Discipling and New Believers

How interesting…

Yesterday, some friends and I engaged in a lively discussion of Greek, the Bible, translations, and meanings of words. We explored the challenges of trying to take first century concepts, worldviews, of Greek and Mediterranean life and culture, and Old Testament Jewish culture, and “make them fit” into our twenty-first century pragmatism. We were working on a “project”, a “preaching project” about central concepts in the New Testament… but more on that later.

We were doing what’s called “content analysis” comparing the Four Gospels, then adding in Acts, and noticing their dramatic differences from both the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament.

In the course of that discussion, we started comparing “recommendations on Bible reading for new believers”, as they had experienced that across their lives and churches, and as I had (and my eventual determination for my own teaching and discipling).

New Believer PostThen, this morning, I see in these Church Set Free pages, this lovely post, “A Letter to New Believers”,  by Susan Irene Fox on almost precisely the same topics as we discussed. Neat, huh? 🙂

So, let me recommend you look at Susan’s post, and then look over the comment section below it as well. Wonderful conversation there! I want to “weigh in” on that with my own 2 cents, but just as “contribution”, not to be meant as “defining conclusion”.

And then, following, I am attaching another Podcast, by that same “anonymous” teacher/preacher, addressing “making disciples”. I attach this because it expresses in a glorious and succinct form, both my own approach to making disciples of new believers, and the Gospel foundation for the view.

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So: When a new believer comes under my care, my recommendations are simple…

As to “Bible Reading”… Don’t.

Don’t try to read and understand (yet), the “Holy Bible”. That comes later. Your task right now is not to comprehend the history, majesty, and revelation of God Almighty’s heart as manifested through His management of the history of Israel. Your task right now, having heard Jesus’ call, “Follow Me!”, and having answered that call… is to BE WITH HIM!

So, start reading the Gospels ONLY… preferably in this order…

(1) Luke, (2) Mark, (3) Matthew, (4) John

Why that order?

Luke, (like that new believer), never met or saw Jesus in the flesh. His account is “closest” to where that new believer’s feet are. Luke is like a “reporter”, repeating the events witnessed by the disciples and (according to a number of scholars), Jesus’ mother, Mary and John (the Apostle) her companion. The Gospel of Luke is descriptive and truthful in the telling of what Jesus did, what He said, and how He taught. Everything is there… the teachings, the parables, the private conversations, the healing, the triumphs and horrors. But there is little “sophisticated theology” or “flights of divine intimacy” in it. Like the Goldilocks/Three Bears story, Luke is a great start because it is neither “too shallow” nor “too deep” for the beginning swimmer.

Mark next. Why? Mark’s Gospel was once described to me as “the travelogue of Jesus”. There is a hurried, breathless quality to it. An excitement to it. “And then we went there, and then He said this, and then He met them, and then this miracle happened….. And then we went there, and then He said this, and then they came, and then He did this…” repeat, repeat, repeat. The divinity of Christ comes to the fore, the authority and Godhead of Christ is made observable… along with a repeated theme of “but Jesus said, ‘don’t tell anybody about Me, yet!'” (which was consistently disobeyed). The water runs a bit faster with this Gospel… skills, balance, breath control, and strength are built swimming in this stream.

Matthew next. Why? Matthew has ever been special to me. No one, but Paul later, deals so well with integrating the New Testament Jesus with the Old Testament Messiah. Matthew, as a tax-collector, was a pariah to his community. “Respectable folk” wouldn’t walk on the same side of the street as he, nor eat where he was eating, nor even sit on a chair he had occupied. And yet, when he wrote his Gospel, he did it in Hebrew! (All the others in Greek). His love for Israel, his dedication to the good news of their Redeemer, their Messiah, the fulfillment of ALL the prophecies, cries out from every page of this Gospel.

Matthew misses no opportunity to integrate the prophets with Jesus’ ministry. I suspect no heart in Israel knew more joy ever, than the day Matthew was called into the Company of the Savior… for I believe he loved Israel, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… with all his heart. The water gets deeper here, the Old Testament, the prophets, the history, begin to weave into the threads of Jesus’ day to day life. The new believer watches the Old Testament light up in its foreshadowing and preparation for the coming of Jesus. Deeper water, yet manageable currents.

And LAST, let us come to the Gospel of John! He was the youngest of the disciples. He had the “least to unlearn” as Jesus taught him. He went everywhere (nearly) with Jesus, and he was one of the “faith choir” Jesus took with Him when a miracle required much faith. John’s experience of Jesus, the intimacy of it, the depth of it, the understanding of it… was unlike anything we can imagine. John puts the reader on notice from the very first line… that they’d best strap in, ’cause it’s gonna be quite a ride… John’s head was far more Greek than Israeli! He flows with concepts of “essence”, “ideal”, “accident”… with the mutability of words as essence and essence as words, like a tadpole in a pond!  I mean, seriously… look at the very FIRST PARAGRAPH!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Scholars are STILL debating how to understand all that, and it’s been two millennia!

John saw directly into the Divine! Jesus got to him young enough that when Jesus said “here’s how you do this… here’s how you SEE… here’s how you PRAY…”, John didn’t have to shake his head, walk away, and say… “Gosh, that’s not what Rabbi Nicodemus said… I wonder which is right?” John just believed Jesus, tried it, and found that it WORKED! Hoorah! John learned meditation and contemplation before he could probably SHAVE! So… the Gospel he wrote, is filled with the insight, the recollections, the perspectives he recalls from his embrace as the “disciple most loved” (i.e. the disciple most capable of experiencing love)… Therefore, his Gospel is the most “ethereal”, the most “contemplative”, the most “mystical”.

Also, as an interesting aside, his “recall” of Jesus’ words… his specificity on key discourses, is often the most detailed. (For a “mystic”, the words spoken by God Himself, are often “graven into” the mind in a way that remains crystal clear for decades. Folks often think it’s a “memory thing”. It’s not… it’s a “prayer thing”.)

Anyway, John’s Gospel is deep water, whirlpools, waterspouts, and a good bit of flying thrown in. Only when a believer has anchored him/herself securely into their relationship with Jesus… will these celestial contemplative sections of John sort themselves out. (Of course, no one comes to “harm” reading in any part of the Gospels! Jesus’ Spirit is so there, all the time, to take them in hand. But they’ll just be “confused” when they’re way over their heads.)

[Note: One thing that was mentioned in last night’s discussion here in my home… and is quite true. If some is already a contemplative, a mystic, or a philosopher who has disciplined their mind and heart to deal rightly with words, with meanings, with the boundaries and nature of constructs and consciousness… then yes, they well may enjoy and richly feed from John’s Gospel as a first course.  It’s been rare in my experience, but yes, it happens betimes.]

Anyway, there’s my two cents on “where does the New Believer start”… Until their relationship, their love, their communion (including TWO WAY communication) is secured with Jesus Himself… there is no need to rush off to become a theologian. Confine study to the Gospels themselves, then move forward through the Epistles… THEN (about two years in), take on the Old Testament (hopefully with the companionship of a good teacher or two).

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The other big element, far better dealt with by this “Abbot” (rather than this “Little Monk”) has to do with the “process”, the “mechanics” of “discipling”. The most fundamental need of a “new believer” is not their “reading list”…

How are disciples made? Give this a listen…

In the name of Jesus! Amen!

I love bread! I love the “artisan“ bread you get at fancy restaurants, fancy hotels, fancy bread shops, anywhere that has fancy bread. Sometimes a knob of cool salted butter, other times oil and balsamic vinegar, sometimes just “bread” … mmm!

And other times I don’t.  I am fickle. If I was an artisan baker I would not like me much – never knowing if I am an appreciative bread eater or not.  Poor artisan baker!!  And something else …

That parable about the sower of seeds and the different “ears” that did and did not “hear” … how come we “good Christians” assume the role of “sower” (or is it just me that does that)?

All the angst and sacrifice and burden – as we sow our seeds – as so much is wasted – as we are scorned – persecuted – laughed at – dismissed – ignored – only a few of our special grains falling on “fertile ground” …  All that hard work and so little reward!

We have that in black and white!

Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky … “ Matthew 4:1-20 (link here)

And then – later – the dusty peeps (and we) get a (our) personal reading:

The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables … “ There you have it!  The appointed “sowers of seeds” is there in black and white for us good Christians evermore! “in the name of Jesus! Amen!”

Over my journey that has bugged me a little (and now a lot) …

Splashing seeds around is easy.  Sowing seeds is writing a blog like this.  Sowing seeds so often becomes a celeb game. Is that why we focus on “sowing seeds” … ? Writing blogs – and maybe books – and maybe selling books – and maybe even being asked to write articles – then maybe even being asked to … and maybe EVEN becoming a minor celeb (or a major one) – and it’s all good – because it’s all “in the name of Jesus! Amen!”

Whereas making disciples is tough. Making disciples is relationship. Making disciples is a team game.  Making disciples … ?

That happens out of sight. That happens in small groups, silent places, face to face, skin to skin. That happens slowly silently over time and maybe never in my lifetime or yours.  The “payback” is missing: there are never adoring crowds, never any obvious hierarchy, never one leader who will and grateful pupils who do.  Maybe for Jesus (who just happens to be God – which I kind of have to keep remembering!) – but for you and me?

If I disciple you – YOU disciple ME.  If I teach you – YOU teach ME.  If I grow you – YOU grow ME!  If I am a shepherd – I am also a sheep – just as you are.  We are ALL both when we allow the Holy Spirit to flow freely from within – when we connect – when we allow Him in us.

There is only one Grower of Seeds – and it is not you or me.

We are always the path, the weeds, the rocky place and the fertile ground – all of those “places” that change day by day (and moment by moment) in each of us.  Just as I love artisan bread always (unless) – so too we receive His seed always (unless)!

And unless we “get that” – we take this “command”:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

And make it this command:

“Teach them to obey!”

Which is why I think we still prefer the payback of “likes”, of “followers”, of a book, of an interview, of our photo here and there in technicolour (or maybe a moody black and white pic) … our face for all to see doing Kingdom Work, of being the shepherd (never the sheep).  Which is why I think that sowing seeds is a cop-out a lot of the time.  Because too often we assume we are “the seed” – and you are not.  And then wrap ourselves in sackcloth and ashes at all the rejection “in the name of Jesus! Amen!”

Maybe that is why we make Sunday church so important – less rejection … or group licking of wounds of rejection … or proving we aren’t rejected at all  (maybe) 

I think we each have to become less “sowers of seeds” and more “receivers of pebbles” in still quiet places – in still quiet pools.  The still places where we each hear Him – The Grower of Seeds – in those still quiet places of discipling where the Grower of Seeds does HIS Kingdom Work in us.

That – for me – is discipling. That – for me – is THE team game.  The team where you and I are never – ever! – THE leader … THE sower … THE Shepherd … THE Grower … THE anything – other than … the very best disciple ever.  Because Jesus showed us HOW to be that as well.

It’s all there in black and white waiting for each of us to find.   But we will never find it just by reading and then rushing off to do all that fine “Kingdom Stuff” (of which our good Christian diaries always overflow).  That is NOT the place where we hear Him.  That is just us running around doing more and more “teach them to obey!”

Is it just me – am I missing something?   Is there a different bible I should be reading?  Because I see so many sowers who believe they are growers and I wonder –

Why is that?