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How to Develop Mature Disciples

From the series The High Impact Pastor

Ya know as our world continues to thaw from the pandemic, now more than ever, the Church has to act like the Church. In this program, Chip explains that, that mission can only happen with healthy, God-focused pastors leading well. As he continues his series “The High Impact Pastor: Building God's Church Jesus' Way”, Chip addresses how to develop mature followers of Jesus.

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Message Transcript

Welcome to session three, Jesus’ commentary on the parable of the seeds and the soils. He’s going to say to this group of disciples, “You have watched the Pharisees, you have seen the Sadducees, you have grown up as good Jewish boys, you have walked with Me, you have seen miracles. I now have given you the secrets to the kingdom.” That parable, that parable of the seed and the sower, it’s not just a parable.

Listen to what Jesus said. “He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?’” A little stronger translation, “If you don’t understand, not just what it says, but the implication of the seed and the sower as the past is gone, Israel has rejected Me, I am now introducing the kingdom, you will be the kingdom builders. You are going to launch My Church. If you don’t understand the seed and the sower, you can’t,” not you won’t, “you can’t understand any of the other parables.”

So, you need to understand, this parable is a line of demarcation. He’s introducing them to how life-change occurs, how the Word of God, in a human heart, gets birthed by the Holy Spirit in a way that a person’s life is taken from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, how spiritual gifts are deposited at the time of salvation, and how this new life in this coming new community called the body of Christ, or the Church, will literally be sent to change the world.

And we are the product. I mean, we have two thousand years that we can look back on at what God has done. Now, I want you to follow along, if you will. He is finishing up the parable of the seed and the sowers. I am in Mark chapter 4.

Let’s pick it up at verse 20, so we get the very ending. “And those are the ones who have sown the seed on the good soil, and they hear the Word and they accept it and they bear fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundred times as much.”

Now, follow along. “And He was saying to them, ‘A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket or under a bed, is it? You put a lamp on a lampstand. For nothing is hidden except to be revealed, nor anything been secret but that would come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’ And He was saying, ‘Take care what you listen to. By your standards of measure, it will be measured to you and more will be given to you besides. For whoever has, to him more will be given. And whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away.’ And He was saying, ‘The kingdom of God is like a man who cast seed upon the soil and he goes to bed at night and he gets up daily and the seed sprouts and grows. How himself he does not know the soil,’” listen carefully, “produces the crop by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. Now, when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle because the harvest has come.”

So, Jesus has given them the parable. He has created, if you will, a new model about how life-change, discipleship, and His agenda is going to go forward. And now, Mark gives us: What was Jesus saying?

First of all, the purpose. When He says, “This truth that you have been given is like a lamp.” And no one would take a lamp and say, “Oh, it illuminates! It helps people see! It provides light! It exposes; it allows us to move forward.” No one takes a lamp and sticks it under the bed. He said, “This truth I am giving you isn’t for private introspection. It’s for public declaration.”

Then notice He goes on in verses 24 and 25, He says, “there’s a practice.” There is a way that the truth is received or not received and how a person receives it makes all the difference in the world.

Remember the warning. He says, “Those who respond to the truth,” or, “those who respond to the light, it’s the light of God’s Word. It’s the truth about the kingdom. It’s the truth about: Jesus is God, the Savior of the world. And He says, “If people respond to that light,” you know, how it happens, all of us, incrementally, if you respond, you get more. If you reject the truth, He says, “Even what you have gets taken away.”

The implications are staggering. Listen very carefully. This was a turning point in my ministry, a turning point in my life. Obedience is the organ through which life change occurs, not knowledge. Believing to the point that I obey: This is what God says a husband does in his marriage – I obey. It’s hard;

And so, when you think about this, this is what I am to do. When it comes to my money; Each area of my life, the organ of transformation is not agreeing with Jesus, it’s not even intellectually believing, “Oh, yes, that’s true.”

He says, “If you apply it, if you put it into practice.” Remember in John chapter 8 when Jesus was speaking to a group of Jews? And it says they had believed on Him, and then He said to them, “If you abide in My Word,” literally, if you take it in and continue to put it into practice, then you’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

Jesus celebrated people’s obedience. Jesus celebrated what they did and what they were becoming. We have grown up at a time where we celebrate how much people know. We celebrate degrees and Bible schools and letters behind people’s names. And don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for education, there’s a place for knowledge; it’s very, very important. But we have globally a Church that knows a lot about God, that has big problems in applying what Jesus actually said.

And so, sometimes we feel like things are well because I teach the Bible. They agree with the Bible, they come to hear me teach the Bible. And, yet, you have this same group and instead of the light penetrating the culture, instead of lives being changed, needs being met, we talk with one another inside our group and we create a whole little huddle, if you will. And Jesus said, “No, no, no. That’s not the purpose and that’s not the practice.”

And then I love, look at verse 26. He says, “The soil produces the crop by itself.” And in English we get our word, that word “by itself” is “automatically”. And so, life-change, how a person’s life changes as they take in the Word of God and the Spirit of God prompts their heart, and it’s the good soil of faith that connects and says, “I can’t do this on my own, but I am trusting God. I step out. I obey.”

He says, “It’s a mystery, but it’s automatic.” In other words, it’s just, on its own. We sow the Word, we don’t know exactly how it all operates. We don’t understand what God actually is doing, but good seed in good soil produces spiritual fruit one hundred percent of the time.

And then did you notice He says it’s a process? He says it’s first, you know, the stalk and then the head and then the maturity. He’s trying to help them understand: Your responsibility is to sow God’s Word. The outcomes and how it actually works, that is going to be the sovereign Spirit of the living God working inside of people’s hearts.

And so, it’s a mystery. We sow; it takes time. The outcomes are His responsibility. The sowing and the application and the modeling.

Think about what Paul would say to Timothy. He’s left this young man at Ephesus and some false teachers are coming in and he says to Timothy, he says, “Stir afresh the flame of the gift that is in you.”

Now, watch your life. Watch your conduct. Watch your speech. Demonstrate your truth, your sincerity, your purity, your integrity. You see, we have to be what we long for people to become. It’s not about having events or having weekends or just teaching messages and being content with a group of people, whatever size it is, whether it’s small or medium, or even large. It’s about the life-change that happens. He says the purpose of the light is transformation, the practice is obedience, and the process is mysterious and it takes time.

And then finally, look at the product. He says to them, “And how shall we picture the kingdom of God and what parable shall we use?” “It’s like a mustard seed, which when sown upon the soil, though it’s the smallest of all the seeds that are in the soil, yet when it is grown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches with the result,” notice the result, “that the birds of the sky can come under it and rest.”

And what I would suggest is that we have all been in a hurry, me in included, okay? Man, how many people came and how do we program them through and get everyone to read
this? And why don’t they do that? And come to our programs and come to our meetings and do this and do that. How many people in the church that you shepherd have had someone over a cup of coffee or tea hear their heart, not tell them what they ought to do but share God’s Word with them, helping them apply it to their life, crying through their pain, rejoicing with their victories. Discipleship, life change – it requires nurture and time and energy. And my confession, believe me, I understand. And this isn’t theory and I want you to know we are going to get to how to practically put this into your life and the life of your church. But we have to accept that Jesus’ model of what He did, most of us do not do. Most of us prepare messages, we have a weekend, often we try to get people in some groups, we try to help them get busy and do things for God. And then a pandemic comes.

And God reveals that we have a lot of shallow soil, we have a lot of activity and growth, but the convictions have been choked out by the desire for other things and the deceitfulness of riches. And God is saying to us, I believe, we have an opportunity like never before.

Let me give you a picture. John chapters 2, 3, and 4 all happen very early – the first six months or so in Judea. And then when those things occurred and there was some difficulty, He goes to Galilee and then He has a year of favor; it’s a public ministry. I mean, it’s unbelievable. Tens of thousands of people and the feeding of the five thousand and authenticating and walking on the water and all the things that we read about. And He did that publicly.

And the disciples watched Him, right? And then He, remember He empowered them? Two by two. And they began to go do what He did. They taught, they healed, they cast out demons, and they proclaim, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent!”

And then He gets under extraordinary pressure and opposition – religious leaders – and He becomes a target. The last eighteen months of Jesus’ ministry, do you know what He did? He withdrew from public ministry. Maybe a little here, a little there. But He spent time with the disciples. What He knew was if you want to change the whole world, you have to have men, you have to have women that go deep, that have character, that no matter what happens – difficulty, persecution – you do remember that eleven of the twelve apostles were martyred. And the one that wasn’t martyred got stuck on a rock so he could write the book of Revelation.

But they willingly died for their Savior, because they didn’t believe with their head, they had convictions in their heart. High impact pastors are men and women that have a conviction in their heart that Jesus is who He said He is, that He is coming back, that His Word is true, and they will joyfully be persecuted and do whatever it takes to bring His kingdom on earth the way it is in heaven and His will to be done.

And that’s our passion. Those kind of followers don’t happen by going to a few meetings. They have to be in God’s Word, they have to be nurtured and cared for. One author, very, very interesting, wrote a book called Christ in Stereo. It took twenty years and he wanted to take every single passage and he got outside critics and two Greek scholars and took everything in all the Gospels to try and weave it together without an exception: This is what happened.

And in the appendix he has a very, very interesting observation. He says, “Most people think that Jesus’ ministry was three years because of the festivals and when they fall.” And he does some work in the Gospels and he says, “That may be true, but I think it was four years.” And he makes a good case.

And the only point I want to make is not whether it was three years or four years, but if it was three years, over half his ministry was spent developing the disciples. And if it was four, it was more than half.

Here’s what I want you to know: You do need to keep doing what you’re doing, right? We’ve got to preach our messages, there are people to take care of, but there are three major implications.

Number one, we must redefine success in our churches. We measure growth, numbers, buildings, people; Jesus measured fruit, Christlikeness, radical love, multiplication, ministering to the least of these, good works in the community.

The Pharisees celebrated external behavior and morality, the Sadducees celebrated external wealth and power, and Jesus said no to both of those; He celebrated fruit. He celebrated fruit! Christlikeness and people’s hearts that beat with His heart to do what He actually did.

Second, we must invest a disproportionate amount of time and energy into the good soil of people and leaders, not programs and events.

If we are going to do what Jesus did, yes, we teach like He taught, we do ministry like He did, we help the poor like He did, we mobilize people, we are involved in our community. But we take the lion’s share of this precious thing God gives us in time and we start like He did with a very small group that are willing to go for broke, a very small group that want to grow deep, a small group that you multiply and then they multiply.

The third thing is we have to be able to clearly define and measure fruitfulness and have a plan and a process to grow mature disciples if we are going to do what Jesus did and if we are going to teach what Jesus taught.

Now, here you go. Let me share my journey with you. I told you I’ve been a pastor for about forty years. Twenty years ago, something happened. I found myself leading an organization. I took a break as a senior pastor, and I led an organization where we had, we were in about a hundred countries with ninety thousand pastors and teachers.

And my job was to create a course every year for leaders and another course that these leaders could take all around the world. And so, I had this amazing window of time where I went all around the world with meeting different pastors in different cultures. And we would bring in all the leaders and try to make sure that whatever we taught, that how it played out in different cultures…

And then they would train people and they would go all to the world. It was a very exciting time. And I started asking this question, because I was wrestling with: Why is it we have so many people show up to meetings and so few people who really live like Jesus?

And I will never forget, I was doing a conference in Lagos, Nigeria. And it was, you know, very successful because we were mostly measuring numbers. Three thousand pastors! And the first thing they said is, “You have to talk a lot slower,” which I tried to, but then I get excited.

And so, I’m talking very clearly, a bit more slowly, and I’m talking about building a high impact church, and I tell them the most important thing is to know that the purpose of the Church is to make disciples. And then I said, “How do you measure or define what a disciple is?”

And then I heard what I have heard from thousands and thousands of pastors, before that for ten or fifteen years. A disciple is someone who comes to church a lot, they read the Bible, they tithe, they help out, and they do things, they are very religious.

And I paused. And I think, “Can you think of anybody in the New Testament that tithed, that knew the Bible, that was very religious?” And everyone’s eyes went, “Well, of course, the Pharisees.”

So, I said, “Maybe we can’t measure what a real disciple is by just attendance or spiritual activity.” And we have all had moments where the Spirit of God has done things that we could never expect.

And I had, at that time, twelve, what I called, “Laws of the High Impact Church,” sort of the operating system of how I had learned from many, many people how to grow a church that is deep and wide and makes a difference.

And as I was there, I thought, I have two full days with three thousand pastors to talk about discipleship. And the look on their face was like they can’t define a disciple. If you can’t define it, you can’t measure it. If you can’t measure it, you can’t produce it.

And I realized I was just going to give more and more fuel to, “Okay, let’s get busy. Let’s get more activity.” And then I remember having this moment.

Now, the raw material was in my mind - many, many years, one of the first chapters of the Bible I memorized was Romans chapter 12. And I had taught messages out of it, so I mean, I knew it very, very well.

But I’ll never forget this. I was looking out to all these pastors and I said, “So, what is a disciple? How do you define it?” And the looks were like this. You know? And there was a brother, you know, on the front row. And this just came out of me, like, it wasn’t in my notes. I said, “do you see this brother on his laptop? If he logged onto heaven.com/disciple, do you know what would come on his laptop about a disciple?”

And literally, three thousand pastors went like this. And I’m thinking, I wonder now what I’m going to say. Because it was like the Spirit of God just said that, and then I heard myself say, “He would say becoming a Romans 12 Christian.”

And I had all these notes and it was a beautiful booklet and I said, “Put your booklets aside. Okay, right now, are you ready? Open your Bibles,” and I had them open to Romans chapter 12.

And I said, “Do you realize that after eleven chapters of grace, we get a summary of what a mature disciple looks like in five very specific relationships? And there are actually five specific questions that every person is asking that that one chapter provides a profile, a picture, a snapshot of: What is a disciple? What does fruit look like? It looks like that! And that was twenty years ago.

And what I want to tell you is that that became a message, and then it became a series, and then it became videos, and then it became something that went to China and then it went to Southeast Asia and then it went to many parts of Africa and then it went to South America.

And what I can tell you is, we are going to learn, not Chip, not your denomination or that denomination or this denomination. We are going to learn from God’s Word, when Jesus said, “Bear much fruit,” this is what it looks like, this is how you measure it, and how – with your other activities, right?

You still have to do things, you’re still going to reach out to the poor. But what we are going to learn is how to find a few people who are willing to go for broke, who will be all in, who will say, “With you, pastor, I want to learn and I want to grow. And as I learn and grow, I will pass this on to others.” And we will be able to measure fruit very specifically, gracefully, relationally. And it will start very, very small. And then it will multiply.

Well, this isn’t theory, so I, after my season of going all around the world, and Romans 12 became this picture, this profile of a disciple, the Lord allowed me to go to a church that was broken.

But it was like our world today. It was so broken, I said, “If I would become the pastor, I’m going to focus on: This is fruit. Romans 12 Christians. And if I’m the pastor then this would be our strategy. And I’m going to focus on being a high impact church, not just a church with a lot of people. And if you would allow me to do that and help develop that kind of a team, then I’ll come.”

And it was so broken, they said, “Sure, go ahead.” I want to tell you, it was so hard and so difficult, but within six months, you know what we taught? We taught everyone, “This is what fruit looks like.” We taught everyone, “You know what a Christian is? It’s not someone who just comes to church, nods their head, sings some songs, and listens to me or some other person preach.”

We said it’s about a person who bears fruit, who looks like Jesus, and that looks like a Romans 12 Christian. And you know what? Some people said, “I thought I was a Christian. If that’s what a Christian is, I have to redefine my faith.” Other people repented from the way they were living. Others said, let me warn you, “I don’t want to be that kind of a Christian, that’s too hard. That bar is too high.” And others, their life changed.

And all I can tell you is it started very, very small. It was very, very hard. We didn’t have money; the facility was a mess. Little, by little, by little, by little. And then it went from a few hundred people to thousands of people. And then it was money that went out. And then it was deep, deep needs in the community with schools and the poor and refugees.
Very imperfectly, for sure. And then they began to pour forth money all around the world like they never had before.

But what I want you to know, when I began to build the church the Jesus Way, the new wine I put in new wineskins. And some people didn’t like it. And it was far from perfect, but it began to build the kind of church that lost people came to Christ regularly.

It wasn’t because of me. I found a group of leaders and they were a mustard seed. And we took them through this process. It’s just Jesus’ process. And that is what can happen in your church. Will it be easy? Absolutely not.

Good seed in good soil produces fruit one hundred percent of the time. The purpose of light: exposure. The practice: application. The process: it will take time, it will be slow, it will start small. And the product: supernatural. God at work.