Expounding on the 12 Principals #9: The Principle of Systematic Discipling (by Jon Shuler​​)

The church is meant to be a community of men and women who are not only disciples of Jesus, but able to help others become faithful disciples of Jesus. For this to happen, the local community of believers must have some pattern, some system, to ensure that day by day, week by week, those who are part of the body learn to walk as disciple-making disciples. For this to happen there must be a way for it to be the reality lived, not a concept talked about. There must be a principled pattern, owned by all leaders and learned by all followers, that ensures – by Gods good grace – that those who come to faith actually walk in that faith. They must learn to be fishers of menas Jesus described it. They must take their place among those making disciples of all peoples.

What is the simplest way that disciple-making becomes normal for all Christians?

There are a few things that must be clear before an answer can be given.The first prerequisite must be an absolute understanding that no one lives this life who is not born again of the Spirit of God. There must be a heart change or there will be no life change. If the love of God has not been poured into their hear that will not follow where Jesus leads. Any church that does not see this as central will never be a disciple-making church. Any leader who does not live this truth will not lead others into it.

Secondly, the lived life of one disciple-making disciple must be seen and imitated by another for systematic discipleship to be ordinary in the life of the body of Christ. Men and women following Christ with integrity must be seen to demonstrate this life style. Unconsciously in the sense that all they do is with a heart ready to help another follow Christ Jesus. It is not a program for them, but a relational lifestyle. With integrity in the sense that they do not speak of what they do not live. They do not try to get others to do what they are not doing themselves. One helping another is the way of the Master.

So is there a system that is needed? In the local church there certainly need to be because most of Gods people will never learn without some framework to assist them. The challenge is to keep it as simple as possible and no simpler. Three things need to be identified and communicated, regularly, effectively, and systemically.

First, what did Jesus teach about discipling? Learning what the word of Jesus says, and abiding in it (John 8:31,32; 13:34,35; 15:7,8; Luke 14:26,27,33).

Second, those learning must see others doing what they are learning. They must be with those who are actively living the disciple-making life. They must be watching others they esteem following and obeying Jesus.

Third, those who have seen disciple-making in others must begin imitating what they have learned and seen. They must step out of their comfort zone and begin. They must start doing what Jesus says do. If not they are not following. They will not be fruitful.

Next Week: (10) The Principle of Every Member Ministry

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Expounding on the 12 Principals #8: The Principle of Worship (by Jon Shuler​​​​)

For many, if not most, the first contact they have with the church is when they attend a local gathering of the body of believers. Someone has invited them to come and see.When the Holy Spirit is manifestly present in the believing community, and the true word of God is preached, some who were strangers moments before come, almost immediately, to a place of faith. It is a wondrous thing to behold. Once it occurs, no matter how dimly understood, that person wants to be present when the church gathers to worship. To be present on the Lords Day begins to be their custom, just as it was the Lord Jesuscustom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath. Sunday by Sunday faithful attendance becomes their pattern of devotion, and they rarely miss the assembling together.

But if there is not clear biblical teaching they may come to a place of great peril. They begin to imagine that the Christian life is a pattern of church going, rather than a pattern of learning from, and obeying the Lord Jesus. They imagine that worship, as understood in the word of Truth, is church attendance alone. They may even confuse worship with songs of praise and hymns.

The principle of worship that must be understood, however, is that worship is the response of the whole person to the love of Christ Jesus that has come to them. They are indeed to adore and praise him with others weekly. They are to give thanks, to intercede for themselves and others, to make supplication, to cry out in penitence in the midst of Gods people gathered, to give him all their praise. But that is not the principle of worship fully lived if it is only on Sunday. What then is missing?

The worship God the Father seeks is that which comes from worshippers who worship him in spirit and in truth.This, at the very least, means when believers gather they are coming ready to be touched afresh by the truth of the gospel. They are not coming to have their ears tickledby smooth words, but are coming to hear the pure Word of God. They come wanting the Holy Spirit to awaken their cold and sluggish hearts. They come to be fed by the mystical gifts provided by their Lord Jesus, that only faith can receive. And they come knowing that the Sunday assembly is to lead them to a daily worship that is just as real, just as central, just as holy as that which they share with others on that day.

Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, which is your spiritual worship,the Apostle says. There is no part of your life that is not to be worship. Your rising and your going down, your waking and your sleeping, your work and your play. Seeking to live a holy life in all things is to be your worship.

And to discern what is the good and perfect will of Godfor you, is the heart of a true worshipper. To pray for the transformed mind that alone will lift the soul from earth to heaven. A daily desire, a daily yearning, a daily life chosen in Jesus.

Next Week: 9) The Principle of Systematic Discipling

An Easter Pause/Easter Joy​ (by ​Jon Shuler​​​)

She was a typical undergraduate at the University of Durham. Well mannered and kind, eager to belong and pleasant company for all who knew her. But she was not a believer.

Another member of her college brought her along to an evening bible study fellowship that met at our flat. As was our custom we sang and praised the Lord for a good while, before cracking open the Word of God together. As the session was drawing to a close we asked if anyone wanted particular prayer, and quietly and reverently we had a time of ministry with those who said “yes.”

As most of the students were leaving Anne (for that was her name) lingered. Did she want to talk about something? “I want the reality I saw tonight,” she said, so a few of us prayed for her to receive Christ Jesus as her Savior and Lord. There were no fireworks, only a deep sense of God’s presence. She seemed to go into a kind of trance, with the most glorious smile on her face. For the next several hours – yes hours – all she did was walk about with a radiance on her face which remains as vivid today, in memory, as it was so stunningly present all those years ago. She entered into Easter Joy. The Risen Lord had come to her. She became a partaker of the promise of the Father for all who believe. Unquenchable joy was now her inheritance in fact.

Joy unspeakable was the most distinguishing mark of the early community of believers. Every sorrow and sadness that had characterized them only hours before vanished in their joy. The One they loved was alive and among them. The grave could not hold him. Death had no more dominion over him. God had vindicated his life and ministry. His words were true. All that he had taught them was from the throne of God. The life that created all things could not be defeated. And this life, this risen life he revealed to them in his glorified body, was to be given to them too, by the power of the Father. As he had promised, like a mother’s joy after the birth of her child, the fulness of joy was now to be theirs. There would never be a normal day again. Heaven had broken in to their lives.

This was the testimony of the early disciples, wherever they went. This was news so amazing, so divine, that it demanded their lives be conformed to this joy. And wherever they went, and shared it, some of those who heard received the truth, and entered in.

How then can the church in the West be in such a state of confusion and decline? The question can only be given one answer: the truth of Easter is not believed by many, and the joy of Easter has not captured their heart, mind, and soul. They are not living the reality of the gospel. The truth of Easter is not being preached and taught. The truth of Easter is not being lived. The truth of Easter is not being imparted to a new generation. If Easter Truth is not at the center of the church’s life, there will be no Easter Joy. But where it is lived joy unspeakable will break out.

Next Week: An Easter Pause/Easter Hope

Expounding the 12 Principles:#5 — The Serving Principle. (by ​Jon Shuler​)

There is no part of the human body that was not created for a purpose. Each limb, each organ, every major system, indeed every cell has a purpose. It is possible to live after the loss of some, but each of the manifold parts was created to be supportive of the whole. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. As it is in the human body, so it is in the church. The constituent living cell is a believer, and every healthy cell in the body has a purpose.

The Apostle Paul writes of the church as the body of Christ, and the Apostle Peter gives us the image of a living temple. Whether we think organically of the body, or more structurally of the temple (though remember it is a “living” temple), each believer has a part to play. None are to be passive, even if hidden, because each is needed for the common good. To serve the Lord means not only to serve among his people, but also to serve his people.

We argued in an earlier post in this series that every believer is to find the work that the Lord has created them to do, that is their unique and particular ministry. As the journey of faith unfolds, this early work, or ministry, often becomes the primary calling of their life. But here we are describing a different element of the healthy church, not vocation. We are describing a willingness to be used, even outside of ones gifting. This serving is the readiness to do whatever needs to be done. This serving posture is for all.

To begin the journey of a Christian is to learn that we are to be stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Central to this is to begin to exercise the common grace of serving others. We discover that Sunday worship is vital and normal, but we also learn to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. When we learn to tithe, that is to return a tenth of our financial resources to the Lord, we are serving the body. When we begin to take part in daily intercession for the mission and ministry of the local church, we are serving the body. If we agree to do some simple act of service for a member in need, we are serving the body. In such ways we learn not to hold back from the needs of the church. We offer ourselves to fill a gap. We serve the body of Christ.

And to what end? Why does it matter that all learn the principle of serving? Because the Lord who created us calls us to this. We are part of the family of God, and we share in the common life. We have received so we can give. We have been blessed so we can be a blessing. Our model for this way of life is Jesus Christ our Lord.The one who came down from heaven to save us, gave himself for us. We are servants of the servant Lord. The whole body of Christ is to grow up into the head, into Christ. It cannot do so unless every part is working together for the common good. All are called to be a serving disciples.
Next Week: An Easter Pause/Easter Truth

Expounding the 12 Principles #4:  The Principle of Discipling.  (by ​​Jon Shuler​)

New believers must be formed quickly in the patterns of a healthy and practical way of Christian life, if they are to become life long followers of the Lord Jesus.  They must learn to be disciple-making disciples. Too long a delay, and they will become immature followers for a lifetime, at best, or unfruitful branches at worst. A new believer must hear and obey the call to be a disciple who can help another disciple to be formed.

Making this principle foundational is not accomplished by a program or a temporary training course. It has to be lived. It must become a pattern of behavior that shapes the DNA of the believer. The tree will be known by its fruit, and the fruit of a believer is another believing disciple. But how does this reproduction become normal? At least three things must be true for this to happen.

First, existing followers of Jesus must become convinced that living as a disciple-making disciple is for them, and they must pray for it to be so. When the Lord first sent out his disciples, they were told to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up laborers to go into that harvest.Even as they went, they were to pray to be multiplied. Whatever their particular gift or ministry, they were to help others join them. Prayer to be faithful in helping to spread the kingdom, and doing so, was part of daily life as a follower of Jesus. Disciple-making was not an option.

Second, a follower of Jesus must first be discipled by another in order to learn the essential pattern of discipling for themselves. Walking alongside a faithful follower teaches them how to do the same. Within days of first following Jesus, those first disciples spent hours, every day, with their Master. They discovered that discipling is a relational, time consuming, and intentional lifestyle. They learned it from the Lord so they could  pass it on. Reproduction is the goal of discipling. To accomplish it requires intentionality. We learn to be disciples by walking with other disciples.

Thus it is that third, a discipled disciple – a made disciple – comes to have confidence to build discipling relationships for themselves. They begin to invite others to walk with them. They make time for meeting with those who want to learn. They develop a loving and open lifestyle, with enough margin always to help make a new disciple as the Lord leads. It is then only a matter of time until such a lifestyle becomes like breathing for them. If the Lord has need of them they will answer his summons.

When the principle of discipling is being lived there will be no day to busy to help disciple another. There will be no schedule too packed to prevent them from helping someone the Lord sends to walk the road of Christ with them. They will never refuse to go”  to the one ready to follow. Discipling will be central to their life.

Next Week:  5) The Principle of Serving.

Expounding The 12 Principles #3: The Principle of Being Sent — (by Jon Shuler​​​)

Passive Christianity is not true Christianity. To always be learning, but never acting, is not faithful but faithless. To be watching what other believers do, but not moving out for oneself, is not to be a follower of Jesus,but a watcher.Rarely did the Lord ask for that response, except near his fateful hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then his desire was for their active prayer. From the earliest day of his public ministry, his invitation to those who drew near was follow me.And the purpose of that call was so that those following would learn to be a sent ones. They were to share in the ministry of spreading the kingdom of God.

Some who began to follow might fall away, but none who remained faithful would fail to arrive at a time to be sent. There was good news to share and healing to announce. To be sent was to be truly alive in Christ. Thus it always is when the church flourishes.

But is this for every Christian? The clear testimony of the Holy Scriptures, and the history of the church in every season of grace, declares it to be so. A true believer grows up into the ministry of the whole body. The church in any age will never be healthy when this is forgotten. The love of Christ demands it of all faithful followers. No community that submits to Christcan neglect this truth.

How then is this to be reclaimed in a day when the church is in disarray? How can this pattern of life be restored, when many of those called to lead avoid the challenge of speaking the truth to those who do not yet know it? When a willingness to be sent is rare, what is the true follower to do? Jesus must be the example. The Lord came to seek and to save that which was lost.This reality was at the heart of all that the first disciples witnessed him do. And to this day, when someone turns their heart toward Jesus, and begins to learn from him, it becomes clear that this is their ministry also.

The restoration of the broken and mistreated, the deliverance of the oppressed and the healing of the sick and the blind, must be proclaimed. And when these blessings come, they come that those touched may yield to his gracious rule. First his sovereign rule in this life, and then his glorious rule to all eternity. No one who belongs to him is to miss this calling. They are to hear the Lord saying: As the Father sent me, so I send you.And when they hear they prove to be his by saying: Here am I, send me.

This readiness to be sent is a state of being, an attitude of the heart, not an act of going to a specific place. The specific assignments will be given, and for the majority they will be very local. Most will be sent to their own spouse, their own children, their own town. Their obedience will not be a long distance affair.  And to know to whom they are sent will not be difficult: The daily round, the common task, will furnish all they need to ask.The willingness to be sent, moment by moment, is not optional. It is to be a Christian.

Next Week: 4) The Principle of Discipling.

Expounding The 12 Principles (by Jon Shuler)

1) The Principle of Conformity.

There never was a day when the church of Jesus Christ was pure. From the Day of Pentecost there were some who believed truly, wholeheartedly, and obediently. And there were some who seemed to have believed, but it proved to be for their own personal power or gain. Even among the apostolic twelve there was a “son of perdition.”

Yet the call of Jesus was not to the halfhearted or lukewarm, but to those who would follow where he leaded. This was understood by all the “devoted ones” on the day of Pentecost and after. Those who were following Jesus ahead of them, were their mentors and guides. They were discipling the newest believers, and showing them the nature of a life given up completely to God. The Apostle would later write; “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,” but this was not an apostolic pattern, it was a Christian pattern.

To be willing to die for Christ, as Peter thought he was, would come slowly to all the first followers, but it would come. For some it would be literally. In the fullness of time the community of faith would recognize this as the pattern of being conformed to Christ Jesus, who modeled wanting only the “Father’s will” as his daily bread and as his incarnate life’s work. “To live is Christ and to die is gain” cried one of the great Apostles who followed him.

No one who has ever begun the journey of “following Jesus,” and who continued until the day of their new birth, has failed to be shown – in time – that they must truly die to be raised with Christ. These words come to express reality for them, not just a baptismal action or form of words. In times of persecution and martyrdom, these things are seen clearly even by new believers, but in periods of long doctrinal decline and moral decay the church fills with those who do not understand these things.

What then are the boundaries that make a church of sinners a church that the Lord Jesus Christ is building? Are there any?

It must be argued, as vigorously as possible, that a church without boundaries of right belief and morality is not such a church. The church that Jesus builds is a church that produces saints. Men and women come to be conformed to Christ with such consistency, that the standard of faith described in the New Testament is overwhelmingly normal. In such a church the standards of belonging and believing are high. There is no way station on the way to heaven. There is only a journey in this life to being more and more conformed to Christ. But it is a narrow way. And hard.

A believer learns about this from the beginning. A believer desires this to the end.

 

Next Week: The Principal of Work