A Fresh Look at the “Great Commandment’s” Contribution to Discipleship

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

This is the well known “Great Commandment” of Jesus, and a companion “love” text from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in John. These “love” texts are foundational in almost every church’s mission and/or vision statement, along with Jesus’ “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:18-20 to “make disciples of all nations.” From the Great Commandment we build a theology of love. It is typically from the Great Commission that we inspire the resulting action — discipleship.

Vital Signs

A Fresh Look at the “Great Commandment’s” Contribution to Discipleship

But, not often talked about is the Great Commandment’s (to love, like Jesus) contribution to discipleship.

Our small group leaders are working through the excellent book Small Group Vital Signs, by Michael Mack, together over the next year.

In our opening monthly session this March, “A Healthy Group is a Discipleship Environment,” our leaders discussed two wonderfully insightful pages of Mack’s book regarding Jesus’ counter-cultural nature as a Teacher/Rabbi/Disciplemaker. However, not in relation to the Great Commission, as one might expect; but in relation to the Great Commandment’s “love” emphasis.

I would like to share these two pages here, for your edification.

In our session, the small group leaders discussed each bullet point below in relation to our ministry of leading a small group. It led to excellent personal discoveries of ministering out of love, just like Jesus did. You can do the same based on your ministry, whether it be parenting, mentoring, teaching, leading, serving – whatever it is, as you seek to follow the methods of our Lord, Jesus.

From Michael Mack’s Small Group Vital Signs, p. 139-140: 

A Disciple’s Definition of Discipleship

If you could ask Jesus’ original disciples to describe discipleship, they would talk about a rabbi. In their context, a disciple was someone who was totally committed to a particular rabbi. Usually, disciples literally lived with their rabbi and followed him everywhere he went. Communal living was absolutely necessary for living as a true disciple. Teaching happened more by example than by words as you lived with the person each day. The purpose was to become “like the teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Rabbis taught in yeshivas, groups of disciples who would have passionate discussions over some aspect of life and what the Hebrew Scriptures said about it. They would wrestle with the texts together in order to understand God’s view on how they should conduct their lives. Most Jewish boys had memorized large amounts of Scripture by the time they were thirteen in preparation for their Bar Mitzvahs, so they did not need to study what God’s Word said as much as how to apply it to life.

Rabbis used no written curriculum or agenda for their multi-year discipling experience. Their curriculum was life itself. The rabbi observed the daily life of his disciples and then asked probing questions to initiate discussion about observed behaviors. A disciple could also initiate conversations by raising an issue regarding his observation of the rabbi’s life or some life issue or question.

Jesus adopted the rabbinic style of discipling his followers, but he altered it quite a bit from how it was normally carried out. John 15:12-17 [read at top of page] illustrates seven ways Jesus was counter cultural as a rabbi. As you look through this list, consider how his pattern for discipling applies to your small group. 

  • Rabbis trained their disciples in the law. Jesus’ discipleship was based on grace: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (v. 12).
  • Rabbis required a short-term commitment. Jesus called his disciples to total surrender of their lives: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (v. 13).
  • Rabbis required their disciples to serve them in practical ways (think, “wax on, wax off…” from The Karate Kid). Jesus treated his disciples as friends: “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants” (vv. 14,15).
  • Rabbis did not call their disciples. A potential disciple would ask a rabbi if he could follow him. It was up to the rabbi to say yes or no. But Jesus called his disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (v. 16).
  • Rabbis focused on head knowledge so that their disciples could eventually train others in the Jewish religion. Jesus called his disciples to actually do something: “I … appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (v. 16).
  • Rabbis taught their followers to be dependent on them. Jesus taught his disciples to be dependent on God:  “Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (v. 16).
  • Rabbis used a top-down approach to discipleship. While his methods were based on his authority, Jesus taught his disciples from a mutual-discipleship model:  “This is my command: Love each other” (v. 17).

Jesus’ rabbinic style of discipleship is not just attending a weekend church service and meeting in a once-a-week small group; it is 24-7 living. It happens in your quiet time, work time, family time, and play time…every day.

The greatest joy, and fruit, in making disciples occurs not in events or classes, but in actual discipleship relationships – walking with people, through Scripture, prayer and life, to become more like Jesus, together. May these relationships permeate our entire church family.

Vital Signs Session 2 – Coming Sunday, April 7

Session 2 – “A Healthy Group Ministers Together” – is coming up, on Sunday, April 7, during 2nd service (10:50-12:10PM), in the Gym. Everyone is welcome to come, and to bring anyone they are discipling. Plenty of snacks and materials will be available.

Blessings on our homes,

Pastor Reg

How Can I fit “Intentional Relational Discipleship” into My Schedule?

The days are subsiding, at LCCC, of running programs and events, just hoping that some relationship and discipleship will somehow happen. Committed to Jesus’ mission to make disciples, we realize the need for much more intentional relational discipleship. Mediate on those three words for a moment. It doesn’t take a lot of explaining to figure out what they mean. We just realize that this is Jesus’ given method, and we are committed to intentionally building discipleship relationships into the fabric of everything this church family is and does.

It’s the personal matter of time that I want to address today.

How do we make the time for relational discipleship?

1.  The first answer: It’s not as hard as it seems. If we catch Jesus’ vision that being in relational discipleship is the most important thing we do, then we’ll be motivated to figure it out. And if we catch Jesus’ method of doing it during many of the things we are already doing, we’ll realize we can intentionally disciple with very few changes to our schedule. Running errands? Watching the game? Going to visit someone? Doing ministry? Hanging out with your children? Do it like Jesus did. Be intentional about inviting someone to come with you (Mark 3:14); be mindful how you spend the time (Deut. 6:7; Titus 2) and what your goal is (Eph. 4:13, Matt. 4:19; 2 Tim. 2:2).  [It would be good to read all these linked Scriptures.]

Jesus showed us how to do it with a small group of 12 and a closer group of three (Peter, James and John). Surely we can do it with one, two, or maybe a few!

It’s great to hear people like our group leader/coach Tony Oury, who’s already been doing this as often as he can. Great things are happening out there in the common moments of our lives!

2.  The second answer: To intentionally disciple well will take some extra, purposefully planned meeting time. Disciplers must intentionally meet with disciplees. Pastors/Elders must intentionally meet with Coaches/Deacons/Ministry Leaders, etc. Coaches must intentionally meet with their Small Group Leaders. Small Group Leaders must intentionally meet with their Apprentices. Parents must intentionally meet with their children.

But how often? And, what does that meeting time look like? Here’s the best meeting guide I have found. If you find this method useful, please share it with everyone you know who’s in the discipleship game!

  1. Select your person, or group of no more than about six, to meet with regularly.
  2. Commit to meet for a two-hour, every two week meeting, extending for a determined time (like 3, 6, 9 or 12 months). 
  3. Follow this excellent two-hour meeting schedule (adapted from Marshall and Payne’s The Trellis and the Vine):

A Relational Discipleship / Coaching Meeting Schedule:

    • Bible Study – 30 minutes: God’s Word is the most important element for spiritual growth (Heb. 4:11-12; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). You could use this time to train people how to lead Bible discussions, by modeling it yourself, and then giving everyone a chance.
    • Prayer for You- 10 minutes: Without praying, we are doing this in our own power and for our own agendas. Not good. Pray in response to Scripture, and for different aspects of life and ministry.
    • People Work – 20 minutes: Talk about the needs and situations of the people’s lives to whom we are ministering; and how we can best help them grow. Confidentiality principles need to be agreed on and respected. 
    • Prayer for Your People – 15 minutes: Pray again, this time for particular people by name.
    • Review Ministry Activity – 15 minutes: Talk about different meetings and ministry related things that you’ve been doing or involved with. Did they work? Why/who not? What could be improved, and how? This not only leads to improvements, but also trains how to think about ministry. 
    • Training Input – 30 minutes: Specific training in conviction (a belief topic like baptism, eternal security, etc.); character (like how we are most tempted and prone to give Satan a stronghold in our lives); and competence (like how to lead a small group, or a family, or workplace relationships better).

This is what I’m going to use this year with my group of Small Group Coaches (some of which pictured here). I can’t wait for these bi-weekly times together, and I believe the ripple effects of this intentionality will carry out deeply into the entire Body of LCCC. Are you in the game?

We had a GREAT first HEROES training last Sunday. You’ll see these guys up front again in this weekend’s worship services, and then even more at the MINISTRY SUMMIT. 🙂

Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,

Pastor Reg

4 Stages of the Bible’s Discipleship Process

I was astounded how much feedback I received from “Part 2” of my recent church-vision series sermon, which described how to use the Bible’s four spiritual life stages in our discipleship with anyone, at any level, any stage, and any time.

Below is the sermon manuscript excerpt of that “Part 2.”

(Thanks to Jim Putman’s great book, Church is a Team Sport, for inspiring many great thoughts throughout the entire sermon series.)

Church is a Team Sport: A Championship Strategy for Doing Ministry Together

Excerpt from: “Opening the Team Playbook,” 6/17/12

Team Playbook, Part 2: How Do We Make Disciples? – The Discipleship Process

       How do we – all of us here – help people make Jesus Lord of their lives; get plugged into relationships with other Christians; and be committed to the mission?  Let’s look at the discipleship process we find in the Bible.

       The Bible speaks of the development of our spiritual lives in the same language as we use for the natural stages of human life. We are born. We are babies. (Raise your hand if you have babies here tonight.) We become children (All the children here tonight raise your hand); then young adults (all the young adults raise your hand); and then, finally, parents. There are others, but those are the basic life stages.

       The Bible uses these same word pictures to describe our four spiritual life stages. Each stage is a necessary part of the process. You cannot get to the fourth stage without going through the other three.

       The first thing we need to do in the discipleship process is be able to assess where we and others are in the process, and know what we and others need, and need to be doing, in order to move to the next stage. And we want everyone to understand the process because we want it to be reproducible and taking place all throughout the entire church family.

       So, now, let’s consider ourselves and the people in our lives as we look at each stage of the process.

1.  Spiritually Dead/Unborn –  Among the many places in the Bible this life stage is taught, Ephesians 2:1-5 describes it well: (Read Eph. 2:1-5)

       People in this stage have not yet accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. They may completely reject God; or they may be seeking God. They may even claim to be a Christian, when in reality have not repented and placed their trust in Jesus. What people in this stage need is for us to share the gospel and our faith in Jesus with them.

       Friends, if any of you here today haven’t trusted and obeyed Jesus, we would like to share our faith in Jesus as Savior from sin with you, and share with you the opportunity of being discipled in our church.

       And when we trust Jesus as Savior, God forgives our sins and seals our eternity in heaven, but our Christian life on earth has just begun. And, naturally, we begin as infants…

2.  Infant/Child – 1 Peter 2:2-3 identifies this stage, saying, (Read 1 Pt. 2:2-3)

       People in the infant stage have accepted Christ, but haven’t moved much past that point. They may be brand new believers or might be stagnant, long-time believers. Life is generally still all about them and their needs. There is nothing surprising with this self-concern at the infant stage.

       Soon, as these newer believers begin growing in their relationships with God and others they move into the child part of this stage. Paul addresses the Thessalonians as in the child stage when he writes: (Read 1 Thess. 2:11-12)

       What people need in this stage is to connect with a mentor and/or group that will teach and model for them what it means to love God and others. In the meantime, they should participate in other opportunities in church life to grow their understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

       The bigger shift comes now with the third stage.

3.  Young Adult – People in this stage are making a big shift from being self-centered to more others-centered; becoming givers, rather than a takers; putting others first; realizing that life really is all about God and His will; not our own. Paul describes this stage in Philippians 2:3-4 (read Phil. 2:3-4).

       People growing in this stage are becoming more and more committed to the mission of Christ. When they walk into a room, rather than thinking, “Who is going to notice me,” they are beginning to wonder, “Who needs help; who looks lonely; how can I serve them?” They are are moving into the ministry phase of the discipleship process and need more ministry opportunities.

       And, finally, disciples will move into the Parent stage of the discipleship process.

4.  Parent – The spiritual parent has a solid understanding of God’s Word and is focused on reproducing mature disciples of Jesus by mentoring them in the Christian life.

       Paul recognized that his young disciple Timothy had entered this stage of the discipleship process, and he wrote to Timothy these well known words: (Read 2 Tim. 2:1-2)

       These disciples are entering the leadership stage. They are not only ministering, but making disciples of others around them; ready to train others to do the same.

APPLICATION: Did what I said about any one or more of these stages connect with where you are today? Did everyone identify which stages we’re in; what we need; what we need to be doing?  What I hope we will see here is all 700 people in the LCCC family working intentionally together to grow each other in discipleship. This is making disciples. This is a big part of the answer to HOW we make disciples. And here’s the thing: it all takes place outside of this room that we’re in right now.

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Next post will relate to the “Relational Environments” discussion from the same sermon. Find the entire sermon manuscript on www.lc3.com/#/sermons.

Blessings on your path through the discipleship process,

Pastor Reg