Tag Archives: Jesus and His disciples

Missional Community Success: Gospel, Not Mission

I have heard many people say, “What you celebrate, you also cultivate.” It’s absolutely true, which makes storytelling and defining success a huge deal whether it is in a business environment, a classroom, at home, or in the church.

For missional communities, the idea of a group of Christians being a gospel-centered community on mission, it is most definitely true. But this forces us to question what we are celebrating. Is success in a missional community only multiplying that community into two or three communities? Is success only celebrating baptisms? Is it a service project?

What you celebrate, you will also cultivate.

If the above list is what you are celebrating, you will likely see more of it, but if they are the only things you celebrate, what are you creating in the process? What aspects of a gospel-centered community on mission suffer when these are the only measures of success?

I’ve been really impacted lately going back to look at how Christ developed His disciples to eventually lead a movement that would change the world. One of the most impacting passages on this for me lately has been Luke 10:17-20. This follows the disciples being sent in pairs with some brief instructions. They go out in pairs, meet with the leaders of the community and based on receptivity stay or leave. They come back to Jesus and have this exchange.

“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And Jesus said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20

Celebrate & Cultivate Gospel as Success

That last sentence is impactful. They came back with joy and were celebrating their mission success and Jesus does celebrate with them, but then redirects their rejoicing to the reality that they know God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He tells them not to celebrate their mission success, but celebrate their salvation in the gospel.

There is no doubt that Jesus desired to see the things they accomplished in mission, but the mission was not the end in itself. When we only celebrate mission as success, we set ourselves up for failure. There is only so much control we have over the “success” of investing in a cause or sharing our faith with others. What happens when the success dries up and that which you celebrated has disappeared? For some, they will be fine, but I’ve seen many times where it completely wrecks people.

There’s pressure to maintain great mission to be seen as a successful Christian, there’s the potential for burnout because the focus has shifted from loving God to doing for God, and we begin to depend on ourselves and our effort rather than trusting and depending on God. Christians are called to faithfulness to God to bear fruit, not just a focus on mission.

Power of God & Purpose of Mission

This is why Jesus celebrates with them, but then immediately points to what they should be celebrating. He places their focus upward on God and the gospel because it is the power of God and the ultimate purpose of the mission.

The gospel is the power of God that motivates mission. So celebrating and loving the gospel is the only way to sustain mission. By the gospel we know, experience, and rest in the love of God that is rooted not in our efforts, but the work of Christ in His life, death and resurrection. We are reminded that it is ultimately God who gave us the gospel, gifted to us a great salvation providing and empowering us to accomplish His mission through His message. It also places us back on the right purpose for our mission.

Mission doesn’t end on serving your community or extending the love of Christ to your neighbor, the end is that Christ is exalted and worshipped as He should be. The final result should be that what is most valuable (Jesus) becoming most valued.

Seeing a merciful God that has chosen to punish Christ on the cross instead of us, exchanging His righteousness with our sin and rejoicing in God because of it is the aim for the Christian on mission. The purpose that all might see Jesus as the resurrected King and a good King at that.

Widening the Lens of Success

We must widen our definition of success in gospel communities on mission. We have our favorite stories that we share, but why not share and celebrate the messy side of community? A community that is messy is usually the result of the gospel sinking in deep into the lives of the people in the community. They believe there is hope for change, a way out from their hurt, their anger, their addictions, and they’ve been told they won’t be defined by them anymore because of Christ. Is there any more comfortable environment to share these things than a community centered on the gospel?

But the lack of celebrating the messiness makes leaders feel like they are failing if there are sins, errors of judgments, addictions, etc. when it’s the very reason we have the gospel! This is success in the gospel and not failure in mission.

Widening the lens of success means that you get to rejoice often. You get to rejoice with the community when people seek to live near the community  and how they seek God together and find an apartment. We celebrate when we see the gospel setting people free from addictions, or fear of man. We celebrate when conversations no longer center on ourselves and our thoughts, but on Jesus and His scriptures. We get to celebrate so many things that express the love of God being extended to other through the community.

We still rejoice in the mission, but it’s always in light of the gospel and not on its own. Mission gets put in its rightful place, a byproduct of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not our grounds for celebration.

In celebrating the gospel, Jesus becomes our foundation for hope, joy, approval, and freedom. He never gets replaced by the work of our hands. He deserves the reward of His suffering, a people praising His name, not just their work for Him.

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Discipleship Myth: You should always have a Paul

I remember being taught about discipleship in the church during college. I was told “You should always have a Paul in your life, you should always have a Timothy, and you should always have peers alongside of you.”

The intent was good. It was building on Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

The idea sounds great. You always have someone investing in you, you are always investing in someone else and the process repeats. But what happens when there’s not a Paul in your life? Do you wait for one to come around or do you keep investing in the Timothys of the world while you wait?

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this in regards to creating a discipleship culture in a community of Christ-followers. If it’s the mission of the church to develop disciples of Christ, it’s essential we understand the nature of discipleship.

Timothy Didn’t Always Have Paul

Timothy was discipled by Paul and then commissioned to develop elders and create a discipleship culture. But Paul wasn’t always in close proximity to Timothy.

Timothy had letters from Paul, he didn’t even have Skype-Coaching Paul. He was invested in for a time, but then it was his turn. That can be scary so Paul’s letters are incredibly encouraging to him to live out his calling with confidence in God’s work in him through the gospel.

Timothy had Paul as a loving consultant reminding him of his calling and guiding him toward right action, but he wasn’t present consistently investing in Timothy on a weekly basis going through Grudem’s Systematic Theology and asking about his sin. There were surely men that challenged him, held him accountable, but he did not always have a Paul present.

The Need to Be Discipled

This does not neglect the reality that we need to be discipled and discipling. We need more men and women who are pursuing Christ and investing their doctrine and their lives into other men and women.

But our discipleship begins at conversion in being discipled through the scriptures. If we make it our aim to be intimate in knowledge with the God of the bible, we are already being discipled by God. The example of Paul’s own discipleship from Barnabas or Apollos discipleship from Priscilla and Aquila was of men giving themselves to the knowledge of and mission of God. Then they were invited into relationships to gain a more accurate representation of Christ to the world.

This type of discipleship is Jesus’ method of discipleship. Reaching the many by spending time with the few and letting the few replicate the process. We have the great opportunity of recapturing Jesus’ vision for ministry through discipleship instead of programs. It will take longer to implement starting with a few, but it will always get better results than mass discipleship.

The Danger of Always Wanting Paul

But we must always be careful to guard ourselves from demanding a Paul in our lives. There will be a time when discipleship happens if we pursue the Lord, but after we have had that period of discipleship under a Paul-type figure, there is danger in looking for the next Paul in our lives.

This danger will lead you to bitterness toward those you place expectations on to be the Paul in your life. This type of self-righteousness declares that people don’t understand their responsibility to invest in people (me) and is always looking for someone else to teach them how to live.

All of us must eventually become big kids and stop being little kids waiting for the big brother to show us the way. This is what God has been impressing upon me. There comes a time when you’ve been invested in and sent, when it’s your turn to be the big kid, figure out some of your life challenges on your own and stop demanding that there be a Paul to show you the way.

We have to step away from discipleship myths that sound wise, but are foolish in application. We must look to Christ as our primary discipler through the work of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures, then trust that God has brought a community of Christ followers to teach us, whether young in their faith or seasoned.

We don’t move on from being learners, but eventually we must step into the discipler role. Jesus promises to always be with His disciples, but that doesn’t stop Him from sending them to be His disciplers of all peoples.

Let’s become a community of Christ followers who understand a disciple is also a disciple-maker.

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