Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Making Disciplemakers

I'm sitting with Rynelle in LAX waiting to board a plane for South Africa. Airports are bitter-sweet for me. I hate leaving our kids, and I miss our community, home and city.I also have long legs and minor claustrophobia.That said, I'm well aware of the call to make disciples of all nations, and of the need to get a glimpse of what God is doing around the world too. It always gives me fresh eyes on what God is doing at home. So travel is a painful privilege.

Last week was a deeply confirming one for me. I traveled to Chicago with my friend Todd Proctor, and sat around a table with 8 leaders of large, high profile churches, to pray and plan for a shift in America's church culture. That may sound presumptuous to you, but honestly, there were some pretty heavy hitters in the room, and their combined lament at the status quo was palpable. These were successful church leaders, deeply dissatisfied with their own levels of disciple-making (mainly due to the busyness of 'running a church') and the lives of their congregations(mainly due to consumer tendencies.) We weren't just gathering to complain though. We were gathering to own the problem, and hopefully do something about it with intense intentionality.

You're probably asking, "So, why were you there?" Don't worry, I was asking myself the same question initially, but after a bit, I just accepted that I was, and decided to add my two cents worth to the conversation. The truth is, that big is not always healthy when it comes to both physical and spiritual bodies. As a medium-sized church by U.S. standards, Southlands has some very healthy disciple-making cultures, even though we have a ways to go. One of the things we have to offer, is our high relational quotient. The lament around the room was that people in very large churches are fixated with meetings and programmes but resist more organic, relational discipling. We do not, and need to keep the relational culture strong as a means to a disciple-making end.

So, a few reflections before I fly:

If we look at Jesus' style of disciple-making, he took three years with twelve guys. He taught, healed and fed the crowds, but discipled the few. You cannot mass-produce disciples. They are made in a slow, humble, sacrificial investment of one life into another. There is no silver-bullet curriculum, although there are some good ones. Disciple-making cannot only be carried by leaders either. Real multiplication happens when every follower of Christ takes responsibility to become a 'fisher of men.'

The one problem with a highly relational culture though, is the fear that I could lose my friendship with you if I get too serious, or call you out on an aspect of your life. That is a fear we are going to have to get over, not lording it over each other, but taking humble courage, as we spur one another on to love and good deeds. Our relationships can be nets that draw people in to a compelling faith where the current is towards following Jesus.

Second, disciple-making should not be limited only to believers. It is not simply spiritual formation, where we take believers and help them to become more like Christ and more intimate with Christ. It is that, but if you look at Jesus' life, it's not clear at what point the disciples got saved! And yet Jesus' approach to them was pretty consistent both before and after faith. We can and should disciple people towards faith. Disciple-making is not just spiritual formation, It should include relational evangelism.

Third, as leaders we should ask ourselves whether we are making disciples or disciple-makers? I feel I have been better at making disciples who are growing in Christ, than making disciple-makers who are living to see the life of Christ multiplied in others. I am intentionally applying myself to this, and am loving seeing some fruit in that regard.

Jonny Wilkinson, the world cup rugby winner from England had a strategy when it came to kicking the rugby ball between the goal-posts. He would aim at an imaginary lady in the crowd. I think he called her Aunty Edna. He found that if he aimed at her instead of at the posts, he would kick the ball through the posts more accurately. I think it's the same with aiming at making disciples. If we aim at building a church we may fall short of making disciples. But If we aim further at making disciples intentionally, we will find that we build strong churches accidentally.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Liquidity not Poverty

Last week we looked at the conversation between Jesus and the rich young ruler - a man who'd found wealth, power and success early on, but still felt that something was missing. He viewed Jesus as a guru or life coach, and asked him how he could inherit eternal life.

Jesus looked at him and loved him, and then counseled him to, "Sell everything and give to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven."

Two interesting nuances. First, He doesn't say this will get him eternal life. He says it will give him treasure in heaven. In other words, Jesus is pointing out that the way he treasures his possessions makes the treasure of eternal life; knowing the Father, redundant. He's calling him to make space in his life for treasuring the Father. The man went away grieved because he was not ready to fall out of love with his wealth.

Second, he doesn't tell him to give everything away. Jesus wants him to change the nature of his relationship with his possessions, so that his possessions no longer possess him. He is calling him to liquidate! As a wise man in our church said to me, "Jesus' point here is not poverty, it's liquidity." It is only as we liquidate that we realize whether our possessions possess us or not. Possibly the most generous man I know said to me once, "Every six weeks I need to do something radical with my wealth in order to keep myself free from the love of money."

Sometimes it meant doing a trip into a poor community to serve and give. Other times it meant lending his car to someone, or opening his home to others in hospitality. Often it meant giving large sums of money away. I once borrowed his sports car for a ministry trip and blew a gasket on the way. I felt terrible. He was amazingly relaxed. His possessions did not possess him.

I have loved hearing the stories of 'liquidity' in our community recently. People selling, giving, lending, inviting. It's the way the kingdom moves forward - when we liquidate some of our frozen assets for Jesus' sake. And there is great reward for it - 100 fold reward in this life and the life to come. If poverty was Jesus aim there would be no reward.

I think I know why Jesus looked at this man and loved him. I think it was because he could identify with him. Jesus is the ultimate rich young ruler, who enjoyed the treasure of intimacy with the Godhead in heaven, the riches of being worshipped by the angels and living creatures, and of living in His Father's many-roomed mansion. He gave it all up to come to earth, and in the prime of his life, He was about to embrace the deepest poverty of the cross. Tim Keller sums up Jesus' exchange with the rich young ruler like this. "I gave up my big all. Will you give up your little all?"
Let's allow the Gospel to melt our hearts and our relationships with our possessions.
Jesus does not demand poverty. He demands liquidity.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The mystery of hospitality

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it."

This was the text from Hebrews 13 that Dr. Corey spoke from at the Brea Mayor's prayer breakfast yesterday.
It was an incisive word that stirred a lively conversation among our people.
It has direct application for how we relate to people outside of the church.
It may stir you to host a street party for your neighbors, start helping out in a homeless shelters, or take a work colleague out to lunch.
I believe though, that it also has an application for the way we interact within our church communities.

Let me illustrate. I recently had two conversations. One was with a friend who has been a part of Southlands for eight years. He was lamenting the change of dynamics within the community. His lament went something like this. "Some of my friends have moved on to other churches in other cities and there are so many new people I don't know. It's just not the community that it used to be." I told him that his discomfort was understandable, but reminded him that when I first met him he was lamenting that the church wasn't growing. Now that it was, he was lamenting the intrusion!

The other conversation was with a lady who has been part of the church for more than 20 years. She and her husband have offered to host a couple for a month, who arrive this weekend from New Zealand. They have never met this couple. Their house is not big. Neither is their budget. But their hearts are and she was talking with excitement about helping this couple to land in their new city. They are welcoming the intrusion of strangers with joy and anticipation.

Make no mistake, compelling community is a vital part of any healthy church. But it can easily become an idol.
The early church were devoted to fellowship, they broke bread together with gladness and sincerity. They loved each other deeply, caring for each other in practical ways. They did life together. However, it seems clear that the mixture of growth and persecution kept them from becoming a cozy, closed community. Community was not the center. The Gospel was.

God seems often to disrupt the coziness of our communities with Gospel multiplication which results in painful good-byes. He also disrupts with Gospel intrusion which results in uncomfortable hellos. Very few enjoy good-byes and that's understandable. I am amazed though, how many seem to resent 'hellos.'

And this is what the writer to the Hebrews was saying. Do not resent Gospel intrusion. Keep investing into new friendships through hospitality to strangers. You simply do not know what God might do through it.

I know. Long-standing, mature friendships are wonderful. Like putting on an old pair of slippers. They are warm, fuzzy and comfy. The new ones are far more costly. Like buying and wearing in a new pair of Chuck Taylors! It's a new investment, you have to walk more carefully, your feet may get a bit sore. But this is the way of the Gospel. Investing in new friendships enlarges us and often extends new Gospel frontiers.

Let's not lament that community is not forever static, or wait for someone to lay on community for us. Let's take initiative in showing hospitality to strangers, both within and without the church. We never know who we might be entertaining.