Discipleship and Our Local Church Part 1 (text)
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Matthew 28:16–28:20
Note: due to technical difficulties, the audio for this message was not recorded.
For the last five months we have been in a series on discipleship – what it means to follow Jesus- and I can’t think of a better place to wrap up a series on discipleship than by looking at the Great Commission, so please turn with me to Matthew 28:16-20 and let’s pray.
Think about what’s going on here for a moment: the resurrected Christ is standing on the mountain with his eleven apostles and he is about to ascend in power and glory to heaven to the right hand of God and, as he tells his disciples, all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him by his father. And because all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him he gives this charge, therefore go into all the world and make disciples.
Making disciples is, and always has been, the mission of the church. That’s what the church is to be about and when the church pours its energies into anything else, it drifts from the mandate that Jesus has given us. When the church focuses on maintaining itself rather than making disciples it has drifted from its mission. When the church focuses on decisions for Christ rather than disciples for Christ it has drifted from its mission. The Great Commission is the church’s only mission. It’s that simple.
But how does a church go about making disciples? To be more specific, how does GCC go about making disciples? That’s a question Matt and I have been asking ourselves. About 9 months ago the Lord used a book called the Trellis and the Vine to stir in our hearts a renewed conviction that making disciples is what God has called us to do and that, quite honestly, we could be doing better at it. The series that we have been in for the last five months on discipleship came out of that conviction. We also began two discipleship groups with a few men in the church as a way of helping those men grow as disciples – and that is something we want to continue doing with others down the road.
But we began to ask, how would the Lord have GCC be more intentional and strategic at making disciples? Discipleship isn’t something we drift into, disciples are made. We can drift unintentionally but if we are to make something, we need to be intentional. And discipleship isn’t so much a destination as it is a journey that goes on for the entire life of a Christian. So how do we as a church intentionally help people take the next step in that journey– whether the next step be a non-Christian coming to faith in Christ or the next step be a Christian of 30 years continuing to stretch and grow in her walk with the Lord.
This question isn’t just for a few of us in the church because every Christian is to be involved in discipling others. We are all to be disciples who make disciples. That is (and has always been) our mission together as a local church and yet as we respond to a renewed conviction of its importance Matt and I wanted to find a way to both simplify and unify our attention on our mission. So what I want to introduce to you this morning is a simple, concise mission statement that captures both our purpose and our process – what we’re to do and how we do it. Our new mission statement that has four simple points and I will unpack the first three points and next week Matt will unpack the fourth point.
Our sad history with mission statements
But before I share our new mission statement, I need to disclose something: the truth is that as a church we have a pretty sad history of mission statements. And if you’re skeptical about the usefulness, I don’t blame you – I am too.. One of my favorite comics is Dilbert and recently I came across one that sums up pretty well what I feel about mission statements:
The pointy haired boss has called Wally into his office. Now if you’re not familiar with Dilbert, Wally is an employee who only does two things well: drink coffee and get out of doing work. So Wally is standing there with his cup of coffee as the pointy haired boss says, “Wally, your status report is just a bunch of buzzwords strung together.”
Wally (still holding his cup of coffee) answers, “I’ve been giving you that same status report every week for eleven years. Five years ago you adopted it as our mission statement.”
Seven years ago we adopted a mission statement – actually I think we borrowed most of it from another church. It was biblically accurate but it was long and complicated and no one (including me) could remember it and all it did for years was take up space on our bulletin. So five years ago some of the church leaders got away for a day to come up with another, better mission statement. Can’t remember what it was, but I remember it was better.
But it was still disconnected from our life as a church so three years ago we came up with another, even better mission statement. It read…well, actually I can’t remember that one either, but I do remember thinking that it was far better – that was so good it made it to the bottom of the church stationary. I don’t think they were buzzwords strung together, but they were disconnected from church life.
So I’m sure that introduction has built a lot of confidence in you to hear our fourth mission statement. But I share all that to make it clear that the mission statement doesn’t make the mission. Jesus has given his church the mission and what Matt and I wanted to come up with was simply a mission statement that would 1) sum up the mission God has called us to as a church in a way that would be easy to remember and 2) convey not only the purpose of the church but also contain the process for how we are to do it, and what we came up with are four things that are not profound, not complicated, probably not even very original, but four things that if we are making progress in than we are doing well as a church:
Loving God * Growing Together * Serving Others * Going to the World
I. Loving God
Jesus said that we are to make disciples by teaching them to obey all that he commanded, and Jesus also said that the first and greatest commandment of all is to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. So if we are going to teach others to observe all that Jesus commanded we need to begin with the first and greatest commandment – that we are to love God – alot!
The sun accounts for more than 99% of all the mass in our solar system and it’s that great mass that holds all the planets and moons in proper orbit. In the same way God and His glory needs to be at the center of the church and at the center of all we teach and preach and do. Christ is to be loved and treasured in the church as more precious than life itself because the truth is he is more precious than life itself. As a church we want eyes to be opened so that many come to see the surpassing worth of Christ and the reality that everything the world offers in place of him is rubbish in comparison.
We know from 1 John 4:19 that we can only love God because He first loved us and gave His Son for us. When we believe in Christ’s finished work on the cross, we are born again, and one of the most amazing things that happens when someone is truly born again is that self is displaced as the center of our lives and God takes His rightful place as the center of our lives and as the greatest love of our lives.
The goal of discipling isn’t to turn someone into a hard-core fundamentalist who argues dogma with passion, the great goal of discipling is to turn someone into a white-hot worshipper of Christ who has a passion to see Christ loved and cherished and worshipped and trusted in by others.
Process: Every aspect of church life is to be encouraging a greater love for God, but our primary entry point for displaying and encouraging a love for God is our Sunday service. If you think of the church as a house – the Sunday service is like the foyer – it’s where we welcome our guests first. Our greatest prayer is that when people visit us they don’t leave here thinking first about the music or the preaching or the people, but first they’re thinking of Christ and their souls are stirred to love him. Loving God is at the center of the mission we have as a local church.
II. Growing together
As I mentioned earlier, discipleship isn’t a destination (at least in this life) it’s a journey. It’s marked by progress, not perfection. The disciples were just as much Jesus’ disciples when they were clueless and saying blockheaded things like, “Jesus, you’ll never go to the cross while I’m here” as when they were preaching with such power that thousands were getting saved and multitudes were getting healed.
So the Lord calls us into a local church so we can grow together. We are to provoke one another to love and good works. We are to build up one another up. We are to teach one another. We are to bear one another’s burdens. We are to admonish one another (which is a fancy way of saying that sometimes we need to get in each other’s face – with grace, with love, but also with courage). All for the purpose of promoting growth in one another. Growth is slow, it’s uneven – sometimes we go through “growth spurts”, sometimes we can barely see that we’re growing at all. Learning to obey all that Jesus commanded is not something we master in a short time. It’s a slow and sometimes painful process in which we always need the grace of God and we need each other.
a. Teaching – as we learn biblical doctrine we grow spiritually. We are to grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t ever underestimate your need for sound doctrine and biblical teaching in your journey as a disciple.
b. Equipping – the church is to be a place where believers are equipped for ministry. God calls pastors to multiply ministry, not monopolize ministry. Every believer is a minister! But we all need to be equipped and trained to do what the Lord calls us to do.
c. Caring – finally, we are to be growing in our love and care for one another.
Process: the primary context for growing together is our community groups. Think of the CG as inviting someone out of the foyer into the living room – now they’ve taken off their coats and your hanging out together. In the community groups you have the opportunity to grow with others in a small setting. Sometimes our CG’s will focus on equipping (like right now in the series we are going through), sometimes on teaching and application of teaching. Always there is the relational component as we grow together in care and love for one another. If you are new to GCC or just never got plugged into a CG I want to encourage you to check them out – as a context for your continued growth.
Just a word about the challenge of relational growth – making friends, getting to know people on a deeper level, and being known. It’s far more challenging to promote that than it is to supply teaching and equipping. We can open the Bibles and learn truth together – but it takes more work to build relational bonds.
We live in a lonely culture. People are lonely. A lot of people have no close friends – and some don’t really want any because relationships are messy. They don’t want to be known, they don’t want to know. Better to just be left alone. And you know what? Our technology has made it so that we can feel like we’re interacting with life through movies and TV and the internet. We can be “friended” on facebook without ever having to give of ourselves when it’s inconvenient. That is an option today. But for the Christian it really isn’t an option – not one that Jesus gives us anyway. We are called to love one another and from the heart – again, not perfection but progress.
So it takes effort to build friendships – and the church can only provide contexts for that – we can’t make it happen. There’s a definite limit to how close you will feel to others if Community Groups are the only context you see them in. That’s going to take investment on your part, effort on your part, vulnerability on your part. If you aren’t having anyone over for dinner, if you aren’t calling anyone, if you aren’t coming out to CG’s regularly, than I want to encourage you to do more of that – cause it’s going to take that to get closer to others as friends.
III. Serving others
Jesus commanded us in John 13 that we are to serve one another as he served us. Peter writes: as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace; whoever speaks as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1Peter 4:10-11)
Honestly I think this is where a lot of Christians stall. They desire to be involved in a ministry in the church, but they don’t want to serve. The problem with that is the word ministry means “to serve”. To serve one another is one way we become good stewards of God’s grace. He gives us grace to serve, but we need to use it to serve or it stagnates. If the church becomes a place where we receive and receive, but never give out, it’s like the Dead Sea, after a while what we have received will stagnate and be unable to sustain life. If at this point you think, “I’m just not being fed” you’re gonna keep looking for teaching that is going to produce that sense of life and vitality in you – all the while missing that you’re out of balance. Need to give out in order to get the flow back again. Give what you have to serve others – as a good steward of God’s grace. If we want more grace, we need to be good stewards of what we have.
Process: If you’re coming out to church and have gotten involved in a community group, you might still be feeling like something is missing. We want to encourage you to find a place to serve. Think of it like when you go to someone’s house and they invite you into the kitchen and throw you a dish towel or a knife and say, could you help out by drying those dishes or cutting up that onion? No longer a formal guest – moving closer in intimacy and comfort. Being a part of the family.
Next week Matt is going to unpack the call to go to the world. This is like going and inviting others into our house – into the household of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Let me close by saying we’re not looking to be a fancy church. We want to grow in ministry but we don’t equate busyness with fruitfulness. We’d rather do a few simple things well than clutter our lives with a lot of programs and think that’s what produces life. Everyone in this room has a responsibility in regards to discipleship – if this isn’t your church, then you have a responsibility in your home church. God will bless you as you take the next step.
And as we close, if you are not a Christian, the next step is to consider the claims of Jesus Christ. He said that he is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to God the Father except through him. He died on the cross to pay for our sins, so that anyone who turns from their sins and puts their faith in him would be saved. I am going to close with a prayer and if this prayer reflects the desire of your heart, I want to ask you to pray it silently with me.