What kind of priority do we see Christ emphasizing in the Scriptures? This has to be our goal if we’re going to fulfill the Biblical mandate.
A PRIORITY FOR EVERYONE
To quote the Great Commission of Matthew 28, while you are going, make disciples. This was the command of every single disciple and apostle of Christ. It was not given to just certain disciples under certain circumstances, and it is not a call to share the gospel with strangers and end it there. The command would be more clearly written, “As you are going, preach the gospel, baptize them, and then teach them to observe or obey the truths that you have been taught.” It is a call for discipleship, and it is incumbent on everyone to be doing it.
While God has given us pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc. to teach believers the work of the ministry, it is implied that all believers would be performing this work. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about one body, many members, but that mean that some members are to be sharing the Gospel and others are to be discipling, for these things are commanded to all disciples.
In this truth is both something we need to confess, and the secret of our strength. I would posit that only a small percentage of the believers at First Baptist are actively sharing the Gospel and Discipling. I would guess that the number of those doing discipling is greater than sharing the Gospel, but even this I would suggest is not 100% or still would have room for growth.
It is therefore imperative for us to help believers to know where they are in terms of this Scriptural command and to be able to take the next steps in faith to move from where they are to a closer communion with God by fulfilling the command to tell the Good News and make disciples where they are.
A CHOSEN FEW
Christ came in the fullness of time, to the right place, with all the wisdom of the Godhead. His three-year ministry was characterized by so much that John states that if they tried to record everything He said and did that all the books in the world could not contain them. This implies a couple of things:
- That we don’t know all that Jesus did.
- That what we do have is exactly what God and the Apostles believed was the most important things to learn.
Based on this, what do we find?
That Jesus ministry kicks off not with a sermon in the biggest venue, but with the selection of twelve individuals that would live their lives with Christ. They would come apart from their everyday lives to learn to be fishers of men.
The rest of the Gospels record Jesus conversations with His followers, the messages He preached and the times he healed people, but we are continually made aware that even during these events, He was laser focused on making sure that the twelve understood the message. He had them practice going out in small groups and then reporting back.
He conducted a discipling/mentoring environment that is echoed in the epistles when Paul exhorts Titus to have older men mentor younger men and older women mentor younger women. It appears that God is interested in having believers be involved in people’s lives for the learning of the faith, for accountability and the like.
While we know that a body of believers were getting together for praise, tongues, prophecy and pooling of resources, what we also see is that these things were because they were relying on each other (Acts 9) because of persecution. They were forming primary bonds with other believers while reaching out.
Even within the twelve, Jesus had three that He invested more time in. I believe that this emphasizes that to truly disciple/mentor a person, it must be done in smaller groups. Which makes smaller groups of individuals vital to the ministry of a local body of believers.
SERMONS TO THE WHOLE
Romans 10 emphasizes that people will not be able to gain salvific faith without a preacher. In every church service that is recorded in the Bible, someone is doing prophesy—speaking on the behalf of God. The prophets did it—not all the times with words of future prediction—and Jesus regularly partook in it during His earthly ministry. It is from this type of ministry we get the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, the preaching from the boat, and the messages at the feeding of the 5,000.
Jesus speaking in the synagogue early in His ministry shows that sometimes sermons come from reading the Word and applying it to the time-period at hand, which is the way most current prophesy comes about in a modern setting as we know that tongues and future prediction have ceased.
1 Corinthians 14 shows that it was not just one person that prophesied—in fact, their problem was that there were many that wished to share something, be it a song, prophecy or tongue. Rather than suggesting that only one believer be the sole provider of prophecy, Paul simply suggested that order needed to reign in the service, and that there should be those nearby to make sure that false prophecy was not taught.
Indeed, there is no Biblical prohibition for multiple elders in a congregation, and the implication is that elders should be gifted in the area of teaching, as well as satisfying the other qualifications for the office. Rather than a direct call, the Scriptures suggest that people can desire to the office of Bishop/Overseer/Elder.
The group congregation was to gather for the mutual benefit of the whole, but this seems to be hardly the only time that the group got together, and it’s highly unlikely that it fit today’s idea of church or church membership in the sense of voting majorities. According to 1 Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, and Deuteronomy 6 husbands were responsible for leading their families spiritually and answering any questions the wives or children had as they were not permitted to speak according to 1 Timothy 2, or prophesy or pray uncovered 1 Corinthians 11, and they were to ask any questions they had of their husbands.
We therefore see the sermon time as a public exhortation of the believers, as the church was a gathering of believers. We see it as a way to get the whole body together working as a local group. It’s an integral part of the believer’s life.
CHILDREN ARE SECONDARY, NOT FORGOTTEN
Jesus did not view children as an unwanted distraction, but as an example of the faith needed to follow Him. The disciples, in Matthew’s Gospel, thought they would be in the way, and encouraged parents not to even bring them to Jesus. At His rebuke, they were brought before Him and blessed.
Jesus took one small lad’s five loaves and two fishes and fed a multitude, and other than a child that He rose from the dead, that’s all we have of the ministry of the Christ to children. This is not to say that children are unimportant to the King of Kings, but that Jesus ministry was primarily to adults—and proportionally to adults that were the downtrodden, not to those of means.
Jesus was with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes. His disciples were fisherman and He healed the untouchables. And just like our present time, those with means, education and religious training were the ones least receptive and antagonistic, though few did agree with His teaching.
This is not that much different than our current time-period where we have many that are rich, religious and therefore antagonistic to the faith, and yet our priority and focus (and probably the source of much of our frustration) is attempting to win these souls.
The saying goes that if you reach the father, you will probably reach the whole family. If you reach mom, you got a chance with dad and an even shot at children. If you reach the child, you have long odds reaching either parent.
This plays out in Jesus ministry. At no time do we see Jesus holding a Sunday School class, a message targeted at children, encouraging His disciples to attract children to see if their parents would also come, or having children show up without their parents. Indeed, every interaction we have on record of Jesus with children, it is the parents that bring the children, and every Biblical command about children instructs parents to disciple their children and holds parents exclusively responsible for their children’s salvation and behavior (Proverbs, qualifications for a Disciple/Pastor in Timothy and Titus, etc.).
TO YOUR OWN PEOPLE
Jesus was very particular about to whom He was sent. During His ministry His concentrated focus was to the Jewish people—His chosen people. It was through these people that He would reach the world as a whole. There are a few recorded times where a Gentile came to ask something of Him, and both of those times He talked about their great faith, but stressed that His mission was to His own people. This carried through into the commission in Acts, where the Apostles were told to start at the closest place, and gradually continue to increase their influence unto the ends of the Earth.
We also see strains of this in the Great Commission in Matthew, were the Gospel was to be spread “in your going” or during your daily life. While not all would be called to take the Gospel to foreign lands, all were called to make an impact in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the uttermost part of the Earth.
This indicates that the primary location for ministry for a local body of believers is their local community, followed by the greater area, etc.
We reach these other places when our members travel, when they move and when they’re called abroad. The fact that believers is a chance for your impact on the person to impact another community.
This also seems to indicate that the primary mission of a local body is the local body. It also implies that our members need to be impacting where they are, and that raises other issues when your membership is mostly drawn from other communities than your own locale.