November 10, 2009
Peter van der Meijden
We started 2 months ago with the Christian Essentials Class and have covered the following subjects: Why study doctrine, repentance, faith, water baptism, Holy Spirit Baptism. Today we look at the subject of Christian Discipleship.
Index for tonight
1. Definition of discipleship
2. My own personal quest
3. Discipleship in Jesus time
4. Discipleship in our time, living in a postmodern society
5. Addendum – Marks of Spiritual and Relational Maturity
Ad. 1. Definition - The word disciple is used over 250 times in the NT and simply means: “a taught or trained one, a learner or pupil, one who accepts or receives instruction or doctrines of another, a disciplined one.”
Ad. 2. My own personal quest – After my conversion at the age of 23, I really wanted to grow spiritually and relationally, the first year it was mainly through books, and understanding that faithfulness in big and small things was more important than exceptional gifts or talents. In 1 Cor. 4 the apostle Paul says: “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust (or responsibility) must prove faithful.”
As I started to serve and be faithful, I continued to grow. I also grew through the ups and downs of life, incl. mistakes (lots of them!)
Ad. 3. Discipleship in Jesus time.
In this section we will touch on the following subjects:
a. How many disciples did Jesus have?
b. How did they become disciples?
c. Who were the twelve?
d. What about the money? Their income
e. How democratic was the group?
f. Where did Jesus teach them?
g. What methods did he use?
h. What about Scripture?
i. A question for reflection
j. Did Jesus invent making disciples?
k. Some conclusions
a. How many disciples did Jesus have?
The popular answer is 12. But he also sent out 72 on mission, and these too are called disciples. And in Acts chapter 1 it mentions a group of 120. And elsewhere it speaks of “many disciples”, and even of “many that stopped following him”. Maybe that is not such an easy question.
b. Let’s start again. How did people become disciples?
The popular answer is that he chose and called them. However, John chapter 1 tells us that John the Baptist directed two of his disciples to follow Jesus and so they did. One of these was Andrew who then recruited his brother Simon. The disciples recruited disciples. Nevertheless, we also find that Jesus called these same individuals on other occasions. It seems that many people followed Jesus to one degree or another of their own volition. This crowd of followers are called disciples.
In addition, Jesus took a night of prayer before selecting 12 of them who he designated apostles (Lu 6v13). Most of what we know about the practices of Jesus concerns this group of 12, and so we shall look primarily at what he did with them, but to grasp the full picture we must not forget the 72 and the wider following that are all part of the context within which the 12 were discipled.
The gap between the 12 and the rest was not as wide as is often imagined. In Acts when they sought a replacement for Judas they looked for someone from among those who had been with Jesus from the baptism of John through to the resurrection. They narrowed it down to two, but there were doubtless others, and, in the view of the other apostles, these two were as well fitted for the task as they themselves were.
Before we move on, we should note that Jesus invited people to follow who did not.
This may be the case in Matthew 8 v 19-22 and was certainly the case in Matthew 19 v 16-22, the rich young ruler. So there was more to being a disciple than being called or chosen and not all who were called became disciples.
c. Who were the twelve?
If we are being fully objective, we must start by affirming that they were all adult males. And Jesus himself did not even start until he was 30 even though he was competent to teach from the age of 12. There were women who were followers, but they were not included in the core group.
It is generally understood that they were all Galilean Jews. Galilee was a fairly mixed kind of place and this finds some reflection in their names. Two of them had Greek names, Philip and Andrew. Some of them worked in a family businesses and one was a tax official. The suggestion is that the Simon the Zealot was at least associated in some way with the radical nationalists. We find that John son of Zebedee was known to the High Priest’s family (John 18v15). This means that in countries where extended families are the norm, one can see how people of high social status can have a wide circle of acquaintances, relatives, retainers and clients from every level of society.
d. The money
How did these men handle money? He required them to leave their jobs, to give up their livelihoods. We read of four who quit the family fishing business. They were told to leave off catching fish. Their new activity was an alternative, not a supplement. We read of a tax collector who walked away from his post. Jesus did not recruit part-timers. They lived as a community with a common purse.
They had a treasurer, Judas by name. How did the common purse operate? We find a clue in John 13. After Jesus had washed the feet of Judas, he told him to do what he was going to do quickly. The others did not understand, but they supposed that he was going off on his regular business. That included buying things they would need for the feast and distributing alms to the poor. When Mary ‘wasted’ the perfume on Jesus, the suggestion was that it could have been donated for resale. This at least suggests that the band of disciples received gifts and had a discipline of giving.
When Peter was confronted by the collectors of temple tax he was embarrassed.
Not only was he not sure whether they should pay or not, but he did not have the money on him. Jesus arranged a miracle to show that citizens of the Kingdom should still meet earthly obligations and to make Peter able to pay. It seems that the disciples did not have pocket money. When Jesus sent them out as pairs, he told explicitly told them to take nothing with them – no money, no spare clothing, not even a walking stick. He obviously did not know much about modern missionary practice, but let’s leave that to one side for the moment.
He taught them to function out of simplicity and dependence. It is not that they were supposed to fast for the duration of their mission, but rather they were to trust God to supply their needs through the people they met and ministered to. Jesus enabled them to perform signs and wonders, but specifically forbade them for charging for their services. Freely you have received, freely give. (Mat 10v8-10). There is no reason to suppose Jesus himself operated any differently himself. He had a clear set of values and practices when it came to money.
What income did they have?
They must have had income, or else they could not have bought things for the feast or have given alms to the poor. It is interesting that when Jesus asked them to feed the 5000, their first response was not that it could not be done, but rather that it would take much more money than they had. We are not told explicitly what income they had, but we do have hints. Luke refers to women who followed and supported the group from their means (Luke 8 v 1-3). The pairs sent out on mission were told in effect to trust God to provide through worthy individuals (Mat 10 v9-12).
They went almost everywhere on foot or by boat.
There were other options. Horses, camels and donkeys were available, and chariots were not unknown. He could have got so much more done if they were more mobile and could have covered much more territory. Surely Jesus’ choices regarding travel were an expression of his values regarding time and material simplicity.
e. How democratic was the group?
The simple answer is that it was not. Jesus was in charge. He told them where to go and when. Sometimes he put them in a boat and told them to push off. Sometimes he sent them on errands. He taught them as one who had authority and directed them at the practical level likewise. They called him master and teacher. We might say that the disciples were his students, but we would have to add that they had the status of servants.
Modern students do not usually associate themselves with servitude. These did what he asked. At times he rebuked them in strong terms. He never tried to argue anyone into following him, nor did he change direction to accommodate anyone. Famously, Jesus called them his friends. The modern (post-modern?) reader misses the point. He said I no longer call you servants but friends. This was a departure from the norm. It was a privilege, not the default option.
Jesus did not treat them equally.
He gave special treatment to Peter, James and John, and it is clear that Peter was designated as leader in waiting. Outside the 12 there were others who followed closely, including Matthias and Joseph Barabbas, but the 12 got more attention that the wider group.
f. Where did Jesus teach them?
Here is another practical issue. Where did he do his teaching and training? A brief survey of the Gospel shows that Jesus took them with him when he was preaching in the open air to the crowds, and also in the synagogues. He took them into peoples homes. He even took them to wedding parties. He did teach them in private, but he also taught them in public. He taught them on the road, round the table, on trips abroad, and indeed just about everywhere. Several times we find him engaged in discussion with his opponents in the presence of his disciples. He does not seem to have worked from any recognized headquarters but rather they operated as a roving community.
g. Methods of teaching and training
So what methods do we see him using? They listened while he taught the public and then he explained the details in private. He often taught by example, the foot washing being perhaps the most dramatic case. But the way he dealt with people and handled power was full of teaching content too. He taught them lifestyle. They were supposed to learn to do things as he did them. He wove teaching in and around the miracles. A disciple, he said, becomes like his master. In saying this, he was not bringing a new revelation, it was common knowledge. The very idea of discipleship is to become like the master.
He gave them assignments.
He asked them to feed the crowd. He sent them off on mission for a time. He did evaluation with them on their return. He answered their questions. He put questions to them. He gave them things to do they could not quite manage. They experienced failure, such as the boy from whom they could not drive out the demon.
He taught very little theory or theology.
Almost everything was practical and had immediate application. Even when he was responding to their curiosity about the end times, he spoke as much about what they should do as what was going to happen.
h. What about scripture?
Did he use scripture? The answers “yes, all the time,” and “no, hardly ever”, are both correct. If we ask how many times we find reference to Jesus actually reading scripture, the only reference is to a formal setting in a synagogue. There is no suggestion that he either conducted bible studies nor that he gave any systematic exposition, except possibly after the resurrection. People at that time just did not wander the countryside or take to the water in fishing boats with precious scrolls in their hands. Nor do we find him conducting anything approaching scripture memorization classes.
One thing this shows is that modern books advocating discipleship teach methods and practices different from those of Jesus, and, as we have already said that is not necessarily a problem. It just means that we must treat their claim to be following the example of Jesus with great caution.
Why so little systematic scripture exposition
Before we go on to how he did use scripture, a few thoughts on why he did not do more of the sort of bible teaching we might do. In general, he seemed to expect his audience, both disciples and opponents to know the scriptures. They learnt their scripture as children at the synagogue. Scripture was woven into their everyday lives. He was working with those who had a good deal of head knowledge. It could be argued that for this reason he did not need to teach systematically from the scriptures, but in itself it does not show what we or any one else ought to do.
So what use did he make of scripture?
He quoted things that he expected them to know. We know from studies made of rabbinic writings that people would quote part of a passage and expect the listeners to know its context and associated texts. The two phrases “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” and “You have made it a den of robbers” both alluded to powerful indictments on the people. On the cross he quoted just one line of Ps 22, but the suggestion is that the listeners knew the text and filled in the following lines for themselves. Quite often when we find Jesus quoting scripture he is actually answering opponents in the presence of his disciples. In such cases, he was asking for a right understanding of and application of the scriptures.
In the Sermon on the Mount we see Jesus teaching “not as the scribes”, who were careful to base their interpretations on rigorous study. Jesus plucked out well known and fundamental commandments and told people on his own authority how they were to be understood and applied. This was part of his way of teaching, an aspect it is not appropriate to imitate, though he surely wanted to impart boldness and confidence to his followers.
Famously, he taught in parables.
These used simple everyday language and spoke of familiar things. They were easy to remember. But the gospel writers insist that maximizing communicative effectiveness was not his aim. Not everyone was going to understand. Indeed the list of people who did not understand things Jesus said he is impressive and long. Are we already so good at miscommunication that we need no training in this side of Jesus work?
If we are thinking about practicalities, we must eventually come to the time component. And it is frightening. Jesus was on the job 24 hours a day for three years. He ate and slept with the disciples. So far as we can tell, he never ran sessions on time management. This is only of interest because so many modern manuals of discipleship regard such as indispensable. Jesus taught life style by living it and his priorities were not always the same as ours would be today.
j. Now, a question for reflection
Today, in the West, if someone decided to slavishly follow the example of Jesus, doing everything as Jesus did, how would he get on? Could it be done?
Could he call a tax official from his office and expect him to leave immediately? Could he bring 12 extra guests to a wedding? (I guess he might be forgiven if he also provided 600 litres of top quality wine …) Could he walk everywhere? Could he produce a miracle as an object lesson? Would he require his followers to accept poverty? How would he pay his taxes? Would he wash the feet of people who had never had their feet washed by anyone before? Could he quote scripture confident that the listeners knew what he was talking about?
It is not difficult to see that literally copying Jesus is problematic, and no one seriously advocates it in the western world. At this point, they back pedal, and say they are following the basic principles and applying them in a different culture.
k. Is that legitimate? Let us put the question another way. Did Jesus invent discipling?
No, he did not.
The prophets of old founded groups called the sons of the prophets who were essentially bands of disciples (e.g. 1 Sam 19v20, 1 K 20v35, 2 K 3v3).
Moses trained up Joshua in a master-servant type relationship. Elijah took on Elisha as his servant-apprentice and Elisha took on Jahazi. The Pharisees had disciples. John the Baptist had disciples. We know from archeology that the Essenes had disciples. Saul of Tarsus had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous Pharisee who appears in Acts. “Sitting at the feet of” means being a disciple of. Gamaliel ran a city-based school.
John the Baptist operated in the wilderness and people had to come looking for him. It seems most unlikely that his disciples enjoyed an easy time of it. He had a reputation for the ascetic lifestyle such that it made Jesus look like a boozer and a glutton.
It is clear that concept of discipleship was well-known in that culture and that there was considerable variation in how it was conducted. Did Jesus lay down a set of guidelines to be relentlessly followed? His apostles did not think so, because they started their new careers in Acts 2 as city based teachers. And when persecution scattered the flock they stayed put (Acts 8v1). A little later on we find Paul building his team workers. Like Jesus he was their master. He sent them on errands and mission trips.
Unlike Jesus, at times, he earned his daily bread and made that a point of his teaching (Acts 20v33-35, 2 Thess 3v7-10). What he had in common with Jesus is that he expected his disciples to do as he did. Also like Jesus, he advocated the practice of giving (Acts 20v35).
l. May I suggest that we can draw some conclusions?
Jesus adopted and adapted practices known within the culture. Disciple making in the 21st Century western world is bound to be different because the cultural setting is radically different. The fact that ‘the lost art of disciple making’ could be used as a title at all is evidence enough that our culture is vastly different from that of Jesus. Therefore, we need to understand the culture around us to see what form disciple making might have and not assume that the attempts to rediscover discipleship in the Western context have much to say to us.
If we are to help our members make disciples we need to understand and appreciate the models that already exist within their culture. Their culture is an asset not a hindrance. Our competence to teach the practice of discipleship can not be based solely on either the reading of books about our own culture nor from experience of our own culture.
Adapted by Peter, pastor NDIC, from an article written by Colin Bearup, cross-cultural church planter in Chad
4. Discipleship in our time, living in a postmodern society
It is the mission of NDIC “to help people from all nations find a home where they can connect with God, grow to be grow to be like Jesus, and be equiped for ministry in the church and their life mission in the world."
In order for “people from all nations to be able to find a (spiritual) home” we envision Sunday services which are equally accessible to both committed followers of Jesus and to those with no church background at all.
This means we seek to create a safe environment where faith can be explored and where God can be encountered in new and creative ways. We seek to be ‘seeker- sensitive’ without compromising the essence of the Gospel (“Jesus Christ crucified”).
We try to connect especially with those who are postmodern in their thinking, because this is the prevailing view, especially in the Western world today.
Postmodern people have the following world view:
1. They do not appreciate the abuse of power or influence in the name of religion.
2. They are critical of the hypocrisy of those who claim religious truth.
3. They do not believe in exclusive truth.
4. They do not believe that one religion has all the answers.
5. Argument against another religion, no matter what it is, offends them.
6. They believe that there is something beyond what we normally experience.
7. They believe this "something more" is spiritual.
8. They believe that they can find this something more by looking for the light within.
9. Spirituality must have practical application in life.
10. They would be open to someone being their spiritual guide.
11. One gains the right to be their spiritual guide by invitation.
12. One also gains this right to be their spiritual guide by demonstrating an undefined spirituality in their own life.
This means that postmodernists have a tendency to be spiritual seekers.
They are buying more books on meditation, prayer, and spirituality than on sex or self-help. They search for something experiential, personal and practical in nature (like New Age).
One of the major advantages we have as Christians in dealing with postmodernists is that we have a God who is real and who is active in our lives. Unfortunately, this personal interaction has been somewhat downplayed in our modern expressions of Christianity. Many postmodernists are looking for a real spiritual encounter. They want to make actual contact with spiritual forces. They can make contact with Jesus who is real and very powerful.
Christians have a personal love relationship with Jesus Christ. We encounter Him through abiding, Christian meditation, Bible study and prayer. He is interested in every detail of our lives and is willing to become involved in the most intimate and minute details of our lives. He answers our prayers supernaturally. This is a very positive message for a postmodernist if we can communicate it to them in their cultural language.
Postmodernists want answers to the real problems they are facing in their daily lives. They don't want grand narratives, they don't want doctrinal answers; they want results. We have a God who can meet their needs. We have a God who has spoken to mankind in practical ways about their significant needs. He continues to interact with mankind through meditation of the Scriptures, the body life of the Church, and the Church's interaction with society. We have a God who has given us practical guidelines on marriage, child rearing, family, lifestyle, relationships, and dealing with problem areas of our lives, among others.
Postmodernists, while rejecting the grand narratives, do want answers to local problems. If we were to talk to most postmodernists about the large socio-political problems that cause world hunger they would turn off the noise. However, if we were to send food and clothing to flood victims they would respect us for having a social conscience. They want to see action that is doing something about real problems. This will be perceived as showing spiritual light; we call it having a good testimony.
Postmodernists are looking for a better life. But the improvements they are looking for are not merely material. They have the benefits of modern technology and they appreciate them, but they want something more. They want emotional comfort, happiness, peace, joy, and love. They may not know how to express it in our terms but they are looking for shalom. This is good news because Jesus wants to give them shalom.
Witness needs to come from relationship not from proclamation. Their idea of a spiritual guide is not someone who points them to the right trail but rather someone who says, "I have experienced the trail. I love the trail. I am on the trail. Come with me." Furthermore, they need to sense that indeed we are on a spiritual trail and that that trail could be good and practical for them. Proclamation of the doctrinal truth of the gospel as a theological fact to be believed will be turned off as noise. In fact, that is what most of us are experiencing as we preach the gospel to postmodernists. We need to find ways of making relationship and then inviting them join us on the trail.
When “preaching a sermon” it should not be a speech with all the answers, but rather invitations to explore.
Moving In the Direction of Solutions
How do we get past the cultural and communication barriers between modernists and postmodernists and cross the bridges that exist so they can meet Jesus?
Following are some ideas to ponder. I don't claim that I have concrete failsafe solutions but as we work together and experiment together perhaps the Holy Spirit will guide us to ways to make contact and allow us to be spiritual guides to our postmodern friends.
Lead with Jesus
Those postmodernists who are spiritually minded want encounters with a personal spiritual force. This of course can be a very dangerous desire if it is focused in the wrong direction. However, if focused on Jesus it can lead to an encounter with the loving, gracious God of the universe. We might consider talking with our friends about what Jesus is doing in our lives. We need to talk about Him just as He is, personal and spiritual. We also need to be careful. Going too fast or too aggressively will be perceived as noise and we will be turned off.
Postmodernists want to hear practical solutions. How is Jesus affecting our marriage? How is Jesus helping me overcome bitterness? How is Jesus helping me raise my kids? What is Jesus leading me to do for my neighbours who have needs?
Our modern tendency is to avoid being too spiritual, to the point that we often view mysticism with scepticism. Christian mysticism is as old as the Church. Postmodernists who are looking for spirituality are probably much more open to personal spiritual encounter than a non-Christian modernist would be.
Think of introducing them personally to Jesus
Our modern tendency is to preach the gospel as a doctrine to be accepted and believed as truth. It might be wise to consider introducing our postmodern friends to a spiritual Jesus who offers practical solutions; one of the most important of which is that Jesus wants to cleanse us spiritually.
He wants to offer grace, love and peace to those who formerly didn't know Him. Then we can go to the cross as a highly personal act that showed the extent to which He would go to meet us and spiritually cleanse us.
George G. Hunter Ill in his book How to Reach Secular People suggest that instead of trying to convince someone of the rightness of our point of view and then ask for a decision or conversion as we do with modernists we should look for a series of mini-conversions. He suggests that we should do this from relationship looking for changes of perspective in these following six points in the following order:
In other words first we help our friend become aware of our relationship to Jesus (mini-conversion #1).
Next we show how Jesus can be relevant in their personal life (mini-conversion #2).
We then try to cultivate interest in their investigating a relationship with Jesus (mini-conversion #3).
We challenge our friend to see if Jesus won't respond to their felt need such as in helping them heal a broken marriage or dealing with children (a trial). We can do this through introducing them to what God has said in his Word and through their own prayer to Jesus (mini-conversion #4).
When they have an experience with Jesus we tell them of other things that Jesus offers especially forgiveness of sin, or spiritual cleansing (mini-conversion #5).
We then need to encourage our friend that he or she has made the right choice. One way to do this is through introducing them to other Christians so they have a sense of community and they can begin to adopt the values of that community (mini-conversion #6).
All of this comes from relationship and must be done over time. It is not something that can be done in one conversation, one week or probably even in one month.
Think about spiritual formation as a model
As discussed before, most postmodernists have an aversion to doctrine, but this does not mean they would be disinterested in spirituality and spiritual growth. One ancient model that would probably appeal to new postmodern Christians would be spiritual formation. In this model the spiritual director works through practical and spiritual problems with the disciple by directing the disciple to pray through and meditate on certain scriptures. He may give the disciple a specific spiritual task to accomplish or a question to answer; he may even strongly confront the disciple.
This is intense biblical discipleship but it is not based on doctrinal knowledge but rather focused, deep, practical spiritual growth.
Look for an invitation to be a spiritual guide
Postmodernists reserve the right to invite us into their spiritual world. They don't want us to invite ourselves. However that doesn't mean that we have to sit around and do nothing. I like the analogy of fishing. We need to put out the concept of what Jesus is doing in our lives as "bait". If they respond, we give them a little more. If they don't, we build relationship and give them some more bait later. We can even tease them with the bait. But we should be very careful of coming on too hard. The second we are perceived as coercive we become noise to be switched off.
We don't have to convince anyone of anything. We just have to be passionate and real about what makes us tick!
Look for discipleship relationships
We tend to think the gospel comes first, then introduction of the new Christian to a church, then discipleship through teaching. When the new Christian enters the church he will meet new Christian friends. We might consider changing the order of this model:
Friendship comes first.
In the process of friendship comes opportunity to become a spiritual guide. It is at this point that discipleship really starts. In the process of discipleship (or spiritual formation) we introduce the person to Jesus.
We continue to guide this person in their relationship with Jesus. In the process as we begin to see spiritual growth we introduce the new disciple to others who know Jesus and who enjoy worshiping Jesus together. When the disciple is ready we introduce them to corporate worship in some sort of group or even church setting.
Look to the Creeds
Postmodernists tend to be allergic to systematic doctrine, but that does not mean that they do not need doctrine or shouldn't be introduced to the foundational truths of Christianity. One way to do this would be to have them meditate on the basic creeds of the Church such as the Nicene and Apostles Creeds. This is also an opportunity to show wholeness of the body of Christ. We can say that different churches have different customs that comes from different periods of our rich history, but we all agree on these foundational truths.
Focus on the disciplines
The cardinal Christian disciplines of prayer, meditative Bible study, Christian meditation, fasting and scripture memorization would be something a new postmodern Christian might be drawn to as long as they were presented as spiritual exercises to draw closer to Christ and to gain practical solutions in ones spiritual life.
Focus on abiding
One of the key Christian disciplines that has tended to be de-emphasized in modern Christianity is abiding in Christ. Perhaps it is because abiding can be so mystical. Postmodern Christians will probably warm up immediately to the concept of Christ's spiritual control and guidance in our life as we abide in Him and He abides in us.
Focus on prayer
Prayer is something that many non-Christian and new Christian postmodernists can relate to; after all, it is highly spiritual behaviour. It would probably be wise to emphasize fully orbed Christian prayer. By this I mean that in modern Christianity we have tended to focus on supplication, thanksgiving and confession. We have down played worship and almost completely ignored meditative prayerful Bible study, Christian meditation, ecstatic prayer and prayers of silence.
Some of our Pentecostal brothers have tended to focus on one specific style of ecstatic prayer (tongues) at the expense of other forms of prayer. We all have tended to do much more talking than listening in prayer. Postmodernists would be just as drawn to these other forms of prayer as they would supplication or tongues.
Find ways to express culture
People are very interested in their own cultural/historical/literary heritage. This is probably true of other expressions of European postmodernism. We might explore different ways of expressing and celebrating cultural and artistic events in the name of Jesus.
Postmodernists are looking for wholeness, particularly emotional and spiritual wholeness. The biblical word for this is shalom. This is what Jesus is offering his people. This would be a concept that postmodernists could warm up to.
Meet real needs in the community and the world
Postmodernists want mini solutions to real problems. They are much more likely to warm up to giving blood at the blood mobile than to a march against world hunger We can use these small events to make contact and to build a reputation as spiritual, socially conscious people. We can invite them to give clothing to our clothing drive to clothe Rumanian immigrants. We can bring the blood mobile to our Church and invite them to give blood too.
Ask them if they would like to contribute to our relief aid to help flood victims. Offer to provide written financial accountability because they see the organized church as dishonest. Offer to allow one of the members of the community to help in the finance committee to show accountability. Ask them to participate with us in these events at almost every level. We don't need to lose control of these events, but we can offer opportunities to rub shoulders with some gracious people who know Jesus.
But don't set up a stand and preach the gospel to them. It will be noise and they will turn you and it off, perhaps permanently.
Present the Bible as a spiritual book where we can encounter Jesus
It will be hard for a postmodernist to relate to the Bible as merely a book of doctrine, although it is that. It is also much more. The Bible is the spiritual book where the postmodern Christian can encounter the Triune God and abide in Jesus as they meditate and pray through scripture.
Talk about love, joy, peace, patience...
The fruit of the Spirit is the emotional result of shalom. To tell a postmodernist that to be a follower of Jesus is to begin to experience these things should be very attractive.
Furthermore these should be the parameters for the postmodern Christian worship service.
Modernism focused on teaching in corporate service, postmodernism should focus on experiencing the fruit of the Spirit in community. A corporate worship service should be where one experiences love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness all done with a spirit of self control. Teaching comes in brief focused practical homilies, in small groups and particularly in discipleship relationships.
Emphasize the community of believers
Postmodernists like community, they like relationship and they like events. While they are highly personal in their desire for personal spirituality they can also find the community of the saints to be attractive if that community is done in a postmodern way. They will also tend to absorb the values of a community they identify with. See above.
Don't be afraid of symbols, mystery and metaphors
As modernists we have stripped the Church of much of its symbols, mystery and metaphors. We do this because we have a scientific mindset. Many postmodernists will warm up to symbol, mystery and metaphor. We can do this both in our introducing them to Jesus and in our corporate celebrations of worship.
Avoid spiritual language
One of the quickest ways to turn off a non-Christian postmodernist is to try to communicate to them in modern Christian jargon.
Avoid quoting the Bible
This does not mean avoid the Bible. The word of God is living and active and sharper than any sword. It can cut right through to the thoughts and intentions of people's hearts. If we really believe this, we can allow it to do its work without citing verse references or quoting the Bible in obvious ways. Just let it be what it is, the supernatural Word of God.
Postmodernist non-Christians do not have a lot of faith in the Bible, but the incredible wisdom and power of the contents of the Bible may powerfully impact them. New postmodern Christians will need to be lovingly introduced to this powerful, spiritual book, filled with the very wisdom of God Himself. (See: Present the Bible as a spiritual book where we can encounter Jesus.)
Avoid being doctrinal
If there is a quicker way to turn off a postmodernist than using jargon it is to become doctrinal. To them it is just noise, noise, noise. That does not mean that they do not need doctrine or that they can never learn doctrine. Rather it means that that they need to learn doctrine as they study and meditate on the scriptures, meditate on the creeds and particularly as they are personally discipled in their spiritual walk as they deal with practical spiritual issues.
Postmodernists do not like to be coerced. They view being preached at, as being coerced. Their view of organized religion is one of abuse of power, force and coercion. Ministry needs to come from relationship. This means in towns where there is no gospel witness, strategies may need to be explored to send Christians to live there rather than trying to start churches by proclamation of the gospel. This will have little success and further it would probably brand even the new Christians as "noise" to be avoided rather than establishing an effective beachhead.
Avoid strong doctrinal teaching in the service
Rather keep it focused on practical life issues.
Avoid Being Critical
Postmodernists do not like intolerance and do like inclusion. To criticize other expression of the Christian faith or other religions is highly counter productive. They may not like them either but they will defend their right to personal opinion and lifestyle etc. It is best to find ways to say things as positively as possible. It would be better to be evasive than to be critical, though better still to be open and positive.
Just as the shift from ancient Christianity to modern Christianity was inevitable, so is the shift from modern to postmodern. Postmodern Christianity will happen anyway, in fact, it already is happening. It will have its own strengths and weaknesses. It would be best to reflect strategically now to help the building of this postmodern Christianity and help it avoid inherent weaknesses. Brian McLaren and others from the emergent church community call this "ancient-future faith".
We need to think about the legacy we are going to leave the postmodern Church.
We don't want to have a destructive split in the church like at the beginning of the modern era. We have a lot to offer postmodern Christianity but we also need to realize that this cultural shift in Western society is so profound that we will not be able to hold it back any more than ancient Christians could hold back the Reformation.
Even less so, because we will be unwilling to use violent tactics to stop postmodern Christianity. Their new wine won't fit in our wine skins, but we can help them become salt and light as they begin to minister to a culture we will never completely understand.
Strong tendency toward First we need to recognize that postmodern Christianity, if nurtured well, can have some tremendous strength.
Potential Strengths of the Postmodernist Church
If properly discipled postmodern Christians could avoid one of the unhealthy tendencies of late Ancient Christianity and Modern Christianity, being nominal Christians. Postmodernists want a personal spirituality not just a doctrine or rites that guarantee access to heaven.
The potential to become deep, thoughtful Christians
Because of this desire for personal spirituality, there can be a tendency to direct them to a deep walk with Jesus. I suspect that postmodern Christians will have a stronger tendency to desire and tolerate much more intimate and directive forms of discipleship.
Strong emphasis on abiding
One of the weaknesses of modern Evangelicalism has been its lack of emphasis on abiding. The emphasis on abiding in the early church was replaced by doctrinal knowledge in the modern church.
Since for many modern Christians maturity meant doctrinal/theological/biblical knowledge, there was much less emphasis placed on actually developing an intimate relationship with Jesus, or intimacy was redefined as knowing and living biblical doctrine. I suspect that postmodern Christians will be less likely to fall into this weakness.
Stronger tendency to live out their faith in society
Postmodernists want to make a difference in the problems they see around them.
They will be much more socially conscious than modern Evangelicals have tended to be. This gives them many more ministry opportunities and allows them new ways to be salt and light in their communities.
Desire for community
If church life is developed with postmodernists in mind they may very well have more of a desire to express body life than have modernists. This is because while looking for individual spirituality they desire community. They would also have less of a tendency to dichotomize their "church life" from their "secular life". However, if church practice were formed along modernist lines they would have very little desire to attend church activities.
Fewer tendencies to fight with other Christians over doctrine
One of the sad legacies of modern Christianity is our tendency to fight with our brethren over minute doctrinal issues. Of course, each of us feels that the issues we fight over are major. This is because of our modernist desire to have exclusive truth.
In doing this we have sometimes strained out gnats and swallowed the camel of Jesus' desire and prayer for His Church to be one. I don't foresee the postmodernist Church becoming one worldwide organization, but I do see them being much more tolerant of doctrinal differences, and much more willing to live in peace with each other.
More openness to the realities of spiritual warfare
Postmodernists will be more open to the realities of the spiritual realm. Some modernist Christians have struggled with this even though it is a clearly biblical issue because their modern mindset would not allow them to accept what they could not measure or sense with their five senses.
Potential Weaknesses of the Postmodernist Church
Like many human situations the postmodernists' greatest strengths can be their greatest weaknesses. The very things that bode well for the emerging expression of the Christian faith also have the seeds of destruction sown within it.
Desire for individual spirituality
There may very well be a strong tendency to seek individual spirituality without real biblical and doctrinal moorings. This is an incredible danger. Our postmodern brethren may have the tendency to be like the Children of Israel in the time of the Judges, everyone doing what was right in their own eyes. One of the great legacies we have to give our brethren is well thought out biblical theology. In other words: doctrine. This is the very thing they are going to want to resist. We need to find ways to give them biblical parameters without expecting them to be doctrinaire.
Desire for individual truth
This is very similar to what is mentioned above. Postmodernists may very well have the tendency to say it is truth for me so that is good enough. Yet Jesus is the embodiment of truth, and if we are not connected with that Truth we have no truth at all.
Potential to get enamoured with spirituality itself
It would be very easy for postmodernists to get excited about the peripheral issues of spirituality and miss the biblical Jesus. To miss the biblical Jesus is to miss the real Jesus. They will need to learn that it is not prayer that is important, nor the feelings of peace that comes with prayer, it is connecting with the real God of the Universe and developing an abiding relationship with Him that is important.
Tendency to not reflect biblically about social issues
It would be very easy for postmodernists to make social stands without reflecting biblically and asking the question, what has God already said about this?
Potential to be pragmatic
Practicality is good; pragmatism without biblical reflection is dangerous.
Tendency to hold personal doctrine above biblical doctrine
Postmodernists may tend to say that Jesus told them something in prayer so it doesn't matter what the Bible says, or they may make decisions based on their own non-biblical values without significant biblical reflection; both are dangerous.
I am sure I have not touched on all of the potential strengths of the postmodern church, nor have I plumbed the depths of where the devil may try to steer them off course. But I am convinced that postmodernism is here and it offers a great opportunity and challenge to modernists who want to evangelize postmodernists. I am also convinced that the postmodern church will exist, in fact it already does. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not withstand us. There will always be a Church to be breaking down the gates of hell. But that Church may not look like what we are used to.
Our position in NDIC is not necessarily to be a postmodern church, but to conduct services which are sensitive to (postmodern) people in a cross cultural setting.
For this to happen we need you! Please…
1. Come in time for the service.
If you are a regular, please come no later than 10.15 am. Your presence makes it so much easier for first time visitors to blend in! Be friendly and talk to them.
2. If you have responsibilities that Sunday (set up, children, coffee, etc.), please come no later than 9.30 am.
The reason is that you will have half hour to prepare everything and than have 15 minutes left (till 10.15) as a buffer, in case of unexpected emergencies. It will also give you extra time to join the intercession team or just be available in case visitors come early.
Coming in time avoids last minute stress, a lot of running around and it also gives you extra time to sometimes have a quality talk with one of the other team members (like an extra bonus).
3. Be prepared to give a testimony – the NDIC leadership will utilize the power of personal testimonies more often!
4. Practice the fruit of the Spirit in your own life and celebrate His presence with us during our corporate times of worship. Your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control are so attractive and draw people to Christ.
5. Focus during the week on abiding and practice the disciplines like prayer, meditative Bible study, Christian meditation, and scripture memorization and be open to share what you have received with others, also in our Connect groups. You might be asked by someone to be their guide.
6. Postmoderns like testimonies, symbols, paradox, parables and stories. This is much different than enlightened modern persons, who just wanted a clear presentation of the facts. We need to sharpen our abilities to use the story telling arts to reach the heart of postmoderns. This was an art form in which Jesus was a master.
7. Our messages will need to be practical, authentic, interesting, inspiring and encouraging.
Most of the material for this paper is taken from: 2000 by Ross P Rohde, http://www.facingthechallenge.org/rohde1.php.
Some adaptations were made by Peter, pastor NDIC
Addendum: “Marks of Spiritual and Relational Maturity”
New Day International Church considers becoming spiritually mature as a life-long process. This process is necessary in order to ‘bear fruit’ (John 15) and, although it is a process in which God imparts in us the “willing and working”, it is also a process in which we are actively involved and are expected to put effort into it ourselves.
Spiritual growth and spiritual maturity are the result of prayer and work, always within the context of Christian community. One cannot operate without the other. The following list describes the various areas of increasing Christ-like maturity in the life of the individual Christian:
- Has a Conversational Relationship with God – does not just seek their Heavenly Father in case of emergency but has an ongoing dialogue and sense of God’s presence
- Has a “Quiet Time” – sets aside special time for being with God
- Understands the Fundamental Aspects of Prayer – knows the different aspects of prayer such as adoration (telling God what you like about Him), intercession (praying for others), confession (telling about sins), petition (asking), and devotion (listening)
- Reads the Scriptures on a Regular Basis – sets aside time to read the Scriptures
- Views Scripture as Spiritual Food – realizes the necessity of consuming God’s word
- Can Use Basic Bible Study Tools – can find out what the Bible teaches themselves through Bible commentaries, Bible concordances, and Bible dictionaries
- Values Good Christian Writing – sees the benefit of reading challenging and informative and inspirational Christian writing as a regular part of their spiritual life
- Makes Weekly Worship with Their Faith Community a High Priority – has a sense of the “Lord’s Day” and looks at it as a special time to return thanks and praise to God
- Focuses on What They “Put In” to Worship – their center of attention in worship is God, not themselves
- Comes With a Sense of Expectation – anticipates that God will be present in a special way when the whole church gathers for worship
- Values Christian Community – they view Christian fellowship as providing the fundamental relationships out of which they are capable of growing and thriving in Christ
- Is Encouraging To Others – they look for ways to support and cheer on their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and they avoid gossip and back-biting
- Respects Healthy Boundaries – has a sense of the appropriate level of intimacy with other persons
- Sees Themselves As a Community Builder – they introduce themselves and welcome others into fellowship
- Knows How To Constructively Resolve Conflict – knows how to seek reconciliation with the person they are in conflict with, and knows how to involve the Elders of the church if necessary.
- Is Actively Playing a Part – they are “helping out” in some way
- Has A Sense of Servant hood – they have the concept of serving God in their work and not just “doing a good deed.”
- Understands Spiritual Gifts – is sensitive to the special spiritual abilities God has given them and is applying them in the church
- Sees Themselves as Having a Role in God’s Work on Earth – is aware that as a Christian they have responsibilities
- Understands The Concept of Stewardship – realizes that in life they are managing a life which actually belongs to God
- Sees giving a monthly substantial and proportional amount as something which reflects good stewardship and helps the church to grow and continue to give to the poor.
Seeks to have a balanced and wise budget, based on the “80-10-10 principle” in which we give 10% of our income, save or invest 10% of our income and live off the remaining 80%. This is a great starting point for financial giving in our lives and wise stewardship!
Sharing Our Faith
- Has a Good Grasp of the Basic Christian Faith – has a grasp of the fundamental Christian message and is aware of the basic evidence for the faith
- Can Share Their Own Faith Story – is able to share the impact that being a Christian has had in their own life
- Is Able To Lead Another Person To Christ – can pray with someone as they receive Christ into their life
- Is Pursuing Opportunities – is praying for and “on the lookout” for opportunities to share their faith
- Feels Sympathy For the Lost – feels sympathy and concern for those living without Christ
- Is Actively Reaching Out – they are giving practical assistance to people who need help
- Has A Heart For The Poor - has special concern for the homeless and the suffering
- Has A Sense of Servant hood and Fellowship with Those They Serve - they don’t see themselves to be “better than” the people they are serving
- Can Help without having To “Fix” Everything – they don’t try to jump in and run the other person’s life, instead they have a priority for listening
Being Spiritually Honest
- Has Self Awareness – is able to confess to God their areas of personal weakness and vulnerability to sin
- Sets The Standard of Christ – doesn’t compare their character to the character of other people but compares their character to the character of Christ
- Is Connected With Others Who Have The Same Goal - meets regularly with a trusted Christian friend (or friends) to confess their sins and their need for growth
Taken and somewhat adapted from Catching Life Christian Church Chicago