restore a culture of disciple-making

by Fred May


The following is an excerpt from the script for the upcoming Encounter module to replace/supplement the existing Foundation 3. The central theme is love and relationship as divine priorities as we consider their practical implications for spiritual growth.

Love, and all the other fruit of the Spirit, ‘…joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…’ (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT), are all manifestations of an emotional-spiritual maturity, an emotional/intuitive intelligence that Christ by His grace instils in us. According to Christ this is the most immediate and important growth goal of every believer: “‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him,”‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets”‘ (Matthew 22:36-40 NASB) These commandments emphasise the importance and priority of emotional-spiritual maturity without question. Emotional-spiritual growth demands the pursuit of wholeness and that pursuit has to shape our approach to disciple-making.

God wants His entire spiritual family to be mobilised, motivated and empowered to engage in and promote the discipling enterprise, where cultivating the emotional-spiritual growth of each individual sensitively and diligently enjoys universal priority. God’s ultimate growth goal for you is not so much to become a good disciple, but rather to become an effective and productive disciple-maker. This part of the Great Commission is the responsibility of every committed Christian. When we begin to fulfil this desire of the Father’s heart it brings us into deeper intimacy and favour with Him, as affirmed by Christ. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:16 NKJV)

Embedded deep within the soul of every person is a desire to see him or herself replicated in a new life, a baby. At first this primal urge may not be strongly felt, but as we mature this God-given, natural desire becomes more and more pronounced. The same is true of us spiritually. We were born of the Spirit for the same purpose, to bear the fruit of healthy, Christ-like disciples who, in turn, would also bear much, enduring fruit. Being denied the privilege and opportunity to love, nurture and take responsibility for a young, vulnerable life causes untold heartache and frustration in the lives of many married couples. It is not the will of God that any of His children grow up to be ‘childless’  or ‘barren’ in a spiritual sense. We’re all called to grow to a place where we’d accept this commission by God in the same way Noah did: “As for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” (Genesis 9:7 NASB) But God does not expect us to do what we’ve not been equipped and prepared for first. We trust that the Holy Spirit would birth in you the desire to begin to know God’s heart and passion for disciple-making and fathering on a deeply personal level at this time.

the coming of Elijah
There are lovely examples of the power of a culture of disciple-making at work, even in the Old Testament. One of the darkest periods in Israel’s history came with the reign of King Ahab: There had never been anyone like Ahab, who was firmly committed to doing evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel.” (1 Kings 21:25 NET) Queen Jezebel wielded great influence through her formidable powers of intimidation, manipulation and control. She went to war against God’s prophets, determined to replace the voice of God in the nation with that of the false prophets (1 Kings 16:31 – 2 Kings 9:37; Revelation 2:20-25).

She intimidated Elijah to the point of becoming deeply dispirited and suicidally depressed. She seemed invincible, even to a spiritual giant like Elijah. And because he preferred to work alone it left him vulnerable to the discouragement that invariably comes with isolation and loneliness. However, the ease with which Jezebel and her illegitimate reign eventually were destroyed is truly astonishing. Elijah obeyed God’s instruction to appoint Elisha as his disciple and successor. Elisha in turn instructed one of his disciples to anoint Jehu as king over Israel. And not only did Jehu dispatch Jezebel with consummate ease, he also destroyed the malevolent influence of King Ahab and his family and went on to establish the longest-lived dynasty of the Northern Kingdom.

What becomes clear is that there was a marked, incremental progression in spiritual authority along four discipling ‘generations’ as it were. Elisha asked for, and received, a double portion of the anointing resting on Elijah’s life and ministry. His unnamed disciple in turn could impart an increased measure of Elisha’s anointing and spiritual authority to a young man, Jehu, who exercised it as a military commander in the political arena, to great effect. This example of the discipling transfer of redemptive virtue is confirmation of the succession-impartation principle as instituted by Christ: ‘”truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12 ESV) As the ‘life-chain’ of disciple-making gets established and maintained, the manifest presence of Christ in the earth increases through the witness of His Church.

hearts of the fathers
The historical precedent of Elijah’s discipling efforts is very significant in that it marks a prophetic pattern which found fulfilment in John the Baptist who, according to Christ, was ‘… the Elijah who was to come’ (Matthew 11:14 NIV). And as such he prepared the way for Christ’s earthly ministry. John established a culture of disciple-making which represented a qualitative departure from the discipling enterprise of the traditional rabbinical schools. Scripture promises that the Holy Spirit will move upon the Church for the purpose of restoring this culture of disciple-making every time God starts preparing the Church for a visitation. ‘Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse’ (Malachi 4:5-6 NASB). In the New Testament Christ confirmed the existence of this prophetic pattern: ‘And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things.“‘ (Matthew 17:11 NASB, emphasis mine)

This culture of disciple-making – through which apostolic grace for a successively increasing impartation became the norm – was first established under King David who, as a fugitive on the run from the insanely jealous King Saul, found refuge in the cave of Adullam: “So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there. Then others began coming – men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented – until David was the captain of about 400 men.” (1 Samuel 22:1-2 NLT) By the extraordinary grace resting upon him David saw this motley crew of under-achievers all become heroic legends in their own right, in a relatively short time (2 Samuel 8-39; 1 Chronicles 11 and 12).

While addressing the Jerusalem Council the Apostle James, quoting the prophet Amos, said the following about the work and ministry of King David, the ‘man after God’s own heart’: “Afterward I will return and restore the fallen house of David. I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, so that the rest of humanity might seek the lord, including the Gentiles— all those I have called to be mine. The lord has spoken -” (Acts of the Apostles 15:16-17 NLT, emphasis mine) With a view to the times in which we’re living it is certainly God’s purpose to restore a culture of disciple-making, the essential element of an apostolic mandate, to the church of Christ. It is God’s prerequisite for the end-time global harvest.

We trust that all of us will have clarity about this desire of God’s heart so that, in the days that lie ahead, we can share in His joy. I wish you all the riches of His peace.

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