Nancy's question

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Nancy writes,

One thing I've wondered about is not depth of education or even Bible knowledge but rather depth of character forged in the furnace of discipleship. Some things are just gleaned over time of walking with God. Paul tells Timothy not to rush into appointing leaders, right? I think the reason is that we need time to develop our relationship with God, to learn to stand fast in the down times. Our faith muscles get strengthened as we learn humility and grow along the way. Then, we are ready to stand the trials unique to leaders under particular fire.

What is beyond doubt is that Jesus mobilized ordinary people to share the gospel and make disciples. Led by the Spirit, the New Testament church did the same. How is this possible, while maintaining high standards of discipleship?

1. There is no guarantee of success

No one can claim 100% success in ensuring new disciples don’t mess up. Not even Jesus, or Paul. That's the point of the parable of the soils (Mark 4:3-20).

A disciple is someone who is learning to obey Christ.

Jesus did not have a 100% success rate in turning out mature disciples.

Many of Jesus' disciples who turned back from following him. The his closest disciples betrayed and denied him.

In Acts 8, when Philip went down to Samaria, thousands believed. Peter and John arrived on the scened and brought rebuke and correction to one of Philip's converts. Despite this all three left on new missions after a short time.

We know the trouble Paul had with some of the churches he planted. Yet he refused to settle down and control them.

2. God’s plan is greater than your contribution

Jesus told his disciples it was good that he was leaving, as he would send his Spirit to be with them and bring them into all truth. He was not going to supervise them forever. He entrusted these failed leaders to the Holy Spirit and the dynamic Word of God.

We see the same pattern throughout Acts.

Depth of faith and character is best forged in the furnace of obedience without close supervision.

3. Circle back and strengthen the disciples

The apostolic pattern was to spread the gospel, train new disciples in the basics, form a church, move on and then circle back through a letter, a visit or a messenger. They gave the churches space to both do well, and to fail. Then they returned to correct, encourage, strengthen the disciples, and appoint leaders.

The NT bias is towards giving new believers responsibility to pass on the good news immediately and to make disciples and form churches. In Acts, the Word keeps moving, it spreads, it grows, it multiplies. The apostles try and keep up. It’s a risky, messy business. Yet, the one thing God will never allow them to do is settle down, and play it safe.

4. A final word of caution

Roland Allen taught that, when spread of the gospel is controlled out of fear, both error and godly zeal are suppressed. The great things of God are beyond our control. Control produces sterility. Our converts may not go astray, but they will produce nothing.

Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'

Matthew 25:24-25