Through Discipleship, Transformation Comes: Lessons of Growth From The First International Missionary


When a person is immersed, change can really occur. To that end, I am pretty adamant in the idea of the Christian walk being more than an expression of Church. And I recognize this is not easy. However, I do believe it is way easier to live out one’s Christian walk with a community, as opposed to just being in a Wednesday or Sunday Bible study.

Trying to succeed when we so often fail, or fighting the flesh that wages war against our souls is difficult. Equally so is telling little 12-year-old children not to have sex when doing so is the cultural norm in Peru, as I explained in the article Changing a Culture of Sex and Promiscuity. This is an issue which has taken root through generations of nature and nurture, a battle which we are fighting with words. I could take these kids to Church everyday and they can be a part of all the activities. But they can never actually live out what they are hearing all the time. Wasn’t that the issue that Jesus had with the Pharisees and Sadducees in the first place?

Our alternative is to do what Paul did with the Ephesians; which is really what convinced me the idea of missional communities was a better approach. (Not to mention all of the other communal actions of the Church throughout Acts).

In Acts 19, the Luke tells us that Paul arrived in Ephesus and found about 12 disciples that were a bit lost. In fact, in my opinion, they were very similar to Apollos. They had heard about repentance and salvation, and they were following it, but they didn’t have the complete picture of salvation in Jesus Christ. After accepting this full gospel, as expressed by being baptized, they received the Holy Spirit and proceeded to express various sorts of spiritual gifts.

Paul could have left then, but he did not.

Instead he first preached for three months in synagogues, “but when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.” — Acts 19:9

Here you can see that Paul, on a daily basis, is teaching these disciples evangelism, missions, and service. He is teaching the disciples how to disciple. “This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” As Paul was serving the Lord, not only were people getting healed, they were getting demons casted out of them, and other people recognized the power of the Most High God.

“Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.” —Acts 19:13-20

Why is the destruction of their former worship so significant? Well, Ephesus at the time was known for extreme idol and “god” worship. These people were deeply immersed in sin, generation after generation. Yet, what happened when the power and culture of God was revealed to these people with the mindset of discipleship and patience? They got saved and they changed.

Paul spent time with them in public and in their homes (Acts 20:20), which resulted in disciples. When Paul was about to leave for Jerusalem, knowing that he would never see the Ephesian leaders again, he gave them advice, warned them, told them how many tears he had shed for them, worked instead of taking from them, truly taught them, and then prayed for them. “And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.” — Acts 20:37-38

It does not mean that they did not forget their identity in Christ at times. I think the book of Ephesians can reflect that they struggled with holding onto their identity at times. Even the book of Revelation talked about how they had lost their first love, and that they needed to repent, which in my personal experience is a result of being so focused on the mission at hand that one forgets the Head of the Mission.

I don’t have an answer for how your Church is moving forward. All I can challenge you to do is to evaluate yourselves and see if you are truly forming disciples. I can ask you to evaluate if your Church is expressing themselves “up, in, and out.” Are you replicating, and growing? Do you feel like you don’t have enough leaders because God is moving so quickly?

The Church in Ephesus was surrounded by a culture immersed with generations of idol worship and witchcraft, and through the Love of God, by the grace of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul was used to make disciples. Paul was used to form a new community, reflecting God’s culture, based on the identity of Jesus Christ. A new community that affected the city so much that idol dealers started a riot because they were losing so much money.

This is the epitome and the expected result of a missional community and is the way in which we should address the real issues of sexual promiscuity in cultures which eroticize and sexualize all, even the young.

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