When criticism comes, remember where you belong

The Man in the Arena

The Man in the Arena

Not everyone is a fan of multiplication movements. According to some church leaders and theological educators, movements lack depth.

By depth, they mean spiritual and theological maturity.

One critic claims (without evidence) that the vast majority of churches in multiplication movements are biblically illiterate and have abandoned the faith. The cause? Moving too fast. Appointing unqualified people to lead new churches.

If you’re committed to movements expect criticism.

One of the earliest attacks on the Christian movement came from Celsus, a second-century Greek philosopher, who alleged that Christianity was the faith of uneducated slaves, women and children. He complained it was spread from house to house “by wool workers, cobblers, laundry workers, and the most illiterate and bucolic yokels” who claimed that they alone knew the right way to live.

Augustus Toplady, author of “Rock of Ages,” accused John Wesley of

prostituting the ministerial function to the lowest and most il literate mechanics, persons of almost any class, but especially common soldiers, who pretended to be pregnant with a message from the Lord.

His advice for Wesley,

Let his cobblers keep to their stalls. Let his tinkers mend their vessels. Let his barbers con?ne themselves to their blocks and basons. Let his bakers stand to their kneading-troughs. Let his blacksmiths blow more suitable coals than those of controversy.

The backbone of the Baptist and Methodist expansion on the US Frontier were not salaried, educated men from the East. They came predominately from among ordinary folk. Their frontier preachers had little education, were poorly paid, spoke the language of the people and preached from the heart. The local preacher was likely to be a neighbor, friend, or relative of many of the people he served.

Meanwhile, nothing could convince the well-paid and well-educated mainline clergy to leave their comfortable parishes on the east coast for the challenge of reaching the wild west.

The decline of the Methodist movement began when their mobile circuit riders got down off their horses to become theologically educated parish clergy. The Baptist continued to expand led by unqualified men.

The religious experts of Jesus’ day despised the leaders of the Jesus movement as unqualified amateurs (Acts 4).

What did Jesus do? He stepped into the arena.

We know Jesus invested in the development of leaders. When he called his first disciples he gave them a command and a promise.

Come follow me and I will teach you to fish for people (Mark 1:17).

A disciple is a follower of Jesus. To follow is to recognize him as Lord through faith that is expressed in obedience. Jesus makes a promise to that person, he will teach them how to fish for people — how to make disciples who also follow Jesus and learn to fish.

The Jesus invested in people who responded to his call to follow him and learn to make disciples. The leaders he chose were not graduates from a theological institution, they were ordinary people who were willing to follow and learn.

He chose twelve apostles who he called to be with him. They became the foundation for a missionary movement.

How did he train them? He took them on the road. There were around 175 towns and villages in Galilee, Matthew tells us that Jesus visited all of them. That doesn’t include Jesus’ campaigns into Judea and Jerusalem and the occasional foray into Samaria.

Jesus was always on the move. As he went he trained. He taught them how to enter an unreached community and find a house of peace. He taught them how to pray for the sick. How to cast out demons. How to proclaim the gospel and call people to faith and repentance. He taught them how to teach using stories and memorable sayings. He taught them how to contend with opponents. He taught them how to communicate with both crowds and individuals.

This is what Jesus did. It’s how he grew leaders for a multiplying movement. This is how he built both depth and breadth while maintaining forward momentum.

The Twelve got a lot of Jesus’ time. But there were others. He sent out a wider group of 70 on mission. Luke tells us of a group of women who joined his mobile band on occasions. A much wider group of hundreds or thousands followed him but remained in their normal life setting.

Mary, Martha and Lazarus at Bethany are examples of that wider group. They were not called to follow him on the road. They had limited time with Jesus. What did he expect of them?

We know he rejected the Gerasean demoniac’s request to join Jesus’ missionary band. Instead, Jesus sent him home to the region of the Decapolis, ten pagan cities to the east of the Jordan river. His assignment was to proclaim what God had done for him throughout the ten cities.

What were his qualifications as a messenger? He had met Jesus, and he had a story to tell.

On another occasion, Jesus sent a Samaritan woman with a reputation for immorality as the first missionary into her town. The result? The whole town came out to meet Jesus and put their trust in him as the Savior of the World. How qualified was she? What did she know? She had a story to tell and a question to ask. Could this man who knows all about my past, yet offers me eternal life be the Messiah?

How long did Jesus stay at that village discipling these new believers? Just two days. Did he expect them to keep silent about their newfound faith or follow the example of the woman at the well?

After Pentecost Jesus’ followers circled back and planted churches in the same regions in which Jesus had ministered. What evidence we do have reveals that those missionaries did not settle down to pastor the new believers, but gathered the believers into churches, identified local leaders, moved on and circled back.

Jesus’ school of leadership took place in the context of real life, real ministry, really tough assignments. What he didn’t do was extract promising leaders and place them in a classroom. He took them on the road and trained head, hands and heart. He taught them to live as he lived, to pray as he prayed, to preach as he preached, to heal as he healed.

Peter and John were rejected by the religious experts of the day as “unqualified,” untrained amateurs whose distinguishing features were their boldness and that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Jesus still calls unqualified people to follow him and learn to fish for people. He trains head, heart and hands just as he did with his early disciples. So when criticism comes, let it drive you back to the Scriptures and to the example of Jesus.

When criticism comes expect it. Ask what did Jesus do? What does that look like today? Then step back into the arena.