What Makes a Church a Church? Part 3

“Is my home group a church?”  you may ask.  “We don’t have a pastor and we are only a few families that meet together.”

“Does time of day and day of week have to do with if we should call this a church?  Can a church meet on a Tuesday night and still be a church?” Again, good questions.

It is  important to answer these.  What is it that makes a church a church? A great place to find answers is to look at the early church described in Acts.

In Part 2, we looked at five of the characteristics of the early church from the passage below.  We will now take a look at the remaining five.

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

Acts 2:41-26 NIV

GENEROUS & SACRIFICIAL GIVING

Generosity is one of the characteristics of revival. When God is at work, our natural response of gratitude and love is to give!  In the early church, extreme giving was seen.  People sold what they had to meet the needs of others.  There was a lot more than “tithing” happening in this New Testament church.  Sadly, what we often see in developing nations is a hesitancy to train new believers to give.  We sometimes don’t even give new believers the opportunity to obey Jesus in this way, because we fail to take offerings.  We are afraid to offend them, or we think they are too poor to give.  This is a big mistake! It hinders the growth of both the individual the church.

CARING FOR EACH OTHER

Not only in this passage, but in many other passages in the New Testament, we clearly see that disciples of Jesus loved and served each other.  They noticed one another’s needs and took action to help.  Whether it was food, protection, housing, encouragement or churchprayer, we see them reaching out to one another in love.  How well is your church doing at helping the members to care for each other?  Are you as the leader doing all the caring? Trying to meet all the needs?  Part of the church functioning is when its members spontaneously serve each other.  A church that functions well will notice needs and respond.

MEETING TOGETHER

This one seems obvious!  The New Testament church met together often, even daily! Many churches are meeting together less and less.  What does that say about the presence of life in the church?  Or the busyness of people’s lives?  Church is much more than another “service” with songs and preaching.  I’m not advocating that we increase the number of times we do that.  Churches that function well, are life giving.  People actually want to meet together often, because they are receiving life when they gather.  How life giving are your times of meeting together?

PRAYER

Prayer was a vital part of the New Testament church.  They gathered often to pray and prayed often when they gathered.  Many churches pray to open and close the service but that is about the extent of their prayer as a body.  Look for ways to incorporate prayer into your church life.  Encourage disciples to make prayer a part of their daily lives and rhythms.  Consider hosting a special prayer emphasis during particular times of the year for increased time in corporate prayer.

EATING TOGETHER

Yes, this too is part of church life. Yeah!! It builds relationships when we eat together.  church eatingThe New Testament church shared meals regularly.  In many cultures, to eat together indicates equality and acceptance.  In Hindu society, certain castes and classes do not eat together.  As we come to Christ, we are united as one.  There is neither Jew, nor Greek, slave nor master, male nor female, we are one body (Gal. 3:28).  Eating together is a powerful symbol of the unity and love we share because of Christ.

What if we don’t do all these ten things?  Are we a Church?

If you are doing many or most, then yes! This is not a list of things you have to do to qualify as a church.  Its also not an exhaustive list! There are many other scriptures that could be considered. These characteristics of the church in Acts Chapter Two are good to keep in mind though.

Which of these could you include a bit more?  Perhaps you see some gaps in your church function.  Don’t feel bad!  Take steps to start including those things more in the future.

Let’s Be the Church!

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What Makes a Church a Church?-Part 2

What Makes a Church a Church?  Its an important question to ask!

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Last week, in Part 1, we looked at the two primary metaphors in the New Testament used to describe the church; the Body of Christ and the Family of God.  Today we want to think about the Church’s function.

In my organization, we make end of the year reports about our church planting efforts and progress.  We want to know how many new churches have been planted each year so we can celebrate what God has done and report back to our leaders what has been happening.  As we do these reports, we face the issue of what is the difference between a church and a “preaching point” or a “fellowship group.”

Another question arises.  When does a Bible study or prayer cell become a church?  What needs to be happening for us to call it a church?

A good passage to draw clues as to how the church is to function is Acts Chapter Two where the first church is described.

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

Acts 2:41-26 NIV

In this passage we see 10 key functions of the church.

BAPTISM

As people come to faith, it is the responsibility and a function of the church to baptize them.  Throughout the book of Acts and the entire New Testament we see that local believers baptized those they led to faith.  A healthy and functioning church baptizes new disciples often.

TEACHING

Whenever the church meets, we need to feed on God’s word- the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.  This was the New Testament practice.  Sometimes they read Paul’s letters.  Sometimes the stories of Jesus life were retold.  The Word of God needs to be a central part of the life of a church.

FELLOWSHIP

Fellowship is another over used religious word.  What it means is: friendship, companionship, and social interaction. Churches that are functioning well encourage these things to take place, they make space for this.  Sometimes it happens organically.  Sometimes structures that facilitate developing of closer friendships need to happen.  If the church is “being the church” though- it will be made up of people who would call themselves friends.

LORD’S SUPPER-BREAKING OF BREAD

While many churches today practice the tradition of pastor or priest giving the Lord’s supper, in the New Testament, this practice was done in homes by ordinary believers.  Jesus’ instruction to us was to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24).  House churches, without ordained clergy present, sometimes fail to celebrate this important and meaningful ceremony.  They wait for a larger gathering where a more “qualified” person can give communion.  Celebrating the Lord’s supper regularly fulfills the  command of Jesus and is the responsibility of every church- large or small.

SIGNS AND WONDERS

In the New Testament church, signs and wonders were quite common.  Ordinary believers laid hands on the sick and saw them recover.  Disciples encountered demons and cast them out.  The presence of the kingdom of God was demonstrated through miraculous demonstrations of God’s love and power.  Churches that are functioning like those in the New Testament make space for the supernatural activity of God’s Holy Spirit. Lives are transformed and miracles big and small happen regularly.

Are these five things happening in your church on a regular basis?  If not, why not?

Next week in What Makes a Church a Church- Part 3, we will consider the other five.

 

 

What Makes a Church a Church?-Part 1

When people typically think of a church, they think about a building, a pastor, a pulpit, church members, a weekly meeting, etc.  Sadly, this is what the definition of a church has become. Even Merriam-Webster defines the word church as “a building for public and especially Christian worship.”  This definition, though a commonly used one, is sadly not  biblical.

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What is a church according to God’s word? In the New Testament, the original Greek word for church is ekklésia.  It means those who are “called out of the world to God.”  To the Greeks it meant an assembly of people.*

There are two primary metaphors used in the New Testament to describe the church.  These are; 1) the Body of Christ and 2) the Family of God.  When the church functions as a body and a family, it begins to look like what the Bible describes as a church.

THE BODY OF CHRIST

The church is made up of people with different gifts to contribute.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 NIV

In many “churches” only a few special people use their gifts.  A highly trained and exceptionally gifted person speaks, professional musicians perform, lighting specialists do their thing…this is what “the church” has become.  Many people attend and are entertained, but have no opportunity to use or develop their spiritual gifts.

The body isn’t functioning so well in these settings unless there is a major emphasis on home groups in addition to these large gatherings.  I’d contend that those groups are actually where “church” happens.

In house churches, it is more natural for everyone’s gifts to develop.  Even in house churches, however, we need to be intentional about giving all a chance to participate in order for the body to function effectively.

THE FAMILY OF GOD

The other common metaphor of the church is that of a family.  Often through the New Testament we hear believers refer to one another as brother or sister. Paul addresses Timothy as his son in the faith (1 Tim. 1:2).  Peter speaks of the importance of love in the family of believers – in the churches.

Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor., honor the emperor. 1 Pet. 2:17 NIV

When people come to Christ, they enter into a new family- the family of God.  We need to make our churches a place where a sense of family is felt.  Family relationships are different than other types of relationships.  The level of loyalty and commitment to one another is much greater in a family than in a work place for example.  On my wall I have a saying written “Family is forever.”

How can we cultivate a feeling of family in the church?  This is hard to do when the church is only a meeting that takes place every week.  Relationships in the church need to go deeper than this.  This means meeting more than just on Sunday mornings, it means being a part of one another’s lives.  It means serving one another, being there for each other in times of difficulty, giving to each other.

The churches in the book of Acts had this high level of relationship and commitment to each other.  Often in locations with intense persecution this happens more than in other places. It need not take persecution to make us realize the importance of deeper relationships.

Again, in house churches this comes more naturally than in building churches.  Yet, as with functioning as a body, it requires intentional effort.  What can we do to help develop a sense of “family” in our house church?  How can we help people to know each other better and to serve one another more?

If our churches look like bodies and families, we are getting closer to functioning in the biblical sense as a church.

Next week’s blog will describe some of the necessary functions of the church (as described in the New Testament.)

*http://biblehub.com/greek/1577.htm

5 Things that Destroy Movements

Some months ago I wrote about 6 Factors that get your movement moving. It’s always good to look at positive things we can do to see greater fruit and growth!

It is also important to be aware and wise about what kinds of things kill a movement.  Sometimes we call these “Death Factors.” These are things to be extremely careful about.  wave-2649217_1280They may seem normal or innocent, but if your goal is a multiplying movement they will definitely “sink your ship.” When these things start to happen, you can be sure that the movement will stop growing. If you are just getting started, the movement can die before it every really starts.  There are other “death factors” to consider, but here are five of the most common.

  1. Bringing outside funding into the movement

In Acts 20:34-35 Paul says,  You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”  Paul went the extra mile to model tent making in order to give an example of locally generated funds. We need to train local believers that it is more blessed to give than receive from outside.  We need to protect the movements we start from the huge dangers of foreign or outside funding. 

Bringing in outside funding, even in small and seemingly insignificant ways, can wreak havoc on the local people’s desire and motivation to give.  It often radically affects their willingness to share the gospel without financial or material compensation. This basically stops (or dramatically slows) the spread of gospel witness.  Greed, a spirit of competition, jealousy and many other difficult issues arise when outside money is received by some and not others.  Ownership of the movement comes into question, and the vision and responsibility for carrying the movement forward shifts from local indigenous believers to outsiders.

There are so many temptations in this area!  In our desire to help, we often cripple the local people rather than empowering them to stand on their own feet.  We use outside money to build buildings, pay pastors or evangelists, purchase motorcycles, etc. all with good intentions, unknowingly causing the movement to become sick, rather than healthy.  All this leads to less, not more growth, in the long run.  Money can both help and hurt.  When the money is from outside the movement, most often it hurts!

2. Sending key emerging leaders away for training

This is another common mistake that leads to the death of a movement.  Rather than training and discipling indigenous leaders locally in “just in time” ways, we decide to send them for outside training. Did you notice that in Ephesus, Corinth, or other places he started new work, Paul never sent the emerging house church leaders to Jerusalem to be trained?  No, he trained them himself locally. After he left, he continued to mentor them through letters and follow up visits.  What would have happened to these early churches had he sent them off to the “Bible school” or “DTS/SBS” (YWAM’s equivalent trainings) in Jerusalem to learn under those from another culture, language and context?

What might have happened then (but thankfully didn’t!) is exactly what so often happens today.  People go for outside training and come back with Bible knowledge, personal growth in their lives and other positive things, but they then don’t know how to live it out in their own community and context.  They naturally bring back with them external styles of worship and ways of encountering God that are often not a good fit for the local people.  Depending on the length of the training, they can sometimes come back so changed that they don’t fit in anymore. Sometimes they don’t even like the local village or indigenous context anymore.  They then can decide to go back for more training or to live in the big city where things are more modern, etc.  Or, because they have left their prior jobs and way of earning a living, they now want to have financial support raised for them. Often, instead of continuing to serve the growing movement as a bi-vocational leader, they end up joining the organization that ran the training.  This is a huge loss to the movement’s momentum and growth.

Even for shorter training of only a few months, we must be very cautious about sending emerging movement leaders away to be trained.  It is often counter productive in the long run!

3. Fear of persecution (or losing your visa)

Persecution causes the church to grow and spread.  In the book of Acts we see that when persecution increased and the believers scattered, every where they went they shared the good news.  The fear of persecution, however, can definitely be a death factor.  Fear of persecution is very contagious.  Sadly, fear is often a major issue in the lives of cross cultural missionaries trying to initiate movements.  Having been told that they need to be careful to not do anything that would cause them to lose their visas to stay in a country, cautious missionaries can then impart that same DNA to those they disciple.

In Ephesians 6:19-20 Paul writes, “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (NIV)

Paul was not afraid of what might happen if he shared the gospel.  He did however ask for prayer that he would be fearless in declaring it. He believed this was what he should do.  The fact that he asked for prayer, indicates it was at times a struggle, even for him.

We may feel fearful for very valid reasons.  The risks are real. We can not let fear control us. We must model bold witness and raise up indigenous disciples who boldly take risks to share their faith in spite of the possible consequences.  Don’t give in to fear.  Like Paul, lets pray for God’s grace to overcome it!

4. Lack of Focus and Distractions

The distraction of “good things” have caused more movements to stall than any other factor I see in Asia.  Busyness is a major enemy we must fight against! We so easily lose our focus and fail to move forward in the important work of evangelism, discipleship and developing leaders.  We spend our time running here and there to various meetings, teaching in this or that school, entertaining guests who come through town, etc.  At the end of the day (or month) we have devoted very little time to doing the real work we are called to do.

In order to say “yes” to relationships with lost people and to developing and training disciples, you must say “no” to many other good Christian activities.   You may need to say “no” to exciting invitations to travel abroad and represent your nation, sharing about your work.  You may need to say “no” even to people you love and respect.

I spoke with a church planter today.  We talked about ways he could help the believers in his fellowship begin to share their testimony with others.  We talked about options for training and vision casting.  At the end of our talk, however, when I asked him what his plans were, he said he was very busy and wouldn’t be able to do any of the things we spoke about.  He had a leadership gathering to attend, then he was teaching in a training in another city.  After our talk concluded, I felt sad.  Without dramatic change, these distractions will most likely destroy any chance of him seeing a multiplying movement.

5. Church traditions are valued more than the instructions of Jesus

Those who want to see disciple making movements must be willing to “go against the flow” in their ways of working.  What the traditional church has become comfortable with and what is “normal” for them, is often not very biblical.  It is also often not what is needed for greater fruit to result.  That is why many traditional churches have half empty buildings.  Even for those traditional churches that are growing, many times it is what we call “transfer” growth- people who are already Christians moving to a new area or changing churches seeking better programs.

Obedience to the ways and instructions of Jesus is critical to seeing a disciple making movement.  Jesus’ commands are not options!  Jesus commanded his disciples to go and share the good news with everyone.  When we make this only something that “qualified” or ordained people do, we are not following his instructions or his model.  Here is another example of a radically different approach to today’s church traditions. Jesus sent his disciples without an extra bag, extra pair of sandals, and without health insurance! Can you believe that?!! The sent ones (Luke 10) were dependent upon local men of peace to provide for their needs.  Yet our church traditions tell us that much preparation and finances is needed for new pioneering work to start.  There are many issues in church planting where we automatically look to traditional models rather than to Jesus or Paul to know what to do.  Another is baptism and who can baptize.  When we follow the traditions of men, we will get the same results.  When we follow Jesus’ model, or the model of the New Testament church, much faster growth is the result.

When we place greater importance on pleasing the church around us than on obeying Jesus we will not see movement style growth.  You can not make everyone happy.  But that is not your goal is it?  Our priority is pleasing God and reaching the lost, not pleasing the traditional church.  We do our best, is it says in Romans 12:18, to live at peace with everyone.  But we always put a higher priority on pleasing God, than men.

Be careful of these death factors!  Be aware and don’t fall into them unintentionally.  Sometimes you will feel like you are “swimming upstream,” but the end result of seeing thousands of lost people come into the kingdom… it’s well worth the effort!

3 Things that Increase Boldness

“I have tried and tried to get the believers in our fellowship to share the gospel, but they are fearful, shy and just don’t seem able to witness.”  This is not unusual to hear from the church planters I am coaching.  What can we do to increase boldness and help the disciples we are working with overcome their fears?

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Here are three things that make a BIG difference in this area.

  1. Holy Spirit. The classic biblical example is Peter in Acts chapter two.  When Jesus was being tried, 3 times he denied even knowing him.  He certainly wasn’t witnessing at that point!  But after he received the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, he stood in front of thousands and boldly proclaimed the gospel with authority and conviction.  If your church members aren’t witnessing, pray for them to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. It will make a world of difference.
  2. Practicing. Many people lack confidence to witness.  They feel embarassed when they stumble over their words or don’t know what to say, how to answer questions, etc.  After teaching them how to share their testimony, make sure to take time for practicing it in a safe environment with other believers.  Let them share it several times and get feedback.  Do the same when training people to share a Creation to Christ story.  Practice builds confidence and helps them to overcome fear of failure and embarassment.
  3. Making a List. Ying Kai of T4T says that people don’t share because they don’t know who to share with.  He encourages people to make a Lost and Saved list and begin to pray for the people on that list.  Then, they can choose a few people each week to specifically make plans to share their testimony with.  Being specific and accountable about plans to share the gospel helps people move forward.  Make sure to also affirm and encourage a lot, even if their efforts in the beginning don’t yield success.

It goes without saying that we as trainers and disciplers also need to really pray for believers in this area and model boldness in our own lives too!  If we are demonstrating a lifestyle of evangelism and bold witness, they will see it is possible and that they too can do the same.

Bold witness is a major characteristic of growing DMMs.  Believe God to help you increase the believer’s boldness!

 

When God Restores- Women Get Included in the Inheritance

At the end of the book of Job, we see a picture of restoration.  He has been through testing and trials and now God blesses and restores.  When He restores, He doubles all Job had. Job 42:10 says “When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes.  In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!” 

cute-girl-2060006_1920Another interesting thing comes up in this passage at the end of Job.  It is about Job’s daughters.  As God restored Job’s life, he gave him seven more sons and three more daughters. Here is the interesting part. It says in Job 42:15 “In all the land, no women were as lovely as the daughters of Job.  And their father put them into his will along with their brothers.” Job, after God had tested and then restored him, included his daughters in his will- he gave the daughters an inheritance!  This was very unusual in his culture and time.  It speaks of the change of heart and the transformation in Job that God had brought about.

Some months back, I wrote about another interesting passage from Joshua Chapter 17 that speaks of the daughters of Manasseh asking for their inheritance.

In these days, God is wanting to restore to women their place in the Kingdom family.  Women have a spiritual inheritance to receive from God alongside of their husbands and brothers.  In Acts Chapter Two Peter quotes from the book of Joel and says “In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…” God wants to release and raise up women to take hold of their spiritual inheritance!  He wants to double the harvesters by releasing women to be disciple makers and church planters too! Women can be great evangelists!  Just look at the woman at the well who led her whole village to faith in Jesus!

Women in many countries feel that they can not do much, that their only role in the kingdom is to stay at home and care for their families.  They don’t believe that God could use them to share the gospel or make disciples.  Cultural issues, church traditions, and many other things keep them from rising up to take hold of the inheritance God has for them.  Be a part of encouraging and releasing women.  They are included in the inheritance!  They have an important Kingdom role to play!

Baptism questions- Are they ready?

In the last few blogs, we have been looking at questions and issues around baptism.  cuban-2535931_1920People often delay baptism thinking the new believer is not ready to take this step. They need to grow more in their faith first, they say.  Maybe we are waiting for new believers to stop certain bad habits like smoking or drinking. Sometimes we wait to baptize because we want a large group to be baptized together.  Others delay for a long time because they are hoping a spouse will also believe and they can be baptized together. Some delay because the person isn’t yet a legal adult. Perhaps we don’t want to have to fill the baptism tank too often, or take time out of our church service to include this ceremony more than once or twice a year.

How do you know if they are ready to be baptized?  When do you baptize someone after leading them to faith in Christ?

Again, it is important to look to scripture on these issues rather than looking for guidance only at our church traditions or what we have seen done around us.

When determining if someone is ready to be baptized, the key things mentioned in scripture are faith and repentance.  As we discussed in the previous blog, in Acts Chapter two, Peter responded to those who asked “What shall we do?” with the answer “Repent and be baptized.”  It was clear that faith had arisen in their hearts.  The next step was repentance.

How do you know if someone has repented? How much repentance and change do you first need to see before you baptize them?

The biblical example here is different from what we see in many church traditions.  In the New Testament, we almost always see immediate baptism when faith is expressed. The Philippian jailer, the crowd at Pentecost, the Ethiopian eunuch are all examples of immediate baptism.  We find that while a clear directive to repent is given by Peter, he doesn’t wait to test their repentance before baptizing them.  I wonder how many in that crowd had problems with alcohol, or beat their wives, or were dishonest in their business dealings?

When conviction of sin comes, when there is a realization of sin and the need for a Savior in someone’s life, they start to respond in faith and repentance.  Jesus never ignored sin but called people to “go and sin no more” (consider the woman caught in adultery).  Acceptance into his kingdom and family was immediate not conditional though.  There was no delay or testing period to see if they were serious.  We must remember and follow this example Jesus gave.

Prior to baptism, we are not looking for full transformation and sanctification- we are all still in that process!  We do look for recognition of sin- do they see they are a sinner in need of a Savior?  We look for a change of heart.  We look for a change of allegiance- that they have acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives.  We look for a desire to turn away from sinful habits and the things which the Holy Spirit is convicting them of.  (Interestingly, Holy Spirit doesn’t always highlight or convict new believers about various sins in the order that I would!)

Some sinful habits may still be a struggle.  Do we go ahead and baptize?  My answer, and I believe the biblical answer, is yes.  Baptism is a step of faith and obedience.  As they take this step, as they demonstrate outwardly their inner faith, as they rise out of the water as a symbolic act of new resurrection and life- all these things strengthen new believers in their determination to begin a new way of living, to walk the path of transformation with Jesus’ help.  We must not prevent them from doing what will help them grow by denying or delaying baptism because they aren’t “perfect” yet!

There are many issues related to baptism to prayerfully consider.  Cultural factors, legal issues and church traditions all influence us in various ways and must be thought about.  Our foundation, however, is always the Word of God and the example given by Jesus and the apostles.  We examine all we do in the light of those examples and are careful not to unnecessarily delay but help people to take this step as soon as possible.  Immediate obedience as a DNA, whether with baptism or other things, will lead to disciples who multiply rapidly.

Baptism questions- If they don’t take it, are they a “believer” or not?

IMG-20170306-WA0003Today I want to look at another important question related to baptism.

*Can someone be considered a “believer” or “disciple” if they don’t desire (or are not willing to take) this the step of obedience?

To find answers to this question, we need to look at what scripture teaches.  Many cultural and social issues exist that make this a difficult step to take.  Persecution can increase after and around the question of taking baptism.  In South Asian settings, many view baptism as the point at which you are “changing your religion.”  It’s better to help them see that baptism is a way to demonstrate there has been a “change of heart.”  The fear of being seen by their relatives and community as having “changed religion” is a big obstacle for many.

One of the clearest directives we find related to baptism is in Acts 2:37-38 when Peter addresses the 3000 who have believed.  As the Holy Spirit works, faith rises in their hearts, and they ask him what they need to do.  Peter’s response is clear about two important necessary actions- Repentance and baptism.

37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Both are still needed today.  I’m convinced that when we fail to emphasize them, we end up with weak disciples rather than bold, committed and growing disciples who are able to disciple others.

In our desire to “take things slowly”, not be pushy, and in our fear of creating obstacles for those showing interest in following Christ, we sometimes fail to teach them about the things that are able to make them strong – Repentance and Baptism.  I believe this is a mistake, both for that person and for the DNA of the movement.

Every context is a bit different, and we do want to uphold the theological understanding that it is not our actions that save, but Christ’s work on the cross.  Baptism doesn’t save us, Jesus does.  Faith, however, must be lived out in actions of obedience.  Baptism is one of them.

If someone doesn’t want to be baptized or waits a long time before showing a desire to be baptized, we need to have a serious discussion with them about why.  We don’t want to force anyone to be baptized.  We do want to encourage obedience to Jesus’ commands and make sure that a complete shift of allegiance has happened in their lives.  Is Jesus truly Lord?  Has He taken a higher place than family, society, and fear?

Back to our original question, are they a “believer” if they don’t want to be baptized? Maybe, but they are not a strong disciple who will make more disciples.  Will they get into heaven?  Probably. God is amazingly gracious.  Getting people into heaven when they die, however, is not out goal.  We want to make strong disciples who experience and live out transformed lives here on earth!

Pray.  Gently and clearly encourage them.  Raise the bar of what it means to be a follower of Jesus,  and don’t make this step optional.  Whatever it is that is holding them back, if those things are bigger in their mind than their desire to obey Jesus as Lord and Savior, those things have to “bow the knee.”

Many times, the problem is more with us, the disciple maker, than with them.  We fail to give opportunity for obedience in this area and make it difficult rather than “normal” for new believers to take this step.  We will talk about that more in the coming blogs.

Baptism questions- Who can baptize?

Here is some water!  Can you baptize me?

Ever been asked this question before? There are some big questions around the issue of baptism.

  • Who can baptize others?
  • How do you know if someone is ready to be baptized?
  • Can someone be considered a “believer” or “disciple” if they don’t desire (or are not willing to take) this the step of obedience?

These are very important questions for someone trying to start a DMM. In the next few blogs I’d like to address these one by one.

WhatsApp Image 2017-08-28 at 1.29.33 PMWe’ll start with the “Who can baptize?” question. Let’s to some scripture as we begin.

35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 [[i]And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 And he ordered the [j]chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:35-38 NASB)

Dolpa sceneI heard a story once of some new believers in the high mountains of Nepal.  They lived above the tree line.  In order to reach their village it took at least 6 days of walking on narrow mountain paths.  They had believed, but as they considered baptism, they faced a difficulty. There was a shortage of water in the village.  It had to be carried by yaks from the river far below.  There was also a shortage of “qualified” people who could do the baptism (according to the traditions of churches in their country).  The pastors back in Kathmandu didn’t have time to trek many days up a mountain to baptize these people!

What were they to do?  Some of the national church planters who had taken the gospel there originally were from a Baptist church background.  “They need to be immersed!” they thought. There was also the problem of how cold the rivers in those mountains were, even if the trek down the mountain was made.  Some of those who had believed were quite old.

Traditions are not bad things in our lives.  I love certain traditions, especially at Christmas time.  Before we open gifts, we always read the Bible story and our kids always take turn handing out the gifts while wearing a Santa hat.  Traditions make things feel special, “normal” and somehow “right.”  I love the old movie, Fiddler on the Roof, and Tevye’s song “Tradition!”

I’m not against the developing of and honoring of Church Traditions, be they ancient or modern.  What I don’t like is when they prevent people from being obedient to Jesus’ commands.

Basically this issue comes down to what you chose to value most.  Will you choose to value church traditions most?  Will you value the example of scripture where Philip (not one of the 12 apostles but a lay person) baptized someone immediately?  Will you place a high value on serving the new disciple as they take steps of obedience? Or will you think more about what consequences not following a church tradition may have to your own reputation?

Fear can really keep us in bondage.  The fear of man and the fear of God don’t mix well.  We need to place an extremely high value on obeying Jesus’ command found in Matthew 28:18-20.  He told us there to make disciples and baptize them.  This scripture applies to all believers.  We all are to go.  We all are to make disciples.  We all can baptize.  Wouldn’t Jesus have made it clear in that Great Commission if the part about baptizing was only for specially trained people?

Let’s not make it difficult for new disciples to take this step by limiting who can baptize them.  Let’s not make it difficult for disciples to become disciple makers and to obey the great commission by our fear of the traditional church around us.

You may face some opposition from people who don’t understand or even call you a heretic if you begin to practice Jesus style, Acts style evangelism and disciple making.  Don’t be surprised if this happens.  You also will see a whole lot of people welcomed into the Kingdom and their lives transformed.

I know how precious and valuable this is to me.  How about you?

 

Accountability: Avoid or Embrace?

One of the things I appreciate about the T4T (Training for Trainers) approach is how every meeting begins in the first section with reporting in on what you have done the past week to apply what you learned before.  Likewise, every meeting ends with the setting of new goals. How are you going to obey and put into practice what you learned in the lesson or story?  This accountability loop is a very important part of making obedient disciples.

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It goes much further than this though.  We must develop an appreciation, even an embracing of friendly accountability in our lives as leaders personally.  As we model this, our disciples see it.  They begin to value it as well.

This will ensure that friendly accountability becomes part of the DNA of the movement.  By upholding this value, the movement will be stable and strong even after you as the coach, trainer, initiator, or leader move on.  Accountability seems an unfriendly, even “dirty” word to many though.

Granted a lot of people have had bad experiences in their lives with heavy handed or unkind accountability.  Some leaders demand accountability.  Some abuse it. In my context in Asia, many have had teachers who were harsh and cruel when they didn’t measure up to what was expected.  As we introduce friendly accountability in these contexts we need to be aware of this.  It is a big shift of mindset for people to welcome and embrace friendly accountability!

How do you help them change?

One of the things I notice is that it takes time and patience to bring about change.  Consistently and lovingly ask them about their goals from the previous week.  Go overboard to encourage and affirm positive actions.  Never scold people for not doing what they said they would!  Instead, gentle encourage them with your own vulnerability and openness. Let them know you are with them and for them in this process of growth toward obedience to God’s word.

Whatever you do though, don’t just skip the asking about goals part because you are afraid of offending people!  Lots of us are in this “business” because we have pastoral gifts.  We love people.  We don’t want them to feel bad!  We think that if we ask about their goals and they haven’t done them, we will cause them to feel shame or lose face.

This can certainly be true if it is done in a harsh way.  We need to be careful about our approach to this.  At the same time, not asking them is the best way to reinforce the idea that application and obedience don’t really matter.  You don’t want that!

Gently encourage them to try again the coming week.  If they failed to follow through, ask a question that helps them own their new decision.  “What would you like to do about that goal in the coming week?” Offer to help them if you can.  “Can I go with you when you share your testimony this week? Would you like a prayer partner while you take this big step to share with your uncle?”

Friendly accountability is a very important part of helping both individuals and movements grow, multiply and be transformed.  It takes time, patience, perseverance, kindness and repetition, but once its part of the DNA of the movement the impact is tremendous!