Put Your Head Down and Labour
By Tami Brown and June Sparks, first published in Compass Winter issue 2022
Theresa Suan has had an incredibly fruitful ministry at Macquarie University ISM. She shared with us recently how it has changed over time, giving us a glimpse into the journey the Lord has taken her on.
There were times when Theresa felt alone, struggling without a helper or staff working alongside her. There were moments she felt hopeless and helpless. (more…)
God Behind the Scenes
By Luke Midena, Canberra Labouring Community
Connecting with people during COVID-19 restrictions can be a challenge, but I wanted to share with you a story about Ethan, who I meet with online.
Ethan and I started meeting a few years ago, about the time he finished high school. Although he came from a strong Christian family, he wasn’t convinced about Jesus. Nor was he into ‘self-help’ strategies to improve his life.
Fast-forward a few years and Ethan is literally ‘a new creation’ – everything from his attitudes, priorities, passions, and whole life direction have been turned upside down. In a very short time, he’s gone from unbeliever to now training to be a missionary pilot with a Christian aviation organisation!
I genuinely wonder, how on earth did this happen?
- Was it the conversations we had on every imaginable topic while walking up hills or playing pool at the Irish club?
- Was it the time we spent reading and discussing the gospel of Matthew?
- Was it that he connected with a church and recognised the genuine goodness in the people as evidence of God’s influence?
- Maybe it was the many people who have prayed for Ethan over the years and the spiritual seeds planted in his life?
Even though I was in the vicinity of Ethan when this change occurred, I didn’t see it. The evidence of Ethan’s new life is obvious, but I couldn’t begin to explain how God did it.
It’s just like Jesus said:
‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come’ (Mk. 4:26-29).
Isn’t it both wonderful, and also a little bit frustrating? Watching God bring someone from spiritual death to life is nothing short of breathtaking, but since I can’t even begin to know how he does it, I can’t bottle or control it. Everyone can see that Ethan was changed by God’s power, but that power remains mysterious and beyond our grasp.
‘The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’ (Jn. 3:8).
Even in a world distracted by many other things, God continues his unnoticed work of adopting children into his family!
Ethan and I have been meeting online while he completes pilot training.
- that Ethan’s experience would be mirrored by many people in his life through his work as a missionary pilot.
- for the Canberra university ministries (ADFA and ANU) as they work hard at connecting with new students. (Social restrictions have made recruiting challenging over the last 2 years).
- that God would continue to use our campus ministries to train and develop labourers for his kingdom.
Thanks again for your investment in guys like Ethan, through your prayer and giving.
What or who is a Disciple?
By Robin Dennis
Discipleship is nothing new. We find the concept of a disciple – that is, a person following a master – among Plato, Socrates and Herodotus; in ancient Hebrew culture, Elisha (2 Kings 4:38), Isaiah (8:16), Samuel (1 Sam 10:5), then we know that John the Baptist had disciples. Josephus identified several messianic movements with disciples; that is usually a group of followers gathered around a leader. When Jesus said “make disciples” I believe that the people knew what disciples were because in the ancient world the concept was a common phenomenon. I agree with the author Ben Hull who, in his book “The Complete Book of Discipleship, on Being and Making Followers of Christ”, wrote that discipleship involved commitment of an individual, to a great master or leader. There is a warning here. I might want to disciple someone but that “someone” might not want to be a disciple. There has to be commitment. Do not waste time with someone who wants to meet for a social meeting. We all have little time and we need to use that time wisely. Jim Petersen in his book “Lifestyle Discipleship” deals with this question of time in the last chapter. He says that what we need is margin. It probably will mean taking radical steps. He writes that we must take the initiative and resume control over our circumstances.
Hull wrote in the book I mentioned above:
A disciple, then, is a reborn follower of Jesus. I’ve already mentioned my distaste for the teaching that a difference exists between being a Christian and being a disciple…I find no biblical evidence for a separation of Christian from disciple. In answer to the age-old question, ‘Are disciples born or made?’ I contend they are born to be made. The vision Jesus set into motion meant finding and training more people like the Eleven, a lifelong experience where imperfect people would be shaped into His likeness – marked by progress, not perfection.
But back to the question of what is a disciple. In 1999, Colin Powell at a conference in Washington (not a Christian conference) said that, in relation to helping deprived young people, just throwing computers at them was not enough. He asked people to spend quality time with these youngsters, to give them personal attention one by one.
That is discipleship. Programs cannot bring lasting change (see above remarks about the church) but personal attention to people one by one can make the difference of a lifetime. Scott Morton in “Down to Earth Discipling” states:
The kingdom of God needs more than programs. We need a massive dose of millions of believers demonstrating personal attentiveness. Proverbs 27:17 says it best: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”.
I wonder who has heard of Edward Kimball? I venture to suggest that not one of us has. But when I ask who has heard of DL Moody the answer will be a resounding “yes”. It was Edward Kimball who led DL Moody to commit his life to Christ. We know Moody attended church, however it was not a program that reached Moody but Edward Kimball. We can all be an Edward Kimball. Moody, for over forty-five years, preached to millions of people and so many responded to the Gospel. Do you believe that you can affect the world? You can. For when I say that, I am speaking from experience. Let me give you an up-to-date illustration. A lady in Sydney from Russia was led to Christ, and now she is by telephone speaking to her relative in Russia about the need for them to commit their lives to Christ. I did not speak to her, nor did the young man who committed his life to Christ at university speak to her, although he is her spiritual grandfather and I am her spiritual great-grandfather. It is a 2 Timothy 2:2 situation: “But what you have heard from me before many witnesses commit to faithful people who will be able to teach others also”.
I wholeheartedly believe that we have a godly responsibility to pass on the heritage we have received from our spiritual parents to others so that they can do the same.
But what do I do? There has been so much written about the “what”. One book in particular was so helpful for me. It is called “The Lost Art of Disciple Making” by Leroy Eims. In that book Leroy sets out 30 training objectives for a disciple. I found that using these objectives made all the difference. Roy Robertson in his book “The Timothy Principle” sets out an eight week course. While it is very helpful I am not sure of the stated time of eight weeks. Sometimes as you meet with your disciple a topic might come up that needs attention immediately, meaning your objective for that day has to be placed on the back-burner. On the other hand a topic might come up that can be discussed later on. But don’t forget that you have said that you will deal with that later, and do deal with it later.
Another important point to remember is that you are not just a teacher. You are a friend who wants the very best for the person you are discipling. A few examples: I watched my friend play sport. Later on I had some men live in my home. I provided meals. It’s about remembering previous conversations and following up on those conversations. It was going places with them.
Jack Griffin used to ask, “Who is your Timothy?” The first time I met Jack, he gave me a card which read, “Only one life twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last”.
Let me finish with a poem by Edgar Guest that Dawson Trotman used to share:
I’d rather see a sermon
Than hear one any day.
I’d rather one would walk with me
Than merely tell the way.
The Lost Art of Disciple Making by Leroy Eims 1979
The Timothy Principle How to Disciple One-On-One with Training Aids by Roy Robertson 1986
Lifestyle Discipleship by Jim Petersen 1993
Down to Earth Discipling by Scott Morton 2003
The Complete Book of Discipleship by Bill Hull 2006
Perseverance That Overcomes
By Lindsey Swartzentruber, first published in Compass Autumn edition 2021
Living as a labourer, bringing others along as we pursue knowing Christ, takes perseverance that stems from convictions on God’s character. When I first met Skye in 2011, she was a hard-working, soccer-playing, leopard print-loving student with no convictions on who God was, let alone the perseverance of a labourer. (more…)
The Dynamic of Reproduction
By Ram Marrero, first published in The Discipler, Issue 21, Winter 2020, used with permission.
The strategy is generations of disciples reproducing generations of reproducing disciple-makers.
I can remember meeting [with] Jono early in the morning on Coolum Beach. He would bring his surfboard and a Bible; I would bring my lawn chair and my Bible. We would have a quiet time and I would share with him on the subject of discipleship. (more…)
Nurturing Those In Our Community
A story from one of our Melbourne Communities, first published in Compass, Autumn 2019
Cheny* (not her real name) first joined our group two and a half years ago. Reading Scripture was a first for her. She said, “If God exists, I’m afraid of Him and so I’ll ignore Him.” But Cheny loved the group gatherings and began to discover a God of love. (more…)
What is the cost of discipleship?
Robin Dennis has been a Christian for 46 years and a Navigator for just as long! In his own words, discipleship is the most exciting journey as well as the saddest. Compass caught up with Robin to ask why living life alongside people is a labour of love that’s truly worth it.
What has discipleship cost you?
I suppose it depends on what you mean by “cost”. There’s outlay of “money” for meals, and “time” spent with people. But I count those as investments. Relationships are so important.
“Labour”, sometimes I get tired but then I look at why I’m involved and remember Isaiah 41:10. And when I think of the “trouble” I go through with someone only to see rejection, I remember the Holy Spirit is in charge.
Yes, I’ve counted some “costs”. But cost is also “sacrifice”. And Jesus gave His all as a sacrifice. In this light, there is no cost to me.
What has been the greatest reward of labouring alongside people?
Seeing people come to an understanding of Jesus Christ and the miracle of their new birth through God’s mercy, and allowing me to be part of that. Then seeing that person start another generation, and that generation start another generation. I’m always amazed that God has used me when all I deserve is death because of my sin before a Holy God.
Robin has been used by God to lead literally hundreds of people to faith in those 46 years and he continues to actively share the gospel and disciple others. – Ed.
The shocking call to discipleship
by Colin Duthie, first published in Compass, Spring 1997
Among the most threatening words in the Bible for me are those of Jesus in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” The fact of the commission is clear. The scary bit comes from reflecting on the underlying question, “How did the Father send Jesus?” Herein lies the most compelling reason for us as communities and church groups to choose against discipleship. To imitate Jesus in his living and ministry style violates everything that our natural instincts tell us is necessary for survival, let alone success, in contemporary society.
‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’
— The Lord Jesus
Let’s begin our meditation by considering the most succinct statement of the Incarnation we have (from John 1:14), “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.” “The Word became flesh” is an offensive statement to normal religious belief twice over. First, because of the impossibility that the one who spoke the world into being should become part of the creation. Our familiarity with this (for those of us who have been around church for a while) blinkers us to its absurdity.
Second, while we are reeling from this revelation, another stuns us to silence. What was God as a human being going to be like? What manner of life would he lead? What kind of legacy would he leave behind? How would human society contain him? Nothing would prepare us for the truth if we did not know it—raised a peasant, misunderstood by family, friends and public alike, given to apparently foolish and reckless acts of compassion and solidarity with society’s rejects, living at enmity with the leaders of his own religion, and ending up naked, executed as a criminal by a foreign regime. After all this, unbelievably, the resurrection (the only possible godly conclusion) remained largely obscured from public view.
A worldly understanding of God moves us to reject the very picture of God that Jesus gives us. We have become familiar with a God-King who sits on his throne in heaven, personally immune from the pain that is part of life for the subjects of his Kingdom. With this view of God, for example, we read the story of Job as if God and Satan are playing a board game. Job and his community are the pieces that are moved around. We have a similar response to our own suffering: we imagine God as a clinical counsellor or distant friend rather than a Companion Griever, bent over with our pain.
We cannot cope with a wandering Jewish sage as the “exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). Our culturally-conditioned theology numbs us to the profundity of a vulnerable God, and insists that this was, at best, a “strategy” to achieve the end of salvation. How could God be like this? An incarnated, suffering God is offensive to us, even though we love to quote the poem in Philippians Two at our gatherings.
As individuals and as groups, we have too much at stake to have the “same attitude” (Philippians 2) as Christ. We want to be in control of our destinies. We much prefer the world’s offer of (illusory) security through financial investments and sticking with consensus. As for ministry involvement, give us prominence, numbers, success, power, real estate, technology, and friends in high places any day.
I wonder which distortion comes first, the view of God as immune from suffering, or our image of ministry as power play? Either way they feed off each other. Christian service as isolation from the ordinary, often “messy” bits of human life necessarily imputes to God an image of control, power and rigidity. Once this becomes gospel, our preferred mode of living is justified and the cycle continues.
To the second part of John 1:14 “. . . and lived for a while among us.” If the key word for the first part of the verse is identification, then the key idea here is accessibility. No longer is there any excuse to misunderstand who God is, and what he is like.
Accessibility means many things, among them relevance and closeness (or availability). For God, the act of incarnation was an aggressive one—it had to be, it necessitated denial of his natural state. Yet his posture, once among us, was almost unobtrusive. He sought out the least powerful among us. He chose ordinariness as a pattern of life. But he left behind the aroma of the Living God.
This is incarnational ministry. It is the way of life Jesus has given us. It is discipleship. In our stronger moments we love to talk about it, even write about it, but when I turn my computer off, my heart beats fast with apprehension at the thought of living it.
Incarnational ministry is fundamentally about being among people as God’s voice and hands. It is about our churches and communities belonging as prophetic, yet healing, insiders in the towns, suburbs and networks in which we exist. It is not about evangelistically-motivated [assaults] into the world. It is not about methodology or agenda-driven programs. It is living the Gospel in the ordinary routines of individual and corporate life because that is who we are—followers of Jesus. It is choosing a lifestyle that puts us among people, identifying with them and consequently making the Gospel accessible to them.
This is what Jesus did for us. For him it meant denial of his natural self and shocking humility. “As the Father sent me, I am sending you.” Yes, Jesus’ words frighten me.