I didn’t grow up in the church. I didn’t grow up with a faith other than the assumption that God didn't exist, was created by people who either wanted to control how others lived, or wanted to have some type of hope that was greater than themselves. God used different life altering circumstances (being challenged with the facts about the resurrection of Jesus and a few real people who not only told me about the Gospel, but lived it out in front of me) to draw me to himself and make an antagonistic atheist become an antagonistic evangelist for the Kingdom of God.
I say all of that because I don’t have the pedigree that other Christians have. I didn’t grow up attending a church, Sunday school or even praying before holiday meals. And even though my wife, and now my kids, have/do grow up in a Christian home, I am very thankful for how I was raised. Even though it was without the understanding that most of my pastor peers had: Knowing Jesus from a young age. This "alternate" childhood for me, made it so I was and am very inquisitive. I am not satisfied with accepting answers like: "That’s just the way it is..." or my father's favorite: "Because I said so!"
And ever since I became a Christian, that inquisitive nature of mine has often created conflict with people who are more comfortable with the status quo of Christianity, or just assume I am being argumentative. But, as I have spent time getting to know my Lord Jesus better (through reading, studying, wrestling with and applying his very words found in scripture), I have been convinced that the goal of this Christian life is to not only know Jesus, but prove that we do by growing to be more like him over a lifetime of denying ourselves, picking up our personal crosses and following him daily.
The problem with what I just said is that our assumption of what that actually looks like pragmatically can differ greatly from church to church. I have been in and around churches for over 16 years now and have witnessed, first hand, a bit of a sanitized version of what following Jesus looks like through either shallow interpretations of what God says through the scriptures, or through a lens of comfort that makes Jesus out to be so gracious that if you want him or not, you get an eternity with him: which can’t be farther from the reality of what God actually says in the Bible.
Here is what I am getting at, for some reason we have quantified being a Christian to intellectual acceptance, periodic church service attendance, and moral reform. A lot of this is "our" fault: church leaders, pastors, teachers who have attempted to quantify Christianity by believing (signified by raising a hand or filling out a communication card and being baptized). Now, none of what I just described is bad. I personally believe we should have a moment where we repent (not just intellectually accept Jesus) and turn from our sin. That can be done in a church service, next to your bed, or in the drive through for Taco Bell. But if we make those momentary decisions the end all and target, that’s what we mainly celebrate. In my opinion, we've completely missed what God says his followers will do, be like and progress in when we celebrate the decision over disciple making.
I started preaching months after I became a Christian. I was told that I had a "gift" probably because I don’t say "umm" very often when I am teaching and because I can be funny, direct and clear all at once. More than anything, I knew how to invite people to follow Jesus. But unfortunately, I didn’t realize for years, that all I was really doing was attempting to get people in an emotional moment to make an emotional decision, rather than count the costs of being a disciple of Jesus.
So for years I witnessed thousands of individuals make decisions to accept Jesus, the problem with that is that we don't accept Jesus, he accepts us, right where we are, in spite of us. And because I made the invitation one that didn’t require much of anyone to accept it, many people who made a decision, and were even baptized under water, really had no root to be connected to when it came to following Jesus. I mistakenly believed that discipleship was the church's job, and as an evangelist, I was just supposed to get people "through the front door" if you will. But after multiple people I cared very deeply for made decisions for Jesus (but really weren't interested in being disciples of Christ), walked away from following Jesus, I started to realize that discipleship isn't the church's responsibility, at least in the way I was dumping it on "them", but it is a disciples responsibility to make disciples, because disciples disciple.
(Disciplined pupils of Jesus in relationship)
Every Christian church for the most part sees discipleship as their mission, but for most of us, we confuse disciple making with telling people Jesus' name. We think if we can just get them to accept or make a decision for Jesus, we have done our due diligence. I have to be honest, that's not only lazy, it has created a detriment in churches today because we conclude that the more people that show up, give a tithe, and maybe even serve in some ministry or activity have been discipled and we pat ourselves on the back for what we think is living out the great commission. But I know for a fact you can spend your entire life in a church building, hearing the Bible explained (hopefully), and miss Christianity by a mile because life has become more about the activity of Christianity than love for Jesus by doing what he says.
Maybe, just maybe the point of being a Christ following, Bible believing, God fearing Christian isn't about just knowing about Jesus ( believing that he existed, died, rose again as the devil can also confess that ), but to commit your life to following Jesus, obey his commands, be a part of his great commission, and grow more into his likeness (often evidenced by growth in the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23) as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit's leading in our lives, reading and applying the very words of God found in the Bible. So if that's the point, we have to be honest with ourselves; which most of us wont want to really be. We have to ask the question: "Are we growing spiritually?" Or are we stagnant in our faith because we stopped caring about being a Christian rather than just doing what Christians do.
This blog was meant to be an end of the year blog for Compelled, the evangelism/discipleship equipping ministry that I lead, to let our very generous and gracious donors know that their investment in us has been very appreciated and fruitful for the Kingdom. The problem I am having is that I don’t want to just explain how many people I spoke in front of, or all the schools, churches and businesses I had the honor of speaking at this year, or even all of the commitments that were made to Jesus over the past 12 months, or all of the people that went through our Compelled to share and Compelled to Replicate training seminars. Because even though all of those things are good, and some of the numbers are "impressive", I want us as a ministry to focus on what I don’t think we talk about enough any more in the church: LIFE CHANGE!
Life change is what takes place when people apply the word of God to their lives. Life change (also called spiritual growth or sanctification) happens when we not only hear the word of God, but through accountability and community, we put into practice what God convicts us of through his scriptures. Life change has taken place in those I have had the honor of meeting weekly with (for at least an hour and a half) as we open the Bible, read it, and discuss how we can put it into practice, how we can think more biblically, and how we can make disciples of those in our sphere of influence. We always discuss takeaways, who we can teach our takeaways to, what God is asking us to do differently, and who will hold us accountable to put into practice what we are learning.
Many of the married men I get to invest in, often teach what they learn in our time to their wives, which allows them to be a big part of the discipleship process as well. I have seen marriages be strengthened, I have seen men I disciple disciple someone else, who invests in someone else, etc. I have witnessed families be changed by God’s work through discipleship, in a way I would/could never imagine. It's not as shiny as speaking in front of thousands, its not as quantitative as baptisms, it isn't as easy as just telling someone about Jesus, but I cannot stress enough the difference it is making in the community around us.
2017 has been a year full of life change; in my life and those who I get to worship with, serve with, disciple, and learn from. I cannot express how important that life change is, not just those I have had the great privilege to invest time into, but those that have reciprocated their time and knowledge into other people as well.
2018 is a year that I personally hope to see more and more investment in leaders occurring: in the church that I pastor and in other leaders around the Bay Area who need/want to be invested in. I have less time to do individual discipleship with any more than the 9 I currently meet with, but hope to do more cohorts with investment as the goal. I have already started plans to invest in communicators of God's word, those who have done it before, or want to learn how and take serious the responsibility of teaching God's word. While also hoping to invest in a few good men together who want to grow as spiritual leaders and shepherds inside God's church and in their homes.
Starting at the end of January, I hope to offer a mid week experiment (that will be offered in the evening) to allow people to come with questions they or people around them are asking about the faith and give corporate opportunities for all ages to practice applying God's word together. Compelled trainings are still being offered, as we concluded one in Millbrae California in the fall. If a church that you know of would benefit from the Compelled trainings, please have them get in contact with me.
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For all of those who have in the past or continue to support Compelled and the work God is doing through this ministry, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and thank you from my family and board members.
May the year 2018 be a year that Jesus is made much of through you and yours!