“Generosity – Essential to the Great Commission” – Dave Shive

I have long maintained that generosity is one of the great antidotes to greed, is a remedy for consumerism, and is a key to fulfilling the Great Commission. To go for the jugular, I have furthered insisted that tithing as it is preached and practiced in the American church can be one of the great enemies of the spread of the Gospel. Thus, I have held the position that too much preaching on tithing and too little teaching on generosity has produced a stingy church that focuses too much on percentages and obligation and too little on liberty, grace, and the joyful release of Kingdom resources.

Wow! I sense the hackles rising up on the necks of my readers with that opening salvo! Before I get a return barrage of objections, permit me to expand a little on my perspective –

Recently a friend of mine on a church staff e-mailed me with a question that set me to thinking. He asked: “Do I tithe to the church of which I am under the employ? It seems circular and not really helpful. If I did that, it seems like I should just tell them to cut my pay 10%. I’m thinking I should give to other places. Thoughts?”

Now I thought that was a great open door for me to jump in feet first – his line of reasoning gave me the opportunity to try to challenge his thinking a little – and those who know me know I don’t like to miss that kind of opportunity.

Here is my opening thought: “Not to split hairs, but first of all, I don’t teach tithing, nor do I believe it is relevant to giving. I think tithing distracts us from the NT model of generosity. II Corinthians 8-9 and the churches at Macedonia set the standard for giving that pleases God. Tithing can easily get us focused on percentages and obligation, whereas generosity frees us up to be glad, joyful, liberated, free with
our finances.”

My point? (No, I don’t have time here to discuss the often-misunderstood role of tithing in the OT. Nor do I have space to talk about how the overall concept of “giving-as-tithing” in the OT is rarely as low as 10%.) Paul wrote extensively on stewardship and giving and never once recommended tithing to his audience. Not only that, but in the most extensive discussion of financial giving in the NT (II Cor. 8-9), Paul’s unbridled enthusiasm for generosity as an expression of grace is palpable. The situation Paul was responding to in II Corinthians would have been a fabulous opportunity for him to speak on tithing, and yet he circumspectly never commands or even suggests the tithe.

I went on to comment: “So, the real question to me is: Where, with whom, and how much do I want to be generous? Asking this question frees you to think creatively, to be sensitive to the Lord. It may very well lead you to go well beyond the 10% of tithing as you develop sensitivity to God’s voice and are freed up financially and find generosity to be fun. That may very well get you thinking of how much you want to give to your church AND how much you want to disburse elsewhere as a good steward. Or, the real question could be: Do I want to be generous with my church under which I am employed? And don’t confuse the two. Your church is responsible for paying you – you are responsible for being generous. Those are two separate issues.”

To his concern that it might be “circular” as he gives to his church while his church pays him, I had this thought: “Interestingly enough, I have a parallel situation – there are some missionaries whom Kathy and I supported for years who chose to support us when we decided to raise support. Like you giving to your church, it seems circular, but it isn’t. Each party is being generous and God is pleased.”

Finally, my closing thought for my young friend: “The old saying may seem trite – ‘You can’t out-give God…’ – but there is a deep truth there. It can be exhilarating to be freed up to give beyond the norm, beyond the 10%, liberated from our finances to give with joy from the heart without double-checking to see how the percentage is working out. And to watch how our Generous God takes care of us. Frankly, I think the church is in need of serous teaching on the topic of happy, liberated, bighearted munificence as a statement of our gratitude to God for His largesse to us. Only then we can discover the freedom of deliverance
from what often is really the bondage of tithing.”

A final note those who have made it this far – I do have great respect for those who believe tithing is for today, even as I reject that approach. If you believe in or teach tithing, I want you to know that I am not trying to disparage your position as much as I want to inspire a vision among Jesus’ followers that frees us from captivity to selfishness, greed, percentages, and consumerism, delivering us into the glorious liberty of gladly relinquishing our grip on everything so that we might give ourselves fully to God’s mission.

—- Dave Shive

A Large Gospel, A Large Vision

On a recent foray into western Pennsylvania, I taught a Perspectives class at Crossroads United Methodist Church in Upper St. Clair, PA. I knew this denomination has struggled with doctrinal purity, so my expectations were low. Wow, was I wrong!

Steve Cordle is the pastor of Crossroads, a humble and interesting person. I was pleasantly surprised after meeting Steve and spending a little time with him. Steve “planted” Crossroads in 1991. He is a rigorous and thoroughgoing evangelical who decided way back in his pre-seminary days to align himself with the United Methodist Church. Now, after 26 years at Crossroads, the church has four satellite campuses planted in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

At the Christmas service in 2016, the combined attendance at the five congregations was a whopping 4,000 people. While I don’t worship at the shrine of large numbers, that is nevertheless rather impressive and a cause for rejoicing.

But that’s not all. Steve and his wife Linda were my overnight hosts that evening. As we ate breakfast the next morning, Steve shared with me his plan to plant 100 churches in America, Europe, and Madagascar. At first I was wary of such an audacious claim, but I found myself humbled as I listened and learned.

Scripture declares: “Where there is no (prophetic) vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18). This is a good reminder that genuine vision comes from God and is best discerned by immersion in the Bible to safeguard our minds and emotions from flights of fancy. I could tell that Steve’s vision didn’t come from eating too much pizza before bedtime. He obviously loves Jesus and is a man of prayer and Scripture. And he has invested careful thought, research, and study in the field of church planting.

In obedience to this vision, last year Steve launched a ministry called “A1.8 Movement” (for Acts 1:8) to facilitate this effort. This ministry is designed to produce “church planters” by training and coaching them to launch out and see the Church spread around the world. Steve and his team have made several exploratory trips to Madagascar and are well on their way to establishing a number of vibrant congregations that bring honor to Jesus.

This vision of Steve’s is breath-taking and a good reminder of the importance of God’s people envisioning big things. Last month we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. He is perhaps most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech. We celebrate his life by telling people of all ages, gender, and ethnicity to dream big.

But do all of us budding missiologists actually dream big? I had to ask myself that question as I listened to Steve. My default excuse (“I’m too old to dream”) suddenly seemed lame as I considered this man, not that much younger than me, declaring his confident vision.

Little children are encouraged to dream about what they want to be when they grow up. Why do we stop dreaming when we become adults? Has God nothing left for us to aspire to?

In 1857, a man named Jeremiah Lanphier prayed a simple prayer: “Lord, what would you have me to do?” He sensed God prompting him to start a noon-time prayer meeting for business men in New York City. This vision may or may not seem large to us. But this prayer meeting was the catalyst for what became The Great Awakening as similar prayer meetings spread to other major cities in the USA.

What vision might God have for us if we would just say every day: “Lord, what would you have me to do?”

Can Satan Answer Prayer?

Shortly before Christmas, I was conversing with a friend about a personal dilemma confronting him. He had been offered a “dream job,” but he and his wife concluded after praying about the offer that it was actually Satan’s answer to their prayers.

After realizing that this wonderful job offer was a temptation to his own weakness, my friend shared the struggle with me by e-mail. I quickly concluded that, yes, Satan often does answer our prayers.

As I considered my friend’s dilemma, my thoughts went to Matthew 4:1-11 where Satan attempted to beguile Jesus with alluring enticements. Since Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness was a time of fasting, it was undoubtedly also a time of prayer. And it was likely that the matters which Jesus prayed about in the wilderness became the basis of the temptations that Satan posed to Jesus.

Jesus’ temptation came on the heels of his baptism, a spiritual mountaintop experience where his Father openly declared his great pride in his Son: “This is my beloved Son in whom I have taken delight” (Matthew 3:17).

Visualize “the absurd insolence” (as Christopher Wright puts it) of Satan coming on the heels of that wonderful experience with three specific challenges to the very Sonship the Father had endorsed. Says Wright:

Matthew 2 ends with an enigmatic statement about Jesus’ obscurity, perhaps even “insignificance.” That may be why Matthew 3 follows with John’s baptism of Jesus, including the statement, “This is my Son, whom I love, the one in whom I delight” (3:17). This was important to Satan, since the three synoptic Gospels all record that immediately after this event, Satan threw all his effort into getting Jesus to cash in on his identity as the Son of God in ways that would divert him from his real mission (a mission in which Satan saw his own defeat and destruction): “If you are the Son of God…” (4:3, 6).

Imagine Jesus praying, “Father, I’m very hungry and I have the power to make bread to satisfy my cravings. But I want you to be the source of my provision.” Then Satan comes to him and says, “Let’s assume for the moment that you are the Son of God. If so, it would be so easy for you to make some bread out of these stones” (Matthew 4:1-4).

Or contemplate Jesus praying, “Father, I am so comforted at the promises you have made to me of your protection over me. But I do not want to misuse your promises nor take advantage of them purely for my own selfish purposes.” Then Satan comes and says, “You can have status and power right now by simply throwing yourself off of the pinnacle of the temple. After all, your Father has guaranteed that angels will have to come and rescue you. Won’t the crowds be impressed? Think of the power and the status you’ll have” (Matthew 4:5-7).

Or picture Jesus praying, “Father, You have offered me the throne of a kingdom on earth. But I only want to reign over that wonderful kingdom for your purposes, in your timing, and in your way.” Then Satan tempts, ” OK, we both know that your Father has promised you that you will rule over a kingdom. And I’m here to tell you that since I control all of the earth’s kingdoms, I can give you your kingdom right here and now and without the messiness of the Cross, stupid disciples, and hypocritical Pharisees. Just bow down and worship me and I will give it all to you” (Matthew 4:8-10).

Satan does come with answers to prayers! To be offered something that you intensely desire is a euphoric blessing when it comes from God. But it can be a vexing trial when it comes from Satan. And the process of distinguishing between the two can be emotionally wrenching!

Offers and opportunities will come our way in 2017. Some will loom large and impressive while others will appear to be small and unimportant. Some will be God’s answer to our prayers and in fulfillment of a need we have. But others might very well prove to be Satan’s doing to distract us from the mission that God has for us.

Thankfully Jesus has shown us how to recognize and resist pseudo answers to prayer. In each tempting instance, he boldly asserts, “It is written.”

— Dave Shive

Satan, Spiritual Warfare, and Election Day (Part I on “Spiritual Warfare”)

As Election Day draws near, the temptation of Jesus has a lot to tell us about how we should view affairs of state and the current status of American politics.

“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” (Luke 4:5-8)

Jesus saw right through this scam of Satan’s. But in spite of Jesus’ adamant refusal to fall for Satan’s con, the disciples struggled for years to make Jesus’ kingdom an earthly, political, temporal reality, even well after his death (see Acts 1:6). Whenever Jesus sought to explain his immediate agenda of death and resurrection as a precursor to the coming Kingdom, the disciples were like peevish children who stick their fingers in their ears and shriek: “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!”

In much the same way, the political earnestness of Jesus’ followers in 2016 exposes our own counter-agenda. While Jesus says, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” we may counter with, “No, the one who sits in the Oval Office rules.” When Jesus declares “My kingdom is not of this world or else my followers would fight,” modern evangelicals clear their throat and intone, “Um…ahem…actually what Jesus meant was that we should loudly argue for our preferred candidate…and publicly denigrate the candidate we don’t like.”

If the temptation to establish an earthly kingdom in Jesus’ name was too much to resist for the first disciples, why would we expect it to be any easier for disciples 2,000 years later?

What is it about the kingdom of God that proves so elusive to those who want to follow Jesus? And what can we surmise about Satan’s agenda during periods of elections, political crises, and governmental transition?

Frankly, I doubt Jesus’ adversary cares very much who sits in the Oval Office. No matter how superior or inferior one candidate might be to another, neither one will usher in the Kingdom of God since that is the task left to the Church. I think Satan is far more interested in getting us embroiled in politics than he is in joining the fray himself. After all, if the work of the Kingdom is put in the hands of Jesus’ followers and not Donald or Hillary, what could be a more effective strategy in spiritual warfare than to get Jesus’ army distracted by…Donald and Hillary?

Spiritual warfare involves two parties warring against each other: Satan and his minions battling against Jesus’ Kingdom agents on earth, the Church. The enemy of Jesus would like us to think that we are doing the work of the Kingdom of God when we immerse ourselves in earthly politics. While involvement in politics might be a worthy venture for a believer, we must never forget that Satan’s kingdom is overt, physical, and relies on cunning, might and lies – and that is the world of politics. On the other hand, Jesus’ kingdom is hidden, mysterious, quiet, gentle, and operates by counter-intuitive principles – a veritable demonstration of the life of Jesus.

When Daniel declared that “it is God who changes the times and the epochs; it is He who removes kings and establishes kings” (Daniel 2:21), he was not merely spouting a cool theological principle. After all, every day that Daniel crawled out of bed and went to his office to ply his trade, he did so with an awareness that he was living under a corrupt pagan named Nebuchadnezzar who governed the Babylonian empire. He was, by the way, one of those kings that God had “established.”

Our paraphrase of Daniel 2:20 might read, “It is the American voters who elect presidents.” But Daniel puts us on notice that, though our democracy with its political activism is wonderful, legal, and won with the lives of American soldiers, we must not confuse it with the glorious eternal Kingdom of Jesus that is coming regardless of what happens in the voting booth on November 8, 2016.

God is still actively engaged in his world, raising up and ousting kings, rulers and presidents. He acts according to his agenda and is driven by the eventual realization of Revelation 11:11 when “the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah. And he will reign forever and ever.” Whatever our voting decisions may be, we must remember that the election of either Donald or Hillary is simply God at work to facilitate the coming of Jesus’ eternal Kingdom. And so we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done!”

(The final installment of theodicy and spiritual warfare will be posted in early December.)

Mission and Theodicy, Part II

God’s Sovereignty and Satan’s Authority

The question asked of “theodicy” in Part I – “How can God be righteous since there is so much physical and moral evil in his universe?” – is one that has plagued philosophers and theologians throughout human history. It was brought to mind by a conversation I had with a relative. She had shared about a friend who is angry with God because a close acquaintance was senselessly killed in a traffic accident. Judging from the e-mail responses in September, theodicy is of great interest to our readers.

I realize if countless books over the centuries have not succeeded in laying this topic to rest, a couple of blog posts will not finally solve the problem of human suffering and the presence of evil in the world. (My son slyly thanked me that I was going to be the one who finally resolves this issue!)

The options available to resolve this conundrum are varied: (1) It’s a fallen world and bad stuff happens; (2) Obviously God does not exist; (3) God is weak. If he were powerful, he would eliminate evil; (4) God is not good. He is unfair, even sadistic; (5) God is apathetic, distanced, indifferent to human suffering. (6) And, there is the response that is often embraced by evangelicals: God has ordained all suffering for (sometimes) mysterious purposes so that he might get greater glory.

Of course, when I listed these responses in Part I, I purposely omitted a 7th crucial perspective, namely the role of Satan in all of this. Efforts to try to explain this problem by blaming God have only succeeded in bringing us to our present state where people are irate at God for what is decidedly NOT his doing. In such a climate, God gets a bad rap.

An understanding of the power and authority of the evil one, Satan, is the piece missing from the conversation on the problem of evil. God has chosen to run his universe by allowing enormous authority and power to Satan and his minions. Though God remains sovereign, he has seen fit to allow Satan to wield massive power in wreaking havoc. Three times in the Gospel of John Jesus calls Satan “the prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). This prince has the authority to offer the kingdoms of the world to Jesus (Lk. 4:5). “The ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens” (Eph. 2:2, Holman CSB) loves misery, despises God’s goodness, and gleefully grips the suffering of this world in his diabolical claws.

Reconciling God’s sovereignty and Satan’s authority is the great challenge in formulating a coherent theodicy. The first two chapters of Job dive right into this mystery. Clearly Job’s problems are instigated by Satan out of a loathing of those who love and serve God. And the final chapters of Job make it apparent that, even as he is bludgeoned by the evil one, Job can only trust in God.

People who are angry with God are legion. And in the ensuing chaos, the focus for many has drifted from seeing evil the problem to  viewing God as the problem. To many, it’s God’s fault when a child is molested, a teen gets cancer, or an adult is senselessly killed. “Surely an all-powerful, compassionate God who hates evil can and should prevent that kind of thing,” they reason. To those people, the advice of Job’s wife seems justified: “Curse God and die!”

Nevertheless, Job seems content with the mystery even as the rest of Scripture invites us to dig deeper into this seemingly irreconcilable conundrum. This “digging deeper” draws us into the topic of spiritual warfare.

The third (next) blog in this series will continue this theme by exploring the relationship between God’s rule and Satan’s dominion. The nexus where God’s sovereignty and Satan’s authority meet is called “spiritual warfare.” The role to which God has called his Church in confronting the powers of darkness draws us into battle. Recognizing that we live in a war zone and are on the front lines of battle against a powerful and hideous enemy enables us to develop a perspective from which we can become strategically engaged in what God is doing. We will never begin to provide hurting people with satisfying biblical answers to the problem of evil without a healthy emphasis on spiritual warfare.

 

Mission and Theodicy, Part I

The Question That Won’t Go Away

“He’s angry with God,” she said, “and has stopped going to church.” I was having a delightful conversation with a relative about a mutual friend who, as it turns out, is bitter toward God.

This sourness towards God is something that I frequently encounter as people wrestle with the question prompted by the problem of evil: “How can God be righteous since there is so much physical and moral evil in his universe?” Philosophers have labeled this issue “theodicy.”

The rubber meets the road in the church and missions when we begin grappling to explain God’s role in a deeply troubled world. And, as one who is engaged in mobilizing the church for mission, I am finding that a wrong view of God can be one source of our paralysis.

The person my relative was referring to had lost a dear friend in a horrific automobile accident. Blaming God for either causing or at least not preventing the accident, our mutual friend had become angry with God…and he is not alone. The senselessness of such events causes many to struggle for explanations for the terrible things that happen.

Interest in theodicy is a reasonable one. After all, if there is a just God, how do we explain the presence of evil (i.e., deaths of innocent people through car accidents and injuries to people in bicycle mishaps and a whole list of other seemingly pointless tragedies) in his world?

As my friend and I talked, the (seeming) absurdity of my recent cycling accident was in the back of my mind. I say my accident was absurd because it did not involve another vehicle, I was not being careless, and I had not attempted anything foolish. Many would describe the back wheel of my bike locking up as a “fluke.”

As I wrote this, my left hand was 3 pins in it and is in a cast. Of course, in the big scheme of things and in light of the truly appalling misery that many experience, my injuries are minor. I will survive. I will regain the use of my hand, and life will go on. But being the curious type, my mind has repeatedly run through ways to biblically explain my accident.

There are a variety of approaches that people take to explain the dreadful occurrences that we daily observe. Each of these ends up holding God in some way responsible for evil:
(1) God does not exist. There is no possibility of an acceptable theodicy.
(2) God is not good. If a good God existed, his nature would require him to prevent evil.
(3) God exists, but he is weak. If he were omnipotent, he would eliminate evil.
(4) God exists, but he is far removed from human suffering. He is indifferent.
(5) And, of course, there is the response to suffering that is fairly popular among evangelicals: God has ordained all suffering for (sometimes) mysterious purposes so that he might get greater glory.

It should be fairly obvious that none of these proposals is without difficulty. It’s too easy to glibly speak of evil as we view it from a distance or speak of relatively minor affliction like my cycling accident. But let me make this issue concrete.

A theologian-philosopher that I read relates the story of an incident which occurred in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. This is an account of a Jewish girl named “Zosia” whose eyes were so beautiful that a Nazi guard decided to remove them (while she was still alive) to make two rings, one for him and one for his wife. This gruesome act is so vile, so contemptible, so utterly depraved, that it staggers the credulity of all who read it. The sheer horror of this malicious wickedness challenges any simplistic explanation for the existence of evil.

Wrestling with theodicy in light of this horrific incident, one might conclude that either God does not exist, or he is not good, or he is weak, or he is apathetic toward human suffering. But who would want to suggest that the God of the Bible ordained (and, thus, approved of) this Nazi’s despicable act? And would anyone present that day when this occurred find such an explanation comforting? And would the mother, driven mad after she watched hideous barbarity, gain solace from any such rationalization?

It seems to me that it is imperative that we must continuously pursue a credible explanation for theodicy if we are to plausibly engage the bitter, angry, or simply confused people that we encounter. If we wish to soften hearts that are hardened toward God or to help others think more clearly about the problem of evil, we must strive to visualize for them a God-picture that will paint for them a portrait of perfect justice alloyed with unfathomable wisdom, indescribable love, immeasurable grace, extraordinary compassion, and generous mercy.

Facebook Meets the Good Samaritan

As I was recently preparing to preach on the story of the “Good Samaritan” (found in Luke 10), my imagination took off. I asked myself, if this story was posted today on Facebook, what would the ensuing discussion look like?

The news headline might read “Foreigner Aids Assault Victim on Road from Jerusalem to Jericho.” The story line might be: “In a high crime area and in a day when citizens are avoiding personal responsibility in helping those in need, one man risked his life to help a crime victim. Some are calling for an inquiry into how this kind of thing happened and are proposing various solutions.”

Here is a way the thread might go…

Safety Advocate: “I have been repeatedly highlighting the dangerous problems of that stretch of road. But, no, the politicians are turning a deaf ear, preferring to fund the more costly Metro Line from Bethlehem to Masada because of well-placed lobbyists who are lining their pockets.”

Anti-Crime Advocate: “How many times must we allow our travel routes to be disrupted by unrestrained criminal activity? I travel that road frequently and have yet to see a police car in the area.”

Civil Engineer: “There are some very simple things that could be done to make that road less problematic. Some of the curves could be straightened out, a few more street lights would help, and 9-1-1 call phones would enhance safety.”

Atheist: “I notice a priest and a Levite both passed the injured man without showing compassion or offering assistance. Just one more example of the hypocrisy of the religious.”

NRA spokesperson: “A person would have to be insane to travel on that stretch of road without a weapon. Oh, I forgot. The government disarmed the citizenry!”

2nd Amendment Foe: “Well, I remember an armed lady who was walking down to Jericho. When she tried to defend herself against her attackers, they took her weapon and used it on her. Later it was also used to rob a Seven-11 up near Nazareth. So much for arming the citizenry.”

Senior Citizen: “When I was a teenager, we traveled up and down that road to Jericho all the time without fear of being bothered. I pity my grandchildren when I think of the world they will grow up in.”

Millennial: “Thanks a lot, Baby Boomers. This is the world you created and you left us to try to fix it. Thanks a whole lot!”

Fiscal and political conservative: “How much money have we thrown at this problem with no favorable results? We need stiffer laws and enforcement of existing laws if that road is going to be safe for travel.”

Fiscal and political liberal: “We need to fund more training programs and recreation centers between Jerusalem and Jericho to give these young people something meaningful to do.”

Anti-Immigration Person: “What was that Samaritan doing within our borders, anyway? How did he get here? Who let him in? For every “Good” Samaritan you can name, I can tell you the stories of 100 who are illegally here, living lives of crime, and mooching off of our tax dollars.”

Yes, when a social issue arises, opinions abound and Facebook becomes the soapbox for anyone with a keyboard.

But Jesus’ parable is not intended to address the gamut of 1st century Palestine societal ills. He is simply answering a question posed by a lawyer: “Well, just who is my neighbor, anyway? (Luke 10:29) If I love God, who am I obligated to help when I encounter people in need?”

Rather than eagerly expanding his list of neighbors to as many as he could possibly manage, the lawyer wants to whittle the list down to a manageable and comfortable few. As Steve Moore says (Who is My Neighbor?), “The burden is not on others to somehow qualify to become our neighbor. The responsibility is on us to take the initiative in being a neighbor to others.”

Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush. He rephrases the lawyer’s question and asks, ‘Which of the three men do you think became a neighbor?’ (v. 36) Jesus’ 2015 comment on Facebook might be: “Stop worrying about all these other things; instead, prioritize becoming a neighbor yourself. Then you will find yourself loving God with all of your heart.”

Note: I credit Steve Moore and his book, “Who Is My Neighbor?” for expanding my thinking on this story that Jesus told. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and hope to share more of Steve’s insights in the coming days.]

The State of Discipleship in the 21st Century Church

Recently I was involved in a delightful Facebook discussion with some serious followers of Jesus. The initial question posed in that forum was this: “How do we solve the discipleship crisis that is crippling the Church? What does the Church of the future look like? How do we re-engage the Church with mission? Our 22-year old kids who are disciples of Christ are asking these questions. Can you relate to them, or is this a mystery to you?”

As discipleship is a great interest of mine, I decided to join the conversation. What follows is an edited and expanded version of my comments – I trust it will provoke some healthy thought and dialogue. Here are 10 thoughts on the exaltation of the concept of discipleship in the church today (my primary experience is with the American church though I have visited many other places and observed discipleship or its lack in other cultures) combined with the simultaneous struggle of the church to actually “make disciples.”

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Bob (pseudonym), your question about the absence of discipleship is one I have been thinking about. I believe the actual problem may be multi-pronged, so it may be difficult to nail down THE reason. Here are some possibilities:

(1) Painting with a broad brush, I would say that discipleship has not been taught in the past in Bible college and seminary. Thus, church leaders have little foundation for it in practicality.

(2) Profs in Bible college and seminary have tended to lecture about key issues (like discipleship) while often having little training in those topics and/or perhaps little practice in the disciplines themselves.

(3) Discipleship requires flexibility, availability, a knack for relational interaction, humility, good listening skills, and adeptness with handling Scripture. Instead of focusing on cultivating these abilities, pastors are all too often pressured by other demands (e.g., church growth as a goal rather than discipleship as a process). The push for a managerial approach to pastoring also adds pressure to pastors lives.

(4) Pastors often hire staff to do certain things, and discipleship can be one of those things. Thus, it can easily happen that the lead pastor (unintentionally) distances himself from discipleship by assigning the responsibility for a crucial priority to someone else while he goes about the work of leading the church.

(5) When discipleship is a task assigned to church staff, it is easy for the pastor to not model it since he has a staff member who is responsible for it. Further, it now is easier for members to view discipleship as “one of the things that the church does” (maybe the church has a missions pastor, a youth pastor, a worship pastor, etc. Adding a pastor of discipleship to the menu, then, may render it just one of many cafeteria options).

(6) There is often a confusion between “discipleship” and “building relationships” (friendship). While friendship is important, having a relationship with a person is just one dimension of discipleship. Having a cup of coffee may be relational and a good thing, but discipleship cannot be reduced to drinking an occasional cup of joe with a friend.

(7) The fact that the verb “make a disciple” only occurs four times in the New Testament (Mt. 13:52; 27:57; 28:19; Acts 14:21) and in varied contexts renders it difficult to work out a thoroughly biblical sense of the term “discipleship” (though we have Jesus’ example of how to do it). This is where Coleman’s “The Master Plan of Evangelism” is invaluable as a starting place in formulating a biblical discipleship worldview.

(8) Which leads me to suggest that perhaps we may be using the same term (“discipleship”) to refer to different things. We evangelicals have a penchant for using “feel good” Christian words (e.g., love, blessing, glory, redemption, propitiation, salvation, heaven, hell, etc.) with little to no serious thought as to the meaning of the words we bandy about. Further, if pressed to explain biblically what any of these terms mean, we might lapse into drooling down the fronts of our shirts while stammering senselessly. How do we end up talking like this? Is it because we like the sound of those particular words, assume everyone knows what we’re talking about, and are not serious enough about the topic to read, study, and think broadly about it.

(9) Our failure to think wholistically (integrating the whole of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments) about biblical concepts has rendered us stunted in our comprehension of discipleship in Mt. 28:19-20. After all, “The Great Commission” is an echo of Gen. 12:1-3 and reminds us that God’s heart throughout the entirety of the Bible is on his followers penetrating the nations with the Good News. It matters not whether we call it “blessing all the families of the earth” or “making disciples of all nations.” The functions are nuanced differently but the processes are similar and the intended results are identical. Perhaps we will view discipleship differently when we accept the premise that the Living God of the entire Bible is a Missionary God who has (from Genesis 12 on) called his followers to disciple the nations.

(10) Finally, it is often assumed that small groups in the church will be the context for discipleship to occur. In my experience, I find that this rarely happens. The same problem can surface in small groups that occurs in churches. Just as pastors may not do discipleship because they are not trained for it and/or are busy with many other responsibilities, so it is unfair to assume that small group leaders who are untrained and are busy with many things will do what the pastor is not really doing.

Dave Shive

Ferguson, Missouri and the Challenge of Unreached Peoples

Rather than my feeble seeking to add to the voices endeavoring to speak individually to the terrible circumstances in Ferguson, permit me to simply echo the wise thoughts of my friend, African-American pastor and professor Eric Redmond.

https://ericredmond.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/ferguson-mo-unreached/

May God raise up white and black brothers, men of conviction with a sense of responsibility, accountable to marry and assume responsibility for the children they produce, hard-working entrepreneurial sacrificial men of great faith and courage.

Thank you, Eric, for your insights!

Dave Shive

Sept. 23 – A “holiday” to be celebrated each year

In times of hopelessness and despair, what can one person do? Sept. 23 each year is a date that reminds us of the launching of a movement by just one man, a movement that transformed the moral, spiritual, financial, and political landscape, causing repercussions worldwide.

Follow this link to a story that is riveting, encouraging, and challenging:

http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/when-revival-ran-epidemic-11630508.html?utm_source=nextArticleBox&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=next-article-box

Also, check out this parallel story:

http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/jeremy-lanphier-led-prayer-revival-11630507.html

“Oh God, raise up movements of prayer. Use me as your ‘one person’ to launch a new movement!”

Dave Shive