Text: Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:42-47
My name is Zach Drummond – I am the Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries here at Good Shepherd. This summer we have been going through a series called “Message to the Church.” We’ve been studying the letters written to the 7 churches in the book of Revelation. This week we are going to take a break from Revelation to talk about something that I feel like God has put on my heart for the past year, discipleship.
I want to start with a reflection question for all of you to think about: When in your life have you felt the closest to God? At which points did you feel the strongest connection with God? Ultimately: What caused that intimacy? What was the reason for that closeness or strong connection? Today I want to make the case that your intimacy with God is directly linked to your connection with the body of Christ. In other words, Christian community is designed to help us become more mature followers of Jesus.
Last week I had the privilege of taking our high school students and a few of their friends to Jamaica on a mission trip. I’ve been on a lot of mission trips in my life, but this was definitely one of my favorites. The theme for the week was change. We studied the life of Peter and how he was powerfully changed by Jesus. I loved being a leader on this trip and watching the change that happened in all of our students.
Before the trip, all of them kind of knew each other and we’re friendly. But by the end of the week, they were the best of friends. They really opened up and shared personal issues and struggles. They even cuddled together as a group a few times. Even though we worked really hard all week on construction sites and barely got much sleep, they remained positive and were always willing to serve. Even Camron cleaned up after dinner with a smile on his face. They were so moved by the need in Jamaica that they decided to begin helping and loving those in need in Charlotte when they got home. Before the trip, they had become busy with school and life and had grown distant from God. By the end of the trip, they had reconnected with God and wanted to make Him more of a priority in their lives. They even stood in front of the entire group and shared about how God had changed them that week.
What is it about mission trips that enables this amazing transformation to happen? I’ve noticed that people tend to grow more spiritually on mission trips than anything else. You may argue that this was caused by the mission trip itself or the destination, but I want to argue that it was caused by our connection with each other. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus is saying that when believers gather together, He gathers with them. We invite the presence and power of God among us when we meet with other Christians.
In Jamaica we spent every day gathered together with other believers. Every morning we spent time with God separately and then came together for breakfast and shared how God had spoken to us. During the day we went out in teams and served Jamaican families and children that were in need. At night, we gathered together to worship, pray, share testimonies from the day, and hear God’s word. At the end of the day we shared how we had seen God move and speak that day. God powerfully transformed and changed each one of us because of our connection with the body of Christ. The type of Christian community we have on mission trips is what enables us to grow so much spiritually. But don’t just take my word for this – I’ll let God’s word show you the same thing.
Let’s read Acts 2:42-47 again, But this time I want you to pay attention to what the believers do when they gather together. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The spectacular aspect of this community is how powerfully God moved in them and through them. These believers were performing miracles every time they gathered! And non-Christians were giving their lives to Jesus every single day and joining their community! You can clearly see the presence and power of God in this community. Why? What enables this amazing transformation to happen? The believers gathered together daily and Jesus met with them. But what I want you to notice is that they were very intentional with their gatherings. As the text says, they ate together and spent quality time together. But even more so… It says that every day they gathered together to pray, to study God’s word, to worship, to encourage one another, and to meet people’s needs. Their community had a very specific purpose for gathering: Jesus. Everything they did was rooted in and centered upon Jesus.
And it was actually Jesus that taught the disciples how to build a community like this. Jesus formed a community just like the one in Acts. First, he handpicked 12 guys to follow Him. Then, during His 3 years of ministry, Jesus spent 90% of His time with His disciples, building this kind of Christian community. He taught them about God, prayed with them, encouraged them, worshipped with them, studied God’s word with them, and showed them how to love and meet the needs of others. When His work on Earth was finished, He sent his disciples out to do the same. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus says, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Jesus gave us the perfect example of what our fellowship time with other Christians should look like. It’s called discipleship.
According to Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus defines discipleship as the lifelong process of learning to obey His commands. If you look at how Jesus made disciples, then discipleship is the process of following someone in order to become more like that person. Discipleship involves 3 main things. Every Christian should be helping unbelievers become believers by teaching them about Jesus. That is making a disciple. And every Christian should be helping other believers grow to more and more spiritual maturity. That is making a disciple. And every Christian should be seeking to get help for themselves from other believers to keep on growing spiritually. That is our discipleship.
As God has been teaching me more about discipleship, and as I’ve studied how Jesus poured His life into His disciples, I’ve been convicted by these lingering questions: How much time do I spend with Christian community? How much of that time is centered upon Jesus and aimed toward discipleship? When spending time with friends or family, it’s so easy and natural to make it all about having fun or catching up or making memories together. Jesus wants us to have fun, to enjoy our lives, and make memories. But even more so He wants us to make disciples for His glory.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that I’m more influenced by American culture than I want to be. We live in a very individualistic culture in which we’re taught to rely on ourselves instead of each other. But on my own, I have always struggled to pursue God. I strive to spend time with God every day, reading my Bible and praying. But the habit never lasts. I start strong but fizzle out because I lose the motivation to keep going. Within a week or two I’m sleeping in or watching Netflix instead of spending time with God.
There are some days where I’m feeling a range of emotions: exhausted, apathetic, tired, lazy, or just in a bad mood. Those are the most difficult days for me to connect with God. For me to muster up any faith or love for God. There are even some days in which I would rather do something else than spend time with God. On those days – I need Christian community more than ever. I need someone to remind me of the gospel. That Jesus died for me, loves me, and is for me. That Jesus will never leave me and still wants to be with me. It’s my Christian brothers and sisters that always bring me back to Jesus. God didn’t design us to walk our faith out alone. He designed us to bear one another’s burdens and pursue Him together.
One summer in college experienced the greatest discipleship of my life. I was part of a summerlong Christian leadership training program with around 100 other students. I lived in a one bedroom condo right on the beach in Panama City Beach, Florida. We managed to squeeze 9 guys in that one bedroom to save money. With one toilet and one shower it got pretty bad. But I loved every minute of it. Everyone got a job to pay the bills so I worked at Wendy’s. Each morning, before work, my roommates woke up at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. to spend time with God. This challenged me to do the same. Even though I’m not a morning person, I found myself waking up early to spend time with God.
At work, we became friends with the other employees and tried to teach them about Jesus. After work, before dinner, I met with my roommates one on one to pray together and study the Bible. One of the 9 guys I lived with met with me every week to disciple me. I also met with half of my roommates every week for small group. Three nights out of the week everyone gathered together too worship and receive training on prayer, Bible study, and evangelism. One afternoon each week we did beach evangelism, where we shared the gospel with total strangers. I grew more mature spiritually that summer than any other time in my life. I saw the presence and power of God at work all summer. It was thanks to the intentional discipleship that happened every single day.
So what am I trying to say here? That we should all move into one condo on the beach and create our own Christian leadership training program? No! Not at all! I’m trying to help you see the value of and need for discipleship in our lives. In Matthew 28, Jesus commands all Christians to make disciples. To teach non-Christians about Jesus. To help Christians become more like Jesus. And to get help from other Christians to become more like Jesus.
I want to challenge all of you, as God is challenging me. How can you be more intentional with your time to make room for discipleship? How can you be more intentional with your Christian community to be discipled and to make disciples? The good news is that Jesus gives us many methods for discipleship. You can meet one on one with another believe or with a group of believers. All that matters is that you center your time, conversations, and activities on Jesus.
I fully believe that the more we pursue intentional discipleship within the body of Christ, the more we will become like this community in Acts. We will experience the closest kind of intimacy there possibly is with Jesus. We will love each other better and be more generous than ever before. We will be more joyful and fulfilled than ever before. We will see miracles in our midst. And non-Christians will give their lives to Jesus and join our community.