Ant Greenham: Friendship and the Great Commission, Part 1

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[Editor's Note: Dr. Ant Greenahm is Associate Professor of Missions and Islamic Studies at Southeastern. A specialist on the Middle East, he is author of Muslim Conversions to Christ: An Investigation of Palestinian Converts Living in the Holy Land (WICU, 2011), and co-author (with David Black and Allan Bevere) of The Questioning God: An Inquiry for Muslims, Jews, and Christians (Areopagus, 2012). He is also passionate about helping students see the breadth of the Great Commission. To that end, he writes below about the nature of friendship in the Great Commission. This is the first post in a three-part series. Come back next Monday for part two.]

“What surprised you the most about your trip to . . .?” I love asking this when I speak to anyone on their return from an overseas visit. It was also the question I put to my twelve-year-old niece, Amy, at RDU airport in July 2012. She was about to go home to South Africa after spending a month with us in the U.S. Well, what surprised her most was the heat (it was the 3rd hottest summer on record), but she also exclaimed how friendly Americans are.

If you know the U.S., Amy’s second observation isn’t all that remarkable. It’s something that Moreau, Corwin and McGee note in their helpful textbook, Introducing World Missions.[1] In a discussion ranging across their 14th chapter, “Relating to People of Other Cultures,” they consider friendship from a missions’ point of view. First, they speak of the need in all cultures to reduce uncertainty when meeting someone for the first time. Americans typically counter such hesitancy “by being friendly (upbeat, smiling, ‘chipper’) . . . in meeting strangers” (p. 234). This was the characteristic that struck Amy repeatedly while she was here. That’s how Americans come across, and my niece appreciated it.

But does initial, spontaneous friendliness translate into something more—into the depth of relationship? Addressing this, Moreau and company write of American friendships developing quickly (as with a child enthusing about the “new best friend” he or she made on the first day of school), but remaining rather shallow. In particular, they point out that “American friendships are formed in shared activities. They like to do things together. They have church friends, school friends . . . hobby friends, and the like” (p. 242). However, such activity-based friendship (ABF) has a downside. When folks “become interested in new activities or lose interest in old ones, they add or drop friendships related to those activities” (p. 242). This doesn’t mean folks act in an unfriendly way when they bump into their old acquaintances. If they have time, they may well enthuse how great it was to work/graduate/play/travel/participate with the person concerned. Unfortunately though, when the activity ended, the substance of the relationship would have ended too.

Moreau, Corwin and McGee examine the ABF phenomenon within Christian circles. Typically, people band together for a particular activity (such as a book-study or an organizational program) but feel no compulsion to stay with the group once it’s done. This obviously has implications for ongoing church membership and involvement. And it’s something we care about at Southeastern, given our concern to see students serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission. For now then, let’s compare ABF with the imperative of the Great Commission which, of course, is to make disciples.

Long before he captured and catapulted the essence of his mission on a Galilean hillside (Matt 28:16-20), Jesus showed how disciples are made. We see this in all four Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament too), but Luke and Mark help us on our way. Essentially, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40, ESV). Such likeness has to come from constant personal exposure. Thus, when Jesus chose his twelve disciples, he did so “that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14, emphasis added). The latter purpose, preaching, is an activity to be sure. But it follows (and draws its strength from) being with Jesus. In fact, the crucial disciple-making activity commanded in the Great Commission is vitally encouraged by Jesus’ ongoing presence: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Spending time with, being with his disciples, in the midst of all kinds of activities, was central to Jesus’ disciple-making strategy. The relationship did not end when a particular activity did. But since that’s the case, how can we make disciples (and so fulfill the Great Commission) any differently? Friendship for the long haul, across a range of changing activities, is the way to go. In other words, for disciple-making Christians, ABF has significant limitations.

If that is so, it seems ABF needs some fixing, which brings all kinds of cultural and behavioral implications into play. But I’ll have to explore this (and the broader question of friendship in America) more deeply in posts to follow.

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[1] A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin and Gary B, McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).

BtT Interview: Matt Rogers

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[Editor's Note: In this Between the Times Interview we talk with Matt Rogers, Pastor at The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, SC, about his new book Aspire: Developing and Deploying Disciples in the Church for the Church (Seed Publishing Group, 2014)Matt is a SEBTS M.Div. grad and PhD Student, so he talks about his book and how the training he received at SEBTS prepared him to write it.]

Aspire pic1. What is the main idea of Aspire?

Church leaders must do more than simply affirm the Great Commission. We also have to do the hard work to finding practical ways to empower all of God’s people to meaningfully participate in this grand mission. For too long the church has grown increasingly dependent on vocational pastors to do the work of disciple-making while the majority of the church remains passive. Pastors are equally complicit in this process as we have often failed to do the hard work of training our people to know how to make disciples themselves. Aspire was written to provide the church with a path for one-on-one relational discipleship undertaken over the course of at least one year. The book is divided into three, 12-week sections: Gospel, Ministry, and Mission. Section 1 aims to provide a robust, gospel framework derived from God’s Word that moves through God’s redemptive work from creation to consummation. Section 2 focuses on the process of spiritual formation and growth that results from heartfelt worship and is demonstrated in practices such as prayer and Bible reading. The final section pushes the disciple to live all of life on mission as they seek to declare and demonstrate the gospel to a watching world.

2. What makes Aspire different from other books on discipleship, church, etc?

I began Aspire with the premise that the churches who would find the book helpful did not need to be convinced of the disciple-making mandate that Jesus has given to his church. My desire was to spend more time addressing the “how” question of disciple-making. How can the men and women who fill our churches take a younger believer through an intentional process of disciple-making? The answer requires a book that is more than a theological textbook or a Bible-study. The book is designed in a workbook-like fashion that will allow the disciple-maker and the disciple space for reflective journaling on the topic under consideration. Ideally, the pair would meet each week discuss how God was transforming them through His Word. Books alone will not make disciples, but my prayer is that a book like Aspire will make it easier for churches to both affirm and live the Great Commission.

3. How much of the book (or the idea for it) emerged from your ministry as a pastor?

The best books are forged in the fires of local church ministry. Church planting actually forced me to write this book. I knew that I was planting a church to make disciples, but I, like many pastors, had never been discipled myself. Week after week I was challenging my people to make disciples, but I found that I was increasingly relying on my sermons and the church’s programs to do the work of disciple-making. As a result, I was nervous that the church was doing the same. They heard the call to disciple-making and knew this was the measure of our church’s health. Increasingly, however, I had well-meaning, long-time Christians who seemed insecure and discouraged by their lack of clarity on how to go about the task that I was calling them to. Most of those who were active in disciple-making had developed a plan through a parachurch ministry while in college through ministries like Cru or Navigators. I was burdened by the fact that many of the adults in our church who had been walking with Jesus for several decades seemed to lack a clear plan for discipleship, though they are the ones who often have the most to offer.

4. How did your time at SEBTS prepare you to write such a book?

I came to SEBTS to get an education and I got much more than that. I also fell in love with the local church and her God-given mission to make disciples of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. My time as a Master’s, and now a PhD student, allowed me to develop a robust understanding of God’s mission in the world and a contextual application of the Great Commission for the church who God entrusted to my care in Greenville, SC. The faculty provided exemplary models of leaders who were shaped by God’s mission and fostered an environment that was theological rich while still practically applicable. The seminary provided a tangible conduit of God’s grace to me and the lasting value of Aspire will be a testimony to the training, support, and encouragement that I found at Southeastern.

Order your copy of Aspire at Amazon, or Seed Publishing Group, where you can get 10% off orders of 25 or more copies. For info on the faculty, programs, and students of SEBTS, check out sebts.edu.

 

The New Between the Times

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As has been hinted at throughout the summer, we are pleased to introduce a new Between the Times. You’ve likely already noticed the new look, but beginning today you will discern a new approach with new content from Southeastern faculty, staff, students, and alumni. At times, we will also point you to other worthwhile blogs or essays that we think will serve our readers well. New posts will appear daily, sometimes twice a day, on topics that serve, equip, and encourage the church as she makes disciples of Jesus Christ. Also, we want to hear from you as you read so that we might strengthen our efforts to serve you.

Additionally, Grant Taylor will be joining our team as editor of Between the Times.

In sum, this is the Great Commission blog of a Great Commission seminary. So check in with Between the Times every day to join us as we go.