What is a Healthy Church Member?

Thabiti Anyabwile’s little book What Is a Healthy Church Member? is helpful. It does no more than the title suggests, which keeps it short. Lands exactly at 120 (small) pages. When I first got it I was looking through the table of contents and doing an x-ray and before I knew it I was 57 pages in. Simple, practical, and readable.

The best books always include practical suggestions, and there are some good ones here, which is great for new-ish believers asking the “how-to” questions. Here are some of those sections:

How can church members cultivate the habit of expositional listening?

  1. Meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time
  2. Invest in a good set of commentaries
  3. Talk and pray with friends about the sermon after church
  4. Listen to and act on the sermon throughout the week
  5. Develop the habit of addressing any questions about the text itself
  6. Cultivate humility

What does a committed church member look like?

  1. Attends regularly
  2. Seeks peace
  3. Edifies others
  4. Warns and admonishes others
  5. Pursues reconciliation
  6. Bears with others
  7. Prepares for the ordinances
  8. Supports the work of the ministry

I’m going to keep a few of these on hand to give away.

True Discipleship: Fishers of Men

true discpleship

Part OneFollow me.  A true disciple is following Christ

Part Two: And I will make you A disciple is being changed by Christ

Matthew 4:18-20

[18] While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. [19] And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [20] Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Fishers of men.  A disciple taking up the mission of Christ.

With these words Jesus clarified the mission. Becoming a disciple means becoming interested in the eternal well-being of people. He says, “I’m going to change you. If you follow me, I’m going to make you something. Now you catch fish, soon you’ll catch people.” Let’s make it more modern. “Now you strive for As on your report card, soon you’ll strive for people. Now you strive for a successful career, soon you’ll strive for people. Now you’re building a platform, soon you’ll be building people. Now you strive for popularity, soon you’ll strive for people. Right now athletics are all-consuming, but there will be a day that the well-being of others consumes you.”

The underlying assumption is that the premiere sign of maturity is a genuine concern for other people. Jesus’s goal is to make them more interested in people than their careers. Jesus wants them to be more concerned about relationships than about their education, their status, their achievements, their awards, their scholarships, their accolades.

He didn’t say, “follow me and I will make you successful businessmen.” He didn’t say, “follow me and I will land you a good, well-paying job.” He didn’t say, “follow me and I will help you achieve your goals and dreams.” He says, “If you follow me, I’m going to reshape the way you see the world. I’m going to change your whole outlook on life. I’m going to show you that the greatest purpose you can give your life to is people.” Look at it this way: Jesus spent the last three years of his life with his people, teaching and training them to follow Christ. Your job is to do the same thing: spend your life with people teaching and training them to follow Christ. A true disciple is a disciple-maker.

If this is true, then we must understand that being relational is not an option, it’s a calling. The greatest thing we can give our lives to is relationships. The Bible speaks about two things lasting forever: God’s Word and people. Do you want to have a meaningful life? Do you want to labor for things that vanish like steam or for eternal treasures that never fade? Jesus’s call was to invest in the eternal—God’s Word and people. True disciples learn to do exactly that. They become “fishers of men.” That means, they orient their entire lives around this calling. They see that in order to be faithful they must give themselves to God’s Word and people.

So a true disciple is following Christ—believing, changing, submitting. He is being changed by Christ—learning and growing in grace. And he is taking up the mission of Christ—as a disciple-maker.

True Discipleship: And I Will Make You

true discpleship

Last timeFollow me.  A true disciple is following Christ

Today: And I will make you A disciple is being changed by Christ

Matthew 4:18-22

[18] While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. [19] And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [20] Immediately they left their nets and followed him. [21] And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. [22] Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

When Jesus said “I will make you” the offer was out on the table. Jesus was being straightforward. His intention was to make them into something they were not. Jesus wanted to fundamentally change their priorities, their desires, their goals, their dreams, their purposes—and he was clear about it. It was like he said, “I know you’ve spent your life catching fish. Not anymore. I’m going to change you.” To our modern ears, that sounds offensive. What right does he have? We shouldn’t try to change people, that’s rude. Let them be, man. Tolerate.

Jesus didn’t fit it then and he probably wouldn’t fit in now. His goal—and he was absolutely unashamed of it—was to change people. To make them into something they weren’t. From the beginning, this was laid out on the table. A disciple, then, is something who is being changed by Christ.

If you are to start following Christ—by believing, by changing, and by submitting—you must understand what you’re agreeing to. Almost everything you sign up for these days has a long tedious document with terms and conditions. Does anyone actually read those? Well, Jesus has terms and conditions that we must agree to if we are to follow him. But they’re not long, hard to read, annoying and complicated. They’re actually simple. He says” if you follow me, understand this: I am going to change you. That means you must be eager to learn and eager to change.”

True disciples are learners. People who think they have nothing else to learn aren’t good disciples. The best disciples are the best learners. They are hungry for knowledge, hungry for information, hungry for insight, hungry for wisdom, hungry to acquire skill, hungry to hone their talents, hungry to practice what they’ve been taught. Part of what it means to follow Jesus is admitting you not only have the deep-seated problem of sin, but the deep need of being taught.

True disciples want to change. This goes right along with being a learner, but it takes it to the next level. Being a true disciple means not only learning but practicing what you’re learning. True disciples aren’t about acquiring information for information’s sake. They want to change. They hate their sin and they want to grow. That’s why Jesus’s call must have been so appealing. I love it—Jesus promises to change them. “I will make you.” Perk up whenever Jesus makes an “I will” statement. He said to his disciples that he would make them fishers of men. He would set out to change them and he wouldn’t fail. This is great hope for us, because the promise we receive is that Jesus will change us to make us useful for his service as we follow him.

So a true disciple is following Jesus and eager to learn and change. And he is also someone being changed by Christ. 

True Discipleship: Follow Me

true discpleship

Follow me. A true disciple is following Christ

Matthew 4:18-22

[18] While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. [19] And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [20] Immediately they left their nets and followed him. [21] And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. [22] Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

The first requirement to be a disciple—a Christian—is to follow Jesus.

To follow involves three elements: belief, life-change, and submission.

Following Jesus requires belief in who he was and what he came to do. Simon Peter and Andrew weren’t asked to follow someone they didn’t know. They had spent time with Jesus previously (John 1:35-42), and even believed he was the Messiah. When Jesus approached them in Matthew 4, they had already known Jesus for some time, scholars say a year. So we understand that the first requirement of a disciple of Jesus Christ is to believe.

Of course, the Simon Peter and Andrew didn’t know a lot about Jesus. But they believed he was the Messiah, even though they didn’t entirely understand. And this is the beauty of following Jesus—you don’t have to be a genius to figure it out. Your understanding of Jesus doesn’t have to complete. In fact, usually it’s the simple ones who get it best. “God chooses the foolish to shame the wise.” You can’t follow someone you don’t believe.

What you do have to know is that you have a sin problem that has earned you punishment and Jesus alone can save you. There are more details—a glorious and beautiful treasure trove of details—but the essentials of following Jesus today remain quite simple. God made you. You rebelled. Faith in Christ saves those who repent and believe. Those who believe those things are saved.

Following Jesus also implies life change. When Jesus says “follow me” the underlying directive is stop following that. If he says follow me, he means give up on your ways. If he says live for me, he means stop living for yourself. Simon and Andrew got it—they left their nets and followed him. Following Christ meant giving up their careers in fishing. James and John were mending their nets, trying to fix them so they could catch more fish. And suddenly when Jesus called them, they left the nets in the boat. They weren’t important anymore—following Jesus meant leaving behind old ways.

That’s what following Jesus is—not literally following him around, like the original disciples did. For us, following him has a much broader meaning: we are to follow his way of life, his teachings, his priorities, his goals.

Following Jesus also indicates submission. Jesus says follow me, and that means we give up the rights to run our lives. This is called repentance. We have handed over the title deed of our lives. We gladly submit to Jesus as our lord, master, leader, and guide.

Some try to make Jesus’s call easier than it actually was. They like to accept Jesus as Savior but not as Lord or Master. And so they think they’ll can be saved without submitting to Christ. This isn’t so—the truth is that if Jesus ain’t your Master he ain’t your Savior. If you haven’t submitted you haven’t been saved. It’s the blunt truth that Scripture is careful to repeat over and over again.

So let me recap quickly: When Jesus says “follow me” this is what he means: believe me, make a change in direction, and submit completely.

Next post will look at Jesus’s intention: “and I will make you…”

True Discipleship

true discpleship

So a man shows up on the scene unlike any other man. He’s teaching with authority. He’s healing the sick. He’s casting out demons with his voice. People are amazed, shocked, and sometimes afraid. His message is one of impending judgment and free grace. The masses are drawn in.

The man has an iron will, determination like a freight train. Unstoppable. Fearless.

He’s something of an enigma—making a whip and clearing out the temple one day and laughing with children and comforting the sick on another.  One day he approaches some fishermen and says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

These men– and some others– start following him around. They become something of the inner circle—those who really, truly know the leader. They are given secrets into the mysteries of God. They are given insider information about the parables. They devote themselves to this man, and they are called disciples. And of course, the man I’m talking about is Jesus.
And, in a strange and somewhat unexpected twist of circumstances, their leader dies. The masses turned on him, the disciples fled, and Jesus got crucified. But three days later, he resurrects.After some time, Jesus starts giving them authority. They are sent on missions—spreading the message of good news and healing the sick. Sometimes, they even do miracles. They become something like an extension of Jesus, operating with his power, speaking his message. These disciples are the hands and feet and mouth of Christ.

And he speaks his parting words to his disciples before ascending into heaven. And you know what they are? Go make disciples. He says “I have all authority, so make disciples. I will be with you always, so make disciples.”

You see what happened? Here were some men who were everything but disciples. Fishermen. Politicians. Tax collectors. You name it. And Jesus calls them and makes them into disciples. And then, when Jesus leaves them, he tells them to make disciples. Now it’s their job.

Jesus’s life in the gospels has abundant description of his dealings with these certain twelve men. How he trained them. How he taught them. How he got them ready for ministry—how he made them disciples. And then, essentially, Jesus says—“You watched me do it. Now you do it.”

We talk a lot about discipleship here at Grace Brethren, mainly because we think it’s the central calling given to the church. I already mentioned Jesus’ final commissioning statement: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” in Matthew 28. A simple look at Jesus’ life is another strong case for discipleship—are we really faithfully modeling our lives after Jesus Christ if we have no concern for training and equipping the people around us? Not to mention the fact that in Ephesians 4 the pastors and teachers are given to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” That’s training—or, discipleship. 2 Timothy 2:2 couldn’t be clearer: central to pastoral work is training up young men who train up others also. So we are convinced that our God-given task is to preach, to pray, and to prepare young men and women for lives of service to the church—that is, make disciples.

Over the next few days I’ll be blogging through ten words: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). I’ll divide it into three sections:

  • “Follow me”
  • “And I will  make you”
  • “Fishers of men”

The goal is to think hard about what Jesus has called us to and come into a deeper understanding of our role in the story of redemption.

Preaching, Praying, People, Patience



In Deliberate Church Mark Dever lays out the four priorities of a pastor. Helpfully, they all start with Ps. Preaching, Praying, People, and Patience.

Boundaries create freedom. If a pastor is supposed to do everything, he’ll be stuck in the web of actually attempting it. No one can, and trying only limits productivity. Know what you’re called to do, and do that.  Say “no” to stuff. A lot, sometimes.

There’s immense freedom in knowing exactly what you’re supposed to do, and being able to walk away from distractions. This is one of the reasons Dever’s four things are so helpful. Simplify.

Preaching. People first and foremost need to hear from God. And that means the Bible needs to be taught accurately. And if the Bible would be taught accurately, engagingly, and clearly, time must be given to study, to preparation. Hours in the office are invaluable, even if you’re only typing away at the keyboard. Never underestimate the value of mind-work, of word-work– these are the  tools God uses to build his church.

Praying. Spurgeon said “I’d rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.” And that is because the public activity of preaching is limp without the private activity of prayer. Eloquence in the pulpit is empty– void of power and influence– if God does not choose to intervene. Lambourghini’s are beautiful, but they still need gas to run.

People. The pastor is known as a shepherd because he spends time with his flock. He knows them. He protects them. He helps them, feeds them, guides them, and teaches them. His work is people work. The word we like to use for this is discipleship– the pastor must be committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ, teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded them.

Patience. We sow the seed in preaching. We water with prayer. We cultivate the soil with counsel. And then we rest. We can’t do anything else. No, we don’t go through steps one, two, and three and then sit back and watch. We do these things continually while our spirits rest. We cast our anxieties on the Lord. We affirm God’s power to save. We get some sleep.

Patience means not scrambling around like your hair’s on fire screaming, “It’s not working, it’s not working!” It is working. These things do work. Go back to bed. Your hair’s just fine.

Preach, pray, and people (that’s a verbified noun). Lack patience, and soon your preaching and praying and people-ing will suffer. They’ll be the first things to go. Don’t let them.

Take time to consider where the majority of your time is spent. Are you fulfilling your calling? Or has your ministry shriveled up into planning events, administering programs, and putting out fires?


Aggressive Dependence

There are a lot of ways to grow a church. A quick perusal through your local Christian book store will prove that. For several decades churches have imbibed the American dream mentality thinking that bigger is inherently better, and whatever it takes to achieve growth must be good because, well, it works. Some churches navigate according to the changing winds of cultural trend; others keep their finger on the pulse of society and adjust continually to remain “relevant”. Others focus on diagnosing the felt needs of the church and aim to drive up attendance by going from hot-topic to hot-topic. Read ten church growth books and you’ll get different new suggestions, tips, and tricks to fill the sanctuary. One suggests small groups; another Sunday school. Others suggest popular, celebratory music. One book I read suggested an intense focus on evangelism and a purposeful neglect of discipleship, saying that if the church gets big enough discipleship will kinda take care of itself. I found that odd considering the first objective Jesus mentioned in the Great Commission was to make disciples.

The problem with these methods is that God never promised to build his church by means of trendy rock bands and innovative assimilation programs. I think Scripture is pretty clear that God has ordained not only the goal of the church (make disciples) but the means for achieving that goal (the prayerful ministry of the Word). It takes simple faith to believe that preaching and teaching Scripture can start it a movement. But it does, and it has, and it will. If the question is how do we build our church? the answer must always be the same: prayerful Word-based discipleship.

God’s Word saves, sanctifies, comforts, convicts, and, ultimately, forms the believer into the mold of Christ. People are sanctified in the truth. This is the means that God uses to build his church. When the church properly and prayerfully ministers the Word of God, the Holy Spirit supernaturally grows the church. The church is God-made. It is his new creation. A man-made church is no church at all.

So if a church is built on something other than the God-ordained means of prayerful Word ministry, it runs the risk of being a merely human enterprise. It looks active, maybe even vibrant, but it stands on precarious foundations. It may not be doing anything of eternal value. Jesus said “Apart from me you can do nothing” and it’s a shame that in a lot of churches there’s a whole lot of activity and a whole lot of nothing going on.

Whereas the church of God is intended to be transcendent and supernatural, oftentimes it’s faddy and man-made. Imagine standing back at the end of your lifetime of ministry and realizing that all the labor of your hands was not supernatural, God-wrought growth, but instead the hard work of a very good entrepreneur. I’d be devastated. Why? Because God-wrought growth will come with me to heaven; my church-y entrepreneurial enterprises won’t.

Ministry should be conducted in such a way that the only explanation for its success is God’s intervention. Churches ought to attempt things that are impossible and trust God to come through, even if it means we stand in front of the Red Sea with staffs in the air like  fools, telling people that God will work a miracle. It may seem like idiocy to rub spitty mud in my eyes, but if Jesus tells me to, I will. And then I’ll trust that it will make blind eyes see.

Every ministry is dependent on Jesus Christ for fruit. It is a matter of Scriptural fact that eternal change does not happen apart from Divine intervention. And it is also a principle of Scripture that God works most powerfully in those who are most dependent upon him. The weaker you are the stronger God is in you. The more dependent you are the more power you’re given. It is always the case that God works most powerfully when all other supports are gone. When we stop hobbling along on our crutches and lay ourselves down on God’s gurney, then things get moving.

Ministry, then, should be aggressively dependent on God. That is, actively looking for ways to cut away the man-made innovations that we are tempted to depend on. The more dependent we are on Jesus, the more powerful we are. You could put it this way: the less we depend on human innovation the greater room we give for Christ to move.

Dependence means we are relying on God for supernatural, Spirit-caused growth. Hopefully, that’s a given. Aggressive dependence means we’re actively looking to eliminate the crutches we may be leaning on, even if from a pragmatic standpoint they “work.” And we do this to make it patently obvious that Jesus is the one building the ministry, and not our innovation.

Imagine an It’s a Wonderful Life type scenario where an angel takes you on an otherworldly journey to show you what’s really happening in your ministry, and for the first time you get a glimpse into what’s causing it to thrive and grow. How sad it would be if the cause was the amazing worship band, the humor in the sermons, the entertaining film clips, or the titillating topics the preacher addresses– things that stimulate the unregenerate– and not the Holy Spirit’s movement through the prayerful ministry of the Word.

Here’s the point: if we want to be fruitful, we must maximize our dependence on Christ. If we would be utterly dependent on him, we must devote ourselves to prayerful Word-based discipleship, which are his means for building his church. And if we would be totally dependent on prayerful Word-based discipleship, we must be aware that there are things we can do that undermine–explicitly or implicitly–our trust in the God ordained means of growing a church.

Let’s be aggressively dependent and cut them out.


Where is our delight?

“Where is our delight in praying? Where is our sense that we are meeting with the living God, that we are doing business with God, that we are interceding with genuine unction before the throne of grace? When was the last time we came away from a period of intercession feeling that, like Jacob or Moses, we had prevailed with God? How much of our praying is largely formulaic, liberally larded with clichés that remind us, uncomfortably, of the hypocrites Jesus excoriated?”

D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

Finally able to love

Before we’re drawn to Christ every individual on the planet thinks of himself like a king ruling a mini-kingdom, always waging war on all the other mini-kingdoms trying to increase his wealth, strengthen his defenses, and expand his boundaries. Here love’s highest function is that of a temporary peace treaty. Often it’s something worse: an attempt at manipulation or coercion. Of course, this is not real love.

Salvation is what happens when Christ shows up at the door of your castle and says, “Bow the knee, ride with me to victory, or perish.” And we do, because his kingdom is irresistibly beautiful, and in comparison we realize ours was and always has been a sham. We fall in line behind Christ next to a whole slew of once-kings-now-servants. The difference is that now there’s no longer bickering over any petty kingdoms. Now, it’s shoulder to shoulder instead of fist to fist. And now, for the first time, we’re finally able to love.

In other words, Jesus’ followers have forsaken their own self-centered dreams in order to participate in the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. If we would truly love each other we must stop thinking of ourselves as kings with rights, but rather as slaves with undeserved privileges. Only then does our service to the true King becomes a united effort. It becomes a common goal for every Christ-follower. And the nearer we are drawn into that goal and aim, the nearer we are drawn to each other in love.

Sequential Exposition

What’s the best way to teach God’s Word? Some teachers always teach God’s Word in topics—meaning they choose a topic, find all the parts of the Bible that have to do with that topic, and then out of those passages form a message on that topic. Topical preaching is good, but it’s not my favorite. Some teachers like to choose themes—like redemption, or salvation, or holiness—and preach about how that theme is developed in the Bible from beginning to end. This is another legitimate way of preaching. Some, however, use the Bible like a trampoline—they land on it every once and a while but most of the time they’re in the air, totally disconnected with it. Some teachers use the Bible like salt and pepper—every once and a while they sprinkle on some verses to make it sound Christian. Some of these ways are worse than others, and none of them are what we are about to do. What we are about to start is sequential exposition.

What is sequential exposition? Let me define the two words: sequential comes from the word sequence, which speaks of an order, a progression, like a chain. First this, then that, then this. That’s sequence—its opposite would be chaos—something without any order or progression. The next word is the word exposition, which is a noun form of the verb expose, which means to put on display, to make clear, to bring to light.

What then, is sequential exposition? Sequential exposition is going through the Bible in the sequence it has been laid out for us, and exposing the meaning of the words, sentences, and paragraphs. It is the orderly progression from chapter one verse one to the final chapter and verse. It’s the most important kind of teaching, and it’s what we’re going to be doing for the next few months in the book of Colossians.

Why is it the most important method of teaching the Bible? First, because the whole Bible (even Leviticus!) is God-breathed and profitable. There are far too many churches are no longer preaching the unadulterated Word of God. This is especially sad because the preacher’s main duty is to preach the whole counsel of God. I don’t have the freedom to pick and choose which books and verses I like and which ones I want to avoid. So when I’m plowing through the Bible verse by verse I simply preach what God has already said, in the way he has said it, in the order and progression he has said it, with the emphasis he has placed on it. In other words, when I do sequential exposition, I am letting God call the shots. What I preach, when I preach it, how much time I give to the subject is all pre-determined by God.

So for example, and I sequentially preach through Colossians, we’re going to encounter various teachings. In chapter one we get a lot of information about Paul, his ministry, and the person and work of Christ. In chapter two, we get Paul contrasting the Christian gospel with the false teachings that were infecting the church. In chapter three we get a great section on how Christians ought to behave. In the last chapter, Paul sends news and greetings. And as I teach through each section, God will set the agenda as to what is taught, not me. God arranged Colossians through the mind of Paul, and I’ll simply follow his lead.

Amazingly, God has spoken to us in a book– words on pages. These words are fixed, unchanging, and external. They are there– we can’t change them, alter them, or adjust them. They are the most important words ever spoken, and they hold explosive relevance for each one of us. And so, if they are indeed God’s words, then we must study them. And the best way to study them is through sequential exposition.

Gear up for the next few months of a sequential exposition through Colossians; I know that God has much to teach us through this marvelous portion of Scripture.