Discipleship, The Key to Christian Growth

Each week I have the privilege to sit down with a group of men in the chapel to discuss life and the gospel. During my time in settings like this, I’m reminded of the importance of discipleship. Though discipleship can take on many forms, however it always involves honesty, seeking advice, and Scripture, and someone willing to do all of the above. This time is essential in the growth of a Christian!

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes writes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10). The Preacher here is writing about the benefit of working together. Two are also better than one as we live out our faith in Christ. We really need each other, though we often try to go at it alone. We really need reproof and instruction, though we seldom seek it out. This is why discipleship is so important.

Discipleship builds humility. Our temptation might be to think we know what is best for ourselves. But Proverbs says that a wise man will hear and learn, and will acquire wise counsel (Proverbs 1:5). So we can safely assume that an unwise man will not hear from others, will shut them down and will not listen, will lack understanding and will not acquire wise counsel. We need to resist the temptation to be wise in our own eyes (Proverbs 3:7). We must humble ourselves!

Discipleship also unites us with fellow believers. The body of Christ isn’t meant to simply exist for us to gather together on Sundays and then move along with our lives the rest of the week. God’s word paints a picture of believers doing life together (Acts 2:44–47). Seeking counsel and discipleship is one way to invite others into your life. And also discipleship equips us for faithfulness. We become faithful when we make ourselves available. In I Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells the church of Corinth to follow his example as he follows the example of Christ. Paul was in the process of raising up leaders in the church and through this discipleship process he wanted them his example. If we want those who we are in discipleship groups with to follow our example then we better walk in faithfulness. And for those who are struggling in this area can learn and be equipped by those who are faithful.

Discipleship needs to happen among Christians! I would never trade the times I have and have had with these men. I have learned so much and I pray they have received from me as well.

Mistaken Identity

thoughtspicture640In the world around us many live with a mistaken identity. When I write of mistaken identity I am referring to the way we view ourselves. I have found that it seems easy for us to persuade ourselves that we are deserving and better then we really are. Meaning that we fail to acknowledge our weaknesses and tend to undermine any evidence of our guilt as sinners. My days that I spend ministering inside of prison I often am approached by men who claim innocence of their convictions. On one occasion recently I asked one of these men why he thought God would allow him to be placed inside of prison if he was so innocent? His answer to me was that God allowed him to be locked up because he must’ve not had known his true intentions of why he did what had done. Sadly this man was serving a life sentence on a murder but somehow even though someone had been killed he was innocent. The person whom I was talking to was asserting that God our Creator must have incorrectly assumed something of him that wasn’t true.

Friends, I believe knowing who we are, truly is important. But don’t be mistaken, our Father and Creator in heaven knows more about your identity then you do! Your personal identity no matter how you would like to distort it, it will never undermine the fact that you are sinful. When we embrace our sinful nature, it means we’ve looked at ourselves long enough to know we can’t make it without looking to another. Embracing doesn’t mean that we obsess over the evil that we have done but rather look at who we really are and how badly that we need God.

Tim Keller once said, “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” What a paradox this is — and one, it seems, that very few people can comfortably embrace. I have witnessed many respond to the simultaneous realities of their sinful corruption and God’s great love in one of two erroneous ways. They either minimize the extent of their sinfulness or refuse to believe God could possibly love them. The former deny the depth of their wretchedness and embrace desires they should mortify; the latter compulsively obsess over the evil within them and retreat into self-hatred.

Friends we need to humbly embrace that we really are as corrupt, distorted, and sin-ravaged as God says we are. It is only through this humble reality that we can understand God’s love towards us. A love that is not thwarted by our evil condition but so high and fierce that he, at great cost to himself, provided a means for us as wretched, guilty sinners to be reconciled to him. The bloody Cross of Jesus demonstrates both the extensiveness of our corruption and the enormity of God’s affection for us — and the only proper way for us to respond is in humble belief.

Pray for me as I challenge men daily inside of prison to not make excuses for where they are at but embrace that they are there because of their sin and that the only way their lives and identities can change is if they humbly submit to the one and only Savior Jesus Christ!

What Is Effective Ministry?

servantWhen I talk about effective ministry I like to refer to Romans 15 which gives us a look into what Paul’s ministry looked like. No one would argue that Paul was very successful in ministry and I believe there is a lot we can learn from Him. The key words that we find in Romans 15 are the words “minister” and “service” and if you read through this passage you’ll find that Paul had two different types of ministries. A ministry to unbelievers and a ministry to believers. His ministry to unbelievers is was to share the good news. He says, “My mission in life is to share the good news with as many people as possible.” Specifically it was to share it with the Gentiles. He also then had a ministry to believers. He tells us his ministry was to meet the needs of believers.

As believers on mission just like Paul we also have two different set of people that we minister too. Because of this I took some time studying this passage and have come up with seven keys that I believe are necessary for effective ministry.

  1. An effective ministry is based on God’s grace.

The first thing you have to realize is that you don’t deserve to be in the ministry. I don’t deserve to be a Christian, much less be in the ministry. I don’t deserve forgiveness, much less to be able to be used by God. That’s an extra, added privilege. Constantly, I need to remind myself, God is using me in this place of service simply because of His grace.

When you enter prison to minister, the inmates often can get a good sense what you believe about yourself and it often affects your testimony with them. Make sure my friend to remain humble and remember that you are not any greater than the men and women you are ministering to. Everything God does in your life, through your life, for your life He does by grace through faith. We are all on the road as maturing Christians. We’re not matured Christians. We’re maturing Christians. While we’re growing, we’re giving. While we’re growing, we’re serving. That’s the goal – grace.

  1. An effective ministry is built on God’s word.

Paul says in Romans 15, “I have the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God.” What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news of Jesus which is found in God’s written Word the Bible. This doesn’t mean that the only thing you can do in ministry is preaching and Bible studies. But it means that whatever you do should be built on God’s word. I have found that while serving inside of prison that sometimes more effective than just doing Bible studies are doing classes that address the issues that these men and women face. When in doing that make sure these classes are still built on God’s Word and not contrary to it.

  1. An effective ministry is done for Gods glory.

It’s not built to promote a personality. Paul wanted people to be more impressed with God than he wanted people to be impressed with himself. “Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.” He says God did it through me. He serves in the ministry for the glory of God.

This is one of the things that really concerns me. I have encountered many who believe that they are super stars in ministry. They take great pleasure in sharing of all that they have accomplished in ministry rather than acknowledging that the accomplishment was actually the work of God. It’s very important that we realize that God does things through people. You may be gifted in a certain area and God is using that gift to accomplish His mission. Remember your gift is greater than you my friend!

  1. An effective ministry is performed in God’s power.

In Romans 15 Paul says, “By the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit, I fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. But apart from Me you can do nothing.” If you are not preparing yourself spiritually for the ministry that you’re in, then I would encourage you to do so. Every solider before he goes to the war zone has to prepare himself for combat. He will not and cannot be effective in battle if he is not prepared. So many I fear go into prison with last week’s sermon or an excerpt from a recent book that they read and spend little to no time to prepare for their chapel service or class. That is why so often these men feel unconnected with the teacher because the issues they face are never addressed. They feel as if they are not important enough to the teacher in order for him to study. Friends, don’t just do ministry in the power of your own personality. Always be mindful that your spiritual health is important, you will not be affective if you are unplugged from your power source whom is God. On my strength alone, I cannot do ministry. But on God’s strength “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

  1. An effective ministry is planned according to God’s purpose.

Paul says, “It’s always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known. But now there is no more place for me to work in these regions. I plan to do so when I go to Spain.” Notice that Paul made plans.

Some of you may think you should just get up in the morning and say, “Lord, what do You want me to do today?” and kind of free-float through life. I have often heard this from men who are given the opportunity to share at a Chapel service. Often they will refer to scriptures that speak on the leading of the Holy Spirit. While some of that may is good we can see here in Romans 15 that Paul chose to still prepare. I believe life’s too important to go without a plan. I think we need to be strategic. If you read the book of Acts, Paul had a very clear strategy. His strategy was to go to the key cities in the Roman Empire and all the places he went — Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, Colosse, all these major places were all trade centers, travel centers, crossroads in the Roman Empire. He said I know I can’t get everywhere so I’m going to go to the most strategic places I can and spread the Gospel there.

God has given me a tremendous privilege of being allowed to spend my work week inside of prison and in order to be the most effective that I can be I need to plan my days. I need to be strategic in where and who I spend my time with. Ministry is demanding and lots of things and people want your attention so not planning is devastating. When preparing a message I need to think through who I am trying to reach and what illustrations I may need to use in order for the audience to relate to what I’m saying.

  1. An effective ministry is backed by prayer.

Prayer is one of the most essential keys to effective ministry. In fact I believe it so important that you should do nothing without first going to prayer. Without consistent prayer, we have no direction or hope. If we are not praying, how can we be sure that we are following God’s path? How can we face our challenges? How can we receive God’s provision?

Working on your ministry is exciting as well as time consuming. As much as you want to spend time in prayer, it’s almost never enough. This is why having an intentional and activated prayer strategy, with an engaged prayer team, is critical. Your ministry must be covered by prayer if it is to be effective and protected from attack.

 

I believe there is more I can add to each one of these keys but I think you get where I’m going with this and will grasp that ministry is not about ourselves but about God. You are where you are at today because of God’s grace and that in itself should compel you to serve Him humbly!