Indispensable Unnecessary

Ever since I first read Neil Cole’s Organic Church the alarm on my phone has gone off at 10:02 every morning, Monday-Saturday.  It reminds me of Jesus’ command to his disciples in Luke 10:2b that they pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into his harvest fields.  That alarm just went off. I offered up my cursory prayer and then looked up at my computer to continue my reading in With Christ in the School of Prayer.  It just so happened to be on chapter 9, “Pray the Lord of the harvest.”  Murray asks the obvious question, “Why would God who knows the need and wants people saved need us to pray for him to send out workers?”  The answer: “that His compassion may stream into us, and His Spirit be able to assure us that our prayer avails.”  

The question is often posed Christian circles, “Does prayer change outcomes or does it change us?”  The answer according to Murray is that we are changed when we pray with certainty that our prayer will change the outcome.  So, as Murray goes on to say: 

Let us set apart time and give ourselves to this part of our intercessory work. It will lead us into the fellowship of that compassionate heart of His that led Him to call for our prayers. It will elevate us to the insight of our regal position, as those whose will counts for something with the great God in the advancement of His Kingdom. It will make us feel how really we are God's fellow-workers on earth, to whom a share in His work has in downright earnest been entrusted. It will make us partakers in the soul travail, but also in the soul satisfaction of Jesus, as we know how, in answer to our prayer, blessing has been given that otherwise would not have come.

 

Link

Growth Groups Questionnaire

Growth Groups Questionnaire

 

This tool, based on Neil Cole’s Life Transformation Groups, is designed to facilitate a one on one/one on two discipleship process.  As with LTG’s, participants gather for one hour per week to ask and answer the accountability questions.  At the meeting they agree upon a passage of Scripture to read on their own through the week.  Unlike LTG’s, Growth Groups require participants to make weekly commitments to pray, join Christ in his mission and to obey his Word through Scripture.  Because of this dynamic approach, we needed a means to update commitments on a weekly basis.  So, we created this online form.  Give it a try and see where it grows.  

Churched to Death

funny-church-signWhy do simple church? Because Jesus told us to make disciples. ” But,” someone might respond, “aren’t sermons, Sunday School, VBS, mission trips, weekend seminars,small groups, and a myriad of other programs carried on by institutional churches just methods for making disciples?”

From what I’ve observed after a couple of years of attempting to make reproducing disciples, not only are these initiatives not discipleship, they actually have become counterproductive toward fulfilling the Great Commission.  How can this be?  The answer can be found within the Great Commission itself:

“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.” Matt. 28:19-20 NIV emphasis mine

The difference comes down to one word, “accountability.”  All the programs which I mentioned at least as they are most often administered, teach people what Jesus commanded but they do not teach them to obey everything he commanded.  Without obedience the entire culture of a church can become one of quiet disregard for the commands of Christ.  In time, we begin to excuse each other’s (little) sins so they will excuse ours.  By teaching what Jesus said without expecting that a disciple obey, we actually teach disobedience.  So, we all come together regularly to carry out empty religious activity which we substitute for obedience.  Sadly, the church-goers are the only ones who are fooled into thinking that those observances matter.

Discipleship requires loving, mutual accountability.  As a believing community we must ask each other, “What is Jesus calling you to do and when will you do it?”  Then we must expect that everyone who claims to follow Jesus will carry those things out.  We ought to expect that everyone will expect us to be “doers” rather than just “hearers.”  When this happens we go from an irrelevant religious society to the counter-culture expression of Christ’s kingdom in the midst of real lives.

Some have called that form of religion which has supplanted discipleship “churchianity.”  That word fits this discussion.  In the Bible belt where I live, we’re sick with it.  I’m sick with it.  Last year, while having dinner with church planter, Neil Cole, I recognized the degree to which I had succumbed .  As we discussed the challenges of facilitating spiritual growth in recently redeemed people, I remember saying, “Yeah, those guys got drunk the other night but I overeat sometimes.  I guess we all sin.”  I expected Neil to nod and agree.  That’s how we do it in the church of church.  He didn’t.  He just gave me a puzzled look.  In that moment I felt the Spirit convict me that if I, a professed disciple of Jesus, consider something to be outside his will, I shouldn’t do it.  I also shouldn’t excuse other people when they do things they know to be wrong.

Making disciples is hard because it calls us to go beyond spiritual feelings and scriptural insights to personal obedience and interpersonal confrontation.  For those who are tired of gathering attenders and want to join Jesus in building an army, it’s the only way.

5 POP’s

Jesus not only commanded his disciples to make disciples, in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 he also gave them his method for doing so. Neil Cole relates Jesus’ method as the 5 POP’s in his book, Organic Church.  I’ve found these to be a very helpful framework on which to hang and a myriad of disciplemaking activities.  I hope you will too.

1. Practice of Prayer – The church is conceived in heaven before it is born on earth. If we are going to see churches planted and reproduced, we must plead with the Lord of the Harvest for everything we need – guidance, opportunities, boldness, the words to say, signs and wonders following, etc. Organic Church Planting is not a formula that works according to predictable outcomes. It’s a partnership with God to carry out his Great Commission.
2. Pockets of People – The approach to church planting as presented in Scripture had entire households (oikoi) in view. An oikos is a web of relationships. Every person (except the Unibomber) has one. As disciplemakers, we need to intentionally consider who in our oikos needs to hear the saving message of Jesus and begin praying for them. If we’ve reached our oikos or been rejected by it, we should find another Pocket of People that will accept us and begin prayerfully reaching them.
3. Power of Presence – They say 90% of baseball is showing up. That’s the case with disciplemaking.  We don’t have to hide from dark places; we must invade them with the confidence that “Where we go the King goes and where the King goes people bow.” If we partner with Jesus to make disciples we will find ourselves knee deep in the dirt of broken lives.
4. Person of Peace – In an oikos there is often a particular person that God has prepared the be the agent of the gospel for the rest of the group. This person is usually either the best person in the group such as with Cornelius in Acts 10 or the worst person such as with the Samaritan woman in John 4. We should look for this person. They will be receptive to the gospel at some point. Once they come to faith, we should equip them to reach the rest of their oikos. Their transformation will awaken others by demonstrating the saving power of the gospel.
5. People of Purpose – Once several in the oikos have been reached they should begin to gather as a spiritual family on mission for God. They should be taught to support and challenge each other to live in obedience to their king and to spread the knowledge of his kingdom reign into other oikoi.

As a parting shot, I want add a sixth POP – Probability of Pain.  Disciplemaking is an act of war.  Those who engage in it will experience the harship, hurt, and harm common to soldiers on active duty.  Before we set out, we should count the cost associated with victory.  If you can do anything else, you probably should.

The Bottom Line

Two years into my stint as a children’s minister for a medium-large church, I found myself in our prayer room crying out to God for answers and relief.

My question to him: “Why is this so heavy?”

His answer: “It’s consumerism.”

Next I asked him, “How can we combat consumerism?  It’s everywhere.”

He replied, “It’s the general fund.”

He showed me how undesignated giving gives birth to an entity which vies for its own survival to the detriment of the goals God has for the church.  The institution becomes a codependent parasite draining the vitality from the body of Christ.

“Is it even possible to do church without a general fund?” I asked.

Then he proceded to show me how Christians could meet in smaller numbers.  Because the groups would be smaller there would be no need to build or rent meeting spaces. They could be led by proven people who could develop and endorse more leaders.  These leaders could live on faith, support themselves, or do a combination.  Minus a staff and facilities, the need for a general fund would dissipate.  Without a bottom line to maintain, leaders would be released from the pressure to please and placate and be liberated to lovingly confront.  Appeals to give could be heard as “Give to them.” rather than “Give to me.”  People could be challenged toward real generosity out of compassion rather than minimal giving out of rote obligation.  In short, we could quit “doing church” and start making disciples.

This vision haunted me for four years until I finally gave in and quit.  After three months of uncertainty, God brought me to serve with another church.  So what’s the difference?  Our elders have embraced the preeminence of making disciples.  We’ve acknowledged the danger of survival thinking and we’re moving forward to make disciples rather than maintain programs.

We have a building.  I draw a salary.  We have a general fund.  But we’re launching groups and developing leaders which have none of these things.  We’re getting as lean as we can to make way for these groups to be born and multiply.  We don’t want any group we plant or resource to send money back to the mother ship. This approach will probably affect our organizational bottom line but that’s okay because our eyes are on God’s bottom line – more people becoming more like Christ.

Organic Church Planter Training

The gospel is a seed which takes root in the hearts of individuals and bears fruit through redeemed relationships.  Having borne fruit it, must then spread into the soil of other hearts and so The Growth Wheel continues to turn.  In this way, healthy disciples of Christ are produced and reproduced spreading the knowledge of God in the face of Christ throughout the world.  Coming August 24th -26th, our church will host Neil Cole and Phil Helfer as they lead the Greenhouse Intensive Training Weekend in Springdale Arkansas.  This training will provide ordinary Christ followers with basic skills to begin making disciples right where they are.  Individual online registration ends August 19th.

For more information on Organic Church or on the Springdale Greenhouse Intensive Training Weekend, check out this radio interview with Neil Cole-

NeilColeOrganicChurch