Empowering Discipleship Explained in 500 Words

TAMPA, FLORIDA. Tomorrow I get speak to 5000 church planters and church plant advocates about discipleship at Exponential East in Tampa. Thank you Dave Ferguson for the invitation, and thank you for equipping and empowering church planters. As soon as my Tuesday afternoon session is over, I will drive directly to the airport to catch my flight to the Middle East where I will catch up with our Every Nation Asia Leadership Team who are doing a seven day Israel study tour.

Here’s a 500-word summary of what I say every time I get a chance to talk about church-based discipleship.

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Most Christians agree that discipleship is important, even essential for Christian maturity; few understand biblical principles and even fewer apply a biblical process when it comes to discipleship. Biblical discipleship principles are universal and timeless, and they enabled the church I helped start in 1984 in Manila, Philippines to experience thirty-one consecutive years of growth.

For those interested in numbers, our most important growth number is 10,411. That’s the number of people leading small discipleship groups each week in Metro Manila.

Discipleship isn’t complicated, but it is often difficult. The difficulty lies in applying four biblical principles to each specific context. Simply put, here’s how anyone and everyone can make disciples.

 1. Engage Culture and Community. When Jesus told His original twelve to go and make disciples, they did not interpret His command to mean, “Find people who are already following me and help them become better followers.” They interpreted his “great commission” to mean that they should go and find people who were not yet followers and help them know and follow Jesus. Evangelism and discipleship were not two separate departments in their church. Rather, evangelism was the beginning of the discipleship process. Today many people see discipleship as a program to help church members become better church members. As long as the evangelism department does the outreach and the discipleship department does the discipleship, both will be ineffective. The starting line of the disciple-making process must be evangelism that engages our community and culture.

2. Establish Spiritual Foundations. If we want our disciples to survive the storms of life, we must help them establish strong and deep biblical foundations. This essential groundwork includes repentance, faith, water baptism, the Holy Spirit, and church community.

3. Equip Believers to Minister. We hear the phrase all the time: Every member a minister. Yet often, because of our performance-driven culture, we have little tolerance for the messiness of the equipping process. We do church as if only professional preachers are qualified to do ministry. Yet the biblical job description for professional ministers is to equip the “non-pros” for ministry, then get out of their way.

4. Empower Disciples to Make Disciples. Jesus expected all of His original disciples to make disciples. He empowered them, knowing they would make mistakes. Too often we act like only full-time pastors or people who have been believers forever can make disciples. But we must not forget it is progress, not perfection, that qualifies one to disciple others. Because Jesus expects all His disciples to make disciples, we must not only equip them, we must also empower them.

Conclusion. Two thousand years ago, discipleship was so simple that a carpenter explained it to uneducated fishermen in one sentence: “Follow me and I will send you out to fish for people”. Those simple fishermen followed, fished and changed their world. If modern discipleship is confusing or complicated, it is because we have strayed from biblical principles and the simple biblical process that Jesus lived and taught His disciples.

Sometimes the Spirit Leads Us Where We Don’t Want to Go

NASHVILLE. For many of us who have been around the church world for a long time, the phrase “led by the Spirit” conjures up all kinds of strange and bizarre behavior, and maybe a lot of bad memories. That’s why we need to look at the Bible, rather than YouTube, to learn what led and empowered by the Spirit actually looks like.

Matthew says that after Jesus was baptized by John, he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” where He was tempted by the devil.  Mark’s account says, “the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.”

Being led usually implies the one leading is in front of us and we are following, maybe holding the hand of the leader. Being driven usually implies someone is behind us pushing and directing us.

Matthew says the Spirit led Jesus. Mark says the Spirit drove Jesus. Which is it? I think it is both. At times I have certainly sensed the Spirit in front of me leading me where I should go, and at the same time I have felt Him behind me driving and directing me from behind, and occasionally giving me a bit of a push.

Mark and Matthew both mention that Jesus ended up in the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil. This was not a fun and joyful experience for Jesus. Rather, it was quite stressful and painful.

Sometimes in the tough seasons of life, we wrongly conclude that we must have wandered out of God’s will. This mistaken idea is rooted in the faulty teaching that God’s ultimate will is for us to be happy. We reason, “the wilderness is not a happy place, so it must not be God’s will. We must have missed God or we would be in a place of perpetual happiness.”

Jesus was in the center of God’s will, He was led by the Spirit, He did not take a detour, yet he ended up in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. He ended up in an uncomfortable place.

Lest we wrongly conclude that tough places are signs that God is not pleased with us, take a look at the previous verse, just before Mark says, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12)

Jesus was baptized by John, then, “a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son;with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11)

A voice from heaven said, I AM PLEASED! Then the Spirit immediately leads him into the wilderness to get tempted by the devil. The fact that God is pleased with us does not mean that life will not take some difficult turns.

We should never look at our painful circumstances and conclude that God is not pleased. Instead, we should look at His word and His sacrifice on the cross and conclude that He is pleased.

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NOTE: Our Every Nation Nashville office is doing a sixteen week discipleship journey through the book of Mark. Every Tuesday in our weekly staff devotion, we will look at one discipleship lesson from each chapter in Mark.

Our discipleship lesson from Mark 1 is: Following Jesus means being led by the Spirit (even if He sometimes leads us where we don’t want to go.)

 

7 Questions about the Value of Modern Discipleship

MANILA, PHILIPPINES. I received the following seven questions from someone who is writing a paper for a class about whether discipleship “has value in today’s context.”

Here are my quick answers to his important questions:

Q1: What is a disciple?
A1: A disciple is someone who follows Jesus, “fishes” for people and does this in fellowship with other disciples, while carrying a cross. Discipleship is not complicated. Difficult, yes. Complicated, no. It is so simple that a carpenter described it to uneducated fishermen 2000 years ago in one sentence. (See Matthew 4:19 for that sentence.)

Q2: Do you have to be saved to be a disciple?
A2: Yes. But since evangelism is the starting point of making disciples, the discipleship journey starts long before one is saved.

Q3: Are all Christians disciples? If not, what are the differences?
A3: All should be, but unfortunately not all are following Jesus, fishing for people, or fellowshipping with others. And not all are carrying a cross and living a life of self-denial.

Q4: Does church membership make one a disciple?
A4: No. Most churches spend a lot of time, energy, and money developing a membership process, but no time developing a discipleship process. Therefore they are successful at making members, but failing miserably at making disciples.

Q5: What does a disciple’s life look like?
A5: Following Jesus (devotion). Fishing for people (evangelism). Fellowshipping with other believers (community). Carrying a cross (self-denial).

Q6: Is being a disciple important in today’s culture or to one’s life?
A6: If the Bible is important, then discipleship is important. Of course, if the Bible is no longer valid, then discipleship is an outdated concept and a waste of time – so we might as well do whatever it takes to attract a big crowd and call it a church.

Q7: Who is responsible for making disciples?
A7: Every person who is a follower of Jesus – no matter how old, no matter how long they have been saved, no matter where they work. Every believer should be a disciple and every believer should make disciples – EVERY believer.

Those are my quick, off-the-cuff answers. If I had time to edit, I might change some of these answers, but I’m out of time.

Are you a disciple of Christ? Are you making disciples?

Don’t Quit

This is an odd blog title, since it seems like I quit blogging. There are many reasons for my blog delinquency, but only one is legit, the others are just lame excuses. Here’s my respectable reason for my invisible blogs of late:  most of my writing energy is being invested in a new book about parenting that should be completed in the next couple of months.

I have three working titles. Which one do you think is best?

          The Heart of Parenting

          Discipleship at Home

          My First, Second, and Third Attempts at Parenting

While researching for my new book, I stumbled on this blog that was originally posted six years ago. I thought it might be a good Christmas season post.


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Ever want to quit – a relationship, job, church – but the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let you?

Even though it would be easier to walk.
Even though you were wronged.
Even though it hurts to stay.

Maybe the marriage is not all you dreamed it would be.
Maybe the job is not what it was promised to be.
Maybe the church really is filled with hypocrites.

But for some reason, God will not let you quit.

So what do you do?  Stay, or walk? Go for it on 4th and 20, or punt? Fight on, or tapout? All in, or fold?

What do you do when everything in you says to quit, but some faint barely discernible still quite voice says to hang in there?

If you ever feel like that, I suggest you read the Christmas story.

The one in Matthew 1:18-25.  

Summary. A man discovers his fiancé is pregnant. The baby is not his. She claims it is God’s. Yea, right. I’m out of here. He wasn’t bitter or vindictive. Just hurt. Confused. And moving on with his life. But while he was sleeping, God sent an angel to tell him that the baby really was from God, and he better not quit.

I’m sure he still had questions. And doubts. And pain. But he stayed. He went for it. All in.

“When he woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded.” (v. 24)

Same question as before: ever wanna quit – relationship, job, church – but the Holy Spirit says not to?

We all have.

Aren’t you glad you listened to Him, and refused to quit?

Good People, Bad Things, Why?

MANILA. Why do bad things happen to good people? Most preachers have heard and attempted to answer that unanswerable question.

Every weekend for the past three weeks in over 100 worship services in fifteen Metro Manila locations, Victory preachers attempted to answer the “Why Me?” question by studying and teaching the Book of Job. While I am not sure we really answered the “why” question, we did answer the “how” question. (More on that in point 5 below.)

Last Sunday, in the third installment of our “Why Me?” series, Joseph Bonifacio gave as good a non-answer to that question as I have ever heard. (Here’s a link to that sermon.)

I didn’t preach any of the “Why Me?” sermons in our Job series, but I did read the book. Here are seven thoughts from a recent reading of the Book of Job. Maybe my notes will help you get through your “Why Me?” seasons.

1. Bad things happen to seemingly good and innocent people. Four times
Job is described by God as “blameless and upright” yet he experienced
horrible suffering. Being good and godly does not exempt us from suffering.

2. The devil is real and he comes to “steal, kill and destroy.”
Job 1 makes it clear that all Job’s pain and loss was an act of
the devil, not an act of God.

3. People experiencing bad times need good friends. When you have
friends who are suffering, try doing what Job’s friends did in Job
2:13 “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven
nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his
suffering was.” Sometimes the best response to a friend in pain is to just be there, and to be silent.

4. Good friends often give bad counsel. Unfortunately, after that week
of silence, Job’s friends opened their mouths and stuck both feet in,
nasty sandals and all. Most of the Book of Job is chapter after chapter of the worst advice ever given.

5. Some things can’t be explained and some “why” questions can’t be
answered. The book of Job never answers the “why” question. But it
does paint a good picture of “how” – how to find God in our pain and
how to respond to calamity in a way that honors God.

6. We can find God in our pain and loss, if we do what Job did when he
realized the extent of his loss – “then he fell to the ground in
worship…” (Job 1:20) Do we only worship God in the good times?

7. In the end, the blessing of God caught up with and overtook Job.
Most people don’t press through and read the whole book of Job. But if
you endure til the end, you will find that “the Lord blessed the
latter part of Job’s life more than the former.” (Job 42:12) And if we
endure past our pain, we will find God in the end.

What Is an Empowered Church?

PORTLAND. It was a privilege to preach at City Bible Church during their Purple People (Purple Book) campaign and to teach WikiChurch discipleship principles at the Ministers Fellowship International (MFI) Focus Conference. I was glad to see Pastor Frank Damazio on the road to recovery in his fight of faith to defeat cancer. His book, The Making of a Leader, is on my top ten book list. And I was glad to meet so many MFI leaders who asked me to say “hi” to my good friend Joey Bonifacio.

As I prepared to teach the “Same Ole Boring Strokes” (aka discipleship) to these MFI leaders who do an amazing job of equipping, I decided to focus on the empowering part of the discipleship process. No matter how effectively we equip people to minister, the discipleship process is incomplete until we empower every disciple to make disciples.

A quick read through Acts shows us what an empowering church looks like:

1. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to be His witnesses.
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…”

2. Rather than doing all the ministry themselves, apostles empowered others.
Acts 6:2 “the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables…’”

3. Empowered churches grow.
Acts 6:7 “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”

4. Persecuting or killing top leaders does not stop an empowered church.
Acts 8:1 “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria”

5. Empowered people minister as they go and they minister wherever they go.
Acts 8:4 “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

6. Empowered people become leaders of people.
Acts 8:5 “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christa there”

7. Empowered people preach the good news even if they are not apostles or pastors.
Acts 11:19 “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

8. Barnabas empowered a new believer named Saul when no one else believed in him.
Acts 11: 25 “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

9. Empowering does not mean there are no authority lines.
Acts 15:24 “We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization”

10. In an empowered culture we will always have people who are ministering/preaching who don’t really have a full understanding of theology.
Acts 18:24 “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervorb and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.”

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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