Strengthen and Encourage

Have you ever worked for someone but had no idea what the expectations of you or the job were? It can be frustrating, can’t it? Fortunately, God has not done that to His children. He has clearly laid out the job description, requirements, and expectations for us. Now, whether or not we read them or actually obey them might be up for debate, but we can’t say that we didn’t know. With that being said, let me ask another question, did Jesus tell us to make converts or make disciples? Of course, Jesus told us to make disciples (see Mt. 28:19). If that is what we were told to do, why does it feel as though we spend more time and energy trying to create converts? Is there a difference between a convert and a disciple? There absolutely is a difference, it is a huge difference. In fact, I would say that it could be the difference between truly being saved and not being saved even though you may think you are. That’s a pretty bold claim, so maybe I need to scripturally back it up. A convert is someone you share truths with, and they come to your “side” of the argument. A “Christian convert” is someone who knows the truths of the Bible, specifically the Gospel, and they agree with them. The truths would be that God created everything perfectly (Gen. 1-2). Then, sin entered the world (Gen. 3), and sin has marred God’s creation. Because mankind is sinful, we need a Redeemer, a perfect sacrifice for our sins. God promised to send one in Genesis 3:15. At the right time, God sent Jesus into this world, born of a virgin (Gal. 4:4-5; Isa. 7:14). He lived a sinless life (Heb. 4:15), and went to the cross. On the cross, Jesus became our substitute, taking our sin and paying our debt (2 Cor. 5:21). By Jesus’ death, He satisfied God’s wrath against sin (Isa. 53:11), making redemption possible. By His resurrection, He has proven that He is God, and that He has power of life and death and is the author of eternal life. Jesus is the only way we can be saved (John 3:16, 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:13). If you know these things, and agree with them; then you could be considered a convert. However, we aren’t called to be converts, we are called to be disciples. A disciple is someone who believes all those things, but then their life is transformed by God through their obedience to live these truths out. In other words, a convert believes something but a disciples believes is and lives accordingly. A disciple is a learner, that is the simplest definition. But they do not learn simply for knowledge. They learn so that they can imitate what they are learning and seeing. This is why the apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers, “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). By the way, the word often translated there as “follow” is also translated as “imitate.” Therefore, Paul is saying, imitate my life as I am imitating Jesus’ life. Now, with the definitions stated, we need to go back to the original question, are we making converts or disciples? If we are honest, most churches are seeking converts. We go out, share the Gospel with people, call them to believe the truths we have shared; then, if they do we baptize them. What typically comes after baptism? In most cases, sadly, the new Christian is left to figure out how to live for Jesus on their own, while the church goes out and starts chasing their next convert. I want to go ahead and say this, that is the exact opposite of what we see Jesus do in the Gospels. It wasn’t even the apostle Paul’s method. Jesus called people to follow Him, He taught them through words and actions, then He sent them out to do it while He watched. All of this was so that when He ascended back into heaven, the disciples would be equipped to carry on what they had seen and heard from Jesus. How do we know what Paul did? Acts 14 covers how Paul’s first missionary journey came to an end. Acts 14:21-22 says, “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconic, and Anitioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.'” What Paul and Barnabas did here was they retraced their steps. They went back through the cities they had previously visited. Why did they do this? To “strengthen the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith.” They went back to strengthen and encourage the disciples. Yes, Paul went from city to city. But he didn’t forget them. He would double back, and invest in them again.

I believe we as pastors and churches need to learn the model of discipleship taught by Jesus and demonstrated by Paul. Yes, we need to go out and share the Gospel in our communities and beyond. Yes, we want to call people to surrender their heart and life to the Gospel. However, salvation is the starting line, not the finish line. We need to be more intentional about investing in those around us, whether they are new disciples or not. It is my experience that the church as a whole has done a lousy job of discipling believers. I believe this is part of the reason that the modern-day church is so weak. I’m not saying this out of anger or with the intent of hurting anyone. I’m just as guilty as anyone. My heart is broken. We live in a crazy time in which the world is shaken. They don’t need to see a shaken church who has no idea what to do. They need to see a humble church that is confident in the Person and plan of God. That means we need to focus on being a disciple-maker who makes disciple-makers. We do this not in large gatherings, but rather in small groups. Over the last six months, we have seen many churches have to not meet publicly because of COVID-19 restrictions. In fact, WBC where I serve, we didn’t meet publicly for three months. Yes, we met every Sunday and Wednesday night on YouTube live. But actually coming into the building didn’t happen. Now, some churches are being put in the position to choose whether or not to continue to meet and face fines, or do something different. I’m not going to wade into that debate in this post. However, I will say that if we were doing what Jesus has called us to, I don’t think the church as a whole would be as rocked as it is right now. Gathering together as the body is vital and yes, it is essential (Heb. 10:24-25). However, that is only one aspect of our worship. We need to be in Bible studies in our homes and communities. We need to be in accountable relationships with other believers. It is in these smaller accountable groups, typically called discipleship groups, that we spur one another on to evangelize and teach to strengthen disciples. Evangelism and teaching are the two oars of making disciples. You need both if you are going to be a healthy Christian and a healthy church.

Therefore, I want to end this post with some encouragements for you. First, pray for your leaders. I have pastored through a lot of things, but never through a pandemic. I’m not alone. I know pastors are struggling right now, and there are a lot of reasons they are. Pray for your leaders. Pastors/leaders, pray for your people. As much stress as you feel right now, remember your people are feeling it to. Most of them have never lived through a pandemic. We all need to give one another a little extra space and grace during this time. Next, be faithful in worship attendance whether it is online or in-person. We need to be gathered with the body to encourage and prod one another on to love and good works. Next, if you aren’t in a Bible study, whether it’s called Sunday school/life groups/small groups or whatever, you need to be involved in one. Finally, I want to encourage you to get into a discipleship group or maybe God is calling you to start one. I have been blessed to have some people teach me what they are and how they can be successfully done. I am forever grateful to Pastor Robby Gallaty and Replicate Ministries. I would love to be able to help you learn more about d-groups. I don’t care where you live. Thanks to technology, we can meet in the same room even if we are many miles apart. I think it is time that we start investing in one another. We need to strengthen and encourage each other that we may be found faithful to the Lord Jesus when He returns.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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