26th December 2018

Discipline in an Age of Chaos

Maybe you’ve seen a comedy sketch from some years ago where a group of old men are sitting around reminiscing; talking about how difficult life was in their youth. Their statements become more and more preposterous as each takes a turn outdoing the previous speaker. As each one finishes, the next begins with the words, “You were lucky! When I was a lad…” Apart from the chuckle I still get, that sketch also has a cautionary effect when I’m sometimes tempted to make comparisons between my generation and later ones. It seems that the older I get, the more ‘selective’ my memories are; I’m more likely to remember myself and my age mates as diligent and disciplined in contrast with the youth of today…

That being said, it is self-evident that our society today does give less value to a disciplined and self-controlled life style. The so-called ‘modern’ era inherited many of its ideals from the Renaissance and then the Enlightenment period, which placed great importance on a rigorous pursuit of learning and human endeavour. Sadly, this coincided with a move away from a God-centered worldview, as man progressively believed that his own ability to know and to do could solve all of his problems.

In more recent times, this confidence in human learning and endeavor has been exposed as a myth, with the realisation that things are essentially getting worse, not better. Rather than turning to the One who is the solution, people are looking for answers in diverse and disconnected places or, increasingly, living with the conviction that there never were and never can be any real answers. Sociologists define the resulting chaos that now typifies our society as ‘postmodernism’, although most of them would not describe it as chaos but perhaps a ‘breaking of shackles’, which had restricted human expression and development. As those who bear the responsibility for the Great Commission in this time, we must do what believers have always had to do:

• We must recognize all the forces – including the current cultural environment -that have the potential to shape our thinking, determine our values and decide our actions

• We must look to God’s Word as the basis for correctly adjusting our attitudes and values

• We must rely on his Spirit who enables us to act accordingly so we can move ahead

My wife and I are often in contact with individuals and teams around the world who are working in a wide range of situations as they plant churches in what some would call ‘remote’ and ‘closed’ areas. One of the major things we have in mind is to help them to re-define overall goals for their work, so they can evaluate how far they have come, and then decide what to focus on next. In the complexity of the situations they find themselves in, it can be easy to set short-term goals based on their own particular role in the work, or on individual gifts and abilities. It’s helpful for people in that situation to take another look at their context from further back – to view the big picture and the long-term goals – and see it from the perspective of the local church (even if it is yet to be born).

We use an outline of questions we call ‘W.I.L.D.’ (Word. Identity. Life. Discipleship.) to help church planters and church leaders view a church or group of believers in a more comprehensive and focused way.

Download The W.I.L.D Framework (free ebook)

The W.I.L.D. framework helps to guide the discussion back to the big-picture; keeping the needs and concerns of the local church in focus - with the overall goal being their growth to maturity in Christ and in their God-given role in their community. Identifying and focusing on each of the key areas of growth or development in the lives of a local Body, helps to define the role and activities for those of his servants who are there to work with that particular part of his Body in that place. Even where there is not yet a church in existence, church planters can see clear goals ahead that will help to guide their current activities.

One thing that always stands out in these kinds of discussions is how progress in the first area, Word, has a direct bearing on the other three areas. For a vital and functioning church to exist, people must have access to God's Word in a language they understand and that speaks to their hearts. For discipleship to take place and leaders to be raised up God's Word needs to be taught in such a way that it "engages" their lives and culture. Of course people are responsible to respond to God's Word and apply it by faith to their lives, but they must first have the opportunity to do so. And this is where there is no option but for the church planter to put hard work into whatever it takes to give them that opportunity; whether that means translation, writing a literacy program, developing Bible curriculum or in teaching Truth in a way that is culturally relevant.

We find very little shortage of commitment and desire to serve the Lord among the teams we visit. Of course there is always a need for more understanding in the technical side of language learning and translation techniques, for example, but there is help available for this. Every now and again we come across someone who is inappropriately placed - they are trying to do a job for which they are not suited or equipped - but there is almost always another place where they can fit. The most difficult people to help are those who want to do the work, know what to do and how to do it, but who are just not able to apply themselves. In such situations the thing that hurts the most is to see how the local church suffers as a result.

From personal experience and observation, it is a fact that discipline and self-control do not come easily to most of us, cross-cultural workers or otherwise. At times we find almost tangible forces working against us when we attempt to order our lives for the purpose of doing what we know God would have us do. As we've already noted, it is vital for us to recognise these forces or influences. One we have already touched on briefly; the current trends that are moving our society away from order and towards chaos. On a spiritual level, the Enemy of all that God wants to do in and through us, is only too pleased to provide another of these destabilizing forces. And, of course, there is the inherent fallen part of us, (which Paul describes so graphically in Romans Chapter 7) pushing us away from the things we know we should do and towards what we know to be wrong or unprofitable.

In the accounts of Christ's life we have the perfect example of how we should respond to a society and culture that is basically at odds with God's purposes. We also see his willing servanthood, and his life of dependence on the Holy Spirit in order for him to accomplish all that was given him to do. Later, in the epistles, we are told, with the Philippian church, to have his "mind". That is, we are to allow the attitudes and values of the One who "loved the church and gave Himself up for her" to become ours as well. In Paul's second letter to Timothy we each find an exhortation to present ourselves to God as his diligent and skillful workmen whose tool is the truth found in his Word. In the same letter we are reminded that fear does not come from God, but rather his Spirit living in us gives us the power, love and discipline (or clear correct thinking) necessary to accomplish all that he has equipped us to do. This is important because I believe quite often it is fear of failure that keeps us from committing to goals and then making ourselves accountable for reaching them.

Just before Christ returned to the Father, he left us, his Church, with the task of teaching and discipling in our home countries and to "the ends of the earth" - a responsibility which will only end when he returns. Our hope should be that the chaotic times in which we live are an indication that his return is close. Rather than allowing ourselves to be swept along carelessly in the gathering darkness, we should be ever more diligent and disciplined as we go about his work, because now it is still day, there is still time, however "night is coming, when no man can work."

Paul Mac

Paul and his wife Linda worked 11 years in Papua New Guinea doing pioneering church planting work and Bible translation among a previously unreached people group. They have since been involved in church planting consultancy giving guidance to teams all around the world. They are passionate about seeing churches planted that are well equipped to carry on for future generations.