Posts Tagged ‘Discipleship’

Connect. Grow. Serve.

June 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Okay.  I confess, I did it.  I read one of those books.  It wasn’t  about church growth, because that’s not cool any more.  No, this book was on “making mature disciples.”  The book was Simple Church.  I’ve read church growth books before and I admit, I get excited about them.  I want to make mature disciples.  I’m a gardener.  I like watching my garden grow and celebrating the fruits of it.  I also like doing the same thing with my sheep.  But because I’m human and  I get frustrated sometimes as a pastor, I want so much more for my sheep than to watch them sit there, stuck in a rut, sometimes for years.

Now hear me out, this is not just me ranting, (at least I’m intending it to be more than a rant) this is more of a righteous rant.  I fear that sometimes what passes for Christian faith, at least in conservative Missouri quarters is a personal acceptance of some vague notion of some doctrinal tenants about God and then sporatic attendance at church events.  It manifests itself by attending “the pastor’s class” when joining a church but never attending a Bible class after that.  Oh, you’ll make your kid go to class to get confirmed but that’s as far as it gets.  I’m certainly not talking about anyone in my parish.  I’m generalizing.  I’m even including kids I went to confirmation class with in 1984.

I fear that in the 20th century when “everyone” was in church, we payed very little attention to why we were there.  It was part of the social construct and so folks went to church.  We took it for granted that they would be there.  Americans go to church.  Commies don’t.  But wow, there are just simply more entertaining alternatives.  It has already started and it will continue, I’m afraid.  People will stop attending churches when they don’t know why they’re there.  Thus, Simple Church.  The premise is to make mature disciples, that is, give folks an opportunity to connect with God, grow in God, and serve God.  I get it, and here’s the rub, (I know, sorry for the long set up) it just doesn’t work with how I see what Sunday morning is for the life of a believer.

Oh, in non-demoninational churches which have the Lord’s Supper four times a year whether they need it or not, this model works perfectly.  It’s slick.  It gets people connected and growing and serving others.  It works for them.  People get connected by coming to a “weekend service.”  There is no concept of the church year in these churches even to the point of playing down Christmas when it doesn’t fall on a weekend.  More on that below.  They grow by attending a small group during the week.  They serve others by serving on a ministry team.  I don’t exactly know what that means but it sounds really good.  I think it could mean anything from ushering to serving on the “worship team” to working at the soup kitchen.  All in all, great stuff, for them.  I see how it works for them.

But Lutherans are not them.  We are not plain vanilla evangelical protestant Christians.  We are a church that is deeply sacramental and liturgical and historical.  The center of a believer’s life is the Sunday Morning Divine Service and I mean with the Lord’s Supper.  Everything we do and say and are throughout the week stems from participation in the reality of the Eucharistic feast having gone out into the world.  We are the body of Christ because he put his body and blood into us.  Cut yourself off from the body and blood of Christ for too long  and you risk cutting yourself off from the body of Christ.  So for us Lutherans, where is the connect point?  And I ask that question in all seriousness.  To what weekly event do we invite our unchurched neighbor?  Because for us, the connect point CANNOT be the Divine Service.  It could be for fellow Lutherans and perhaps even fellow Christians, at least those people who have some notion of what goes on inside a pointy building on Sunday morning.  But what about the unbelievers?  Remember them?  They’re the ones we’re supposed to be concerned about to the point of even not serving our own.  Parable of the Lost Sheep.  What is the connect point for them?  I would even strongly encourage the non-denom churches, even the ones with Lutheran in their name, who use this kind of discipleship pattern to get serious about worship (Jn 4: 24) and see that it is not the place for unbelievers to connect with God.  I argue, it cannot be the Lutheran Divine Service for at least three reasons.

1.  Unbelievers  don’t belong at the Divine Service, or if they do, they certainly don’t belong there for the celebration of the sacrament of the altar.  The worship of God is the activity of his saints.  Ordinary Israelites were not allowed into the holy place or the most holy place of the tabernacle and the temple–only the priests.  Now, through Christ, the baptized are a holy nation and a royal priesthood and offer appropriate sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise because it is theirs to do.  It is not the place for unbelievers.  If it is, then why are we there?  If the regular service must be the connect point, I offer a time-tested solution.  We should reinstate a dismissal after the prayers of the church to allow for the unbelievers (and catechumens and all the rest who are not in fellowship with us) to leave, comfortably with as little awkwardness as possible.  There is a nice break in the liturgy there.  The pastor could make announcements and give a blessing, not the Aaronic benediction (cf. Lev 9-21-23) and then, “The doors, the doors!”  And then the holy things for the holy ones may commence.

2.  unbelievers don’t belong there because they don’t know what’s going on.  We are liturgical Christians not as an end to itself but because the liturgy is the highest expression of the saints.  And let’s face it, the liturgy as we have it, is for the initiated. The closest comparison I can make, having worked at the St. Louis Symphony while at seminary, is that the liturgy is a lot like classical music.  It is at its best when it is understood but explaining it while it’s happening ruins it.  The liturgy should be like breathing for God’s people.  We shouldn’t have to stop and listen to the lecture about which elements we just inhaled will be of benefit to our health and which were simply inert gasses.  Now, what some churches do, is they just dump the liturgy and go with the liturgy pops.  It’s very popular these days but I fear that for the uninitiated it’s a little like listening to Wagner and watching Buggs Bunny.

3.  I would argue they don’t belong there because they know they don’t belong there.  They have questions about how we can even be sure God exists and we’re asking them to “join with as we confess together the Nicene Creed” or some other meta-narrative that the “worship leader” is employing to move things along.  In many congregations, of course, they just don’t bother to confess the Trinity, preferring something Pastor Philintheblank wrote this week while working from his laptop sitting in the coffee shop.  Will the gates of hell hold against that onslaught?

For the non-denoms, the connect point should be the small group.  I know, I know.  That’t the closest thing they have to koinonia, but that is the proper place to invite the unbeliever, not worship (Cf. John 4:24).  What I really wish I could do is invite unbelievers to just the coffee and donuts after the service.  I’m serious.  That makes more sense and it’s friendly but impractical.  So what is the “connect” point for Lutherans?  Where should we connect with those who do not understand us and do not understand why they would be better off for all eternity believing in Jesus Christ?  I would argue, and I’m not alone in this, that it’s supposed to be your house and your workplace and your school and all those places where you, dear Christian, intersect with unbelievers.  There, they should know you by your love, by your love, they should know you are Christian by your love.

So why is that not working?  More to the point, why is the Christian home a place where even the people who live there have little or no encounter with Jesus?  What have our homes become?  Luther wanted to shut down the monasteries because each Christian home should be a place of prayer.  Are our homes too big now?  Dad has his man cave.  Mom has her spa.  The kids each have their own nooks to text and IM to their hearts delight and their GPA’s demise.  Until the Christian home is restored and we actually invite people to come over again, should the congregation provide surrogate dens and living rooms or kitchen tables where the ones with questions can come and feel free to ask, “What’s up with ya’ll drinking blood?”  Etc, etc.

If we provide a surrogate living room, how would we go about it?  How would we do it on a regular, even weekly basis?  If we got someone interested about what goes on in the pointy building on Sunday, then, they could come and we would sit with them and explain a little as the service goes along and help them find their place in the hymnal and Bible.  Then if they wanted to ask any even mildly serious questions, they could come to the informal inquiry group that meets right after the friendly dismissal.  “We’ll be out in 20 minutes.  Save some coffee and donuts for us.”  Then, if they were serious about wanting to be a formal inquirer, they could meet with the pastor and announce as such.  If they decided that they actually wanted to get serious about going to the next step, they could become a resounder, an echoer of God’s word, aka a catechumen.  If they wanted to go further and join the Christian church, they could prepare for baptism.  There’s a whole process for this called the catechumenate.  Maybe we need groovier, hipper names for all this but in this way we could meet folks where they are at and actually foster growth in understanding without dumbing down the worship of the saints because that is, quite frankly, quiet self-destruction.

What would it look like?  “Curious?  Questioning?  Echoing?  Baptized?”  I don’t know.  Should we emphasize the passive nature of the believer in all this?  “Caught.  Fed. Spoken.  Baptized.”  I’m pretty sure the ambiguity of the doer of the verbs in the title of this piece, is intentional.  (BTW, if you want to see what I’m talking about just put that in Google.)   I’ll save that for a marketing class in the future.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get some comments on this post and we can foster some discussion on this.  Because I desperately want to reach unchurched people.  I also want to make sure that the lifeboat we pull them into doesn’t have holes in it.


Sermon for Easter 3

May 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon for Easter 3

John 21:1-19

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

So what do we do now?

No, seriously.  If Christ is risen, and he is, what are we to do?  Put yourself in the sandals of one of the disciples for a minute.  Jesus called you to be a disciple and you went.  You were amazed at his teaching and his power to heal and cast out demons.  You knew he was ushering in the Messianic kingdom of the Lord.  You even hoped for a nice job in that kingdom.  But then, you watched in horror as Jesus beings to pick serious fights with the scribes and chief priests teaching, in the Temple courts, of all places.  He is arrested and executed.  You cannot believe the shock of it.  And then, miracle of miracles, three days later, Jesus is stood in front of you showing you his hands and side, unless of course you imagined you were Thomas and then you have to wait a week.  Jesus had been teaching from the Scriptures that His death was necessary to forgive the sins of those who believe.  So, it’s been a while now since you’ve seen him.  The thoughts in your head might be along the lines of, “Jesus is risen, so what’s gonna happen next?”  “When’s the kingdom going to come that I’ve been praying for?”  “What should I do now?”  “Should I teach in the Temple?”  “If so, what should I teach?”  “If I don’t teach in the temple,  should I start a school?”  What should I do?  It’s frustrating really.

It was definitely frustrating for the disciples.  Ever since that first Sunday morning Jesus would just show up and as soon as they recognized who he was, he would disappear again.  He was real.  He was risen.  He was there right in front of them but then he would disappear.  It was all different now and it was as it should be.  Jesus’ relationship with the disciples could never be the same as it was prior to his crucifixion and resurrection.  The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus brought about a new state of affairs, a new thing entirely.  The forty days that Jesus spent on earth after he was raised from the dead was to prepare the disciples for his going up into heaven.  What his disciples figured out, thanks to the ministry of the spirit given to them, that in the visible absence of Jesus, there was a deeper and more intimate sense of his presence among them.  But that sense of understanding and peace had not come yet.  They were in the midst of this frustration of what to do next.  So, Peter decides to go fishing and six of the others decided that was a good idea and went along too.

The Gospel reading for today contains the third of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples according to John.  The main purpose of this appearance seems to be the reinstatement of Peter.  Some scholars don’t quite agree that Peter is reinstated here so let’s do it this way.  On the beach there is a charcoal fire.  There is only one other place in John’s Gospel where John notes a charcoal fire and that is outside Pilate’s house where Peter stood warming himself on the night Jesus was arrested.  There at that first charcoal fire what did Peter do?  He denied he knew Jesus three times.  Here at this charcoal fire, he affirms that he loves Jesus three times.  On top of that, three times Peter is commissioned by Jesus to tend the lambs, shepherd the sheep and tend the sheep.  So, you’ve got all the evidence, what does that sound like to you?  Sure, a reinstatement, and a three-fold commission.  After all, who better to tend lambs and sheep and shepherd sheep than one who himself has been rescued and brought back into the fold, one who has been tended and pastored, forgiven and restored.  Peter, not burdened by guilt but now with greater humility, reinstated and commissioned, would go on to preach the message of the kingdom of God and lead the Church for many years through its first controversies and some of its hardest times.  Peter’s reinstatement seems to be the whole purpose of this appearance of Jesus beside the Lake of Tiberias, that is, the Sea of Galilee.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

So what?  For you, so what?  Who do you follow?  Who do you love?

Most Christians are well aware of the Greek words for love, eros, philos and agapē.  If not, then very quickly, eros is the root for erotic, and thus sensual love, philos is brotherly love, and agapē, self sacrificing love.  They have their verb counterparts too.  Jesus essentially asks Peter here twice, “Do you agapē me?”  And Peter twice responds with what we have been trained to think is a lower order of love, philos. Finally, Jesus asks Peter something along the lines of: “Peter, do you at least have a genuine affection, that is, philos, for me?”  Except that it doesn’t always work out that neatly.  Frank Crouch, in his commentary on this passage writes:

“It is true in John that God’s love or Christ’s love is often expressed as agapē, and numerous times the word carries that highest meaning (3:16; 8:42; 10:17; 11:5; 13:1; etc.). At the same time, agapē and philos can be used synonymously, as in 3:35, where the Father loves the Son (agapē) and in 5:20, where the Father also loves the Son (this time with philos). Further, when describing how judgment takes place—“and this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world and people loved darkness more than the light” (3:19)—the word used for this love of the darkness is agapē. Some people love darkness with an intensity that matches the saints’ love for God.”[1]

We can love the wrong things with the purest love.  As the old song goes, “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places…”  So where do you look for the highest love?  What do you sacrifice anything for in order to get?  You are Peter.  We are all Peter.  Jesus is asking you, “Do you deeply love me more than all these other things?”  Do you?  “Follow me.”  Jesus says.

“Follow me” is the call of the disciple.  It is Jesus’ call to you.  As a disciple of Jesus, you are with him by grace, living out this call in the Spirit, and learning from him how to live in the kingdom.  In other words, discipleship is learning to live our lives as if Jesus’ words are really true.  Discipleship is learning how to live our lives, our whole lives, our real lives, not just learning how to do religious or spiritual things in our spare time.  Brother Lawrence, who was a kitchen worker, remarks,

“Our sanctification does not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own. . . It is a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times. We are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer.”[2]

Dallas Williard in an article writes:

“So life in the kingdom is not just a matter of not doing what is wrong. The apprentices of Jesus are primarily occupied with the positive good that can be done during their days “under the sun” and the positive strengths and virtues that they develop in themselves as they grow toward “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundations of the world” (Matt. 25:34). What they, and God, get out of their lifetime is chiefly the person they become. And that is why their real life is so important.”

The cultivation of oneself, one’s family, one’s workplace and community—especially the community of believers—thus becomes the center of focus for the apprentice’s joint life with his or her teacher. It is with this entire context in view that we most richly and accurately speak of “learning from him how to lead my life as he would lead my life if he were I.”[3]

Jesus says to you, what he said to Peter.  “Follow me.”  God uses even our sins, our failures and our flaws to bring about our good and his glory.  Past sins, once forgiven, free us for future service, just like Peter.  How many times in this very place have you received forgiveness from Jesus himself?  This is the nature of discipleship.  Discipleship is motivated solely by our rejoicing in the gifts we have been given by our Lord.  It is this message that we proclaim in evangelism.  It is out of this deep humility we shepherd and are shepherded.  Discipleship focuses on nothing more than God’s deep and abiding love, his agape, for us in Christ who went to the cross for us and for our sins.

There is one other note in this reading that I think is deeply comforting and encouraging. Our relationship with Jesus now is not one bit different than that of the apostles in this post resurrection appearance.  They could not turn back the clock to the days before the cross.  Intimate fellowship with Christ was only possible after His ascension.  How?  They came to know Jesus more deeply in the Scriptures, specifically as He was predicted and prefigured in the Old Testament.  As Jesus said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.  The disciples came to know Jesus more deeply in service to others and in suffering.  It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “… that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10, cf. also Colossians 1:24).  They came to know Jesus more deeply in holy communion.  It is no accident that Luke describes the early church thus: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42).  The Scriptures, in service and suffering and Lord’s Supper were where the apostles learned to follow the Lord.  It is the same for us today.

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

What do we do, now?  Follow him.  Where?  In the Scriptures, in service to others and even suffering, and at the Lord’s Supper.  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[2] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 284.

[3] Williard, “How to be a Disciple” The Christian Century, April 22-29, 1998, pp. 430-439.

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