On several occasions I have had the opportunity to visit orphanages in developing countries. I have seen first hand how the love of a few has saved the lives of many. Recently I spent a day at an orphanage run by several Jamaican nuns for special needs children. It upset me to see children and youth with physical problems that meant they would be limited for life. I just wanted to leave. At the same time I saw people with love and patience who took care of these unfortunate ones day and night.
Without those caring individuals, many of these children and youth would have died. Without someone to rescue them, feed them, care for them, and love them, most orphans die. At best, they start and live their lives in misery.
Over and over I have heard the testimonies of those who are in the church credit someone else for them being where they are today. For some it was the mother or father who never gave up praying. For others it was a pastor, Sunday school teacher, or youth leader. God uses people to reach and minister to other people. Those who are adopted survive.
Who is my Disciple?
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18 – 20 NLT)
So much effort has been put on conception, which we call evangelism. We have held crusades, events, and concerts, pushed for decisions and so forth with very good intentions. We are guilty of looking for instant results with no commitment. We have become casual daters but we are definitely not looking for a long term relationship. In fact many of our ‘outreach’ events are really selfishly motivated. They are just another opportunity for us to be in the limelight.
Parents who abandon their children may be doing it for many reasons; they are running from responsibility, have no parenting skills, are lazy, don’t care, or don’t know what their job is. No matter what the reason, the young are left alone. We have produced a bastard generation and we have left them to die.
Jesus’ instruction to us says that discipleship is what the church is meant to do. Even this statement can cause confusion, because we do not understand that the church means you and I. True discipleship is not a program of the Church; it is the ministry of those inside it. Going to a church that has discipleship groups does not mean true discipleship is happening either. Until it is part of who we are; until the spirit of adoption grips us, it is superficial, even with very good intentions.
Let’s start at the source: Jesus. We may look at His life through the Gospels and miss the obvious. It was through His life, death, and resurrection that salvation was bought and paid for. We can look at His character and we can strive to become like Him. We can look at His works and pray that God uses us in similar or greater ways.
We can know all of these things and still miss the obvious. Jesus’ life on earth was lived out doing the will of the Father. Many people throughout every generation have searched and looked for the method to reaching their own generation. They have diligently sought after fruitfulness.
I fully believe that Jesus’ life is the Father’s master plan for sharing the Good News with the world. His life throughout the Gospels is our blueprint for true and lasting fruitfulness. His life was about disciple-making.
We can read verses like those found in the Great Commission and try to read it from our own perspective. Those who were following Christ, who were His disciples, may have had a different understanding. They had just spent years following, questioning, being corrected, laughing, crying, watching, being shaped by Jesus. Now He turns to them and says, ‘it is your turn.’
He lived out what He is asking us to do. When Jesus told his disciples, “now do what I have been doing”, how did they understand that? Some teach this was about miracles, some about character. I believe it is much more. This statement was said within the context of the twelve. Jesus was talking to his disciples and I believe He was saying, ‘what I have just done, you now do.’ While Jesus spoke to the masses his main ministry was to a select few. Jesus called his disciples to do for others what He had done for them.
We have failed in discipleship because in our pride we believed that ministers and leaders could disciple an entire congregation. It is true that they can teach, evangelize, and minister to many, much like Jesus did for the masses, but it is impossible for one person to disciple many.
I believe if we are truly following Jesus’ model of discipleship then someone could ask you, ’who is your disciple?’ and you would be able to call them by name. Sadly, few people have fostered this kind of relationship, even despite our declarations that this is ‘our commission’.
There should not be one young person, young adult, or anyone in any church who does not have someone who has adopted them. Everyone should have someone who is praying for them specifically; someone who is pouring their lives into them; someone like Paul was to Timothy, like Jesus was to the twelve. Everyone needs someone who loves them individually. No one should be an orphan.
The majority of young people who have kept their faith have had this type of relationship with someone. Sometimes this type of relationship is broken when an individual leaves to pursue college. It is during these times that so many walk away from their faith. This shows how shallow our discipleship can be. A parent does not end their relationship with their children when they decide to go to college or university. They call, they write, they email and they visit. Unfortunately our churches have not adopted this type of relationship; for the most part when our children move on to college, university, or work, the church relationship ends.
Sons Go Further
The future of many of our congregations will be determined by how they view the younger generations. To some, the younger generation are a nuisance, to others the future, and then there are those who just aren’t sure what is up with the hair, clothing, or attitudes.
What is it we hope will happen in the next decade? Are we now just desperate to get this age group back into our building to preserve what we have? Or is there a genuine interest in these future generations?
When a church takes on a discipleship and fathering mentality it changes it’s sight and motivations. It takes us past simply wanting to have young people in our church, or involved with services. When the hearts of the fathers are turned to the children, motivations change.
While attending a young adult convention in Niagara Falls I heard one of the speakers share his heart for the future of this generation. Rev Steve Osmond of First Assembly in Calgary, Alberta said, ‘My success is to no longer be found in me, but rather it will be found in the success of those I lead.’ I hope every leader comes to a point when it is no longer about them, but those they lead. Until we come to this point we can’t truly understand what Jesus meant by saying he came to serve.
The thought of washing the feet of those we are mentoring can be quite a humbling and even offensive thought. Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, but Jesus had to correct him. Now that my kids have grown I have no desire to change diapers or clean feces ever again. Although cleaning up after a new born baby can sound disgusting at times, somehow when you have your own baby it doesn’t seem quite as bad. Why? Because the child has become a part of you.
We don’t see this generation being released by the church because they are not our children. In Matthew 10:24 it is says, ‘Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master.’ As long as we have this ‘orphaning’ mentality instead of a fathering one, we are in a losing battle.
Too many leaders are actually afraid to release people to grow in their God-given abilities because they are afraid that those they are mentoring may surpass them in ministry. Many ministries have had to deal with competition and control because the success of others scares too many leaders. This, for the most part is bred out of personal insecurities and not understanding the function of the church as a body. While we have learned to ‘weep with those who weep,’ there are very few who can ‘rejoice when others rejoice.’
This generation needs to walk in its father’s blessing. Throughout the Old Testament we see the power of the blessing of a parent. They would lay hands on their children and their words would speak into their future generation as Jacob did in Genesis 49. Lives, directions, and destinies were changed by the blessings given. It is now up to us in the church to speak this over our younger generation.
As this was my father’s prayer for me, I now pray and speak it over my own children; That Matthew, Jordan, and Amanda will be blessed. That every good thing that God has given and imparted to me will rest on them in double proportion. I pray that they would experience things in God that I never have, that they would go further, believe for greater things, and that the world would be a different place because they serve God. I pray this also over those I lead and this generation.
Will the church of today let God turn the hearts of the fathers to their children? This is a heart condition that will overflow in many ways but it has to start internally.
For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. (1 Cor 4:15 NLT)
A Call to Fatherhood
I could only begin to tell you how many sermons I have heard challenging me to do something with my faith. Most of them were actually quite motivating and God worked through them. I have been told through the teaching of the Word of God to do many things. Yet I have had very few people model it for me.
Paul, in his instruction to Timothy, was not putting down teachers. We all need instruction. Instead, he was emphasizing the role and importance of another type of relationship, one that began when Paul first preached the good news to Timothy. This only speaks of the importance of not ever having spiritual orphans, as Paul became Timothy’s spiritual father immediately. Timothy immediately experienced not only the spirit of adoption from his Heavenly Father but also adoption into the family of God.
The Great Commission truly is a call to fatherhood. It is not just a call to conceive and give birth to new believers. It is a call to disciple, to father. As Paul says, ‘I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church.’ (Colossians 1:24 NLT) It is a call to both the pains of childbirth and the joys of parenting.
There are many definitions of a father; all of which go further than simply the ability to have children. Although a male may have the ability to produce children, that, in itself, does not make him a father. Unless we have a father we don’t know where we come from or who we are.
God is mentioned in the Bible many times as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is referred to as a God of three generations. Not two, four, five, or some other amount, but three. What is so special about the three generations?
We are not simply called to just have kids. While we have been called to be fruitful and to multiply and to follow God’s plan of husband and wife and of family, we cannot just produce children. As a father I must raise a father. Unless I teach my son how to raise a son I have failed.
A father’s success is seen in the success of his children, not in his ability to have them. Success in discipleship is seen when a disciple becomes fruitful. We must move people from just being followers, to being leaders. Jesus called His disciples to follow Him. Later He left His ministry with them. A father’s success is seen when his son becomes a father – when it becomes about the God of three generations.
Jesus said if you want to be his disciple you must be willing to take up your cross and follow Him. There is a price to pay to be a disciple and a father. It involves a cross and death. It involves us laying our lives down for Him and others. A church experiences long term growth when it lays down its life to reach, invest, disciple, and father its young.
It is also through this process that we see the importance of each generation. A church without the wisdom of the aged and the passion of the youth is dysfunctional. A church without mothers and fathers cannot become mature. A church without the young is visionless and lacks passion. We must be willing to die to ourselves. My prayer is that God would let our success be seen in those we are raising up. Let God turn your heart to the children.