In 1 Corinthians 4:15—16, the Apostle Paul gives the church at Corinth guidance. He writes to warn the church leaders. He takes a powerful and straightforward look at one of the purposes of the church.
For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
Paul birthed the church at Corinth. As its spiritual father, it was his “baby” in Christ. It began growing, and as it did, many instructors and teachers popped up and offered their services. In this process, the resource the church lacked was the guidance of spiritual fathers other than Paul.
Teachers were a very prominent feature of early Christianity. They were recognized and significant in the church. In Jewish history, teaching and culture were passed down from one generation to the next in an oral manner. The majority of the people could not read, so rabbis would travel from community to community in order to pass on the culture, heritage, and doctrines of their religion. This gave teachers a very distinguished status.
In the Corinthian church, everybody wanted to be a teacher. It was a well-respected position and carried with it a sense of notoriety. Paul recognized this. There was an overabundance of teachers. Too many wanted to travel and do the “cool” thing, but not many would stay and do the work of a spiritual father with new believers. Paul had birthed them, grown them, and was a shepherd to them. He wanted them to do the same with others.
…I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
Paul exhorted leaders to stop seeking positions and grow souls. He wanted them to be all that he had been to them. He wanted them to build relationships with the people of their city, sharing the good news of Jesus. Instead they were turning the Gospel into a tool to satisfy their own desires for prominence. This created a type of leadership that Paul said was puffed up and prideful. They boasted about their words and beautiful sermons, but never reached across the street to connect with sinners. Paul’s vision for the church was that it would be a place where those young in the faith could be fathered. Too many wanted to ride around on a preaching circuit, talk about God, and be in the limelight. In contrast, Paul’s priorities were making disciples, growing the church, and sticking around long term.
This characteristic of the Corinthian church is what I call the “Discipleship Dilemma.” Discipleship is something that looks great on paper but when it comes down to it, it is commonly neglected.
To relate the Discipleship dilemma to our subject, Paul’s message is a challenge to leaders who love to teach lessons, but never make disciples of those they teach. They never father anybody. They say a lot of “stuff” but never learn any names. They don’t care enough to know about their students’ lives. They don’t stop the busyness and business of their lives to make a connection with the church member who sits in the back row. They don’t use the words they speak to speak personally into the life of another. They love standing behind a pulpit, but never attend any of their students’ football games or graduations. It’s here that we discover a very important relationship building principle.
Relationships are built outside of the altar.
Discipleship is not only about supporting people when they pray during or after any given service. Though praying with people and teaching them to pray is absolutely essential, it is not the end of our work. It is only the beginning.
Imagine Joe. He attended a church event and experienced a spiritual new birth at an altar in your church. Joe is now a new creature in Christ. Biblically, through a born-again experience, a person is born into the family of God.
As part of a church family, those in leadership are called to act as fathers and mothers to the lost and hurting. We are the body through which Christ is introduced to the world. We are the earthly vessels through whom Christ wraps and cares for the wounds of the broken hearted and distressed. We must never forget this purpose. As any good parent would, we must spiritually grow “new babies” like Joe. Once we have won people to Christ, they must be discipled. That’s where relationships come in.
Would you leave an infant child on the steps of the church? Would you bring it home after church without giving attention to its needs? Babies need to be consistently nourished. They need affection and someone to help clean their dirty diapers. Would you expect a baby to be perfect and not make mistakes? Of course not. A baby needs consistency, mercy, and love. A baby needs relationship.
Don’t leave people like Joe alone after they experience salvation. Spend time with them outside of the context of your church. That is where relationships are built. The following are some relationship building ideas that will impact Joe:
Send Joe a card on his birthday.
Call and talk to him.
Invite him over to your house.
Build a castle with a moat out of toothpicks.
Toilet paper the pastor’s house.
Learn about Joe’s family and tell him about yours. Go on a drive and talk about the Bible. Help him to know Christ, teach him to follow Christ, and don’t expect him to do everything right just because he “got saved.” Let your life be an example. Let your life teach him what it means to follow Christ. Let him see you reach out to others and let him see you spend quality time with your family. Let Joe see you do the things that you want to eventually see in him. In a garden, would we plant a tomato seed without tending to its needs? Would we throw some dirt on it and walk away? If we want it to grow, we wouldn’t. We would water it, pull out the weeds around it, and protect it from bad weather. If it fell we’d prop it back up and stake it to the ground so it can grow tall and strong. We would do everything in our power to protect our investment and ensure its growth. Don’t leave the people who are new in the faith alone on the steps of the church and expect them to magically turn into missionaries or prophets. Be the “stake” that strengthens their spiritual lives.
There is no greater investment than people.
Relationships don’t just happen. They must be built. Building takes time, patience, and a lot of effort. Relationships, like houses, must be built over extended periods of time. They begin with a foundation and a frame. Then walls are filled. Eventually, a roof is placed on top. We do these kinds of things with those who are being built up in the faith. We form a foundation with consistent dips into God’s word. In prayer we build protective walls around them. We build them up with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. If while reading this, you realize that this discipleship “thing” will take more time than expected, you’re right. I assure you though, it is time well spent. You never know. A new convert you build up today may be the church leader who builds up your kids later on, or maybe the next pastor of your church, or even the nurse who takes care of you in the nursing home. So, build them well my friend, build them well.
Author: Paul Records, 4/18/2015