Note from the editor: This blog post by Jonathan Parnell originally appeared here at Desiring God December 2, 2010.

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Paul gives a two-part command in Philippians 3:17—join in imitating me and keep your eyes on those who live like us. This idea of imitating Paul and leaders like him is not unique to this passage (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; 1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 1:13; Hebrews 13:7). However, the Philippians 3:18 ground to the command carries a particular weightiness.

Paul tells us to imitate him and those who live like him, “for many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

Paul says that apostasy is the basis for why we should imitate him and those who live like him. Paul does not suggest the benefits of having a role model, he narrows the profile of who a role model should be and he declares its essential place in Christian discipleship. I think these two points from Philippians 3:17-18 make up a concise theology of role models.

The Profile of a Role Model in Christian Discipleship

At first Paul simply says “imitate me.” Now that is pretty specific, and maybe a little difficult for Christians who live a couple thousand years later. But Paul does not intend that our functional example only be the inscribed manner of his life in the New Testament. He says, “and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” I have no doubt that Paul wrote that for you and me.

He expands the profile of a role model to being anyone who lives according to his theology and ethos. This is a command for us to seek after and follow men and women in the Church who are like the Apostle Paul. I think this means we keep our noses in Paul’s letters with an eye out for brothers and sisters who exemplify what we’re seeing there.

This is not the same thing as the “I follow ____” controversy in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). If we don’t have a distinction between role models and a dividing codependency on gifted leaders, then we need to get one. Let Paul give us one. The imitation that he calls for in Philippians 3:17 is a grateful, Christ-exalting recognition that God has put people in our lives, both by community or by podcast, that we should humbly aspire to emulate.

The Essential Place of a Role Model in Christian Discipleship

What is at stake for Paul in this command is that without a role model like him, we make ourselves vulnerable to becoming an enemy of the cross of Christ. There are many people who sadly come to Paul’s mind as those who have forsaken his example and become enemies of Jesus. They went a different route and it ended in destruction (Philippians 3:19).

Notice that Paul uses the same verb to describe them—they walk, too. I highlight this to say that if we’re not walking in Paul’s example, then we are surely walking in someone’s. Maybe we’re trying to blaze our own trail after the shadow of ego, or maybe we’re lining up behind a Pauline stranger, either way we are following and if its not in Paul’s example then it won’t turn out well.

A role model like Paul is not an optional Add-on to our Firefox browser. Following men and women like Paul is not like a scarf that accessorizes our Christian outfit. This is life or death. This is servant or enemy. Having a role model like Paul is indispensable to following Jesus. As Paul imitates Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1), so do we by following Paul’s example and keeping our eyes on those who walk like him.

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Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Melissa, and their four children, and is the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary (Crossway, 2014).

Note from the editor: This blog post by Joel Brooks originally appeared here at The Gospel Coalition January 16, 2011.

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My office is located in one of the poorer areas in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. Even as I am writing this, outside my window I can see two prostitutes standing across the street outside a hotel and a homeless man pushing a grocery cart full of cans. Confronted with scenes like this on a daily basis has made me think a lot about Jesus’ call to serve the least of these. What should this look like in my life? Over the years, I have far more failures than successes when it comes reaching out to these people.

It might not be easy, but our call to help the poor is a scriptural mandate that few would argue against. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says:

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.

This is just one of many passages in the Bible that show God’s concern for the least of these.

But any person who has actually spent time serving the poor realizes that it is not for the faint of heart. I have seen many passionate, bright-eyed Christians with a “heart for the poor” burn out in a matter of months or even weeks. This happens because the poor they serve often do not respond in the way they expect. As these generous people give of their time and money, they assume that the poor people they help will be appreciative and kind. Perhaps going into this they pictured a homeless man shedding tears of gratitude for the new coat and warm sandwich he received. Instead they receive not so much as a “thank you” or “God bless you.” Maybe they will even be criticized for the color of the coat or the sogginess of the sandwich. They quickly find out that some beggars can be choosers—and mean ones at that!

I experienced this firsthand recently when a homeless lady approached me and asked for money. I said that I’d buy her a meal instead. She loudly berated me in front of onlookers for this perceived insult until finally agreeing to let me buy the meal. As I walked in to the restaurant, she barked after me, “Combo number six with Dr. Pepper!” When I returned with her food, she got angry with me for bringing her the wrong dipping sauce. All in all, it was not a pleasant experience. I certainly didn’t leave with that “feel-good feeling” from helping the poor.

Certainly not all of the poor are like this. I have found many to be some of the most humble and gracious people I know, but there is no getting around the fact that some are just plain mean-spirited. Many are homeless and hungry as a consequence of their own evil actions. Often they will squander any aid you do give them. Many will never thank you or will even speak ill of you as you give of your time and money.  So does our biblical mandate to help the poor mean that we are we to spend our lives helping out people like this? The answer is YES and without reservation. Jesus Christ calls us to help even the unrighteous poor.

Response Reveals Our Spiritual Condition

There are several places in Scripture we could look to see this call, but recently I found it in an unexpected place—the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Currently preaching through Genesis, I was surprised to find even in a story full of hellfire and brimstone God’s heart for the unrighteous poor.

Almost everyone is familiar with this story of God raining down judgment on these cities because of their wickedness. And most people assume that the sin for which Sodom was judged was sexual immorality. This is certainly how I heard this passage taught when I was younger. But the prophet Ezekiel tells us otherwise. Ezekiel 16:49 says, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Sodom was judged for pride, living a life of ease, and neglecting the poor and needy—not simply for sexual sin. I don’t know about you, but suddenly this story just became a little uncomfortable for me. Instead of casting judgment on the people of Sodom, I began to identify with them.

But how does this story give us our mandate to serve the unrighteous poor? The answer is that the neglected poor of Sodom were not considered by God to be righteous. This is why they too were judged. Remember, God told Abraham that he would spare the entire city if just 10 righteous people were to be found, but there were not even 10. They were all unrighteous—rich and poor alike. The sin of Sodom was their lack of concern for the unrighteous poor, and the result of this sin was God’s judgment on both the rich and poor alike.

I have found that helping the unrighteous poor is perhaps also the best way to remind myself of the gospel by which I am saved. I did not receive mercy because I deserved it. Jesus Christ did not give his life for me because I was a good person. No, I was his enemy and full of sin when he died for me. I never did and never will earn his grace. Grace is always unmerited. So when I see how the unrighteous poor respond with bitterness to my acts of kindness, I am reminded of my own spiritual condition. Even now, I often fail to thank God for his continuous and abundant grace towards me. Thank God for the gospel by which I am being saved!

We must see our service to the poor through this gospel lens. Actually, our ability to help those who don’t deserve it is an indicator as to whether or not we have actually received the mercy and grace of God ourselves. As Jesus says in Luke 6:32-33 and 35-36:

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. . . . But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and you reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

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Joel Brooks attended Beeson Divinity School where he received his M.Div., and is currently the pastor of Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Note from the editor: This post by Jared Wilson originally appeared here at The Gospel-Driven Church July 29, 2013.

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But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

John 17:13

My friend Godwin Sathianathan preached at Middletown Church yesterday morning onMark 12:28-34, and one particular thing he said in his introduction landed on me especially heavily. He was talking about an old friend of his who was very strong for many years in church activities, discipleship groups, Christian conferences, and the like, but who ultimately left the faith, deciding Christianity was no longer for him. Godwin said that one thing that stood out to him about his friend was that his faith always seemed so burdensome to him.

Should it always be so? We all usually agree that to follow Jesus is to take up one’s cross, to constantly be doing battle against the flesh, to constantly be denying one’s self and resisting temptation and pursuing repentance. This is all hard work. Cross-carrying is not “happy go lucky” stuff. And yet, the love of Christ — love for Christ — for the Christian is seen as a more delightful experience than all the world’s charms and flesh-feedings. The very reason we take up our cross is not because dutiful religion is more fun than no religion but because we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, that taking up our cross is better; it’s more freeing, not less. The yoke and burden Christ offers is easy and light.

Discipleship to Christ is very difficult. But it is incomparably joyful. Or ought to be. And the more we walk with Christ, the more sin we find to repent of, but the more joy we experience too. There is fullness of joy in him. The Spirit actually grows joy in us! So if my Christian life has no joy in it — ever — perhaps it is not the Christian life I’m living.

This April 18th, Good Friday, Pastor David Platt will be leading a yearly gathering called Secret Church. And because it will be simulcast, you can plan to participate from anywhere that has a computer and a good internet connection.

We bring this to your attention because it could be a great tool for you to use as you continue to make disciples. Why? This year’s topic, The Cross and Everyday Life, will practically instruct us as to how the gospel affects the routine, regular, sometimes mundane, and often busy aspects of our day to day life. So as you’re encouraging people to trust Jesus with their jobs, be an effective witness on their team, glorify God with their down time, live with purity at their school, or any host of other things they may face each and every day, Secret Church can reinforce what you’re saying as well as challenge you both to go further and walk closer with the Lord.

The below video may help you get a better feel for the topic.

Partner with your local church to host or participate with a small group in your home, and get the word out to anyone else who may be interested. Special early pricing ends on January 23, so REGISTER for the simulcast today!

Note from the editor: This article by James Harvey originally appeared here at Ligonier Ministries.

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If you ask a Christian how to grow as a disciple, you may hear a wide range of suggestions: personal Bible study, one-on-one discipleship, small-group discipleship, men’s and women’s groups, attending conferences, campus ministries, community Bible studies, and so on. Within the past two decades, the Internet has grown to offer an abundance of additional resources. Audio and video presentations of sermons, seminary courses, and entire worship services are at our fingertips. We can all be grateful to God for these resources. To the degree that faithful, doctrinally sound study of God’s Word is taking place, all these endeavors will bear spiritual fruit. We are able to share in the gifts and graces of the church universal like never before.

A word of caution is in order, however. While God’s providence affords us unprecedented access to the teaching of the church universal, God intends our discipleship as Christians to be expressed in the church particular. When Jesus told His disciples that baptism was integral to the Great Commission, He was establishing the priority of the local church and Lord’s Day ministry in discipleship. Baptism signifies entrance into the visible church, and the most fundamental activity of the visible church is worship on the Lord’s Day. If we are not committed to a particular church, we cannot receive ministry nor give ministry as the New Testament envisions.

Consider some of the unique discipleship blessings that we find in committing to worshiping on the Lord’s Day with the local church:

A Foretaste of Heaven

It is wonderful to stream your favorite teaching with a cup of coffee in the comfort of your own home. It is sweet to meet at a friend’s home and study the Bible together. But neither private listening nor small-group study give the foretaste of the world to come as corporate worship does.

The corporate worship of the church is a foretaste of the future glory that awaits us in Christ. We hear God’s Word read, sing His praises, confess our sins, receive His grace, join our hearts in prayer, receive the Lord’s Supper, and place ourselves under the proclamation of His Word. And we do this together. What is happening spiritually when we gather like this? “[We] come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22). In this corporate worship, the church is like a mother, providing weekly shelter and refreshment from the wilderness of the world until the Lord Jesus Christ returns and makes all things new. Without this weekly gathering, we shrivel and die in the wilderness.

A Context for Love

An abundance of solid food does not ensure that any of it will be digested and used for nourishment. We need commitment to the local church to grow spiritually.

The goal of Christian discipleship is love (Mark 12:29–311 Cor. 13:1–132 Peter 2:5–7). The local church is the place where we grow in love over the long haul. Being a faithful church member is difficult. The people are not all like you. But, you grow to accept one another in love. If you spend any time among the same group of people, they will eventually disappoint you in some ways, or perhaps positively harm you. But you grow to forgive one another in love.

If you leave a church because the people are not like you or because you have been wounded, you have cut short the discipleship process before it has begun. The only legitimate lure that Jesus says we have for the world is the love that we manifest in our corporate life as a church: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This visible expression of love is rooted in gathering on the Lord’s Day as one body.

A Place to Give and Receive

God puts us in a local body of believers to share in the gifts and graces of that body, and this sharing (communion) is essential to discipleship. The local church is your spiritual family; you share mutually in burdens and blessings with one another. The local pastor is your pastor-teacher. He is God’s gift to you, and God will use him uniquely in your life when you receive his ministry regularly with faith and prayer. The elders and deacons are your elders and deacons. They are God’s gift to you to care for your body and soul. All these gifts are from God. How dare we say to any, “I have no need of you”? (1 Cor. 12:21).

I don’t think many Christians actually intend to neglect Lord’s Day worship. It just happens as we let other things draw us away from God’s people and God’s worship on Sunday. Before we know it, we are missing half of the corporate services of worship, waning in our love for Christ, and feeling disconnected from the church.

Pastors can be reticent to speak about the Lord’s Day, fearing perceptions of legalism or self-aggrandizement. But we need to be reminded through teaching and the example of church officers of the importance of the Lord’s Day for Christian discipleship. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). The Lord’s Day is designed by God to bless us. It is foundational to our Christian discipleship.

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Rev. James L. Harvey III is senior pastor of Evangelical Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Newark, Delaware.

Note from the editor: This blog post by J. D. Payne originally appeared here at Verge Network.

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I recently spoke with a church planting leader for a particular denomination.  As we talked over coffee, he inquired about the direction of our church when it comes to church planting.

WhyJesusNeverCommandedCP660x440

My response was to describe our future missionary labors in terms like we read about in Acts 13-14; 16; 20; 1 Thess 1:2-10; and Titus 1:5.

He responded with much surprise as if my thoughts were coming from an unusual source.

Unfortunately, over the years, I have found myself surprising many people during similar conversations.

What does it reveal about our missiology and biblical convictions whenever we think it is strange to advocate that those first century church planting teams have something to teach us?  What does it reveal about our Kingdom stewardship when we view such an advocate as being peculiar?  Do we not recognize a problem exists whenever we label a church planter as being innovative, creative, or unusual for following a Pauline model?

Granted, not everything we read in the Bible is prescriptive.  However, I believe our brother Paul and his example should be on a pedestal for us to consider.  He was a church planter, you know.

Having the right definition

As wise stewards of the mystery of Christ, we must subscribe to a definition of biblical church planting as evangelism that results in new churches.  Or, to communicate it in other terms: disciple-making that results in new churches.  The weight of the biblical model is on this definition.

Imagine what would happen if we began to create a church planting atmosphere in North America whereby the expectation for new churches is that they should consist of 95-100% new believers–at the moment those churches are planted.

Consider what would happen if our strategies did not embrace methods that would result in new churches consisting of 95-100% long-term Kingdom citizens–at the moment of their births.

We don’t need more flavors

What would happen if we recognized that a wise use of our Father’s resources (e.g., money, people) should be to assist in planting churches from out of the harvest fields, instead of establishing a new work in a community to provide a different style of worship/ministry for the believers who are already there?

We do not need another flavor of church in the Baskin Robbins of North American Christianity; we need missionary bands to settle for nothing less than disciple-making that results in new churches.

What would happen if we equipped and commissioned church planters with the task of only going to the lost in the people group/community?

Yes, we say we are advocating these things, but let’s begin to question our results.

Try this.  The next time you hear about a new church planted, a record number of new churches birthed in an area, or church planting goals reached, just ask the question, “What percent of the members of those churches recently came into the Kingdom of God?”

Do our actions match our words?

We say we want to see churches planted from out of the harvest, but our actions and our leadership practices do not often match our words. And the sad thing is that even when faced with such inconsistencies, we are likely to continue repeating our past behaviors–expecting different future results (Maybe the Ridley Assessment has something to say to those of us who oversee church planters?).

Whenever a biblical model for church planting is viewed as unusual, the path to change will come with pain.

In order for healthy change to occur, we have to change our ecclesiologies, missiologies, and what we celebrate, reward, and expect.

Poor definitions = poor practices

We have a poor understanding of our Commission.  We act as if Jesus has commanded us to plant churches.  We are commanded to make disciples.  It is out of disciple making that churches are to be birthed.  The weight of the biblical model rests here.  Not transfer growth. Not acrimonious splits. It is evangelism that results in disciples, who covenant together to be and function as the local expression of the Body of Christ.

We have a poor understanding of the local church.  If our definition is poor, then everything we say and do related to church planting will be poor.  We often expect newly planted churches to manifest structures and organizations like what is observed in churches of 20, 40, 50 years of age. Our definition of a local church is oftentimes so encased with our cultural desires that we do not know the difference between biblical prescriptions and American preferences.

We operate from a poor definition of church planter.  If we do not recognize the missionary nature (and thus apostolic functions) of church planters, then we end up equating them with pastors.  And take it from a pastor who has been involved in church planting:  missionaries and pastors have different callings, gift-mixes, passions, and functions to play in the Kingdom.  We end up sending pastors to do apostolic-type work, or sending missionaries and expect them to be pastors.  Such is a perfect storm for problems, frustrations, burn-out, and disasters.

Are there other ways to plant churches than what we read about in the ministry of Paul?

The problems with our current models

Yes, and I am in favor of some of those models. Are there times when a church should hive-off members to begin work in another area? Yes.  Is it okay for a congregation to send out a pastor with several church members to plant an “instant” church in a community? Yes, under certain circumstances.

However, such models tend to be difficult to reproduce (in view of four billion unbelievers), pose contextualization challenges, are costly, and often do not result in a great amount of disciples made.  The weight of the biblical definition for church planting is not found here.  Such models should be the exception when it comes to church planting.  Today, they are often the expectation.

I expect my “surprising” conversations will continue in the future.  Such is necessary as we move in a direction where a biblical model is not looked upon as the exception.  But until our church planting expectations change, we must ask ourselves a question and recognize the troubling answer:

What do we have whenever a biblical model is viewed as unusual?

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J. D. (@jd_payne) serves as the pastor of church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. He has pastored churches in Kentucky and Indiana, and served for a decade with the North American Mission Board and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books on the topics of evangelism and missions.

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