After two whole months we have finally finished reading our first book of the month. Some of you may still be catching up if you haven't finished already, and I hope that as you finish you begin to have a better idea of what you want you life to look like as a disciple of Jesus. I had watched a video series that Jeff Vanderstelt had done on everything covered in this book, so in some ways I felt as if none of the information was new. And yet, being familiar with the material didn't lessen the impact it had on me while reading these thoughts for the second or third time. After I watched the videos (about twenty-five in all) I remember thinking, "How can I get every person in our church to watch these videos?" It is such good stuff, but with each video being twenty minutes long it would take quite a while for an individual or a group to get through it all. This book helped answer my question.
After reading the entire book I can wholeheartedly say that this is a wonderful and helpful book. It is a somewhat condensed summary of the best parts of that video series and so I am very happy to be able to recommend the book for those who don't have enough time to watch the videos. I hope that many of you read, but if not, please pick it up and take some time to take in the content of this book.
The final part of the book, The Everyday Stuff, was by far the most challenging for me personally. So many stories were shared that were both moving and unsettling. The commitment that the people in Jeff's missional community (ie. small group) had was really something that at times made me feel uncomfortable. I had to ask myself a number of times why I was feeling that way, and it may come down to the fact that we just don't see people living that sacrificially and that on mission very often. When we do, they almost seem like they are in a cult or something. When I read about what Jesus had done through ordinary, everyday circumstances I was definitely affected. I hope that you all were too.
When we follow Jesus, everything matters and everything counts. The small parts of how you live and the large parts of how you live. It can all be a tool for taking the good news of Jesus to others. It doesn't need to be a spectacle. You don't need to be amazing. You just need to be willing to do to others as God has done to you, loving them with the truth of Christ. What I appreciate is that Jeff tells us what we all know, and that is that this will not be easy. He writes:
By the way, this “everyday life on mission” stuff can be unpredictable or messy. I often share that if it isn’t messy here and there, you are likely not yet on mission. If you are becoming friends with people who don’t yet know and love Jesus, you are going to be invited into experiences that may be very different from what you’re used to.
Is it worth it though? Is it worth it to be so intentional about your schedule, money, time, etc? Is there something bigger than just our own day-by-day life maintenance that we do, trying to hold on to what we have? The answer to these questions is yes, but it is hard to move forward. Do we live in a way that demands a "Jesus explanation" as Jeff writes? Are we being lights in a dark place, not just because of what we say, but because of what we do? These are all questions that these last chapters have brought up in my mind.
We need others around us to help us to live this way in the world. I don't think it would hurt if our small groups had covenants that they made together regarding how they want to live, who they want to serve, and who they want to reach. I don't think it would be a poor use of time to spend more time together eating, celebrating, praying, and serving. Even the idea that these communities (small groups) have a laid out mission plan for a specific people is a great idea. It is far too easy to just become internally focused and saturated by each other rather than do both that and saturate the lost with the message of Jesus.
There are a lot of obstacles that we face that would keep us from really living lives for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel. How do we do this with young kids? How do we do this when all we do is work, work, work? What about "me time"? What if I'm an introvert and seeing people all the time would wear me out? These are all valid questions, and yet I hope that we can apply to faith to all of these obstacles and believe God for the things he wants to do through normal people like ourselves. There may be things we have to say no to in this world in order to say yes to God, but much of our lives can probably still exist.
Even the idea of living the normal Christian life with other believers and bringing unbelievers into your world has ramifications. It will create awkwardness, and it may even make some of you feel like you can't be yourselves. Remember, we want people to see and experience Christ through us, and we can do that through typical things. We don't need to do extravagant things together. We need to learn to follow Jesus and help one another to do that. If an unbeliever is a part of that, who knows what God could reveal to them through your little group?
As we wrap up here, I want to quote Jeff a few more times and end with his words:
...now is the time for us to get serious about Jesus’s mission together, and we need all ages in this game. Church has to stop being about us. It’s time for us to get back to what Jesus lived and died for. We need everyone in the game! If not, Jesus saturation will not happen. Can you imagine what would happen if all those in retirement who know and love Jesus were to partner with the younger generation in this? Think about the thousands of missional communities that could be started all over the United States and around the world—and the thousands of people who would come to know and love Jesus as a result! Stop and consider your life. How will you spend it, and for whom? Please take Jesus’s call to make disciples seriously. What are you going to do with your life? It’s never too late. Don’t waste it. I hope you’re open to stepping out into what I believe Jesus is calling his church back to—Jesus communities on Jesus’s mission, disciples who make disciples, together, not alone, in every place and in all of life...
...Too often, we focus on the spectacular activities of a few prominent Christians, leaving many people feeling as if what they do in everyday life doesn’t really matter. But the everyday stuff, done with gospel intentionality in the name of Jesus, changes lives as well. I have found that when we love and serve people like Jesus loved and served us, it gives great evidence to how powerful the gospel is to change lives. Then, when we proclaim what Jesus did in serving us, people who hear also see Jesus serving them through his body—through us, his church. They see normal people on Jesus’s mission getting to experience extraordinary life together!...
...Surrender to Jesus. Devote yourself to his mission. Remember and live in light of your new identity. Get on mission with a small group of people. Covenant together to sow seeds to others in the everyday rhythms of life, and watch the movement ripple out of your life until the whole earth is saturated with the good news of Jesus.
I look forward to what the Lord wants to do with this book for those of us that read it, and I hope that the heart of it spreads through our church. We may not do missional communities in the exact way presented in the book, but it's important to look at the principles behind it all and say together "this is what we want."
If you are interested in using the Story of God that Jeff mentioned in this final section you can find that here.
We will begin the next book in July, and I think it's going to be a helpful one. More information to follow.
I don't know about you, but there was quite a bit written in these chapters that challenged me. To be honest, I'm not sure any summary that I could write would do these chapters justice. Part 4 is about our New Identity in Christ and what that means for us. The core message of this part of the book is that whatever God has done to us, he intends to also do through us. In other words, we are able to be a part of the amazing work of God in the salvation of the lost, the care of the weak, the mending of the broken, and much, much more.
The stories throughout these four chapters speak to that over and over again, and I found myself wanting to see God work in the ways Jeff was talking about. I want to believe in the power of God's Spirit to bring people who seem beyond hope to repentance. And it seemed to me that one of the common threads throughout this section was that we as God's people can believe by faith that God will do things beyond our wildest imaginations.
What would it be like if we a God's people were to love our neighbors as Jesus has loved us? What if we were to care for them as we would our own family? Not only would we be changed through doing that, but I have to believe that we would also see God saving and sanctifying these same people in time. I think that it would best serve you to watch these two short videos taken from the book that help to understand what our lives can really be now that we have a new identity in Christ.
At the end of part 4 Jeff summarizes everything well:
We have the Spirit of God in us so that we might be empowered, just as Jesus was. We are his missionaries, filled and anointed by his Spirit. If you have the Spirit of God, you are a missionary sent by Jesus to tell the world who he is and what he has done. Charles Spurgeon said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”1 Everywhere you go, whatever you do, you are a missionary sent by Jesus to love like Jesus, overcome sin like Jesus, proclaim the gospel like Jesus, and see people’s lives changed by the power of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. You are always on mission. Every part of your life, every activity and event, is part of Jesus’s mission to make disciples. Remember, you are not alone on this mission. Jesus goes with you everywhere because his Spirit is in you to empower you to be his representative in the world. He wants to saturate your world in Word and deed by his presence at work in and through you by his Spirit. Our baptism is a reminder of our new identity in Christ. We have been saturated with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have a new name because we are new creations that can do new works by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. This is why Jesus places baptism first in the sequence of events of making disciples. He wants us to know who we are and what power we now have to do what he wants. His command for us to “[teach] them to observe all that I have commanded you” comes after we establish people in their new identity (Matt. 28:19–20). Since you do who you are, you need to know who you are in Christ. Knowing and believing who you are in Christ leads you to obey Jesus’s commands. The people in our young, growing church didn’t need a new to-do list. They needed to be reminded of their new identity in Christ. The same is true for you. We are the Father’s family; therefore, we love others like he loved us. We are servants of Christ; therefore, we serve the least of these as he served us. We are missionaries filled and empowered by the same Spirit that was in Jesus; therefore, we are always on mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus. Whatever he has done to us, he now wants to do through us to others.
I know I didn't write much today about this part, but I am still processing it and thinking about what it means for me personally. I would really encourage you to read these chapters if you haven't yet and be amazed at what God can do. I would love to be a part of the glorious and unbelievable works of God in this world.
For next week we will actually finish the book! I've had a few conversations with others who are reading this and they have been very challenged and in some ways changed by it. No book is perfect, but I think that the vision for discipleship and community laid out in this book is worth your time to think about.
Making disciples. It's the call that Jesus has placed on his church. But how does it look? What does it really mean to make disciples? In part 3, Jeff Vanderstelt explains what he has found discipleship to be, and how the church can do it in everyday life. Here is a short summary video of chapters 7-10:
The word "discipleship" can be a loaded word for some people. It can mean many different things, and the definition isn't always as concrete as we would like it to be. I know that I have viewed discipleship a certain way for most of my Christian life, that is until I watched some videos that Jeff Vanderstelt put together about being on mission while in community. When I thought of discipleship I though of one on one meetings, reading the Bible together, etc. But to be honest, I didn't really have a clear definition of what I was hoping to accomplish in those times. What was the point of discipleship anyway? I appreciate Jeff's explanation in chapter 7:
That is what discipleship is all about. It is the ongoing process of submitting all of life to Jesus, and seeing him saturate your entire life and world with his presence and power. It’s a process of daily growing in your awareness of your need for him in the everyday stuff of life. It is walking with Jesus, being filled with Jesus, and being led by Jesus in every place and in every way.
It's about submitting all of my life to Jesus. That's an incredible statement, and it forces me to answer the question, "Do I really want to submit to Jesus?" Honestly, I like to be my own authority. I think I know best. It's easy to pay lip service to Jesus but at the end of the day, am I really submitting to him as my lord? This is why discipleship is so important. I need to first take my own life under the lordship of Christ, not expecting others to do all the hard work for me. Jeff writes:
...you have to shift from the passive idea that it is someone else’s responsibility to grow you up to be more like Jesus. You need to take your own discipleship seriously. If you love Jesus, trust Jesus, and have Jesus’s Spirit, you can start to grow up in following him and becoming more like him yourself.
I want to take my own discipleship seriously, and in doing so I will be more equipped to help others do the same. At the end of chapter 7, Jeff gives a succinct sentence on what this looks like, followed by a summary of what he means by "all-of-life discipleship":
Read, listen, and obey—then pass it on....All-of-life discipleship—learning to follow, trust, and obey Jesus in the everyday stuff of life—requires submitting to and obeying God’s Word in three key environments: life on life, where our lives are visible and accessible to one another; life in community, where more than one person is developing another; and life on mission, where we experience making disciples and, while doing so, come to realize how much we need God’s power.
Briefly, lets take a look at each of these three areas.
We live in a culture where we are spending less and less time with others. We spend most of our day working, then we come home and spend time with our families. Occasionally we will meet with other believers for our "once a week" meeting and then meet up with them again on Sunday. We may even spend some time with our neighbors, but that is probably not very often either. We are tired, busy, and so adding "discipleship" into the mix can seem like another burden in a week of other burdens. But is this how our life is supposed to be? How can we do as Jesus commanded and make disciples if we don't see each other very often? How can we know one another and be known if we seclude ourselves to our homes? The truth is, we can't. And when we seclude ourselves, it gets easier and easier to not submit to Jesus and to put on some sort of facade when we do see other believers. But Jeff points out in chapter 8:
God sees. He knows. And he is not satisfied with the cover-up. He wants to restore you to his original design. That is what discipleship is about—making you truly human, just as Jesus is the perfectly complete human. His means of restoration is others in your life who are committed to bringing your brokenness out into the open and bringing the gospel of Jesus to bear on it. The layers with which we’ve covered ourselves have to be pulled back, and we can’t do that kind of work alone. We have to get close. We have to be seen and known. This is what we call life-on-life discipleship—life that is lived up close so that we are visible and accessible to one another, so that others can gently peel back the layers and join us in our restoration.
This is uncomfortable for us, I think. When you are with others you notice brokenness, flaws, experience conflict, etc. Exposure of who we really are is not something that we naturally want to experience. We can think, "If people really knew what I was struggling with or who I am, it would be a disaster." This thinking is pushing against discipleship. You can't possibly grow if you aren't being pruned and cultivated, and God puts us in community so that we can do just that. Jeff writes:
Jesus lived life with his disciples. He was close enough to really know them. He observed what they believed by watching how they lived. He became closely acquainted with their brokenness so that he could see their wrong thinking, wrong believing, and wrong acting. They were exposed. And as they were exposed, Jesus helped them to be restored....If we are to be disciples of Jesus who are being re-formed and restored to become more like him, we need to have people in our lives, up close and personal. We need people who can see where we do or do not yet believe the truth about Jesus and what he has done for us. Then, when the layers are pulled back, we need people to speak the truth of the gospel to our needs. Sometimes we just need a reminder of what we already know but have forgotten. Sometimes we need a bit of new information about Jesus. And there are times when we need a direct rebuke.
This is challenging on so many levels, but it is what we need. We all need restoration and we all need to be reminded about Jesus and what he has done. Again, we can't do this alone. Growing in Christ is a community effort and just spending a few hours together each week almost certainly won't cut it. I've found in my own life that the more time I spend with people the more my sin rises to the surface. I just want my own time, or I feel inconvenienced, or I feel misunderstood. Fill in the blank with how you have felt when you spend a lot of time with people. As an example, think of how refining it is to be a part of a family. Whether you are married, have kids, or you are one of the kids, being together most of the time is as challenging and sharpening as anything I can think of. This is where discipleship thrives, in regular life. It doesn't have to be some formal event, and it may not be as effective it is. Discipleship is an all of life endeavor, as Jeff points out:
Discipleship can happen at any time—while applying putty on the side of a house, cleaning up a yard, hanging out at a party, playing board games (the brokenness is pretty obvious for those of us who struggle with being overly competitive), enjoying a vacation together, watching sporting events, or cooking a meal.....Life-on-life discipleship often happens in the midst of relational conflict.
Have you thought about discipleship in these terms? I remember reading another book where the author wrote that if you want to learn humility, play golf. I can personally say that he was right. My golf game reminds me over and over again how much anger I have brewing inside of me. That is just one example of how all of life really can be an opportunity for us to understand and apply the gospel more. Jeff also mentions conflict, a word that may even cause a physical reaction for some of us.
We don't like conflict, and we don't like trials. Yet, it is in these things that God produces the most growth in us. I have had a lot of conflict in my life, and will have a lot more, but I have learned to be thankful for it and not run from it. Nothing seems to bring out my own harsh, selfish, arrogant spirit more than conflict, and I have learned to use it as an opportunity to grow in Christ. Jeff says something similar:
Most people have been trained to believe that conflict is a bad thing. But we have found that conflict pushes what is already in the heart to the surface. Therefore, it often serves to remove the facade. Living life closely together does this because you can’t keep the front up forever.
Have you noticed this in yourself? Has your sin been revealed in conflict with others? Life on life discipleship will produce conflict, but out of that time together, hashing things out, working through challenges, maturity will occur if you keep at it. But again, this isn't just about you, this is about the community growing in submitting their lives to Jesus.
In chapter 9, Jeff points our the importance of meeting together, operating as the body of Christ. Each of us has been wired by God to be of benefit to others around us in the church and outside of the church. It is in these differences that we are most able to disciple and make disciples.
One way that he tries to accomplish community is through what he calls DNA groups. This stands for discover, nurture and act. The point of these groups is for a few people to get together and very intentionally help each other to use the word of God together to see sin, fight it, work through challenges and then determine how to act upon what they have learned. I appreciated the push for reflecting on God's word, genuine repentance, and moving forward. It is so easy to get stuck in one place and to hear the gospel and feel nothing. These groups seem to be a way to counteract that in a healthy way. I personally am thinking of trying to start one of these groups with a few other men in hopes that it would be beneficial for all of us. I would encourage you to think about doing the same.
Our discipleship has to be intentional, as Jeff writes:
This kind of discipleship can’t happen in isolation. It also can’t happen just by hanging out with Christians. It requires us to be on mission together.
Of all the chapters in this section, I feel that this is the most important. We spend so much time talking about things and not actually doing them. Mission is especially an area where we can plan and talk about it all day long and never actually do it. However, the point of chapter 10 was not mission in and of itself, but how being on mission together is a form of discipleship. Many of us don't know how to be on mission, at least not practically. I think that this is because we don't have any real life training. Jeff points this out as well:
We should take the development of disciples—and disciple makers—as seriously as we do preparing doctors for surgery. The residency training we have to offer is the people of God on the mission of Jesus together. To grow toward being a disciple maker in all of life, you need on-the-job training, and that’s what life on mission is about. This is what Jesus did with his disciples. He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). He didn’t say, “Show up to class and I will train you.” Nor did he say, “Attend synagogue and that will be sufficient.” No, he called the disciples to join him on the mission (“Follow me”), and while they were on the mission with him, he trained them to be disciple makers (“I will make you fishers of men”)....The best training for mission happens while on mission.
We need to be on mission together if we are ever going to grow in being on mission in general. A few years ago we made an effort to ask all of our small groups to have an external focus as much as they have an internal one. Honestly, I'm not sure that we have been very focused on that. It is far too easy to just become about hanging out together and studying the Bible when our groups can be a training ground for front line missions, and not only a training ground, but a force to be reckoned with on the filed itself! The problem is we never get out there, and yet that is the best place for us to learn about ourselves and about Jesus. Jeff writes:
The mission itself is God’s tool for forming us. Jesus knew this when he called his disciples to join him on his mission. He knew that the best way to develop his disciples was to send them out on mission. It was while they were on mission together that they realized how little they knew, how little they trusted God, and how selfish and prideful they really were....Mission brings you back to Jesus over and over again because, after all, it is his mission. He will build his church, and therefore his mission is completely dependent on him.
Isn't this what we want? Don't we want to be with Jesus, walking where he walks, engaging with the people he would engage with? I think it is a wonderful thing that following Christ is active. It means that the Christian life is never boring. If you are on mission with other brothers and sisters your life will be exciting, interesting and full of God's work. If you are just hanging around hoping to experience the presence of God and mature in Christ, it will probably be slow going or never happen at all. I love what Jeff says toward the end of chapter 10:
I’m amazed at how often Christians want to experience the presence and power of God apart from the mission of God. I’m also surprised at how many people believe they can grow people up toward maturity in Christ apart from getting them involved in the mission of making disciples. This stuff can’t happen in a classroom. It does not happen in one-on-one meetings. And it does not happen if we just hang out together as Christians all the time. We have to get out on mission in order to fulfill the mission of being disciples who make disciples. I used to think we should take people out on mission trips once or twice a year. Now I’m convinced we need to help people see that they are on mission all of the time.
It's clear to me that discipleship is much larger and all encompassing than I had originally thought. I need the church in all its brokenness and it needs me. We all are part of something amazing, and it would be foolish of us to ignore the call to make disciples when it is one of the most life giving aspects of our Christian life. I hope that these chapters were helpful and that you see the importance of making disciples and how you can be a part of that.
This week we will read part 4, New Identity which is chapters 11-14. This book will take us halfway into June, so we will read a shorter book for the last two weeks of June. I hope that you are finding this helpful!
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