This week I received an encouraging email from some friends who are seeking to multiply a movement of disciples where they live. I’d not heard from them for a while and it was good to hear how things are going for them. They are gathering people who want to find out more about Jesus and hope to soon baptise some new disciples. I’d spoken to them a couple of years ago now when they were just about to embark on this new adventure which would lead them away from “Regular” church leadership and into an unknown world of actually doing Jesus’ work out there in the harvest. They, like many people I speak to, were not necessarily upset, angry or frustrated with “church as we know it” (well ok – they were a little frustrated!) – but their hearts were being pulled towards the 99% of people who’ll never go anywhere near an existing Church. They were being compelled by God’s love and had a vision to grow churches and communities amongst people who don’t yet know Jesus. As I read their email this week I was reminded of our intial phone call together. Towards the end of the call I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to share 3 things with these guys. I’d listened to all the great ideas, visions and plans and it sounded really good. But I had a nagging sense that the Holy Spirit was wanting to share some wisdom that would help these guys actually do the work of Jesus rather than just talk, pray and discuss about it. I felt a little scared as I didn’t want to come across as negative or to pour water on their fire. But I felt I needed to share these 3 things from our own experience of trying to this kind of ministry/mission work for over 10 years now. With hindsight it seems to have helped them so I wanted to share it here in the hope that it will help others! (If you want to find out more about the work we have been doing then check out my book “Accidental Apostle”)
Part 1 – What is the work?
What is the work that Jesus wants us to be doing? This is probably one of the most important questions that we need to ask ourselves if we claim to be Disciples of Jesus. And you find the answer to this, and all of our questions, in the Bible. When I spend time in the Bible, and especially in the Gospels and New Testament, I see that Jesus was very clear about what His work was. In my experience of being involved with many different churches and christian organisations I’ve noticed that we are all pretty good at talking about Jesus’ work, praying about doing Jesus’ work and even sometimes drawing up some really great plans about how we are going to do it. But sadly we seem very poor at actually doing it – which is the basic thing that Jesus asked us to do. Anyone who knows me well will know that I get frustrated and impatient when people continue to talk when the time for talk has ended and it’s time for action. As far as I can see – the time for talk has ended. Jesus has commanded us to go into the whole world and to do His work – it’s time for action. The Holy Spirit has been sent, the scriptures are complete and the only thing which is now unfinished is the work which we have been called to complete. So let’s cut down all the meetings, conferences, prayer and worship sessions and endless resources that encourage Christians to do nothing and let’s actually get on with the work Jesus has entrusted into our hands.
Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Around 14 years ago I came to the realisation that when I meet Jesus, He isn’t going to ask me about everything that I have done with my life. He’s going to ask me whether I’d done the things He has commanded me to do with my life. There’s a big difference. I realised that for many years I’d done lots of things in the name of Jesus. I’d been very active in church and ministry and was considered a leader. But when I read the words of Jesus above from Matthew 28 I had to come to the hard conclusion that I was not actually doing the main thing that Jesus has commanded all of us followers to do. I was not making any disciples. And I knew I wasn’t, because Jesus makes it very clear how to make disciples – you baptise people and then you teach them how to obey everything that Jesus. (And this of course includes teaching these new disciples how to make new disciples themselves so that the work multiplies everywhere)
I had never baptised anyone and I had never intentionally taught a new disciple to obey everything that Jesus has said to them. Have you?
When I listen to a lot of Christians and look online to see what other churches, ministries, organisations and pioneers are doing – I see lots of good things happening. But we often seem to forget that the main work we are called to is to make disciples. The work isn’t just preaching to passers by, healing people, gathering in groups for nice fellowship, rebuking other Christians and churches on facebook or discussing conspiracy theories (however important, urgent and “current” those things might be) All these things may help us to make disciples but they are not the focus. Jesus taught his disciples to go to every town and village, to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, cast out demons and to find houses of peace (people!) who wanted to repent and become disciples of Jesus. If they didn’t find houses of peace they were instructed to move onto the next town – not to stay in the town preaching for a month! The main thing is to make disciples. That’s what Jesus has commanded us to do.
A few years ago we were doing a lot of training with teams and pioneers. We’d go to towns and cities and “hit them hard”. We’d pray on every street, share the Gospel publicly and from house to house and we’d boldly heal the sick and cast out demons in Jesus’ name. We’d stick up sheets of paper on the wall measuring how many people we’d shared the Gospel with and how many people had showed an interest in finding out more about Jesus. After some time though we realised that we were measuring the wrong thing. Jesus said, “Whenever you enter a city or a village, search for a worthy person and stay in his home until you leave town.” (Matthew 10:11) We were measuring our activity not measuring whether we were obeying Jesus. One thing is needed when you visit a city, town or village – find the people who God has prepared there and stay with them. How you do it doesn’t matter – preach on the street corner, stand on your head or pray for sick people! That is the work of Jesus – that people who are already disciples find more people who want to be disciples. If you are not doing that in the work you are doing then it’s time to reassess what you are doing.
Don’t measure your activity or take pride in what you are doing. But look to be fruitful in finding people who want to become obedient disciples of Jesus.