Discipleship Reflections: Matthew 15:32-38

Chapter 15 had already been a busy chapter verse 32. Jesus had managed to offend the Pharisees over the issue of ritual hand washing. He found the practice useless because a dirty mind and heart defiled, not dirty hands. They were offended to the point that the disciples expressed their concern to him. He had tried to turn away a Canaanite woman who came to him on behalf of her daughter. In a way, this Gentile woman of great faith was almost set as a foil to the Jewish disciples who showed little faith in Jesus’ ability to feed the crowd later in the chapter. He healed a number of people from all sorts of illnesses, and that crowd set up the miracle that comes in the chapter.

32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” 33 The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” 34 Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 38 Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children.

In the midst healing a number of people who had gathered around Jesus, he grew concerned about their physical hunger. They had been listening to his teaching and watching him heal for three days, and he could not bear the thought of them returning home unprepared for the journey. He included the disciples in what was about to happen by explaining to them his intentions and the reason for his intentions. His plan was to feed all of the people. Their concerns at this plan seemed reasonable and logical given the numbers and location. Unless this feeding miracle is a retelling of the miracle in chapter 14 though, they should have been aware of both his intentions and capabilities.

Jesus, however, was undaunted by their concerns, and he did not correct them. He simply asked for an inventory, still including them in what was about to happen. As he began passing out food, he passed first to the disciples who began passing to everyone else, as if to say to them “I know there’s not enough, but would take this loaf to that family over here and this fish to that widow over there.” They did not believe, but yet they were the servers.
The miracles and healings that preceded this meal had not convinced the disciples of what Jesus was fully capable. They continued to learn as they observed and participated in the ministry of the Good News. Interestingly, in the very next chapters, Jesus began to reveal his identity at much deeper level with the question in 16 of “Who do you say that I am?” and the transfiguration in 17.

As much as this miracle is about feeding the hungry and exhibiting his ability to do so, and I believe it is, this miracle also acts as a teachable moment for the disciples. Our teachable moments will most likely happen in the midst of ministry together. Perhaps the best equipping we can provide as a means of discipleship is to make a priority of simply doing the work of the Gospel together. Here are some questions I am still pondering:

• How do we bring people along with us into ministries they cannot quite envision yet?
• Can we clearly articulate the “why” of mission and miracle in the way that Jesus did?
• Can those who follow, trust enough to follow even when they do not fully understand what is about to happen?

People will likely doubt new ministries or missions. They will often doubt their own giftedness, but they need to trust those who are encouraging them to go anyway. They will need to trust those who ask them to pass the bread.

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Disciplship Reflections: Interview with Laura McDaniel of the Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia

Last Thursday, I talked with Laura McDaniel about the discipleship ministries of the Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia (WMUV). Laura serves as the Executive Director/Treasurer of WMUV, and before serving in that role, she was a corporate attorney. She brings to this position her sharp, legal mind, her passion for missions, and a personal missional lifestyle. It is apparent that her passion for ministry comes from the light-filled moment in 1996 in which God interrupted her life. For her, it was not a Damascus Road experience, but an I-85 conversion. While many of us are more likely to lose our religion on the interstate, Laura found and reclaimed the faith of her childhood on that busy thoroughfare.

In previous conversations, Laura had shared with me her excitement for a missional kind of discipleship. For her, “to talk about being a disciple is to be missional.” As she reads the Great Commission in Matthew 28, she hears a very distinct outward focus in the command to “Go and make disciples.” In her context, she has found the terminology of “discipleship” most helpful because its meaning is clearer and more basic.

As WMUV has sought to provide discipleship opportunities, there has been decided shift in the past decade from learning about missionaries and offering prayer and financial support to conveying the idea that “each child is a missionary in their context.” They are also very intentional about finding exceptional women and girls of all ages, and “for those girls who really rise up as leaders,” they work hard at “equipping them to excel.” Their goal is to disciple them and multiply the impact by developing leaders. As a pastor to some of these young women, I have seen firsthand, the effectiveness of what WMUV does.

McDaniel sees a number of movements on the horizon for discipleship with WMUV. Much of this future centers on the development of community for learning and mission work, and relational evangelism, and she hopes WMUV can be place for individuals and churches to come and seek out the best resources for a missional discipleship. She is clear in pointing out that the groups that will thrive within the local church will be the ones that celebrate and maintain an outward focus as a part of discipleship.

Here are a couple of questions that might be important for us to consider for our own contexts?

• How are we equipping those disciples who show leadership potential?
• How do our ways of discipleship offer opportunity to give active response to the beliefs and convictions disciples are embodying?

One resource that continued to come up in our conversation was the work of Mike Breen. His book, Building a Discipling Culture, is one she has encouraged me to read.

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Discipleship Reflections: Matthew 10

This series of blogs, Discipleship Reflections, are a part of an independent study for my Doctor of Ministry studies. Read, enjoy, comment. Thanks for reading.

By the tenth chapter of Matthew, the twelve men commonly referred to as the Disciples were called. Jesus gave them authority to minister to others through healing and casting out demons. After establishing the identity of the twelve, Matthew recorded Jesus sending them out with instructions.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

It is peculiar that in these instructions, Jesus instructed them to minister only to the Jewish people, even to the extent that they were told to avoid Gentiles and Gentile settlements altogether. The text offers no explanation as to why they were to minister only to the Jewish people. A few explanations are possible. Later, in chapter 15, Jesus said himself that he was sent first to Israel. Were they to be the first ones to receive the Good News? Was Jesus sending them into more friendly places to begin ministry, perhaps a more gradual introduction to the costly nature of discipleship. Was he sending them to a safe place to begin?

In the summer of 2009, I had the opportunity to supervise a pastoral intern through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Collegiate Congregational Internship program. One of her ministry goals that summer was to learn about pastoral care. After making a number of pastoral visits with me, and studying the ministry of pastoral care, I sent her to visit one senior adult without me. Having grown up in the same community where she was serving, I sent her to see an elderly woman she knew well, a lady who loved her dearly. In my estimation, Peggy would take care of this young minister. It was a safe place to continue learning about pastoral care and put to use some of what had been learned and experienced.

Perhaps the truth is that both the priority of the Jews in hearing the Gospel and a slightly less uncomfortable introduction to ministry were factors in Jesus sending the Disciples to the Jewish people first. In sending them, Jesus was honest about the difficulties they would face. He did not gloss over the inevitability of resistance, but he also promised that the Spirit would work through them as they carried out their commission.

In thinking about Matthew 10 and discipleship, there are a few things we might learn:

• It is important to notice that Jesus only asked the disciples to do the kinds of ministries that they had already observed him carry out or participated in with him. They were to do as they had seen him do. It makes sense then, that as we seek to make disciples and prepare others for ministry that perhaps an important step is to simply participate in ministry with those we are teaching. In the context of a local church, this might mean inviting others to come along when we visit the sick, teaching well the teachers in our congregations, and picking up the tools of ministry along those who are serving on the mission field.

• Jesus was honest about the challenges of ministry. We would do a disservice to those who serve with us if we were to hide from them the challenges that will come. That is not to say we should scare off would-be disciples, but we will be found to be inauthentic if we knowingly skip over the known challenges. People will more willingly follow if they know what awaits them.

• As disciples are in the formative stages of understanding giftedness, passion, and calling, perhaps we best prepare them by sending to those places and people where they are more likely to have the kinds of ministry experiences that will encourage further ministry exploration.

In all of Jesus’ time with the Disciples, perhaps some of his greatest work was nudging the twelve along as they processed down the winding path from being disciples (learners) to apostles (leaders and teachers).

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A good word from Tony Brooks on Sunday School as a component of a disciple making culture.

tonystopic

If we are taking seriously that Sunday School is a place for transformation (instead of knowledge) and a community of faith (instead of simply a classroom experience), then we need to begin understanding how it can be a discipling process. Sunday School is one of the church’s ministries where biblical application, more intimate relationships and ongoing learning can enhance the transformative process to be more like Christ.

Mike Bream & Steve Cockram in their book, Building a Discipling Culture, gives a process of biblical discipleship through the lens of different shapes. I wanted to explain the first shape (a circle) as a discipling process straight from the life of Jesus. They discuss Mark 1:14-15 to talk about an interrupted time (Kairos is the Greek word) in which we see God at work and the concept of repentance as a change of heart/mind/will. One pastor calls them speed bumps that…

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Discipleship Reflections: Interview with Dr. Steve Booth

This series of blogs, Discipleship Reflections, are a part of an independent study for my Doctor of Ministry studies. Read, enjoy, comment. Thanks for reading.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, January 29, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Steve Booth, Associate Pastor for Christian Formation at the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Booth was educated at Campbell University, Southern Seminary, and Andover Newton Theological School. He has spent much of his ministry in the area of education and spiritual formation. I was anxious to hear what he had to share after hearing his Senior Pastor, Dr. Jim Somerville, talk so passionately about First Baptist’s ministry of making disciples.

I was very curious to hear about how First Baptist defined spiritual formation and discipleship, and in what ways were they living out of those definitions. Dr. Booth defined spiritual formation in this way: “being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of the world” and he was careful to acknowledge that “God does the forming.” A disciple, Booth said, is “someone who clearly says I understand God though the person of Jesus Christ” and one who seeks to “faithfully follow Jesus Christ.”

Focusing on spiritual formation and disciple making has been a decided shift for the church, and I was curious how they have navigated this shift. One of the biggest shifts was from separating age groups and moving toward more intergenerational ministries. This shift has also involved much more involvement and leadership from laity, and the staff has focused on equipping the laity rather than leading everything. The shift from staff dependency to lay equipping has been “very painful at times,” but the benefits of this shift are beginning to show.

It seems they are making this transition well. When asked what has been most successful, Dr. Booth was particularly excited about ministries that encouraged a contemplative spirituality, which according to him has been “ignored in evangelical, Baptist life.” Other areas that have helped in spiritual formation have been intentionally small groups, a focus on men’s spirituality, and a variety of ministries that paired disciples with spiritual friends or mentors.

As I listened to Dr. Booth, I heard a lot of the same hopes and ideas that hear from fellow members of my Doctor of Ministry cohort, particularly in the areas of contemplative spirituality and intergenerational ministries. I also heard echoed, some of my hopes for encouraging an ecosystem that will develop missional leaders within Madison Heights Baptist Church. The good news is it can be done, and perhaps we are on the right track.

The First Baptist Church of Richmond is a rather large congregation in members, facility, and resources when compared to many of our churches, and they are involved in a lot of ministries that offer many options. We should not be daunted though if one church may offer more than another church may be able to offer. The principles of their transition are transferable to a variety of settings. Regardless of size, all of our congregations have people who crave spiritual formation. We all have parishioners who are seeking to be good disciples of Jesus Christ. We all have laity with the capacity to lead. So we are left with a few questions to consider for our own contexts:

• How do our ministries make disciples?
• What opportunities will we offer for spiritual formation?
• How will we equip laity to be leaders in spiritual formation and disciple making?

I was grateful to listen to Dr. Booth excitedly share about all the ways that First Baptist is involved in spiritual formation and disciple making. As he put it, “God’s using it all for his formative purposes.” I offer my sincere thanks to Dr. Steve Booth and the First Baptist Church of Richmond and thanks to you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Here are a few resources that Dr. Booth shared with me that you might find helpful:
Companions in Christ: A Small-Group Experience in Spiritual Formation
Soul Shaping: A Practical Guide for Spiritual Transformation
From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality
Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation

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Discipleship Reflections: Matthew 8:23-27

This series of blogs, Discipleship Reflections, are a part of an independent study for my Doctor of Ministry studies. Read, enjoy, comment. Thanks for reading.

In the flow of Matthew’s Gospel, chapter eight comes immediately after the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In this chapter we are presented with several healing miracles that include a leper, the servant of a centurion, Peter’s mother-in-law, and two men possessed by demons. In the midst of these healings, Jesus gave some instruction on discipleship. This instruction came by spoken word when Jesus explained the cost of discipleship and following him (18-22), and through what acts as a kind of test of faith for the disciples when a storm churns up while Jesus and his disciples were on the boat (23-27). I will focus on the storm in this post because it offers insight for us about discipleship and spiritual formation, particularly about faith on the disciple’s part and calm on the leader’s part.

It is probable that the teaching in the preceding chapters and the healing miracles in this chapter, verses 1-17, give some insight as to why the disciples were willing to board a boat with Jesus. They were following him because of what they have already heard and seen. Interestingly, Matthew may not have been on the boat as his call story is found in Matthew 9. The call stories of Peter, Andrew, James, and John are found in Matthew 4, and it is likely they were on the boat in the midst of the storm. Read Matthew 8:23-27 in the New Revised Standard Version.

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27 They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

I find it interesting and instructive that in the midst of the storm Jesus is calm, calm enough even to continue sleeping. It is as if Jesus’ sense of calm during turmoil acts as the antithesis to the disciples’ fear. When they woke him, they were clearly concerned for their well being. I do not think we should mistake his sleeping with disengagement, but as a holy sense of calm. Leaders have a responsibility to be calm, but there is a challenge for leaders to be calm in crisis without being viewed as disconnected and uncaring. Jesus undoubtedly cared about these men on the boat with him, but as the storm raged, the disciples lost sight of this. This was early in Jesus’ ministry, and this storm provided an opportunity for the disciples to learn about Jesus’ sense of calm and his care for them.

What about this matter of Jesus waiting to intervene? Did he intend not to act until the disciples’ fear led them to wake him up and prompted him to act? Was he content to ride the storm out, or was this moment always intended to offer Jesus’ the opportunity to model faith and calm for his disciples? Planned or not, Jesus used the storm as a teachable moment with his disciples. He questioned their faith, and then exhibited his power over the elements. After all of the healing miracles they had witnessed, he gave them yet another reason to have faith. The concluding verse to this section reveals the disciples’ amazement. The text is clear that his power over nature impressed them. What impression was left on them by his calmness as the storm was tossing the boat around? It seems likely that the disciples were amazed with his demeanor as much as his ability. At the very least, there was a noticeable difference between his reaction and their reaction.

Leading and teaching like Jesus is an unattainable goal, but if we can aim for that ideal, our propensity to become calm leaders in crisis and faithful disciples in uncertainty will be much improved. I would invite your comments and insight on this passage. It is a rich story that offers a lot to think about. Here are a few questions left to consider:

• How can the leader transfer a sense of calm to disciples?
• How can the leader balance calm without seeming detached?
• What storms will modern disciples face that will require someone to reflect a spiritual calm?
• How does a good leader react to fear in the disciple?

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Join me in learning about Spiritual Formation and Discipleship

I could use some help in my Doctor of Ministry studies. I am certain I will need a lot of help, but right now I have a specific request. This semester, I am studying spiritual formation and discipleship from a Biblical perspective and from a practical standpoint in the local church. I invite your input on what I am learning.

I will use this blog to share what I am learning from two different kinds of exercises. First, I will post reflections from some Gospel passages, specifically Jesus’ interaction with his twelve closest disciples. I will post about the following passages:
Matthew 8:23-27; 10; 15:32-38
Mark 6:7-13, 30-44
Luke 6:12-45; 9:1-6, 10-36

Second, I will interview three practitioners actively involved in spiritual formation and discipleship ministries. I will interview the following people:
Steve Booth, Associate Pastor in the area of formation at First Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia
Gary Chapman, Executive Director of the Christian Leaders Link
Laura McDaniel, Executive Director of the Women’s Missionary Union of Virginia

As I blog about these passages and interviews, please comment, question, and critique. Much of my Doctor of Ministry project will focus on the formation and discipleship of missional leaders within the local church. So, your feedback will be invaluable.

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IT’S TIME: What’s Next?

Fall 2011 offered our church the opportunity to consider our own missional calling. In order to make the most of our IT’S TIME experience, we must keep the conversation going.

Here are the successes I see occurring so far:

  • The creation of the Missions Opportunities Committee establishes a group to vision, develop, and promote missional church opportunities.
  • Backpack Buddies represents the inception and continuation of a new missional ministry for children in our community.
  • Monthly glimpses during worship of the missional ministries of our church continue to inform and encourage our congregation’s missional journey. These testimonies have resulted in more people expressing interest in participating in the ministries.
  • Our youth are preparing to serve as missionaries the last weekend of March in Waynesboro, VA as a part Mission Madness Weekend.
  • Overall, we are experiencing people finding their niches in mission and more intergenerational missional involvement.

We have not arrived however.  This is a journey.  What is next on this journey? Here are some expressed hopes for our missional journey:

  • Greater involvement in Faith Community Nursing as way of ministering to the whole person.
  • Tutoring and mentoring ministries for children in our community.
  • Continuing to see our neighborhood as the mission field.
  • Facilitating other individuals and churches as they come to our community to minister and serve.

Where will we be on our journey next year? Truthfully, only God knows, but faithfulness requires we continue hoping, dreaming, and traveling together as the called people of God. I am blessed to journey with you.

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“Preach On, Preacher”

That was the simple message I posted on a friend’s Facebook wall yesterday as she prepared to preach her first sermon. It seems her husband might be more convincing when asking her to preach than I was when she and I served on staff together at another church.

This month, a lot of women are preaching first sermons. What might be equally as important, is that there are likely congregants and churches hearing and experiencing a sermon delivered by a woman for the first time. That is an encouraging thought.

It is Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching which was begun by Baptist Women in Ministry in 2007. Every February Baptist Women in Minstry encourges Baptist churches to open their pulpits to woman sometime during the month.  According to their website (www.bwim.info) Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching helps churches and women in this way:

This is an opportunity for you to publicly voice your support of women in ministry, to be counted with other Baptist churches in celebrating the calling and gifts of women, and to remind your congregation that God does indeed call women to the work of the kingdom. But most importantly, this is an opportunity for your church to invite into your pulpit a woman who has never had the opportunity to preach. 

At about 10:20 A.M. every Sunday, I shut my office door, cut off the lights, and pray. While I pray for calmness and clairty as I prepare to preach, I also pray for a few other preachers in particular, one of which just happens to be a woman. For me, this month has added to my prayer during these sacred moments before worship. I have been reminded me to pray for women who are perhaps preaching for the first time. I have been reminded to pray for the churches who have opened the pulpit to a woman this month. At times, those prayers have been for specific preachers and churches. Other weeks, the prayer has been offered in general.

This week, I embraced the opportunity to talk to my six-year-old daughter about how I prepare to preach when she saw me looking over my sermon notes on Saturday evening. I made it a point to talk to a grandmother and grandfather in our community that proudly witnessed the first sermon offered by their called granddaughter. They were proud and probably a little biased.

So, this month and every month, I say “Preach On, Preacher.” Preach on, Katee and Jamie and others who preached or will preach for the first time. Preach on, “Sister” Kim and other gifted women who preach every week. Preach on.

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Check out this blog from my friend, Derik.

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