If you start a church, you may not get anyone who learns from Jesus how to live like Jesus. On the other hand, if you start getting people to learn from Jesus how to live like Jesus, you’ll get a church.
My apologies to Dallas Willard and Mike Breen. I’ve reworked and expanded their quotes. But the simplicity and truth found in them is fairly obvious. LoveFirst Coast (also known as First Coast Missional Communities) is about to enter it’s third year. And the reason we’re still here, I think, has a lot to do with God’s grace and the fact that we started by doing our best to become a people who are “learning from Jesus how to live like Jesus.” (Dallas Willard’s definition of discipleship.) We focused on discipleship, on equipping and motivating people to live like Jesus. And we are getting a church. More significantly, God is working in us and through us to be a blessing in a number of places on the First Coast.
Whoever you are, I hope you can appreciate the impact that discipleship can have in terms of ministry in your community. There is a real benefit for letting Jesus set the priorities of ministry. Jesus said, “Make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18). Here’s another way to put it: Jesus commissioned his disciples, “Just as I have taught you how to live like me, now go and teach others how to live like me.”
That was his plan. You won’t find Jesus telling anyone to go out and start churches. You could argue, I suppose that the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas out to start churches – but what the Spirit said was, “Set aside Paul and Barnabas for the work I have in mind for them to do.” (see Acts 13:2) And if you look at what they did, they traveled around and taught people the way of Jesus. And good things followed. Women gained protection. Children were less likely to be exposed. The poor and slaves found a welcoming, supportive communities. The sick were healed. People generously shared their resources. Grace abounded in unexpected places. Oh, and churches were established across Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece. (For more on that, check out Rodney Stark’s Rise of Christianity)
So at LoveFirst Coast, we are equipping people to learn from Jesus how to live like Jesus. That’s what our discipleship tools are about. And good things are following. Let me share.
We have a college ministry focused on prayer and encouragement to students and faculty at a local community college (and it helps lift people out of poverty). We provide a ministry of prayer and support in two hospital settings that impacts patients, families, and medical professionals. We have an evangelistic presence at a Navy Base sharing the good news of the gospel. We extend love and support and quiet prayer to grieving families during funeral and burial services at a National Cemetery. We give counsel, prayer, and encouragement to families with special-needs preschoolers and their teachers in a nearby elementary school. We have a witness to decision makers in a regional office of a large waste-removal corporation. We offer ministries and prayer and encouragement in three businesses in the construction industry. We have a ministry that offers employment to low-skill workers. Until recently, we had a ministry in a business to employ folks who might otherwise not have been able to get work. And we have ministries in neighborhoods – the one I’m thinking of provides prayer, counsel, encouragement and extends practical help (like offers of food and help with childcare) to a family in need. In most of these settings, we provide access to devotional material. And the reports we hear back give us reason to worship. We hear how people are encouraged by what we do. We share and experience God’s grace and presence. It’s amazing to me what is going on.
And get this: everything listed above is what happens when people of LoveFirst Coast get up and go to work. It’s an organic, natural, and unforced outflow of our ministry of discipleship. We encourage one another, pray for one another, commission one another, and learn from one another as we are learning from Jesus. Jesus is present (just as he promised) wherever we, his disciples, go.
Umm, did I mention that there are sixteen people engaged in our discipleship ministry. But that is sixteen people who are equipped and being equipped to live life on mission. And our church, if we all get together has about twenty-five folks. What’s going on with the sixteen sort of naturally bleeds over to the other nine or so. By beginning with discipleship, mission follows.
So, maybe you are thinking we are a special case. Granted, we are a pretty talented, gifted, intelligent group – at least I think so. (And did I mention good looking?) As the Psalmist said, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” AND we are normal people with messy stories, relationship challenges, real families, baggage, who have made and are making plenty of mistakes. So, we’re pretty ordinary. But we are walking humbly with an amazing, extraordinary God who delights to do through us what he has done for us.
Please don’t get the wrong idea. We have some organized mission activities, too. I don’t want to underplay that. It is a tremendous blessing to be a part of what God is doing through Young Lives, and I am excited that we’re getting involved in supporting Young Life, too. And we were privileged to be a part of helping to provide a little financial and physical relief after Hurricane Matthew. Furthermore, we seek to be a blessing in whatever churches we happen to worship in – and I am happy to report that God is at work in many churches on the First Coast. We celebrate and participate in what churches are doing. We are involved in organized mission.
But I want you to understand this. We’re not setting the world on fire with our growth. Outreach Magazine probably won’t ever know we exist. We certainly won’t make their list of the top 100 fastest growing churches in America. Most people don’t know who we are or what we’re about. And this is all okay and even good. Because reputations for growth, vibrancy, or success can actually get in the way of being open to God’s leading.
We are learning that when we follow God’s lead, we see God working to accomplish his purposes. And God’s lead for all of his disciples includes the commission to make disciples, that is, to teach others to learn from Jesus how to live like Jesus. Such a path connects us to the great adventure of discovery in God’s Kingdom.
And we’re about to hit our third year loving the First Coast.
I am grateful.
Pray for us!