Category Archives: Missions and Ministry

N.T. Wright on Gospel and Mission

Recently N.T. Wright lectured at Oklahoma Christian University. Below is a YouTube video of one of those lectures, probably a “chapel sermon,” on the relationship between gospel and mission, the vocational challenge we have as followers of Jesus. I believe you will really be encouraged and challenged by what you here, so do yourself a favor and listen.

A Good Minister of Christ Jesus

When I was a student at Harding University, I belonged to the “Timothy Club.” [1] This was a group for those preparing to serve as ministers of the gospel named after the Apostle Paul’s protégé Timothy. The club provided further encouragement and mentoring for ministry students beyond the college classroom. And all of these students, including myself, believed God had called us to serve as ministers and was preparing us for that task so that he may send us out. [2]

Leaders Among the Church

Paul wrote Timothy saying, “If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching you have followed” (1 Tim 4:6). Space will not permit much analysis of what “these things” are. However, the passage hints at the great responsibility Paul expected of Timothy and under different yet similar circumstances, I believe Paul expected the same of Titus.

Whether we call them ministers, evangelists, or else, the work of Timothy and Titus was a continuation of what Paul began in helping establish the churches in Ephesus and Crete.  From a cursory reading of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, this ministry involved preaching and teaching as well as administrative work, all for the purpose of building up the churches as God’s holy people. For example, when it came to addressing the concerns of widows, Paul told Timothy to “Give these commands” [2] to the church (cf. 1 Tim 5:7, NRSV).

As a minister of Christ Jesus, this responsibility comes from Jesus himself. While all good ministry involves communal discernment, it is not a responsibility subject to the church’s approval but for the sake of the church — so that the church may continue participation in the mission of God. Both Timothy and Titus were sent as leaders among the church… not the only leaders, as they were to appoint elders and deacons (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9), but leaders nonetheless.

The Need for Ministers

Churches today find themselves among a drastically different historical context and sometimes facing very different issues. Nevertheless, even though the circumstances are different, churches still need a minister of the gospel like Ephesus and Crete needed Timothy and Titus. Churches need ministers who spend time drinking from the deep well of God’s word so that they may preach and teach the scriptures, always pointing the church in the way of Jesus. Likewise, churches need these ministers acting administratively so that God’s people may, as followers of Jesus, increasingly become living expressions of the scriptures.

Whether a minister serves in the role of a “lead” or “senior” minister or in other specialized roles, such as a“youth” or “children’s” minister, they serve with the church as ministers called and sent by God to the church. Whatever fiscal arrangements are made for supporting a minister, these provisions should not bear upon the minister’s spiritual responsibility. This is not to suggest that there are never circumstances in which a minister has lost the ability to serve but to say that a minister’s service should not be reduced to employment.

Like elders, deacons, and even the church, ministers are not perfect. However, a good minister, one who understands the responsibility as working for God, has spent years learning and continues learning. Like Timothy, a good minister nourishes “on the truths of the faith” and has a good sense regarding what is necessary for building the church up. Likewise, a good minister is not defined by the approval of the church but whether or not that minister remains committed to that “good teaching” from the word of God.

A Final Word

There is so much more to say about the responsibility of a minister. However, in closing this essay, remember Paul’s encouragement to Timothy saying, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God…” (2 Tim 2:6). The greatest service a minister can offer the church is to do just this.

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  1. This post is dedicated to my fellow Compadres (you know who you are), who serve God and the church as ministers of the gospel. Keep up the great work!
  2. A similar article is published as the same title in Connecting 29 (March 20, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.
  3. The word paraggellō involves making an announcement and is an expression used throughout the New Testament in an authoritative sense, see Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3d ed., rev. Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 760.

Church Leaders and Spiritual Responsibility

When talking of church leadership, the discussion of “spiritual authority” usually comes to mind. It’s the question of what leadership roles does the church have and what authority do those roles have.

Despite the overemphasis on leadership in some Christian circles and the emerging pushback, there is validity to the discussion of spiritually authority and church leadership. We are told in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them…” The text never specifies who these leaders are, just that the church must “obey” them and “submit” to them. This assumes a high degree of authority without saying a word about how the leaders exercise this authority. So how is such authority exercised by leaders of the church? Such a question is important but it gains even more importance whenever we think of stories where leaders have acted with unhealthy authority, causing great harm.

Jesus Shaped Leadership…

As one who believes that we must read all scripture in light of Jesus, the self-sacrificial servant lifestyle of Jesus is the first hint at how leaders must exercise authority. Jesus was bold and decisive, unwilling to compromise his convictions, but he was also a servant who never forced anyone to act against their own free will. In fact, he even washed the feet of the one who betrayed him and those who deserted him when he was arrested and crucified.

In Matthew 20:20-28 there’s a story about the mother of James and John asking Jesus if her sons could sit at his right hand. Apparently, these two courageous boys put their mommy up to this because Jesus responded to them, telling them that they were clueless about what they were asking and then asking them if they could drink the same cup as Jesus. But this upset the other ten disciples who became angry, so Jesus responds in vv. 25-28:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The key words in this text are “not so” and “just as,” which specifies how Jesus his disciples to exercise spiritual authority.* Instead of a top-down dictating authority, Jesus insists that spiritual authority must come from the act of becoming a servant.

Spiritual Authority Responsibility?

The life of Jesus and his teaching about becoming a servant should then form the basis for how the leaders mentioned in Hebrews 13 are to exercise authority. That is because within the kingdom of God, all church leaders are followers of Jesus first. The authority of church leaders comes from service, not demand. Consequently, because of some top-down understandings of authority present in our own culture, I think we may be better off talking about spiritual responsibility instead of spiritual authority.

In this regards, the church has leaders with certain responsibility which the church must recognize. In exercising responsibility, the leaders are guiding the church towards greater participation in the mission of God. Yet because leadership responsibility is exercised from the role of a servant — as followers of Jesus — church leaders go first where they want to lead others. Put another way, such servant leaders will never ask others to do what they themselves are unwilling to do.

One Caveat…

I might be wrong on some of what I’m saying or over-simplifying the issue a bit, as I’m more so just thinking out loud as I work through my own questions about church leadership. However, over my lifetime I have known of stories involving both elders and ministers who did much harm. Yet I’ve never heard of leaders doing harm among a church because they were trying to lead like Jesus, as self-sacrificial servants.

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* This insight comes from, Randy Willingham, a church consultant and ministry professor at Harding University.

Church, Change, and Renewal: Addressing the Problems

There are always problems within the church because the church is people. The problems create conflict and that is neither right or wrong, it’s just reality. Two or more people can’t participate in community with each other without encountering conflict. The question is how will the said conflict be handled, for that will determine whether the conflict becomes a good thing or bad thing… healthy or unhealthy conflict.

Churches pursuing missional renewal will encounter conflict as they try to move forward, changing what appears as wrong and pursuing what is right. I believe part of the trick is understanding that churches form as organizations. While churches generally begin in an organic manner, such as people just coming together for dinner and Bible study in someone’s house, as churches begin to grow they must organize with leadership, structure, and practices. Hence, churches become an organization. We even see this formation from organic to organization within the early book of Acts as this community has been formed organically by the Holy Spirit. The organic church takes on certain practices, including meeting the daily needs of others, but eventually more leadership is necessary so that the church may adequately continue the practice of meeting daily needs with food (cf. Acts 6:1-6), becoming an organization.

The challenge is that at some point in a churches history, something about the way the church is organized becomes the problem. Maybe the church has lapsed into an unhealthy practice for dealing with conflict, lost a shared vision of who it’s called to be, etc… Whatever the case may be, this is where problems that have been simple aches and pains to the body increasingly become like catastrophic illness. However, adding to the problem is a failure to recognize the issue as an organizational problem and instead blame certain individuals or a small group within the organization (cf. Andy Stanley, et al., Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, p. 58). By pointing the finger at people rather than the way the church participates in life together as an organization, the real problem — which is likely organizational — is ignored. When this happens, I doubt very much that the church will find the renewal it hopes for.

As the church pursues renewal, perhaps the best course of action is to slow the process down. The faster the pace, the more anxiety there is and the greater chance of people pointing fingers at each other instead discerning together. In doing so, there are several things I believe are also necessary:

  1. Have Conversations: For smaller churches, pulling chairs up in a circle and having a dialogical conversation is probably the best format. In larger churches where more organization is still necessary, having something like a town-hall meeting with an open mic for anyone to ask questions or make comments. In either case, some moderation will likely be necessary.
  2. Remain Patient: If you’re like me, you want every problem solved yesterday. The only problem is that God doesn’t operate according to our time schedules. Finding renewal is a process, not a single event and as someone told me the other day, churches must be willing to engage in the process as long as it is necessary.
  3. Offer Grace: As churches pursue renewal, there is anxiety and in such a context, people are bound to say and do things that are wrong. Most likely, they’re not trying to be malicious. So if necessary, speak to them about whatever matter it is but be willing to forgive just as Christ has forgiven you. Besides forgiving each other, believe the best about each other rather than assuming the worst. Without grace, the process of renewal will become ugly and will likely fail.

The Minister, The Church, and Change…

In my previous post, I discussed the problem with trying to make what I call “cosmetic change” before “character change” among declining churches. It’s easier for the church to focus on external issues, seeking cosmetic changes such different worship styles, adding small groups, and so on rather than focusing on the internal character of the church. It’s easier because neither individuals nor organizations want to critically look in the mirror, so to speak,  focusing on the character of who they fundamentally are and what them needs to change.

Enter the minister, the one tasked with leading the church towards missional renewal. Similar to Timothy and Titus, who both were carrying on where Paul left of, leading the churches in Ephesus and Crete towards their intended purpose, the minister’s role here is equipping the church to live on mission with God. However, this task can be quite the challenge, especially when it involves helping a church that has been in decline towards renewal. The first part of the challenge is keeping the conversation focused the character issues such as the vision and purpose the church will live out of.

Yet keeping the conversation focused on the character issues often results in a second challenge. Describing what he calls the “chronically anxious family” as wanting the quick fix solution as a technique for reversing the problem rather focusing on the underlying symptoms of the problem which has to do with themselves, Friedman goes on to say:

“What chronically anxious families require, of course, is a leader who does not give in to their demands. Should such a leader somehow arise, these families will be relentless in undercutting his or her resolve, and outside the family circle they will continually try to adapt other systems and professional to their needs” (A Failure of Nerve, p. 87).

In other words, the minister should fully expect resistance and even possible rejection. In my own church tribe, the later is usually when the minister is encouraged (“told”) to find another church to serve with.

There’s the story in 1 Samuel 8 when Israel demands a king. This bothered Samuel, who took his trouble to the Lord in prayer. Apparently, Samuel felt as though Israel was rejecting his leadership but God spoke up and said, “…it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (v. 7). And so it is with churches. The resistance to change, which is often channeled towards the minister is not, in the end, a decision about the minister but one about God and his mission.

At the end of the day, the minister must simply decide to be faithful to the calling!

Change Among the Declining Church

There are plenty of churches that find themselves in various stages of decline, finding themselves increasingly frustrated, and desiring missional renewal. Therefore something must change! But what?

The tempting answer is better programs, a different worship style, and so on. These are what I described in another post as cosmetic changes, which are different from character changes. The difference is important because, as I use this illustration often, you can put lipstick and make-up on a pig but at the end of the day, it’s still a pig. That is to say, making cosmetic changes alone to a church only results in the same church with some new lipstick and make-up.

The Problem with the Church…

In my experience, the problem with church decline is a character problem rather than cosmetic problem. The character problem stems from a web of issues involving leadership, unhealthy conflict, lack of vision and purpose, and members who want a church to attend rather than making a commitment to be the church. Such problems create anxiety among the church as an organization. The desire for missional renewal among the declining church then becomes the question of whether or not the church wants to address character change.

According to Edwin Friedman, in his book A Failure of Nerve, the answer is “No!” Instead of focusing on the underlying fundamental problems, anxious family systems would rather pursue quick fix solutions (p. 84-85). While Friedman is not talking about churches in particular, the problem he recognizes applies to churches just as much as it applies to families, governments, and other organizations. For churches in decline, it’s easier to blame something else and try to fix it with cosmetic changes than to say that the problem is “us” and address the character change.

Addressing The Church Problem…

Churches seeking missional renewal must focus on their own character? Does the church own a vision and purpose rooted in the mission of God that they are committed to pursuing? In other words, can the church as a whole (not just the minister, elders, and deacons) identify themselves by saying “This is who we are and this is what we are seeking to accomplish by the grace and power of God”?

This is the missional question of identity and purpose and it is the character change that churches must first address. Only when the church is able to answer this missional question of character change can it then begin to make cosmetic changes that may work. There isn’t any guarantee that such cosmetic changes will work but I am convinced that they are futile without a character change resulting in an owned vision and purpose for which the church as a whole is committed to.

Making It Easy: The Gospel and the Lost

The church in Acts is driven by the call to live as witnesses of Jesus [1]. This missional thrust is driven by two primary convictions that are inseparably linked. First is the belief that God has raised the crucified Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:22-24, 32-36). The second conviction is that salvation is found exclusively in Jesus (Acts 4:12).

This is not a form of platonic dualism where salvation is the separation of the soul from the physical body and world en route for an ethereal view of heaven. Rather, salvation is the understanding that the world is lost in darkness but that Jesus makes it possible to live a new eternal life in which heaven and earth are coming together as they will be when Jesus returns. Because the world is lost and enslaved to the powers of darkness, the message of Christ is the good news (gospel) of salvation in which people find the freedom of new life in Christ.

This is the purpose driving the church we read of in Acts. Everything else we read of flows from this missional purpose and is rooted in this gospel of Jesus Christ. Most Christians probably agree that this is the anchoring purpose that should drive churches today. However, there’s one more idea to consider as churches strive in living on mission with God.

In Acts 15, as the Gentiles are turning to God, the church gathers to discuss the matter since some Jewish Christians believed the Gentiles must be circumcised. However, the church decides this is wrong and that the only prohibitions should be abstinence from practices rooted in idolatry (Acts 15:19-21, 29)[2]. The reasoning for this decision is stated in v. 19: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Think about the reasoning of this decision. The church in Acts believes that the Gentiles are lost and need the salvation found exclusively in Jesus Christ but they also believe they should make it easy for the Gentiles to turn their lives back to God.  There’s a lesson here that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The lesson is that churches should make it easy for people to turn to God.

What does this involve? To begin with, it doesn’t involve watering down the gospel message or lowering the bar on discipleship. This much should be clear from just a cursory reading of the New Testament. What is involved in making it easy for people to turn to God is that churches should not allow their traditions to stand in the way of people turning to God by putting such people in a position where they must embrace the traditions in order to become a Christian. When I speak of traditions, I am speaking of issues like worship preferences (including a capella singing), dress codes, recreational hobbies, etc… Churches may attempt a defense of these traditions as “biblical” by proof-texting scripture but it is important to remember that one can make the Bible support about anything by proof-text.

Churches must consider what concessions are necessary to make it easy for  people turn to God with faith in Christ. This begins by making “the lost” a priority in conversations that churches have about vision and the future. Too often, people outside of Christ receive the least amount of consideration. The bottom line is this: Without watering down the gospel message or lowering the bar on discipleship, what must churches do to make it easy for these people to find salvation in Christ?

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  1. A similar version of this article was originally published in Connecting 29 (January 23, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.
  2. In fact, these prohibitions may have been made to make it easier for the Jews to join the Gentiles in table fellowship. See Charles H. Savelle, “A Reexamination of the Prohibitions in Acts 15,” Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (Oct-Dec 2004): 463; Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, Sacra Pagina (Colllegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), 273.

Ministry, Burden, and Calling

There are two images of ministry that are very different. There’s the glamorized image which is projected in many books. You know the ones… great stories of fast-growing churches and high profile pastors, innovative visions and the ten key moves that every other minister needs to take his or her church to the next level. Then there’s the other image that seldom gets spoken of, or at least it’s not featured on the shelf in that Christian bookstore.

Before I say a word about this other image, let me say that I’m happy for those ministry stories that become best-selling books. That’s because behind all those stories has been a lot of hard work and difficult leadership that led to the accomplishments that we read about in those books. Nevertheless, this image of ministry is not the norm. The other image of ministry that seldom gets spoken is one of ups and downs, celebration and struggle.

Reality check #1: Most churches in America are less than one-hundred members. Think about that for a moment. Those who are called to lead churches as ministers/pastors will most likely serve in one of these small churches.

Reality check #2: There is a reason why churches are less than one-hundred members. Whether the church has never grown beyond the one-hundred mark or it once was above that mark but has since declined, there is a reason for this. Usually that reason isn’t pretty but it’s part of the church’s story and therefore will be part of the ministry experience.

These are the churches that many seminarians will be called to serve among. Besides preaching and teaching, there are many other great aspects of this ministry that include baptisms, weddings, child births, ministry projects, helping broken marriages heal, being in the hospital room with families during very difficult times, and so on. But in between all these great moments are some very difficult moments too. Serving and leading among churches with such a variegated history of good and not so good times, will keep you up at night on more than a few occasions. Sometimes doing what is right means doing the difficult things and doing so knowing that may disappoint some people — people you have grown to love and care about. This is the burden of ministry, the heartache that stays with you. It’s the burden that you will keep rehearsing in your head, the burden you will bear whether or not it’s your burden to bear.

The bottom line is that ministry is very enjoyable, it isn’t always fun. And for those who think that church planting is easier… Think again! For every successful church plant, there are plenty of other churches that never last beyond five years after being planted. That’s quite a burden to ponder for the planters of those church.

So what is it that keeps one going through the tough seasons of ministry?

I believe it is the sense of calling. Ministry isn’t just a job, it’s a life . . . and it’s a life  that comes with a calling from God. For those who receive the call, the response is to go in faith as God sends and trust that God will provide. Along the way there will be plenty of times when ministry is exciting. Like most adventures, it’s easy to go at it when the good times are rolling. But when they’re not… Remember the calling!

Discernment for Dying Churches

We love to talk about life but death is another matter. When it comes to churches, this aversion to talking about death is much greater. I have encountered many small struggling churches that are living in maintenance mode, unsure of how or even if they even have the capacity to become a church moving forward on mission with God. But few of the churches want to consider that it might be time for their church to die.

I don’t think it should be like this. Though I realize that death is never a pleasant subject, it is a fact of life. However, for Christians, death is never the end. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and therefore we believe that God raises new life out of death. God does so whenever a person is baptized into Christ where they are crucified with Christ — buried into death with Christ — and then raised into new life with Christ (cf. Rom 6:3-4). And God can do so even when a particular church decides that it is time to close (death).

The local church always exists to serve a purpose within the mission of God. One church may serve to minister among an emerging inner-city Latino neighborhood while another may serve exist to serve near a university among  college age young adults. Each church, with its purpose for existence, is valid and necessary but neither church is bigger than the mission of God that has been revealed in Christ and is now being lived out in the universal body of Christ. Over time and for various reasons, the purpose which the local church served within the mission of God no longer exists. Maybe its a church that once grew though a great Sunday School outreach program in a neighborhood of young families but now has discovered that as the neighborhood has changed with the young families being replaced by Asian immagrants who do not speak English as their primary language, their purpose is has run its course. Or maybe the church once grew because it was a safe community for people who were trying to discover the grace of God but as more and more other local churches discovered the grace of God, their purpose has been fulfilled.

Without finding a new purpose for existence, one that participates in the mission of God, the church begins to decline as it shifts into maintenance mode. Sadly, many churches linger in such mode until they are forced to close because their are few members left, financial resources have disappeared, etc… Sometimes, if not many times, this is very taxing and detrimental to the spiritual health of the members in this church. But what if the church decided that it was time to close the church for good, effectually letting the church die (rather than trying to keep it on life support)?

I think there are at least several good results that could come from a church deciding to close for good. First, the members could then become a part of another church where they continue growing in faith as they serve with this church using their spiritual gifts. In such a case, God is breathing new life into their own souls as well as the new church they are joining. Also, the remaining assets of the church that closed could be contributed to other churches or para-church ministries that are serving a needed purpose within God’s mission. Second, the members could call a missionary/evangelist leader to plant a new church with a new purpose. The members may even choose to be a part of this new church (but they must let it be a new church and not just a reinvention of the old church). In this scenario, where one church is closing, another is being planted… where one church has died, another one has been born.

So what should be done? This is where discernment is necessary. The declining and dying church must come together in prayer and in conversation in order to listen to what God is trying to say about the way forward. The church I serve in as a minister is starting to have such conversations right now. This isn’t the sort of ministry I ever envisioned myself helping a church work through but it is a necessary one. I’m convinced that many other churches need to discern the same question as well and that’s why I’m writing this blog post.

Here is a prayer that I wrote for our church which we prayed together yesterday. The prayer is structured around the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 and it is a prayer as we move forward trying to discern the will of God:

Our Father in heaven, you are holy, the one true living God. There is no one like you, who loves us beyond our ability to fully understand.

We desire for your kingdom to come, for your will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. And as we discern together the future, we want to discern your will so that it can be done in us and by us.

We ask for you to provide all our needs, our daily bread, with full trust that you will do that just as you always have in the past. Should we relaunch, we know that you will provide the way. Should we close and scatter, we know that you will provide the way.

Whatever the course is, we know that we are mortals and that we have and will continue to make mistakes, so we ask for your forgiveness as we forgive each other of our mistakes, short-comings, and sins. Whatever grievances we hold toward each other and toward past decisions made in this church, we release.

We know that our enemy, Satan, will try to distract us and steer us from your will, so we pray for your deliverance from Satan influence, that we may be filled with the power of the Spirit to hear your will and obey your will.

The kingdom belongs to you, our God. You reign through you Son, Jesus, who was crucified, who has been raised from death and has ascended to the throne. Through him alone, we ascribe to you the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen!

Following Jesus Into the New Year

Well, it is officially 2014. A new year has arrived and while that comes with hopeful expectations for the days ahead. I pray that our days are filled with great joy, love, and laughter. As the prayer of serenity goes, let’s change what we can, accept what we can’t change, and have the wisdom to know the difference.

The Big Issue

With that being said, I am still convinced that the biggest pressing issue facing the Christian church here in America is the question of discipleship. Last year I wrote an article for Wineskins titled Living the Way of Jesus in which I defined discipleship as “learning to live in the way of Jesus.” In simplest terms, it involves following Jesus and learning from him so that we can learn to think and act as Jesus does. In our own day and age this involves reading about the life Jesus lives within scripture, learning among the company of others who are following and learning from Jesus, learning to connect this with all of scripture (Old and New Testament), and practicing what we learn as we go along, even as we fail some along the way, so that our life is continuously formed as a disciple.

I stand by that definition as a simple explanation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. While other nuances might be better suited to help people understand better what we mean when we talk about discipleship, I believe the definition itself is consistent — according to the scriptures — with Jesus’ call “Come, follow me!”

In Our Own Communities

Having said all that, we must remember not to spiritualize discipleship. Learning to live in the way of Jesus is not about pursuing a life that is so extra-ordinary that it cannot be lived within the every-day mundaneness of life. We all know the stories of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Mother Theresa. Likewise, we all know someone who has moved to serve as missionaries in some country that is very far away from all family and friends. All such people are commendable and should Christ call us to be a martyr, to serve the poor in a third-world country, or evangelize the lost as a foreign missionary, then we should go and do just that. Yet the reality is that many of us are called to such a life. Instead, we are called to be disciples right where we live in our own urban to suburban to rural communities.

So how do we continue learning to live in the way of Jesus right in our own neighborhoods as carpenters, school teachers, nurses, lawyers, truck-drivers, engineers, pastors, stay-at-home parents, volunteers, and whatever else we may be? I use the language of up, in, & out which I learned from Mission Alive who learned it from 3DM who probably learned it from… Any ways, living relationally up towards God, in towards our church, and out towards those in our neighborhoods is a good rhythmic guide to get started with.

Practically speaking, there are several things we can do to practice this rhythm of up, in, and out.

  • Commit a part of every day as time spent praying and reading scripture (Up). It’s only the second day of the new year, so it’s not too late to begin a daily bible reading plan. This is also a time to pray about what we are reading, praying that we can understand God’s will and live it out in our lives.
  • Be a regular engaged participant in the gatherings of the local church we are members of (Up, In). Plan on being fully present in the worship celebrations, the partaking of the Lord’s Supper, small group fellowships, etc… Pray about the gatherings before hand and be an intentional participant during the gatherings. Not only does this please God as we give him praise and thanksgiving but we also encourage the other Christians among us (even some who maybe a nominal Christian only, having lost sight of discipleship).
  • Commit ourselves to becoming better acquainted with others in our neighborhoods (Out). For many, this is the most difficult task and it’s not getting any easier. No longer are our neighbors just Christians attending a different church than our own, our neighbors now may be Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics and Secularists, and even former Christians who are skeptical of Christians (sometimes for good reasons). So take a batch of cookies to them, invite them to a cookout, or attend their cookout (if invited) and be respectful. That is, go as a learner and let God provide the occasion for us to be his witness, as it will happen if we pray about it and are patient enough to allow God to redemptively work ahead of us.

Just remember that when it comes to discipleship, it seems that Jesus is more interested in teaching us how to live the heavenly life here on earth than to muse about the heavenly life to come. Hence, part of the Lord’s Prayer we are taught to pray is for the will of God to be done here on earth as it is done in heaven.