In my last post: Organic Discipleship #3: The Bible in Community, I developed a scenario where a small organic church was encountering Jesus thorough the Bible, then obeying what he told them to do. Part of that scenario was this: “As the conversation deepens, Matt and Tiffany point out the obvious; Jesus is not only talking to them as individuals, he is speaking to the church. Tiffany further suggests that they pray to Jesus, listing for his instruction, so they can obey him as a faithful, loving community. Through prayer, they realize that Jesus is sending them on a communal ministry project. They prayerfully plan and put the plan into action.”
We tend to try to separate Bible study from prayer. This is not a particularly good idea for a couple of reasons. First, if our reading of the Bible is a conversation with Jesus, in effect it is prayer. In particular, it is a form of listening prayer. Second, if Jesus speaks to us individually or in community through the Scriptures; it should start a conversation with him as to what he wants us to do. It is this further conversation with him, in community, so that we can be obedient to his commands, which I’m referring to as “prayer in community.” This is the fourth skill I teach new disciples. The first three are: read the Bible as a personal conversation with Jesus, obey what he tells you to do. Pray as a personal conversation with Jesus, obey what he tells you to do. As a community, read the Bible as a conversation with Jesus, then obey. And now as a group invite the Spirit of Jesus to attend. Obey what he tells you to do.
All of these skills are tied to two seriously neglected skills in the Western Church; listening and obeying. I call these four skills, as well as the one I’m going to post tomorrow “obedience skills.” They are not intended to be information based activities; they are intended to be obedience based skills. But, we can’t obey if we don’t know what specific things Jesus wants us to do. And we can’t know what Jesus wants us to do, if we don’t know how to listen.
The Western Church tends to talk and talk and talk about Jesus, about theology, about the Bible, about all sorts of things; then they come back and talk some more. But we don’t spend much time at all listening and even less obeying everything Jesus commands us to do. Imagine if you were a parent who had a child who didn’t listen to you or do what you told them to do. Would you consider that child a discipline problem?
The Western Church, in general, is a problem child, busy telling itself that it is a faithful son. We need to keep in mind Jesus’ warning: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matt. 7:21) God doesn’t measure church attendance, Bible reading, even casting out demons or miracles (read the Matt. 7 passage in context), he measures obedience. He tells the difference between his children and those who are not by their obedience. Casting out a demon (for example) can be an act of obedience, or merely a religious activity. The difference is whether he asked us to do it or not.
This focus on obedience is not in conflict with the biblical statements about belief, such as Mark 16:15: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. That is because God, just like the Hebrew mindset, measures belief by what one does, not by what one says or gives intellectual credence to (the Western view). In other words, you know what someone believes by what they do. So obedience is central to our life in Christ. That is truly living with Jesus as Lord. Lord is not merely his title, it has to be reflected in the way we live our lives.
It is for these reasons I teach brand new believers to begin to concentrate on obedience skills. And it is for this reason that I intentionally avoid the tendencies of the Western Church to treat discipleship as the mastering of an information set. To do so would be to train new believers to be weak, carnal and might even endanger their souls.
For other posts on discipleship see: What Is Organic Discipleship?, Organic Discipleship #1: The Place of the Bible, Organic Discipleship #2: The Place of Prayer, Organic Discipleship #3: The Bible in Community, Why Simple Churches Don’t Work, Reason #3, and The Spirit Leads to Truth.
- Am I being too harsh when I call the Western Church a problem child? Why or why not?
- Have you even noticed that the New Testament measures belief by what we do, not by what we say or give intellectual ascent to? How is this different than works salvation?
- Have you ever been in a community that listens carefully in prayer then obeys?
- How can we be obedient if we don’t know what Jesus is telling us to do? How can we know what he is telling us to do, if we don’t listen? How can we listen if we don’t know how?
- Do you know how to listen?