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Translating the gospel and disciple making in American (Western) culture

Posted by on Aug 11, 2011 in comment highlights, discipleship | 10 comments

Translating the gospel and disciple making in American (Western) culture

Dan left a very good comment on my post “New disciples = disciple makers in Acts 13.” In this post, I want to highlight Dan’s comment as well as (hopefully) start a discussion/conversation about a very important point that he raises.

To begin with, the post itself was about the response of the Gentiles in Antioch of Pisidia when Paul and Barnabas shared the gospel with them. They were so excited and so overjoyed that they immediately began sharing the same gospel with the people of their city and the surrounding area. How do we know? Because Luke tells us that the word (message) of the Lord spread throughout the whole region.

In response to this post, Dan said:

This is so true and glorious. But one thought occurs to me:

How do we translate this in America? To those people, this was brand new I think, and very liberating and so they welcomed it enthusiastically. In the U.S., the mass of population has been inoculated against the Gospel by hundreds of years of abuse by the institutional church — overpoliticized, hypo(and hyper-)critical, unloving, judgmental,ritualized professional. My wife says it seems we’re always fighting a two-front war — one with the unsaved and one with the traditional church. I feel every time I share my faith with someone i have to first issue a disclaimer that I’m not “Christian” the way they think of the term.

So… I ask you the same question that Dan asked me: How do we translate this (what we read about in Acts 13:48-49 especially) in America, or other parts of the “Christianized” Western world?


10 Comments

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  1. 8-11-2011

    You have heard of the expression “actions speak louder than words”. Our Lord Himself DID do alot of speaking, but He also acted–sitting down and eating with tax collectors, paying attention to the little children, noticing those who were on the outskirts of society and treating them with kindness and compassion.

    So, this is how I spread the word of Our Lord. I carry McDonalds gift certificates or gift cards with me, and hand them out to street people. I take time to TOUCH these stinky, dirty people that so many, even when they give them money, dangle the dollar from the tip of their fingers or simply drop it, so as not to be contaminated by the street person’s unclean touch. I grasp their hand, take a moment to talk to them–looking them in the eye–and smile at them.

    I help old men and women cross the street.

    I send cards out by US Mail to people on birthdays, anniversaries, when they are sick, and to thank them. I send thank you notes to the members of the choir, to the organist, thanking them for blessing us with their music. I take time to visit with the elder members of our church before service begins, greeting them, smiling, talking with them, making them feel that they are still valued.

    All of this is practicing what Jesus told us to do when He said “love your neighbor as yourself”. No, I don’t preach or quote Scripture, other than always sharing a verse or two on each card I send out. And I worry that saying I am striving to LIVE the Gospel as a way of sharing the Gospel sounds prideful, but I will say that here.

  2. 8-11-2011

    Alan,

    The issue Dan raises has been a thorn in the side of genuine followers of Christ, for many years.It reminds me of a quote, “The problem is not that many unbelievers don’t know a Christian. The problem IS that many unbelievers DO know a Christian”.

    The problem can be solved by genuine followers of Christ,being disciple makers IN THEIR PERSONAL LOCALITY (home, workplace, etc.) where their claim of being a follower of Christ comes under the scrutiny of all who know them.

    It may not be a good metaphor, but,the proof of the pudding is in the eating!

  3. 8-11-2011

    Alan,

    Ann’s practice is great stuff. Far too many want to “sell” salvation to strangers, rather than be the hands and feet of Christ.

  4. 8-11-2011

    It has never occurred to me to run out and tell a stranger “I am a Christian.” It comes up through a conversation and relationship.

    What I have seen people respond to is my radical peculiar life. On my Facebook where I try not to whine and moan about my trials but where the people connected to me know I am facing them a non saved friend posted one day: “I admire your strength and spiritual conviction through it all.”

    I think when Christians really die to self and live the peculiar life they will have more ‘women with an issue of blood’ type of experiences. Times when someone bumps into them or interacts with them during every day goings on. That person is longing for God even if they do not understand that fully. However when their lives intersect with a believer BAM they see God and He meets them right in that place.

    People are hungry for God not religion or a lesson from the Bible. Nicodemus came to Jesus not just because Jesus was God but because Jesus was busy doing what He saw the Father leading Him to do. It is attractive and captivating to be in Gods will fully.

    Jesus did not go searching for people to tell who He was. He invited His disciples to walk with Him. He presented Himself as a member of society who had a voice and a mission. Most of us have jobs or some other assignment upon the earth. Out through it should flow our ministry. It should make people question what is different about it. It should draw friends and connections who are curious at the spiritual level even if they present with physical needs.

    When we change our perspective on every day activities it is surprising what we can see.

  5. 8-11-2011

    Local churches should begin by making disciple-making the #1 priority for every staff member, every elder, every deacon, every leader, every volunteer above any other ministry priority. Make discipleship the culture of the leaders and make it the only thing that is celebrated from “up front”.

  6. 8-13-2011

    Ann,

    Very good examples, thanks!

    Aussie John,

    That quote is powerful… stinging, but powerful.

    SingleMamma4God,

    I agree with what you said. Many believers must be retaught what it means to follow Jesus. For them, encouraging intentional interaction with others may be a step toward what you’re talking about.

    Ryan,

    I think local churches should also begin by not making a distinction between staff, elders, deacons, leaders, volunteers, and others. All believers are given the mission of taking the gospel with them wherever they go.

    -Alan

  7. 8-15-2011

    Alan, I wouldn’t make a distinction between the importance of each role, but I would still make a distinction between them as distinct roles. Each is equally important and by each role having the same #1 priority (discipleship) no one single role stands above another.

    It really gets into the roles and giftings of each individual, the unique diversity of the body of Christ. Each can equip and empower others in discipleship in different ways within different roles. Those who chose ministry through laity have been ordained in the same way as those “professionally” ordained. Their role is different, therefore they will disciple and be discipled differently, but they are still ordained in the royal priesthood of believers. So I wouldn’t diminish the beauty of each role and that doesn’t automatically mean some roles are more important than others. This is why discipleship must be the main thing celebrated within the “work” of the church.

  8. 8-15-2011

    Ryan,

    Thanks for the follow-up. When it comes to discipleship, how do you see the professional role as different from the role of the laity (from a scriptural perspective)?

    -Alan

  9. 8-17-2011

    Alan, I apologize for not returning sooner to continue the conversation. This is an important topic we all need to wrestle with and seek insight on, me especially!

    I believe in terms of discipleship, the role of the “professional” or “full-time” (or whatever other horrible term we want to use) is different from the “laity” or “secular” role only in that a full-time pastor, for example, has more freedom from getting caught up in civilian affiars (2 Tim 2:3-7). Paul wrote to Timothy saying that he should find reliable people to entrust the gospel to so that they too could be qualified to teach. The model here is that disciples make discples who make disciples. Timothy, being a good “soldier” as Paul says, will be able to devote himself fully to that cause by staying out of civilian (secular) affairs. Yet, in verse 7, Paul challenges him to reflect on this and seek God’s wisdom on how it will play out.

    Even though I am employed and receive wages as a quality engineer in the business world, my model and mandate in the great commission is the same as Paul and Timothy: make disciples who make disciples who make disciples in the authority of Jesus Christ. But my role in the Church, as a royal priest, will be carried out differently in different places with different nuances than the “full-time” pastor down the street or the plumber or the architect. All equally important and valid roles, but intentionally different.

    Hopefully I too am heeding Paul’s charge to “reflect on what is said, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” (2 Tim 2:7)

    How would you instruct someone who seperates “full-time” and “secular” ministry and who falsely creates the distinction of the “professional” and “amateur” Christian? I believe this is the worst perspective we can have when it comes our faith.

  10. 8-17-2011

    Ryan,

    Thanks again for the continued discussion. I would disagree that a “professional” or “full-time” disciple maker has more freedom from getting caught up in civilian affairs. All disciple makers are supposed to be full time disciple makers, and paying someone to make disciples does not then give them more time to make disciples. In fact, it may actually pull the person away from opportunities to make disciples that they would have had on their job.

    It seems like you are assuming that Timothy did not work to support himself. (Perhaps, I’m wrong…) But, why would you come to that conclusion?

    We know that Paul worked with his hands to support himself, and we know that he instructed the elders in the church at Ephesus to do the same thing. If Paul was concerned with these people becoming “professional” disciple makers and their jobs hindering that ability, he missed a great opportunity to tell them that.

    -Alan