Being good at lesser things doesn’t matter if you ignore your core purpose. I thought about this when I decided to go to the 7-Eleven in my neighborhood the other night. I go there all the time. It’s open 24-7 and yet there are still locks on the door, which I don’t understand but that’s not the point right now.
One of the operational practices of this 7-Eleven is mopping the floors while people are walking around in the store. No judgment here. They can’t wait until 2 am to do it so I don’t mind tiptoeing through the store like a cat burglar. Really I don’t.
Recently I was getting my refreshing beverage, which is the reason I go on such a frequent basis. One of the clerks was mopping over by the fountain and I was doing my tiptoeing thing as if I was trying to avoid stepping on a land mine but I could tell that my presence was extremely annoying to her. I’m not sure but I may have heard a sigh somewhere in there.
I have spoken to her before and she is a fine person. At that moment she was dealing with the whirlwind, the urgent, and the day-to-day duties that her manager demands of her. I was just a customer.
However, I am also the reason 7-Eleven is in business. I am the core of what they do. And I think she allowed having a clean floor dominate and push to the side the core of their business. This is why it is often said that the whirlwind is undefeated in most organizations. It almost always wins over the important.
The core thing for the church is making disciples, per the Great Commission. Sadly the whirlwind distracts us from keeping that at the core of all we do. It is so easy to sacrifice the important on the altar of the urgent. It is easy to let the present steal from us the future.
We often say that “well, our young people are the future.” I heard someone refute to that statement this week by saying, “No, disciples are the future of the church.” This means that making disciples is the most important thing we could ever do. We can say No to virtually any other activity if we are saying Yes to making disciples. Don’t misunderstand me: I think reaching the next generation is wildly important . But making disciples is the way to do it.
So let me give what I believe is the core purpose of this church: making gospel-centered disciples who are being transformed so as to join God in His mission. There are three stages in this process: beginning, developing, and multiplying. And it begins with the Gospel.
Making gospel-centered disciples
When you read through Luke, you see some strong statements on discipleship beginning in chapter 9. Prior to that, he is answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” Simon Peter comes to realize—and not of his own brilliance—that Jesus is not like anyone else, the prophets and teachers, but that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Once Jesus’ identity is revealed, He begins to say, “Follow me.” That is the basis for discipleship. Jesus is revealed to us and we are invited to follow Him. We didn’t earn our discipleship.
What do I mean by “gospel-centered”? What is the gospel? Let me tell you first what it isn’t. It isn’t the first four books of the New Testament. It isn’t just the plan of salvation. The Gospel is not just the ABCs but rather the whole alphabet. It isn’t just the diving board that gets you into the pool but rather the whole pool.
The gospel is the Good News, the declaration of all that God has done in Christ throughout time and eternity to reconcile us back to Himself. It declares that God created everything and it was perfect but that humanity brought brokenness to all things through sinful disobedience. It goes on to tell us that after our sin, God began a long, arduous process of redemption culminating in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, which ushered in a new era. At some point in the future through Christ’s return to earth, God will restore all things eternally to their original state of perfection. This is what Scripture teaches is true.
The essence of every religion in the world is “do something” while the essence of Christianity is “something has already been done.” The gospel is good news, but not good advice. Someone gives you advice and counsel because nothing has been done yet and you need to do something. This is not the gospel at all.
Most nights I watch the news, which is a report about something that has already happened, about which you can’t do anything but simply make a response to it.
The gospel is not just something to be believed but lived. On one occasion, though they were kingdom allies, Paul called Peter on the carpet in front of everyone because he was treating a group of fellow believers differently simply because they were of a different race. According to Galatians 2:11-14, Paul rebuked Peter because his actions were inconsistent with the gospel. What he did was not centered in the gospel. What he did was contrary to the gospel.
There are many ways to make gospel-centered disciples, such as (1) one on one (or one on two) relationships (2) small groups (3) special classes, such as new believer classes (4) worship services (5) serving in a ministry. Not all of them are equally effective. It seems that the whirlwind tempts us to settle for the least effective methods. It says to us, “Making a disciple one on one takes a lot of time. Just tell them to show up once in a while for church, find something to do in the church, and learn some stuff about the Bible.”
The whirlwind whispers to us, “Just make some church members. We need some help around here.” You can make a good church member and not get a disciple. They might know how to do the things we do in church—serve on committees, perform expected basic tasks, follow our protocol for meetings—but they wouldn’t know how to do disciple things. However, if you will make a disciple, you will always get a good church member in the process.
Transformation comes by an on-going reflection on the gospel and its implications for life. We never get past it. Its significance constantly shapes our understanding of life and how we live it out in this world. Let me repeat. We never get past the gospel. We don’t grow through discovering some deep, arcane, esoteric meanings of certain Bible texts. We are not transformed because we find some hidden “code” in Scripture. We are transformed (sanctified) through the gospel.
This doesn’t make sense if you restrict the gospel to simply being “the plan of salvation.” 1 Peter 1:12 teaches us that angels long to look into the gospel. You have to figure that angels are relatively intelligent people and that this ongoing inquisitive investigation of the gospel is not due to any lack of smarts on their part. So why do they keep looking into the gospel? It is because it is captivating. They never tire of looking into it because it is so wonderfully amazing. It is a beautiful gospel.
Here is the big difference between angels and us. They don’t need to be transformed and redeemed because they are not tainted with sin. We do. And it is the constant, ongoing contemplation of the Gospel, which is to say, what Jesus did for us, which transforms and revolutionizes our lives.
The whirlwind says, “Really? Contemplate the gospel? Come down down out of your sanctified ivory tower because there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be done.” You know, God can do anything He wants to do. He could preach a sermon out of a pile of rocks if that was what He chose to do. I believe that He is wildly concerned about what happens in us more than what happens through us.
The purpose of all things is the reflection of the glory of God and His Son Jesus. When He is transforming our lives into His likeness, which brings glory to the Father and to the Son. This is called sanctification and it is the source for, not the result of, participation in God’s mission.
Join God in His mission
Once I have become a disciple and begin to live that life and experience transformation, I then in turn begin too make disciples myself. It isn’t original to me but I have been saying it for years: “We are not using people to build the church but we are using the church to build people, to make disciples.”
The greatest limitation we place on this mission of disciple making is that we confine it to the walls of this building. I have a friend who said that he went to Uruguay to take Jesus to the people there and when he got there, he found out that Jesus was already there. No matter where you might go in the name of the Great Commission and the Gospel, you will discover that Jesus has already beat you there.
And being a disciple means we follow Him. He is in front, guiding us, not the other way around. And that is seemingly a very difficult thing for us to grasp. He does not exist for us; it’s the other way around. And when our eyes are opened up to see this, it is the beginning of this wildly important thing called discipleship.
Tim Keller paints a good picture when he talks how he heard someone named Barbara Boyd once give two illustrations of what it means to be a disciple.
Imagine that I come to your house and knock on your door. You come to the door to let me in but then you say something really strange: “Come on in, Barbara, but, Boyd, you stay outside.” Well, that’s not going to work. It’s not like I could cut myself in half. If you don’t take Boyd, then you don’t get Barbara. If you’re going to keep part of me out, then I can’t come in at all. The speaker continued: “To say, ‘Jesus, come into my life, forgive my sins, answer my prayers, do this for me, do that for me—but don’t be absolute master of my life; Jesus, Savior, come in; but Jesus, Lord, stay out,’ how can He come in at all?” Because He’s all Savior, and He’s all Lord. He’s Lord because He’s Savior, and He’s Savior because He’s Lord.
And then she had a second illustration: “If the distance between the Earth and the sun, which is 92 million miles, was the thickness of a piece of paper, the diameter of our galaxy would be a stack of papers 310 miles high. And our galaxy is less than a speck of dust in the part of the universe that we can see. And that part of the universe might just be a speck of dust compared to all the universe. And if Jesus is the Son of God who holds all this together with the power of his word, is this the kind of person you ask into your life to be your personal assistant?” (Sermon, Tim Keller, The Call To Discipleship)
Discipleship begins when we realize who Jesus is. Before there are any techniques or actions or things to be done in making disciples, there is the clear call of Jesus to surrender everything and follow Him.