Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Disciple-making Page 2 of 15

like your teacher
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What limits our disciple’s progress?

Over the years, I have recognized that many of those I have taught, coached or mentored have become better communicators and more effective leaders than me. I may have been their teacher, but their gifting and competency have surpassed my own. This has been a cause for celebration. I have even seen it as an indication of God’s blessing on my life.

Upon first reading, Jesus’ words in John 14:12 might seem to suggest that he had the same sentiments.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12

However, I think D. A. Carson is right in saying that Jesus is talking about the greater impact the disciples will have once the resurrection has made it clear who Jesus is. The works of the disciples are greater than those that Jesus did, because in the light of his death and resurrection, these works will more clearly glorify him for who he really is.1D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, p. 496.

Like your teacher

In Luke 6, Jesus gives a more realistic evaluation of the potential of his disciples. But it is still a pretty lofty perspective!

The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. – Luke 6:40

Syncretism
Picture by Greg Willis - originally posted to Flickr as Voodoo Altar, CC BY-SA 2.0

Follow-up: Colossians – Avoid Syncretism

In this series on follow-up, we have been looking at how missionaries can continue to help churches they have planted after they no longer are resident where those churches are located. The letter to the Colossians was not written to a church that Paul planted like other letters we have looked at in this series. Rather, Epaphras, not Paul, planted the church in Colossae. This probably happened during Paul’s extended ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19). Paul describes Epaphras as “our beloved fellow servant” and “a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf” (Col. 1:7). Epaphras faithfully preached the Gospel in Colossae. But the new church struggled with staying true to the Gospel they heard from their missionary. Apparently, Epaphras had met Paul in Rome (Col. 4:12) and informed Paul of the false teaching threatening the church.

As with most false teaching, this false teaching appears to be a form of syncretism. Syncretism is a blending of teachings that significantly alters the original message. We find that it is a constant danger in proclaiming the Gospel. So, it is important that we learn Paul’s strategy for avoiding syncretism from his letter to the Colossians.

The Colossian Syncretism

Borrowing from other religions

Clinton E. Arnold provides a convincing case that the Colossian “philosophy” found its roots in the folk religions of the area. In his conclusion he points out:

Union with Christ
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Follow-up: Union with Christ

The book of Ephesians is different than the other letters we have looked at in this series on Paul’s follow-up with the churches he planted. For instance, there are no problems that he is trying to correct nor questions that he is answering. Also, it is less personal than his other letters.

Ephesians: A Summary of the Gospel

F.F. Bruce writes:

It [Ephesians] sums up in large measure the leading themes of the Pauline writings, together with the central motif of Paul’s ministry as apostle to the Gentiles. But it does more than that: it carries the thought of earlier letters to a new stage.1F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT, Eerdmans, 1984, 229.

Clinton E. Arnold offers a statement of purpose for the letter:

Paul wrote this letter to a large network of local churches in Ephesus and the surrounding cities to affirm them in their new identity in Christ as a means of strengthening them in their ongoing struggle with the powers of darkness, to promote greater unity between Jews and Gentiles within and among the churches of the area, and to stimulate an ever-increasing transformation of their lifestyles into greater conformity to the purity and holiness that God has called them to display.2Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, Zondervan, 2010, 45.italics original

Partnership in the Gospel
Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Follow-Up: Partnership in the Gospel

How does Paul follow-up with the church at Philippi? We have been asking this question in previous posts about Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Our source of information has been Paul’s letters to these churches. Today we will look at his letter to Philippi.

Philippians, a Friendship Letter

Many commentators have noted that Philippians has features common to friendship letters in the Greco-Roman world.1G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, Eerdmans: 2009, p6f. and Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT, 1995, p 2f. For instance, expressions of affection and terminology like “yoke-fellow” (Phil. 4:3) were common in letters between friends at that time. Yet the letter is more than just communication between friends. Gordon Fee writes:

But “hortatory letter of friendship” is only part of the story, and in many ways the least significant part of that. For in Paul’s hands everything turns into gospel, including both formal and material aspects of such a letter. Most significantly, friendship in particular is radically transformed from a two-way to a three-way bond – between him, the Philippians, and Christ. And obviously it is Christ who is the center and focus of everything. Paul’s and their friendship is predicated on their mutual “participation/partnership” in the gospel.2Gordon D. Fee, p 13.

Bearing much fruit
Photo by David Kohler Unsplash

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Fruit – Part 2

This is the second of two posts that explore the growth of fruit in the life of a believer. Part 1 presented biblical fruit and focused on the fruit of the Spirit. In Part 2, the post will present three necessary components for bearing the fruit of the Spirit. It will also touch on fruit and disciple making, and fruit and cross-cultural considerations.

Dwindling Fruit

Somewhere in the second month after the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic, I began to notice a slow eroding of my peace of mind. By the end of the third month, I discovered my quotient of joy was diminishing as well. Then, during the fourth month, several incidents severely tested my patience. While any of us may find ourselves with varying quantities of the fruit of the Spirit in a particular month, the decrease of so many in a relatively short time concerned me and prompted me to explore the subject.

Where does love, joy, peace, patience (long-suffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness), and self-control, come from? And how can we bear such fruit, regardless of our circumstances? As I studied God’s Word, I learned that the production of good fruit is dependent on three components: abiding in Jesus, acting in concert with the Holy Spirit, and pruning.

Telling a Better Story is about listening to the stories of others and telling the Gospel story.

Telling a Better Story – a book review

What does telling stories have to do with apologetics?Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age by [Josh Chatraw]

My interest was sparked when I saw this new book on apologetics focusing on telling stories earlier this summer. Apologetics has traditionally been oriented to philosophy and logic. Yet most people understand life through stories they seek to practice. Expressing the reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15) is best communicated through stories. People relate to stories better than to formal syllogisms. Josh Chatraw’s new book, Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age (Zondervan, 2020) reimages apologetics for today’s context. The book is divided into three parts: Part 1 – A Better Story About Apologetics; Part 2 – Offering a Better Story; Part 3 – Objections to the Story. He writes the following about apologetics:

Once viewed as a tool to win debates, apologetics is now becoming more focused on generating productive conversations that open doors for people to consider the gospel. Rather than encouraging others to use what Charles Taylor refers to as “conversation-stoppers” (e.g. “I have a three-line argument which shows that your position is absurd or impossible or totally immoral”) or what Alan Jacobs refers to as the habit of “militarizing discussion and debate,” many apologists are emphasizing the need for Christians to become better listeners who seek to understand the person thay are speaking with before making appeals. This enables us to meet people where they are and find points to affirm before finding points to challenge.1Josh Chatraw, Telling a Better Story, Zondervan, 2020, p 19.

Listen to their stories

The author wants us to listen to their stories because they are windows for understanding. Stories, both big stories and little stories, are purveyors of culture and worldview. Stories explain life. They answer the big questions about the meaning of life and how to live well. Chatraw writes:

young pastor being ordained
Photo by Marc Scaturro on Unsplash

Follow-up: Understanding Authentic Christian Ministry

As we saw in an earlier post, the Corinthians needed to learn to keep culture in perspective. This was especially true in their understanding of leadership and Christian ministry. The leadership values of the culture were exploited by Paul’s opponents, causing some in Corinth to question Paul’s credentials. George Guthrie observes,

In short, in the apostle’s seeming humility (even humiliation 12:21), his taking on the role of a servant, his rejection of patronage and the concomitant rejection of financial gain, and his refusal to advance his status by use of rhetorical skills, he stood in violation of key leadership values and principles embedded in the Corinthian culture. The apostle, on the other hand, presents to the Corinthians an alternative; a theocentric and biblical vision of authentic leadership. 1George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2015, p17.

While not all cultural leadership values will conflict with authentic Christian ministry, they will need to be compatible with the message of Christ crucified. We, like Paul, need to model and teach authentic Christian ministry so that the leadership of the churches we plant reflects the cross in their ministry. I observe seven key characteristics of authentic Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians.

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