Last week I began a description of the eighth strategic principle I have observed in effective disciple-making churches: Culturally Appropriate. Did you notice that the first part came out a day later than normal? I was trying to be culturally flexible and not my typical American Type A personality self. To be perfectly honest, the constraints of my calendar forced me to try and be “comfortable” with being late.
In my July 6th article where I introduced the eight principles, I pointed out that I have observed them in very diverse contexts: church planting, church revitalization, international missions, and inner-city ministry. I return to that reality to share with you that in these diverse cultural contexts application of these principles looked very different. A few weeks ago I was visiting with an effective disciple-maker who works in an inner-city ministry setting. He had recently been exposed to several individuals who were serving in a suburban context. Not knowing I was doing an article on culturally appropriate, he shared with me an “aha!” moment he had as he realized that how he was making disciples was—and needed to be—very different from how others were doing it. God’s timing is always perfect.
As we all seek to minister more effectively among our new immigrant communities, let me describe some missional concepts related to the culturally appropriate strategy.
● An important concept we have to keep in mind is Worldview. In this case I am not speaking of specifically of having a “Biblical” worldview. Here, I am referring to the reality that every culture will differ in how they do life. Worldview is a profile of the way the people within a specific culture live, act, think, work, and relate. It is a "map" of a culture's social, religious, economic and political views and relationships. A person’s worldview is so deeply engrained that we assume it is “the right way” to do life. There are issues that can and do impact how we relate and share the gospel with individuals whose worldview is different than ours. Understanding what is cultural and what is Biblical is not easy. Too often in our missionary enterprises we have exported as much culture as we have Gospel.
● A big issue for Americans is one I “jokingly” referred to above: We are a time conscious culture to a fault. When I add a personality quirk that requires me to maximize every minute, I end up doing time and motion studies to make sure I’m not too early (wasting time) but never late to appointments (disrespecting people). Contrast that with the majority of cultures in the world where they are just a little bit more laid back. As we are working with immigrants, we have to be willing to slow down, be genuinely interested in knowing who they are, understand why they are here, ask how we can pray for them, and ask how we can help them adapt in our country. In short, we have to practice Relational Evangelism.
● Another biggie is that cultures will vary in how they balance individual rights and responsibilities with the rights and responsibilities of the group. In America, that balance has historically been heavy on the individual rights side of the spectrum. For us rugged American individualism types from Wyoming, we are struggling as that pendulum has been swinging slowly but consistently towards the needs of the whole. An all too fresh—and very controversial—example is the tension between an individual’s right to go without a mask and without a vaccination versus the desires of the group to live without being exposed to another person’s germs.
A few years ago, I flew to a meeting and took a taxi to and from the motel. On both trips I had drivers from Eritrea and as you would suspect, I engaged the drivers in conversation. In response to what they found different in America, I will never forget that both of them talked about how hard they had to work to make a living. One expressly stated that at home he had a wealthy uncle that provided for family members. To make disciples in cultures which place a very high value on caring for family and friends it will help if we understand there will be individuals in those cultures who serve as Gatekeepers.
Missionaries sometimes call these individuals a Person of Peace (Luke 10:6). In the book of Acts we see that the centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10), and the seller of purple, Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), were individuals who opened the door to the gospel in their cultural settings. Gatekeepers can be spiritually open to the gospel themselves as were Cornelius and Lydia or they can be uninterested but non restrictive permission-givers granting us access and favor with the people in that culture.
Another excellent Biblical example of a Gatekeeper is that of Crispus in Corinth. Paul encountered significant resistance from the Jewish community (which was not unusual) but Crispus’ acceptance of the Gospel opened a significant door for belief.
They opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:6-8)
● Along with the concept of “Person of Peace,” missionaries are taught to look for Bridges and Barriers to the gospel within a particular culture. A Bridge is something within in a culture that provides a natural and easy avenue for sharing the Gospel. Barriers can be either cultural or political and at times will include both. I will share some specific examples of each in next week’s article.
In the last two articles I have pointed to some of the Biblical passages and some missional concepts related to the culturally appropriate strategic principle. Next week I will give some specific examples of how these can be applied in our day-to-day world
So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, self-sacrificing, equipping/reproduction, alignment, and intentional/proactive principles that I have observed in effective disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the Culturally Appropriate Principle. This was the last strategic principle I encountered. As a preacher, I was more than content with seven, after all it is the Biblical number of completeness and perfection.
However, when I had the privilege of sharing my list of seven principles with Jim Slack over dinner at a missions conference in central Missouri, he was very affirming of my list, but he also very quickly (and appropriately so) said you missed one: culturally appropriate. Slack passed away in late 2018. At the time he was described as “An unassuming man always in good humor, who became one of Southern Baptists’ most influential missiologists during a 50-year career with the International Mission Board.” A phrase he often used was “Hello World!” It was his enthusiastic greeting to coworkers and his exclamation whenever he learned something new.
“Hello world” is an appropriate introduction to the culturally appropriate principle. Not since the late 1800s has the United States experienced the level of immigration that we have seen take place in the last twenty years. The earlier immigration peak shifted the Christian culture in America as Catholics and Lutherans flooded into the country. In particular, they shaped the upper Midwest where they homesteaded and established (platted out) city after city and started hundreds of churches. Baptist churches existed in Nebraska long before a single Catholic or Lutheran church was established, but by the early 1900s Catholics and Lutherans made up the vast majority of our residents. Prior to that immigration period, the US was overwhelmingly Protestant. By the end of that period, the Roman Catholic Church was the largest denomination in America.
Current immigration patterns along with cultural shifts are quickly transforming us from a Christian nation into a secular, religiously pluralistic country. That reality will only expand as we bring a huge number of Afghans, who are predominantly Muslim, into our nation. Those of us who grew up in Christian culture are being faced with the reality that we must adopt the practices of the Apostle Paul.
To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews…to those who are without the law, as without law…to the weak I became weak…I became all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I Corinthians 9:20-22
A question we need to be asking is, “How do these significant changes impact our disciple-making process?” Let me suggest a couple of answers.
1. We have to realize that we will connect best with those who share our cultural background. Part of the strategy Paul used in the book of Acts was to begin at the local synagogue where he told his Jewish brethren that their long-awaited Messiah had come (Acts 13:5-6, 14-15, etc.). He built upon the foundation of a common culture and saw God establish churches everywhere he went.
2. But we can’t stop there. We have to develop a heart for all people. Acts describes the slow shift that took place as the early church began to slowly and hesitatingly understand
Jesus’ statement, “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
4. We must also be willing to adapt when we find ourselves in a cross-cultural setting. Paul did this in Athens where he addressed the elite on Mars’ Hill using an inscription on an altar that read “to the unknown god.” As is true of every encounter with someone far from God, Paul had a mixed response: “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (Acts 17:18-34).
Although it is the last principle I will discuss, it is definitely not the least important. In fact, changes in our culture demand a further expansion on this point. So stay tuned as I expand my comments next week.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, self-sacrificing, equipping/reproduction, and alignment principles that I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the intentional/proactive principle. By this, I mean leaders who have taken time and effort to discover who they are, how they are uniquely equipped by God to fulfill His purposes, and who have sought and attained alignment in their church in these critical areas. Having done that, they know that their work has only just begun. Knowing what needs to be done and doing it are two different issues. As James tells us, “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” James 4:17.
But intentional/proactive leaders in healthy churches take their intentionality to a whole new level. They pursue their strategies aggressively, intentionally, proactively, and unapologetically. They have taken time to discover their own unique giftedness and that of their leadership team as well as key church members—these were the foundational steps they used so they could define their alignment issues. With their strengths and passions in mind, they also sought out the most effective ways to connect with their community.
The Bible describes God as an intentional/proactive being. In the account of the “Fall,” God declared what scholars call the protoevangelium (first good news): “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” Genesis 3:15. Then in Genesis 12:3, God took the initiative to call Abram with the promise that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Paul describes God’s intentionality this way, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” Galatians 4:4-5. The Apostle John also understood God’s proactive nature: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” John 1:1-3 & 14.
Jim Collins in his book Good to Great1 describes this type of intentional focus as an organization’s “Hedgehog Concept.” He contrasts the mundane, routine, day-after-day focus of a hedgehog with the exciting but scattered and unpredictable life of a fox. When a church has a hedgehog focus, the main things stay the main things even when they don’t conform to the latest and greatest trends. It’s not that they are unwilling to adapt to cultural changes (that’s next week’s principle), but they know what works and more importantly why it works. The darkened area on the three-circle graphic is the area where an organization (church) will find its hedgehog concept. It is the focal point because it is where the answer to three critical questions are true: What are we doing with world-class quality? What are we doing that really excites us and stirs our passion? And what are we doing that produces Godly fruit? For a secular business, it is what can we do profitably? Effective churches know AND do!
In a book written specifically to help organizations thrive during turbulent times, Collin’s Great by Choice2 contrasts the successful polar expedition of Roald Amundsen and the failed efforts of Robert Scott’s team. In 1911 the two teams departed for the South Pole a few days apart. Scott’s team reached the Pole only to find the wind-whipped flags of their rivals planted 34 days earlier. What followed was a race for their lives—a race they lost. Collin’s noted that one of the key differences between success and survival and failure and death was Amundson’s team (like successful organizations) had “fantastic discipline.” He defined it this way: “fantastic discipline is consistency of action—consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time.”
Collins created the word SMaC to describe the type of intentional actions that effective leaders use. The acronym means Specific, Methodical, and Consistent. They describe a SMaC recipe as the operating practices that turn strategic concepts into reality. They become a set of practices more enduring than mere tactics, which will change from situation to situation. He used an illustration from the sports world to describe a SMaC recipe in action: that of the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. One player is quoted as saying, “you could have taken UCLA athletes who played in ’55. ’65, ’70, and ’75; put them on the same team; and they would have been able to play with each other instantly!” Wooden translated his “Pyramid of Success (a philosophy of life and competition) into a detailed recipe, right down to how players should tie their shoes.”
In a summary statement, Collins wrote, “We’ve found in all our research studies that the signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change; the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.” No human enterprise can succeed at the highest levels without consistency; if you bring no coherent unifying concept and disciplined methodology to your endeavors, you’ll be whipsawed by changes in your environment and cede your fate to forces outside your control. Equally true, however, no human enterprise can succeed at the highest levels without productive evolution.
I love the closing paragraph of Great by Choice because it speaks to our willingness to be intentional/proactive in life and what is possible with God’s guidance and grace
We are not imprisoned by our circumstances. We are not imprisoned by the luck we get or the inherent unfairness of life. We are not imprisoned by crushing setbacks, self-inflicted mistakes or our past success. We are not imprisoned by the times in which we live, by the number of hours in a day or even the number of hours we’re granted in our very short lives. In the end, we can control only a tiny sliver of what happens to us. But even so, we are free to choose, free to become great by choice.
1 https://www.heartlandchurchnetwork.com/uploads/5/8/1/6/58163279/transferrable_concepts_from_collins_books.pdf link to Mark’s discussion of transferrable concepts from Collin’s Built to Last, Good to Great, Built to Last, and How the Mighty Fall
2 https://www.heartlandchurchnetwork.com/uploads/5/8/1/6/58163279/great_by_choice.pdf link to Mark’s discussion summary of Built to Last
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, self-sacrificing, and reproduction principles that I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the principle of alignment. This is a principle that for decades was simply assumed as being true across the full spectrum of American Christianity but is no longer the case. Just because someone grew up Southern Baptist doesn’t mean they will join a SBC church when they move to a new city. They will be looking for a church like the one they just left and for most people, their major consideration is not denominational loyalty.
For example, fifty years ago if you were Southern Baptist and traveled for work or on a vacation, you could attend a sister SBC church and know exactly what to expect. You would have attended Sunday School, because that’s what was expected. In Sunday School you would very likely be using the same quarterly you used at your home church the week before. As you transitioned to worship, you would have received a bulletin that you would take with you and present to your Sunday School teacher when you got back home so you wouldn’t break your perfect attendance streak. In the sanctuary, you would find “your” pew, sit down, and grab a hymnal from the rack on the back of the pew in front of you. As you looked around at the front of the church you would see the choir area, an organ on one side, and a piano on the other. You would also see a report board on a sidewall near the front of the auditorium listing various information related to attendance and giving. You might have even found a bulletin from the previous week, and it would have been exactly like the one you received the week before at your home church with the exception of the church name, the hymn numbers, sermon title, and the announcements. And yes, it would have had the same order of worship that you were accustomed to at home. The same kind of experience was available to Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Church of Christ, etc.
Fast forward to today. Sometimes you don’t even have to go to a different church to experience variety in the worship service. Many churches don’t print a bulletin and few have pews or hymnals. So, how do you know what you’re going to experience when you walk into a sister SBC church? Today, the average first-time visitor will do some online searches seeking to find a church like theirs or one that fits who they are. That means a pastor and his church need to know who they are and be able to communicate it with clarity and simplicity. That’s basically what alignment does. It gives pastors and church leaders clarity so they can communicate in simple terms who they are.
But achieving alignment in today’s pluralistic church culture is not easy. It takes a pastor and church leaders who are willing to become 100% united on their understanding of the purpose of the church—making disciples whose transforming lives bring God glory. Then they need to agree on exactly what principles and processes will be used in their church to provide the greatest opportunity for God to produce the Fruit of the Spirit within every member. That means men and women from various church backgrounds will have to be willing to discuss deep theological, philosophical, and ecclesiological issues and agree upon specific definitions for critical issues. With that clarity, they can speak unapologetically to the world about who God has called them to be and how He wants them to do it.
I attended a conference at a very effective disciple-making church a few years ago that was designed to help sister churches see how God was using them to make disciples. It was a conference our association had financially helped several pastors and leaders attend prior to my opportunity to go. I had visited with every pastor who had already attended to get his feedback, reflections, and major take-homes. None of them mentioned that the initial breakout session was about alignment. The pastor of the host church knew the importance of having clarity and communicating their discipleship principles and processes with simplicity!
He was a former athlete and coach, and he understood the importance of teamwork: everyone working out of the same playbook. So he meticulously developed a four-section “church playbook.” It clearly defined their theological beliefs, their philosophical approach including their vision and values, their organizational structure that was designed to effectively steward God-given resources with a constant eye on fulfilling their mission to make disciples, and fourthly, their unapologetic emphasis on and explanation of how it would be done in a relational manner (see principle number one).
Pastors and leaders in aligned churches have little tolerance for anyone who wants to lead their church in another direction. Time, energy, and resources are not used for activities or programs that are not designed to make disciples. They are willing to ask the hard questions when it appears that resources are being used to simply support an organization, its bureaucracy, or its buildings and endowments.
Alignment isn’t a new church growth principle. It’s been around since creation. God created us in His image and likeness and gave us two responsibilities: to steward His creation and to fill the earth with His glory by reflecting His attributes wherever we were. But instead of aligning with His plan, Adam and Eve started us down the road of seeking our own plan. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His son who modeled alignment with God. In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus proclaimed his desire to align with God by stating, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” John 9:4 records Jesus’ declaration, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me.”
The early church was willing to wrestle with difficult alignment issues. One clear example is the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15. They had to decide what it means to be a Christian. Peter’s opening greeting in his second epistle speaks to the alignment they were able to hammer out, “To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours” II Peter 1:1.
Think what would happen to a large rowboat with eight people in it if each individual was rowing in a different direction. Unless you and your church are aligned top to bottom, that’s what’s happening every day. There are some good resources available to help you walk through the process of becoming aligned. You just need to ask.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, and self-sacrificing principles that I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the equipping principle. In an effort to communicate my meaning, I have also used the terms expanding, multiplying, and reproducing to describe this principle. In essence, it is correctly understanding and applying Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:11-12:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
Too often we over emphasize the unique calling and gifting of Christian leaders and minimize our responsibility to equip AND to release every believer that God has uniquely called and gifted “for the work of ministry” and sent our way. We can let our “need to be needed” or our “fear” that if we equip others then we will lose our job keep us from equipping others. Sometimes we are limited by our shortsighted idea that “it is faster if I just do it by myself.” If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. At other times, we are limited by our need to have others do it exactly as we do it. After all, we know exactly how it needs to be done.
A biggie that is hard for all of us to see is that every Sunday Christian leaders are faced with the “need to fill critical positions.” This pressure creates tension with the Biblical mandate to equip those God has sent our way so that they can fulfill their unique calling. We cry out, “God why don’t you send us who WE want and who WE need when WE need them! If we were really honest with ourselves, we would admit that we’re upset that other churches aren’t doing a better job of equipping the saints for the work of OUR ministry! If you are a pastor, let me ask you, “How well are you balancing the responsibility of equipping the saints found in Ephesians 4:11-12 with the responsibility to give yourself to prayer and the ministry of the word found in Acts 6:4?”
Leaders in effective disciple-making churches are aware that II Timothy 2:2 doesn’t just automatically happen. Paul exhorts young Timothy, “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Almost every Christian leader can quote this verse, but few of us are living it out on a daily basis. We have taught the concepts, but we also need to be caught up in the process of investing in others at an intensely relational level (remember the first principle) and expecting them to invest in others (principle three: accountability). Because discipleship is more caught than it is taught, equipping and releasing others needs to be so engrained in our day-to-day process that we wouldn’t think about doing anything on our own.
This strategic principle also speaks to the reality that healthy mature organisms reproduce. We know that if reproduction is not taking place then a problem exists. The long-term viability of that living organism is in jeopardy. It also touches on the need for a discipleship process to be reproducible or sustainable within a given cultural context (we will discuss this principle later). Throughout scripture, we see the failure of one generation to pass along the lessons they learned about God to the next. This is particularly evident in the book of Judges. Immediately after we are told, “Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died;” we are told: “And all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Judges 2:10-11.
To counteract this reality, Jesus intentionally modeled the equipping principle with His disciples. In Luke 6:12-13, we read, “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles.” Luke 8:1 tells us that Jesus “went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him.” Having equipped them for the work of ministry, Luke tells us that Jesus sent them out, “Then He called His twelve disciples together and...He sent them to preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:1-2). After they returned, they helped Him equip 72 others who were then sent out: “After these things the Lord appointed seventy-two others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go” (Luke 10:1).
I was reminded recently that modeling (doing something over and over in front of others) isn’t enough. We also have to tell them why we are doing what we are doing, and we must patiently continue to tell them why we are doing what we are doing. Even Jesus had days when He became frustrated by His disciples:
He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”
Having modeled and explained multiplication to them, the early disciples (including Paul) imitated Jesus. Paul stated it this way, “Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church” (I Corinthians 4:16-17). The model of multiplication was so engrained in the early church that only a few decades after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, a mob in Thessalonica (a city almost 1000 miles from Jerusalem) shouted, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” Acts 17:6.
How did a handful of early disciples achieve that level of impact? They “equipped the saints for the work of ministry.” They understood the principle of expanding, multiplying, and reproducing was a necessary part of an effective disciple-making process. The BIG QUESTION is, “How effective is your church as it seeks to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples in your Jerusalem?”
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
So far we have talked about the relational, transformational, and accountability principles found in effective disciple-making churches. In this article, I will discuss the Self-Sacrificing principle. A disciple-making church places more emphasis on reaching the lost than on ministering to the saved. They know that if both are equally emphasized, human nature will, over time, lead us to place greater time, energy, and resources on ministering to those who are already gathered.
Two old clichés come to mind at this point: “Out of sight, out of mind,” and “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Disciple-making churches are willing to sacrifice self-needs (and desires) for the purpose of ministering to the lost. They are constantly asking, who is not at the table? Another way to talk about these churches is that they have a burden and a passion to see the broken world around them impacted positively by the Gospel of Jesus Christ—they are unapologetically evangelistic in the right kind of way. They do not primarily use “hit and run” or “catch and release” evangelism, but rather they focus on relational evangelism models.
Paul understood the self-sacrificing nature of effective ministry. He was transformed by an encounter with our living Lord on his way to Damascus. His trip there was to be another attempt to purify and purge Judaism from the heretical teaching of a sect called the Way. But instead of forcing others to sacrifice their belief that the Messiah had come, Paul accepted a life full of sacrifices in order to tell the world that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. He records some of them in II Corinthians 11:22-29 where he is defending his apostleship.
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
Paul’s model for self-sacrifice was the Messiah, and he wrote about it in Philippians 2:5-8. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross”
But Jesus modeled self-sacrifice long before He climbed up Mt. Calvary. In John 4:4-6, we are told that Jesus “needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” It was mid-day and Jesus was physically tired as He was hurrying to get back to Galilee after His preaching, teaching, and ministering trip to Jerusalem. Every pastor can tell you how physically exhausting it can be as you complete one preaching assignment and hurry to the next. Jesus was resting near the well and no one would have been surprised if He had taken a pass on engaging a stranger in conversation. But that’s exactly what Jesus did: “A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.”
And there was no one more startled than the Samaritan woman when Jesus spoke to her. His simple request for a drink of water instantly turned into a cultural and religious debate. Just what a tired preacher is looking for—NOT! Because He was willing to sacrifice His personal time of rest, a mini-revival broke out. You know how the story ends: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’” (4:39-42)
Several years ago I was the member of a church in Sioux City, IA. After a conversation with Larry Lewis who was then President of the Home Mission Board and in town for the state convention meeting the church hosted, the pastor began to research the church’s history. Dr. Lewis told him that while he was a college student, the Missouri mission team he was on spent the night in Sioux City while en route to Canada. What stood out to Dr. Lewis was that they didn’t stay in a church building, as was their custom, because there wasn’t an SBC church in the area. After he returned home he told several people that an SBC church needed to be planted in Sioux City.
As the Sioux City pastor read about the early days of the church, he discovered how the Missouri Baptist Convention helped them get a loan to build their building. He learned that the formal sponsoring church purchased new office furniture and equipment and new pews for their building. When the new church plant struggled after the Air Force base closed in Sioux City, the sponsor church paid the mortgage until they could get back on their feet. When the pastor had an opportunity to stop by the sponsoring church to say “Thank You,” he was humbled by the sacrificial way in which a church in a small Missouri town of Centralia (less than 4,500) had supported not only the Sioux City church (metro area of 120,000), but several other churches as well. Their office furniture, equipment, and pews were not nearly as nice and new as the ones they purchased for the new church. Only God knows the eternal impact that FBC Centralia, MO has made in the last fifty years.
Just like “The Son of Man [came] to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), so we too are called to make disciples wherever God directs our lives by living and sharing the Gospel with them, baptizing those who humbly receive His free gift, and teaching them to obey all things that God has commanded of us. In a nation consumed with seeking things and finding personal pleasures, we are called to be in our world, but not be of our world. Standing up for God and standing apart from secular culture is requiring greater sacrifice with each passing year.
Being a comfortable Christian is not part of our calling. What sacrifices have you made in the last month so that someone else would have the opportunity to know Christ or to grow in their knowledge and obedience to Him?
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Today I will be discussing the third of eight strategic principles I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. In the past two weeks, I talked about the relational and transformational principles, and this article discusses the need for accountability. This principle has multiple aspects: we are accountable for ourselves, to one another, and to God.
An excellent historical example of effective accountability would be the discipleship methods used by John Wesley. In fact, it was because of Wesley’s strict adherence to his methods, that they became known as Methodists. Wesley devised a “ticket” that was required for admission to a class meeting (a small discipleship group). Tickets were issued after John had a face-to-face meeting with each disciple. Here is how he described the process of getting a ticket:
At least once in three months, [I] talk with every member myself to inquire at their own mouths, as well as of their Leaders and neighbors, whether they grew in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To each of those whose seriousness and good conversation I found no reason to doubt, I gave a testimony under my own hand, by writing their name on a ticket prepared for that purpose; every ticket implying as strong a recommendation of the person to whom it was given as if I had wrote at length, “I believe the bearer hereof to be one that fears God and works righteousness."
In Matthew 25 Jesus gave us three parables in which personal responsibility, our responsibility before God, and our responsibility to one another are clearly taught. Each parable concludes with an unequivocal statement that we stand accountable for how we steward each of these areas.
Social psychology research has shown that when people assign a specific time and place for completion of specific tasks and goals, their chances of success increase by up to 300 percent. Structure, stability, security, routine, and predictability—all are necessary for our brains to function at their highest levels. (page 145)
Leaders who don’t value discipline in their own lives will struggle to provide the spiritually healthy environment required for others to see and value it.
God called and equipped leaders in disciple-making churches to use their God-given abilities to equip and release others for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). These leaders are willing to humbly submit themselves to God and to others, as they fulfill their calling. They also are willing to hold others accountable as they fulfill their responsibilities to God and to the church. They do so knowing that they stand accountable before God for how they steward their calling. James 3:1 states, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” They also know disciple-making is done in a relational environment (see previous article) and not simply by proclaiming, “Thus sayeth the Lord” from the pulpit. This mutual accountability is very counter-cultural in American life and in particular in Baptist life where we have created an accountability adverse culture. American individualism has been taken to the extreme. Many of us have heard a pastor say, “I am accountable to God alone,” and what’s even worse is that too often we said, “Amen.”
In another Henry Cloud book, The Power of the Other, he addresses an issue I believe is at the core of why we are seeing the moral and ethical failure of what we thought were “effective leaders."
There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Every great leader has opened up to someone who could meet a need, whatever that need might have been. The range of human needs is broad, but the way to meet those needs is very narrow: it involves humbly and honestly embracing the need and reaching out to the “power of the other.” There is no other way. In the more than twenty-five years I’ve been working with high-powered CEOs and other top performers, one characteristic stands out: the leaders who accomplish the most, thrive the most, overcome the most are not afraid to say they need help.
Holding ourselves and others accountable before God is not an easy task. It will require us to invest significant time in developing our relational skills. It will mean we will have to step into messy relationships. We will encounter pushback and failure. But ultimately, we will begin to see that relationships really are a mess worth making. And they are made better when we are willing to be accountable for ourselves, to one another, and to God.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
As I began this series of articles I listed eight strategic principles I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. Last week I talked more in-depth about the relational component of disciple-making. Today I will expound on the transformational element.
Effective churches define what it means to be a maturing Christian disciple differently than do most churches. Most of us would say that the more you know about the Bible the more mature you are as a Christian. And there is, without a doubt, a knowledge component to Christianity. However, the Bible describes a maturing Christian as someone whose life is being transformed daily into the image of Christ. As such, effective disciple-making churches reject the popular definition of a mature disciple is simply someone who knows what to do (attends classes, participates in a small group, regularly attends worship, etc.). Their mantra is discipleship is not just about the transfer of information, but it is about genuine life transformation.
Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ involves doing His will, not just knowing what His will is. It calls for people to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. In other words, it is an obedience-based rather than simply a knowledge-based discipleship model. Knowledge is necessary but is not enough in and of itself. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23).
In James 2:18-20, we read, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” If you read the entirety of James chapter two, you would agree that James is using the word “faith” to describe a person’s emphasis on “knowing about God” and the word “works” to describe a person’s emphasis on obedience—doing what God says we should do.
Paul’s description of a disciple in Romans 12:1-2 includes both a knowledge and an obedience component—both are necessary. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” I wish our Bible translations would use the original Greek word instead of the word “transformed” in verse two. It is a word that provides a vivid picture of the Biblical meaning of being “transformed, and it is a word we are already familiar with because we use the Greek word in biology: “metamorphosis.” When we hear the word metamorphosis, we immediately picture an ugly worm being transformed into a beautiful butterfly. The Biblical definition of a maturing disciple is just that dramatic. Paul declares in II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
Jesus’ sharpest criticism was directed at the religious elite--they had great knowledge but were not being transformed by their knowledge. “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do” (Matthew 23:1-3). Jesus then gives a series of exhortations beginning with “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” describing areas where their knowledge of what is right isn’t impacting their willingness to do what is right.
Throughout the epistles, life transformation is emphasized. Paul’s deeds of the flesh versus the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:19-25 is one example:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Peter’s three-fold emphasis on obedience in I Peter 1:1-2, 13-16, and 22-23 is another:
To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.
Sunday morning I heard Good News Jail and Prison Ministry Chaplain John Heatley preach at my home church. He shared three questions he regularly asks someone who has landed in jail:
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death "(Proverbs 14:12).
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
His prayer is that they will admit that doing things THEIR way isn’t working and that they will humbly trust in the Lord and learn to heed God’s word and avoid repeating the mistakes that got them where they are.
Notice that his experience as a jail chaplain has led him to seek the Biblical balance between knowledge and obedience. Remember, “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). What does your discipleship-making model reflect relative to transformation?
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Last week I introduced you to the eight strategic principles I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. Today I will begin to discuss them in more detail. I would caution you to not think of them as being discussed in order of priority, but think of them as integrally intertwined. I would go so far as to suggest that if you are not firing on all eight cylinders then you will not experience the fullness of what God can do in and through your church.
1. Relational—Leaders of disciple-making churches understand that God’s work is not accomplished in a vacuum or by Lone Ranger types. These leaders understand that deep discipleship cannot take place in a worship format alone and that God (who Himself is a relational being) does His work best in a relational environment: small groups and one-on-one. If a church body expects to have a significant impact upon its community, both its leaders and individual members must be willing to invest in the lives of those who are far from God.
My observations are that disciple-making is more caught than taught. You can read all the great books on discipleship—and you’d better begin with the Bible—but unless you have been intentionally discipled by others, you will probably not be willing to invest the relational capital required to make a disciple. Proverbs 14:4, which has become one of my life verses, speaks to this reality: “Where there are no oxen the stall is clean, but great gain comes through the strength of an ox.” A modern paraphrase might be, “Life isn’t as messy when I don’t have to deal with people, but life is ultimately better when lived in community.”
There is an old adage that says, “If you want to go fast, then go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Another with a similar meaning is “Do you want to grow squash or oak trees?” The latter has particular application in a world where speed and size are celebrated above character and quality. My experience is that when you sacrifice quality and character, your speed and size will simply create a bigger and more spectacular crash—and it WILL HAPPEN. If you need proof, I would again refer you to the current podcast series being done by Christianity Today entitled The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church.
All of this means that relational evangelism must be the norm for the life of every believer. There might have been a day when there was enough basic Biblical knowledge in our culture for us to see fruit from “hit and run evangelism,” but those days are gone. Gallup recently reported that for the first time in the 80 years they have done polling, church membership has fallen below 50% in America. If that isn’t bad enough, they also indicate that Americans who report no religious affiliation has grown from 8% to 21% in the last twenty years. AND 33% of those under 30 years of age say they have no religious affiliation.
If we are relational in our disciple-making process it means that we are willing to “fight for healthy relationships.” We don’t write off someone because they are going through a tough stretch. We don’t let bad behavior go unaddressed, and we don’t address bad behavior in an unbiblical manner. Yes, it takes time and energy to do things the right way, but it’s what God expects us to do. Let me suggest some general Biblical principles that make my point:
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
I’m sure you have all been waiting breathlessly since I promised in my February 23rd article that, “Next week I will begin to drill down into the Biblical principles I have observed in every ‘healthy disciple-making church’ I have encountered.” After penning that promise, I took an unanticipated nineteen-week detour to discuss current issues in SBC life. Like many of you, detours and distractions are a part of my daily life.
Some of you have heard me say that flexibility in my role will kill me because I live in a fluid world. For those who have been in my office, you know that my motto is “a clean and uncluttered desk is the sign of a sick mind.” Some of that is caused by the reality that at any given moment I will be working on at least a dozen different projects. I don’t share any of that to complain or rationalize, but merely to explain the delay in keeping my promise. A man’s word is his bond, and my goal is to be a man of integrity.
Now regarding my promise…In a little over a week, I will complete my twenty-eighth year of service as an Associational Mission Strategist. During that time, God has given me the privilege of seeing healthy disciple-making churches in multiple contexts: church planting, church revitalization, international missions, and inner-city missions. He also gifted me with the ability to differentiate between cause and effect, or as some might state it, between doing the right things and getting the right results.
I’ve listened to the first two posts of a Christianity Today blog that is garnering a lot of attention. It is entitled “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” It’s basically an autopsy on what happens when a church places its focus on getting the right results, while they ignore the reality that they are not doing things the right way. Integrity, character, and relationships ARE important. You cannot brush off collateral damage as simply a by-product of getting the right results. All of us are accountable to God for how we steward our time and talents as we humbly acknowledge that any fruit that might be produced is because of Him (John 15:1-8).
Several years ago I began to write, refine my thoughts, preach, and teach regarding the principles I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. I began with seven and after bouncing them off of one of the best global mission strategists in the world, Jim Slack who God has since called home, I have settled on the following eight:
1. Emphasizes genuine relationships,
2. Focused on life transformation rather than simply a transfer of information,
3. Willing to hold one another accountable,
4. Self-sacrificing for the sake of the Gospel,
5. Designed and functioning with multiplication in mind,
6. Organizationally aligned from top to bottom,
7. Always intentional and proactive, and
8. Implementing Biblical principles in a culturally relevant manner.
Before I expand on each of them in the following weeks, let me suggest that these principles are imbedded in The Great Commission:
"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen”
Jesus’ opening statement, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,” tells us that He is in charge and He is giving the orders. His concluding promise, “I am with you always” implies that we have access to that power; however, with great power comes great responsibility. God will hold us ACCOUNTABLE for the way we steward that power.
The primary command (main verb) is to “make disciples.” This command requires us to communicate two critical realities: First is the fact that apart from Christ, people are separated from the love of God, stand eternally condemned in their sin, and incapable of finding true joy and peace in this life. This reality should propel us in our willingness to be SELF-SACRIFICING. This also acknowledges that there is an initiating point for becoming a disciple: confession, repentance, and conversion that speak to the evangelistic nature of our self-sacrifice. Second, we understand that the Biblical concept of a disciple is not simply someone who is professing Christ, but a disciple is someone who is possessing a new and different way of life: TRANSFORMATION.
In addition to the one main verb, there are three descriptive participles in the passage. The first is having gone. Greek sentence structure and grammar raises this participle’s impact parallel to the force of a main verb. This provides the English translations with its imperative “Go!” This means that laissez-faire, whatever happens, attitude on our part, is not acceptable. Rather it requires us to be constantly vigilant, seeking to identify where God is at work so that we can join Him. In other words, we must be INTENTIONAL and PROACTIVE.
The second participle is “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The modifying clause referring to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit speaks to the personal and relational nature of God and the reality that He created us as relational beings and acknowledges that ministry happens at the RELATIONAL level. Baptism has historically provided both a self-identification with the body of Christ and a specific affiliation with a local body of believers. Baptism becomes a symbolic relational connecting point to God and to fellow believers.
The third participle, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you,” implies that our instructions are ALIGNED with Divine teachings and practices. And that alignment is not just knowledge-based. It is teaching with the intention of changing lives to “observe all that” Jesus had commanded.
His concluding promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” means that the task will be multi-generational. Jesus’ parting statement in Acts 1:8 was, “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.” This statement speaks to the geographical expansion that will be required to carry the Gospel to the world. When these two concepts are combined, a process that is constantly EXPANDING and MULTIPLYING is required.
In the Biblical language (Greek), Jesus said our target audience is “panta ta eqnh” (panta ta ethne). Unfortunately, it is poorly translated into English as “all the nations.” A better translation would be “all ethnic groups.” Nations implies a geo-political state while the term “ethnic group” points to the language and cultural differences that exist in every nation. To reach every ethnic group, our disciple-making efforts must be CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE.
In the weeks ahead, I will begin to unpack these principles. But in the meantime, I would encourage you to objectively review them based upon the whole of scripture and not just the Great Commission.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.