First Mennonite Church
May 29, 2016
The Call to Make Disciples
Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-16
Today I would like to reflect on what should be central when we share the gospel or carry out the task of discipleship making. Not too long ago a pastor said that many evangelical church are not being “fishers of men,” as Jesus described Peter’s future evangelistic ministry, which we believe is our ministry too. This pastor said that many pastors and churches these days are not fishing, but “cleaning fish” that others have caught. This is because often church members move around from church to church. Some of the common reasons why people move around from church to church are due to interpersonal conflicts, differences on biblical interpretation or disagreement on doctrinal issues. Therefore, when new believers discover something they do not like in way the Bible is interpreted or when a church emphasizes a particular a doctrine or some aspects of it, they leave the church. These new believers go to another church with their not-so-good previous church experiences. And sometimes cleaning the fish others have caught is just as challenging as fishing fresh fish.
Let us assume that in the end we get to have new people come to our church. What it is we should emphasize in the process of developing their spiritual life? Will we start with spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Bible study, or helping them learn worship songs? Will we emphasize our doctrines? Let’s say, the meaning of baptism, the Lord’s Super, etc.? Will we emphasize our Christian heritage—in our case, who are the Mennonites? Or some central Mennonites themes, say: non-violence, peace and justice issues? Or, should we put emphasis on teaching our beliefs about the Bible? In many evangelical circles the Bible is seen a road map of what has happened in the world and what will happen in the future. Therefore when they read the Bible they immediately identify if a passage refers to something already fulfilled or if it relates to a future event, and even if the passage is applicable to the Jews only. Many others they see every single word in the Bible as the “inspired, inerrant, literal” word of God. This view of the Bible underestimates the human role in the formation of the Bible. The historic, cultural, and artistic literary forms in the Bible seem unimportant and neither the original purpose for which the Bible was written counts. For the new believer, this claim would mean that in order to be a “true believer” he or she must embrace everything written in the Bible as literally coming from the hand or mouth of God. It would also mean that questioning any part of it, is rejecting God. It is a take-all or take-nothing approach. Again, what should we do to develop the new believer’s spiritual life? Should we worry about inculcating good ethics? Let us say, good working habits, a certain dress code to attend church?
On the other hand, most evangelistic outreach is carried out using what is called “The Four Spiritual Law/Truths.” The four spiritual truths are: God created you; in Adam, you came under the power of sin. Jesus died to save you; repent and believe his death is enough for you, and you are saved. Is simply affirming the 4 spiritual truths all it takes to become a Christian?
The commission Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 28 is very clear on what should be central when sharing our faith and for discipleship. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
In last week’s sermon I stated that outreach and mission are the overflow of a Christ-centered life of a vibrant discipleship culture in a congregation. This means when a congregation deliberately engages in the formation of its member according to model and teaching of Jesus, the natural outcome of both the effort of discipleship and its result is outreach. I will explain more on this in a little bit.
Clair and Beth Good were missionaries among the Maasia in Kenya. After an unfruitful period of ministry, the Goods changed their approach. They decided to embody Jesus’ model of outreach as found in the gospel of John: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14). The Goods began with the question: How does incarnation look like in my community? They decided to follow the example of Jesus. The Goods put together a model of ministry characterized by: being radically inclusive, by extending extravagant grace, by offering relentless hospitality, and by patiently expecting transformation in those who come. “Our values work this way,” says Clair, “We are radically inclusive because we believe that people must first belong before they experience the transforming power of the Spirit. (Where 2 or 3 are together there I am Matthew 18) We believe in extravagant grace because we have been forgiven and are called to forgive others. We love to be together and in the presence of God so we exhibit extravagant hospitality. The believers were continually together breaking bread. We expect the Holy Spirit is at work in each person’s life addressing issues that need change. We respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and expect all persons to be living a life a discipleship. This includes the pastors as well.”
During the last period of their missionary work, their outreach not only flourished, but also multiplied.
When the Goods came to PA, they started an outreach in Columbia, PA, called “Vision Columbia.” They invited people to come to their home, at first. Then they found a place to meet and opened their doors to anyone who would like come. They only sat and interacted with their guests. They shared meals together. They shared about their lives and prayed for those who needed prayer. They accompanied those who needed help. One day, one of his neighbors asked Clair if he knew what the man in a car park by the apartment complex does. Clair said he said did not. The neighbor said the man was a drug dealer and that he was going to call the police. Clair asked his neighbor if he had talked with the man in the car. His neighbor said he has not. So Clair offered to do. Clair found that the man did not have a job and the only way he could make some money to help his ailing mother was by selling drugs. Clair offer to visit the man’s mother. He found they were a Muslim family. Clair walked along side this man through other difficult moment in his life. This man’s mother died and not too long after that one this man’s nieces died suddenly too. The church walked along with this man even when he had not openly committed his life to Jesus. In the end, not only this young man came to Jesus but his brother also. Clair says that Jesus welcomed everyone. Jesus did not put conditions to offer his fellowship. Jesus forgave and expected transformation on those who followed him.
In the commission Jesus gave to his disciples, the task they were given was to make disciples of all nations. A disciple is someone who sits at the feet of his master/teacher. The goal of a disciple is to become like his teacher and the servant as his lord, Jesus says in Matthew 10:25. Each of us has been called to be a disciple—a student, apprentice of Jesus, our teacher and Lord. Therefore, when the disciples were commissioned to make disciples of all nations, their task was to teach and encourage obedience to the words of Jesus. Their priority was to seek to model Jesus and to mold people into the likeness of Jesus. And this is the very charge the church has today. As a congregation, as a pastor and teacher of the word of God, my first assignment is to be a disciple. I must learn and be shaped by my Master. Secondly, I must see that each of us hear and obey the words of Jesus also. We all have been called to learn and obey the ways of Jesus. In the gospel of John Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (8:31).
So the question is, how do we do that? A Christ-centered discipleship most first discern what is central or better said, who is at the center of our faith. By discerning who should be at the center in the task of discipleship, we will also be able to realize what is of lesser importance and even marginal.
I want you to look at this graphic. (It is at the bottom of this page). This graphic can help us discern what should be central in our discipleship task. There is a lot in the church that can be far from what is central. Sometimes we might think a certain doctrine is of absolute importance for us to teach. Sometimes we might believe elements from our confession of faith are first when doing discipleship. This graphic can help us stay focused on what is most important in our task of discipleship. If Jesus’ way of life, if his teachings are central, then we know we are on the right track. If our goal is to help the body of Christ to hear and be molded in to the likeness of Jesus, we know that we are obeying the great commission.
That is why Paul says that every ministry in the church is a gift from Christ and given with the purpose of equipping his people for works of service. That means that my job as the pastor of FMC is to see that everything I do should equip you for the service of the Lord. This also means that each of us who serves in one way or another—the one who leads the service, the one who teaches Sunday school, the one who plays the piano, the one who takes care of the sound equipment, the one who takes care of the finances, as well as everyone who participates is to build up the body of Christ. The final goal is for us all to reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. The goal and purpose every ministering person has is to help the whole congregation to become mature, and to attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. The goal we all have is to helping each member in the body of the Lord to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
I will pick up on this next Sunday, but for now, let me encourage you: do your part in building up the body of the Lord. Do your share and do it with joy and dedication. God has put you here to build up, to strengthen each other, to guide, to encourage, and above all to model Christ to each other. So, let us continue learning from Jesus our Teacher. Jesus says, It is enough that the disciple become like his teacher. Let us be attentive disciples of Jesus. Amen.
Statement of Faith
 Clair Good (personal email, May 27, 2016).