This is a follow up to the article The Difference Between Discipleship and Debate.
Proverbs 27:17 – As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
An examination of this verse shows us that the foundations of a friendship, when based on mutual unconditional love, give us the ability to aid one another in the pursuit of holiness. It is speaking about working with each other and teaching each other so that we are becoming more and more like Christ, by the power of the Spirit through the application of the Word of God to our daily lives. It is, in short, a snapshot of what it means to be making disciples.
Discipleship is often misunderstand and even more often neglected in the Evangelical church today. So much that the church does is so far from the Biblical blueprint for ministry that the church seems to be losing its way. People pick a church as a consumer picks a restaurant. Do they serve my favorite foods? Is the service good? Do I leave feeling satisfied? Is the price paid a fair value for goods received? The corporate meeting of the local church has become more and more about what the congregation wants and less and less about what God commands!
Instead of coming to focus on God and give Him the glory and honor and praise due His name, people come to church to feel better about themselves and how God supposedly views them. They come to get, not give. They come with felt needs, seeking a solution to their problems, wanting encouragement that it will all turn out okay. In fact, people are very good at going to church but very bad at being the church. Why is this?
It is the evidence of a failure within the leadership of the church to uphold the Word of God. The simple, straightforward, foolish to the natural man Word of God. And the greatest area of neglect appears to be the area of disciple making. How can we make disciples when we are wanting to come and get instead of give? The process and the relationship of making disciples is very much a two way street. It is not just coming to get from the professional Christians whose job it is to teach us the Word of God and encourage us in living what we hear. Discipleship occurs inside and outside the meeting of the church. It occurs when two Christians work hard at building one another up. It is indeed Body Building. The work of service to each other in the Body of Christ for the purpose of edifying the whole church.
The leadership, our elders and pastors, are given by Christ to the church for the specific task of equipping us to build each other up. It is how Christ builds His church. Pastor-teachers work at “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the Body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). That means that we are to be taught how to make disciples. So if we are failing to make disciples we must start where we see the root of the problem. And that root is the failure of those in leadership within the church to do things God’s way!
If it is true that many Christians are not being discipled or making disciples, then the church is not growing. No matter how many people are attending services, no matter how many members are on the roll, no matter how much money is given, no matter how large the building, and no matter how dedicated the congregation – if we are not making disciples we are failing to obey one of the primary and essential commands given by Christ to His Church.
Perhaps the truth is that we have not been taught how to disiple others. Perhaps we have had a wrong view of discipleship all along. Or maybe we are not being held accountable to actually go and make disciples. Whatever the case and wherever the problem, we need to see discipleship for what it is and that will help us to determine whether or not we are being equipped for service to one another in the body.
Disciple making is not about a teacher/student relationship. There is a false belief prevelant in much of the church today that it is the job only of those who are mature or who are assigned the role of teacher in the church to disciple those who are younger and perhaps weaker in the faith. While there is responsibility for the older (more mature) to teach the younger (babes in Christ), it is also at the same time true that within the body we are commanded, not expected, but commanded to esteem all others as better than ourself (Phil. 2:3). So when we work at making disciples, once people have been brought to saving faith in Christ by the work of the Spirit and the Word, we are now to teach them and be taught by them about the Lord we love and serve.
Discipleship is “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20). But it is also being taught! There is nothing worse in the church than an un-teachable teacher. Like it was stated already, discipleship is often misunderstood because we believe that it is a one way street. Either we believe that the leadership in the church is responsible to disciple us and therefore we bear none of the responsibility for disciple making. Or we believe that once we have arrived at a mature understanding of the Word of God then we are to teach others, looking down on them in their ignorance and need for instruction.
A shepherd does not look down on his sheep because they are hungry and need to be fed. He does not consider them dumb animals and despise them because he must be sure that they are provided for and fed nourishing meals. If he does, he should not be a shepherd. Jesus as our example, as the Good Shepherd, shows us the love and tenderness that a Shepherd has for His sheep (John 10:11-15).
So we need to approach discipleship from the point that we have something to give and to get from one another in the body. Our testimonies will be different, our growth at a different pace, our maturity at a different level. But we are all to be learning from one another. And there is the root of much that is leading to a lack of disciple making in the church, a wrong view of others members in the body.
What then can be done to make sure that we are being equipped to serve one another within the body of Christ?
Testing a Ministry and a Minister
It is not my intention to delve into a study of the role and duties of elders, nor to give specific details about the ministry of the Word from those who teach us. But it is my intention to show that we must be testing a ministry and a minister by the Word of God. As we know, to disciple someone and be discpled by them we must be interacting in a relationship built on trust and unconditional love. And here is the key for evaluating a ministry or a minister in their effectiveness at making disciples.
Are we being taught and led by example, or does the leadership have a “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality? What are we being taught about disciple making? Are we being effectively equipped to humbly and lovingly serve one another as members of the same body?
A glaring fact that cannot be ignored is that those who teach us and model for us Christian behavior must be held to the standard of the Word of God. They must love those in their care unconditionally. They must be humble. They must be holy. They must be men of God!
I do not expect pastors to be perfect. I am a pastor and I assure you, I am far from perfect. But if a pastor is not being conformed into the image of Christ, if he is not modeling the Christian life for those in his care, then he needs to step aside. As an elder in the church, as one appointed by Christ to equip the saints for the building of the body, he must serve willingly, not by compulsion. He must be eager in his work, and not in it for what he can get for himself or for dishonest gain (gain in finances, reputation, etc). He must not lord it over those in his care but is commanded to be an example to them in his service to Christ (1 Peter 5:1-4). Only then can he expect to hear “Well done” when he stands before Christ, the Head of the Church. Only then will he receive a “crown of glory that does not fade away.”
And what is the purpose of this crown of glory? It is the mark of a faithful minister that will be thrown at the feet of Jesus in worship and adoration of the One who gave Himself for us and Who we were blessed to be serving as we cared for His body.
But today, the truth is that many who claim to be teachers, many who hold with a tight grip to the offices of the church, many who are responsible to be an example to the flock are setting a bad example! “How?”, you ask.
Love for Christ vs. Love for Self
The failure to understand and apply disciple making principles within the church stems from misdirected love within those who should be leading us by example. Those pastors and elders who know what unconditional love is but lavish it upon themselves instead of on Christ and those they shepherd!
Instead of fulfilling the mandate of 1 Peter 5:1-4, and serving willingly, they serve from compulsion. It is irresistable to them to be in a postion of power, authority, prestige, and leadership. They are drawn to the praise of men, the adoration of those who look up to them for their abilities to preach or teach or explain hard truths. They are in it for dishonest gain. Instead of seeking to build up Christ’s church they are seeking to build up their ministry. As a result they lord it over those in their care. Those who would trust them and follow their example are neglected and abused and trampled under this stampede towards self-magnification.
Instead of a self-sacrificing love for Christ and His people, these shepherds love themselves and their comfort and their ego. They know what unconditional love is, and it is how they think about themselves, pampering their flesh, praising their accomplishments, parading their abilities and talents, and failing to realise that it is all a gift from God. It is mis-directed love.
Peter is clear in his second epistle that we can tell a false teacher by the way he lives. 2 Peter 2 speaks about the depravity of false teachers. They have eyes are full of adultery and cannot cease from sin. They are never full of self or sin. They may appear holy on the outside, but what is in their hearts will eventually come out of their mouths (Matt 15:18-19), and what they truly believe will eventually be made manifest in their behavior.
The chief example I want to deal with in this article though is a matter of manners. These false teachers, these who neglect the Word and cannot teach others to make disciples, are often identified by their manners or the lack thereof. The shocking truth about the making of disciples is that too many teachers have abandoned the pathway of being a loving, consistent, self sacrificing example and have instead settled into the very bad habit of trying to shock people with their teaching.
We are seeing a rise in those in and out of reformed circles, usually noticed as those embroiled in the latest controversies and fads, who are just plain rude in their behavior. There are actually debates on Christian internet forums as to whether a Christian can use profanity in every day life, or how far we can go into sounding like the world while remaining distinct from it. Leaders in the Federal Vision movement and the Emergent/Emerging Church movement (just to name 2 current examples) thrive on controversy and on being crude.
It is a deliberate effort by “ministers of the gospel” who think that to engage the culture is to shock the culture and that to motivate the church to obedience is to harass her into action. They are not shepherds lovingly and sacrificially leading their flocks. They are brash cowboys who are driving mindless herds of people according to their own agenda. And a benchmark, a signal of the validity of their message and their ministry is seen in whether or not they are courteous and well mannered.
To be sure, a man’s message can sound right, but if his life and his attitudes are wrong he is still a false teacher and will mislead the church. That is why the qualifications for an elder in the church and a deacon in the church are based on his character, his relationships, and his personal holiness (1 Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-16)! Notice, there is not a doctrinal summary or confession of faith listed in Scripture that a teacher must adhere to in order to be a teacher. But there is a list of character qualities that he must meet. Why is that? Because what you believe is manifest in how you behave, and sound doctrine always leads to sound living.
Here we see why a man can sound right but be wrong. If he is truly holding to sound doctrine, then what he teaches will lead to right living in his own life and in the lives of those who hear him. Sound doctrine is doctrine that leads to godliness.
This latest fad of shock jock preachers is nothing more than an abdication of the purest motive for ministry, unconditional love for Christ and His body. Because discipleship is based on love we need to know what love looks like. Sure, 1 Corinthians 13 is a common and well know passage, the definitive passage on love. But perhaps we have forgotten how love is defined. Let’s look there and see how a minister of the gospel is to behave as an evidence of his love for Christ and the church.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
A ministry and a minister motivated by love will suffer long. There is patience and a willingness to set self aside and even allow self to be abused for the sake of those we lead and teach. There will be kindness, acting and speaking with gentleness. There will not be envy of the work, ministry, or success of others, trusting that as the Word is consistently sown God will give the increase. There will not be a a parade of self for others to see, seeking opportunities to increase ministry or influence by building a reputation. There will not be a puffing up. A man who is puffed up is a man who has knowledge without love (1 Cor. 13:1-3). There will never be rude behavior! There is no crudeness, no hard exterior that is rough and gruff, there is no desire to shock or appall people with the latest new theology. There are manners and common courtesy. There is not a motive do it for what one can get. It isn’t for show or for self. There is not a easy provocation into arguments where one is known to live to fight and argue, as if the fun were in the battle and wounding sheep was sport. There is not a thought toward evil. The term evil means “that which harms.” There is never an intention or motive toward harming someone else. There is not rejoicing in iniquity – iniquity is using Christian liberty as an occasion for the flesh, it is a sin of the self will, so that even good things can be iniquity if they are done for the wrong reason. There is however rejoicing in the truth. There is a desire for the truth to be taught clearly and embraced willingly. And when one is motivated by love for Christ and His church, there is a willingness to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things, because godly self sacrificing love never fails.
We need ministries and ministers who are motivated by love for Christ, not self. We need men who are humble in carrying out their duty and who are loving toward those they lead and serve. We need men who shock people by the depth of the sacrifice instead of by their choice of words or their unseemly behavior. We need shepherds who look like Christ!