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Discipleship in a Crowd

“Helping People Trust & Follow Jesus”

That was one of our main lessons from last week and it was based on the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20.

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

We summed up the main ideas in this passage and ended up with this easy-to-remember statement about what discipleship is all about: helping people trust and follow Jesus.

And we brought up this whole topic of discipleship, not because this is some crazy, new idea that we should make disciples. I think most of us are well aware that Jesus has commanded us to go and make disciples. That’s one of our main purposes in this life as Christians. To be a disciple of Jesus, and to make disciples of Jesus – or as we’ve defined discipleship here, to help people trust and follow Jesus.

And so we’re not bringing this up because we didn’t know that we’re supposed to make disciples. But rather, we’re bring this up because I think a lot of us don’t know how to make disciples. I think we want to make disciples – we want to help people trust and follow Jesus – but we’re just not sure how.

Obviously being a disciple of Jesus means doing what Jesus did – but we can’t replicate everything that Jesus did. We can’t walk on water, we can’t give sight to the blind or bring people back to life. And even if we leave out the miracles, I’m not sure we’re in a position where we can have 12 grown men following us around everywhere – living life with us. All that stuff seemed to work really well for Jesus as he made disciples, but I don’t think that’s what he expects of us today.

So somehow, we’ve got to learn the principles behind what Jesus did so that we can live out those principles in our current context. We’ve got to find a discipleship model that fits.

And so that’s what we want to do in this message series. Our goal is the same goal as Jesus had – to help people trust and follow Jesus. But how are we going to do that?

Well, as we discovered last week, Jesus operated in 5 different contexts. He had 5 different types of relationships with people – and He modelled for us how discipleship works best in each context. And here were the 5 contexts that we briefly introduced last week.

  • We have Jesus and the crowds – that’s the public context.
  • We have Jesus and the 70 – that’s the social context.
  • We have Jesus and the 12 – that’s the personal context.
  • We have Jesus and the 3 – that’s the transparent context.
  • And finally, we have Jesus and the Father – that’s the divine context.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at each of those, but today we’re going to start by looking at the first context – the public context. What kind of discipleship is most effective in this context? 

So let’s begin by defining the public context. The public context is defined as 100s of people gathered around an outside resource. So to give you some examples, maybe that’s 5000 people gathering together for a concert or a sporting event. Maybe that’s a couple hundred passengers on a flight from Calgary to Edmonton. Maybe that’s a million people watching a youtube video. Maybe that’s 100,000 voters in an election. Or maybe that’s 100 customers at Costco.

Where ever we gather (physically or virtually) in large groups about 100 or more –  around an event or a shared purpose or an idea or a common experience – we are operating within the public context.

And of course, in the public context, we are the least self-revealing. This is not usually where we share personal information with the others around us. In the Costco lineup or at the hockey game, you don’t usually get into discussions of your health problems or the fight you had with your wife or things like that. But that doesn’t mean you don’t connect with people in meaningful ways.

You might have a great conversation with someone at a hockey game about the players or the team. You might discuss important issues with the people around you at a convention or conference and talk about things that you’re very passionate about. And you might do that while never even learning the names of the people you’re talking with. And that’s ok in the public context.

The public context is not really the place for building personal relationships. It’s more about sharing information and experiences. It creates a sense of togetherness as we gather around this shared resource – be that a sport team or political party or a funny cat video or a flight to Edmonton.

And it’s this context that has been the central expression of Christianity (at least in the west) for about the last 1700 years. It’s groups of 100s of people gathering together on a weekly basis in a church building of some sort to worship God together.

Now, is it possible to make disciples in this context? Absolutely. In fact, in the Old Testament times, we see God using this public context to disciple his people, the Israelites.

A great example of this is Exodus 19 & 20 where God descends down onto Mount Siani and gives the people the ten commandments. You could almost think of this as the first church service. Let me read a snippet from that. This is Exodus 19 – verse 10.

10 “Then the Lord told Moses, “Go down and prepare the people for my arrival. Consecrate them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. 11 Be sure they are ready on the third day, for on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch.” Exodus 19:10-11

“Then God gave the people all these instructions:” Exodus 20:1

Which were, of course, the ten commandment.

Do you think this experience helped the people trust and follow God? Certainly! God used this public context to reveal himself to the people, to give them instructions as to how to follow him, and then to give them the opportunity to respond in obedience.

And there are many further examples in the Old Testament where this exact type of thing happens. From the parting of the Red Sea to Elisha’s contest on Mount Carmel with the false prophets of Baal to Solomon’s dedication of the temple to the many battles where God rescues his people. These all happened in the public context and they all served to reveal or proclaim who God is, to give the people instructions as to how they are to follow God, and then to give people the opportunity to respond to what they have seen or heard.

And Jesus continued this pattern in his ministry. When you think of all the miracles that Jesus did publicly, the many sermons and parables that he told to the crowds, even events like when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple – all of these accomplished very much the same thing. They proclaimed who God is and what He’s like, they helped the people understand how to follow God, and then they had an opportunity to respond to what they saw and heard.

Now the early church was a little bit different – as we’re going to see in the weeks ahead, they probably operated primarily in the social context – so their main ‘church’ experience looked more like little communities, but there was still an element of the public context as well. Let’s take a look at Acts 2, verse 41:

 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Acts 2:41-47

So there is certainly a strong social context – meeting in homes, sharing meals, things like that – but there is still the public context of meeting at the Temple to worship each day. Paul, as he traveled from city to city sharing the Gospel, did so frequently in the public context – teaching in the local synagogues, debating in the marketplace and preaching in the town square – all to help people trust and follow Jesus.

Now today, the Sunday morning worship service is probably our clearest example of making disciples in the public context. We gather weekly to worship God, to learn from his Word, and then to go out and apply what we’ve learned to our lives.

But of course, that’s not the only place where discipleship happens in a public context today. Billy Graham or the many other evangelists over the years have preached to stadiums full of people about who God is and how they can follow him. Authors have written books read by millions that again contain the message of who God is and how to follow him. In more recent days, youtube has allowed just anyone to share that same message with thousands of people around the world.

So clearly, there is a place in the public context for making disciples. But its important to understand that there are some things that the public context can do very well, and there are some things that the public context does not do well.

For example, we’ve already mentioned how building personal relationships with one another is not something the public context does well. There’s not much relationship with the guy on the other side of the youtube video, is there?

So what does the public context do well? And this is a really important question for all of us, because it really addresses “Why do we do the Sunday morning services?” What part of making disciples can we do best in this public context? What do we accomplish here that we can’t do equal as well in our private time with God or one-on-one with a good friend?

And this is certainly an important question for leaders in the church. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Sunday morning service can look very different from church to church even locally – it can become even more diverse as you look in other cultures or other times. So we need to understanding the strengths of the public context so that we can plan our services appropriate to our culture but still accomplishing our goals of making disciples in this context. What elements do we include in our services? What do we leave out? What exactly are we trying to accomplish and how do we know if we’ve been successful?

It’s also important for you to know as well. Why is it important that you show up every week? What expectations should you have when you come to a worship service? What part do you play in the discipleship process in this context? Are there things that you can do to make the Sunday morning service more effective in your own discipleship and are there things you can do in this context to help others trust and follow Jesus too?

So it’s really important to know what sort of discipleship to expect in the public context.  I would say there are two main things that the public context can do really well in the discipleship process.

The first one, as you might be able to guess, is teaching & preaching. It is hugely important that every disciple have a steady diet of Biblical teaching. In the great commission, we pointed out last week that we are to “teach these new disciples to obey everything Jesus has commanded us.” Teaching God’s Word is clearly a priority in the disciple making process.

Now certainly we are privileged to live in a literate society and most of us can read the Bible for ourselves – and we should – but God has equipped and given special ability and responsibility to some in the church to teach and preach God’s Word to the rest of us. Look at Ephesians 4:11…

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

God has given us the gift of these people who can open up the Scriptures and to bring out those nuggets of truth that speak to our lives – they equip us to do God’s work and build up our faith and our knowledge of Jesus. This teaching and preaching is a key element in our discipleship process. God has provided these people for us for that very reason.

I think that alone would be enough reason for us to gather regularly in this public context to receive what God has provide for us.

But that’s certainly not the only reason. Another aspect of discipleship that is well suited to the public context is inspiration.

And I’m hesitant to use that word because I think it gets mis-used quite a bit. However, I couldn’t think of any other word that conveys this idea better.

I looked it up in the thesaurus and here’s some of the other words that fit with it.

Motivate, persuade, encourage, influence, move, stir, spur on, energize, awaken

When I first read those words, I thought, “Man, that’s exactly what should happen in a Sunday morning service.” And I think the Scriptures would agree.

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. Colossians 3:16

24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

Now of course, we can do all this in many different contexts, but when we do this in the public context, the impact is multiplied.

It’s one thing for me to hear from my friend what God is doing in their lives. It encourages me. It spurs me on. It gives me greater confidence in God. But when someone can share with 100 people what God is doing in their lives – they can share the same thing, but the impact is multiplied. 100 people can be encouraged. 100 people can be spurred on. 100 people can have greater confidence in God.

And so that’s one of the major benefits of being discipled in the public context. There is such a greater range of stories, a greater range of answers to prayer, a greater range of people to connect with and to share that encouraging word. It helps us gain a better perspective to see what God is up to.

We talked a little bit about this at our family camp retreat – how we have a narrow perspective and we can’t see the forest for the trees. But in the public context, we get reports from all over the forest.

In the book – Discipleship that Fits – there’s a great quote that says….

“The public context becomes a place where people experience inspiration to keep serving Jesus, a sense of movementum as they see how their local stories fit into a bigger story, and a Scriptural refuelling that shows how all these stories are wrapped up into the grand story of God.” ~ Discipleship that Fits

And I thought that was just a great description of church. A place were people experience inspiration to keep serving Jesus – We are motivated, persuaded, encouraged, influenced, moved, stirred, spurred on, energized, awakened. We also get a sense of movementum (That’s movement and momentum jammed together) as we see that God’s at work all around us. And then, through preaching and teaching, we are reminded that everything revolves around God – this is ultimately His story and we get to be a part of it.

I don’t know about you, but I’d sure consider that to be a key part of my discipleship. I don’t want to miss out on that.

And so close today, I want to tell you five ways to maximize the public context as a place for discipleship. This is both for your own discipleship and how you can contribute to the discipleship of others.

So often we evaluate the Sunday service by asking “What am I getting out of this?” And that’s only part of the equation – another major part is, “What am I contributing to this?” Both are important as we are to be disciples and we are to make disciples – and we can do both in the public context.

And so here are five ways how you can do that.

1. Throw yourself into corporate worship. Stop worrying about how you sound or look to other people, and focus on honouring God. This does two things: First of all, it puts your focus on Jesus – where it belongs. The purpose of worshipping together is not to evaluate each other’s performances – it’s to make much of Jesus. It’s to honour God and to refocus our attention on him.

Secondly, your participation teaches others to do likewise. This is part of making disciples. People who come to church for the first time or new believers or our children look at you to see how you worship God. And they will learn from you whether or not this is important. If you are disengaged or distracted – they will learn to be too. But if you are whole-heartedly, joyfully, singing about and singing to your Jesus – they will learn to do that too. How you worship is contagious. So throw yourself into corporate worship.

2. Come ready to hear (and to share) stories from your church family. I’m so thankful for all the people who have stood up here over the past couple of years and have shared their stories with us. I’ve been motivated, persuaded, encouraged, influenced, moved, stirred, spurred on, energized, and awakened by what you’ve shared. I know it’s not always easy to share those personal parts of your life – but they are so good for all of us to hear. When you share, you are being an important part of my discipleship process. So thank you! And if you haven’t yet had a chance to share, and would like to, please come and talk to me. I’d be happy to arrange that.

3. Be hungry to learn from Jesus through preaching. And this hunger is a choice! If you go into the Sunday morning service thinking the message will be long and dry and boring, with no relevance to your life – you’ll probably be right. But if you go into the sermon, asking God to speak to you and to teaching something new about Himself or about how he wants you to live, I’m pretty sure God will come through for you. It doesn’t even really matter how good or how bad the speaker is. God can speak through anyone.

I remember a speaker at camp that was just as dry and as mono-toned as anyone. He was not loud or energetic – his presentation would put you to sleep. But at the end of the week, there were more kids at that camp ready to commit their lives to Jesus than most of the other weeks of camp with “better speakers.”

So regardless of who’s speaking and how good or bad of a speaker they are, ask Jesus to speak to you through them. And He will.

4. Expect to respond to what Jesus is saying. Don’t just come to church expecting to be entertained or to have a fulfilling social experience – Come expecting Jesus to say something to you and expect to respond to Him. Anticipate that you’re going to do something because of what Jesus is saying to you that day. And maybe your response will be confession and repentance for some area of your life that Jesus points out. Maybe your response will be praise and adoration as you are reminded of who God and what he’s done for you. Maybe your response will be some step of obedience as you learn more of God’s will for your life. We may not know exact what Jesus will say or how we should respond, but we can certainly anticipate responding in some way.

5. Don’t consider Sunday morning to be the spiritual pinnacle of your week. It’s certainly a part, but discipleship happens in all different contexts throughout the week. Many Christians show up Sunday morning (which is good), but then they completely neglect the discipleship process in every other context. We can’t do that. Learning to be a disciple and making disciples can’t just happen on Sunday morning.

Preaching and inspiration are super important, and we need those, but if that’s all we get, the impact will be minimal. Discipleship has to happen in all these other contexts as well – social, personal, transparent and the divine. And I know we haven’t gotten into detail about what those other contexts are and why each of them are important, but I hope that will become more clear as we work our way through these. So maybe log this one away for now and come back to it over the next few weeks.

And next week we will continue looking at these other context – the social context is the next one. Our church is kinda unique in that we’re still small enough that we operate both in the public and the social context at the same time. So there’s some overlap there that will bring some unique challenges and some unique opportunities as well.

But we’ll get into that next week! 

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