Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Discipleship: Education is Everyone’s Responsibility

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

I believe that education is everyone’s responsibility, however; there is an old saying that states that if something is everyone’s responsibility, then it is really no one’s responsibility at all. This statement emphasizes that if something is important, then someone in particular should be tasked with accomplishing the goal at hand, or it won’t get done. The truth of this saying has more to do with the reality that people assume that someone else is going to take on a task if everyone is responsible for it and are supposed to do it. Instead of charging ahead with their individual responsibility or role, people tend to relax on their laurels. The goal at hand is not accomplished. The communal responsibility of education is affected by this phenomenon as well. What is everyone’s responsibility has indeed turned out to be a few people’s undertaking. This is the tragedy of the commons revisited.

The tragedy of the commons is an interesting phenomenon that asserts that holding property, or responsibility, in common leads to tragedy in that common area, or area of responsibility. For instance, if there is a common use area of a house that is held in common use by multiple users or the public, like a kitchen or a bathroom, this common area is more likely to become neglected by the masses before say-­­a bedroom where the single owner is more likely to take pride in, or responsibility for, that area. The commonly used or public area is more likely to be abused or neglected. It is left un-cleaned and cluttered. The task of managing this area is left undone. Everyone’s responsibility becomes no one’s action. This is the tragedy of the commons. The spiritual formation of our children, youth, and adults are also tragically being neglected. Discipleship in our churches has experienced the tragedy of the commons. While education is everyone’s responsibility, not everyone is taking care of that common area of responsibility and all of us, our churches, and our communities are suffering because of it.

This is the case with education, or discipleship. Discipleship is everyone’s responsibility, yet not everyone participates in discipleship, or education. The result is tragic. The assumption is that someone else will educate our children, youth, or adults. When the community ceases to educate, education suffers in our communities. The responsibility is abdicated. We have moved from a biblical understanding that teaching is supposed to be done by everyone everywhere, starting in the home with parents, and we have leaned on a westernized and modern view of education, which puts “professionals” at the helm of responsibility for teaching. We have, in effect, outsourced education to a few overwhelmed and overworked pastors and teachers, and youth and children’s ministers. Meanwhile, we are relinquishing parents and congregations and the community of their corporate responsibility.

Reggie McNeal, in his praise for Building Faith at Home, says: “When our culture went to the service economy, American families outsourced cooking, cleaning, lawn maintenance-and spiritual formation. We decided that staff and programs at the church could take care of bringing our children up in the faith.” I am in agreement with McNeal. This is a colossal mistake. Education is everyone’s responsibility, not just the pastor’s, the children’s minister, the youth minister, or any other ministry head or leader. Education and discipleship is everyone’s responsibility.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the scripture passage above, Moses records the Shema, “Hear, Oh Israel . . .” Later, Jesus himself quotes these verses as being the pinnacle of all the law and stated that the entire law could be summed up in this statement, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength (Matt. 22:37-40).” Moses goes on to record how God tells us we are to remember His commandments, His most important law, and how we are to teach them in Deuteronomy 6:5-9. God says that we (all of us) are to hold His law in our own hearts first by knowing and obeying them ourselves. Next, we are to write the laws of God on our hearts. Then, we are to teach God’s laws to our children by talking with them in our homes, by talking about them as we walk in our communities, and when we lie down to sleep, and when we wake up. Finally, we are to write God’s laws down on our hands, foreheads, and doorposts. Some people have taken these final commands literally and have done just this, but this is more symbolic in that we are supposed to incorporate God’s laws and teachings into every facet of our lives, at all times, and we are all supposed to teach about God and His law everywhere, in all circumstances and contexts.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary says it this way: To love the Lord means to choose Him for an intimate relationship and to obey His commands. This command is to love Him. Loving Him was, and is to be wholehearted, with all our hearts, and was to pervade every aspect of an Israelite’s being and life, their soul and strength. In verses 6:6-9, God’s people were responsible to meditate on these commandments, to keep them in their hearts. This enabled them to understand the Law and to apply it correctly. Then the parents were in a position to impress them on their children’s hearts also. The moral and biblical education of the children was accomplished best not in a formal teaching period each day, or week, but when the parents, out of concern for their own lives as well as their children’s, made God and His Word the natural topic of a conversation. This conversation might occur anywhere and anytime during the day and in many contexts. The commands to tie the laws and write them were taken literally by some later Jewish readers. However, the commands are probably emphasizing symbolically the need for the continual teaching of the Law. In other words, education is everyone’s responsibility, and it starts with us and occurs naturally throughout all our lives.

Ivy Beckwith, in Postmodern Children’s Ministry, states that the corporate nature of education is not being program driven, but being relational in a community. She asserts, “The spiritual formation of children is never about how many programs a church has or even about the quality of those programs. It is about the attitudes and quality of the people the children interact with and the overall spiritual and relational quality of the community of faith (Beckwith).” Discipleship and educational responsibility is everyone’s and it is a mindset that everyone must have, or develop, in order to effectively educate in our churches and our communities. None of us are exempt from this responsibility.

Education is a monumental task and responsibility of extreme importance that requires commitment from all of us to execute it the way that God intended us to. This responsibility begins with our own knowledge of God and obedience to God and should then move to our children, our communities, and ultimately to the world. May we recognize our responsibility to be corporate and communal educators. Would we avoid the tragedy of not educating our selves and others about God and enter into true communal spiritual formation. Let us take on the corporate responsibility of education and discipleship together!


Works Cited

Beckwith, Ivy. Postmodern Children’s Ministry: Ministry to Children in the 21st Century. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. © 2004, p. 164.

Holmen, Mark A. Building Faith at Home: Why faith at Home Must Be Your Churches #1 Priority. Ventura, CA.: Regal Books, © 2007, p.

The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Dt 6:4-9

Walvoord, John F. ; Zuck, Roy B. ; Dallas Theological Seminary: The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1983-c1985, S. 1:274

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Where Discipleship Happens

“Make disciples of all nations.” –Jesus, Matthew 28:19

“And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”

– Acts 1:8, The Message

Discipleship happens within us, here, there, over there, and everywhere.

Acts 1:8

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In the great commission, in Matthew 28:18-19, Jesus calls His followers, His Disciples, to make disciples of all nations. Jesus’ declaration to make Himself known to all people is repeated before His ascension in Acts 1:8 when He challenges followers to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world. This idea of being a witness, according to the Bible Readers Companion, refers to “A person who ‘gives evidence,’ basing his or her testimony concerning actual events on direct, personal knowledge. The apostles gave this kind of evidence concerning Christ’s life and resurrection. You and I can give this kind of evidence concerning God’s work in our lives.” This is a profound beginning to where discipleship begins. Being a witness, or teaching what we know begins with God’s Holy Spirit at work in us and us knowing the God we are proclaiming. Another way of saying this is, “Discipleship begins with God’s Spirit and us being Jesus’ disciples. Discipleship happens within us first.

After the challenge of Jesus to be His witnesses, Jesus begins to tell His followers where this is supposed to take place: in Jerusalem, all over Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world. The author of Acts, Luke, is outlining what he already knows occurred with the spread of the gospel. Luke records Jesus’ words because he knew that people followed Jesus’ word and disciples were indeed made of all nations. People were Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world. The rest of Acts documents the spread of the gospel in this same sequence. The Bible Readers Companion goes on to describe that this verse outlines a pattern of how the gospel spread, “There is a pattern, this verse contains a rough outline of the book (Acts), which tells of the Gospel’s spread in Jerusalem, Samaria, and the world.” The Tyndale Reference Library also tracks with this account of Acts 1:8 saying it “Provides the outline for the entire book: (1) witness in Jerusalem (2:5–8:3), (2) witness in Judea and Samaria (8:4–12:25), and (3) witness in the Mediterranean world (13:1–28:31). The Spirit’s function was to provide power for witness worldwide.”

If you look on a map of the Holy Land in the time of Christ, you see that Judea is south of Jerusalem, where the disciples were assembled together (Acts 1:4), and Samaria is north of Jerusalem. We also know that the Samaritans to the north were a despised people, enemies, and a mixed breed. They were considered some of the lowest of the lowly, yet Jesus desired for His disciples to be witnesses to them as well. The utter most parts of the earth, according to The Bible Knowledge Commentary, was probably referring to Rome. The author states, “’The ends of the earth’ looks to Rome, the proud center of world civilization in the Apostolic Age, a significant distance from Jerusalem (more than 1,400 miles, as the crow flies).” Rome symbolized what the disciples, and the world at that time, saw as the pinnacle destination; The Place. This geographic location represented to them the culmination of everyone and everything that was important and powerful; it was the whole world as they knew it, the very center of world civilization.

When we hear the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8, we hear Jesus saying; first, receive my Spirit’s power and enter into my resurrected life; second, be my witnesses here where you are; third, be my witnesses there in your communities; fourth, be my witnesses “over there” in the parts of town and places in your community that you may not be comfortable with; and fifth, be my witnesses everywhere, where you work, where you vacation, everywhere, even unto the ends of the earth. Jesus was saying that he wants everyone to learn about Him and to come to know Him. Jesus wants disciples of all nations; all people. No one should be left out or left behind. This is where discipleship is supposed to happen by the power and presence of His Holy Spirit: with us, here, there, over there, and everywhere.

May we be His disciples by His Holy Spirit, witnessing in every place we find ourselves through His Glorious Power and Holy Spirit at work in us!


Works Cited

Hughes, Robert B. ; Laney, J. Carl: Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2001 (The Tyndale Reference Library), S. 496

The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Acts 1:8

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Acts 1:8

Richards, Lawrence O.: The Bible Readers Companion. electronic ed. Wheaton : Victor Books, 1991; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996, S. 708

Walvoord, John F. ; Zuck, Roy B. ; Dallas Theological Seminary: The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1983-c1985, S. 2:354

Friday, December 11, 2009

Community in Discipleship: You Cannot Be a Disciple Alone

Acts 2:41-47

"That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved."

In the book of Acts we get a clear picture of the growth of the early church. The growth in the early church did not occur in any individual in isolation. Growth occurs in community. This is what we see in Acts, a community that grew together. In Acts chapter 2 we see the results of God’s power through a sermon preached by Peter where thousands come to know and to follow Jesus from his simple challenge, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).”

Note, Peter did not say you change your life by yourself. He said, “Change your life by turning to God, by having your sins forgiven, by being baptized, and by receiving God’s Spirit.” In other words, “Do not go at it alone.” What happens next is astounding. The believers grew to about 3,000 and turned their lives from a self focus to a God focus. This turning from solitude and self to the triune God, God in community with Himself, turned into a community of God’s love. This community of love expressed itself in God’s love, and drew people to itself out of God’s love, in an expression of God’s love.

This happening occurred by God’s power in community in ten major manifestations of discipleship:

  1. People took Peter at his word, God’s word, and were baptized, 3000 people had faith in Jesus (surrender, obedience, and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ)
  2. They committed themselves to the apostles teaching (learning)
  3. The community continued in life together, they had fellowship (fellowship)
  4. Meals were shared together, they broke bread together, in communion (community)
  5. They prayed together and interceded for one another (prayer)
  6. All things were shared in harmony, they sold possessions and gave to those in need (generosity)
  7. They were in one accord, they were in agreement, they had solidarity (unity)
  8. They worshiped with thankfulness, gratitude, and simplicity in celebration (celebration)
  9. They praised God with joy and exuberant s (worship)
  10. People were saved and the church, the community, grew and found favor (increase)

Discipleship is communal, it cannot occur outside of community. We cannot go at it alone. These ten manifestations of discipleship, learning from and following Jesus, are communal and influence the development of disciples in the church. None of these elements: surrender, obedience, and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, learning, fellowship, community, prayer, generosity, unity, celebration, worship, and increase can occur in isolation; if for no other reason than all of these things require our connection with God. Jesus said it this way in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

This connection with God is not, however, all that is required of us. We are also called to live in community with God’s people, God’s Church. If we are truly to be disciples of our Lord, we must be abiding in Jesus in a community of His believers and followers. Jesus goes on to say this in John 15:12-14, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” Jesus calls us to, and empowers us for, a deep love for our friends, His church. We are called to a sacrificial life together that resembles God’s own sacrificial love for us. This manifestation of God’s love in community is the church. It is by this expression of love that the world comes closer to knowing the love of Christ. As Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In community discipleship happens and we all grow, but most importantly God’s church, which each of us is so vitally a part of, grows as well. People come to know Jesus as we love one another in community and grow together as God’s family. This growth is vibrant and has an astounding affect on us all, our communities, and our world; as we surrender in obedience, and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, learn together, have fellowship, enjoy community, pray together, are generous to one another, are in unity together, celebrate together, worship together, and enjoy growth and increase together.

We cannot have these fruits of discipleship and community flying solo, so may we, as the author of Hebrews states, “do it—full of belief (in Christ’s work), confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He (God) always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching (Hebrews 10:22-25).”

May we live in community together as God’s church and be His disciples as we grow together!


Woks Cited

The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Jn 15:5, Jn 15:12-14, Jn 13:35

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Ac 2:41-47, Heb 10:22-25

Taking Risks

My friend Tom Pounder writes a youth ministry blog called Not A Mega Church. Tom is really good at what he does in youth ministry and has great insights and tips for effective youth ministry. He recently posted a blog about taking risks that I think is important in life and in youth ministry. I enjoy reading Tom's work, and enjoy his friendship even more, so I though that I would share what he is up to in the youth ministry community in Northern Virginia by posting this connection. Look for posts by Tom on My Two Mites soon as we have discussed guest blogging and collaborating on some topics. More to come! In the meantime, enjoy Taking Risks.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Discipleship is Communal

"I value unity because I believe we learn truth from each other in process." -Williams

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind!" -Acts 4:32

1 Corinthians 3:5-15

“Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God’s field in which we are working. Or, to put it another way, you are God’s house. Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls. Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation! Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ. Take particular care in picking out your building materials. Eventually there is going to be an inspection. If you use cheap or inferior materials, you’ll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won’t get by with a thing. If your work passes inspection, fine; if it doesn’t, your part of the building will be torn out and started over. But you won’t be torn out; you’ll survive—but just barely.”

I was a specialty contractor for several years. I specialized in carpentry and general construction. Electrical, plumbing, masonry, and other work and specialty skills were not things that I could do well, nor did I have the passion and training to execute these tasks. Carpentry, however, was my choice job. I love working with wood and putting pieces together to create structures and finished projects that enhanced the whole job. The best projects were larger projects that I took part in, like renovations. I loved to restore and renovate old houses!

There were several whole home renovations that I participated in with my uncle John that ended in historical homes from 1923 being restored to their original beauty and luster. These renovations required my skills as a carpenter, but they also required the skills of masons, electricians, plumbers, painters, HVAC technicians, roofers, landscapers, floor refinishers, tile workers, dry wall people, bankers, realtors, and so on. It took a community of us construction workers to rebuild these homes. Not one of us could have sat on the sidelines and reproduced the same results of a finished project.

Discipleship is very much like construction in that it is communal. It takes all of us working together to make disciples of Jesus in our churches, in our communities, and in our world. In order for us to make disciples of Jesus Christ, all of us must work on the project in line with our giftedness, callings, passions, and resources. At the same time it is ultimately God that is at work and active in our growth and transformation. The person, or people, that we are discipling are being transformed and renovated, but so are we, the laborers. As we build, God builds and the transformation is a beauty and luster of what God had intended from the very beginning.

It is God, as Paul says, “Who is our foundation.” “Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ.” We are building on what God has already established and set forth. As His architects, contractors, and laborers, we use our unique skills and giftedness to build. We are God’s servants. We are his “Workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared for us beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).”

Discipleship is communal. It takes all of us working together to make disciples in our churches, in our communities, and in our world. Are we building? Are we planting? Are we watering? What are we doing to take part in making disciples of Jesus? Are we walking in the work that he has prepared for us? As we look at making disciples and as we look at participating in the great commission, what does our building look like? Can you see where your touch is needed in the life of your church and community? Can you see where the repair needs to be made, or the touch-up needs to happen, in the life of someone you know, love, and care about?

May we labor together in His grand restoration project and make disciples of Jesus together!


Works Cited

Haynes, Paul. Haynes Construction, Renovation pictures. http://www.haynesconstructionsite.com/historicrenovations.html , http://www.haynesconstructionsite.com/index.html, © 2009

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. 1 Co 3:5-15