(The following is part 4 of a four part series:
The Sanctification of Sending)
Last week, the steam boiler that heats my house and my hot water decided to stop responding to the call for heat from my thermostat. The house got cold fast. It turns out that one of the tubes that carries water through the boiler was so clogged with mineral deposit from our very hard water that it was no longer allowing water to flow, causing the boiler to shut down. What was supposed to be a channel for moving water became a stagnant hindrance to the function of the whole system.
So it is when we do not respond to the call of living "sent" as disciples. When God deposits the truth of the gospel into our hearts, he does not intend for it to get stuck inside us but to flow through us. Those who only view discipleship as attending more classes or getting more information about God will eventually stagnate in their faith and wonder if there is anything more. They will be "always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). They will have the appearance of godliness but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). Those who truly "get it" will also give it.
From the time that Jesus called his first followers, their eventual sending was expected. Jesus said, "Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men" (Mark 1:17 ESV). They would go from being caught by Jesus to catching others for Jesus.
The disciples got a taste of what this would like in Mark 2:15. Jesus took discipleship outside of the confines of the synagogue and beyond the beautiful settings of him teaching by the sea, into the last place they probably expected to be - at a party in the home of a tax collector. If they wanted to be with Jesus, they needed to go where he was going and participate in the work he was doing. That work, Jesus explicitly stated in Mark 2:17, was to "call... sinners." Even in these early stages of their walk with Christ, these fishermen were learning, through observation, how to become fishers of men. To catch fish you have to go where the fish are hungry and biting. You don't expect them to come to you.
Living Sent grows us
The outcome of following Jesus on his discipleship pathway will always be making more disciples who are dependent on and devoted to Christ. At Oak Hill, we call this the "sending" phase of the discipleship pathway, and it is the final part of our mission statement, "Send witnesses."
Often we don't think of living sent as an important part of our own growth as a disciple, but it is essential to our sanctification. There are ways that we get to know Jesus that only can be learned by relying upon him as we make disciples and minister to others. There are depths of his character that we will understand more fully as we see them in action while we participate in his mission. There are commands that Christ has given us that can only be obeyed in the context of Christian community or evangelistic witness. Living sent is as much about what God wants to do in us as it is about what he wants to do through us.
In the sending phase of discipleship, the disciple begins to allow the truths of the gospel to flow through them to others. If they do not enter this phase, they will inevitably get "stuck" in their walk with Christ. However, as they live sent, their own growth is experienced primarily through helping others grow. Every disciple must grow to live as a sent witness to the power and presence of Christ in their own lives, allowing them to relate to new believers and unbelievers in a posture of humility and helpfulness. Disciples must become disciple-makers, helping others take their next step in their walk with Jesus.
The first way we are sent by Jesus is through edification, or "building up." When we use this word in our discipleship pathway at Oak Hill, we are primarily thinking about building up other believers in the church. Edifying is about expressing the spiritual gifts God has given us through the "one another's" are commanded throughout the scriptures.
At Oak Hill, this absolutely happens on Sunday mornings and in Gospel Communities as both of those environments remain a priority throughout the discipleship pathway, but it also happens through intentional ministry service within the church. We set out to express the heart of Christ by meeting a particular need of our local body based on our gifting, interest, spiritual maturity, and the opportunities in front of us.
We don't often think about this type of edification as "witness," because we've typically reserved that word for our interactions with unbelievers. However, if our ministry in the church is not a testament to Christ's work in our own lives, it is void of any true power or meaning. Our goal in any ministry is to point others to Christ, making disciples of him, not ourselves. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 ESV). It's the Lord's ministry to us that enables us to minister to others. Our motivation must be that they would experience more of him through us.
Secondly, Jesus sends us to evangelize the lost. This is the sense that most of us probably think about when we hear the phrase, "send witnesses." Again, we must recognize that Jesus intends this sending to be part of our own growth process as much as for those he intends for us to reach. As we give voice to the reason for the hope that is within us, our hope in him grows. As we explain the essence of the gospel, we are encouraged in the truth of the gospel once again. As we face opposition, our faith is expanded through needing to actively rely on him, and as we lead others to Christ, our awe is ignited in seeing him produce living faith in a previously dead heart.
As we edify other believers and evangelize unbelievers, the latter part of our pathway begins to overlap with the earlier phases of others' pathways. We engage those who have no saving faith and help them take the next step by making the gospel clear to them, urging them to repentance and faith. By God's grace, some believe and are baptized, committing to taking more steps in the context of the local church. We help to establish them in the faith as new believers and growing believers. We become those who go get the wanderers and help those who are "stuck" get out of the ditch. This doesn't mean that we stop needing growth ourselves, or that we will never be stuck again, but it does mean that continual growth will often take the form of actively pouring into others what we are receiving from Christ.
Local and Global
When we live sent, it's not just new disciples who are made. Ultimately, those disciples grow to the point that new churches can be formed. Sometimes people are sent beyond our local community to reach a neighboring community, or one in an unreached region of our country or globe. Jesus commanded, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations..." (Matt. 28:19). His mission is a worldwide mission, and our eyes and hearts must be open to see his glory made known among all peoples. As we edify and evangelize where we are, he will call some of us to go. Further, those who go are qualified by their faithfulness to serve where they are. There must be a close relationship between our church's ministry "here" and our ministry "there" - it cannot be one or the other. The Lord will open doors of global witness as we are faithful in what he has set before us.
A Work of the Spirit
Being sent as a witness sounds terrifying to most people. It should. We are laying down our time, talent and treasure, along with our selfish desires in order to spend ourselves for God. This is not something we can do in our own power. As Jesus sent his disciples, he did not send them apart from his power and presence, making them come back with a report that he could grade later. Instead, he said, "Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). He said, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV). We find the power and presence of Christ through his Spirit not only in the safety of our church Bible studies and prayer meetings, but also in our ministry to believers and unbelievers alike. Our goal must be to see where he is working and join him there. We are truly following Jesus when we sacrificially point others to Jesus, growing our dependence on him and devotion to him together.
How have you encountered the power and presence of Christ as you've lived sent?