Does God make disciples or do we?

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I am an Enneagram type 5 which means that almost every time I’m faced with two choices, I will look for a third option. Many times, that third option is not a compromise between the two, but something else that re-frames the question itself. If that doesn’t make sense to you, just think about the recent presidential election and that is my first reaction whenever I get asked an either/or question. I feel like it probably doesn’t matter which choice I choose and have suspicions that there is a bait and switch going on. If you have a few months to spend on this rabbit trail I’d recommend reading Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard. I started reading it about ten years ago and finally discovered the message of the book, about 3/4ths through not in the text, nor the subtext, but in between the chapters, essays, and stories there. But enough chasing rabbits…

This question about God’s role and our own in making disciples was raised yesterday in a leadership retreat we had at our church. When asked how to make disciples, one of the people there said that we could not… only God can do that. I think a few people there may have felt like that was something of a cop out answer, but I, for one, was glad for this response. While many of us may not think it is an appropriate answer to the question of How to make disciples, I know it is something that many of us think. Perhaps in not so blunt and bold a way, but it hides under the surface of much of our ministry and service.

Let me put it another way.

We may not question whether or not we have a role in making disciples, but I would guess that many of us do not have a very clear understanding of what that role is. So we “make disciples” like agnostics – trying to do whatever random thing comes across our path in good intentions, but not really knowing or believing that it is bringing anyone closer to a relationship with Jesus. Agnostic might sound like a harsh word to use for people who may consider themselves, and may indeed be mature Christians, but Jesus died for us and asked us to do only one thing before He returned to heaven, and when I meet Him face to face and He asks me if I made any disciples for Him, I’m not going to be comfortable giving a theological treatise about how I didn’t feel up to the job and that really He was the only one who could do that right anyway. So yeah, agnostic disciplemakers is putting it lightly. Some of us go through the motions of making disciples, but inside we can be more like functional atheists, not believing that anything we do really makes a difference. That is not what Jesus asked us to be, nor is it what He die for.

What it means to partner with God

Something happens to us as a civilization when we separate ourselves from the land and the work involved to provide food and shelter on a daily basis. Farmers understand partnering with God better than most of us. They know how much work it is to plow the land, plant the seeds, and fertilize the ground. They understand the work of weeding and protecting the fields from scavenging animals. They know how it is a work that you either live on a daily basis or not at all. But they also know that the final say in the outcome is not their own. No matter how much they do to prepare the field, it is God who either provides or withholds the rain. They work together with God to provide the fruit of the harvest. Paul writes:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
He rightly understood that God has the power over the the specific outcome, but he also realized that all of us have a responsibility for raising up new disciples. Does it matter whether we take up that responsibility or not? More than you can know. God can and will send the rain on the good disciplemakers and the bad disciplemakers alike… but one faith farmer will reap a harvest in the field she has prepared and the other will just have a big, muddy, field of weeds.

  • Who has God used to show His love to you?
  • How did they do that?
  • How are you helping people discover a loving relationship with Christ?

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