In the first Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we explored the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of disciple-making. But in this Part, I want to suggest another key to developing a culture of effective disciple-making.
In Part 2, I suggested that the way we show people God’s glory is by seeking and creating opportunities to engage them with the Bible in order to help them understand the God-glorifying gospel.
But what is it that would compel you—or a member of your church—to devote yourself to this sort of gospel ministry endeavour? For that we turn to the Apostle Paul, and what it is that he says compels him to it:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (2 Cor 5:14 NIV)
It’s the gospel itself that compels Paul to a sacrificial life of proclaiming Christ and trying to “persuade others” (v.11)—exercising the ministry of reconciliation (v.19).
And that probably is what you would expect, and it may well be the explanation you would also give for the reason you do ministry. You are compelled by the goodness of the gospel.
But what I want you to notice is that Paul articulates the gospel of which he is “convinced” in a way that I don’t think many of us would:
“one died for all…”.
Yes, so far, that’s what we would say.
“One died for all… and therefore we can be forgiven and accepted into heaven,” we might say.
But that’s not what Paul says: “One died for all, and therefore all died”.
Do you find that a surprising way for him to end his pithy gospel summary sentence? I think many in our churches would (if they even noticed it!). And that ought to give us pause as to whether we have understood, as well as we thought we have, the very gospel that Paul says compels him.
The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:17). It is the message that the Holy Spirit uses to change people’s hearts and bring them to faith in Christ. And it is the same message that we keep standing in and that keeps changing us through our lifetime as Christians (1 Cor 15:1–2, Col 2:6-7, Titus 2:11-14), so that we mature and grow in our faith, obedience and service. It is this gospel that compels us to endure hardship for the sake of making disciples.
But maybe—just maybe—there is a problem in many of our churches because too many of us do not have a clear understanding of that core message of the gospel.
If you think that’s not true of your church, why not test your assumption? After all, if your assumption is wrong, you’d agree, wouldn’t you, that would be a serious concern? So don’t assume! For the next week or so, in every ministry context where it is possible to do so, ask the people you are meeting with to take 5 minutes and write down (perhaps anonymously) a one to three sentence summary of the gospel. Collect up their answers and take a look.
It’s entirely possible that you’ll get a wide variety of not-so-clearly-expressed words and phrases that, at best, demonstrate a certain lack of clarity, or, at worst, reveal significant confusion or misunderstanding. No doubt there will be lots of mentions of Jesus dying on the cross, and something about trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. But have many mentioned the resurrection and articulated how it fits in? Do many of the answers suggest an awareness of the logical connection between all the concepts they throw into the mix? Do the answers bear any similarity to the ways the writers of the New Testament summarise the gospel? It’s surely worth assessing.
But perhaps you don’t even need to test your assumption. Perhaps you see the lack of vitality in your church (and in yourself), and know in your heart that it most likely stems from a murky grasp of the essence of the powerful, life-altering gospel announcement, and a consequent lack of impact on the way life and priorities are viewed. Perhaps the gospel is not ‘compelling’ people, because they haven’t understood it thoroughly.
Whether you or your church are pretty solid on gospel clarity, or you know you’ve got some work to do, it’s certainly something to keep striving for as a top priority in building a disciple-making life and culture. Without that fertile soil of gospel clarity, the growth of the vine will be slower and harder than it needs to be.