Our Discipleship Pathway
August 26th, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
In the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (28:18-20), Jesus gives His last words to His disciples before returning to His Father in Heaven:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ ”
Jesus’ command to make disciples is central to the experience and mission of our individual faith and of our church community. THE CRITICAL INGREDIENTS OF FULLY DEVELOPED DISCIPLES OF CHRIST ARE:
1. BECOME a disciple ourselves. Make a clear informed decision for Christ, and proclaim it to the world through Christian baptism. Be careful not to stop at this belief point and miss the full discipleship experience.
2. BE a disciple. Be a member of our Body, who follows Jesus with heart, head, and hands.
Maintain a thriving relationship with God. Renew our thinking with a sound, basic knowledge of God and the disciplines of reading the Bible & prayer. Walk in obedience by bringing Jesus into our families, and investing our time, talents, & treasures in the building up of the Church.
3. MAKE a disciple. Bring others to Jesus through word and deed: serving our community, sharing the Gospel with those around us, & participating in World Missions as God shows us.
Growing out of our above definition of discipleship,
our PERRY CREEK CHURCH DISCIPLESHIP PATHWAY consists of four opportunities:
- STARTING POINT – classes for seekers, starters and returners. Offered 2-3 times yearly.
- SUNDAY WORSHIP – 10:30 AM weekly with children’s classes & infant care provided.
- SERVICE – Local & worldwide mission opportunities, especially at Riverside Elementary.
- SMALL GROUPS – loving community and discussion of sermon applications in our lives.
Clarification on Perry Creek Church’s Discipleship Pathway:
- It is a pathway for everyone, not a menu where you pick and choose what you want.
- The pathway is circular, not linear, because you can choose to start anywhere.
- The initial goal for our unchurched friends is not always worship – It’s anywhere they fit best!
- The continuing goal is to add “another step” to our Discipleship Pathway.
- Each step should be entry-point capable. Where is the space/step where we feel we can invite and welcome others?
Our own personal question is to discover what is the next step or expanded step in discipleship for us as we walk daily in God’s Kingdom. Our goal is reaching beyond just beliefs to the full discipleship experience for ourselves, & with both the church and unchurched people around us. May God help each of us listen to the Holy Spirit and those God places in our lives, so that we can invite them at the point on the Discipleship Pathway that best fits them.
You know there’s a big difference between tasting something and making something. There’s a big difference between sampling a dish of food and cooking it! This is something that I learned several years ago about the twelfth year that Kelley and I were married. We were in Zimbabwe at the time. Up until that time, we had two distinct jobs in our marriage when it came to food. My job was to taste the food, and I was good at it! I enjoyed Kelley’s cooking. I could describe it in detail. You can see I’m a great taster of food! Kelley was also good at her job which was to make the food! She made it look so easy. All the dishes were always hot at the same time. They all tasted great. I had made cheese and frozen pizza before, so I figured making the food couldn’t be that much harder than tasting the food!
So when Kelley’s birthday rolled around, I decided I was going to make the food. I was going to fix Kelley’s birthday lunch. Now I was a little ambitious. I got out the cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Childe. I picked a recipe called “Fillets de Poisson Bercy aux Champignons,” which is flounder poached in white wine with mushrooms and crème sauce – a little ambitious, but I figured Kelley does this every day so how hard can it be? We made a simple plan. Kelley was supposed to pop by the gas station, because there was a fuel shortage. She had heard that our local station had gotten a shipment of fuel. I was going to make her birthday lunch and then, that evening, we were going to go a program at the kids school.
The day didn’t quite go according to plan. I won’t bore you with the details, but let me just say that Kelley who had only had two bites of chocolate cake for breakfast ended up waiting for hours and hours in that fuel line with no air conditioning. She couldn’t run the car, because she had no fuel. She developed a tremendous headache. And I? I found out that there is a huge difference between tasting the food and making the food. It took me forever to round up and prep all the ingredients. I had no idea how to make Bercy sauce. I could not possibly keep all the dishes hot at one time. So by the time Kelley came home from the gas station at 5:30 in the afternoon, lunch was not ready, but it was time to go to the kids’ program. We ended up finishing Kelley’s birthday lunch at about 10 o’clock that night. There’s a big difference between tasting the dish and making the dish.
Now why do I tell you that story? Because today we are going to talk about something very important to our church and that is Discipleship, what we call our Discipleship Pathway. As I worked on that pathway, I discovered that there is a big difference between tasting discipleship, between experiencing and even describing Discipleship. There’s a big difference between that and making disciples, Just like with Kelley’s “Fillet de Poisson blah blah blah,” there’s a difference between experiencing discipleship and making disciples from scratch!
A little more than a year ago, I was talking to Mike Dodson. Many of you may remember Mike and Kelly. Mike is a church planting strategist who helped us get Perry Creek started. As we talked about Perry Creek, Mike said “John, Perry Creek is doing a lot of things right. Your values are good. Your people are incredible. You guys are serving the community. Now the next step for your church is to develop a Discipleship Pathway, a plan or map for how you are going to produce disciples of Jesus from scratch.”
At first, just like with Kelley’s Birthday Lunch, I was like “I know how to make Disciples of Jesus. I’ve been a disciple for most of my life!” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had a lot to learn about what a disciple really is, what ingredients go into making a disciple, and how we know when someone is a fully developed disciple. I realized I had a lot to learn about how we were going to go about making disciples of Jesus and what our plan for making disciples actually is.
So we’ve spent the last year working on it, and today I want to talk to you about discipleship and our discipleship pathway. This week we are going to introduce the pathway and in the next couple of weeks we are going to look at the four parts of the pathway one at a time.
To introduce our pathway, we’re going to look at a special passage about discipleship. So if you have a Bible, turn to Matthew 28:18-20. If you don’t have a Bible, the verses are in your handout and they will be on the screen. What we’re going to do today is this: First, we’re going to look at this command to make Disciples of Jesus. Then, we’re going to look at two key questions that we, as a church, need to answer if we’re going to fulfill that command:
- What is a disciple of Jesus? What are the ingredients of a true disciple? How do we know when someone is a fully developed disciple?
- How is Perry Creek Church going to make Disciples? What is our plan our pathway to discipleship?
If you’re part of Perry Creek, if this is your church, I want you to know the four parts of our pathway by heart. I want you to ask yourself what is your next step in discipleship. I want you to begin praying today for someone else that you could invite to one step on our Discipleship Pathway.
If you’re new around here, if Perry Creek isn’t your church, if you’re visiting us today or if Christianity is new to you, I want you to learn a little bit about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I want you to ask yourself if there’s a step of discipleship you need to take.
So let’s read Matthew 28:18-20. These are the last words that Jesus spoke to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. They are called the Great Commission, and Matthew records them this way:
Then Jesus came to them (the 12) and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:18-20
We are going to look at the command in this passage, and then we are going to look at two questions about it. So let’s start with the command:
Our Main Job is to Make Disciples
Our main job as a church, our main job as Christians, is to make disciples for Jesus. Yes, we are to care for the poor. Yes, we are to love one another. Yes, we are to be salt and light in our society, but our main job is to make disciples of Jesus, to share with people the good news that Jesus died for their sins so that they can live in forgiveness and be at peace with God, and to teach them how to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and obey his teaching, so that they can fully become his disciples! That’s our main job. We see this in our passage. These are Jesus’ last words before he ascended into heaven. They’re important! There are a lot of important words in this passage right? Look at it again:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:18-20
There are a lot of important words in this passage – authority, go, baptizing, teaching, obeying – but in the Greek, in the original language, there’s only one direct command in this verse and the command is this: “Make disciples.”
That’s what we’re all about at Perry Creek. Our values – Bible, Prayer, Family, Community, Missions – they are all about what goes into us to make us a disciple and what grows us up to be mature disciples and what helps us make other disciples. Our children’s ministry has a motto: “Know, Grow and Go.” That’s all about discipleship, what our kids need to know to be a disciple, what helps them grow as disciples and how they can go to make other disciples. Our missions efforts are all about discipleship. Wednesday night at our missions meeting we were discussing something we might want to do to help people. We were asking “Does this belong to the category of missions?” The key question was this: Does it relate to making disciples? Because that is the heartbeat of our missions undertakings. They all make disciples.
My point is just this. Our number one job here at Perry Creek is to make disciples for Jesus. Most of us would probably know that and agree with it. Most Christian churches, when you get down to it, would say that their main job is to make disciples. Those were Jesus’ last words and they are our first concern: to make disciples.
But if we’re going to do that, if we are really going to make disciples there are a couple of questions that we need to answer. The first one, quite obviously, is this: What is a Disciple? What exactly is a healthy, fully developed Disciple of Jesus? What ingredients go into a disciple? What are the processes by which disciples are made? How do we know when a disciple is fully developed? What is a disciple?
That’s a harder question to answer than it might seem at first. At first, it might not seem that difficult. The word “disciple” is not a common word in our culture. If I asked you what the word “disciple” means, many of you could probably give me some definitions. What would you say if I asked you what a disciple is? A follower, a learner, an apprentice, the twelve?
Those are some of the things I would have said when I started thinking about our discipleship here at Perry Creek. At first, those definitions sound good and they are basically accurate. The word “disciple” does literally mean “a learner or apprentice.” But here’s the thing: Those are really just synonyms for the word disciple. They describe it, but they don’t really tell us what we need to know to make disciples. That’s sort of like tasting Kelley’s birthday lunch and saying “It’s a fish dish” or “It’s creamy. It’s buttery. It’s warm.” That kind of describes it, but it doesn’t really tell us the ingredients
But the ingredients are important. If we, as a church, are really going to produce disciples, if we are going to take people from not knowing Jesus at all to being fully developed disciples of Christ (not that anyone ever arrives), but if we’re going to produce healthy disciples, we need to know what ingredients make a disciple.
So John Maiden and I looked at Scripture, and we prayed, and we wrestled with the question: “What are the ingredients of a healthy disciple of Jesus Christ?” What are we trying to produce? How will we know when we have success? In the end, we saw three main ingredients in Scripture. They’re all in this passage, and they’re on your handout there. These are the three ingredients of a healthy disciple of Jesus. The first ingredient is this:
- Become a disciple. In other words, make and proclaim a clear decision for Christ. Know for certain that you have made a clear, informed decision for Christ. You know who Jesus claimed to be you know what it means to believe in him for salvation. You know what it means to follow him, and you have chosen to do that. Proclaim that decision through Baptism. There are lots of ways we could declare your identity as a Christian. You could announce it. Tweet about it. Wear a cross, necklace or a t-shirt. The way Scripture tells us to do it is through baptism. Baptism is the single clearest indicator all around the world that someone has made the decision to be a Christian. We see this in our passage. Look again at:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, and the first thing that follows that is baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
– Matthew 28:19
Wasn’t it great last June to see eleven people be baptized as disciples of Jesus? I know some of you are considering that step, and we have another baptism service coming up on September 30 in a heated pool! So you don’t have to worry about the water temperature!
The first part of discipleship is becoming a disciple, choosing Christ and declaring that decision through baptism. The second part is:
- Be a disciple. Be a member of our Body, who follows Jesus with heart, head, and hands:
- The heart is maintain a thriving relationship with God (Heart). Love God! Love Him. Pour your heart out to him! Have a living relationship with him.
- The head is renew your thinking (head). Christianity is a truth claim. We want to think according to what Scripture says is true. We want to have what the Bible calls “a renewed mind.” That means theologically sound thinking (not heretical; with a basic understanding of God, Salvation, the Church, and the Future). We understand who God is. We understand the doctrines of our salvation. We understand what the church is and how God made it to operate. We understand what the bible teaches about eternity. Some of you might say “I don’t think I’m there yet!” That’s OK. This is the description of a fully-developed disciple. Having a renewed mind also means biblically literate (able to pick up the Bible and learn how to live, so the pastor doesn’t have to do all your thinking for you). So that’s the heart and the head. We also want:
- The hands and that’s walking in obedience (hands). Investing our time, talents, and treasures in the building up of the Church. Bringing Jesus into your family. We believe that Jesus heals families, and we want to let Jesus speak into our family lives.
Once again, we see this in our passage. The passage tells us to make disciples by (1) Baptizing them that’s become a disciple and then, look at verse 20, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. That’s be a disciple.
So the first 2 ingredients are (1) Become a disciple, and (2) Be a disciple. Sometimes our thinking about discipleship can end there. We kind of think “If I’ve decided for Jesus and I’m living for Jesus, then my discipleship must be done!” There’s one more step to being a healthy disciple. As we look at this passage, we can see it. We have to become a disciple. We have to be a disciple, and thirdly:
- Make a disciple. Bring others to Jesus through word and deed. We can be a disciple of Jesus, but I don’t think we are a healthy disciple, a fully developed disciple, until we are engaged in the process of making disciples. It’s the number one job of disciples. So we want to make disciples by:
- Serving the community in which God has placed us (both your community and this community).
- Sharing the gospel with those in our family and life.
- Participating in world missions.
Like the passage says “Make disciples of all nations,” spread the good news of the gospel around the world.
OK, so that’s the definition of a disciple of Jesus: (1) Become a disciple, (2) Be a disciple with heart, head, and hands, and (3) Make a disciple.
I know that may seem like a lot, but that’s what I believe Scripture says the true definition of a fully developed disciple is. I want you to memorize that. No one goes home until they can quote it. Just kidding! The part I want you to memorize is on the other side. That’s the definition, and we want all of that for you. We want you to know for certain that you have become a disciple. We want you to be a disciple with your heart, your head, and your hands. We want you to know the joy of making disciples. That, ultimately, is what we are trying to produce. Now that just leaves one more question: How are we going to get there? If the definition gives us the ingredients, how do we combine them into a fully developed disciple of Jesus? What’s the plan? That brings us to our Discipleship Pathway.
How Will We Make Disciples at Perry Creek?
On the other side of your handout is our Discipleship Pathway here at Perry Creek. It has three steps, four for some people. By the way, none of these steps are new, so we’re not inventing anything or asking you to start something new. We’re running close to capacity around here! This is just a new way of thinking about what we’re already doing. Let’s make sure we understand the parts of our pathway. We’ll look at them in detail the next two weeks. Just so we understand it, here are the individual parts. Starting at 3 o’clock:
- Sunday worship, what we’re doing right now so we know that one!
- Service is all the opportunities to serve that we have here at Perry Creek Church. There’s a bunch of them here at River Bend or in Mexico, maybe setting up a Perry Creek Halloween table in your neighborhood. There’s a million opportunities to serve! Serving others is a part of our discipleship and, let me say, we are one serving church! Let me tell you! We are going to be celebrating that and talking about that in a couple of weeks. “Service” – now, you might do that through your Small Group as you guys do a missions activity together or you might do it individually.
- Small Group ministry: Then on the left side the next station is our Small Group ministry. If you’ve never been part of a small group where people have authentic, life-changing relationships, let me just say you’re missing out! This is a group of 8-12 people that meet in homes and talk about how to plug the sermon into their lives and just cheer each other on in the Christian life! Some small groups meet once a week. Some meet every other week. It’s a community of people that support you and encourage you in your faith.
- Starting point: Lastly, there’s Starting Point. I need to explain that, because (as you’ll see) it’s not necessarily the place everybody actually starts at Perry Creek. Notice that it has a dotted line around it. That’s because it’s not for everyone. It’s really for those that are at that “Become a Disciple” stage in their faith journey. It’s our class for seekers, starters, and returners, people who are seeking for God, or starting a relationship with God, or returning to their faith. We will have that two to three times this year. It’s a great place to invite people who aren’t sure about Christianity or people who are new Christians.
So those are the four steps of our Discipleship Pathway: Worship, Service, Small Groups, and Starting Point. There’s a space on that pathway for everything that we said a disciple is. If you need to become a disciple, Starting Point is the place for that. Not everyone will do it there, but we have a place to accomplish that. When it comes to being a disciple:
- Worship will help renew your mind
- Small Groups will work on your heart
- Service will work on your hands.
There’s a place for all that to happen. When it comes to making disciples, we invite others to this pathway. So it’s through these parts that we want to make disciples. Now lastly, let me make some observations about this pathway. Some of these will be quick, but we need them to understand how this pathway works. They are all on your handout. Observations about our Discipleship Pathway:
- It’s a pathway, not a menu. There are some churches that when you look at all the programs they run, it looks like a giant restaurant menu, like the Cheesecake Factory phonebook! Have you ever seen that? They have tons of choices, and they all sound delicious). Some churches have like five kids programs and all kinds of classes and Bible studies, and ministries. The point of a menu is to pick and choose what you want and what you don’t. A Pathway is different. It’s much simpler (we can all memorize it) and the point of the Pathway is to walk it. So this is what we want for you! We want everyone to do each step! We hope to accomplish our values through the existing steps!
- The pathway is not linear. In other words, this isn’t sequential. It’s not step 1, then 2, then 3, then 4. Even though it says “Starting Point” at the top, that’s not necessarily where everyone will start. They can start anywhere on this map. They might start at service or in worship or in a small group anywhere. This is increasingly important to understand as our culture becomes less “Christian.” If you think about it in the past, if people were going to attend a church they usually started at church by visiting Worship. If they liked what they saw, they would add Small Groups or maybe a missions trip, etc. That is still the way that most experienced Christians will start. But there are many people who won’t start at Worship. Either they don’t have any connection to it or they had a bad experience in worship or they feel like it’s going to be hyper-religious. But these people will often start with something like service. They are delighted to help the community. We have people that have helped with Soccer Camp that are not in worship yet! But they are hanging out with Perry Creek Christians, and they are finding out that we are not weird (or completely weird!) So people may start anywhere on this map, and their next step may be anywhere. Maybe they’ll go from Service to Starting Point or maybe from Service to Worship. Now here’s what’s important about that:
- The initial goal for our unchurched friends is not always worship. It’s wherever they fit best. Let me say that again. Sometimes I think we think that inviting someone to Perry Creek only means inviting them to worship on Sunday, like that’s the place we should start and until we’ve done that we haven’t really reached out to them. Like that’s the real enchilada! I understand why you would think that. In the past, that was pretty much what people did. That’s the way I think a lot of times. But, like we said, for many of our unchurched friends that would be a huge step, a step that might be kind of overwhelming! So I just want to say: You don’t have to go for the whole enchilada here! The initial goal isn’t to get your unchurched friends to Sunday Worship. The initial goal is invite them to whatever fits them best. Maybe you have a friend who is really good at working with their hands, but they have a bad perception of church. Maybe they’ve heard or seen some really bad things about organized religion. Don’t invite them to church! Let them come serve with us at Oak City Carepoint or invite them to a missions trip to Virginia or Mexico. Invite them to that! Let them get to know some people as they serve. Then when they visit our church at Christmas or Easter or just when they are ready, they’re going to know ten people here, not just one. Maybe you have a relative who isn’t ready to commit to church, but they will come to a class where they can ask their questions about Christianity. Let them start at Starting Point. Maybe your Small Group is doing something you know a friend would enjoy. Invite them along. Maybe if they are going through a difficult time, your Small Group could fix them meals. Maybe worship is the best place for them to start! There are lots of possibilities, but the point is that our job is to invite them into whatever they are ready for. OK, the initial goal is not always Sunday morning worship, BUT that’s not the end of the story. Look at the next observation:
- The continuing goal is to add another step. The initial goal is to start wherever people fit best, but the continuing goal is to get them to another step because we want all of this for them. We eventually want them to be fully developed disciples. We DO want them in worship and in Small Group and serving and in Service Projects, if they need it. As we encounter people in our Small Groups or in our Service or in Worship, we should encourage them to ask “What’s the next step for me?”
So it’s a pathway, not a menu. People can enter it wherever it best fits them, but the goal is to get them to the next step. Now one more observation:
- Each step should be entry-point capable. We do want to think when we plan our Missions activities, when we plan our Small Group outings, when we plan our Sunday Services, about how those can be places to invite new guests to join us in this journey of discipleship. We always want to ask ourselves as we plan: Is there space to invite people in, both Christians who are looking for a church and people who are curious about Christianity? How can we make places in our Small Groups, in our Worship, in our Service where they are welcome, a place where they can join us on this journey of discipleship?
OK, that was kind of a lot of information! We’re going to be talking more about the parts of this in the next two weeks. But it’s important that we understand the whole of our plan for discipleship and how it works together because we don’t just want to taste the dish, we want to make the dish from scratch! We want to make disciples of Jesus. If Perry Creek is your church, I want you to think about this Discipleship Pathway and I want you to do two things:
- Ask what’s the next step in discipleship for you? Are you in a Small Group? Are you serving? Are you ready for a Starting Point class? Have you been baptized?
- Pray about who you could invite to one of the stations on this discipleship pathway. Pray for God to bring someone to your attention. Pray for Him to show you the right part of this pathway to invite them to.
We have a lot of opportunities, and we’ll be sharing some of those dates with you in the upcoming weeks. Who could you invite? What could you invite them to? We want to make disciples. It’s our number one job.