CURE #2 – HOW DOES A CHURCH GROW S.M.A.L.L.?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2010.

In this cure, as well as in all of the cures in this book, the prescriptions spell out the name of the cure. Here the cure is S.M.A.L.L., where each letter represents:

• S: Survey your small groups.
• M: Missionalize all small groups.
• A: Add more small groups.
• L: Lead small groups.
• L: Locate your focus in small groups.

A Comprehensive Definition of Small Groups

There are many ways to define a small group. When you ask most people, they will identify a small group as a home fellowship group like those made popular by the small group movement and exemplified by the body-life churches, vineyard churches, and alpha groups.

But small groups in churches are more than just home-fellowship groups, because any small group of individuals that is meeting semi-regularly and growing in closeness is technically a small group. Therefore, all of the following church groups are types of small groups:

• Sunday school classes;
• classes of any type (Bible, topical, and twelve-step programs);
• standing leadership committees;
• task groups (worship, program, project, ministry, and facility
upkeep); and
• fellowship groups (home groups, Bible studies, lunch groups,
alpha groups, and sports teams).

Therefore, to grow small, let’s begin with figure 4.1, a broad definition that ensures you don’t overlook any of the small groups you have already.

With such a comprehensive definition, you can see that you already have many small groups in your church. The key is to first survey them, and then to apply the remaining cures in this
chapter to help them refocus on a biblical purpose.

Survey All Small Groups

Now that we have a working definition of small groups, the next step is to use this definition to count them. Be careful not to miss any, because if you do, you cannot help them refocus on
their purpose. Figure 4.2 will help you total them. But if you have some small groups that have grown too large (twenty or more people), it may be necessary to divide them into several
small groups. See appendix 4.A for ideas about how to create new small groups.

Figure 4.1: A Comprehensive Definition of a Small Group

Any regular gathering within a
church’s fellowship network, meeting
more than one time a month with
typically less than twenty attendees.3
smaller groups within groups
that have grown too big for intimacy
and accountability.

Now use your definition above with figure 4.2 to count your small groups. Keep these guidelines in mind:

• Count only adult small groups at this time (teenage and above). While children need small groups such as Sunday schools, this
chart will look at how to expand and refocus your adult groups.

• List your small groups under the type of group that best describes them. And even though some groups could fit under
several different types of small groups (for example, an adult Sunday school class could also be a task group), list each small
group only under one type of small group. It is not as important that each group fits into the ideal category as that all groups are listed in figure 4.2 (use additional rows as needed).

Figure 4.2: Survey Your Small Groups

Name of small group

Average size

Adult Sunday Schools and Other Classes
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
(Use additional pages as needed)

Standing Committees
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
(Use additional pages as needed) continued

For More Information Read:

• Appendix 4.A: “Are Some Small Groups Too Big? Don’t Divide, Compartmentalize!”

Are you surprised? Most churches are amazed by how many small groups they already have. But as noted in the story of Eastlake
Church, this is why congregants often resist small group programs. When people are already attending an informal small group, such as a Bible study, Sunday school, committee, or sports team, they will often resist the idea of joining another small group.

Publicly Recognize All Small Groups

After surveying your small groups, publicly acknowledge…

Download the rest of the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CURE Get Small Chpt. 3 & 4

#DWC

 

NEWNESS & Why Conversion is the Pivot Point for Church Balance

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2012.

Spiritual Transformation IS a Pivot Point

What is a Pivot Point?

Greek mathematician Archimedes emphasized the unlimited power of a “lever” when he stated: “Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the earth with a lever.”[i] The key to the lever is the pivot point or fulcrum point on which everything balances. Think of a teeter-totter with a balance point in the middle. Figure 7.6 illustrates such a teeter-totter with a triangle in the middle. The place where this triangle touches the teeter-totter board would be the fulcrum point or “pivot point.”

Figure 7.6 A Teeter-Totter with a Pivot Point (triangle)

FIGURE CURE 7.6 Pivot Point p 130.jpg

Transformation as Pivot Point

The pivot point is the place where balance can be created between the two sides of the teeter-totter. And, the transformation of the person via faith and repentance is so critical that it is helpful to picture it as a fulcrum point that holds up and balances the methods of growing O.U.T. and S.M.A.L.L. and L.E.A.R.N.ers. Figure 7.7 illustrates this balance.

Figure 7.7 N.E.W. as a Pivot Point for the Uncommon Church

FIGURE CURE 7.7 New is Pivot Point p 131

 Spiritual Transformation As a Waypoint

Spiritual transformation is a pivot point because it also lies at a critical waypoint between O.U.T. and S.M.A.L.L./L.E.A.R.N.ers. When a person is outside, not yet reunited in her or his relationship with God, and headed into a small environment of learning, somewhere along this way the person should encounter a transformative and pivotal experience with God.

Transformation is not optional for an uncommon church. Any church that focuses on growing O.U.T., S.M.A.L.L. or L.E.A.R.N. and neglects growing N.E.W. will not fulfill God’s ultimate aim and also be balanced. God’s mission is to reunite and transform his wayward children, and no amount of good deeds through going out (no matter how helpful) will replace his yearning to intimately reconnect to his children.

Balance in the Uncommon Church

And so, the uncommon church does not have a lop-sided ministry toward O.U.T., S.M.A.L.L. or L.E.A.R.N., but rather balances all three upon the foundational pivot point of N.E.W. In the next chapter we will learn the three “HOWS” of N.E.W. (signified by the letters N.E.W.).   But before we leave this chapter, go back to Figure 7.7 to visualize that N.E.W. is not an optional prescription, but the pivotal Rx upon which God intends the other prescriptions to be built and balanced. Without a church that embraces newness to balance the other cures, no holistic and uncommon church can ever emerge.

Endnotes:

[i] E.J. Dijksterhuis, trans C. Dikshoorn , Archimedes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), p. 15.

Excerpted from ©BobWhitesel, Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012), pp. 130-132.

NEWNESS & The Route Back (Principles of God’s Plan of Salvation)

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2012.

Why NEW is Needed

Humans Are in a Pickle.

As we just noted, humans want to do the right thing, but we find ourselves constantly and repeatedly failing to do what we know is right. God knows we are prone to this (after all he’s a long time observer of our behavior). And, God has made a way for us to be changed. The Message Bible is a good translation for putting such principles in modern idiom, and Figure 7.3 explains this fracture.

Figure 7.3 Our Wrong Actions Fracture Our Fellowship With God

We have an inner pull that makes us do the wrong thing, even when we know better ·       “It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back..” Titus 3:3 (MSG)
These wrong actions separate us from our loving heavenly Father ·       “There’s nothing wrong with God; the wrong is in you. Your wrongheaded lives caused the split between you and God. Your sins got between you so that he doesn’t hear.” Isaiah 59:2 (MSG)
If we accept God’s plan to have Christ bear our punishment, then God will restore our fellowship with Him, help us change and give us eternal life too! ·       “But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this.” Titus 3:4-7 (MSG)

How Did God Create a Route Back?

Once humans see that we are prone to do what is bad for ourselves and that we are incapable of changing by ourselves; we then notice that God has created a route, a bridge so to speak, back to fellowship with God. Figure 7.4 is how the Message Bible explains it.

Figure 7.4 God’s Plan for a Route Back

 

Jesus took the punishment for our wrong actions (so we could be restored to a close relationship with our loving heavenly Father):

·       “But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death … Romans 5:8 (MSG).

·       “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:23-24 (MSG)

 

Trusting in Jesus’ actions will acquit us from the punishment due for our wrong doings and give us a “whole and lasting life:”

·       “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted…” John 3:16-17 (MSG)
This route back is only available through Jesus Christ. ·       “Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me.” John 14:6 (MSG)

How Do We Take That “Route” Back to God?

Now that we understand that God has created a route back to fellowship with himself, we begin to grasp that the all-powerful Creator of the universe wants to have personal friendship with each of us who will return. So, what is involved in returning to him? The answer can be summed up in the statement of Figure 7.5. let’s look at this figure and then examine three important words in it.

Figure 7.5 How We Take the Route Back to God[i]

Repentance must be combined with faith in order to bring about spiritual transformation.

Repentance

Repentance is a decision to “break with the past” which also carries the idea of turning and going in a new direction.[ii] This is what it means when 1 John 1:8-9 says “…if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing” (MSG).

People come to this stage when they realize they are dissatisfied with the way their life is going and know they need help beyond what humanity can provide. They may be frustrated that their life is full of animosities, pride, biases, deceptions, conflicts and a host of other maladies. And so, they seek inner change.

The good news is that God wants that change for you too! He even promises to give you supernatural power to help you make those changes. It is this trust (or faith) in God’s ability to help you that takes you to the next step.

Faith

“Faith” is a reliance and inner sense of knowing that God has the power to transform you.[iii] The author of Hebrews offers a classic statement about faith:

It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. Heb. 11:6 (MSG, italics mine)

Author and lay theologian C. S. Lewis reminds us that faith also carries the idea of growing in unwavering faith, stating, “Faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, despite your changing moods.”[iv]

New People (Spiritual Transformation)

Spiritual transformation in biblical terms means divine empowerment to reverse direction and go in an opposite direction with your life.[v] The author of Titus describes it this way:

He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this.” Titus 3:4-7 (MSG, italics mine)

Therefore …

  • When repentance (for our wrong doings)
  • combines with faith (in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf)
  • then spiritual transformation (into a new person) occurs.

This spiritual transformation into a new person has been called many things: conversion, salvation, being born-again, etc. And, though these are important terms they also have been mischaracterized. Unfortunately to many people today they do not bring to mind the original meaning of being transformed from our old way of life.

Today spiritual transformation may be the best term to sum up what God is doing. When he creates a new person our old desires for self-satisfaction, preferring oneself over others, etc. will still be there, but spiritual transformation reminds us there is divine power to increasingly overcome these self-serving lures.   And, we experience an emerging confidence and power as we see God daily helping us come closer to him and as we participate in his mission. And so, spiritual transformation is a remarkable intersection of human will, Jesus’ sacrifice, God’s forgiveness and a rekindled heavenward relationship. This is not a transformation that we can muster up ourselves. This is a change that goes deeply to the purpose of the One who created us. It goes to the core of our relationship with a heavenly Father who loves us and can help us.

And so, the Church is primarily a community that is collectively and constantly welcoming and experiencing this spiritual transformation where new people emerge. Yet, the gloomy fact is that most commonly today, congregations are not experiencing this. And, it does several things to a church, including robbing a church of its supernatural expectation and making a church more familiar with churchgoers than non-churchgoers.

Thus, the “HOW” of Growing N.E.W. is critical for nurturing an uncommon church, But, before we look at Chapter 8: Grow N.E.W. HOW let us look briefly at why spiritual formation is at the pivot point of the uncommon church.

[i] This statement is adapted with updated terminology from Richard Peace’s terms in “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion: A Missiological Challenge,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 28, No. 1, 8.

[ii] Metanoia (the Greek word for repentance), William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 513-514; see also Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion: A Missiological Challenge,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 28, No. 1, p. 8.

[iii] Pistis (the Greek word for faith), William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 668-670.

[iv] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFransicso, 2001), p. 140.

[v] Epistrophe (the Greek word for spiritual transformation or conversion), William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 301; and Richard Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion: A Missiological Challenge,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 28, No. 1, p. 8.

Excerpted from ©BobWhitesel, Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012), pp. 126-130.

NEWNESS & How Renewing Those in Spiritual-need Renews a Church!

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2012.

Newness for Those in Spiritual Need

This is the true newness that will permeate the uncommon church. It is an expectation and invitation for people to be transformed physically and spiritually by a reunification with their loving heavenly Father (and among a community that embraces such newness). Figure 7.1 gives an overview of why and where supernatural newness comes.

Figure 7.1 An Overview of Newness for Those in Need

 

God cares about those in need.

·       “I know that the LORD will take up the case of the poor and will do what is right for the needy.” Psalm 140:12

·       You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in distress,” Isaiah 25:4

 

God wants to bestow upon those in need a spiritual and physical newness

 

·      Jesus declared, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest” (John 10:10)

·       “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (2 Cor. 5:17)

 

Christians are to provide a fellowship that fosters and anticipates this newness

·       “True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.” James 1:27

·       “Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.” Luke 14:13-14

In the previous chapters we saw that the term missio Dei describes God’s quest to be reunited with his wayward offspring. Once this reunion is made, a real newness in personal lives emerges, a newness toward which the uncommon church will be orientated. Though growing O.U.T., S.M.A.L.L. and L.E.A.R.N.ers are part of the process, a church will not become uncommonly supernatural unless it welcomes and expects spiritual and physical transformation.

People today (but probably no more than in any other period) are in search of newness. They want to alleviate bad habits, overcome harmful enticements, curb destructive behavior, be more loving, kind and generous. But something deep inside of each one of us seems to pull us back toward bad actions. The cure, the real, long-term cure for uncommonness is a church where supernatural encounter and expectation is woven into the fabric of the congregation. And so, an uncommon church will exhibit many of the characteristics of Figure 7.2.

Figure 7.2 Church Patterns That Welcome Transformation

The uncommon church ·       Expects miracles to happen

·       Expects people to be changed in positive ways that no human effort could accomplish

·       Expects people to show signs of growing in their dependence upon God rather than dependence upon humans

·       Does not put its trust in programs, pastors, the past or trends; but daily increases in their dependence upon God’s supernatural assistance to meet physical and spiritual needs

Excerpted from ©BobWhitesel, Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012), pp. 125-126.

NEWNESS & Can Renewing Church Attendees Alone Renew a Church?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2012.

Churchgoer Newness

Sometimes leaders pick up this book because deep down inside they want to see their church attendees changed. Leaders are often tired of the wrangling, petty grudges, and poor attitudes that many churchgoers exhibit. Thus, they say to themselves, “If I could only change the people in the church and make them new, that would then change the organization.”

Church leaders are often tired of the wrangling, petty grudges, and poor attitudes that many churchgoers exhibit. Thus, they say to themselves, “if I could only change the people in the church and make them new, that would then change the organization.

Changing people’s attitudes is important. But churchgoer newness is not the vital type of newness that God intends to characterize the uncommon church. Another, more never-ending newness is at the heart of God’s purpose for His Church. There is an eternal newness that springs forth when humans receive supernatural power to change their lives for the good and begin afresh.

Excerpted from ©BobWhitesel, Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012), p. 124.

 

NEWNESS & Can Newcomers Alone Renew a Church?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2012.

Newcomer Newness & Transfer Growth

… congregations hope that improving their hospitality and assimilation of newcomers will create a new church. And, many helpful books can assist a church in better connecting newcomers to a congregation.[i]

But, while connecting newcomers with a community of faith is an important task, it will not create the all-encompassing sense of newness that is needed to revive a common church. Newcomers certainly bring a sense of expectation, innovation and camaraderie. But the fact is that in many churches the newcomers are refugees from other churches, visiting your church in hopes of something they are not getting at their previous congregation. In fact, there is a name for church growth that results from Christians church-shopping: transfer growth.[ii]

While transfer growth is important, for it helps ensure that Christians are getting plugged into a congregation, it does not create the kind of newness that an uncommon church needs. Donald McGavran said, “By transfer growth is meant the increase of certain congregations at the expense of others… But transfer growth will never extend the church, for unavoidably many are lost along the way.”[iii]

For true newness to spread through a congregation, the supernatural newness that God intended is needed. This a sense of newness arises comes from people in spiritual need being spiritually and physically transformed. Such newness pervades a congregation with a hope and a passion that no other newness can match.

[i] Charles Arn, Heartbeat: How to Turn Passion Into Ministry in Your Church (Longwood, FL: Xulon Publishing, 2010); Gary McIntosh, Beyond the First visit: The Complete Guide to Connecting Guests to Your Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), Nelson Sercy and Jennifer Henson, Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully –Engaged Members of Your Church (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008).

[ii] See Donald McGavran’s explanation of why transfer growth is misleading for it does not reconnecting people back to God, but only to a new Christian fellowship in Understanding Church Growth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 72.

[iii] Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 72.

Excerpted from ©BobWhitesel, Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012), pp. 123-124.

GREAT COMMISSION & How Its 4 Verbs Tell Us Our Purpose

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2010.

…the primary goal of every church is not to influence the community for the better, provide a warm place of fellowship, sponsor excellent teaching or even to survive. The church of God has a higher, more encompassing call (that, by the way, includes the previous three tasks).[i] To understand this, let’s look at Jesus’ last and most poignant instructions to his followers (Figure 5.2 which has been called the “Great Commission”)

Figure 5.2 Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt. 29:18-20 CEB)

(commissioning verbs are underlined)

Jesus came near and spoke to them,

“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

What makes this a Great Commission[ii]?

The Great Commission is the label that has been given to these final and central instructions Jesus gave his followers in Matthew 28:18-20. In this phrase Jesus is literally “commissioning” or “recruiting” all followers down through the ages into his mission. This commissioning is akin to an “official directive,” a “direct order” and a “command,” such as a military conscript might receive upon entering service. In fact, military personnel reading this will no doubt remember their own commissioning into the armed forces. Veterans have told me this was a powerful and moving experience, with one veteran stating, “You weren’t supposed to have tears in your eyes when you were commissioned, but I did. After 9-11 it was clear to me that I was no longer talking about serving my country, I was doing it! I was ready to put my life on the line for my country.”

Christians, too, are called to put their lives on the line in Jesus’ great commissioning. Here is what others have said about this passage (Figure 5.3):

FIGURE ©Whitesel CURE 5.3 Comments on Great Comm copy.jpg

Jesus came near and spoke to them,

“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

The Four Verbs of Jesus’ Great Commission

Because this Great Commission is so important, it is not surprising that each word, each phrase that Jesus uttered in Matthew 28:19-20 seems to have been chosen carefully to convey his message. Jesus undoubtedly knew that believers down through history would return to this passage as they contemplated the goal of their spiritual community.

And, in this commission Jesus used four commissioning verbs. Because the Greek language (in which much of the New Testament was written) is much more precise than today’s English, Jesus was able to use a special wording that stressed one verb as the primary verb over the other three. In Figure 5.4 let’s look closer at the verbs in his Great Commission and see if we can locate the one that Jesus emphasized as its central aim.

FIGURE ©Whitesel CURE 5.4 Four Verbs Great Comm copy.jpg

Jesus came near and spoke to them,

“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

Finding the main verb

In the English, the four verbs seem equal. But, when Jesus spoke these words, he pronounced one verb with a special spelling, thereby indicating that this verb was the main verb or “goal” of the passage. Which verb was Jesus pointing to as the goal of his Great Commission? You must wait a few paragraphs to find out.

Take away the three helping verbs to find the main verb

Now, you are probably thinking, “What are the other verbs then?” The three other verbs are called participles, which means they are “helping verbs” that tell “how” the main verb will be accomplished.[iv] Jesus chose specific spellings of the participles to show that three verbs are participles telling you “how” to accomplish the main verb.[v]

So, which three verbs are participles (telling us “how”) and which one verb is the main verb (telling us the “goal”)? The spelling of the Greek verbs indicates the following:[vi]

FIGURE ©Whitesel CURE 1-2 Verbs Great Comm copy.jpg

FIGURE ©Whitesel CURE 3-4 Verbs Great Comm copy.jpg

Therefore, the uncommon church’s goal must not the “going,” the “baptizing” or even the “teaching.” These are the “hows.” In the words Jesus chose he made clear that for the uncommon church he was founding, it was “making disciples” that was the goal.

What Do Disciples look like?

As a young junior high student, I heard a pastor say we are to “make disciples.” Being an inattentive youth, I never quite grasped a correct image of what this looked like. From my rudimentary knowledge of the Bible, I pictured Jesus’ disciples and figured the church should make more longhaired individuals with beards, robes and sandals. Because the only youthful image I could conjure up were the “hippies” of the era, I wondered in my naïveté, “Was the preacher really telling for us to go out and produce more hippies?” Now this was not what the preacher intended. But the word disciple had become so archaic and tied in my mind to first century images that a modern depiction was needed.

Picturing a Disciple

To picture a disciple we begin with the Greek word matheteusate, which means “a learner, a pupil or an apprentice.”[i] It carries the image of a trainee or a student still in school more than it depicts an expert. Christ is commanding his followers not to produce experts, but rather to foster a community of authentic learners. Following Jesus should feel like you are enrolled in his school of learning. Therefore, a church is not a cadre of experts, but a collage of fellow learners.

Theologians have sought to convey the rich and multifaceted meaning of the verb: “make disciples” in several ways.

Donald McGavran[ii] said …… “It means enroll in my (Jesus’) school…”

Eddie Gibbs[iii] stated ………… “It is learning, not simply through being given information, but in learning how to use it. Discipleship is an apprenticeship rather than an academic way of learning. It is learning by doing.”

James Engel[iv] summarized…“In short, discipleship requires continued obedience over time…. Thus becoming a disciple is a process beginning when one received Christ, continuing over a lifetime as one is conformed to His image (Phil 1:6), and culminating in the glory at the end of the age.”

An Up-to-date Image of a Disciple

From a closer look at the words Jesus used, we see that the goal of every church is to help people become “a community of active, ongoing learners.”[v] It is not just to baptize or to teach as we are going out (though all of these are “hows” of the disciple making process). The goal, toward which a church should focus its attention and its resources is to produce people that are actively learning about their heavenly Father.

Still, this goal includes binding up their wounds, meeting their needs before they even know who Christ is, standing up for their justice and righting their wrongs. But all of these worthy actions if they become the goal, will make your mission misdirected. God’s goal, the purpose he has for every church, is to reconnect his wayward offspring to himself (the essence of the missio Dei). And, the church’s goal (Figure 5.6) is to foster this reunification by helping people become learners about a loving, seeking Father.

The Goal of the Church Defined

While the common church has mistaken many “hows” for the “goal,” Figure 5.6 is the goal against which the uncommon church will be measured. In our commissioning, Jesus has handed us a different measuring stick.

Figure 5.6 The Goal of a Church

The goal of a church is …

To make active, ongoing learners.

(i.e. learning about a heavenly Father who loves them, sacrificed his Son for them and who wants to reunite and empower them.)

Jesus wants the uncommon church to focus upon reuniting his wayward offspring with him by making active, ongoing learners about his great love, sacrifice and future for them. And so, be careful not to make some of the following common missteps.

  • Teaching without learning: If a church is teaching many people, but few are actively learning over a long period of time, the church is not “making active, ongoing learners.”
  • Having learned once, but not learning now: If a person has learned once, perhaps in the past at school or as a child but is not learning now, then the church is not “making active, ongoing learners.”
  • Baptizing without ongoing learning: And, if the church is baptizing many souls, but there is little ongoing education about what it means to follow Christ, then that church is not “making active, ongoing learners.”

In the next chapter we will learn “HOW” to make learners. But, in this chapter we have seen the “WHY” is because nurturing “learners” is the goal of the Great Commission that Christ has given us.

Download the chapter here:  book-whitesel-excerpt-cure-chpt-5-why-learners

Footnotes:

[i] Walter Bauer, trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 486-487.

[ii] Donald McGavran, Effective Evangelism: A Theological Mandate (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Pub. Co., 1988), p. 17.

[iii] Eddie Gibbs, Body Building Exercises for the Local Church (London: Falcon Press, 1979), p. 74.

[iv] James F. Engel, Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice (New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 66.

[v] The “ongoing” emphasis in making disciples is created by both the preface of Matthew 28:18-20 (whereby Jesus declares his command is a result of non-temporal authority, v. 18) and by the aorist tense of make disciples, which can convey the sense of an action that should commence at once.

[i]I am not saying that winning souls to Christ is not important and central to God’s mission, for it is. As I have stated in the first chapters of this book (and in every one of my previous nine books) reuniting wayward offspring to their heavenly Father so they can receive salvation from their sin, gain new purpose and enter eternal life is the mission of God (i.e. missio Dei) in which we are called to participate (Matt. 28:19-20). However, the point I am making here is that “winning souls” is a supernatural connection that though we can help facilitate, is something only God can accomplish (see for instance Acts 2:47 where Luke writes, “The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved”). Jesus, in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, gives his church not the task of soul-saving (he reserves that right for himself), but rather gives the church the task of “making learners about him.” If a church is making learners about God, then he can supernaturally connect with them through their growing knowledge of his love and bring them into a reconciled relationship with himself. Thus, in this chapter I will show that “making learners of Christ” is the task for which the church should aim, and when we connect people with their loving Father this way, he can add “daily to the community those who were being saved.”

[ii] David Bosch has rightly pointed out that you cannot fully understand the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 without an understanding of Matthew’s gospel as a whole. The reader who wants a fuller appreciation for the power and influence of the Great Commission in context should see David J. Bosch’s chapter “Matthew: Mission as Disciples-Making” in Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 20th ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), pp. 56-83.

[iii] Hudson Taylor quoted by Stan Toler, Practical Guide to Solo Ministry: How Your Church Can Thrive When You Lead Alone (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2008), p. 136; C. T. Studd quoted by David l. Marshall, To Timbuktu and Beyond: A Missionary Memoir (New York: Thomas Nelson, 2010), p. 87; William Carey quoted by A. Scott Moreau, Gary B. McGee and Gary R. Corwin in Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), p. 201; and C. S. Lewis, The Complete C. S. Lewis (New York: HarperOne, 2002), p. 96.

[iv] Daniel B. Wallace, The Basis of New Testament Syntax (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 274-275. A good way to think of this is that the participles (go, baptizing, teaching) tell “how” making disciples is done. Thus, to the question, “How do you make disciples?” one could answer “by going (means) and baptizing (manner) and teaching” (manner).

[v] The relationship between the three participles and the imperative “make disciples” has been described by Robert Culver as “the words translated ‘baptizing’ and ‘teaching’ are participles. While these participles are immensely important the imperative ‘make disciples’ is of superlative importance.” “What is the Church’s Commission,” Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, July 1968), p. 244.

[vi] Daniel B. Wallace, The Basis of New Testament Syntax (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 280 states “a greater emphasis is placed on the action of the main verb than on the participle. That is, the participle is something of a prerequisite before the action of the main verb can occur” (italics Wallace). In other words, the “going,” “baptizing” and “teaching” are prerequisites that must occur before the action of the main verb (“making disciples”) can take place.

Excerpted from Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan for Church Health, chapter “How to Grow Learners.” Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CURE Chpt 5 WHY LEARNers

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