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Discipleship is conference’s thrust

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–God does not make suggestions, Henry Blackaby said. He gives commands.

Every time God speaks, “it is life or death, blessing or cursing. When God has something to say to you, He assigns the Holy Spirit to make certain you understand.”

Blackaby, author of the “Experiencing God” discipleship resources, was among the keynote speakers at the 2008 National Discipleship and Evangelism Conference at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.

About 500 people attended the June 30-July 4 sessions sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Joining Blackaby in addressing the conference were LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer and Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Rainer and Aiken are co-authors of “Vibrant Church,” LifeWay’s 2009 doctrine study.

“Any word God has for you in Scripture will not be too mysterious for you to understand,” Blackaby said. “With the Holy Spirit, you have been given eyes to see and ears to hear.

“Every time you are face-to-face with the Scripture, you are face-to-face with its author,” Blackaby said.

“You can harden your heart so that God speaking to you, using the Holy Spirit, will make no impact whatsoever,” he acknowledged. A disciple is not one who knows about Jesus, he said, but is one who is following Christ.

“When Jesus called the disciples, they immediately dropped what they were doing and joined Him to do what He was doing,” Blackaby said.

A disciple’s life, he said, isn’t just a matter of practicing religion and living rightly. “It is a life intensely and intimately in fellowship with God.”

Akin, using 1 Corinthians 13 as the text for one of his addresses, said the love described in the chapter ranges from essential love (verses 1-3), expressive love (verses 4-7) and enduring love (verses 8-13).

He suggested as an exercise to substitute the name “Jesus” in place of the word “love” in chapter 13: “If I speak the languages of men and of angels, but have not Jesus, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

He also suggested that conference attendees substitute their own names, as he did his, in verses 4-7: “Danny Akin is patient; Danny Akin is kind. Danny Akin does not envy.”

And going a step further, he suggested substituting “Jesus in me” in place of “love” in the passage: “Jesus in me is patient; Jesus in me is kind. Jesus in me does not envy.”

Studying Scripture is important in a Christian’s life and path, Akin said, noting, “You do not honor God by being ignorant.” But he included a word of caution: “Neither do you honor Him by being pompous.”

Rainer spoke of three questions that need to be asked when talking about discipleship in the church:

1) Just what is the church anyway?

The church is the people of God and the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, Rainer said.

“If we are the people of God, we will act in a way that honors God,” he said. “If we are the body of Christ, we recognize that we have gifts that are to be used in ministry, but we don’t all have the same gifts and we are dependent on others. If we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we are a worshipping community. The presence of God is with us.”

2) What should the church act like?

The church should have regenerate members who are Christians, Rainer said. “A church should have high expectations of its members,” he said, lamenting, “In many of our churches we are bringing people in with not only low expectations, but no expectations.”

Rainer also pointed out:

— The church has two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

— The church practices discipline.

“Do you know the purpose of discipline?” Rainer asked. “It is not to harm, but to restore. The ultimate goal is to bring [the one being disciplined] to be a fully restored person who is actively contributing to the body of Christ.”

— It is a Word-based ministry.

“If we are not on a foundation of Jesus Christ and His Word, we are not a church,” Rainer said.

— It has as its offices pastor and deacon.

“Baptist history will often use the word elder instead of pastor, but we’ve used it synonymously,” he said. “Our Baptist manifestation has a congregational government.”

— Missions and evangelism is at its heart.

— “There is sound theology; there is true depth of God’s Word,” Rainer said.

3) How does the church carry out its main purposes?

“If we are biblically obedient, if we do church according to what the Word says, we will see discipleship take place in the church like we never would have conceived otherwise,” Rainer said. “We will see sinners become saints. We will see a unity of the body that defies most congregations today. We will see church members asking, ‘What can I do to serve my Lord sacrificially through my church?'”

More than 100 conference options were offered, covering ministries to preschoolers and children, students, young adults, senior adults, deacons, deacon wives, ministers wives, family, men and women. In addition, workshops addressed such topics as small groups, prayer, evangelism, sports and recreation.

Danny Singleton, missions pastor at the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock, said men’s ministry ranks a distant fourth in most churches behind ministries directed toward youth, children and women.

“These ministries to the youth, children and women are important, no doubt, but we have to develop an intentional ministry to men,” Singleton said. “We have to go get Bubba.”

He continued, “Somewhere we’ve got to build Bubba up. It’s generally not happening in Sunday School or missions.”

Singleton recounted asking a group of nine men how many of them had grown up in a home with a godly father. One raised his hand. That, he said, was part of what made men’s ministry hard -– a lack of role models.

“The men in our churches don’t love each other, don’t know each other, aren’t involved with each other,” Singleton said. “If we want to see men’s ministry grow, we have to connect with the men in our churches.

“We must model what we want to see multiplied. Men’s ministry is not a program. It’s a principle.”
Polly House is a corporate communications specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources. Next year’s National Discipleship and Evangelism Conferences will be July 13-17 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C., and July 27-31 at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center near Santa Fe, N.M.

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  • Polly House