In October of 2014, on my first trip to Japan, I was able to ride a bullet train, visit SEND church planters in the Tsunami stricken region, and attend the Asia Regional Equipping Seminar (ARES) hosted by SEND Japan. The topic of this training was Disciple Making Movements (DMM). I was confronted by a number of ideas about church planting, which rocked my thinking a bit. One of those ideas had to do with approaches to help integrate learning and doing, a key area of interest in my graduate studies on adult learning.
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus says “make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything…”. For me, when I studied diligently and taught accurately, I was quite satisfied with myself. Teaching in a seminary for over 10 years has helped to reinforced this view. But that is not the whole of the great commission (see Gary Ridley’s article). The great commission includes the integral element of obedience, which I found convenient to relegate to a second tier status. Yes, there were application talking points in my lectures or sermons, but they often remained just that – talk. Unfortunately I was not alone.
A skeptical attitude towards obedience is somewhat understandable as a protection against a works-oriented mindset, which can easily be associated with such discussions. As a church planter in Poland for many years, we repeatedly taught the grace of God in the Christian life, from first to last. Working our way to heaven seems to be popular not only in Poland, but is also a central part of most world religions. Even God’s chosen people, the Jews fell on this stumbling stone by trying to earn God’s favor by works by fulfilling the letter of the law. In our zeal to avoid the specter of works righteousness, we have tended to largely neglect the obedience aspect of the gospel. Jesus says that we will be blessed if we DO the commands God has for us (John 13:17, emphasis added). Knowing is not enough, the truth needs to travel that seemingly infinite distance from our head to our heart and hands.
Not only is obedience necessary, the obedience needs to be prompt as well. When Jesus called some to follow him, their delay in obeying his command (let me first…) caused them to be disqualified from following Jesus (Matt. 8:21, 22; Luke 9:59, 60). When Jesus calls us, we need to obey him now, not later.
In the SEND training mentioned above, I learned and experienced the Discovery Bible Study (DBS) approach used in many DMM’s. This approach puts a strong emphasis on obedience of God’s Word and can minister to both believers and nonbelievers. Each meeting includes not only hearing God speak through his word, but also prayerfully considering the application of that truth in concrete terms, as well as support and accountability for one another in following through. In this way, the knowing of God’s word is linked to specific steps of obedience to that word, a critical step in making biblical disciples. In a couple of weeks, a few of us are going to start such groups with mostly non-believing international students in order to bridge that great divide between our heads and our hearts in our own lives.