Pastor, Would You Show Me How To Plan My Finances?
Has the Church forgotten her call to make disciples?
If I tell someone that I am going to ask the above question to my pastor, they may say, “Are you a fool? Why do you want to discuss your finances with a pastor?” And on the other hand, a nice pastor may quietly say, “why don’t you mind your own business?”
I am not suggesting that pastors should interfere in planning everyone’s finances. Moreover, I am not trying to focus the attention here on a pastor, an elder or even on finances. Instead, I want us to ask ourselves, am I being disciplined and, in turn, disciplining fellow believers in the body of Christ?
You may ask, how is that related to the title? Let me explain. But before that, let us briefly see what the disciples understood when Jesus commissioned them to go and make disciples.
The call to disciple
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)
A Rabbi is at the heart of New Testament discipleship, which is a Galilean tradition. The disciples, who are called talmidim, are those who have an intense commitment to precisely become like their Rabbi. Usually, in that tradition, a disciple chooses a Rabbi and requests if he can follow him. But on the contrary, Jesus went and chose his disciples.
Ray Vander Laan, in his study series In the dust of the Rabbi said: “The disciples of Jesus were to be “with” him (Mark 3:13–19); to follow him (Mark 1:16–20); to live by his teaching (John 8:31); were to imitate his actions (John 13:13–15); were to make everything else secondary to their learning from the Rabbi (Luke 14:26).”
When the disciples saw Jesus walking on water, Peter immediately asked Jesus if he too could walk on water. This is out of that desire to become like his Rabbi. For a talmid, the desire to become like his Rabbi is everything. Today we talk about becoming ‘more like Christ’. However, the aim of a talmid is not merely to become more like Christ but just like Christ.
When the Rabbi believed that his talmidim had become like him, he would commission them to leave and make disciples. But when Jesus commissioned his disciples, do you think they were ready? Just a few days ago, Peter denied his Rabbi three times. When Jesus met him after that, Peter went back fishing even though he knew Christ had risen. Probably because he failed his Rabbi and did not believe he could follow him again. But when they received the Spirit of God, they did become like their Rabbi and even laid down their life like him.
A few observations here. Unless I intensely desire to be like Christ, take his word seriously, and walk by the Spirit of God, I can neither be like Christ nor make disciples of Christ. What does that mean? As a new creation born of the Spirit, I need to die to my old self and live in the newness of life by obeying Christ. So a talmid who loves Christ makes his goal to become just like his resurrected Rabbi in all areas of life and make more disciples of Christ. That is what Paul meant when he said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Another observation is that Jesus did not have one-on-one discipleship. It is always in a community. In this tradition, a Rabbi and his disciples needed to do life together. So discipleship is not merely imparting knowledge; it is to follow by observing and listening to the Rabbi in a community of other disciples and even outsiders.
You may ask why community is necessary? When Jesus commissioned his disciples, he said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” Historically, redemption is always in the context of a household where the redeemer brings back the estranged member into the Father’s household as a son or a daughter. Since Jesus redeemed us to the Father’s house, baptism symbolises dying to our old self and identity and rising to a new life and identity given to us in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Therefore the local community of disciples is an integral part of our redemption in Christ.
Now back to the first question. Why do I want my pastor to show me how he plans his finances? Because discipleship is about obeying Christ in all areas of my life by studying what Jesus taught and observing them as brothers and sisters in the household of God. It is not merely your bible study session on Wednesday evenings or reading the catechism.
So what is the goal of discipleship according to the great commission in Matthew 28? You will notice that because Christ received all authority, “therefore”, as you go, make disciples. The call to disciple is primarily in the context of the triumph of Christ and the restoration of his kingdom.
All that Jesus taught them was about the kingdom of heaven, the righteousness of God and how we ought to reign with Him as kings and priests to extend his kingdom to the ends of the earth by discipling nations. This is the promise that God gave Abraham, which He is fulfilling through His Son. (Genesis 12: 1–4, Galatians 3:7–9, Matthew 29:18–20, Revelation 7:9–11)
Apostle Paul uses the term ambassadors of Christ. Historically in the Roman empire, ambassadors were the ones who used to teach the Roman way of life to those who wanted to have an alliance with Rome. So here, Paul implies that we should represent the kingdom by living as its citizens and persuading others to submit to Christ.
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:24,25)
So how do we do this? Is it by starting a discipleship class, following a rock star preacher, or electing a Christian politician to enforce our way of living? No, it means ordering the spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, sexual, relational, financial, vocational, recreational, and social areas of my life in submission to Christ in the local community of disciples and outsiders. In doing so, we see the kingdom of God come on earth as it is in heaven.
As a teacher, artist, doctor, pastor, janitor, public servant, parent, spouse, or neighbour, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and walk in the way of the kingdom of heaven and his righteousness together in the body of Christ amidst the dark world as salt and light.
Is the Church discipling the nations today according to Matthew 28? Sadly very little. The reasons are many, from lack of knowledge of God, lack of love, worldliness, sin, corrupt theology etc. But it is surprising to see many Christian leaders think our call is to “win the world for Christ” through events, projects, policies and programs without discipleship.
We are also totally clueless that we are in a crisis today that makes it impossible to nurture discipleship. It is because the Church has bought into the pattern of the world that pursues individualism as a virtue. Autonomy, self-reliance, individuality, and personal fulfilment have become more important than the body of Christ and the common good. Though it has some merits, it has robbed our privilege to submit to one another in all humility, bear each other’s burdens, show hospitality, wash one another’s feet by forgiving one another and do life together with all vulnerability and love.
Many sociologists are now saying that the idea of a Nuclear family, which is a product of individualism, has failed us. Nevertheless, this value is not only shaping our present Church but also our socio-economic world into a hostile place. Whether in education, career, family, marriage, politics or economy, the pursuit is about personal fulfilment as the norm develops apathy towards others. Sadly Christians piously ask God to help them achieve this worldly pursuit.
This idea even reframed the Church’s understanding of salvation to a private and individualistic affair between my God and me for a place in heaven after I die. Hence, we do not see the need to share our everyday lives with fellow believers beyond church gatherings.
This way of living is fragmenting the body of Christ and even our world, making it increasingly challenging to disciple. We spend all our time and money on our personal or family goals. Though our Sunday gatherings may seem lively, we think we don’t need each other beyond it. Even an unplanned neighbour’s visit may be considered an intrusion and a waste of time.
Sadly we came to believe that Church buildings, events, the crowd on Sundays, great sermons, book sales, and online followers to my blog or channel are signs of discipleship. Not true. They may be useful, but ultimately what is required is my willingness to invite my fellow believers into my daily rhythms of life, be it at home, work, or in the neighbourhood, to help them imitate me as I try to imitate Christ and also be discipled by them.
Today’s Church mostly believes that such an idea of discipleship is unnecessary and a waste of time. Instead, they feel Sunday gatherings, books, and online videos are more edifying to them spiritually. Nevertheless, pastors do not bother members equally as long as they attend church with their offerings.
When the Church cannot show me how to love my spouse as Christ loved the Church, raise and educate our children, do business, manage finances, run companies, grow vegetables, or care for our city as Christ wanted us to care, the Church has lost her call to disciple. I feel she has lost even her credibility to disciple in many cases.
The spirit of the age has trapped the flirting church in her pursuit to imitate the world and indeed lost her freedom to follow Christ. I confess I have also flirted with this temptation. I chose lifestyles with no time, space, or energy to open my lives and homes to fellow disciples. We have not understood God’s word if we still think we can be faithful to God without discipleship.
Returning to discipleship
A way back to discipleship is a steep climb. When Jesus called his disciples, they left everything and followed him. So what does it look like for us today? Christ calls us to leave our old self, its identity, pursuits and privileges to embrace Christ, his people, kingdom and righteousness.
Since the institutional church mostly has become worldly, abusive or corrupt, it seems better to reject it altogether. However, we must remember that a local church essentially is a community of covenanted disciples committed to extending God’s kingdom and righteousness locally as priests and kings in Christ through discipleship. Therefore, rejecting a corrupt institutional church may be an option but not abandoning the local body of Christ.
Even within the faithful body of Christ, we need to love and serve despite our sinfulness. That is why Christ commanded us to wash each other’s feet. He has not called us to live in sinless churches but to follow him amidst our sinfulness.
Seeking first the kingdom is also not necessarily leaving education, work or family to become an evangelist or priest. It is to seek God’s glory, his righteousness, in all of life as a household of faith.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8)
May we, like Levi, who left the tax collector’s booth at the call of Christ, leave our accomplishments, selfish ambitions, wealth, comforts, and pride to follow Christ along with the other fishermen.
Dear Father, help me to follow Christ as his first disciples did. Filled by your Spirit to reign with you and extend your kingdom to the ends of the earth by making disciples. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.