How do you gospel you?

In a recent conference, I had the opportunity to share a workshop on developing one-to-one discipleship in your church. One of the questions in the seminar that we sought to answer was What does every believer need? We discovered at least 5 helpful answers to that question, and one of the foundational answers is – a healthy understanding of their identity in the Gospel. If you’re going to live by the Gospel, you have to know how to identify yourself in Christ, get back to the Gospel when facing various situations, marinate in it, and calibrate your every step to it.

Well, the above all sounds good, but for a new follower of Jesus it sounds daunting. So, how will a young or new believer really gain a healthy understanding of a life permeated by the Gospel? They “get it” in a one-to-one relationship; by asking, watching, and relating to more mature believers. Titus 2:4,6 says to “train the younger women… and urge the younger men…”

 

friendship is the key to discipleshipSo, the value of intentional discipleship relationships is that new and younger believers can feel safe enough to simply ask, How do you gospel you? In fact, whether they say it or not, each gathering which young believers attend (whether large or small) they are asking that very question. I think they are simply saying, I am here, so teach me the Gospel. Show me how to love and obey Christ.”

Yet, one of our current challenges in the church today is that many people who may attend our gatherings believe the length of time they have invested in attendance = maturity in the Gospel. Therefore, what is closer to reality is that we have many young believers who have been sitting a long time. I believe that maturity in Christ is understanding how to get back to, live in, and press forward in the Gospel. So, we need to take a healthy look around our ministries and inquire to see if we have ever asked others the question, “How do you Gospel you?”

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Discipling Love into Community

In my last article, I was writing out some principles that help gospel communities be loving and other-centered. Immediately after sharing the article, another principle came to mind (which often happens after I preach, too, and leaves me with that how-could-I-have-forgotten-such-an-important-point feeling. Ever get that?)

So, here’s a third point:

Assign It

Literally, ask others to love others. Notice what Jesus did after he washed the disciples feet during the Last Supper. He commanded them to wash each other’s feet and directly linked it to loving one another.
washing = loving. Ordinary task done with a heavenly mindset = the sharing of the love of Jesus to others. 

And then, by nature of the holy motive and the caring deed put together, Jesus equated that to following him. The meaning and the action must go hand-in-hand.
loving = following. The sharing of the love of Jesus to others = devoted obedience to God

Jesus first provided the model, and then he said, “Now you do this simple task for each other, and the whole world will know you belong to me. Just as I have washed your feet, now you wash each other’s feet.”  (John 13:14,34-35). It’s painfully simple. Jesus did love in this way. Then, he assigned it to us and said,  “You do it — in this way — for my sake.”

Therefore, I don’t think it is wrong at all to ask people who we are connected to in Christian community to serve others around us. In fact, it is for their good! We will literally be releasing the healing oil of heaven upon an aching world.

A Christian community will never go beyond the level of a “physical Facebook gathering” unless there is a release of the washing > loving > following principle. Discipling friends in this simple yet foundational way is critical to helping them break the chains of choking selfishness. Therefore, godly living is relational; sacrificially oriented to God and others around us.

The Principle of Breaking Fresh Bread

The Italian word Panificio means ‘bakery’ and therefore a baker is called a panettiere. One of the Italian charms is the local bakery strategically situated within nose-shot of every bread-lover on the peninsula. Each bakery must have the following three components to put bread into society: fresh ingredients, the fired ovens, and the artistry of the panettiere himself.

Fresh ingredients worked together through the ovens of prayer to break fresh bread with others.

In our ministry, we try to teach this metaphor as a guiding principle for how we gather together and share the Word and life of Jesus in our Gospel Communities. In other words, our LifeTeams (small groups) strive to live-life-out-together-in-Christ and will seek opportunities to bring the Bible into the fullness of life and its rhythms. The Bread is so fresh and filling that we are eager for opportunities to share it. On a side note, some might ask if this is done in our “weekly meetings”? Yes, however, I would like to emphasize that learning Jesus happens not only in our meal gatherings but can and should happen everywhere, and at all various opportunities.

So, here is the principle in short (shorter than when I would teach it):

Every maturing disciple of Jesus is a panettiere; one through whom the Bread of Life will share himself to others.

Firstly, therefore, utilize the fresh ingredients available to you through healthy personal exposure to the Word, accountable questions, the preaching & teaching of God’s Word that you hear, Bible stories, sermon application, studies that are Cristo & Gospel centric (not just helpful how-to’s), devotions, praise, pastoral articles, training materials (such as Porterbrook), and specialized guides that are produced through the ministry.

Secondly, remember that having good ingredients is not enough to share the freshness of warm bread. A lump of dough is neither compelling nor tasty. These ingredients have to be worked-together into your life and be “fired-up”. Your heart and life is the furnace through which the bread is given. Are you engaged in an active walk with Jesus? Are the ovens of prayer lit? Pray through the people all around you and the fresh Word you’re sharing with them.

Thirdly, panettieri (bakers) become better at their craft over time. Walking in the Spirit with others really starts to hone listening skills and become story-formed. People with a vibrant and loving relationship with Jesus will notice that they will be able to share many more Gospel insights into the lives of others around them. They will carry with them the power and perfume of Jesus. Also, they will mature in their discernment in how to lead their gatherings to be more Cristo-centric. What I mean is that a godly panettiere does not just study to pass information along to people; they share the bread of their very lives.

So, in summary, to serve well in a Gospel Community a believer needs to be gathering fresh ingredients (which there is an abundance of when you learn where to look) that the Father is placing into your life. Then, those ingredients must be kneaded together in the cucina of your life and brought through the ovens of prayer. And finally, break fresh bread as the Spirit leads you into the abundance of His opportunities from gospel gatherings to grocery shopping. This can be done through stories, authentic conversations, and real-time examples of the Gospel in action (like parenting or colleagues or neighborhood problems etc.)

If you noticed, I did not emphasize a heavy reliance upon professionally produced Bible studies. While I’m generally not opposed to them, I find that they tend to produce a ‘sterile’ environment of information-passing because people naturally lean-on the material and look-at it and talk-about it. These are all things that we want people to engage in around Jesus. Often, our studies can simply distract us. Worse, they can mantle and mask many of the real needs and problems under a veneer of Bible information resulting in Pharisee-formation more than disciples of the living Christ. So, beware of becoming “Bible-study-centered”. We tend to make meetings out of studies and compartmentalize them away from our daily lives.

Are you enjoying Christ today?

Stir the Beans – Pray Together

Sherlock Holmes “had his man” and was just about to reveal to Watson who the culprit was when he froze, literally. My wife paused the YouTube movie and exclaimed, “Hold that thought, I gotta’ stir the beans.” The delicious perfume of what proved to be a high-octane, bean soup was wafting from our kitchen through the city. One minute longer, and the aroma would have ceased to be a pleasing perfume. Are you catching my drift? In every good minestra, you have to stir the beanseven when murder hangs in the balance!

When cooking-up church life together, it holds true that we will neither have mission nor discipleship without prayer. Prayer is missional and to be missional means praying. Discipleship is also soaked in prayer.

Serenissima Prayer Wheel InitiativeFrom the above illustration, it follows that sitting beans are burnt beans. So, my challenge is simply mix-it-up and release the flavors. Whether in triads or small teams or through prayer initiatives as a corporate body, strive to practice various and creative times of communal prayer. Try to pray as much with others as you do alone.

Right now at Serenissima, our ministry is holding one of our annual prayer initiatives. It’s called The 10 Days of Prayer (more info here) and lasts until the 27th of May. Basically, we as a church body cover the clock in prayer; 24 hours each day for 10 days. We do this by having people volunteer to pray for 1 specific hour of their choosing for each day. We also provide a prayer guide which is full of requests and helps for prayer.

This has been a fabulous way to stir-up prayer in our midst! Yes, it’s important to pray on our own, continuously (1 Thess. 5:17). However, we really turn the heat up in our devotion when we are in a group of 30-50 people, all on mission, passing the prayer baton hour-by-hour, and sharing our insights and experiences. To put it simply, our church — our holy minestrone — needs this right now.

Why, it’s elementary, my dear Watson — stir the beans!

hours for prayer

A Nip of Newbigin: Working as Kingdom Agents

…the preaching of the Church carries no weight if it does not come from a community in which the truth of what is preached is being validated (even though always imperfectly) in the life of the community…

L. NewbiginIn this article, we are covering the third of five points for what Lesslie Newbigin calls helpful points for the re-evangelization of Europe (read: secularized cultures).

Christian communities that live by the other story AND engage their cities around them have a big job to do, in that, they have to disciple and empower their members to be Kingdom Agents first — before members identify themselves as an employee of such-and-such company. Then, as KAs, they need to engage all of their work and the sectors of society as a people with this sacred identity.

Newbigin explains:

It will be a major part of the work of such congregations to train and enable members to act as agents of the Kingdom in the various sectors of public life where they work. This kind of ‘frontier’ work is very difficult… It must become a part of ordinary congregational life that members are enabled to think through and discuss the ways in which their Christian faith impinges on their daily life in their secular work.

Here is where there ought to be a discernible difference in behavior between those who live by the old story and those who live by the story the Bible tells. It ought at many points to lead to differences in behavior, to dissent from current practice, to questioning. And this, of course, will be the place where the counter questions arise. The Christian will be asked, ‘Why do you do this? Why do you behave like this?’ Here is where true evangelistic dialogue begins…  [Lesslie Newbigin: A Reader, p. 235]

Again, Newbigin is spot-on. My guess is that we engage with others at least 70% of our waking hours through the means of some type of work activity. However, we live by the Story 100% of the time. We need to remember that this story includes both a resurrected and ascended Lord. Since this Lord is alive and in authority, we engage each sector with this initial reality in mind. So, we can ask, How does a living and holy Lord impact the way that this job is done, the means of how we do this job, and the reasons and results of what we do?

As a church, we are not so much coming in to each place and telling Christians how they can do their jobs better or more efficiently. We may not have the technical expertise for that. However, we are seeking to tell them how their job is better when their true employer has changed. And, we are striving to align our approach to work to the cruciform story of the true King.

Here’s a real-world example: One of our members owns a hair salon. Recently, the member was sharing with me that a “division of life” was inculcated in their thinking years ago. They thought on one side they had their private, religious life. On the other side, they had their secular employment and means of making money, and neither the two should ever meet. Talk about work as much as you’d like at a “church setting” but don’t ever talk about God in a “work setting.”

Now, they are discovering the refreshing liberation from this heavy dualism of life. The member said to me, “For the first time, I’m realizing that God sent me right into this hair salon as his representative. It’s right here where I lovingly share that I have found one, true answer to the troubles I hear on these chairs. His name is Jesus.”

The people getting haircuts are not just clients. They are people Jesus loves. I guarantee that they are being introduced to his love in ways that they have never heard or thought of him before.

7 Lessons of Gospeltality

Jesus is invited to a meal where he takes the opportunity to disciple two sisters in hosting and communing. The story is found in Luke 10:38-42 just before he trains his disciples to pray. The intent of the passage is to have both sisters banqueting at the feet of Jesus. In this case, however, the quiet and resting Mary acts as a foil to her agitated and busy sister, Martha. And that is where we see the discipleship lessons of Jesus coming into play. The presence of the Good News (Gospel) coupled with the activity of teaching and training in a meal setting (hospitality) is where we combine the words to get Gospeltality. On a lovely side note, isn’t it great that Jesus is discipling women and also how he disciples them through their home and everyday lives? By doing it this way, Jesus went beyond the cultural norms (women weren’t discipled) and did it so that it wouldn’t be scandalous to others (informally at a meal setting). 

Our gratitude goes out to Sister Martha who represented us so well. We needed these discipleship lessons:

  1. We need to make sure that we understand who the host is correctly. Jesus said in verse 42, “…this one thing is necessary…” He is the one thing.
  2. We need to understand what is being hosted. The bigger picture of Jesus is why we serve. He is the living meal of God; the one, good portion that will never be taken away.
  3. We need to get our attitude right about our circumstances. If the presence of Jesus is there, then we need to recognize it and rest at his feet.  
  4. We need to forsake the kind of hosting that gives pride to our cooking, cleaning, and homes (our stuff). Otherwise, that will become all that we are about.
  5. We need to help people interact with Jesus. People should be able to see and hear Jesus when they intersect with our lives. If Martha doesn’t learn this, people will always see her. Mary got it.
  6. We need to give-way to Jesus to do his ministry in our every-day world.
  7. We need to allow the marginalized to host us. Jesus came to his own and was unwelcome (Jn. 1:11-12). There were plots to kill him. Jesus had no home, and he was poor. He also made himself the marginalized King by leaving heaven to be the friend of the broken and the least. And so, Jesus says, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40).  We have so much to learn from those who are on the outside. We also have a great opportunity to be humble because we will be constantly surprised how Jesus enters our homes and our worlds. If Jesus doesn’t host us, we will always be the host, rival him, and make ourselves superior to others.

Martha3

A Great Definition of Accountability

The Apostle Paul writes to some of his life’s best friends — the loving, supporting believers of Philippi. And he says to them in chapter 1:

7 “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,”

There are a lot of deep “connection phrases” there in those verses (ie. hold you in my heart, you are partakers with me, I yearn for you with all affection etc. ) What I see Paul describing is a rich, mutual sharing where each party has each other’s best interests in mind. They really like and love each other. The Philippians want Paul to flourish, and Paul wants the same for them.

They are deep, spiritual friends. Only friends who know that other friends have their best interests at heart will open themselves accountably.

Therefore, accountability is spiritual friendship operating at its very best.