Sunday morning message 19 August @9.00am – The heart of a Disciple-Maker

Preacher: Rev Peter Cheyne

The Heart Of A Disciple-maker

Reading:  1 Thessalonians 2:6-12

In April 1994, Rwanda experienced large scale genocide in the fighting between the majority Hutu on the minority Tutsi people. Between half a million and one million people were killed, two million refugees fled the country and one million people were displaced within Rwanda itself. Rwanda was one of the two centres of the 1930’s East African Revival which is apparently still sweeping East Africa. The revival had made Rwanda a predominantly Christianised country, yet Christians were directly implicated in the killings. When the killings started, the Christians, tended to fall back on their ethnic, not their Christian, culture. One Rwandan bishop remarked, “After a century of evangelisation we have to begin again because the best catechists (lay teachers), those who filled our churches on Sundays, were the first to go out with machetes in their hands.”

In some countries it is said that Christianity is a mile wide and an inch deep; many Christians but little commitment or maturity. What would you say was the situation in New Zealand?

Disciple-making is about depth. An inch deep is not what Jesus intended. The Great Commission commands us to “Go and make disciples.” Our core business is making disciples. The first part of that is “baptising them” which speaks of bringing people to faith in Jesus. The second part is “teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.” That speaks of in depth training so that Christians live in obedience to Jesus in everything.

Making disciples is our core business but how good are we in New Zealand at either evangelism or at training converts in faithful, obedient Christian living.

On his missionary journeys, Paul had been to Thessalonica and had preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. Quite a number of people were converted. You can read about it in Acts 17. In Acts 17 it appears he was there only 3 weeks however, we know that he worked to support himself and that at least twice he received financial help from Philippi. Scholars believe he was there for a period of 3 to 6 months or even longer teaching the new converts, but in the end opposition broke out. There was a riot and he was forced to leave. But then he was desperately concerned about how the now converts were getting on because they were persecuted too. He wanted to return to them but couldn’t and it was driving him mad. Eventually, he sent Timothy to find out how they were going.

1 Thess 3:5    For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labours might have been in vain.

In fact, they were doing very well. A large part of this letter to the Thessalonians is rejoicing in the faith and witness of the Thessalonian church.

How had that happened? How was it that these new Christians were standing firm in the Lord despite persecution?  How had they been disciple so well that they had not fallen away?

  1. Firstly, their conversion had been real. Their conversion was the result of a real move of God. Paul says that the gospel came with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (1:5).
  2. Secondly, Paul had been very intentional about growing them. In this letter, he keeps talking about their sanctification; their maturity, their Christ-likeness, their depth.

 1 Thess 4:3  It is God’s will that you should be sanctified. 

1 Thess 3:13   May [God] strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

In this letter Paul reflects on his role amongst them as a disciple-maker. He refers to what he did. Paul refers to what he had taught them so we can see that he was very focused on growing them.

He was very intentional. We might ask ourselves if we have that same passion for growing people to maturity.

However, there is another reason that I want to focus on today. Paul was very relational and caring.

In the passage that we read, Paul uses three family images. He says they were like children among the Thessalonians; then he compares himself to a nursing mother and then to a father caring for his children. All of those are very tender images which fit with other expressions of incredible love and tenderness in this letter. He talks about being “orphaned” when he had been separated from them (2:17). He talks about his intense longing for them (2:17) and about not being able to stand it any longer (3:1).

This is a passionate letter. Is that the image you have of the Apostle Paul? Don’t we sometimes think of him as being hard-nosed, demanding, tough. This letter dispels that. Read it later and note the tenderness.

Making disciples is primarily relational. Think of Jesus’ own example. He made disciples by relating to them. Jesus and the Twelve lived together, worked, together, ate together, ministered together, travelled together. It was about sharing His life with them so that they could observe Him and learn from His example. Jesus loved them tenderly and He wanted them to grow in their faith just as Paul later did with the Thessalonians. We tend to rely more on courses and conferences and study groups but disciple-making happens via relationships.

So, let’s consider the three images Paul uses.

In 2:6-7 he says that he and his companions were not looking for praise from the Thessalonians “even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our prerogatives.” Paul could have bowled into town and demanded respect. He was, after all, an apostle. He could have demanded their financial support.

But he didn’t. He came like a child among them. That is a picture of humility. He didn’t come as the parent but as the child, submissive to the parents. The great apostle Paul came as a child? Does that sound very likely? Well, remember that they would know if he was not telling the truth. It would undermine his credibility if he claimed things they knew weren’t true. It would work only if they knew it was true.

He humbled himself.

Some people assume that disciple-making (or the more general term “mentoring”) is about the mentor taking a superior position and requiring things of the trainee. We fear it is a top-down relationship in which the mentor teaches the mentoree, setting assignments and requirements. Well, it is true that the task of the disciple-maker is to pass on what he/she knows to the disciple. It is true that one is the teacher and one the student, but the question here is one of attitude – a question of the heart. How is that teaching carried out?

Paul demonstrated great humility. He cared about them. His concern was their wellbeing and growth. He would serve them so as to see them grow. He would come like a child amongst them.

Wasn’t the same true of Jesus? Clearly He was the teacher but what was his heart. He came as a servant. He said that He had come not to be served (even though He could have demanded that) but to serve. He invested His life in the disciples. In the end, He lay down His life for them.

So, first of all, humility.

Then Paul says, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.”

Our second daughter gave birth to our first grandchild last year. It is just lovely seeing the tenderness and love of a nursing mother; the affection, the gentleness, the protectiveness. Paul says that is what he was like with the Thessalonians. The second image speaks of great love.

1 Thess 2:8   Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

Love for someone means we will want to share the gospel. Love means we want to see that person saved. Love means that we will share the gospel even when that is dangerous. It was dangerous for Paul. His life was at risk. If we flip that around the other way, if we don’t share the gospel, we show we don’t care. That certainly wasn’t Paul’s attitude. He loved people enough to want to see them saved.

But he said that he shared not only the gospel but he shared his life with them. He says he worked night and day to support himself so as not to be a burden to them. Again, as an apostle, he could have demanded that they support him. A worker is worthy of his wages. Instead, he disadvantaged himself so as not to be a burden to them. No one could accuse him of being in it for the money. He worked alongside them, possibly making tents, which was his trade. He lived amongst them and worked amongst them. They could observe everything about him. His life was an open book. He goes on to say immediately…

1 Thess 2:10  You are witnesses and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.

Again, Jesus did the same. He shared His life with the disciples. His life was an open book.

We tend to live very private lives behind our own fences. By-and-large, we don’t have that same sense of loving people enough to share our lives with them so that they might see how Christians live.

Thirdly, Paul uses the image of a father caring for his children. How does a father deal with his children – a good father? Paul says, “encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God.”

Encouragement is positive and affirming. It means commenting on those things that have been done well and continuing to believe in the person when things have gone wrong. Disciple-making is not about identifying weaknesses and making people feel bad. Encouragement is warm and positive. It literally means to put courage into someone so that he/she feels like going further.

Comforting is very caring. It means sitting with someone who is broken or hurt or sad and doing what? Making them strong again. The “fort” part of comfort means “strength”. Comforting is gentle and caring. Again, maybe this isn’t the image we have of Paul but apparently he was gentle and caring – like a father.

The third fatherly quality is “urging you to live lives worthy of God.” A good father isn’t simply soft and gentle. He also is very intentional. He has a goal. He wants the best for his children. Paul’s goal was that they live lives worthy of God and so He also urges them on. He doesn’t simply congratulate them on being Christians. He exhorts them to go further; to grow, to strive for something more.

So, there is a balance in this father image. The father isn’t simply tender; he also is ambitious for them.  He doesn’t simply comfort; he also pushes them out of their comfort zone because that is where growth takes place. Yes, he encourages and comforts but he also urges.

This is how you get Christians who don’t buckle as soon as there is hardship. This is how you get a Christianity that is more than an inch deep. This is how you get maturity.

Actually, the heart of every Christian ought to be intentional and relational because Jesus has commissioned us all to make disciples. Is it your heart? Are you intentional about making disciples? Do you want to see others follow Jesus faithfully? Can you…

  1. Be humble
  2. Love people enough to share the gospel with them
  3. Love people enough to share your life with hem
  4. Encourage them
  5. Comfort them
  6. Urge to them to live lives worth of God

If you are not a Christian, the questions are different. There was a dramatic change in the lives of the Thessalonians when they chose to give their allegiance to Jesus and to follow Him? Maybe read this book and decide whether you want a similar change in your life.

© This material may be used in any way that remains faithful to its purpose and that helps make disciples of Jesus Christ. Attribution is appreciated.


About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on August 19, 2012, in Sunday Morning Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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