One by One for Everyone

January 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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I have noticed a curious phenomenon in many contemporary discipleship practices. Discipleship quite rightly involves both the individual and the community, but in business-mans-1074755-mcurrent practice we frequently flip the proper place of each. Let me explain.

 

In the New Testament, we see that discipleship has a communal telos and an individual methodology, by and large. The ultimate aim is not a loose collection of mature individuals, but rather a mature community. So, for example, Paul reminds the church in Ephesus,

 

In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (2:21-22, emphasis added)

 

And a bit later in the same letter, he teaches,

 

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (4:11-13, emphasis added)

 

In both cases, the ultimate aim is corporate maturity, as the analogies make clear. Paul does not envision a loose collection of holy bricks, but rather a holy temple (composed, undoubtedly, of holy bricks) in which God dwells by his Spirit. Likewise, he sees the purpose of leaders equipping members for works of service as producing not just holy cells or holy body parts, but a holy body, with Christ himself as the Head. The apostle Peter makes a similar point, and even draws on a similar analogy, when he writes,

 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you [plural in the Greek] also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

 

It seems clear that God’s vision for the church is one of corporate maturity, in which the entire assembly grows in holiness together for the sake of his Name. The communal telos is clear. What about the individual methodology? (A quick aside: By individual, I don’t necessarily mean one-on-one, but life-on-life, which will almost certainly include small, intensely relational discipleship groups.)

 

We see this most obviously in the ministry of Jesus himself. While Jesus certainly preached to the crowds, the focus of his ministry—and the greatest expenditure of his time and energy—was on the disciples. In Mark’s stunning phrase, “He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (3:14). Jesus called men to himself in order that they might simply spend time with him—life-on-life discipleship—knowing that through this experience they would be equipped to continue the apostolic ministry.

 

Paul conveys a similar approach, though he only hints at it. In reminding the Thessalonians of his ministry there, he says,

 

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

 

The key phrase for our purposes is “each of you,” which strongly suggests an individual, life-on-life methodology. Again, this is not to say that Paul never preached to the crowds; Acts records many such occasions. However, it seems that the bulk of his ministry—during the “work week,” we might say—took place in his leather-working shop, as individuals or small groups of people would come in to receive training, instruction, and encouragement. We also see Paul’s individual dedication to young men like Timothy and Titus as further evidence of this approach.

 

So it seems that the New Testament envisions a communal telos achieved primarily through an individual methodology.

 

I fear that in much of our contemporary practice, however, we flip the two: that is, we have an individual telos achieved through a communal methodology.

 

Western society is overwhelmingly, and self-evidently individualistic, so it is easy to see how we could unwittingly adopt our culture’s values. Generally speaking, we are concerned about our personal growth in holiness. Pastors routinely ask, “How are you doing in this area?” not “How are we doing in this area?” Rarely does one hear of corporate application in a message. We see this trend especially reflected in our lack of commitment to the local church, and our willingness to switch churches upon the slightest provocation. One of the commonest reasons given for leaving a church and joining another is a desire to “get fed.” In leaving for this reason, however, the church-hopper belies an individual focus, and—quite frankly—an unwillingness to strive for corporate growth.[1] Ephesians 4:16 doesn’t come into play.

 

We all have a tendency to selfishness (cf. 2 Timothy 3:1), so this phenomenon is unsurprising, even if we need to challenge it more actively in our own lives and in our communities. However, our communal methodology has no such extenuating circumstances. I suspect it is driven by our peculiarly American pragmatism, and our business mindset—streamlining and efficiency—more than any systemic spiritual dearth. Whatever the case, many churches adopt a community-wide, assembly-line approach to discipleship. Rather than a life-on-life approach, we provide a uniform curriculum and depersonalized programs or classes. The large-group setting and impersonal material provides little impetus for true growth, even at the individual level. At its worst, those who complete the class get their certificate of individual achievement and proceed on their merry way, without any thought of how their growth should multiply as they serve within the community.

 

The New Testament provides a wealth of information and instruction regarding discipleship in the local church, and many have returned to the fount for guidance in this area. I thank God for the revival of life-on-life discipleship happening across our country—and really, across the globe. I hope and pray that many more will choose the hard, slow way of relational disciple-making—the Master’s way—as they strive to become a community growing in maturity to the glory of God.

[1] I realize, of course, that some people leave because they have striven for corporate change, but have discovered that the leadership of the church is stifling it.



Imitation Maturity

October 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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I always enjoyed walking the streets of Bogotá because of the remarkable variety of goods available for sale by innumerable street vendors. In fact, my wife and I began keeping a list of things we saw being sold, because we were so surprised by the spectrum. From toys to housewares, from food to technology, we could purchase just about anything we wanted without getting out of our car.

 

There was a small danger though: we were never quite sure if we were getting the genuine article. We might purchase something hurriedly at a stoplight, only to discover when we got home that the Nike “swoosh” was going in the wrong direction, or that the new purse was a DKNV special. (Apparently Donna has a base in Nevada in addition to her better known New York line.)apple-iphone-knockoff

 

One may face a similar danger in the church, unfortunately. The church seeks, by the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit, to produce disciples. The genuine article bears his trademark: increasing Christ-likeness. Genuine disciples display equipped maturity, to draw on the language of Ephesians 4:11-16. They demonstrate growth in both spiritual character and spiritual abilities. In them one discerns the fruit of the Spirit in increasing measure—spiritual character; in them one also witnesses the gifts of the Spirit effectively stewarded for the sake of the kingdom—spiritual abilities. The two elements are inseparable. As one develops the ability to read Scripture rightly, one’s heart softens increasingly to the claims of Christ on our lives, leading to growth in humility and faithfulness, for example. Or as one learns to deny self and love others sacrificially, one learns simultaneously to serve in the local congregation.

 

However, owing to the triple threats of the world, the flesh, and the devil, local churches may begin peddling imitation wares—may settle for a version of maturity that falls far short of God’s standard. I suspect this stems from our love of systems and processes, of efficiency and convenience, though I am confident the enemy has had his part in it. Attaining to any form of maturity is hard; cultivating a disciple-making culture that pervades a local congregation, and still maintaining oversight of that culture, is a whole other beast. But that doesn’t mean we settle for an imitation article; rather, we fall on our knees in humble, dependent prayer, trusting that the Lord will provide, will supply our need.

 

I am sure this is far from exhaustive, but here are four imitation brands sometimes sold in place of equipped maturity. Each one contains a genuine element about it—otherwise it wouldn’t deceive unsuspecting buyers!—but none fully encompasses true discipleship.

 

  1. Law

In place of equipped maturity, some will substitute mere law. Jesus did not suffer the agony of the cross so that we would keep a list of dos and don’ts. He endured God’s wrath so that we could enter back into full fellowship with the triune God—adopted to sonship through Christ—and then live in the light of that vital relationship. Training people what is kosher and what is forbidden is moralism or legalism, not discipleship (and certainly not the gospel!). This happens in many “fundamentalist” churches, of course, where legalism replaces gospel, and socially acceptable behavior—“don’t drink, smoke, gamble, or go with girls who do”—replaces discipleship. This also happens in many “seeker-sensitive” churches, however, with the moralism of Oprah and Joel Osteen substituted for gospel-centered discipleship.

 

  1. Activity

In place of equipped maturity, some will substitute mere activity. The end goal in this scheme is to have people actively participating in the local congregation: serving in a ministry, fellowshipping in a small group, and giving cheerfully and sacrificially to support the church’s ministry. These are all good aims, of course, provided they are not regarded as the final aim. One could serve, fellowship, and give actively, and yet not even know Jesus truly. These are all aspects of equipped maturity undoubtedly, but if taken as markers of discipleship themselves, they are liable to deceive. What if someone gives to ease a guilty conscience or to win God’s favor? What if the small group is a glorified social gathering? What if the service offered is the same as coaching your child’s soccer team?

 

  1. Information

In place of equipped maturity, some will substitute mere information. Churches that emphasize the life of the mind, usually for historic, denominational reasons, are particularly susceptible to this imitation product. The sermon becomes mere data transfer; small groups are only Bible studies; devotions center on knowing more about God, his Word, and theology. Now, anyone who reads my blog knows how much I value the life of the mind; nevertheless, information is not the same as equipped maturity. There are many scholars living in active, cheerful rebellion against God who have much more information than I will ever have. If information is not sought in service of transformation, as in Romans 12:1, then it is inimical to growth in grace—knowledge puffing up, where love would do the better work of building up.

 

  1. Leadership

In place of equipped maturity, some will substitute mere leadership. If leadership is defined carefully, it may mean equipped maturity, in which case it should be the genuine article. This is not always the case, unfortunately. What makes a leader? Sometimes churches will elevate someone to leadership because they are willing to do the job, which is really just an extension of replacing discipleship with activity. Often we select leaders because they have the requisite abilities, while paying but cursory attention to their character. I suspect one reason why “leadership development” and discipleship are so rarely synonymous is because discipleship places a great deal more emphasis on following, not leading. Leadership is an unexpected, unsought, reluctantly accepted consequence of learning to follow. To make it the center of the target will likely turn that truth on its head, with leaders begrudgingly learning to follow instead.

 

Jesus Christ gave us a clear commission, to make disciples. We would do well to examine the sort of disciples we are making, lest we discover—too late!—that we have been producing but a pale imitation of Christ’s glorious desire for us all.



Talent without End

September 22nd, 2014 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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In winning the World Cup this year for the first time in 24 years, and a major trophy for the first time in 18, the German Football Association (DFB) reaped the harvest of a seed planted at the turn of the millennium. You see, in 2000, when an aging squad whimpered out of the European tournament in the first round, the Germans made a decision: no longer would they rely on the mercurial presence of a “golden generation.”

 soccer-1

I need to pause here and explain some things to my largely American readership.[1] A golden generation refers to a serendipitous convergence of unthinkable talent according to birth year. Because professional athletes have such a small window of peak performance—especially when the biggest tournament happens only once every four years—it is not unusual to find yourself wishing you could assemble a team from several different generations in order to plump out some thin positions.

 

(In fact, that’s precisely what Germany did in 2000, relying on members of a previous generation—the 39-year-old Lothar Matthaus, for example—because there were no younger players making the cut at that time. The experiment failed.)

 

However, every once in a grand while, all eleven starters—plus a bit of squad depth—are truly world class, and for a tournament or two we hail the golden generation. Spain just enjoyed almost unparalleled dominance in Europe across two European finals and a World Cup owing to their golden generation. They then relied on them at this World Cup despite the age and decline, and it didn’t go so well. So Germany in 2000, which brings us back to my point.

 

Instead of hoping for the emergence of another golden generation, the Germans opted to try a new strategy: “talent without end.”[2] The premise is simple: by putting strict standards of youth development in place throughout the country, the DFB would soon have a seemingly unlimited pool of talent from which to draw for tournaments in perpetuity. No more crossing of fingers before making a squad selection; instead, with all the efficiency and industry for which they are famous, the Germans would produce what they needed. They took matters into their own hands, and when Schürrle and Götze combined in extra time to win the World Cup, they reaped what they had sown.

 

Disciple-Making Deutschland-Style

We reach an odd moment now. Those who have been enjoying my first post on soccer will find themselves dismayed to see that I’m turning to the church, as I’m wont to do; those, contrarily, who hoped for another article on disciple-making (which this is) will probably not have made it this far. Inevitably, then, I’ve left everyone disappointed. Apologies all around. I’ll do better next time.

 

So what does the DFB have to do with disciple-making? The answer, I believe, lies in the notion of talent without end.

 

The average church today does not concern itself much with leadership development. Few churches have a clear picture of what a mature, equipped disciple is, and fewer still have developed a clear strategy for producing a steady stream of them. We are not, by and large, Great Commission churches.

 

Instead, we have relied on our own version of the golden generation. If we get a volunteer to lead part of the children’s ministry, for example, we lean heavily on her, with little or no thought to what will happen should she move on or burn out. The enduring success of the ministry depends entirely on her continued presence.

 

Far better to have a plan in place for to develop and train a series of potential replacements! At worst, should she continue in ministry, we will have equipped a group of men and women who are now mature leaders, able to serve in a variety of roles according to gifting and personality. As it stands now, when a vacancy arises unexpectedly, we tend to have to fill it with whatever warm body is available, and training takes place on the job, to the detriment of the ministry. Christian maturity sometimes doesn’t even factor into the decision, because it is a luxury we can’t afford.

 

Unfortunately, when it comes to vocational ministry, a similar pattern emerges. In churches large enough to support more than one full-time pastor, the senior pastor rarely focuses on training and developing his associates with an eye to possible succession. Ideally, because it takes so much time and energy to understand the values and appreciate the uniqueness of any given church, a good number of succession candidates would be in-house.[3]

 

To ensure I keep no one happy with my analogies, let me switch to baseball to explain. Churches today—especially those which are large and affluent—have adopted the same front-office philosophy as the Yankees: buy the very best talent available when you need it. Thus, when a pastor departs, we hire a search firm or post on a ministry job site in order to find the best on the market (within our price range), and then bring him in and slot him straight into the starting lineup. This approach will win you pennants, obviously, but there’s a reason so many people hate the Yankees: it doesn’t seem fair. And in the church especially this feels a bit too much like the marketplace, too little like Christ’s patient approach with his emerging leaders.

 

Much better, I would aver, to build the best possible farm system. Your church should be filled with prospects, and you should have the very best coaches working to develop them in the lower leagues. In fact, those coaches will probably have a greater impact on the enduring fruitfulness of the ministry than any star you sign in a blockbuster deal. As much as it pains me to say it—and the pain is real and physical—this has been the commendable approach of the St. Louis Cardinals, who have won more than their fair share of pennants as well. (Mind you, they have their reward in full, whereas we Cubs fans will enjoy ours in eternity.) Really, I can think of few analogies that better capture the heart of a church-wide disciple-making ministry than the farm system. That’s the idea in a nutshell.[4]

 

Our purpose as a church is to make disciples, to help those around us move from unbelief to equipped maturity. The equipped and mature then serve as disciple-makers themselves, reaching the lost and equipping the save, and the ministry multiplies to the glory of God. We short-circuit this process when we depend on a golden generation of volunteers or staff. As churches, we need to reclaim Christ’s original emphasis, to adopt (and redeem!) the ethos of the DFB, in order to accomplish our purpose: an unbroken stream of mature and equipped Christ-followers, serving in his kingdom for his glory. Talent without end.

 

Some Questions to Consider Going Forward

  1. How do you define “mature and equipped disciple”? What character qualities will this person have? What skills will they have developed?
  2. How does your church move people from unbelief to complete maturity? Given that programs are almost wholly unsuccessful in accomplishing this, how will you create and sustain a culture of relational disciple-making at your church?
  3. If you are actively serving in ministry—especially if you are in leadership of any sort—whom are you equipping to take your place?
  4. If you are a pastor or staff member, who will succeed you in ministry? How are you equipping them to take your place? Does the church have a tentative succession plan in place that all understand and agree to?

 

[1] I realize I shouldn’t use “large” and “readership” in the same sentence, but forgive me just this once.

[2] Astute footballing fans will see that my dear old England have employed a similar strategy, that of “talent without beginning.” Hence the many tournaments won since 1966.

[3] I realize the New Testament provides a lot of support for the notion of “itinerant” ministry, that is, vocational pastors moving from one church to the next. This is not an either-or argument; it’s a call for a genuine both-and approach, when functionally it seems we have often opted only for the itinerant approach.

[4] Second basemen goes down injured? No worries: we’ve got a bunch of guys producing in the minors. Small group leader steps down unexpectedly? No big deal: we’ve got plenty of depth at that position.



Family Matters

February 20th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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One hears it like a mantra today: “Family is more important than church.” It is said with such tendentious frequency that we rarely stop to ask whether or not it is true.

 

In a sense it feels a little bit like saying, “The Father is more important than the Son,” or “The Son is more important than the Holy Spirit.” It is contrived and unnecessary categorization. The family, after all, is merely a temporary expression of an eternal reality; the local congregation is the imperfect and visible manifestation of that eternal reality. We are parents only momentarily, in the same way that we marry and are given in marriage only momentarily (Mark 12:25); but if our children are appointed for eternal life and so believe in the finished work of Christ, then they will join the eternal family of the people of God.

 

In truth, balancing “church” and “family” is not unlike pastors balancing warning and assurance of salvation. Some have grown presumptuous in their faith and so need to be warned that they will not inherit the kingdom of God apart from genuine repentance (cf. Hebrews 6:4-6). Others, however, grow discouraged by the raging war between flesh and Spirit and so need to be assured that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ (cf. Romans 8:28-30).

 

In the same way, some neglect their families because they are so busy with church activities that they cannot find the time to instruct and train their children in the riches of grace. Men and women like this need to remember that the family is an expression of the church, that they are responsible to impress the truth of God on their children (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7-9; Ephesians 6:4). These are men and women after Eli’s heart, and they can expect to reap a similar reward (1 Samuel 2:12-25). Others, however, have made idols of their children, equating physical proximity with loving engagement, rejecting the primacy and authority of the church—and ultimately God—in the life of the family. Jesus had hard words for people like this, reminding them that we cannot be disciples unless we “hate” even our own children by granting God the first place in our lives—and thus our family’s schedules (Luke 14:26).[1]

 

Perhaps the balance would be easier to strike if we more clearly defined what we mean by “family” and “church.” I suspect we could eliminate much of the confusion by focusing passionately on our commission, making disciples. Our primary focus in participating in church activities (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 Corinthians 12-14) and spending time with our children (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7-9; Ephesians 6:4) is making disciples of all people—whether in the church or at home. Now we have a criterion by which to judge what we do in both spheres, to determine which is really more important at any given moment: is what I am doing going to make disciples, or is it mere activity in an occasionally holy place?

 

Consider: Could you miss one of your child’s many cross-country meets—especially considering she is also involved in volleyball, ballet, musical theater, and pep club—in order to attend a training session on relational disciple-making at church? Should your child skip his small group in the church’s youth group, where the bulk of relational disciple-making takes place, because his coach told him he had to play club soccer in order to make the school team in the spring (and even though you both know full well he won’t play soccer once he graduates)? Or, conversely, would it be wise to skip the church’s Family Fun Night in order to spend some concentrated time discussing with your daughter Christian response to the interpersonal conflict she is involved in at school—including an extended time of prayer afterwards? Might you even routinely miss your thirteen-year-old son’s Bible Club because it is the only time you can meet together for your father/son Bible study on Proverbs?

 

You get the point. Blanket statements about prioritizing family ahead of church (or vice versa) probably reflect priorities skewed away from our commission anyway. It would be far better to consider both family and church as vitally important, and then to make individual decisions in the Spirit as you face them. Mere attendance at family and church functions is never enough, and so thorough, prayerful consideration of each activity—especially in our idolatrously over-scheduled Western world—is an absolute necessity.

 

May God grant us Paul’s wisdom, in understanding well the overlap between church and family, and his fervency, in making disciples as passionately as parents invest in their children (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-12).



[1] I have heard some argue that God is first in their lives, but church activity is far down the list of priorities. All that is well and good, so long as we still separate out disciple-making from mere church activity (see below). Can you really have a thriving relationship with God—that is, are you loving him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength—if you are not actively loving your neighbor by making disciples? Shouldn’t we categorize disciple-making as part of our relationship with God?



Ambassadors to the Secular

September 13th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Abolishing the distinction between secular and sacred activities should revitalize our approach to evangelism especially. If we cling to the idea that some activities are “spiritual” while others are mundane, we will only proclaim the good news of Christ Jesus when we feel we are in the “spiritual” realm.  When we have our “church hat” on, we might participate in an outreach event; but when we have our “work hat” on, or our “home hat” on, we will consider it inappropriate to preach the gospel.

 

As we saw yesterday, however, “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). There is no longer a divide between the sacred and the secular. That means we, as Christians, are always wearing our “all-for-the-glory-of-God hats.” When we are in the marketplace, we are there for the glory of God; when we are at the grocery store, we are there for the glory of God; when we are sitting on our back porch enjoying the last days of summer, we are there for the glory of God. This thought breathes new life into our approach to evangelism.

 

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you are always an ambassador of Christ. Once in Christ, you are a new creation, reconciled to Christ so that you can carry out the ministry of reconciliation, imploring others in Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). We do not have the luxury of scheduling certain hours in our week for evangelism, while we go about our quiet, ineffectual business the rest of the time.

 

When at the park with your kids, surrounded by other families doing the same thing, strike up a conversation. Get to know the other moms and dads. Ask good questions, like Jesus did (cf. John 4:1-26)—after all, as one wag put it, “How will they hear unless we listen?” And then, when you discern the need, the hurt, the fear, the guilt, speak the good news.

 

When you are at work, you will see many who are worshiping the false gods of money, success, and power—idols who will leave them broken, bitter, and despairing. Love your colleagues unceasingly. And when the disappointment comes, offer the only healing balm. Look for opportunities—ask God for opportunities—to share what matters most with those you see almost every day.

 

We could multiply examples, but I trust you get the idea. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you are living for the glory of God. And that means proclaiming the gospel of peace, carrying out the ministry of reconciliation, making disciples of all nations under the authority and presence of Christ Jesus himself (Matthew 28:18-20)—every day, all day long. You get no breaks from being who you are.



Playing Favorites?

January 9th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The charge of favoritism arises inevitably whenever real disciple-making happens. Disciple-makers recognize that, as humans, we cannot build into everyone we know equally. This is ministerial humility. We are not God; we haven’t the ubiquity to be able to be all things to all people in our sphere of influence. And so choices must be made. We must choose to devote ourselves to some—a student or member of the youth group, a friend or co-worker—to the neglect of others.

 

When the ineluctable outcry swells, the simplest defense is to note that we are following after our Master. Jesus did not offer himself equally to everyone when he walked the earth. He had concentric circles of depth. To the crowds he scattered occasional seed (compare Mark 4:1-9 with 4:10-12); to others he shared brief, passing moments only (cf. Mark 5:18-19). Though others followed him throughout his ministry, were with him from the beginning (cf. Acts 1:21-23), he chooses twelve only to be his disciples. And even of those twelve, he devotes especial time to three—Peter, James, and John (cf. Mark 9:2).

 

One can only imagine the petty jealousy that must have been felt from time to time. Why James and not Matthew? Why Judas and not Matthias? Did the disciples respond with snickers and snide comments when Jesus called Peter the rock? Such puerility was not beneath them (cf. Mark 10:35-37, 41). And yet, the apparent unfairness notwithstanding, this is the course Christ chose.

 

Each of those men went on to make disciples of their own; did they follow in their Master’s footsteps? Peter had Mark, if tradition is correct; Paul had Timothy and Titus; John had Polycarp and Ignatius. They knew that the kingdom of God would expand not by spreading ourselves too thin, but by building deeply into a few men or women at a time—who could turn around and make disciples of their own.

 

So must it be with us. We build into the few in order to reach the many. We make disciples who make disciples who make disciples (ad infinitum). Remember, especially when you face complaint and accusation, if Christ had been “fair,” none of us would be here in the church today.



Inauspicious Beginnings

December 26th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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One day on the shores of the River Jordan, the incarnate Son of God passes by his older cousin. Though Jesus has walked this path the past two days, John the Baptist still marvels at his presence: “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36, NIV). Two of his disciples hear him say this, and rightly turn to follow after the Christ.

 

And so we come to the inauspicious beginning of the Church, that holy and eternal community instituted by God—and alone of all institutions to persist into eternity. Jesus, noticing two young men hard on his heels, turns and asks, rather bluntly, “What do you want?” (v 38). They inquire as to where he is staying, an innocuous enough question. He only replies, “Come, and you will see” (v 39).

 

The two men pursue him, knowing little, if anything, of the path they have just started down. By following Christ, they will see—his kingdom, his glory, his humiliation and death. But all this is still a long way off. For now, “they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him” (v 39).

 

And this is how it all started. Two men, followers of another, longing for the coming kingdom of God, spend the afternoon with a promising young rabbi. A.B. Bruce remarks, “All beginnings are more or less obscure in appearance, but none were ever more obscure than those of Christianity.”[1]

 

We should take heart, for rarely are our beginnings in disciple-making less obscure than this. To come alongside a younger brother or sister in Christ and ask if they want to come and see Jesus with you, knowing they might spurn the offer; to approach a godly older man or woman for counsel and guidance, fearing they might turn and peg you back with a hurried, “What do you want?”—all this seems to have so little of the kingdom of God in it. And yet, millennia later, we might just still see the fruit of these inauspicious beginnings. Little obedience, when done in the strength of a mighty God, might just change the world—one or two lives at a time.



[1] The Training of the Twelve: Timeless Principles for Leadership Development (rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1971; reprinted from 4th ed., A.C. Armstrong, 1894): 1.