For some time now, I have been concerned about the direction of the Church in this present age. I say that because it appears that we have gotten off track, we are focusing on our priorities for ministry, rather than God's. This article seeks to lay out what I believe is God's priority for the ministry of the Church and some practical ways that we can accomplish it. Disciple making is our primary business.
When Jesus came to earth 2,000 years ago and gave His life on the cross, He gave His life not for a cause but for people, people just like you and me. His primary mission was to seek and save the least, the left out and the lost. Before He was crucified, He gave His life specifically to 12 men that He called His disciples. He spent 3 years with them, living and loving, praying with and pouring Himself into them, preparing them to carry on the work that He had begun of "making" disciples.
As He was about to leave and return to His Father, Jesus commissioned those He called to be His "disciples" to go into all the world and "make disciples", baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything He had commanded them. Disciple making is God's plan to bring all men and women into personal relationship with Him so that they might fulfill the purpose and destiny for which they are created.
Disciple-making starts with evangelism or helping people make a vital connection with God, which changes their whole life. But this is just the beginning. Salvation is the start. When an individual accepts Christ, they are born again. They are literally starting life all over again as a newborn baby, which means they must be nurtured and taught to live the new life in Christ. They are infants who need nurture and care.
The second step in making disciples is "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Paul said it this way in Ephesians 4:11-13: It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for the works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)
The key word here is "prepare" or as it reads in the KJV, "equip". It is the Greek word that means "to train an athlete, to mend a broken bone, to restore something in disrepair". In this context, it is literally helping people put their lives back together again and begin to live a new life.
When persons come to Christ and to our church, they come broken. Often their lives are in shambles, spiritually, physically, emotionally, and financially. Even if they are saved, they are at various stages of their walk with the Lord. Some are in crisis. Others are defeated. Some are ready to be trained. And others are ready to lead.
Our task is to work with all of these folks in such a way that we help them grow into "full" maturity in Christ. We are making disciples. To be a disciple of Christ is to become conformed to His image, becoming all that He is: living, loving, learning, and serving like Him.
Disciple making in the church is a whole church experience that starts with the pastor, the point person. The initial way that a pastor makes disciples is through preaching and teaching. Preaching is the first and most important step in the discipleship process in the local church. We much teach the people what we want them to become and to do through regular and consistent impartation. Biblical preaching/teaching is life changing. The act of proclaiming and explaining sets the direction for where the people and the church are to go.
The members of the church that was born on Pentecost understood this. A description of their shared life found in Acts 2:42-47 indicates that this body of believers was committed to worshipping, praying, praising, and witnessing, as well as fellowshipping, caring, and providing for the needs of one another.
Now, you know that they did not come to the church with the understanding that this was who they were and what they were to do. They had no clue about what was expected of them now that they were Christians or Disciples of Christ. But, they were not in the dark long. This first line in Acts 2:42, makes it all clear, "They devoted themselves to the apostles..."
The people were taught what it meant to be a disciple of Christ; they were taught what it meant to be the church in fellowship and to the world. Their shared lives together were clearly defined in preaching and practice.
The proclamation and teaching of the Word in the New Testament Church made the difference in the life and development of the Church and Her people, and it makes the difference in each of our churches.
The Word has power to save and is useful asys Paul for teaching (what is right), rebuking (what is not right), correcting (showing us how to get right) and then training in righteousness (how to stay right) and equipping persons for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16 (Wiersbe)
The Word develops faith and faithfulness in us. When the Word is proclaimed effectively through the power of the Holy Spirit, persons are convicted, convinced, challenged, inspired, motivated to accept God's will for their lives and ministry and act upon it.
We also disciple persons through creating an atmosphere for growth and maturity. You can look at the activities of a church and automatically tell what is important to them. Much of what goes on in too many churches is devoid of any real meaning. There is entertainment on Sunday mornings, programs without purpose, we are busy doing a lot of stuff, having a good time, but lives are not changed.
The disciple-making church is focused and intentional about making disciples. Everything it does is to that end. Early in the life of our church, Ray of Hope, we developed a five-fold mission statement to equip the saints to achieve unity, maturity, and ministry. As the members participate in this mission, they are participating in discipling one another. The way we believe that we can effect change in the lives of persons its to: Exalt the Savior - In worship, we are connecting people to God, teaching them to love, honor, and adore God. Equip the Saint - Through Christian Education, Fellowship Opportunities, and Community Life, we are connecting people to one another and teaching them victorious Christian living. Evangelize the Sinner. Empowerment through Stewardship and Elevate Society through Service .
This is the way we are structured as a church. All of our ministries, programs, and activities must accomplish one of the above or we don't do it. We want to see persons connected to Christ and serving Him in the world.
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale is the Pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Georgia.
I grew up in the projects in Chicago. I witnessed drug deals gone bad, and I saw a man get killed for the first time when I was 8 years old. Economics was and remains the cause of what is still taking place in Chicago. Many of the youth aren’t educated and their perspective is: Why go work at McDonald's when you can make the same money in less than an hour on the streets? So for them, what’s the purpose of school? These children who are getting into trouble are not dumb. They have to count money and even create their own lab to create the drugs. They know how to keep a meth lab from blowing up in the inner city, and that takes a certain level of knowledge. When I speak to some of these young black males, they express that they see no benefit in going to school since they already have the material things they want…cars, money, girls, etc.
This generation of youth is a video game generation, and there is a lot of violence on the video games they play. There is no difference to them about what is happening in the games and what is happening in real life. They don’t care about life or dying. It’s a dangerous mindset. There are so many young innocent people dying in cross-fire. That’s the sad reality―when people just don’t value their lives. Most of the rap songs they listen to are about their daily life experiences which include a lot of violence, and due to the level of violence that takes place in many major cities, there is a special police force for rappers-the young, immature, unlearned, gangster type guys. There is a lot of street slang used, and a task force has to do research to find out what it means, and it’s not that complicated for them to figure out.
Classes of people remain in poverty because of the lack of family, community, and quality education. The family structure is torn down, and when the family fails, the church fails, and the government fails, people become lost. So when tragedies occur and these same individuals are victims of police brutality, they revolt against the system. When Trevon Martin was murdered, I realized that could have been one of my sons if they still lived in Chicago.
All of my sons have had their own experiences with street life. It’s their way of going back to where I came from. Often times, children who are raised in upper class families stand a great chance of wanting to experience street life. I have given my sons opportunities that I didn’t have; they weren’t raised in the streets like I was, but they are knowledgeable about what life is like in the inner city.
Black leaders are the ones who are expected to bring about change. Some of the best African American leaders live in Chicago, but leadership is just a part of the solution. It takes a concerted effort by the powers that be and the people they represent to transform communities. The people in these lower income communities often lose faith in the system when people do a lot of talking but do nothing to bring about real change.
In an effort to make a positive impact, when I host basketball camps, we take kids out of their element to let them see other parts of the world---to let them see that there are good white and black people, and that there is life outside of their communities. I held a 23 year long camp in Chicago called Victory in Christ (VIC). We taught basketball skills and guaranteed the participants that they would not experience any harm during the camps. There were no fights or anything for 23 years, which was amazing considering the number of children we served. Sometimes there were about 400 kids a week. We would bus them out of the projects into the nicer areas of town, and I would share nuggets of wisdom with them. I still run into people who come up to me and tell me they attended one of the camps and how it made a difference in their life. As leaders and mentors, we have to realize that we don’t know who these children will become. When we give them a message of hope, they will take what they hear and run with it. Many of the former camp participants have gone on to major colleges and become very successful, and it makes me feel good to know that the camps made a difference.
Whenever I have an opportunity, I encourage young people to find something positive that they believe in and put their heart and soul into it. My advice to people both young and old is: Get focused, and find your true purpose in life. Find out what you are here for. You are probably already involved in something you are called to do and that you are passionate about. There is a reason you are here. God has a plan for you.
Former NBA Star Terry Cummings is the Pastor of HOPE Egeneto Ministries in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Using the words of noted educator, author, philosopher and scholar, Dr. Warren Bennis, “Leadership is a common buzzword but a rare commodity. The young ignore it. Experts claim it. Scholars want it. Bureaucrats pretend to have it. Politicians wish they could find it. Preachers have learned the choreography to imitate it and parishioners are confused by it.” The crisis of leadership within the Christian Church is at an all time high—moral failures, financial scandals, and ecclesiastical upheavals are so common that reality TV profits from the misappropriation of the sacred.
In times like these, the Church is looking for leaders who face real problems with transparency and truth without forsaking Christian conduct. They are less interested in religion and more than ever interested in spirituality. No longer will the skillful manipulation of words from the pulpit satisfy the longings of this generation. No longer will the people in the pews succumb to religious rituals, hierarchies, or legalisms without accountability. No longer will they believe in a God they cannot experience as real.
God is calling for leaders who will serve His people in spirit and in truth. The world’s view of leadership can be summed up in three words: perks, power, and prestige. God’s view of the authentic leader can also be summed up in three words: truth, integrity, and servanthood. From God’s point of view, you are a leader if you know how to walk upright when all around you is corrupted; if you know how to refrain from evil in the face of diverse temptations; if you know how to stand on the solid convictions of the Bible in a world laced with convenience and compromise; if you know how to make an honest living under the weight of enormous need; if you know how to give to others even out of your own lack; if you know how to serve mankind void of a need for reciprocal action or public recognition.
To become an authentic leader, you must do three things
Trash the Mask of Hypocrisy
Jesus describes hypocrisy as the wretched state of a person who reduces himself to being an actor on a stage pretending to know God the Father. Leaders wear many types of public masks, often to their private shame and demise. Masks may cover incompetency when education is readily available. Masks may cover guilt and shame of unhealed hurts when Christian counselors are available. Masks may cover marital problems or sexual addictions while the leader quotes James 5:16 (NIV), “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” We must trash the masks.
Speak the Truth in Love
Noted theologian John Piper describes church leaders in Ephesians 4 as agents of truth: Apostles are the authoritative foundational witnesses to the truth. Prophets are the charismatic speakers of truth. Evangelists do the work of evangelism with the truth of the gospel. Pastors and teachers take the truth and use it to feed and protect the flock of God.
These agents of truth must be motivated by the love of Christ and for the Body of Christ in order to be effective and authentic. Truth without love leads to offense and disunity. Love without truth leads to permissiveness and corruption. It is little wonder that Paul admonishes leaders in Ephesians 4:15 to mature the saints by speaking truth in love.
Preach the Word
The Word of God is like a black light illuminating a crime scene. All that is hidden is exposed so that it may be collected as evidence for future healing. My charge to each of us is identical to that of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:1-8 (ESV):
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Dr. Julia McMillan is the Founding and Senior Pastor of New Dawn Restoration Center in Tampa, Florida and Professor of Organizational Ethics at Liberty University. For more information, visit Newdawnrestoration.org
There has been an ongoing theological debate about women who pastor. The narrow view---"The Bible says women keep silent in the church." Some make this a cut and dried conversation. We make decisions about what is literal in the teachings of Jesus. These literalists, however, are able to find grace and room for other scriptural practices tied to culture.
For example, we no longer stone our children to death for rebellion or disobedience to parents; we do not take plural wives; we do not baptize for the dead as some in the early church did; we do not pluck out our eyes nor cut off our hands when we sin. We find grace for divorce and remarriage. Some even embrace sexual permissiveness among consenting adults or abortion in their discreet private lives.
But these same persons cannot find scriptural room for women to preach and lead in the spirit of Deborah in Judges 4 or the woman at the well whose proclamation drew the men of the city (Could this not be the Christ?) or Mary, the first evangelist whom Jesus Himself commissioned to "go and tell...He is risen." We are literal when it suits our anthropology or existing world view. We see the narrow view of the text when it does not suit us.
Biblical interpretation exploded when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press around the 1440's, and the Bible got into the hands of common people. The priest was once the sole handler of scripture, and hence, the only mouthpiece of God. The Protestant Reformation in essence took out the middle man and gave us access to God and more particularly, access to the texts of the Bible. It was only in the middle to late 20th century that deep and exhaustive discoveries of texts and historical critical methods of study began to take us "behind the texts" into the nuances of culture.
The discovery of ancient texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls, Lost Gospels of Mary, Judas, and Peter to name a few, have widened our window of the culture out of which the Bible sprang. And that culture included women in leadership and as disciples in the Early Church. (See Acts 9:36 for example.)
Consider the times. These are likely the last days of human history if we believe Bible sign posts. I believe that we are coming to the close of the Church Age. Christ will come, and the Church will be taken out of the world. The civil rights movement of the 1950's and 60's; the Women's Liberation Movement sparked by Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique in the early 70's; and the larger view of prophetic history remind us that Joel 2:28 is fulfilled in our ears in Acts 2:17. "In the last days, God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy..." not just meaning to fore-tell, but also to forth-tell.
In Holy Scripture, the "call stories" are always framed in the experience of the important men---Isaiah, who was sanctified from his mother's womb. Paul of Tarsus who was knocked off his animal on the Damascus Road. The women "call stories" are not as clear to the readers as "call stories"...not because women were not called to the work of God, but because, as now, it does not occur to the male writers or readers that the women stories are what they are---calls to ministry.
When Jesus Himself encounters and converts a woman at a Samaritan well, she is transformed into the first woman evangelist. "Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Is this not the Christ?" When He is raised from the dead, Jesus, not the religious system, sends Mary to preach the good news. "Go tell my disciples..."
Rev. Dr. Claudette Copeland is the Pastor of New Creation Christian Fellowship in San Antonio, Texas and the Founder of Claudette Copeland Ministries.
PREACHING, PRAYING, & PROPHESYING
By Rev. Dr. Claudette A. Copeland
MAKING DISCIPLES...God's Priority for Ministry By Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale
Terry Cummings On Growing Up In Chicago And How He Gives Back
"...so also faith without works is dead." - James 2:26
AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP...There is a crisis in leadership in the Christian Church. By Rev. Dr. Julia McMillan
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