Focus on the Few to Reach the Many

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, to send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. ~ Mark 3:13-15 (CSB)

Jesus dealt with large crowds with love and compassion, but his main focus wasn’t on the crowds. Jesus’ aim was to grow his kingdom people, faithful to him, and he has been doing that throughout the ages as countless millions have come to follow him. But he started this endeavor by devoting the majority of his attention to twelve men (one of which would betray him, so eleven faithful men).

Now this might seem unusual. If you want to reach the crowds, wouldn’t you focus on the crowds? That might seem like the way to go, but from what we see with Jesus, the key to reaching many is to focus most intensely on a few.

Jesus worked to train up eleven who, after three years, he would release to go into the world and make more disciples of him.

In The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman wrote:

“[Jesus’] concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public…

“Jesus devoted most of his remaining life on earth to these few disciples. He literally staked his whole ministry on them.”

The principle in working with a few to reach a multitude is the principle of multiplication. If a few faithful persons spend time sharing Jesus with and training a few faithful persons who then go and spend time sharing Jesus with and training a few faithful persons, the results begin to compound.

What if one person were to invest three years in just three other people, teaching them about Jesus and his word and how to live faithful to Jesus, and then send each of these out to do the same while he/she picks up three more people to invest in?

At the start, you would have just one trained disciple-maker. At the end of year 3, you would have four. At the end of year 6, you would have sixteen; and at the end of year 9, fifty-two. These numbers don’t seem impressive, but if you keep going, after 21 years, you have 16,384; and after 27 years, 262,144; and then in 48 years that number jumps to 4.29 billion. (1)

In other words, a few devoted to reaching a few can change the world in a generation.

Paul understood this as well, which is why he told Timothy as a church leader to entrust the gospel “to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Real life rarely works according to formulas, and no person can force another to be saved. Salvation through Jesus comes only by the work of the Holy Spirit through the message of the gospel. But if we set our sights on multiplication, like Jesus and Paul, to train up a few who can train up a few who can train up a few, then we may very well see the gospel spread in massive ways.

(1) Assuming I have my numbers right…

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Discipleship 01 (Coleman)

Image taken and modified from pixabay.com

Good Reads 05.31.17 (on: grief, growing up, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On discipleship and real life: Discipleship for the Rest of Us by Jared C. Wilson

If the mast gets struck by lightning, so do we. When church people say “Discipleship means following Jesus,” I think they tend to picture a group of sun-tanned dudes in cantata-quality robe costumes peacefully strolling through green pastures, perhaps stopping here and there under the comfortable shade of a tree to watch Jesus smile at them and tousle the hair of precocious children scampering about at his Birkenstocked feet.

Or maybe I’m just cynical. When I ask “What do you think of when you hear the word discipleship?” I’d love to hear people answer more along these lines:

“Believing God has a plan for me even when I’m afraid he doesn’t.”
“Believing God loves me even when I feel like nobody else does.”
“Trusting that God is doing something for my good even though my life has always been terrible up till now.”
“Following Jesus even though my feelings speak more loudly.”
“Denying myself to do what’s right although I don’t really want to.”
“Imagining a time when I won’t hurt as much as I do now.”
“Imagining a time when my spouse or child won’t hurt as much as they do now.” (click here to read more)

On how every Christian is called to be a servant to others: Every Christian a Minister by Eric Davis

Biblically speaking, however, the Christian life is not like that. In keeping with the football metaphor, the local church leaders are more like the team’s coaches and trainers (minus the temper). As such, they are called to work hard, study, stay ahead of things, and prioritize the care of the players. But they are not the players. Instead, all Christians are more like the players. As they receive the care, training, and equipping from the coaches, they are the ones on the field enjoying the challenges and rewards of the game.

To maximize their joy and effectiveness, they are to regularly stay connected with the coaches and trainers. They give and receive input to the coaches. They communicate closely with them. Wounds are treated, successes celebrated, and mistakes nurtured. They may not know every coach or trainer, but they stay closely connected with at least one. That/those coach(es) then provide accountability, equipping, care, and a nurturing relationship for as long as the player is under their stewardship. God’s design for every Christian is more likened to players on a field than spectators in a grandstand. (click here to read more)

On dealing with the pain and grief we face in life: Six Words to Say Through Tears by Nancy Guthrie

But when we are the ones who are grieving, what is far more important than what other people say to us is what we say to ourselves — what we say to ourselves in between sobs, when we have more questions than answers, when the emptiness feels overwhelming, when anger is getting a foothold in our heart.

When the grief is fresh and intense, we might take some wild ideas for a test drive, but to move toward healing and return to joy requires that we press this one idea deeply into our souls until it begins to impact us at the level of our feelings: “I can trust God with this.” (click here to read more)

On looking to Jesus to guide us as we grow up: Like Us, Jesus Had to Grow Up Too by Alun Ebenezer

Growing up in today’s world is hard. It’s a time of big changes. Hormones kick in and there’s the strain of having to contend with social media, peer pressure, the need to be cool, exam stress, insecurity and society’s relentless demand to be successful. It can all seem a bit much and young people can feel that no one knows, as Amy McDonald sung, ‘a single thing about the youth of today’.

But there is someone who knows; knows exactly what is to grow up in this fallen, broken world. The Son of God who thought it not robbery to be equal with God (Phil. 2:6), 2000 years ago humbled himself, made himself of no reputation (Phil. 2:7, 8), became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). For 33 years he learned what it is like to be you and me; to be a baby, a toddler, a child and an adolescent. (click here to read more)

Fishers of Men

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” ~ Mark 1:16-17 (ESV)

As Jesus sat out on his ministry, he called different men to follow him for a new purpose in life. To Simon (Peter) and Andrew, as well as James and John, who worked as fishermen, Jesus called out to follow him and he would help them catch people.

In other words, if they devoted themselves to him, he would use them to bring people into God’s kingdom. This first call to these men anticipated Jesus’ last command in Mark’s gospel: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15), or as Jesus stated in Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all the nations.”

Though the call to be “fishers of men” may have been a play on words with these men’s occupations, Jesus places the same call on the life of each of his followers. We are to seek to expand the kingdom. As disciples of Jesus, we are to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

Alvin Reid in Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out says it this way: “Talk to the actual person in front of you about the Jesus inside of you; let them see and hear the change Jesus makes in you” (pg. 99). He then gives the example of a man named Alex:

Alex worked very closely with his colleagues. As much as he wanted them to know Jesus, he knew if he brought up the gospel all the time they would stop talking to him. He developed the practice of five: as he interacted with coworkers, about every fifth conversation he had with one of them he would talk about Jesus. For his context that seemed to be about right: not too preachy, and yet not negligent of speaking of Christ. Let’s face it, if you know someone really closely for years and never speak about Jesus, you are speaking about him: you are saying with your lack of words he is no big deal.

I shared Alex’s practice of five with a group of businessmen who immediately saw it as a very helpful way to think about sharing Jesus in the workplace. I don’t know what it is for you: five times, or three, or seven. I do know there is a balance between how you live the gospel and how often you speak it. (pg. 105)

When calling us to be “fishers of men,” Jesus won’t call all of us to be pastors or foreign missionaries (though he will certainly call some to that). Yet he will call all of us to use our relationships where we live, work, and play in order to share about him with others. As Reid points out, we don’t want to be overbearing and push people away, but we also cannot be consistently silent about our faith.

If we love Jesus and love others, we will want them to know and love Jesus as well.

Another thing that Reid suggests is to pray this simple prayer each day: “God, give me today (1) an opportunity to speak with someone about Jesus; (2) the wisdom to see it; and (3) the courage to do it.” (17-18)

Will you seek to bring men and women into God’s kingdom?

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Mark 1_17

Image taken and modified from pixabay.com

Good Reads 03.15.17 (on: #prayer #parenting #singleness and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On parenting and prayer: Seven Things to Pray for Your Children by Jon Bloom

So, pray for your children. Jesus promises us that if we ask, seek, and knock, the Father will give us good in return (Luke 11:9–13), even if the good isn’t apparent for forty years. And because Jesus regularly asked those who came to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51), we know that he wants us to be specific with our requests. (click here to read more)

On parenting and discipleship: Don’t Farm Out Your Child’s Discipleship to the Youth Pastor by Clark Forbes

What I tell them isn’t usually the answer they’re looking for: the best practice and strategy for helping kids know the gospel, come to saving faith, and grow as a disciple, is a parent investing in the discipleship of their child. Nothing helps a teenager know the gospel like seeing it modeled in the home; not just taught or spoken to them, but modeled through their parents’ relationship to each other and to the kids. (click here to read more)

On singleness and God’s Mission: Single, Satisfied, and Sent by Marshall Segal

While it may seem like two categories at first, we soon discover in application that there are three: the single, the married, and the not-yet-married. After all, as any single person knows, a desire for marriage does not a marriage make. My hope in reflecting on Paul’s words is to restore hope and ambition in the hearts of the not-yet-married and set them solidly on mission in their singleness. (click here to read more)

On the God-centered focus of preaching: You Are Not the Story by H. B. Charles Jr.

After watching a few minutes of a news telecast, I find myself turning the channel in frustration, grumbling to the reporter on the screen, “You are not the story!”

Unfortunately, many of us who stand in the pulpit need this reminder just as much as those who sit at the news desk. Christian ministers are charged to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). The Lord commands it. The truth demands it. The hearers need it. Yet there is always the danger of inserting ourselves into the sermon – by our content or delivery – that the message is obscured.

People should not leave the sermon having learned more about the preacher than Christ. When we stand to preach the word, we should prayerfully whisper to ourselves, “You are not the story.” (click here to read more)

On the ups and downs of spiritual growth: Why Do Spiritual Highs Fade? by James Beevers

So, if there is to be any lasting effect from these events and experiences, it must have at the bottom seeing and savoring Jesus Christ — and this is often what camps, conferences, and events provide. Anything of true, durable worth from these experiences comes from seeing God clearly as he really is. This can come from sermons, or discussions, or singing in worship, or late night conversations, prayers, and devotions.

When we see the light of the glory of Christ most clearly, the things of this world seem dim and worthless by comparison. Why have sin, good as it may look, when we can have Christ? (click here to read more)

 

 

Good Reads 02.15.17 (on: prayer, revival, love, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On prayer and revival: Prayer for Revival and Faithful Plodding by Mike Leake

I wonder if this is why we pray so much for revival. Because times of revival aren’t the times of slow plodding. That’s when the wheel is spinning at full speed and you’re just trying to keep up with its produce. What ministry leader wouldn’t want that?

But in my mind our view of revival is a bit like an empty water wheel that just starts spinning by an unseen hand. I wonder if sometimes my prayer for revival is little more than, “Lord, make my job a lot easier”. Am I praying that God would cause the wheel to spin apart from seasons of faithful plodding? Is my prayer for revival just laziness cloaked in spiritual jargon? (click here to read more)

On prayer and parenting: 10 Prayers for Great Parenting by Ron Edmondson

Dear Lord, Help me not to overwhelm my children with unrealistic expectations. Remind me discipline is for their good – and to always administer it in love – not in anger or purely emotion. Keep me from dumping my adult problems on them, while helping me be transparent enough for them to learn from my mistakes. Help me to remember my children’s current age – and respond to them accordingly. (click here to read more)

On love and marriage: The 5 Weightiest Words of Love by Trevin Wax

The cost of the average wedding in America now exceeds $30,000, with prices soaring 16 percent between 2011 and 2015. With all the glitz and glamour surrounding a couple’s special day, it’s easy to focus on the decorations and dresses, while overlooking the most valuable moment of the day—the costliest words spoken between a husband and wife.

“Till death do us part.” (click here to read more)

On discipleship: Seven Costs of Disciple-Making by David Mathis

In disciple-making, we need to remember our aim is to please Jesus, and this will cost us favor with certain persons, especially when we have to say no to our involvement in their program or event or even to discipling them personally, because we’re protecting the space to invest in others. (click here to read more)

The Better Choice

If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. ~Philippians 1:22-26

Paul knew that his ministry work was dangerous (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). He had been beaten, stoned, left for dead, lowered out of a city in a basket, and imprisoned. He knew the next day of his life was not guaranteed, nor the next breath.

Paul longed to be with Jesus, so he did not fear death. He even told the church at Philippi that death was better because then he could be face-to-face with his Savior. This was not some suicide wish. This was not Paul depressed. Rather, this was Paul grasping tight to the realities of faith. If given a choice, he would gladly receive the glories of eternity over the sufferings of this world.

But he also knew it wasn’t up to him. He would have known what David said in Psalm 139:16—it is God who numbers our days. So, Paul left life and death in the hands of the Father and decided on another course. As long as he had breath, his work on earth was not yet complete. He desired to be with Jesus, but he saw necessity in remaining on in the world.

Paul was a servant of Jesus and therefore a servant to Jesus’ churches, and his desire was for their “progress and joy in the faith.” When he made the statement in 1:21, “To live is Christ,” this was an other-focused statement. This was a declaration to love God supremely and love others deeply. Loving others deeply meant seeing them grow in Christ.

Our culture and context might look different, but our task is not removed from Paul’s. Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” applies to all of his disciples, everyone who follows him in faith. To make disciples is to love others enough to show them Jesus, call them to follow Jesus, and then work for the progress and joy in the faith for all who answer that call.

As we wait for that better day when we get to see Jesus face-to-face, the better choice is not to sit back in an unengaged-with-people longing to escape this world. Rather, the better choice is to give ourselves to help others progress as Paul did.

New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

philippians-1_25

Good Reads 01.11.17 (on: resolutions, social media, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On resolutions: One Thing Worth Everything by Jon Bloom

And since we are so finite, we are forced to choose only a few serious pursuits. That means a resolution is costly, because it demands a portion of our most valuable assets: love (devotion) and time. It requires us to say no to many other enjoyable things in order to say a tenacious yes to a joy and prize we consider superior to others.

The necessary, revealing, and costly nature of resolutions makes them dangerous. For not all strenuous, time-and-attention-demanding, and promising achievements are ultimately worth doing or having. Some promises turn out to be empty. Some impressive feats are a waste of life. (click here to read more)

On discipleship and relationships: How to Disciple New Believers in Marriage and Family Relationships by Todd Jamison

It was around this time I realized what disciple-making should encompass and how messy it can be. It’s natural for us to long for formulas. But implementing discipleship via fill-in-the-blank materials devoid of genuine relationships had proven ineffective. Those materials conveniently allowed me to complete statistical reports, but they didn’t move me in the direction of making disciples who obeyed everything Jesus commanded. As an old-timer, I’ve seen programs come and go, but certain things remain unchanged in the primary task to which we are called. (click here to read more)

On our need for community: Community Keeps You from Drifting by David McLemore

It should not surprise us, then, that it is the same when it comes to God. We understand God best when we are in community with other people. As we sit in a circle and talk about God from a text from the Bible, we begin to see the fullness of who he is. That aspect of him will stand out to one, another aspect to someone else. As we make our way around the circle we begin to lose our truncated view of God and begin to see him in his fullness. We need each other to see more of God. (click here to read more)

On life and social media: Life Is Not Lived Online by Barnabas Piper

The more we take our lives online the more we lose to a reality that is not ours. It is a sacrifice, a giving of ourselves to others who care little for us and are merely consumers. We become prisoners of comparison, constantly comparing our moments to others’ rather than simply appreciating them. We are bound by a weird sense of obligation to engage and respond to others’ moments or thoughts in just the right manner so that we are seen in the tight light – to express our sorrow at their grief or to like their photo quickly after it is posted. We strive for a persona, a “real” persona in an environment that is not reality. We are not being false (at least not most of us) and neither is social media fake – it simply lacks the multi-dimensional richness of life. (click here to read more)