They called him sub-human. His address was the tombs. Tortured and controlled by a legion of demons, he somehow managed to come to Jesus of Nazareth.
In that dramatic, radical encounter, he was gloriously delivered as the demons fled to a herd of swine, which then drowned themselves.
In the aftermath we find the man “sitting, clothed, and in his right mind.” I love it!
His desire to follow Jesus was completely understandable and warranted, but the Lord lovingly denied his request, saying: “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.”
The former demoniac became Exhibit #1, a compelling spokesman for the Lord Jesus in the whole region of Decapolis, and it was all initiated by the direction: “Go home.”
A premier concern and priority of the kingdom of God is the transmission of God-given truths and experiences to the next generation, given as the law of the land in Psalm 78:4-8:
“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.”
In other words, discipleship is a command that begins at home.
Sometimes I think that if I read one more article about the Millennials, I might become sick. I don’t know who creates these designations, but somehow we have knighted this particular generation as all-knowing and all-seeing – and we’re told they are leaving the church in droves, and that it’s the church’s fault.
In their article titled “What Makes Millennials Stay in Church?” World magazine said, “For millennials who grew up attending church, having a strong Christian faith and practice today is linked to the quality of their relationship with their parents.”
Brian Ray (a researcher behind this particular study) wrote, “If you had to ask for a mixture of things that overall correlated with strong Christian beliefs and practice, you’d be looking at making sure mom and dad developed a relationship with their teens, that they are regular participants in a local church, and they practice home-based, parent-led discipleship. I don’t want to pretend it’s a formula. I’m just saying, statistically, there’s a pattern.”
This brings us to our theme for 2015, The Church: God’s Crown Jewel, and how this masterpiece intersects the raising of our children.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 to go and make disciples is the strongest emphasis given to the work of the Church. The local church exists to make disciples, not just to help people make decisions.
Receiving Christ is not the end. It is the beginning of a new life of serving God in a new kingdom.
The church, the call to evangelism and the call to make disciples are not options: they are all joined at the hip!
Because discipleship is a common church word, we assume that everyone is on the same page regarding its meaning, but this may not be the case.
The Greek word for discipleship is mathetes, which means to be a learner – not in the sense of head knowledge, but in the sense of becoming a pupil who follows both the teachings and the teacher, as an apprenticeship.
To enroll in Christ’s school of discipleship is to enroll in the process of becoming a fully-devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
It involves both the delivery of Christian truth and the modeling of a Christian lifestyle, as we invite people to follow us as we follow Christ.
Discipleship is what Trevin Wax calls “modeling a new way of being human, inviting people to come alongside and learn what it means to follow Jesus – not merely by what we tell them, but also by how we live.”
People make two crucial mistakes when it comes to discipleship. The first is to believe it is possible to be a Christian without being a disciple.
The word disciple occurs 269 times in the New Testament, while the word Christian appears only 3 times. One of these is the statement in Acts 11:26 that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.
Notice the order: disciples first, Christians second.
According to Dallas Willard, a disciple is a person who has determined that the most important thing in life is learning how to do what Jesus said to do.
“Disciples are simply people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus,” Willard said.
The other error is the idea that discipleship is something only for “super Christians,” or for those who will be “sent out,” and so the demands of discipleship are not binding on the rest of us.
But in reality, Mark 8:34-35 says discipleship is the door we all must take: “And He called to Him the crowd with His disciples and said to them, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.’”
These two truth intersect in one fact: Discipleship begins at home. Central to the Jewish belief system is the Shema that is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
This teaching of God’s truth to the next generation stands in a class all by itself. It is to be intentional (teach them diligently); it is keyed to lifestyle (starting in your own heart and daily walk); and it is to be opportunistic, (seizing life’s teaching moments).
Discipleship that begins at home summons us to make all of life a context for disciple-making.
This lesson is underscored for us by (of all people!) Don (Vito) Corleone.
Johnny Fontane comes to visit in a scene from The Godfather, and the Don asks him (in front of his son, Sonny, who is a wandering husband) whether Johnny spends time with his family. Johnny responds that he does.
“Good,” Corleone returns, “because a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” Listen to the words of the true Godfather, the Apostle Paul in I Timothy 3:4-5: “He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church?”
The importance of the home is not in making your adult children’s decisions for them, but in making your children your fist disciples.
It was the evangelist D.L. Moody who said, “A man ought to live so that everybody knows he is a Christian... and most important of all, his family ought to know.”
Different source, same message: the starting place is always at home.
The disciples thought they were doing Jesus a favor, telling folks He had more important things to do with His time than to put His hands on a bunch of children and bless them.
“I’m sorry; we’re booked solid today. Tomorrow? Nothing tomorrow either.”
The Lord’s response in Mark 10:14 made this abundantly clear: “The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: ‘Don't push these children away. Don't ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Let them come to Me!’”
This should be our goal in everything we do, young or old, to connect people in a meaningful way with the Lord Jesus.
In his book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, James Emery White tells of sitting through a church service that seemed it would never end, only to find their kids had such a blast in children’s church they hoped it would never end.
“That couple had simply poured themselves into the ministry,” White explains. “We went to some of the ‘best’ churches in the area that summer, but our kids pleaded with us to take them back to the one we could barely stand. If I lived there and felt compelled to find a church home as a father of four, do you think I would have at least given that church another try? You can count on it.”
Children’s ministry is not a gimmick nor a passing fad.
It’s bringing the Gospel message to our kids’ lives in age-appropriate ways.
Our church’s children ministry is the most important sub-ministry in the church, and we need to start treating it that way!