Worship and Surrender

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Worship and Surrender

1 Peter 2:11-171

Live as Servants of God

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Freedom is in. Surrender is out. We want direct connection with God, Whom we struggle to obey when we receive that direction, and if we are going to struggle obeying God, we are really going to struggle following human leaders. Is it any wonder why we preach and sing about freedom, forgiveness, and grace instead of surrender and submission to God’s will. Even, the songs about following God’s will for our lives put the emphasis on it being our decision. We want God to be in control, but we really would prefer God to control things according to our desires – and that comes awfully close to idolatry.

God, in His wisdom, has put others in charge of us though, and He works through them, in them, and sometimes around and in spite of them. Whether it is because He knows we need a reminder of His authority that wears skin every once in awhile so we do not doubt or forget Him, or because the interconnectedness and hierarchy we find ourselves in is a vital part of creation, I do not know. God probably does it for a reason I may never understand. But it is undebateable: God has put human authorities in our lives, and scripture specifically tells us it is our Christian duty to submit to it. Yes, even when I did not vote for them.

It is hard to swallow sometimes. It can be hard to see God working in them as well. If I’m honest though, I personally do not struggle with this the most in the political realm. Politics have more of an indirect affect on me personally, and I have seen enough of the system to know it is complex and difficult to really pin problems down as the decisions of individual people. The chains of compromise are far too long. Instead, I often struggle with it professionally – in church, and specifically in worship.

If you ask me what I think about worship or what kind of worship I like, do not expect a single statement as an answer, expect a five page thesis. I have many strong opinions based on education and experience, both good and bad. When I plan worship services, I think about them as they spread out over weeks and months, not just the 60 minutes we have together on a given day. I try to look at it from multiple angles, and, while I usually can let it all go with gratitude to God when it is all finished, I rarely am completely satisfied with my work. I always find something new to learn, to change, or remind myself not to try next time.

My struggle with authority comes in the few times a year that I visit other churches or worship in settings I am not responsible for leading. Within the first five minutes of walking into the door, my mind starts picking apart every detail of the service and those balcony critics in my head begin to go to town. It gets even worse when the sermon starts. There are times, I’ll be honest, when the critics are far louder to me than the preacher speaking into the microphone. Those moments, I am not submitting to the authority that God has put before me for that time (and if we really think about it, every human authority is temporary), and it keeps me from really worshipping – really experiencing and returning to God what He is due.

We all have problems with the failing, fragile human leaders God has put in our lives. But the challenges of our worship are not controlled by them. The surrender that we are able to give is a vessel of grace that sometimes needs to flow out of us, up into our leaders, instead of us always expecting them to give grace to us. When the flow of grace is stopped up, worship ends, and we all end up stuck in the mess, looking for God again.

What makes it difficult for you to worship?

How do you allow God’s grace to flow from you into those who help lead you in worship?


  1. (Cp Rom 13:1–5)

Don’t shoot the Angels

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Editorial Preview

Don’t shoot the Angels

Hebrews 2:5–10 (NRSV)

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Angels have always been a unique topic. Most Christians believe in angels and view them as distant but helpful spirits. However, many of those same people avoid even talking about spirit entities outside of God. It takes us too close to idolatry, which is not just a modern problem, but as John shows us, was a problem for himself1: and the early church as well.

Here is a biblical definition of the word translated “angels”:

“In many languages a term for ‘angels’ is borrowed from another dominant language, but in other instances a somewhat descriptive phrase may be employed. The most common expressions for the ‘angels of God’ are ‘messengers’ and ‘messengers from heaven.’ Sometimes these angels are called ‘spirit messengers’ and even ‘flying messengers.’ In some instances they have been called ‘the holy servants of God,’ but an expression such as ‘servants of God’ or even ‘messengers of God’ tends to overlap in meaning with expressions used to characterize the role and function of the prophets who were sent as messengers from God. In some languages a term for ‘angels’ is contrasted with that for ‘prophets’ by calling angels ‘messengers from heaven’ and prophets ‘messengers from God.’ The ‘angels of the Devil’ are often called ‘the Devil’s servants.’”2

Spirit messengers, in shorthand.

Look at the passage from Hebrews again. This is a passage that points out the connection between vulnerability and authority. Angels, who do not suffer, serve in God’s presence. Yet it is human beings, who were “made a little lower” than the angels, to whom authority over the world was given. It is not strength, but vulnerability… or perhaps the ability to suffer, that is rewarded with authority in God’s Kingdom.

This passage is not primarily about you and I. It is about Jesus. Jesus supersedes our own authority not because of His power, but because of His ability to suffer. This may be why He resisted the devil’s temptation in the wilderness. Without suffering, there is no authority rewarded.

Why is that? I don’t know for sure. But Jesus speaks about His own authority like this:

John 10:1-18

““Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” ”

Jesus ties together willingness to suffer for… responsibility, with authority. He has “bought” us and gained authority over us through His suffering for us. He took the bullet the angels never would.

Who do you suffer for?

Are you willing and able to suffer for those God has put you in charge of?

 

 

Deep

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“9 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness—

on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation,

you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

as with joy at the harvest,

as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,

and the bar across their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor,

you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For all the boots of the tramping warriors

and all the garments rolled in blood

shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us,

a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,

and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.

He will establish and uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time onward and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. “ Isaiah 9.1-7 (NRSV)

One of my favorite verses from the Psalms speaks of deep calling out to deep. It describes one of my favorite things about God. He is not afraid to go into the depths of the darkness around me, and in me, to find me. When He does find me, He pours into me light, goodness, and mercy out of His depths… and the only thing deeper than the darkness in our world, is the depths of God’s goodness.

The names given to Jesus, his titles are not flimsy titles. They carry a depth that goes far beyond President or CEO. Whose strength is deep enough to bear our burdens… to truly be an authority in our lives that we can trust? For a child has been for us, a son given to us; authority rests on his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!

His authority will continually grow and everywhere his authority touches there will be endless peace. Justice and righteousness find their home in Christ. Until we put ourselves under His authority, we will not even know what real peace feels like. This tiny child holds the whole world in His hands, and in the depths of those hands we have never been safer.

  • Where have you experienced deep darkness in your life?
  • When have you seen the light of God shining in or around you?
  • What burdens do you carry today that you can give over to the authority of Jesus?

Wonderful, merciful Savior

Precious Redeemer and friend

Who would have thought that a lamb could

Rescue the souls of men

Tuesday December 13, 2016

Leadership

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For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves. Tell the innocent how fortunate they are, for they shall eat the fruit of their labors. Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them. My people—children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your leaders mislead you, and confuse the course of your paths. The Lord rises to argue his case; he stands to judge the peoples. The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts. Isaiah 3:8-15 (NRSV)

Those who seek authority find themselves contending with God. There is good reason that we preach that our hope is found in God and not in people. That statement holds both a promise and a warning.

The promise is that God will always be there for us, no matter who we are our where we’ve been. In some ways, it may actually be argued that the lower we find ourselves, the more God watches over us. Those who avoid taking up authority gain no special blessing, as authority and responsibility usually go hand in hand. Dodging responsibility does not put you in God’s good graces. But those who remember that we all will stand in judgment before God one day, regardless of our status today.

That is the warning as well. We will all answer for the leadership we give as lords and ladies, preachers and teachers, mothers and fathers… Every honor we receive brings us closer to the throne of God which brings its own honor and joy, but God expects us to share his own heart for the least, the last, and the lost, the more of them he brings under our care. Christian maturity certainly brings with it honor and wisdom, but the cold-hearted cannot be mistaken for elders of the faith in God’s Kingdom. For God so loved the world… and woe be upon the man or woman who thinks they know better than the love of God, which did not hold back His only begotten Son. No fire burns hotter than the love of God for his people, and that fire will burn right through us to warm if we stand in the way of it bringing warmth to God’s lost children.

  • Whom has God put into your care?
  • How well do you reflect God in your leadership over them?
  • What do you need change today to allow God to lead through you more?

I wanna set the world on fire

Until it’s burning bright for you

It’s everything that I desire

Can I be the one you use?

I wanna feed the hungry children.

And reach across the farthest land

And tell the broken there is healing

And mercy in the Father’s hands.

Friday December 2, 2016

The Progress of Discipleship?

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Before venturing further, please take a few minutes to read this article about an innovative program from Princeton Theological Seminary.

The title of this is not meant to be sarcastic, but instead to simply ask the question: Has the process of making disciples progressed over time or in different places? Curiously enough, I think it is not the affirmation of this question that is so important to us today (Admitting that yes, the way we make disciples of Jesus Christ has indeed changed, sometimes for the better) but actually the opposite that may be more impacting to us. 

I do not think anyone can reasonably argue that discipleship has not changed. If you look at any three Christian groups in your own community, you will likely find variations in how they make disciples. Now multiply that by the rest of the world and again by 2000 years. That leaves room for a lot of variation. The question is not whether there is variation. The question is whether that variation demonstrates progression. Have we improved on the original model?
That is a much stickier question, especially when our Christian culture has an almost perennial move to get back to the original way of doing things (as presented in the New Testament). There is good reason for this. Jesus is our ultimate authority and the New Testament is where we have the most faithful witness of His teachings and acts. The major difficulty arises from understanding how to apply that model today. How would Jesus start a ministry in your community? Would He start by going to the nearest lake and teaching fishermen, and then follow up by stopping into the nearest IRS agency to recruit some of their employees? I think that might be a stretch, especially considering that Paul the Apostle did not follow that same model himself when he started churches across the Roman Empire.

Community Growth
Let’s look at how a basic discipleship community grows over time.

  1.  There is always a starting point that usually begins when a follower of Jesus meets someone who does not know and/or does not follow Jesus themselves. In the course of building a relationship between each other, the non-Christian may make a commitment to follow Christ, thus creating the first convert and invitation into discipleship. It is then left to the first Christian to teach them everything they can about Jesus and to essentially be the Body of Christ with them in order to raise them up to a point where they can make other disciples themselves. It’s not rocket science, it is just relational replication. It is unclear from the Scriptures exactly how much discipleship Jesus did in this way because most of the accounts of Him have him working with more than one person at a time, which creates a slightly different dynamic, where the students are able to learn from each other as well as their mentor. The Apostle Paul may have done a little more one-on-one discipleship, particularly working in territories that were less receptive to the initial gospel concepts. Either way though, this one-on-one discipleship does not seem to be a model with lots of support in scripture.
  2. Next, you gather a group around you, which changes the relationships, the dynamics, and the model of discipleship. Will you lead this group like a school classroom? Will you lead it like military boot camp? Will you treat it like a social club… an organic group of equals just discussing their our opinions? This comes down to the question of authority. Who is in charge and why? How is that authority to be used? I’m sure you can see how this already can branch off into models of Catholic schools, Church camps, and Coffee shop book discussions having only moved up one single level from one-on-one discipleship. The question of authority may be important even in the one-on-one models of discipleship, but it becomes imperitive once you add the third person into the mix. Someone has to take the lead – even if it is not the same person each time, otherwise it is just a bunch of people spending time together. 
  3. At some point, the group grows too big for one person to relationally connect to everyone and delegation becomes necessary. If authority is the challenge presented to “small groups” in the previous stage, inclusion is the challenge presented to these “large groups”. With the authority spread between several key leaders, competition may arise among them as to who is chief authority in their own small group of leaders. The effects of these ambitious attitudes have ripple effects down through the ranks of people so that when one person is elevated in leadership, their own particular group of followers inherits a promotion of their own via their relationship to that leader and are then able to see themselves above the rest of the group. Maybe this sounds silly, but the vast majority of our claim to authority comes from our own relationship to a greater authority (or at least the perception thereof). Because of this, it is almost a universal law that conflicts of one generation are usually amplified in the generations that follow. Much of the content in the letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians deals with this particular issue of followers vying for authority over each other on the basis of their leaders. This is why Paul continually brought them back together as equals together as they all follow Christ. This is the level where that kind of inclusive invitation to follow an exclusive person (Jesus) is essential to maintaining consistent discipleship.
  4. Once you move beyond the level of a single faith community and local leaders therein, the need for inclusive invitation and exclusive, articulated call, seems to increase exponentially. When facing a plurality of leaders, each leading distinct communities of faith, the Apostles were challenged to summarize the beliefs and standards of the Church into short, succinct statements (Acts 15) and again in the time of the Early Church Fathers as the Church spread into an even greater number of cultures with the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. 

 It is probably at this point that critics will question why we need to come up with statements of faith or other man-made tools to aid and guide our leadership and means of making disciples. Why can’t we just use scripture? Why isn’t the teaching of Jesus enough as it is given to us? While these are legitimate questions, they are often dishonestly and manipulative when asked at this level. The exact issue is every bit as prevalent when a Sunday school teacher takes one perspective of a teaching of Jesus (the call to sell all your possessions as commanded to the Rich Young Ruler, for example) while a pastor preaches a different interpretation of that same passage or teaching. In the local faith community, we allow for a greater level of diversity, because we share identity and relationships with everyone there. Once you involve interpretations of those we have not met and with whom we have no personal relationships, we become more suspicious and less accepting of interpretations that are different from our own. Therefore, maintaining unity in a large, multi-community body of faith requires the most articulation and summarization of the teachings that need to be passed on to the believers within it. The bigger the group of people, the less you can pass on to them.

This is an picture of the growth of faith communities, regardless of time and place. You can see that as these communities progress, the question of how to make disciples quickly becomes influenced by the answer to who has authority and who is making disciples. You might expect that to be the same person, but that is not necessarily the case. Now let’s look at 3 different models of discipleship within a local faith community based on how they answer the Level 2 question of authority.

Models of Authority in Discipleship
 1. The first model is a democratic authority. All members of the church, whose membership is based on majority vote, are allowed to vote on all issues. The few “leaders” of the church, who carry any authority at all, have that ability to lead contingent upon the passive assent of the body of believers. This is a limited authority that can easily be taken away as soon as they lose the favor of 50% of the body, and probably less than that because she is constantly in competition with every other person both within and outside the community, because new persons with a greater sway can be invited in at any point to replace them. 

 Leaders at this level can effectively lead and teach in two main capacities here: Generalization and Criticism. They can teach proactively using generalizations that have a broad level of appeal and a low risk of offense (unless offense is valued by that particular body of believers). They can teach reactively, cricizing the teaching and leadership of other leaders who may or may not be competitors because that justifies their own authority. These kind of communities of faith typically fall into the Level 2 or 3 size (see above), but some groups have successfully grew into a multi-site multi-cultural Level 4 body of believers. They tend to be (as always) incredibly summarized, articulate, in their teaching and often slow to change due to a need for compromise between cultures. They typically find a sweet spot regarding acceptable teaching passed down from that level and have little room to move away from the same messages repeated over the generations.

 2. The second model is that of appointed authority. Appointed authorities are smaller communities that are created by a larger body. For example, it may be a denomination or association of churches starting a new church and appointing a pastor. Or it may be a church that appoints a Sunday school teacher or small group leader. These leaders have authority based upon the selections made by those of higher authorities. While there is significantly less pressure from the people within their group, the competition and pressure comes from the authorities who appointed them. On one hand, that means less people to keep happy with your work. On the other hand, it means very specific goals set to be accomplished and/or a focus on the bigger picture rather than the smaller details. It all depends on the person(s) in charge.

 These leaders can lead and teach by Specialization and Criticism. They teach proactively using specialized teachings that correspond with the teachings of the organization. They use criticism directed at competing organizations at the next higher level. They typically are discouraged from criticism directed toward sister communities within the same association, but sometimes competition is encouraged. As opposed to the democratic community, distinction is important in the life of these communities. Change can occur quickly in sub-communities as long as the proper authorities lend their support. The clash of cultures though typically occur within small groups of leaders who are typically not representative of the entire group, which leads to stronger criticisms of specific individuals and more stable decisions. Decisions made are not at risk of a re-vote at the next church gathering. 

 3. The third model is assumed authority. Like the democratic community, these almost always start as a level 2 or 3 group. This is where a charismatic leader gains authority over a group without vote and without appointment by a higher community with which they are connected. Sometimes, these communities are sometimes started from scratch by the leader. Oftentimes, in areas that have many faith communities already, they are started by a frustrated splinter group that splits off of a larger community. The assumed authority is in many ways the antithesis of appointed authority and democratic community. Her authority is not based on the favor of higher authorities but because she points out her difference from them. The lower their reputation is among them (to a point) the greater her authority within the splinter community. Likewise, the community often achieves a mindset that if no one else from the greater group agrees with them, that is indication that they are moving in the right direction. 
 Assumed authority sits awkwardly between democratic and appointed authority. It is arguable that Jesus was an assumed authority, although it also arguable He was an appointed authority – appointed by God. However, many assumed authorities claim that same appointment directly from God, whether it is true or not. This gives them the freedom to preach and teach whatever they want, so long as their people will continue listening to them. They truly have the most freedom in proactive teaching, and their reactive criticism is not against one particular group or another, but literally ever other authority. They are in competition with everything else, because anyone else can come and usurp them as a new assumed authority. For this reason, most communities that begin as assumed authority led groups shift into democratic or appointed authority groups within the first generation. Assumed authority is rarely stable enough to last long, particularly because most of them are birthed through intentional instability.

All three of these examples represent extreme ideals. Most communities find themselves more in one category than another, but probably share traits with at least one other example as well. In addition, membership in most churches in the US has very low standards, particularly to maintain. Some churches have specific requirements they require of those wishing to become members. I have not personally come across a church that had continual requirements of members in order to stay members of that church. This attitude of low commitment has a direct affect on what kind of authority your church has, and thereby what kind of discipleship process your church can use. 
Generally, the responsibility for making disciples follows authority. In some cases, that is the kind of job expectation required of those leaders in return for that authority. In most cases however, discipleship is the reason that people follow their leaders loyally. Students and apprentices follow their teachers as long as they are engaged, growing, and appreciating what they are learning (or at least have a goal in mind that this teaching is helping them achieve). The question is not why leaders make disciples, but more commonly, how do leaders lead with any authority without making disciples among their people? It does happen from time to time, but these leaders require a major influence factor such as celebrity status or some other status role to remain in leadership. These are leaders because of who they are rather than (and sometimes despite) what they do.
The same concept of leaders receiving and maintaining authority based upon their own work of making disciples affects all levels of leadership, not just the top. Even among leaders of subcommunities and ministry teams, those who maintain leadership authority over time are either those who make disciples among their own group of people or those who keep their positions because of some kind of status they have themselves. A possible crossover between social status and works exists in those who have and give large amounts of resources (money, time, materials, etc.) to the community. This generosity can be a part of making disciples, but it does not replace making disciples either in maintaining leadership or, more importantly, doing the work for which Jesus created the church in the first place.
Why is all this important?

Back to the Farm
Let’s go back to the Princeton example. This is a community where people are paying to be discipled in ways beyond what they would typically find in a local church. So, in the context of community growth and authority type – before we get into questions of whether this model is, or is not more faithful to the model of Jesus or simply a better model than what we are doing now, we have to ask the question: Is it even possible for us to do this in our own context?
In a smaller context, the answer is probably: yes. We can probably find small groups of people to start Level 2 communities and do discipleship by gardening. There are probably some geographic and cultural areas where you can start a small community and do this kind of ministry. It would be considerably harder in places without access to good soil, or suitable climates for growing things. Some places just have more practical access to this kind of ministry.
It is also questionable whether the authority of a community can lead their people in new forms of discipleship – particularly when they are outside their own cultural context. Even if it is possible, is it right to be asking people to step outside their own cultural context in order to follow Jesus? 
Now that is a question for the Church today! In our day when worship services still remain some of the most segregated organizations racially, economically, linguistically, and politically. Can we really expect to take city folk out to the farm to teach some of those agricultural parables when we struggle getting blue collar and white collar people to work together in our present congregations? Isn’t it more logical, more natural to recognize that Jesus taught in a variety of contexts and that the Early Church developed in a variety of contexts even beyond that, and to focus on ways of making disciples that fit our own contexts? 
Yes. Yes we can do it. Yes it would be easier not to. Yes, Jesus did teach in a variety of ways, both in rural and urban contexts, both inside and outside the Temple and synagogues… and He took His disciples with Him to all those places. He took Peter the fisherman and taught on the lake, in the fields, in the Temple of Jerusalem, and in the pagan cemeteries where they encountered the possessed man. The Twelve received a well-rounded discipleship experience, and I believe that helped them to learn to adapt later on as the Church moved out of Judea, through the Roman Empire.
What does it take to move us outside our own present models of discipleship, to find new ways to grow in our faith and faithfulness? It takes a recognition of what we are doing already, an evaluation of it’s strengths and weaknesses, a mission that will lead us to a greater vision of who Christ is creating us to be and a commitment to reseeding our core values in new contexts. 

Here is another resource on types of discipleship.