Recalculating—Recalculating—Recalculating. You’ve probably heard those words. I’m guilty. If I’m not sure of the address, I plug it in my smart phone and drive. Sometimes I’ll hear—make a U-turn—this usually happens when I’m not paying attention.
I’ve been driving for thirty years. Growing up in New York there were hundreds of highways and expressways: north, south, east, and west—even diagonally! As I began to venture out, I would grab a paper map and write the directions down on a piece of paper. The first time in the City was a little nerve-racking—cabs don’t slow down—or use blinkers! But always, with directions in hand, I set out, carefully observing signs, buildings, road conditions, and routes. I quickly learned my way around an unknown place. The next time I went, I knew where I was headed, and stopped at some great delis (NY is known for their delicatessens—and super good ethnic foods).
But technology has made things easier! I’ve been living in Richmond for almost five years—confession—I still rely on my smartphone. As I was driving it hit me—this is a great analogy regarding discipleship—and I believe it’s time for recalculating—for the church to make a U-turn.
Everything traditional is not bad and everything new is not good. The modern church has become so enamored with growth and numbers that we’ve neglected discipleship. But, we have a mandate and command from Christ, to go and make disciples and be disciples (Mt. 28:18–20). Unfortunately, what we label as discipleship is someone lecturing about what the Bible says.
I notice that when I use my smartphone’s directions, it’s easy—I just follow the voice—but I rarely pay attention to the actual side streets, buildings, billboards, and such. Basically, I’m not learning or navigating the area—I’m just driving it.
I think the modern church views discipleship this way. We’re not learning how to navigate life with others in Christ. We’re listening to the pastor or Sunday school teacher speak, or even small group leader in discussion, but we’re rarely engaging what the message means, applying it, and watching where it takes us. We’re not observing the “streets” of life—we’ve boxed up discipleship and are selling it as a program or format.
Discipleship is becoming more like Christ. It’s living with others and cannot be done in isolation. Discipleship is about learning and navigating gospel-centered life with others. It’s not about getting to a destination (namely, heaven). The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The church needs to make a U-turn, back to the 1st century principles of devotion, fellowship, and discipleship. It’s time for us to recalculate where we’re headed—to be intentional about our direction—not blindly moving along in our faith, but growing in maturity and dedication.
This article is posted in September 2016’s issue of Church Planter Magazine.
Let’s get right to it. This is becoming a hot topic.
I’ve heard the arguments, “We shouldn’t call it church planting—it should be called sowing the gospel,” or “Let’s call it missional disciple-making,” or how about this one, “Nowhere in the Bible does it command disciples to plant churches”—and the list goes on and on.
So, to find our answers, let’s go to the source, the Word.
Why do we plant churches? The answer: to obediently follow the Great Commission, right? Why do we make disciples? The answer: to obediently follow the Great Commission, right? So which is it? Is it one, and not the other? Are both synonymous? Are they interchangeable? What does the Bible say…?
What is the Great Commission?
What is the Great Commission? At the close of Matthew’s Gospel, he records a missionary meeting with Jesus and the disciples (Mt. 28:16–20). The resurrected Christ was given ultimate authority as the cosmic king and would provide his presence on a continual mission to baptize and make disciples of people from all nations. The Commission from Christ ordered the newly assembled Israel to go forth into the world with a mandate, a mission, and a promise.
Matthew’s “Great Commission” displays an all-encompassing divine rule of Christ; Jesus has “all authority” (28:18), sending his disciples to “all nations” (28:19), to obey “all that” he commanded (28:20), being with them “all” of their days (28:20). The Great Commission exalts Jesus as the missional Lord over all the earth and all people, sending obedient servants to teach everyone how to rightly serve and obey him. Lastly, Jesus reassured his disciples that his perpetual presence would be with them throughout their missional days. The Immanuel, God with us—has been fulfilled.
Are We Making Disciples or Church Planting?
Most notably within the Great Commission is the command to make disciples and to “baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). Baptism becomes a major part of the command—along with teaching people to obey Christ’s commands (28:20).
Interestingly, within the New Testament (NT), we read that Paul did not baptize the Corinthian church (Acts 18:8b; 1 Cor.1:13–17)—so, then who did? If Paul was sent to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:14–17) then we believe baptism was an ordinance that belonged to the local church. Christian baptism was the first obedient action of a new convert and “an expression of solidarity with Jesus.” Through baptism, new disciples identified with Christ and were initiated into his community of followers. John Lightfoot expressed to make disciples signified to, “bring them in by baptism, that they may be taught.”
So, the church baptizes new converts with the expectation of them becoming obedient Great Commission disciples. While there are a few examples of individuals receiving baptism within the NT (Eunuch & Centurion; Acts 8:27–36, 10:47–48), a question was posed whether someone could prevent the person from being baptized. The new convert was baptized and became a member of the body of Christ, with an expectation, of himself, being discipled and a disciple-maker. It’s reciprocal.
Can We Have One Without the Other?
We can have discipleship without church planting (sort of), but we cannot have church planting without discipleship—if that makes sense. In certain circumstances, church planting and disciple-making are interchangeable, but they’re also unique. In essence, a church planter must make disciples who will gather together and become a church (ekklesia).
But, if a planter merely gathers people, but lacks the observance of the ordinances (baptism & Communion) and does not teach obedience to Christ’s commands then it’s never a church—it may be partial discipleship—or mentorship, but not a church. Yet we know that discipleship occurs more effectively within a community of believers that engage and apply Christ-like actions to the daily rhythms of life. As the word ekklesia implies, the church are “called out ones” that gather together.
As well, the uniqueness of the terminology shows that an existing church can (and should) be engaged in discipleship—but they may not be engaged in church planting. One may argue (and rightly so) that if you’re not church planting then your not making disciples, or applying the Great Commission. Technically speaking (I despise that term), if you’re not church planting then you’re not following the Great Commission. Why?
Church Planting Fulfills the Great Commission
Ott and Wilson declare, “Church planting is essential to God’s salvation purposes and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.” In my opinion, church planting is discipleship, so I agree with Ott and Wilson. I don’t think a planter can effectively sow the gospel into a community of people without making disciples (see what I did there?). In this aspect, church planting is directly related to and engaged in discipleship.
By obediently following Christ’s directives, we may say that church-planting reaches unreached peoples, gathers them together to form an ekklesia, baptizes them, and makes disciples of them by teaching them the commands of Christ; thereby, fulfilling the Great Commission. Essentially and foundationally, church planting is disciple-making and disciple-making (done right) is church planting. Therefore, church planting obediently fulfills the Great Commission to make disciples—the two cannot be divorced from one another.
 Michael W. Goheen, Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History, and Issues (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 61.
 David L. Turner, Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 687.
 Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission: Paul and the Early Church, vol. 2 (Leicester, England: IVP Academic, 2004), 1370.
 John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2005), 1268.
 John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 379.
 Craig Ott and Gene Wilson, Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 20.
Why does this keep happening to me?
Have you ever uttered those words? If you’ve been a believer for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Both of these statements are connected—but only one has been taken out of context. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he writes:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
In High School it was rare that I failed a test—but if I did, it’s because I failed to pay attention and study. Paul is saying that God can deliver us from temptations—but, the temptations that are occurring are not extraordinary—they occur to everyone. So, why would God provide a way out? Well—that’s one reason why we have the question, “Why does this keep happening to me?”
When we fail to endure a situation, we’ll most certainly see it again. Think about it—we learn more from our failures than our successes. Why do teachers give tests? To make sure students know the subject.
Escaping the Test
When we groan, “Why does this keep happening to me?” We’re failing to face the trial. We’re failing to pay attention to the spiritual principles that God has placed before us. We seek to escape. But God created us and knows our inner workings (Job 10:11; Ps. 139:13; Heb. 4:12). When God takes us out of those situations, as a merciful teacher who hates to see failing students, He will allow us to re-take the test at a later time. We have not learned the spiritual subject. Recently, I met a man during a church outreach. This man didn’t believe in God—or so he said. I told him about a miracle working God. I asked him, “If you could have one miracle in your life, what would that miracle be?” The man replied, “I just want to be comfortable.”
One major reason why we will continue to see the same test over and over again is comfort. We’re afraid to leave our “comfort zone,” or we view the test as too difficult. But we must remember that God created us. Let me provide an analogy.
Imagine that I create an off road racecar. My desire is for the car to climb steep hills, run on jagged rocks at high speeds, and jump to great heights. I want to see it go through thick muck and mire. It will be my prized possession.
Finally the day comes. My all terrain mud-bog racecar is ready to go! I’m also in luck. It rained the night before and the ground is muddy. I take my beastly car into a nearby field—it has tons of dirt mounds, jagged rocks, sandy pits, and the ultimate deep muddy trails. The moment of truth arrives. I fire it up—then slowly and carefully, I steer it around the puddles and jumps. I make sure that I don’t touch any rocks. I then drive it back without a splash or speck of mud on it. Wait—that doesn’t sound right? Why? Because I created my racecar to get dirty, muddy, and climb to its potential!
J.A. Shedd once asserted, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Likewise, God created us, not with a spirit of fear but “of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). The testing in our lives will help us climb fears and learn to navigate through the muck and mire of life. We’re not made for comfort, but to overcome fear—trusting in God. Reoccurring things may happen when we fail to trust God. Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything. We must learn to yield our lives to the Creator. There’s no situation we face that surprises God. So, do not pray, “God take me from this situation,” but rather, “God give me strength to endure and learn, in your most perfect will.”
What is that noise?
The repetitious blast had me baffled and weary. After slapping at everything on my bedside table aimlessly. Fan. iPhone. Book. Repeat. I finally figured it out—it was my alarm. Ever do that?
It was dark out. Early a.m. and I was exhausted. I needed to go back to sleep. Then a Scripture verse rang through my head:
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep? (Pro. 6:9)
I was getting up at my usual Monday morning time, around 2:30 am. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m a very early riser. I always loved the verse:
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
If Jesus woke up early before the sun had risen and prayed with the Father then I saw fit to do the same. I still carve out time every morning for my prayer and Bible time with God. However, I’m also a fitness junkie—so, going to the gym, or off on a run, at 3:00 am is not unusual for me—but this morning was different—I was struggling to exercise, struggling to read, and even struggling in prayer!
Relief in Sight
Thankfully, that day I was gathering with a man I highly respected—we’ll call him, “Dave.” I couldn’t wait to see Dave! He’s a very well known ex-pastor, someone I had listened to for years via podcast. I had waited for this day for over a month.
But, I’ll be honest. I was feeling so drained that I didn’t feel like going.
Once I arrived, circumstances occurred where I was able to spend some brief time alone with Dave. I could have asked him anything—but for some reason, God knew what I needed to hear the most from him. So, I asked him about personal accountability. I’ll get to his advice in a moment.
Some Crazy Facts
According to a NY Times editorial, pastoral leadership is increasingly suffering from a lack of spiritual, emotional, and physical health. The report stated, “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.” George Barna reports:
- 33% of pastors felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
- 40% of pastors are struggling with burnout and frantic schedules
- 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s health.
- 75% report severe stress, panic, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
- 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
- 90% work more than 50 hours a week and have given up a scheduled vacation for a ministry emergency.
- 1,500 pastors leave vocational ministry each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
Wisdom from Dave…
And so, here I was—feeling burned out. I knew the numbers. I’ve studied them. I’ve taught them. But, now I was the student.
“How do you hold yourself accountable?” I asked Dave. It was an ambiguous query. But as if God were responding to my groggy morning ritual—Dave fully understood what I needed.
He suggested that I break up my day into three modules: morning, afternoon, and evening. There should be 21 modules per week. Each week there must be 7–10 modules of down time (no ministry—fully unplugged, no phone, no laptop, no email).
Of these 7–10 modules, 3 of them should be consecutive—establishing a Sabbath principle. As Joe spoke, I felt the conviction of God—I was only getting 2–4 modules per week—that’s not good.
Effective leadership cannot justify itself with sacrificial burnout. Moses did this. His father-in-law chided him for expecting to do everything (Exodus 18:13–23).
Leaders must have the proper rest—and the proper delegation. Assuredly, diet and exercise can be factors of burnout—but that wasn’t my dilemma. My problem was/is in saying “no.”
Pastors are allowed to say no.
Pastoral ministry is truly a blessing (something in which I do not feel worthy). But as leaders, we must be intentional about taking time off.
Dave admitted that there would be weeks when only 4 modules of rest are possible. When that happens, I should compensate the following week. The main point: I must be more intentional with my rest and family time.
Question for you…
- How many modules are you getting per week?
Looking for more? Bethlehem Baptist Church created a great resource and made it available through Desiring God Ministries, click here. http://cdn.desiringgod.org/pdf/pastors_accountability_form.pdf
 Paul Vitello, Taking a Break from the Lord’s Work, New York Times, August 1, 2010, accessed October 20, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/nyregion/02burnout.html?_r=0.
When I was six years old I went with my mother to the grocery store. As she was gathering items, crossing them off her list, and correlating which coupon went with which item, somehow, I wandered off and got lost. I can still recall the feeling of being alone; yet, I also knew that I was the reason for why I was lost.
One of my favorite hymns is Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I enjoy hymns that have depth, doctrine, biblical trueness, and theological underpinnings. Many of our current hymns have been written in the 50’s and 60’s, but a pastor, Robert Robinson in 1757, wrote this hymn.
In one of the last stanzas, Robinson penned the melodious words that express human nature, my six-year-old trek away from safety, and most of my Christian journey. He wrote:
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
If ever there were words that showed why I love Christ so much, it seems that these take central stage. Throughout my life, I wandered and God sought me. I know I’m not the only one, as I’ve heard this confession many times, as a pastor.
Why is it that as believers, we tend to wander away? We seek after the same dark and dismal paths that we praised the good Shepherd from delivering us? Is it boredom? Is it a sense of discontentment? Is it that we really don’t love our Lord?
No. I don’t think those are the reasons. At least that’s what I want to believe. I believe Paul makes it clear, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17).
Obviously, for Robinson, a pastor, these words struck a cord with him, too. We must realize that the writer was not an unregenerate or newly converted Christian, but a pastor. I also think this is the reason that he introduced wandering words with verses of grace:
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the throne of God
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
How biblical, and how true! Jesus sought us out—not the other way around. He rescued us from the darkness, by the cross—but me, a debtor to his grace—a debt in which I can never repay—pleads for more grace because I am simply a wanderer. Do you ever feel this way?
Here is a simple truth to our humanity. No matter how “devout” or how “godly” we think we are, God knows the truth and the secrets of our hearts. The great reformer John Calvin once equated our hearts to “idol factories.” We’re all “prone” to wander—we feel it—we know it’s coming—and yet—we can’t seem to prevent wandering from the “God I love.”
But know this, saint, in God’s amazing grace, you will ever be preserved. Our hope is in Christ, not in our works. God’s love never changes (Heb. 13:6) and it never fails (1 Cor. 13:4–8). If you find yourself wandering, you’re in good company, but rejoice in the fact that Christ is the good Shepherd, always going after the one who left the ninety-nine.
Rest in His grace, seek Him, repent of wandering, and gather back into the fold.