MSG: Strategy of Grace – Raising Spiritual Parents Matt. 28:19-20

This message was presented on September 1, 2013 as part of the 2013 Strategic vision revisited.

            As we transition into this second message on vision, let’s note two thoughts. First, researchers suggest that kids grow up believing that they are special, talented and can be anything they want to be, and when that doesn’t pan out, they easily fall into chronic disappointment and despair.  They think if they cannot have exactly what they want, there is little point in trying and they move home.  According to the most-recent U.S. Census Bureau figures, 22.6 million adults between the ages of 18 and 34 were living at home with their parents in 2012, about 32% of all people in that age group. That is up from 18 million, or 27%, a decade ago. The percentage of young adults between 18 and 24 years old living with parents has increased the most, to 56% in 2012 from 51% a decade ago.1 Multi-generational homes are great, as long as each generation is capable of being on its own . We are struggling as a society of raising parents, who raise parents. If we don’t as a society know how to raise young people to be responsible parents, how will we raise responsible spiritual parents?

Secondly, let me give you some stats on the church in the USA.

  • *  Every year more than 5,000 churches close their doors. [1000 are planted]
  • *  Every year 2.7 – 3 million church members fall into inactivity (QUIT).
  • * 80% of Christian young people walk away from church when they go to college.
  • * 60 % never return (per Joe White, recent research on Parenting)
  • *  Half of all churches in the US did not add any new members in the past two years.
  • * 57% of pastors would walk away today if they had a way to care for their family.
  • *  In 1900, there were 27 churches per 10,000 population – in 2000 there were 11 churches for every 10,000 in the population.
  • *  The USA now ranks third (3rd) following China & India in the number of people who ARE NOT professing Christians.
  • *  The most alarming statistic is that very, very few churches (less than 3 %) actually focus on Disciple Making.

Where is the church headed unless prompt and radical transformation becomes the norm in her ministry?  What is God’s solution for raising spiritual parents? What is God’s solution for growing up spiritually?

Last week we started a three part series on the Strategy of Grace. We saw that every person who trusts in Jesus, begins as a spiritual infant, whether 15 years-old or 65 years-old. Then he grows through four stages of growth if he has a good spiritual family helping him grow up. What is God’s solution to raising spiritual parents? There are two things that we need to consider.

1)    Pursue the Lord’s pattern in raising disciples Matt 4:18-22

What would you do to build a kingdom?  If I was God, I’d direct the angels to secure auditoriums and gather invalids I could genuinely heal. Those miracles would cause people to believe me and do what I say. I have heard many people say we need a return of miracles to get people’s attention. But biblical miracles were always present only to draw attention to God’s Word. Jesus did miracles. Yet, that was not His method of building His Kingdom.  No, He took twelve men, one who never believed, and formed them into disciple-makers.  It was the Holy Spirit who transformed them into an unstoppable group of men sold out for Jesus.  Note what Matthew records,

18 And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.  21 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. He called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Mat 4:18-22 NKJ)

There were a lot of people excited as fans of Jesus, but how many in His day were followers? Jesus ministered in large group contexts proclaiming His kingdom message, but He only explained the message to a small group – those who wanted to know and understand.  Most of His time was spent in the small group. They traveled together, shared meals, faced hardship together and even faced deception from religious leaders.

Jesus chose to spend time listening, encouraging, forgiving, debriefing and challenging the disciples.  Jesus’ emphasis was on relationships in the small group of men, not on programs or large groups.

The disciples were not brilliant; they were common men, but teachable. They ran off when the going was tough.  Yet, Jesus knew they were ones the Father gave Him and Jesus asked that the Father set them apart (17:6, 17).  It was through those common men that millions would believe their word (17:20).

What is God’s solution for raising spiritual parents? Raise spiritual parents by following the Lord’s pattern of raising disciples. Invite them to follow, spend time with them and then challenge them. The challenge will be seen in exhortations.

2)    Pursue the Lord’s exhortation to raise spiritual children 1 Thes. 2:7-8, 10-12; 3:2; Heb. 5:12-14; Matt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:28; 19:14; 28:18-30; Mar. 6:7  

There are a lot of verses, so let’s walk through them.  And this first set is from Paul, not Jesus. Why?  This is the Lord’s exhortation, because Jesus is working through Paul as a spiritual parent to the spiritual infants and children at Thessalonica. Paul wrote,

7 But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. (1 Thes. 2:7-8 NKJ)

Paul loved them and gave them just enough to help them grow up to become spiritual children.  Babies need a loving environment and milk. They can’t handle anything else.  They are continuing the growth outside of the womb.  It might be better in many cases if the baby remained in the womb until they were 1 year old, but I’m not sure how many women would put up with a two year pregnancy!

The church at Thessalonica was growing in the gospel and Jesus’ love, so Paul began the exhortations needed as a father exhorts his children,

10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;  11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and chargedevery one of you, as a father does his own children,  12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (1 Thes. 2:10-12 NKJ)

I love the description of his behavior toward them in verse 10. That is how a spiritual parent must live and act before the disciples, whether spiritual infants, children or young adults. Then he describes how a father leads his children.

In verse 11, we see the Father will “exhort, comfort and charge” his children. They must be exhorted because children, if left to themselves, will remain children.  They will not grow up.  They will remain in their childish ways. They need to be comforted, because the transformation from childishness to being young adults is often very painful and comfort in the discouragement is important. Finally, children must be challenged to press forward spiritually.

Finally, he answers why they are exhorted in verse twelve. They are exhorted so they will walk worthy of God.  No one will walk after God’s ways, even God’s children.  Left to themselves, they will often, not always, struggle with the flesh. Even Paul wanted to be set free from his body of death.

We also see Paul’s pattern of working with a spiritual young adult in Timothy. He wrote,

2 …and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith. (1 Th. 3:2 NKJ)

Timothy had become God-focused and other-focused and was learning how to be faithful and responsible.  Note also the passage in the book of Hebrews.      The writer to the Hebrews addressed this exhortation of people who failed to grow up. The writer recorded,

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Heb. 5:12-14 NKJ)

This is a great passage. The writer addresses Christians, who were Jewish believers, who should have been teachers, in fact disciple-makers, in fact spiritual parents. But they had need of someone to teach them milk again. Why did they need milk?

They needed milk because, while they heard the Word, they did not do anything with it.  They heard many messages. Someone was feeding them milk, but they never used it. They did not grow up. Notice that in verse 13.

The one, who should have been a teacher, was not skilled in the word of righteousness. That is, he was not able to teach others. He did not disciple the Word to others.  He was not a spiritual parent.  He listened. He was a fan of Jesus, but not a follower of Jesus. Skill comes from application. Application is the use of God’s word in life, but especially in teaching it to others. That is why the writer says they ought to be teachers, but instead they are infants. Then notice the emphasis in verse 14.

Those who have grown up have learned how to read the text and help others understand it.  They don’t have to be nursed or bottle fed any more.  They are able to read and study the Bible and lead others in growth, because of “reason of use.”  They lead others by “reason of use” so that they “have their senses exercised to discern,” which is what parents do.  An infant does not know if something is good for them or not. They just stick it in their mouth. Infants need someone to make sure  they have good food. The child is not much different. The child, if given a choice between twinkies and tomatoes will likely eat the twinkies, even though the tomatoes would be much better for him.  The young adult knows the difference, but he is smart enough to do the right thing or do the wrong thing and pay the consequences.The spiritual parents discerns between what is good and evil.

Does Jesus exhort? If you look up the passages in Matthew and Mark, you see Jesus rebuking the people to let the little children come to Him.  He loves infants and children. He said, “Unless you are converted and become as little children...” (Matt. 18:3) Jesus loves infants and children.

Jesus accepts people where they are, but He also does not want them to stay where they are.  When He was teaching them about God’s provision, He challenged the disciples, “Oh you of little faith.” When the disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee and they thought they were perishing, they awoke Jesus and He said, “O you of little faith,” after which He calmed the storm. When Peter was walking on the water, but began to sink, Jesus said, “O you of little faith.” Jesus was consistently exhorting the disciples to grow up.  He also sent them out “two by two” to help them through the spiritual young adult stage. And finally, He challenged them in the spiritual parent stage with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

What was Jesus’ solution for raising spiritual parents? Invite people to become disciples and train them to be disciple-makers.  That will happen as we exhort them to press forward to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. What is the best method today?

What is the wisest approach to help 80% of the congregation become spiritual parents (disciple-makers)?   Some possibilities:

  • Disciple through worship services to become spiritual parents. I believe in the worship service.  I am thankful the Elders saw fit to recruit Gabe to be our Pastor of Worship and Arts. I am excited about more people becoming involved in music, but especially the level with which we are worshiping with one accord. Yet, how many leaders are we multiplying so that more worship services are going on? When would the potential leaders practice leading a service?  How would you know how people are growing? You may have 1-2% who get the vision of what they are to do and start new churches.
  • Disciple through Fellowship Groups. There are certainly many strengths of Fellowship Groups. There is (are):
    • Solid teaching of God’s Word
    • Credible leaders, who teach and provide opportunities for others to teach
    • Relationships that form and exist in and out of Fellowship Group
    • Prayer support for those in the Fellowship Group
    • Care Group support for those in the Fellowship Group
  • Related to discipleship, there are several weaknesses of Fellowship Groups:
    • Some people hide in the group and end up as spectators. They are fans, not followers.  They are in the stands, but not on the field. They get excited at church, but do not contribute to building the kingdom.
    • We may be unsure how much is absorbed
    • Some absorb content, which may not be practiced
    • There is often not an intentional method for reproducing disciples
  • Disciple through small groups, where multiple people get opportunities to lead the group in different capacities.  Possibilities:
    • Using various books of the Bible. But what you are saying, is that you have to lead others through a book study in order to be the leader.
    • Using the Colossians 2:7 material. But that is too in-depth for 80% of the people.  That is great for 15%.
    • Using the Message Based Discussion Questions. 80% of the people can facilitate the leadership of guiding the discussion.
    • Strengths:
      • There are 10-14 people which is easier to develop trust
      • They develop deeper relationships because of the focus
      • They provide a safe place for authenticity with struggles
      • They allow for many groups outside the church building
      • They provide a back door for people to come to church
      • Everyone participates because we learn by doing  (teach them and release them)
      • There are 12, rather than 30, so people are willing to lead also
      • Quick feedback helps to know if people are “getting it”
      • A new person can learn quickly that he can become a leader also
      • Often more is caught than taught

What must be true for a legitimate home group? A small group in itself is not the answer. A small group by itself can create more problems.  However, there are four ingredients that ensure home groups stay on target.

First, it must have a Biblical Foundation.  Every small group must be built on God’s Word.  Your biblical understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ will deepen your desire to please Him and make disciples who make disciples. Jesus said,

24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 “and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 “and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matt. 7:24-27 NKJ)

If Scripture is not the foundation, then whatever happens will crumble at the next storm. Paul wrote,

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NKJ)

We have this at Grace! I believe we are following Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

Secondly, it must have a Relational Environment. Small groups are small enough for transparency and authenticity. Small groups provide the environment for genuine care for one another,

23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. (1 Cor. 12:23-25 NKJ)

How does that happen? The home group leader spends time with the people (Deut. 6:7-9)  in real teaching to establish a biblical worldview (John 17:17; Matt. 4:4; Ps. 119:105. )  Jesus demonstrated a relational environment to help the disciples out of their comfort zone. How is your relational environment for discipleship?

Thirdly, it must have Intentional Discipleship.  This takes the accidental out of discipleship. Paul wrote,

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13 NKJ)

Jesus had intentional actions  (Matt 14:15-18, 27-31; Luke 10: 1; 22:7-13; John 6:5-6).

Fourthly, it must have a Reproducible Process. Home groups reproduce equipped leaders to start new home groups. Small groups are the mechanism to multiply. Jesus said,

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen. (Matt. 28:19-20 NKJ)

Did you know you can train a leader within six months to begin a new group?

This assumes four things. First, it assumes on-going training. That is why we had our first quarterly training yesterday for home group leaders.  It is essential that all the home group leaders get on the same sheet of music as much as possible.  Unified leaders will create a better symphony of music. Secondly, it assumes support for discipling leaders. I am going to do my best to provide that support, encouragement and availability to answer questions.  Thirdly, it assumes accountability. The leaders are agreeing to a commitment for the unity and harmony of Grace in order to be considered a part of the home group ministry. Fourthly, it assumes using a material that 80% of the people can grasp, apply and implement. The material has to be simple enough so people multiply home groups. Multiplication is the missing ingredient from most of the churches in America.  Lack of multiplication, because of a lack of discipleship, is a reason more churches close than open. There is tremendous hope in discipling people to Jesus and exhorting them to press on to be spiritual parents!

The Lord Jesus is our example and

He taught us to become spiritual parents.

  • Jesus is looking for followers not fans.  The goal is not being independent, but interdependent raising new spiritual parents or disciples to Jesus Christ.  Are you in a Fellowship Group or Home Group, accountable for growing to the next spiritual level?  Is there someone helping you advance?
  • Jesus loves you where you are, but where you are He wants you to keep growing.  He wants you to become a spiritual parent for others.  That means adjusting your schedule to fit with others.
  • Life is about Jesus Christ and His message to disciple others, i.e. raise spiritual parents. Life is not about you.

Message Based Discussion Questions

1)    How or were you taught to be an adult who was ready to raise children?

Digging Deeper:

2)    In Deuteronomy 6:6, where is the word supposed to be solidified? _________.  What will that look like according to the larger context of Deut. 6:1-9?

3)    How many times was Peter called to follow by Jesus?  _________ (compare John 1:35-42 with Matt. 4:18-20).  What do you suppose was going through Peter’s mind?

4)    What are the three challenges Jesus makes in Luke 9:57-62?

a)    ____________________ ; ________________________;


b)    What are examples of challenges today that you face in considering the invitation by Jesus (Luke 9:57-62)?  How do they hinder disciples from being fully committed to follow Jesus?

Application of the message to life:

5)    Do you experienced the miracle and joy of taking responsibility for discipling others in Jesus?  How is that more fulfilling than regular human responsibilities?

6)    According to the statistics mentioned in the message, what will happen if we do not disciple others to disciple people? What specific steps would you encourage others to take?

7)    What are three things you might have to do or rearrange in your life to disciple other people?



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