before sharing the law and gospel with people. “Preaching repentance and belief” is our call, but the context increasingly needed in our post-Christian society is first to be with people who need the Gospel, and then to proclaim it to them in the context of friendship – meaning that we are on their side, that we want them to be saved because we genuinely love them, not just because we “have the truth and they need to hear it.”

        My reply to this section is:
        But this idea of “friendship evangelism” is not supported by the Scriptures. This is not how the apostles conducted their evangelism, nor how they taught the church to. Jesus and the apostles regularly preached to multitudes of people who were complete strangers. When Paul preached the Gospel on Mars Hill in Athens to the group of pagans, he did not become their friends first. We can demonstrate our love to complete strangers by taking the time to share the Law and the Gospel and bringing them the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. How good of a friend must we be until it is OK to tell them they are a sinner who needs the Savior?

        You said:
        Jesus was known by the religious people of his day, not for preaching repentance to sinners as much as he was castigated for “welcoming sinners and eating with them.” I wouldn’t assume that Jesus did not share his message of repentance and belief with “sinners,” but he didn’t do it in a “hit-and-run” mode; he was prepared to share his message in the context of friendship.

        My reply to this section is:
        This is also not supported by the Scriptures. Jesus taught to thousands of people at a time. He moved from location to location. He preached to the woman at the well immediately upon meeting her. He onlu spent 2 days with the people of Samaria (John 4:40). He did no wait to become their friends. He sent His disciples out two by two and they “preached that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). If they refused to listen to them, Jesus instructed them to “shake the dust” off their feet and move on to the next town. He never encouraged them to settle down for a few months and develop friendships with those who rejected His message.

        You said:
        Put another way: I believe our increasingly post-Christian society requires us to begin our witness of Christ to the world by listening more before we begin talking. This does not mean that we do not speak words of law and gospel, but we do so from a heart of genuine love, not condescension.

        My reply to this section is:
        Certainly preaching the Law and Gospel does not preclude listening. And, we are told to give our defense of the faith “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).

        You said:
        Jesus was not crucified by the “sinners” of his day (as identified by the approved religious order); he was sent up to the cross by those who were the approved religious people of his time. Jesus told us to expect to be treated the same way he was. True that.

        My reply to this section is:
        But, if we just become friends with people and only approach our friends with the Law and Gospel, then why would we expect persecution? “The word of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is equally foolish to our friends and strangers we meet on the street.

        Posted by Dale Wilson | February 1, 2012, 8:45 am
    • RE: “‘wasted’ time preaching and teaching Bible studies”

      This was, perhaps, the most intentionally provocative item I wrote in this article. Very good for picking up on it.

      The preaching of God’s Word is never a waste of time. God’s Word accomplishes what God wants it to (Isaiah 55:11). I included a question mark with the word to indicate some angst I have regarding preaching in at least two ways.

      #1. My concern about “wasting” time has more to do with leading the church organization in comparison to time spent “making disciples.” I was trained in seminary, and regularly reaffirmed in this thereafter, to spend about one hour in sermon prep for every minute of the message, resulting in 20-30 hours per week of sermon prep expectation. While I am not advocating for giving sermon prep inadequate attention, I am concerned that we can easily replace serving people under the pretense of sermon prep. In other words, we can feel like “we’re doing our job” by spending most of our time in the study, rather than with people. There is the need for both. My article was meant to be a reminder that the job of a pastor is more than sermon prep (or lesson prep or leading church meetings). For example, I know a pastor who, when serving as a church planter, spent most of his time preparing for the Sunday sermon, to the detriment of being with people. It’s a matter of stewarding a helpful balance.

      #2. I do sometimes wonder about the effectiveness of preaching in comparison to how much attention the sermon receives – both in prep by the pastor and in the hearing by the congregation. Specifically, it can be very easy for people in the congregation to crack their bibles open only when asked to do so by the preacher, rather than doing so each day in their own spiritual living. Further, I think we have reduced what “preaching” means to be the 30 minute slot in public worship gatherings. Biblical preaching occurs in more places than the synagogue or temple; it occurs on highways, in homes, in a town courtyard, a vineyard, or an upper room. In other words, preaching is meant to be done by more people than just the pastor. I want to guard against usurping a calling that all Christians share, that of Gospel proclamation in word and deed.

      Near the end of the article, I write: “Perhaps this little article is meant for only a few…” If that doesn’t include you, Dale, that’s okay. I desire to encourage those who seek to hear and follow our Lord’s call and command to “go and make disciples.” I have the sense that that does include you – you have a heart for the Gospel. May the Lord grant you people to share it with, leading them to faith and life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

      God’s peace be with you.

      Posted by Todd Mathison | January 31, 2012, 10:57 am
      • I completely agree that preaching is not limited to the pastor at our public worship gatherings. But, here you appear to directly contradict your earlier call for “friendship evangelism”. Preaching on the highway or in the town courtyard is rarely, if ever, going to be preaching to people we have relationships with. The message of repentance and salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ is equally true for my friends and total strangers. Both need the Holy Spirit to grant them faith to believe.

        We are all called to “go and make disciples.” It does not say “go and make friends who might someday be interested in becoming disciples.” I have preached on the street corner and in public crowds to total strangers. I have shared the Law and Gospel with complete strangers on airplanes and on college campuses. The power is in the living Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, not in me or my friendship with anyone. I’m sorry, but I do not think this article is grounded in the teaching in Scripture.

        Posted by Dale Wilson | February 1, 2012, 8:47 am

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