Not long ago on our advanced leadership listserv (www.easumbandy.com), a member posted a stirring message in which he asked:
My sense is that it’s around these bottom-line issues that most of us still feel overwhelmed and still struggle. It feels to me like we should be taking our discussions on this forum to a new, apostolic level of application. Let’s get efficient. Let’s identify some effective, practical strategies that get straight to the heart of these questions:
(1) What is a sold-out disciple of Jesus Christ?
(2) How do I become one?
(3) How do I help others become one?
Not being one to duck issues, I decided that I would respond to my friend in an apostolic form. To my surprise, several weeks later the posts were still appearing on the listserv. Some have spread out into other topics, all of which go to the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. So I decided to share with you some of the conversation, along with my responses. I have changed the names of those writing, even though I have their permission.
Greetings, Leo, in the name of our wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ, who has called us all to a life of sold-out-ness. The angels rejoice at the stirrings in your life. May your ministry continue to prosper.
As to your question: “Sold-out disciples” are folks who have looked into the abyss of their own manmade hell and returned to life in the Spirit. Their lives are lived in radical obedience to a God-given mission. This mission is what drives them. Everything they do revolves around this mission. They feel in their heart they would die for this mission.
Of course, Leo, people never really know if they would give their life for the mission until the time comes. I’m reminded of my good friend Ignatius’s plea to the church at Rome for them not to try to interfere in his impending death by lions in the Colosseum. So passionate was he about giving his life as a witness to Christ that he asked them to pray that the lions would consume every ounce of his body. It seems that he didn’t want to be a bother even after death.
Now, Leo, consider this. The way sold-out disciples are developed is not through mere content, such as Bible study, Sunday school, or programs like Experiencing God or Alpha. It is far more than that. People become sold out, not by what they know, but by what they do with their life. I know of one young pastor who built his entire ministry around cleaning toilets for Jesus. What a way to spend one’s life, head down into a bowl of dung!
But I must put this in even more practical terms. To be sold out as a pastor means that you no longer tolerate people who whimper when worship goes past noon, or when the time needs to be adjusted to start the service earlier, or the form of worship is changed in order to reach a new and emerging world, or when a group is moved out of its classroom, or the pastor doesn’t come to see them in the hospital, or . . . well, you get the message, Leo.
Sold-out disciples don’t have to be coddled and spoon fed. The only reason they get this way is a long line of pastors who were willing to sell their souls for a mess of pottage. Wimps for Christ, I call them. There aren’t enough sold-out disciples because too many of us who are supposed to be leading the flock aren’t yet sold out. I can’t put it any other way. We pastors are gutless wonders who wander around with our heads up our . . . , wondering why we don’t ever achieve much. Complaining about the condition of our parsonages, or our salary package, or how the church is treating us.
It’s almost a shame there aren’t any lions around anymore. Maybe if there were, that would shape us up a bit. But perhaps the lions are still around and we just don’t see them. I’m dealing with one right now—only it’s a bear and not a lion. As close as I am to needing to begin to draw retirement, I am watching what little I have dry up each day as the bear market continues to decline. I and many others are now looking into our own abyss of hell and all we see is a lifetime of savings disappearing. And what do I do? I feel sorry for myself and quietly say it’s not fair. Tell that to Ignatius, Bill. Tell him it’s not fair as the lion devours his skull. I wonder if he’d have much sympathy. He probably would, and that is what it means to be sold out. Always thinking about others.
My good friend Jeffrey has reminded me several times lately that God will take care of the future and for me to quit worrying. Jeff has a sold-out attitude. I could go on, I guess, but I need to stop and pray that God will forgive me and strengthen me for whatever the future holds. That way I can, with Ignatius, say to the bear market, “Come devour all of me if you dare, for I have seen the pit
of hell and returned through Jesus Christ.”
You see, Leo, becoming a sold-out disciple isn’t easy. None of us really ever attain it without facing the lions or the bears. And it is how to face them that matters. Such a life can’t be taught. The only way we can help others become sold out is by being sold out ourselves and model that in how we live and what we allow to occupy our time. If we are wimps, they will be wimps. If we are sold out, they will become sold out. It’s almost that simple, Leo.
So until I get my life into a sold-out position again, the rest of this epistle will have to wait. God willing, I will write some more to you tomorrow, for God works quickly on those facing the bears. For now, here is a little inventory for you to take as you size up your sold-out-ness.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being “I can say this and mean it” and 1 being “I can’t say this and mean it”), score your disciple-making ability.
__ “I am more concerned about making disciples than about the pull of the congregation to take care of the members.”
__ “My heart aches over the plight of the non-Christian.”
__ “I literally cry when I see someone oppressed.”
__ “I can’t wait to begin another day of making disciples.”
__ “We are involved in a spiritual war.”
__ “Making disciples is something I cannot live without doing.”
__ “My first obedience is to Jesus Christ.”
__ “I’m so driven to make disciples for Jesus Christ there is little I wouldn’t risk to do so.”
__ “I am fully aware of what God gifted me to do with my life.”
__ “God, put me in the midst of what you are doing in this world.”
__ “I know my strengths and my weaknesses.”
__ “I can see in others what they have not yet seen in themselves.”
__ “I focus on disciple making and following the mission, like a dog with a bone.”
__ “Making disciples and carrying out the mission are my personal Shema.”
__ “My love for Christ overcomes most of my fears.”
__ “I’m never afraid about what someone might say about me.”
__ “Although I don’t enjoy failures, I’m not afraid to fail.”
__ “For the sake of the gospel, I’ll try anything once.”
__ “I’m willing to put myself where I can hear what God is saying.”
__ “I’m willing to spend my whole life in this place working toward the goal of making disciples.”
__ “I base the effectiveness of my commitment not on how others respond but on how faithful I am to the mission.”
__ “I can’t imagine doing something else.”
__ “I’m willing to wait on God until I hear which way to go.”
__ “I’m clear about the importance of taking the long-term view.”
__ “I avoid quick fixes.”
“Sold-out disciples” live their lives in radical obedience to a God-given mission.
Do we judge the effectiveness of our commitment on how faithful we are to the mission, rather than on how others respond?
One of the participants in our advanced forum (www.easumbandy.com) initiated the conversation. The subject was how to be a sold-out Christian. The original post also expressed the hope that a serious apostolic network would emerge around the nuts and bolts of being a sold-out disciple of Jesus Christ. I took the initiative and began responding as an apostolic mentor in the faith. The letters were originally written to a good friend whose name has been changed to Leo. Here’s Leo’s response to my first letter, and my reply follows.
Dear Bill —
The survey you provided in your first letter was pretty telling. I gave myself a “10” on some, and a “0” on others. It’s kind of a paradox: Sold-out disciples don’t think they are sold out, so how do they ever score well on a self-evaluation? The survey is the first item going in my “tool box.” Why? Because it gets right to the crux of the first step — the heart of the leader in relation to Jesus Christ. Bingo. Period.
From Bill, a servant of Jesus Christ, set apart by the will of God. First, I thank my God, through Jesus Christ my Lord, for the testimonies I have heard about your faithful work at First Church. As God is my witness, I give thanks for you every day and ask our gracious Lord to fill you with all faith.
Unto Leo, my dear son in the faith, Greetings in the name of the Beginning and End, the Lamb who is worthy of all our praise. Grace and peace to you.
Word has come to me that my first letter to you has been circulating around the region. I hear that it’s causing quite a headache among the religious types and quite a stir among the followers of the Way. I’m delighted, to say the least, because any way the issue of being a sold-out disciple of our Lord gets discussed and passed around is a blessing to these old bones.
Now to continue our dialogue.
In my first letter to you I got distracted toward the end and digressed into sharing from my own journey about bears and lions. Forgive me, Leo. But you’re correct: Sold-out disciples don’t think they are sold out. They are constantly putting themselves down, feeling as if they could do better – doing the “O wretched man that I am, who can deliver me from . . .“ thing. Of course they
know who their deliverer is, and it is never the pastor or their friends. It is always Jesus—not the historical Christ the religious types worry about, or the Jesus the academics in the Jesus Seminar make such a fuss about, but the Jesus who is closer than a brother and who reminds us not only who we are but why we’re here. You see, Leo, sold-out disciples are always seeking to go deeper in their personal relationship with Jesus, and they never, I said never, downplay what God did for them in Jesus or ever feel superior to those who differ from them.
Now, to go deeper in this discussion. Disciple-making is not another program among many other programs, as some are prone to believe. It is not joining a church or transferring from one church to another. Lord knows, the Church is the Church no matter where Christians gather, so it is impossible to transfer membership from one church to another. Where did this membership stuff come from anyway? Not from our Lord, that’s for sure. All our talk about membership must blow our Lord’s mind, don’t you think. Christ never meant for the church to be a location. I’ve even heard of people saying, “It’s time to go to church.” Such nonsense. Perhaps one of the reasons people confuse discipleship with joining the church is due to their insufficient understanding of the Body of Christ. But, again, I digress – one of the benefits of age, I’m told.
So, what is disciple-making?
Disciple-making is everything the Body does. It begins when a person starts on the Way with Jesus and it ends with death. Disciple-making always includes a life change. However life change occurs, it is never a one-time event. It may have a dramatic or a gradual start, but because of many events along the Way, a person’s life constantly grows and changes.
Leo, I suppose if I had to boil it down to one phrase, I would say that the goal of disciplemaking is to be like our Lord Jesus. To radiate his presence to the point that others can see him in us. Isn’t that a marvelous role that God has entrusted to us? Now, my brother, it seems as if we should first define what a disciple is. Let me take a few passages from the memoirs of the early Apostles.
A disciple is one who . . .
· Has received forgiveness and grace offered through Jesus Christ.
· Is radically in love with God (Matthew 22:37).
· Embodies the fruit of the Spirit . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
· Intentionally seeks to emulate Jesus in everyday life. It is still proper to ask, “What would Jesus do?”
· Deliberately takes on the cause of Christ above all else (Luke 9:23-25). There is no room in the church for people who have any other agenda than Christ.
· Puts Jesus before self, family, and friends (Luke 14:25-35). Leo, my experience is that family is the number-one obstacle to sold-out commitment on the part of those of us assuming leadership positions in the Kingdom.
· Is concerned about social justice (Luke 4:18-19).
· Is committed to local and world evangelism (Matthew 9:36-38) and Christian nurture (Luke 4:18-19).
· Loves others (John 13:4-35).
· Abides in and is obedient to Christ (John 15:5-17).
· Shares her/his gift on behalf of the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-12).
· Grows in the knowledge of God and what it means to be part of the Body of Christ.
Whew! Quite a list. But there is more.
Leo, it also seems to me that the three key beliefs of disciple-makers are that
· The purpose of every church is to make disciples for Jesus Christ who then go and make other disciples.
· The pastor’s role is to equip laity for ministry, not to merely take care of them. Growth and change in other people is the primary task of a pastor among the Body.
· The laos are the ministers of the church, not the ordained clergy.
From my travels around the region, I have concluded that most of the disciple-making Bodies do the following.
1.1 They define their main mission as making disciples who make disciples.
1.2 They intentionally provide an environment in which people are encouraged to grow and are held accountable for the growth of others.
1.3 They have structured the church so that it is capable of growing corporately. The attitude in these Bodies is “we can grow and we can also plant other Bodies.” The desire to plant new groups of Christians is a spillover from the joy that leaders receive from taking part in the Great Commission.
1.4 They train their leaders in how to be and make disciples who make disciples. This requires modeling, repetition, discipline, and coaching. In other words, they live by multiplication, not addition.
Now Leo, the key to disciple-making is how the leaders of leaders function. So here are my thoughts on why leaders fail to make disciples who make disciples.
2.1 They lack a driving passion for the mission. If there is one thing I have learned through my travels, it is that without a passion for the mission of Jesus as defined in the Great Commission, disciple-making rarely happens.
2.2 They look for people to follow them rather than lead with them. The standard definition of leadership, which says, “Leaders have followers,” is false. God has a desire for each of us to lead with our gift. When we fulfill it, we lead. All are leaders when they discern their spiritual gift and begin to live it on behalf of the Body. Multiple leadership is the way the Body of Christ functions. Discernment brings everyone into the role of leading the church.
2.3 They feel as if we have to do everything for everyone. Leo, you know that there is far too much co-dependence among our pastors. The religious types want us to be everyone’s priest and treat everyone the same. So we spend too much time listening to the whiners when we ought to tell them “get behind me Satan” and move on without them. Our Lord taught us to shake the dust from our feet if they weren’t ready to be on the Way. Perhaps in time they will and then we should be ready to work with them, but until that time even listening to them or doing anything they suggest only heightens their inability even to draw near the Kingdom. And that is our fault more than theirs. By our actions some of us actually keep people from entering the Kingdom. Think about that!
2.4 They don’t have a vision of a preferred future.
2.5 They are chaplains more than spiritual leaders. Leo, never, ever fall victim to the falsehood that it is good and right simply to care for people rather than introduce them to Jesus. What does it gain any of us if we are healthy and have not experienced his wonderful love and companionship? We are as dung without him in our lives.
2.6 They give in to peer pressures to follow the party line of Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas.
2.7 They respond to problems more than working on opportunities. Leo, never see your role to be that of a problem solver. Your role is a problem maker. Transition always causes problems, so stir the pot and don’t let it settle!
2.8 They do not affirm others enough. Those who are trying to follow our Lord need all the support and prayers you can give them.
2.9 They are too insecure to trust others enough to let go and get out of the way. As in the Garden of Eden, control is an evil thing to be shunned at all costs.
Leo, I must go for now. But before I leave you, I must ask you to pray and meditate on the following question. “What are you personally doing to develop sold-out disciples?” This is the crux of your first letter to me where you poured out your heart. Let me encourage you one more time to prefer the lions over the silly compromises that the spiritually immature constantly ask you to make. Join me, with our brother Ignatius, and call for God to send the lions our way.
And don’t worry Leo, I’m not going to digress again, but I don’t just want to make us both uncomfortable. I do want to help you and me get honest with our selling out rather than being sold out for Jesus. I do want to cause us to face our own bears and lions, risking our own jobs and pensions, that we might gain favor in God’s sight. You see, Leo, that is what discipleship is all about – to find favor in his sight, not our peers’, but his. For that is worth living and dying for. And that is what we must preach and model with our lives.
Greet everyone for me with a holy kiss.
Your brother in the faith,
The goal of disciple-making is to be like our Lord Jesus . . . to radiate his presence to others.
What are you personally doing to develop sold-out disciples?