A Framework for Discipleship:
Transforming the Caribbean through the Fulness of Christ
GEM 99:09:23(a) CC Renewal series #3
Our Commission is to "make disciples," which as we have seen is the key to renewing and transforming the region through the fulness of Christ. It is thus quite in order to ask how we, as the people of God in the Caribbean, may fulfill the church's basic mandate.
First of all, a biblical, balanced, practical framework for being and making disciples must start from the Lordship of Christ. For, his mandate starts: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . . [Matt. 28:18, 19a, italics added.] More than that, he is the Creator of "all things," and the Centre who holds all things together through his powerful word. [Col. 1:15 - 27.]
Flowing out from that, in love he came to us, descending, serving, healing, liberating, dying for our sins, rising and ascending "in order to fill all things." And, "the church . . . is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way." [Eph. 4:10, 1:22 - 23.]
Plainly then, our discipling ministries should seek to win people to Christ, and so nurture, equip, send out and support them that they progressively fill all of life with Christ's grace and glory. But, how?
The First Point of Discipleship
Jesus' standard for discipleship is stark: "if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my works, the Son of man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." [Luke 9:23 - 26; cf. Matt. 16:13 - 28.]
Now, in first century Palestine, one would too often see a man under guard, struggling to carry a beam across his shoulders. Such a man was carrying his cross, on the way to his execution-place. There, he would be nailed to the beam, hoisted onto the waiting upright pole, and stretched out to die a public, lingering, shameful death.
Soon, this would happen to Jesus himself as the leaders of Judea schemed to get rid of a threat to their power and privilege: one who lived and led by "the truth in love." Thank God, as Tony Campolo so often says, "that was Friday, but Sunday was coming."
In short, the first point of discipleship is commitment to love, serve and follow the One whose steps, in the words of a popular chorus, led "from heaven to earth . . . from the earth to the cross . . . the grave . . . the skies." Therefore, we must expect rejection, misunderstanding, ridicule, suffering even martyrdom but must determine to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily and follow our Lord, confessing and living by "the truth in love."
Balance: the Second Point of Discipleship
Clearly, as disciples of Christ, we must turn our backs on worldly ambitions, sensuality and values, for "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" [Matt. 16:26.]
Unfortunately, such a commitment is quite easy to wrench out of a godly balance of love, truth, purity and power. Bitter experience also shows that naοve disciples are vulnerable to abuse at the hands of unscrupulous leaders. Peter helps us set the matter straight: "it is commendable if a man bears up under . . . unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." [1 Peter 2:19 - 21.]
Suffering "for doing good" that is, for living by "the truth in love" is not just a matter of one's feelings and wishes: it may be objectively verified in light of scripture and evidence. Likewise, it can be objectively shown that some specific spiritual leaders are false, "wolves in sheep's clothing." [Matt. 7:15, cf. 16 - 23 and Acts 20:28 - 35.] Moreover, if Christ came "to fill all things" through us, then we must be involved in meeting the needs and concerns of society in all its aspects family, church, education, business, institutions, arts and culture, media, entertainment, government and politics, law enforcement and defense, environment, etc.
Nor is wealth though it is potentially distracting and deceitful inherently sinful, for we read: "remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant." [Deuteronomy 8:18, cf. 1 Timothy 6:6 - 10, in light of 3 - 21.] In fact, the creation of wealth through creativity, careful investment, diligent work and sound management is a critical part of national development, which benefits everyone in the community. As we read in Jeremiah's prophetic letter to the exiles in Babylon: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce . . . seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I [the LORD] have carried you away in exile. Pray . . . for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper . . . . For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." [Jeremiah 29:4 - 7, 11.]
In short, a well-rounded life one marked by balance and discernment in light of "the whole counsel of God" is as critical to true discipleship as is the commitment to deny self, take up one's cross and follow Jesus.
Discipleship in the Community
The story of the early church, summarised in Acts 2:36 - 47, outlines how such a well-rounded framework for Christian discipleship works out on the ground:
1. Spirit-empowered preaching, "publicly and from house to house" [Acts 20:20; cf. 2:46 & 5:42], called "all people everywhere to repent," pointing out that the risen Christ is Lord, Saviour and Judge. [17:30-31, cf. 3:13 - 21 & 4:8 -12.] Those who "accepted [the gospel] message were baptised," a visible mark of their commitment to Christ, his mission, and "the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way." [Eph. 1:22 - 23.]
2. The church's members "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching" and grew as a nurturing, learning, worshipping, witnessing and serving community. There was a focus on study, outreach, mutual support and sharing (even of possessions, cf. Acts 4:32 - 5:11), helping the poor, prayer, praise, the fellowship meal [cf. 1 Cor. 10:16, 17!], and large and small group meetings (in the temple and homes respectively).
3. Evangelistic witness was so constant an aspect of body life that "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved," and when "all except the apostles were scattered . . . . Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went." [8:1, 4.] Clearly, outreach in and beyond the local community was a daily aspect of the lifestyle of the ordinary church member.
We may thus see a clear cycle of discipleship:
(1) Winning people to Christ through evangelism and missions;
(2) Nurturing them in Christ through the life of the church: teaching, fellowship, worship, witness and service;
(3) Sending out and supporting equipped disciples in further outreach and service, in all aspects of life.
We may thus suggest three main phases for the required training:
I Consolidating commitment to Christ, his church and mission in light of the fulness theme, leading to a life that balances love, truth, purity and power under Christ in the home, church, community and world. The six Foundation Teachings of Heb. 6:1 -2 are vital here:
¨ Learning to trust and serve God through repentance: changing our hearts and minds in surrender to God, and faith: trusting God based on his Word. [Isaiah 55:1 - 9; Rom. 1:1 - 4, 16 - 17; 4:4 - 8 & 10:17; Heb. 11:6.]
¨ Celebrating death to sin, new life in Christ, eternal hope and the indwelling and empowering Spirit, through water baptism a symbolic burial and resurrection. [Rom. 6:3 - 7, cf. 1 - 14; Acts 1:4 - 8 & 2:32 - 39; Rom 8:9 - 17; 1 Cor 12:1 - 13 & Eph. 5:15 - 21.]
¨ Learning the principle of service from the laying on of hands: our hands, but God's initiative, control and power. [Acts 8:14 - 23, 2 Cor 4:1 - 11.]
¨ Living life from an eternal point of view: Jesus rose, validating the gospel and giving us an eternal hope of resurrection; but this also means that God "has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed," Christ. Accordingly, we must live as stewards who shall give an account for our lives and service, before the bar of eternal judgement. [Acts 17:30 - 31; 1 Cor 3:10 - 17, 4:1 - 5, 15:1 - 8; Matt. 6:19 - 24; 2 Cor 4:17 - 5:10.]
II Preparing for life and service through an emphasis on relating, learning, serving and leading in small, or "cell" groups and teams, as a practically-scaled focus for body life and service. [Cf. 1 Cor 14:26, Eph. 4:15 - 16, Heb. 10:24 & 25.] The above nurturing framework: teaching, fellowship, worship, witness and service, provides a clear focus for such groups and teams.
III Training, sending and supporting disciples as they go out to serve and lead in the wider community, under Christ (and in cross-cultural missionary service). This will require specific preparation for serving Christ in the different aspects of community life, such as family, education, arts, media, business, government and politics, etc.
A Challenge to the Caribbean Church
Sadly, too often even the brightest, most zealous young people from our churches after hundreds of hours of exposure to our various ministries generally only have a vague grasp of basic vocabulary, much less the skills required for effective service in the home, community and world. For instance, few of our young people are effective in Personal Evangelism, Bible Study, or responding to typical intellectual challenges to the Faith. [Luke 24:45 - 48, 2 Tim. 2:15 & 3:10 - 17, 1 Peter 3:15.] Obviously, we have not implemented effective discipling strategies.
Clearly, we must renew our nurturing, training, sending and supporting ministries across the Caribbean, as a matter of extreme urgency. To do so, I suggest:
q We need to evaluate the effectiveness of our present outreach and discipling strategies, in light of the requirements of the Fulness and Lordship of Christ, towards pruning ineffective approaches and building on points of strength. Perhaps, a forum on renewal and discipleship in light of the fulness vision may be a good point to start with. This could be done as a part of a major conference, such as CONECAR, and/or by using the Internet, so that people across the region can participate.
q We need to develop effective programmes, resource materials and a network of resource people and ministry teams available to the church across the Caribbean. An effective way to do this would be to first identify successful efforts across the region, and build on them, thus developing an integrated network of resource people and materials under the fulness theme.
q Specifically, such existing efforts could be used as ongoing pilot projects, and key ideas, resource people and resource materials could then be made available to the whole region. The use of the Internet, especially web sites, e-mail and online conferencing, would be vital to cost-effectiveness.
q For other areas, we will need to develop new initiatives. We will therefore need to set up RED Teams (Renewal, Exploration and Development) and sponsor specific pilot projects "on the ground," perhaps requiring several years of work.
q These efforts should be regionally coordinated, perhaps through one or more of our existing regional bodies, or through a secretariat growing out of the proposed conference/forum. Such a body could integrate the overall strategy, develop a regional discipleship training network with key resource people and appropriate training materials, and mobilise financial support from the region and partner agencies around the world.
Thus, over the next several years, we can work to renew the church's discipling ministry across the Caribbean. Then, our regional effort could become a pilot project for global renewal; towards the uniting of "all things" under the Lordship and Fulness of Christ.
Clearly then, it is appropriate for us to now target decisive strategic points in our region. Towards this end, our focus for the next several chapters will address specific strategic issues in renewal and reformation:
§ The cell/small group strategy
§ Bible Study in Renewal
§ Prayer in renewal
§ Renewal in the marketplace
§ Renewal in the civil service, professions, education, arts and entertainment.
§ Community leadership
§ In your church?
§ In your workplace?
§ In your community?
§ In the region?
§ What would these steps require in terms of repentance, renewal, revival and reformation?
§ How could the reformation process begin?
§ Reflect: Why not here; why not now; why not us?