Discipleship is Following

IMG-20160403-WA0016[This is the sermon I preached at Nairobi Chapel Karen on April 3, 2016.]

Good morning Nairobi Chapel Karen! Welcome to our first ever service. I am so excited to be here in this brand-new church! My name is David Bawks, and I am a pastor here.

To give a bit of my personal background, I am originally from the US, but I have lived in Kenya for seven years now. I first came to study theology at NEGST, now Africa International University, and that’s where I met my lovely wife, BG, who some of you know. We got married in 2013, and it has been a wonderful two and half years of marriage. We welcomed our first daughter last year in November, and Makena is also here with us. She has been an awesome addition to our family. She will be a pioneering member of our new crèche!

For three years I worked and taught at Carlile College, on Jogoo road, and last year I joined the staff of Nairobi Chapel. Last year we launched the Tyrannus Hall, a new initiate for lay training. It has been a wonderful journey with many exciting opportunities, such as this church.

This is a church plant of Nairobi Chapel Ngong road, and here at Nairobi Chapel Karen or NCK we maintain the same vision of Growing Deep to Reach Wide. However, we also have some unique areas of focus I will explain to us. As a new church, we are seeking to be especially intentional in the areas of community, outreach, social justice, empowerment by the Holy Spirit, and discipleship. Our main topic for this month is discipleship, but before I get there I will touch on the other four briefly.

Community. One of the largest differences between Ngong road and Karen is size. That has some disadvantages, but many significant advantages. A tremendous advantage that we will have is that we will begin as a small church. That will allow us to get to know each other, and to focus on building a strong and intentional community. We will have tea after this service, and we can spend time getting to know each other, and building a meaningful community here that goes beyond Sunday and even into the rest of our week.

For the service, we want to be experimenting with some different things, such as more congregational prayer in our service. We also want to include more discussion and application time during the sermon, so it is interactive, and you are not expected to be passive the entire time. Another aspect of community we will emphasize strong is fellowship through e-groups, so as we grow we will work to make sure that all of us are a part of a mid-week discipleship group. As we continue, we will take more time on each of these concepts, and we’re planning to spend the month of May looking at community in greater detail.

Outreach. Our desire for this church is that we would reach out beyond just those we know, and those who simply bored with the church they are in currently, and reach those who are not a part of a church community and do not have fellowship in their lives. This is a challenging task, and it will not be easy. This requires getting to know our neighbors, which can be very intimidating for some of us like myself. It means having a service and an environment that is welcoming, and not too exclusive or insular. It also means doing evangelism, sharing the gospel with your colleagues at work, with your friends, and in your other circles.

Social justice. We probably associate social justice more with places like Kibera than Karen, and with larger, established churches more than with church plants, but I pray we can represent and focus on justice from the beginning. We know that Nairobi is a place of massive inequality, which is not an easily solvable situation, but the church has been mandated to stand up for those in need and those who are in lack. Many in the larger area of Karen are struggling in different areas. We are looking for partners to work with in this area, and will seek to engage all of us in meaningful opportunities to serve others and be a voice for the voiceless.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit. One of the lessons that the Pentecostal and charismatic movement has given us is how important it is to rely on the power and gifting of the Holy Spirit. My prayer is that all of us would be aware of our spiritual gifts, and would be constantly guided and empowered by God’s Spirit in us. That is what will enable us to make disciples, to reach out, to build community, and to pursue justice and righteousness. Even during our service, we are praying about ways to incorporate the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit. We are also planning to have an upcoming sermon series about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and how each one of us can identify, grow and exercise our gifts.

Our fifth area of focus is discipleship, and that is our main topic for today and this entire month. What is a disciple? It actually isn’t an exclusively Christian or even religious term, although that is usually how it is used.  A disciple is a follower and student of a mentor, teacher, or other figure. It is defined as ‘one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.’ A disciple means someone who is following Christ. All of us are disciples. Discipleship means growing in our knowledge and obedience to Christ. At this point, I’d like us to form small groups of no more than 5, and spend a few minutes discussing this question:

Discussion Question:

  • What does it mean for you specifically to be a disciple and follow Jesus Christ?

Let’s hear from a few groups on what you discussed.

Here is a simple definition I will use for a disciple. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus and fishes for men. Please turn with me to Matthew 4:12-25 as we explore this definition.

Matt 4:12-25  When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali — to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the way to the sea, along the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles—

 the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.” 

 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.

 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. NIV

This passage occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Matthew’s gospel is written by one of the original 12 disciples, also called Levi. The target audience of this gospel is Jewish Christians, as Matthew is explaining to them who Jesus is and how his ministry fulfills the prophecies and promises given to Israel. Matthew is writing from personal experience – if I jump ahead to chapter 9 verse 9, Jesus saw Matthew sitting at a tax booth, where he worked, and he asked Matthew to come and follow him. Just like James and John in our passage, Matthew stood up, left his job behind, and followed Jesus. Matthew knew firsthand what it meant to be a disciple and follow Jesus. He knew exactly how it felt, and how much it cost him.

This passage comes very early in the gospel – so far Matthew has talked about the birth of Jesus, the ministry of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. As soon as Jesus begins his public ministry, he begins calling disciples and forming his team. Clearly, the most important elements of discipleship are following and obeying Christ. But how do we do that? What does that mean for us today? There are three points I’d like us to remember about discipleship.

  • 1) Discipleship is following Jesus – doing what Jesus did.

Following Jesus requires complete submission in every area of our lives, but the temptation for any Christian is to segment our lives into the part for God, the part for church, and then the rest of your life. There is a temptation that many of us have to equate attending church on Sunday with being a Christian. When we think of growing in our Christian life, we might think of reading our Bibles more, making sure we’re in church every week, and being nicer to people. These are good things, but they are not enough in themselves to fulfill this command to follow Jesus. In fact, the danger of coming to church every Sunday and listening to a sermon is that it can train you well on how to be a good church member. You know exactly what to say, where to sit, when to stand up, when to clap, and when to be quiet. You know all the Christian language and words to use. I grew up in the church, so I have learned all of these things from front to back.

But you may not know very much about living your life as a disciple of Jesus where it counts: at home, at work, when you’re stopped by the police, when you’re voting, or paying taxes. When you’re asked to pay a bride, or buying 50 bob movies that are somehow not genuine. That is where true discipleship is demonstrated.

Our goal here at Nairobi Chapel Karen is not to provide you with a comfortable environment to hear nice songs and an inspiring message. We are not interested in people who are just here to check ‘church’ off their weekly list of what they should do. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is not the right place for you. Jesus demanded a lot more than that from his disciples, and he demands a lot more than that from us today. He demands complete and total sacrifice and obedience, as we will explore in the weeks ahead.

At Nairobi Chapel Karen, these Sunday services are a means to an end. They are not the end in themselves. These services are meant to be a time of encouragement, renewal, worship, training and empowerment to go out and serve God. One of the most meaningful ways we can serve God is by making disciples. That is the point of our church, and that is the ultimate goal of our services. When I look at Nairobi Chapel Karen at the end of this year, my biggest measure of success will not be how many people are attending our services. My measure of our success will be how many people are being discipled and are growing in their Christian faith.

Let’s think for a minute about how Jesus did his ministry on earth.

What did Jesus do? The ministry of Jesus included teaching, healing, casting out of evil spirits, and discussions with people. These features are what you would probably expect from a thriving, successful ministry. But a few other features of Jesus’ ministry are less typical. One is that his ministry was very short. He only served in active, public ministry for three years. At Ngong road, that’s just the training period! To be a full pastor at Ngong road takes many more years than that. Personally, I studied for 4 years in the US, and then another 3 years here, 7 years of full time study of the Bible and ministry. But three years was the entire scope of Jesus’ ministry.

Another characteristic of Jesus’ ministry is that he spent the majority of those three years with 12 hand-picked, carefully chosen people, the 12 apostles or 12 disciples. He did ministry to others, including the crowds around him. He did heal, preach, teach, and proclaim the kingdom of God. But most of what Jesus did focused on preparing these 12 to continue this mission after Jesus left. When Jesus did leave, He gave His Spirit and left these disciples to take care of everything to do with the church.

And even within the 12, there is a hierarchy of sorts, an inner circle. The innermost layer is Peter, James, and John. Who was with Jesus during the transfiguration? Who was with Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane? Peter, James and John are included in more of the stories, and have a much higher profile than the other 9. All three of them went on to become key leaders in the church. There is another key point we can learn from this, my second point.

  • 2) Discipleship moves outward.

 In the ministry of Jesus, he had several layers of people around him. There was the 3, the 12, the 70 who were sent out in Luke 10, the 120 who were in the upper room at Pentecost, and the 500 other disciples Jesus appeared to after his resurrection.

The leadership guru Michael Hyatt describes this progression as five-pronged leadership strategy of Jesus, which seeks true depth and long term impact:

  1. He led himself. This is where all leadership starts. Self-leadership precedes team leadership and public influence. If you can’t lead yourself, you can’t (and shouldn’t) lead others. This is why Jesus often withdrew to quiet places to pray (see Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 22:41–44). He battled the devil to prove his character (see Matthew 4:1–11). He knew that his character—his identity—was the foundation of his ministry.
  2. He confided in the three. Jesus had an inner circle comprised of Peter, James, and John. He took them on special outings (see Matthew 17:1). He allowed them to witness his greatest glory (see Mark 9:2–3) and his deepest temptations (see Mark 14:33–34).

He prayed with them (see Luke 9:28f). He taught them things He did not teach the others (see Matthew 17:2; Mark 5:37–43). He even introduced them to His heavenly family (see Matthew 17:3). They were his closest friends and confidants.

  1. He trained the twelve. He chose the twelve disciples to be “with him” (see Mark 3:14a) He taught them and also gave them assignments (see Mark 3:14b–19). However, he also shared with them his daily life. Like the Apostle Paul would do years later, he poured into them his very life (see 1 Thessalonians 2:8). Because of this, he entrusted them with power to do the work he himself had done. In fact, he promised them that they would actually do greater works (see John 14:12–14).
  2. He mobilized the seventy. Jesus had a smaller, more intimate group to whom he gave specific assignments. He sent them out two-by-two. He asked for a BIG commitment. He gave them virtually no resources. Yet he demanded that they perform miracles. He told them to expect opposition (see Luke 10:1–12) and promised no earthly reward (see Luke 10:18–20).
  3. He taught the multitudes. Yes, Jesus had a public ministry. He occasionally spoke to thousands. However, he didn’t pander to these groups or “tickle their ears.” He confronted the status quo, jarred his listeners’ sensibilities, and often taught in parables. Interestingly, he didn’t feel the need to clarify everything. He often left his audience confused and wondering what he meant. His goal was apparently to shift their paradigm and get them to think. http://michaelhyatt.com/the-leadership-strategy-of-jesus.html

After interacting with many leaders at different levels, Michael Hyatt’s observation is that most leaders only focus on the last two strategies, skipping over the first three. They have a public teaching ministry, and they are good at mobilizing groups for specific assignments. However, very few intentionally train a small group of disciples. Even fewer build deep relationships with a handful of confidants. Fewer still lead themselves well. As a result, they do not have the kind of lasting impact they could have. He says, “The older I get, the more value I see in going deeper with a few.”

Pretty much any organization or group has this same dynamic, including this church. Imagine this church as an onion. Let’s look at some of the layers that we have. In the very middle, the heart, we have the inner core. These are the people who are most committed to the church, and the die-hard volunteers who are a part of every church function. Slightly outside the inner core, we have the core, those who are reliable and committed, just not quite to the level of the inner core. After that we have a level we can call those who ‘lean in’, who are probably in a small group and participate on some level but are not within the core. Then we have another layer, those who ‘lean out’, who are only partially committed to the church but have never deeply engaged or come very far in. Beyond this group, we have the people outside of the church, the wider society around us.

One of my goals as I lead Nairobi Chapel Karen is to identify a core group of people I can personally disciple and walk with over the next two years or so. These are the people I pray will continue to spread this discipleship to others, so we can build a multi-generational church of disciples. These are the people I pray I can hand-over to at some point down the road, since I know I will not remain in Karen forever.

  • 3) Everyone can disciple someone else.

 Sometimes we believe that only mature, long-standing experienced Christians can make disciples of others. But that is not true! Discipleship is the means to reach maturity, not the other way around. If we were to wait for all of us to be mature in the faith before we can disciple someone else, we would miss out on so many opportunities. Every single one of us in this room can disciple someone else. For each one of us, there is someone in your life who can learn from your experience and your understanding of God. Now some of us may be more skilled than others, and experience does help, but the best way to get experience with discipleship, as with anything else, is simply to do it.

Last year at Ngong road we read a book on discipleship called Wikichurch about the story of Victory Church in the Philippines. He takes about new believers, who may have accepted Christ yesterday, being asked to disciple someone who accepted Christ 5 minutes ago. The first guy might say, what do I have to offer? What would I say? But he has a whole day’s head-start on the second guy. As long as he stays ahead in terms of growth, reading the Bible, and seeking God, he can continue to guide and disciple the newer believer.

The Bible is full of stories about people who didn’t feel ready for God’s call to obey Him. Moses said he couldn’t speak well, and couldn’t lead all the people of Israel. Jeremiah said the same thing. God enable them to become heroes of the faith, and He has given each one of you everything you need to serve Him and disciple others. What remains for you to do is accept this command and obey.

Paul wrote this to the Corinthian church: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1, NIV) I know sometimes when I read that, it sounds a bit presumptuous and almost arrogant. But that is how discipleship works. Is your life a model for other people to follow? Whatever comes to mind when you answer that question is where you need to focus your spiritual growth. If you know that your attitude at work is a terrible example for those around you, that needs to change. If you are reckless with your spending, you need to build more self-control. If you know you are overly flirtatious and don’t keep strong boundaries in your relationships, that needs to be improved. But just because you are imperfect does not mean that you leave discipleship to someone else.

Notice how Paul formulates this when he’s instructing (one aspect of discipling) Timothy: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” – 2 Timothy 2:2 NIV. That’s how discipleship works.

Discipleship always has two parts – 1) your own journey of faith and growth, and 2) what you are doing in someone else’s life so they grow as a disciple. The fastest and most effective way to do part 1 is to do part 2. Next week we are looking at fishing, which looks more specifically at evangelism and how we can reach people around us. I want each one of us to begin thinking about who there is in your life you can be discipling. Next week I’ll ask you to write down their names.

What three points have we seen today about discipleship? When we close, we’ll have refreshments available for all of us to share we get to know each other. Please don’t be in a hurry to leave. We also have a special cake to celebrate our first official service!

Over the month of April, we will continue to look at discipleship through the following topics:

Discipleship is Fishing    

Discipleship is Abiding

Discipleship is Death      

As we begin Nairobi Chapel Karen today, I am asking you for two things. I am asking you to step up and be a disciple, meaning 1) I am asking you to follow Christ, 2) to intentionally invite others to follow you as you follow Christ. If you are willing to do that, please stand up, and I will pray a prayer of commissioning over all of us.



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