By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
OCEAN CITY, Md.—Speakers at Connect 2011, the annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware held in Ocean City, Md., on Nov. 12-15, focused on Matthew 28’s Great Commission command to make disciples at home, in the city, in our world and in the church.
In the opening session, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, pointed to the surprises found in the Great Commission.
Namely, he called attention to Matthew 28:17, which noted some of the disciples “doubted” Jesus. “Did you ever see that before?” he asked those in the crowded room.
“Is Thomas a member of your church? Is it a case that not everybody in your church is an enthusiastic player? Are you facing struggles and difficulties sometimes? Welcome to the Jesus ministry!” he said.
“When you stop to think about the assignment—take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire globe—to all 7 billion people … it is enough to make you doubt,” he added. “Don’t let the fact that people doubt slow you down.”
Patterson acknowledged the “awfulest down-in-the-mouth hubris prognostications” of doom pervading the Southern Baptist Convention: “We are falling apart. Everything is in reversal. I just don’t see how we can possibly make it another five years.”
Though Cooperative Program giving and baptisms are said to be down, Patterson said he has been going from “church-to-church-to-church” and has seen them “on fire for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
He explained, “We have more direct involvement in our churches in worldwide missions this moment than we ever had in all of history. Don’t let the naysayers keep you from doing what God puts in your heart to do.”
Patterson also shared the importance of fully explaining what baptism symbolizes—the full dying of one’s self and the covenant to walk in new life—and of faithfully preaching expositionally rather than topically through the Bible.
In a session focused on making disciples in the home, Steve Wright, pastor of family discipleship at Providence Church in Raleigh, N.C., shared about the future of youth ministry. Although “youth ministry” or “student ministry” can’t be found in the back of the Bible, its ministry principles can be found in 2 Tim. 1:7 and 3:12-17, he said.
In this passage, the Apostle Paul, who mentored the young Timothy, gave a framework for building a solid student ministry, based on the following three ideas:
“Student ministry of the future must wage war on its knees.”
“The reason that Paul would tell Timothy, ‘I remember you night and day,’ is because Paul understood that what Timothy was signing up for in his faith walk was a battle!” Wright said. “For us to make the mistake that there is any way we are going to win this battle with gimmicks and games and even fun times, we would be sadly mistaken. This battle is over the souls of men and women.”
Wright quoted longtime seminary professor Richard Ross’s findings about the present-day attractional model of youth ministry: “For the past 50 years, most churches have approached student ministry as students primarily relating to one adult or one youth leader, students experiencing church almost exclusively with people their same age, and parents outsourcing the spiritual leadership of their teens to their youth leaders.”
As a result, the majority of youth have walked away from the faith. Wright continued, “Now there is a broad agreement that this approach to student ministry has been a failed experiment.”
“Student ministry in the future must be focused on an enduring faith.”
In the passage, Paul warns Timothy that he will be mistreated, betrayed and persecuted.
“How many of us, if we were to take an honest evaluation of our student ministry, would say this is the message we are proclaiming?” Wright asked.
He cited the example of a sophomore named Abby who was presented with this message. Though only 20 years old, she has raised over $50,000 to build an orphanage in Uganda for street children. She later oversaw the building of the complex.
“If they are challenged, … they can get it,” Wright stressed. Because she was “not presented with a method of Christianity that involved easy believism. She was not presented a model of student ministry and faith that would cost her little.”
“The Student Ministry of the future must partner with parents.”
Wright shared about a jar of ping pong balls that he keeps in his church office to represent the average number of hours teenagers are awake each week. Of the 112 balls in the jar, there are 110 white balls—and two orange balls. The orange balls represent the time he has with the students. The remaining hours are spent with their parents.
“If I really want to affect spiritual formation in the lives of these children then I had better inform, resource and train those who are before those children every single day.”
Noting Paul was reminded of the faith Timothy learned from his grandmother and mother, Wright added, “If we cannot get Mom and Dad to share their testimony in their home with their own children, then the hope of the gospel being proclaimed outside those four walls has very little chance of happening.”
In the session focused on making disciples in the city, church planter Jerome Gay shared about how to be incarnational missionaries in one’s environment. He is lead pastor of Vision Church, an inner city church in Raleigh, N.C.
Sharing the purpose of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, Gay shared three important reminders about engaging cities and cultures with the gospel.
“We have been sent just like the Father has sent [Jesus],” Gay said, explaining that’s what it means to be a missionary. “We have been sent by God, and we’re sent with a purpose. We’re sent with the Holy Spirit. We’re sent with power to engage our cities—to see our cities changed and revolutionized with the gospel.”
In John 17, Jesus says Christians are “in the world but not of the world,” Gay said. But, Christians must engage the world and not separate themselves from it.
If we are going to make disciples in our cities, it is important that we do not equate holiness with separatism.
Gay expressed concern that too many evangelicals equate being holy with being separated from sin, “as if we were not sinners saved by grace ourselves.”
Noting that cities are ugly, dirty, full of hurt, and crime-ridden, Gay said incarnational missions happens when “the message of the cross is taken to the culture in community.”
Being on mission is being sanctified from our sins but not being severed from the sinners.
Noting many churches leave cities because of their challenges, Gay said that Christians can’t assume that people in the culture know about Jesus Christ, His cross and His resurrection. In fact, contrarily, the values of pop culture are based on self-expression, success, sexual freedom, and self(ish) pursuit.
Evangelicals tend to assume that everyone shares their values and opinions, he said, but Jesus asserts that those who don’t know Him aren’t going to have the same values.
“We can’t get mad at them,” Gay stressed, suggesting instead to study one’s city and approach its culture in three different ways: adopt some things (What can we adopt in order to present the Gospel in this context?); adapt (What can we adapt that gives God glory to present to this context?); or abolish (What must we abolish or reject that offends God?).
The enemy wants Christians to replace discipleship with citizenship.
“The enemy wants us to be more interested in our patriotism than in being missional,” he noted.
Gay said Christians are kingdom citizens, living for the glory of God, “and as kingdom citizens, we bring this reality of the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in the city, and this is a counter-intuitive message.”
Gay shared two things that get in the way of that message: liberalism (too much grace without the truth) and legalism (too much truth without the grace).
“Jesus saved us from religion, not for religion,” he said. “If we are going to engage the sinners in the city, don’t forget that you are one, too.”
He concluded, “The Gospel always compels us from a position of compassion to not forget who we are and to be blown away by who we are in Him.
Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., shared the disciple-making church model found in Acts 11. The city was Antioch, a prosperous city known for its commerce, religious pluralism and moral depravity.
It was also the place where the first Christian church originated.
“There was not even one Christian in this city,” Iorg noted, before asking the first of three questions, which became the basis for his suggested disciple-making church model:
“Where do disciples come from?”
The oft-given and wrong answer is “from your church,” Iorg said, noting that many believe discipleship is taking immature Christians and growing them into mature or strong Christians. “But that answer is truncated… The answer is disciples come from the community of lost people in which your church is resident.”
He noted the disciples, scattered from elsewhere due to widespread persecution, found no believers in Antioch. Similarly, as a church planter in Portland, Ore., Iorg had no church leaders and learned that all the necessary church resources are “not in the church but in the harvest.”
When a church needs more tithers, teachers, and deacons, “they are out there waiting to be won to Christ,” he said, noting that the secret to a disciple-making church is “to perpetually go to where the future disciples are, and that is in the community.”
The second question is, “What is the method of making disciples?
In Acts 11, Barnabas delays a teaching ministry until he gets the right person to teach: the recently converted Paul who had not yet started his public ministry.
Paul and Barnabas then developed a yearlong strategic teaching ministry that was “moving people along, picking up the new ones week by week, and moving everyone down a path toward a maturing process in Jesus Christ,” Iorg said.
The third question is, “What’s the curriculum for making disciples?”
Iorg noted the Bible doesn’t say what the disciples were taught, but their “learning outcomes” in key areas are clearly described. The disciples learned the Gospel, they learned worship, they learned about giving/stewardship, and they learned about missions.
“Study the church at Antioch, a model church of the New Testament, and certainly a disciple-making community,” he urged.