Suffering Witnesses

The sermon I preached at King of Grace Church (Haverhill, MA) on April 10th, 2016.

“We are to be Christ’s suffering witnesses, because Christ is our suffering Savior.”

1 Peter 3:8-22

8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

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The Shepherd’s Love

The sermon I preached at Crossway Church (Franklin, MA) on August 23rd, 2015.

“Christ’s consuming love compels us to prioritize Christ’s mission to seek and save the lost.” LISTEN

Luke 15:1-7 

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The Lost Sheep

The sermon I preached at Grace Community Church (Souderton, PA) on August 2nd, 2015.

“Christ’s consuming love compels us to prioritize Christ’s mission to seek and save the lost.” LISTEN

Luke 15:1-7 

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The Offensiveness of Not Proselytizing

Christians often cower from evangelism because they believe that it may offend non-Christians, but they should also consider the fact that they may offend non-Christians by not evangelizing. (Of course, I am not speaking here of the intrusive, harassing variety of proselytization.)

The Christian non-profit organization, Fixed Point Foundation, recently concluded a nationwide survey to find out how and why college atheists abandoned their Christian faith. The findings are remarkable, and among the most surprising is the fact that young atheists were disillusioned by Christians who did not take their faith seriously enough to evangelize.

The study quotes Penn Jillette, an illusionist, comedian, and an outspoken atheist, who said:

I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. … How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

Jillette’s full vlog is worth seeing, as it is evident that he was quite taken by the Christian man who proselytized him after one of his shows:

As Christians, do we really believe that Jesus Christ is “the way … the truth, and the life,” and that “no one comes to the Father except through [him]” (Jn. 14:6)? If Christ is who he says he is, he can be anything but an afterthought.

Christian faith is not a matter of opinion, but of conviction. An opinion is your personal preference with which others are entitled to differ; a conviction is what you hold to be the truth for everyone regardless of their beliefs.

Too many Christians live as functional atheists who rarely stop to ponder their missional imperative. Let us heed these young atheist voices and consider the offensiveness of not proselytizing!

If God Predestines People for Salvation, Why Do We Need Missions?

The Dilemma
In 1792, at a Baptist Ministers’ Meeting in Northampton, England, William Carey proposed to discuss the topic of “The duty of Christians to attempt the spread of the Gospel among heathen nations.” Then, John R. Ryland, the presiding minister, frowned and thundered, “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine” (John Marshman, The Life and Times of Carey, Marshman, and Ward, p. 10).

This story succinctly illustrates the fear of many missions-minded believers that a robust belief in divine sovereignty and unconditional election would render missions obsolete. The converse is also true, and some believers fear that an anthropocentric approach to missions puts the burden of human salvation on the feeble shoulders of men.

Both of these parties find their most eloquent Scriptural substantiation in Romans. Those who defer to God’s unconditionally electing prerogative cling to Romans 9:1-29, while those who emphasize the human agency in salvation point to Romans 9:30-10:21. But are these mutually exclusive doctrines?

God Predestines Some People for Salvation
It says in Romans 9:11 that God chose Jacob over Esau “before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad–in order that God’s purpose in election might stand.” In other words, there was no objective reason for God to choose Jacob over Esau. It is explicitly denied that their good or bad works are the basis for their election or reprobation, respectively. The only criterion is God’s electing purpose.

“What then shall we say? Is God unjust?” Paul replies, “Not at all!” (9:14), “for,” God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (9:15; Ex. 33:19). The transitional “for indicates that the following quotation from Exodus explains why God is not unjust in unconditionally choosing some while rejecting other.

However, it is not immediately clear just how Exodus 33:19 explains this. In fact, it seems merely to restate the problem. God is merciful to whom he wills, but the question is why he chooses to be merciful to some and not to others.

The answer lies in the fact that Exodus 33:19 is an interpretation of the name of God. The syntactical structure of the verse, which highlights the radical autonomy of God, parallels the revelation of God’s name in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.” The identical pair of words, “merciful” and “compassionate,” also appears in both passages, reinforcing the parallel. Thus dispensing mercy to whom he wills is part of God’s essential nature and character. That’s who God is, and therefore his sovereignty must be upheld.

Humans Are Still Responsible for Their Damnation
Interestingly, what is never questioned throughout Romans is that humans, who cannot resist God’s will, are nevertheless responsible for their own destruction (Rom. 9:19). Israel is responsible because they have not accepted the gospel even though they have heard the message (Rom. 10:16-18). Paul’s quotation from Isaiah 65:2 levels yet another indictment, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (Rom. 10:21).

This means that election is unconditional, but one’s final salvation is conditional: “if you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Paul elaborates that since people cannot call on the one they have not believed in, nor believe in the one of whom they have not heard, nor hear without someone preaching to them, it is necessary to send missionaries (Rom. 10:14-15).

We Still Need Missions
Here’s the imperative for missions. In the divinely instituted order, missions necessarily precedes people’s salvation. This urgent conviction has been the overriding impulse of the missionary movement throughout history. Furthermore, “the thought that if [people] are not elect, they will not believe us … is true; but it is none of our business,” for “the non-elect in this world are faceless men as far as we are concerned … we do not and cannot know who they are, and it is as futile as it is impious for us to try and guess” (J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, pp. 98-99).

The Two Doctrines Constitute An Antinomy
Yet the question remains, if God’s electing purposes cannot be altered, what is the point of missions? How can missions be necessary in a universe operated by God’s sovereign and unimpeachable will? The relationship between unconditional election and missions is an antimony. “Antinomy,” as defined by J.I. Packer, is an “apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable” (Packer, pp. 18-19).

Our finite and fallible minds are incapable of reconciling unconditional election and missions. It is a mystery, whose apparent inconsistency finds reconciliation in the transcendent will of God. This, after all, was Paul’s response when his hypothetical critic objected, “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will” (Rom. 9:19)? He does not offer a philosophical apology, nor does he attempt to vindicate God by saying that divine election is based on God’s foreknowledge of who will or will not eventually resist him. He simply says, “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God” (Rom. 9:20)? The “solution” par excellence is to let God be God because the potter knows better than the clay (Rom. 9:19-23).

Rather than prematurely resolving this tension, the Biblical response is to abide in this tension. We are called to be missionaries who respond to the pressing need for the gospel, while attributing all honor and glory to God and his electing purposes. We are comforted by the reality that it is God who elects and saves; yet we are convicted by the reality that we must proclaim the gospel.

Do you believe in predestination? Why or why not? What is your understanding of Romans 9-10?

Building a Discipling Culture


Breen, Mike, and Steve Cockram. Building a Discipling Culture2nd ed.  Pawleys Island: 3 Dimension Ministries, 2011.
BUY

Mike Breen and Steve Cockram’s passion to see discipleship come to the forefront of church ministry is evident from the very beginning of Building a Discipling Culture. They allege that many churches have their priorities reversed, focusing on building churches while neglecting to make disciples. They propose an alternative model that Jesus Himself espoused, claiming that “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples” (Kindle Location 100). They later elaborate, “If you set out to build the church, there is no guarantee you will make disciples. It is far more likely that you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services that religious professionals provide” (KL 109).

So what is the difference between building a church and discipling people? Breen and Cockram argue that three things are necessary for building a discipling culture: 1) a discipling vehicle, 2) discipling relationships, and 3) a discipling language (KL 537).

A DISCIPLING VEHICLE
A discipling vehicle is essentially a small group of four to ten people that you meet with regularly to disciple (at least every other week) (KL 546). Breen and Cockram call this group a “huddle,” and a huddle, diverges from traditional small groups in that it does not grow by adding new members, but by equipping and encouraging members to start their own huddles (KL 551). The reason for this is that, by definition, every disciple makes disciples (Mt. 28:18-20).

DISCIPLING RELATIONSHIPS
A huddle by itself, however, is inadequate for making disciples, because “the best discipling relationships always have an intentional, ‘organized’ component to them, as well as a less formal, ‘organic’ component” (KL 546). Covenantal relationships constitute the “organic” component whereby disciples have access to the discipler’s personal life. Breen and Cockram describe this dynamic in the discipleship triangle of “Information-Imitation-Innovation.”

Many churches convey “information” (classroom) very well. However, they often lack discipling relationships that facilitate “imitation” (apprenticeship and immersion), which in turn fosters “innovation” (KL 598). It would be a mistake, however, to equate discipling relationships with friendships. Friendship only requires invitation, but discipleship also entails challenge. Discipleship calls people to a greater conformity to Christ’s character and to a higher level of Christ-like competency. Breen and Cockram’s “Invitation and Challenge Quadrant” demonstrates that an ideal discipling relationship involves both high invitation and high challenge:

This kind of discipling relationship need not be inordinately burdensome. It can be as simple as inviting someone who is struggling spiritually to accompany you to the grocery store so that you can talk with him or her on the way and back (KL 580). It means inviting people to our quotidian comings and goings. This assumes, of course, that we first have a life worth imitating (KL 576), but we need not despair, because while we will never be perfect examples, we can be living examples (KL 624).

A DISCIPLING LANGUAGE
Up to this point, there is nothing radically insightful in Building a Discipling Culture that sets it apart from other books on discipleship. Almost 50 years prior, Robert Coleman delineated a similar process of discipleship in his classic The Master Plan of Evangelism, namely the Selection, Association, Consecration, Impartation, Demonstration, Delegation, Supervision, and Reproduction of disciples. Furthermore, modern books such as Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s Trellis and the Vine (2009) also decry churches’ shortsighted tendency to rely on vocational ministers and volunteers to build churches through programs and events (the trellis), rather than training the whole church to make disciples (the vine).

What sets Building a Discipling Culture apart from the other books on discipleship is its discipling language. Breen and Cockram explain that “language creates culture,” and that in order to create a discipling culture, we need a language to support it (KL 632). The discipling language that Breen and Cockram, and their ministry 3DM, use is called LifeShapes. The LifeShapes are 8 diagrams that seek to capture the essence of discipleship. Breen and Cockram note that Jesus chose parables as his preferred teaching method in an oral culture, and argue that we live in a visual culture that calls for an image-based pedagogy (KL 687-692). Since most of the book is dedicated to describing these LifeShapes, I will summarize and evaluate each of them below (I have edited some of the LifeShapes to supply missing details and enhance clarity):

1. Continuous Breakthrough: “The Kairos Learning Circle”

Kairos is a Greek word that denotes punctual, opportune, time, as opposed to chronos, which denotes linear, chronological time. According to Breen and Cockram, every Christian encounters kairos moments “when the eternal God breaks into your circumstances with an event that gathers some loose ends of our life and knots them together in his hands” (KL 772). This event can be “positive (a promotion at work) or negative (getting laid off from your job). It can be big (your wedding) or small (a date night with your spouse)” (KL 815). The “Kairos Learning Circle” is a diagram that helps believers respond appropriately to their kairos moments. The straight line stands for the believer’s linear journey, at which point a kairos moment (X) takes place. At this point, the believer needs to enter the learning circle, which consists of observing, reflecting, and discussing the kairos event in order to plan, account, and act (KL 834). This is the same process as repentance and belief (Mk. 1:15). This first LifeShape is a useful tool for promoting attentiveness and responsiveness to divine encounters in people’s everyday lives.

2. Deeper Relationships: “The Triangle of Following Jesus”

The “Triangle” seeks to illustrate the holistic life of discipleship that entails “Up, In, and Out” relationships. Breen and Cockram use Mic. 6:8 as the paradigm: “Act justly” (Out), “Love mercy” (In), and “Walk humbly with your God” (Up) (KL 1080). They challenge Christians simultaneously to leave their comfort zones to seek out the lost (Out) and establish communities characterized by intimacy and accountability (In), both, without compromising a deep, personal relationship with God (Up).

3. Rhythm of Life: “The Semicircle Pendulum of Rest and Work”

Breen and Cockram lament that “We have become human ‘doings’ rather than human ‘beings’” (KL 1300), and argue that we need a Biblical framework for rest and work. To this end, the “Semicircle Pendulum” describes seasons of fruitfulness followed by seasons of abiding (KL 1399). Breen and Cockram write that bearing fruit is supposed to be natural, just as vines don’t strain to push out grapes. The reason why we strain to produce fruit, they argue, is because we do not have proper seasons of abiding wherein we cease activity and rest (KL 1414). Specifically, Breen and Cockram advocate breaking the day down into “eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, four hours engaging, and four hours disengaging” (KL 1468). They also highlight the need for extended times of retreat for resting in the presence of God (Mk. 1:12-13) (KL 1487), as well as daily times of quiet resting (Mk. 1:35-39) (KL 1496).

4. Multiplying Life: “The Square of Discipleship Multiplication”

Drawing from his discipling experience, Breen and Cockram observe four levels of disciples (D1, D2, D3, D4) and the appropriate leadership style for each (L1, L2, L3, L4) (KL 1547). The confidence/enthusiasm of the disciples is inversely proportionate to the leader’s consensus/explanation, and the competence/experience of the disciples is inversely proportionate to the leader’s direction/example.

D1=high confidence/enthusiasm, low competence/experience (Mk. 1:15-20).
L1=high direction/example, low consensus/explanation
“I do, you watch”
This is the first stage of discipleship where the disciples are excited about the new idea and purpose in their lives but have little competence (KL 1564-1572).

D2=low confidence/enthusiasm, low competence/experience (Lk. 12:32-34)
L2=high direction/example, high consensus/explanation
“I do, you help”
This is when the excitement begins to die down and discouragement creeps in (KL 1622-1639). Breen and Cockram add that D2 is the most important stage of development for disciples. The leaders need to be highly accessible at this point and emphasize the grace of God.

D3=low confidence/enthusiasm, high competence/experience (Jn. 15:12-17)
L3=low direction/example, high consensus/explanation
“You do, I help”
The leaders need to highlight the sovereignty of God at this point (KL 1691).

D4=high confidence/enthusiasm, high competence/experience (Mt. 28:18-20)
L4=low direction/example, low consensus/explanation
“You do, I watch”
By this stage, the disciples’ confidence and enthusiasm are no longer a fledgling bud, but a full-bloom flower rooted in the gospel. This is when the disciples are released to go and do likewise (KL 1736).

The leadership styles presented by Breen and Cockram mirror the three leadership styles first noted by psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1939: Authoritarian (Autocratic), Participative (Democratic), and Delegative (Laissez-Faire). The Scriptural references adduced in the book are only tangentially, if at all, related to these various leadership styles, and thus this LifeShape seems to be derived more from general revelation than from special revelation.

5. Personal Calling: “The Fivefold Ministries Pentagon”

The “Pentagon” is a visual mnemonic for remembering the fivefold ministries specified in Eph. 4:7, 11-13 (KL 1820). Breen and Cockram assert that every Christian is equipped to serve as at least one of the following:

Apostles – Visionary individuals who are always pioneering into new territory, initiating new churches, ministries, etc. (KL 1843)
Prophets – Perceptive individuals with the ability to foretell and forth-tell God’s revelation in specific circumstances (KL 1853).
Evangelists – Personable individuals who enjoy spending time with and sharing the gospel with non-Christians (KL 1872).
Pastors – Empathetic individuals who care for, comfort, and encourage God’s people (KL 1890).
Teachers – Analytical individuals who delight in explaining and applying the Scriptures for others (KL 1903).

Breen and Cockram teach that every Christian has a “base,” or primary, ministry, but may still be called to engage in “phase,” or secondary, ministries for certain periods (KL 1920). They note that prophets, pastors, and teachers have a natural preference for stability and tend to be introverted (KL 1990), while apostles and evangelists have a predilection for flexibility and tend to be extroverted (KL 2016). This diagram is helpful, but it can be misleading because it conflates spiritual offices with spiritual gifts. First, the Apostles were those commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself to establish churches where they previously did not exist (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 9:2; 15:8). There may be people with apostolic gifts, but they are not Apostles. Second, while any Christian with the gift of prophecy can occasionally prophesy (1 Cor. 14:31), there are those who are officially designated as Prophets in local churches (Acts 13:1; 15:31; 21:9; 1 Cor. 14:32). Third, while all Christians are called to evangelize (Matthew 28:18-20), there are Evangelists (Acts 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5) who are to devote themselves entirely to the task of doing, and equipping others for, evangelism. Similarly, every Christian is called to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), but the Teaching Pastors (this designation is to be preferred since, in Eph. 4, the “Pastor” and “Teacher” are combined under a single definite article) were officially recognized as such and compensated for their work (Acts 13:1; Gal. 6:6; 1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Tim. 5:17). Therefore, not every Christian is called to fulfill one of the five ministerial offices. Rather, the emphasis in Eph. 4:11-12 is that God “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” themselves as gifts to the Church so that they might “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The spiritual gifts are distributed to each Christian (Eph. 4:7; 1 Cor. 12), but spiritual offices are given only to some for the purpose of equipping all for ministry.

6. Definitive Prayer: “The Hexagon of Lord’s Prayer”

The “Hexagon” is a way to teach the Lord’s Prayer as a model for our prayers (Luke 11:1-4; Matthew 6:9-15). It is based on the Father’s Character, and pleads for the Father’s Kingdom, Provision, Forgiveness, Guidance, and Protection (KL 2142). This LifeShape is instructive, although the Father’s Guidance and Protection really belong in the same category: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).

7. Spiritual Health: “The Heptagon: Seven Signs of Life”


Breen and Cockram suggest that the seven signs of living organisms, namely Respiration (Prayer), Sensitivity (Fivefold Ministries), Growth, Reproduction, Excretion (Repentance), Nutrition (Obedience), and Movement (Delegation/Distribution of Authority), ought to characterize a living Church (1 Peter 2:4-5). They argue that these are “a useful diagnostic tool for assessing the spiritual health of those you disciple and the ministries they lead” (KL 2219). The connection between the signs of living organisms and the signs of a living church appears promising at first, but the strained analogy disappoints. For example, the word “respiration” does not naturally suggest “prayer,” nor “nutrition” “obedience.” Here, the LifeShape begins to feel less like a mnemonic and more like a gimmick. Instead of serving as a visual aid, the “Heptagon” is a visual distraction.The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church is a superior model for assessing the vitality of a church.

8. Relational Mission: “The Octagon: Finding the Person of Peace”

The final LifeShape, the “Octagon,” is a way to teach evangelism based on the “Person of Peace” principle found in Luke 10 (KL 2424). Breen and Cockram posit that God has already prepared Persons of Peace who are receptive to the gospel, and that our job in evangelism is to identify these Persons of Peace rather than belaboring the issue with those whom God has not called (KL 2431-2499). There is a time for sowing and a time for reaping.

The eight principles for unlocking, or discovering, the Persons of Peace are:

  1. Presence: We are to model the Presence of Jesus in people’s lives by showing kindness and speaking encouragement (KL 2524).
  2. Passing Relationships: For people we come across only once or twice in our lives, our objective is to plant seeds in hopes that others will water and that God will give the harvest in the future (1 Corinthians 3:6) (KL 2533).
  3. Permanent Relationships: Evangelizing our friends and family may take a long time. It is important at this point to watch, wait, and pray, rather than trying to force the issue prematurely (KL 2540).
  4. Proclamation: In proclamation, we invite a person to faith in Christ. This is one way to identify Persons of Peace (KL 2549).
  5. Preparation: Breen and Cockram utilize the Engel Scale as an example to show that there are various stages of preparation for non-believers. Some are closer to faith than others.
  6. Power: This is a method which uses “awe as evangelism,” through miraculous healings and such (KL 2569).
  7. Perception: This is what Peter Wagner calls “testing the soil,” and calls for spiritual discernment regarding individuals and situations in evangelism (KL 2576).

This LifeShape is also less than helpful because it confuses several categorical axes. First, there is the context of evangelism (passing and permanent relationships), then there is the method of evangelism (presence, proclamation, and power), and finally there’s the measure of evangelism (preparation and perception). Lumping them all into the same diagram with unclear, even if alliterative, headings muddles the Person of Peace principle. Moreover, there’s only seven sides to this Octagon…

Notwithstanding my fuss over minutiae, Building a Discipling Culture is an excellent practical resource if you want to learn about discipleship. Breen and Cockram have a knack for presenting nuggets of insight with memorable alliterations and catchy phrases. Consequently, the discipling model proposed in their book is extraordinarily simple and reproducible. It has, and will continue to, serve the Church well. However, if you are looking for a theologically-nuanced and comprehensive book on discipleship, this is not one. For example, it does not include ways to teach Scripture study or theology, and omits other essential spiritual disciplines such as fasting and silence. It also tends to assume that the gospel is central to discipleship, rather than accentuating its importance. Discipleship that is not properly grounded in the gospel can degenerate into pragmatic legalism. One would be wise also to consult Jonathan Dodson’s Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Buy Building a Discipling Culture HERE.

10 Thoughts on Evangelism from Luke 10

Luke 10:1-12
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

  1. Evangelism Is for Everyone (Initiative/Frontier Evangelism)
    • Despite our many trepidations, evangelism is for everyone. In Luke 10:1, Jesus does not send out his “elite” twelve disciples for the task of evangelism. He sends out the wider group of seventy-two disciples to evangelize from town to town–to people they have never met. This shows us that evangelism is not just for vocational ministers or for those with “the gift of evangelism.” To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus, and every disciple is called to be a part of the Great Commission to make more disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). The Christian journey does not end at conversion. It begins there. Every Christian needs to be brought to a point where they are evangelizing and discipling others in various degrees.
  2. Evangelism Is for All Nations
    • Why did Jesus send seventy-two? Genesis Chapter 10 begins with the sentence “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.” Then, it lists 72 descendants of Noah, and concludes in verse 31 that “These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” Hence, this chapter is known as “The Table of the Nations.” Thus the 72 who are sent out in Luke 10 symbolize going to all nations (i.e. not political entities but ethnic/people groups). Moreover, we are explicitly commanded to go to all nations in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
  3. Evangelism Is for the Church (Corporate/Community Evangelism)
    • Jesus sends out his disciples “two by two” (Luke 10:1), because he knows that we cannot do evangelism alone. “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him–a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). We need support and accountability from the Church body. We also need at least two witnesses to establish authentic testimony (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1), and God is among us “where two or three are gathered in [His] name” (Matthew 18:20). Finally, in John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our love for one another is what shows all people that we are God’s disciples. Therefore, in order to showcase our love for another, we need to do evangelism in community. This is the main thesis of George Hunter III’s book The Celtic Way of Evangelism. The Roman Way dictated that a person had to believe in order to belong, while the Celtic Way reversed this and allowed non-Christians to belong so that they may believe. We need to invite non-Christians into our lives so that our Christian faith is evidenced in our love for one another.
  4. Evangelism Needs More Workers (Which Requires More Prayer)
    • Luke 10:2 make clears that we don’t need more harvest, we need more workers. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” So we are commanded to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” As Robert Coleman argues, “there is no use to pray vaguely for the world. The world is lost and blind in sin. The only hope for the world is for laborers to go to them with the gospel of salvation” (Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism, p. 102). More specifically, we need to pray for open doors and boldness for ourselves so that we can become these workers (Colossians 4:3-4; Ephesians 6:19-20). We also need to pray for people’s salvation (Acts 26), because doing so impresses us with the weight of human souls and makes us more sensitive to opportunities for evangelism. This is an urgent task (Luke 10:4), regardless of one’s views on election and divine sovereignty.
  5. Evangelism Depends on God
    • Though we need more workers, the success of evangelism ultimately depends on God, because He is “the Lord of the harvest” (Luke 10:2). No one can come to God unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). As J.I. Packer elaborates: “It is not right when we regard ourselves as responsible for securing converts, and look to our own enterprise and techniques to accomplish what only God can accomplish. To do that is to intrude ourselves into the office of the Holy Ghost, and to exalt ourselves as the agents of the new birth. And the point that we must see is this: only by letting our knowledge of God’s sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in His service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault. For where we are not consciously relying on God, there we shall inevitably be found relying on ourselves” (J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, p. 29). Given this framework, we are not disappointed when our evangelism does not end in conversion, because the harvest is God’s business. We might be invited to scatter seeds of the gospel on the ground, or to water the seeds that have been planted, and night and day, whether we sleep or get up, the seeds sprout and grow, though we do not know how (Mark 4:26-29). This is why the whole concept of the “person of peace” is so practical. Luke 10:6 teaches us to identify persons of peace–those who are open to the gospel proclamation. God has already prepared persons of peace for us, we simply need to find them and reap the harvest.
  6. Evangelism Brings Persecution
    • Jesus does not pull punches when he says, “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). We are to be living “signs” of what the Lamb of God has accomplished on the cross. This means that we are called to sacrificial, suffering witness. In Colossians 1:24, Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Through suffering, we “fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” This does not mean that Christ’s atonement is incomplete, but that through our suffering, we become the present, physical manifestations of Christ’s afflictions on behalf of the Church and for the sake of the world (cf. Philippians 2:30). Revelation 6:11 also tells us that the end will not come “until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” This means that a specific (albeit unknown) number of Christian martyrs must be met before the arrival of the New Heavens and the New Earth. There’s no way around this. Christians are meant to be suffering witnesses. Heed the words of Jesus: “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
  7. Evangelism Involves Bearing the Gospel We Share
    • We are to declare “Peace to this house” when we evangelize (Luke 10:5-6). We cannot say “Peace to this house” unless we possess that peace. “Peace,” or “Shalom,” implies the presence of God that makes a person whole. This peace, or wholeness, comes only from knowing the Prince of Peace. Therefore, healthy evangelism wells out of our own faithful commitment to Christ rather than out of calculated methodologies. Because we have been saved and transformed by God’s grace, we are not judgmental or moralistic in our evangelism (the judgment that Jesus pronounces in Luke 10:12-15 is His unique prerogative not ours). “The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians — when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.” (Joseph Aldrich, Lifestyle Evangelism,p. 21)
  8. Evangelism Is Relational (Lifestyle/Relational Evangelism)
    • There’s a reason why Jesus tells us, “Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house” (Luke 10:7). It’s because we need to connect with and build relationships with the people we are evangelizing. This is not to say that we can only evangelize those we personally know, but that is one of the ways. Evangelism is not a pitch, it stems from genuine love and care. People generally “don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care” (Joseph Aldrich, Lifestyle Evangelism, p. 79). You don’t need to steer every conversation into an evangelistic sermon, simply be honest and open about your faith, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). If we refuse to compartmentalize our lives into “spiritual” and “secular” realms, what we are most passionate about (hopefully the gospel), will ooze out naturally. When there is an opening to share about your faith, do so unashamedly (Romans 1:16), and don’t forget to invite them to respond to the message of the gospel.
  9. Evangelism and Outreach Are Neither Same Nor Separate (Servant/Outreach Evangelism)
    • Jesus’s instructions were: “Heal the sick … and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:9). In John 6, Jesus gave people bread to eat and declared that He is the Bread of Life. Likewise, we are to embody the gospel and proclaim the gospel. We are insincere if we do one without the other. Proclaiming the gospel is the most loving thing we can do for anyone, yet we also would not leave people we love to sickness or starvation. Social justice is not the gospel, that’s why Jesus says in John 6:26, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” However, it authenticates and represents the gospel. The two cannot be equated or separated.
  10. Evangelism Offers a Gospel That Is Contextualized Yet Countercultural
    • Jesus told his disciples to proclaim “the kingdom of God” (Luke 10:9), because their Jewish audience was already familiar with the concept of “the kingdom of God,” which means the dominion, or reign, of God. Similarly, we need to contextualize our message so that our hearers understand the gospel. The gospel must be relevant. Why does Jesus ask the Samaritan woman about her husband in John 4? It’s because the gospel in some way deals with her felt needs. This does not mean, however, that we tailor the gospel to make it more palatable to others. We must not give the false impression that the gospel is about satisfying people’s felt needs, because often people are unaware of their deepest spiritual needs. Yet the gospel is universally, and always, relevant, so we need to surface appropriate needs and demonstrate how the gospel meets those needs.
    • It is also important to ensure that the gospel we offer is not syncretistic. The gospel critiques all cultures and demands repentance and faith. To those who receive the gospel, we are to declare “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9), but to those who reject the gospel, we are to declare “The kingdom of God has come near” (Luke 10:10), but not to them. Without renunciation of one’s sinful ways, there can be no true repentance, faith, or inclusion in the Kingdom of God. We must not “subtract the messy parts of the gospel about crucifixion, sin and repentance,” and we must not add “be moral, do good deeds, get educated, become religious, belong to a certain denomination” (J. Mack Stiles, Marks of the Messenger, p. 26-27). Christianity is not about a feel-good, easy-believism. It’s not about health, wealth, or prosperity. It’s about repentance and faith.

Why I Am Excited About Church Planting

Many view church planting as unnecessary at best and schismatic at worst. They raise these common objections:

  1. There are already enough churches to meet the needs of the community.
  2. The number of church-goers is decreasing and church planting will siphon away more of the market share from existing churches.
  3. Quality, not quantity, is the matter with churches, and therefore efforts should be directed at helping struggling churches and not to founding new churches.

These objections have an air of irrefutable logic, but they are simply inconsistent with the facts. The truth of the matter is that church planting is the single most effective way to fulfill the Great Commission by reaching the unchurched and stimulating growth in existing churches (Peter Wagner, Strategies for Growth, p. 168).

Church planting fosters authentic community and discipleship.

Jesus commanded us to “make disciples of all nations and… [baptize] them” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism signifies initiation into a community of believers (Acts 2:41-47), and discipleship requires accountability and guidance that only a community of believers can provide (James 5:19-20). Many traditional modes of evangelism (i.e. evangelistic crusades, outreach programs, etc.) are oriented around an individual’s “decision” to become a Christian, and sometimes this practice degenerates into a form of easy-believism that creates a false impression that the recitation of the Sinner’s Prayer is the climax of a Christian’s walk with God—when really, it is only a beginning (Matthew 13:3-23). Evangelism via church planting ensures that each new believer is nurtured unto fruition within a community of faith. In fact, church planting is such an effective method of evangelism that Apostle Paul considered his ministry of preaching the Gospel complete after he had planted churches by appointing elders in a given region (Titus 1:4; Romans 15:19, 23).

Church planting attracts visionaries and fuels innovation.

One may still question the relevance of the above arguments, since they pertain to the Apostolic era when there were no extant churches. However, the practical benefits of church planting are no less valid today. Older churches naturally develop congregational habits (i.e. order of service, length of service, liturgy, leadership style, emotional responsiveness, etc.)–a certain ethos that comes to define the congregation. As the church grows older, it becomes more and more difficult to deviate from these entrenched norms, and the younger generation, new residents, and emerging people groups often have trouble identifying with them. On the other hand, new church plants are more likely to adapt to the changing demographics. Furthermore, while older congregations emphasize tenure, tradition, and kinship ties in their leadership, new church plants attract entrepreneurial leaders that value risk and creativity. Thus, new church plants are far more effective in reaching new social groups and “outsiders,” and in empowering new leaders that otherwise would not have had a chance to serve the Church (Tim Keller, Why Plant Churches, p. 1-2).

Church planting reaches out to the unreached and the unchurched.

Studies have also shown, time and time again, that the average new church draws most of its new members (60-80%) from the un-churched (those who have no history of connection to churches) and the de-churched (those who, for some reason or another, have ceased going to church), while the church that is 10-15 years old add 80-90% of its new members by transfer from other churches (D. McGavran & G. Hunger, Church Growth: Strategies That Work, p. 100). Statistically, this means that a new church will yield 6-8 times more neophytes than an older church of the same size. While it may sound far-fetched, it is logical that a new church, which by necessity must focus on the needs of its non-members, is more effective at reaching the unchurched than an older church, which sensibly caters to its existing members.

Church planting promotes the renewal of existing churches. 

This is not to neglect the existing churches that are struggling. It is surely a false dichotomy that says we must choose either church planting or church renewal. In fact, church planting is a highly effective way to renew existing churches for several reasons. First, older congregations are typically more wary of implementing new ideas and visions, but new church plants tend to be more innovative and daring. For this reason, the church plants serve as beta versions of sorts, and the older churches can emulate their successes and/or steer clear of their mistakes. Hence the new church plants provide opportunities for the older churches to reevaluate their vision and mission strategy. Second, new church plants expose and challenge self-centered churches. Sometimes churches, like Jesus’ disciples, are preoccupied with their own glory rather than the glory of God (Luke 9:46-50). When church plants attract some people out of existing churches (as they invariably do despite the fact that they gain up to 80% of their members from the unchurched), the churches that are not Kingdom-minded react defensively and betray their narrow self-interests, rather than rejoicing in the great number of new people that have joined the Church. Thus church plants are instrumental in challenging and renewing existing churches.

Church planting has historically increased the total number of Christians.

In 1820, there was a church for every 875 people in the U.S., but due to prolific church planting, there was a church for every 430 people by around 1914 (Lyle Schaller, 44 Questions for Church Planters, pp. 14-26 as qtd. in Tim Keller, Why Plant Churches, p. 6). Thanks to this effort, the percentage of “religious adherents” rose from 17% of the U.S. population to 53% from 1776 to 1916 (Roger Finke & Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990, p. 16 as qtd. in Tim Keller, Why Plant Churches, p. 6). Unfortunately, the number of churches per 1,000 people has been declining since WWI. If we want the Church in the U.S. to start growing again, we need to start planting more churches.

That’s what excites me about church planting. I hope it excites you too!

Gospel-Centered Discipleship

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Dodson, Jonathan K. Gospel-Centered Discipleship. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.
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What is the difference between evangelism and discipleship? The common answer is that evangelism is converting non-Christians while discipleship is maturing those who are already Christians. However, Jonathan Dodson argues that this is an artificial division, since both evangelism and discipleship are about proclaiming the gospel–that Jesus lived a perfect life, died for our sins, then defeated death in His resurrection, so that we can be justified, sanctified, and glorified in Him. The gospel is not a once-in-a-lifetime vaccine, but our daily remedy for sin’s corrosive influence. As Dodson puts it, “persistent, unrepentant sin can disqualify us from the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5; Heb. 3:7-13). God does not accept us as we are. He accepts us as we are in Christ” (127). Therefore, Christians need to fight to believe the Gospel everyday. We need to abide in Christ. 

But is Dodson’s definition Biblical? What about the Great Commission? Isn’t “mak[ing] disciples of all nations” about “going and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [Jesus has] commanded [us]” (Mt. 28:18-20)? Where does he get the “gospel” from all this? Dodson notes that the Great Commission begins with Jesus’s statement that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and ends with his promise, “surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Hence, the main point of the Great Commission is not “to go (in [our] effort), but that we are sent (under Jesus’s authority and in Jesus’s power)” (32). Therefore, Dodson continues, the Great Commission is a Gospel Commission to “make and mature disciples by going with the gospel, baptizing disciples into gospel community, and teaching the gospel” (35). In other words, a Christian disciple is someone who learns the gospel, relates in the gospel, and communicates the gospel (38).

After thus defining “discipleship” in Part I of his book, Dodson unpacks how the gospel transforms the motivation for, and the application of, discipleship in Part II and III, respectively. He makes the keen observation that the motivation for Christian discipleship generally falls under two categories: (1) religious performance (i.e. legalism) and (2) spiritual license (i.e. antinomianism). Those in the first camp can be inwardly-oriented toward spiritual performance (e.g. Bible reading, prayer, fasting, speaking in tongues, moral behavior), or outwardly-oriented toward missional performance (e.g. evangelism, community service, social justice) (70). In either case, they behave as if their religious performance determined God’s approval. However, human religious performance is inadequate and unreliable, and therefore this view leads to spiritual insecurity and instability. On the other hand, those who are motivated by spiritual license behave as if they are above rule-keeping, leading to moral degeneration and apathy.

Dodson contends that the proper motivation for discipleship is not religious performance or spiritual license, but the gospel. The gospel teaches us that we do not need to win God’s approval with our religious performance, because “the performance of Jesus in his perfect life, death, and resurrection” has already won God’s approval for us (71). The gospel also teaches us that we are not free to disobey because spiritual “license” is really spiritual bondage to sin. “The religious are bound to keeping rules, and the rebellious are bound to breaking rules. The gospel, however, tells us that we are bound, not to rules, but to Christ” (73). When we truly grasp the gospel, we develop a religious affection, a “gospel-centered delight in God [that] … compels us to follow Jesus, not because we have to, but because we get to” (cf. Jn. 14:15; Ps. 37:4; Deut. 28:47-48) (76).

Then, what does Dodson recommend for those who do not feel this religious affection? Should they resign themselves to disobedience since being motivated by religious performance is a bad thing? Dodson adds an important qualification when he says that “faith also includes trusting God when we don’t desire him” (80). When our hearts refuse to delight in God, we need to galvanize our hearts with God’s promises and warnings and obey anyway (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5). The difference between this and religious performance is that when we repent, “We turn from our sinful behaviors and turn, not to good behaviors, but to Christ” (84). This sort of repentance leads us to treasure Christ rather than treasure our moral/spiritual triumphs. We obey even when we don’t feel like it, not for the sake of doing right, but for the sake of loving Christ.

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In the end, of course, no amount of human exertion can produce religious affection. As Dodson’s diagram above shows, the Holy Spirit is instrumental in this whole process. “The Spirit regenerates us so that our lifeless hearts can beat for God in lives of obedient worship and adoration of the Lord Jesus Christ” (90). For this reason, Dodson writes that we need to commune with the Holy Spirit by praying to Him and addressing Him throughout the day (98). This might seem unorthodox to some, but Dodson is not suggesting that praying to the Holy Spirit is more efficacious for Spirit-empowerment than praying to the Father or to the Son. Rather, he is saying that the practice of addressing the Holy Spirit helps us recognize the Holy Spirit as a Person and increase our awareness of His promptings in our lives. As Dodson wisely notes, “as Westerners we easily mistake the presence of the Spirit for our own conscience or ‘enlightened’ reason. When we make this mistake, we easily dismiss the promptings of the Spirit as mere rational options,” and “When we depersonalize the Spirit, it becomes much easier to disobey or deny the Lord. When we reduce the promptings of Spirit to options, we miss out on communion with God.” (100)

In addition to changing our motivation for discipleship, the gospel changes our application of discipleship. An example that Dodson provides is that of a Fight Club, which is the name for gospel-centered discipleship groups at Austin City Life Church where Dodson is the pastor. Fight clubs are made up of two to three Christians of the same gender that meet regularly to help one another fight sin and believe the gospel of grace (121). In these groups, they ask three questions, “What,” “When,” and “Why?” to expose and fight sin (122). I’ve been in many accountability groups that ask the first two questions in order to identify the sin and locate the lairs of temptation. However, I have seen very few small groups that ask the question “Why?” This last question is critical because “it gets to the motivation behind our sin; it addresses the heart. No one ever sins out of duty. We all sin because we want to, because our hearts long for something” (124). Some common deceptions include lust (i.e. “If you find sexual intimacy on the Internet, then you won’t be lonely or stressed”), vanity (i.e. “If you perform beautifully, then you have worth”), pride (i.e. “If you received more compliments, then you would be more confident”), and anger (i.e. “If you get angry, you can get your way”) (124). By comparing the promises of sin to the promises of the gospel, we can “[see] the futility of sin next to the beauty of Christ” (135). The gospel tells us that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5-6). The gospel tells us that our worth is inherent in the fact that we have been created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-28) (55). The gospel tell us that God is sovereignly in control when we are not (Prov. 16:1-4). This emphasis on the gospel radically transforms our practice of discipleship. Instead of meting out graduated penalties or dispensing cheap grace and cheap peace for a troubled conscience, gospel discipleship forces us to examine our hearts and bolster our faith (66). As the (Reformed) Puritans understood so well, the failure to persevere in faith results in eternal damnation, not less sanctification, because, as John Piper writes in Future Grace, “the battle against sin is a battle against unbelief” (330-331).

Gospel-Centered Discipleship is not really a how-to book on discipleship like Mike Breen and Steve Cockram’s Building a Discipling Culture. Rather, it’s a theological exposition that undergirds the structure of discipleship with the gospel. Those familiar with Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections, Tim Keller’s teaching on gospel motivation, or John Piper’s writings on Christian hedonism will not find new insight in this book. However, everyone will find a compelling and practical application of the ageless gospel to the task of discipleship.

Buy Gospel-Centered Discipleship HERE.

Watch Me

The sermon I preached at King of Grace Church on June 10th, 2012.

“Imitate those who hope in Christ.” LISTEN

Philippians 3:17-21
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.