Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore 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 everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
YWAM’s passion to see the nations discipled comes from Jesus’ powerful last words on earth. But what does discipling nations actually look like and how can we be more effective at doing so?
At the University of the Nations conference last month in Tijuana, Mexico, James Featherby presented on how to be effective in influencing and discipling nations. Featherby was a partner of one of the world’s most successful law firms based in London’s financial district. He has never been in YWAM, but has always had friends who were. I very much respected his view on what it practically means to disciple nations. First, he defined some terms.
Discipleship: Matthew 28:18-20 quotes Jesus’ commandment to disciple and baptize nations in the name of God. But far from a polite sprinkling of water, discipleship more accurately means to “pickle” in truth. When you “pickle” something, after a while, it’s chemical structure changes. What was once a cucumber becomes a pickle. However silly this sounds, discipleship is to immerse nations in the truth. God’s truth and purpose is held in the heart of a believer. We are to stand as beacons of this light, woven throughout society.
Example: In Uganda and some other countries, the cultural norm is to have multiple wives. The church has also fallen in line with this way of thinking. Discipleship may look like a missionary couple living amongst a certain community and loving each other.
Nations and Spheres of Society: We must unpack what a nation actually is. Nations are comprised of people living together in society and the institutions necessary for functionality. Nations are divided into around eight spheres of society. Each sphere is divided up into various tribes. (For example; In the Business/Economic sphere you have the computer industry, within that you have Apple computer, within that you have the marketing, finance, and so on.)
Discipling nations seems like an insurmountable task. But when we understand what a nation is comprised of, we can recognize our specific place and purpose in society. We can consciously begin to reflect God’s intention for that piece of society.
As I have been studying the Old Testament and early Jewish history, I am humbled by the fact that it was God who structured society for our benefit. Each sphere, when fulfilling its purpose, contributes to human flourishing and the common good. At the core of the gospel is the creation of a community of justice and peace where a Holy God can dwell among us. As Christians, we want to bring God’s intention for each sphere to fruition because only through this will we obtain the justice and peace we are all seeking.
Here are the 8 spheres of society along with their goals and special interests. (I have compiled this information from James Featherby and Old Testament Template by Landa Cope):
Goals: To provide and ensure justice and equity for all citizens through executive, judicial, military, law enforcement, and central community services (ex. water, power, roads, education.) The government should seek to serve the people, but we need to also allow it to exercise a degree of authority over us.
Issues: Justice for the weak and voiceless in society, including children, women, and immigrants.
2. Business/ Economics
Goals: To develop an economy where needs, goods and services are provided for the community along with gainful employment at a fair market price and wage. This sphere enables us to generate and share wealth, both for our own benefit and the benefit of communities.
Issues: Honest gain, enablement of the poor, integrity of the workforce, stewardship of resources, and community conscience.
3. Science and Technology
Goals: To discover and use God’s laws for the blessing of all people, pursuing a higher standard of living, better health and better stewardship of all God’s natural resources. Similar to business, this sphere also enables us to generate and share wealth.
Issues: Prevention of disease, discovery, and stewardship
Goals: The ecclesiastical order is called to represent God to the people and the people to God, discipling all believers in the nature and character of God and his word and applying this to the work and walk of faith; to facilitate the expression of that faith in the worship of the sacraments of the church; and to be a moral model of God’s absolute standards of truth. This sphere allows us to mend our relationship with God and learn the fruits of living in dependence on Him.
Issues: Calling society to accountability to the word of God.
Goals: The purpose of family is to provide a safe, nurturing environment for growth and the development of values in the next generation. It is the smallest building block of society. The sphere of family models something of the life initiating nature of God and something of the relationship of love between Christ and his people.
Issues: Love, discipline, modeling God’s thinking, preparation for vocation of the children, and the husband’s love setting the tone of the home.
Goals: To provide for the development of the God-given gifts in every child for the service of their fellow man and society, believing every child is gifted by God and has the rights for those gifts to be developed to their highest potential. The sphere of education combines information, character formation and practical experience. And so it builds the capacity of both individuals and a community. It is here that the character of the next generation is formed.
Issues: Value-based integrated process with family involvement and support.
Goals: to provide truthful, objective information of importance to the community at large, so that it’s citizens can make informed decisions. Anthropologists say that man’s greatest skill is his ability to collect and transfer knowledge. Knowledge is useful if it is truth. It is the sphere of media and communication that passes on that knowledge.
Issues: Freedom of belief, and therefore freedom of speech, proclamation, and preaching; the right to assemble; vows, commitments, covenants, witness, testimony, remembering and the written word.
8. Arts/ Entertainment/ Celebration
Goals: To provide rest, relaxation, and restoration of the souls through beauty and joy. The sphere of celebration brings hope, builds community, remembers stories, and celebrates artistic talent.
We must know biblical truth and the context of the corner of the world we are called to. How can we reflect the image of God in each sphere of society? By upholding theses values or goals in our work.
After Featherby’s lecture I asked him what he practically did to influence his sphere of business. His answer: 1) Do a really good job at whatever you are doing. In the sphere of business, that was to generate a lot of wealth. 2) Find a diverse community to widen your perspective and keep you accountable.
I think I was expecting a more “spiritual” answer, especially regarding the first point. It was the perfect moment for God to challenge me to change my thinking about what is “sacred” and what is “secular”. Like I said before, each sphere when fulfilling its purpose above, contributes to human flourishing and the common good. So business, done with integrity, needs no added “spiritual” ingredient before it can contribute towards the Kingdom of God. Just by doing what it does, when done well, business contributes. Likewise, government need not be mixed with religion before it can contribute to the well being of society or God’s purposes. By creating the conditions for peace and justice, government is fulfilling God’s purpose. When God talks about discipling nations, he is not talking about social, economic, and governmental power held by your local pastor. God has divinely defined the spheres of society according to the diversity of his created individuals. Of course we can’t all be pastors! Of course we can’t all be YWAMers! Of course we can’t all work in the business world!
I am finding new depths of rest in his purpose for my life, working in the sphere of religion and education right now. And I want to encourage the heck out of all my amazing friends and family who are working or have worked in business/economics or science/technology spheres. The most “spiritual” thing any of us can do isn’t to go on a mission trip, but to simply be obedient to God’s call on our lives.
Discipling nations is an intentional look to God’s wisdom to shape society. As Christians, we must choose our place and know our context. What is the corner of the world he has called you to? What is the goal of that sphere? Start from there; pursuing excellence in your work, purposefully expanding relationships, seeking accountability and vulnerability in community.
It is quite the overwhelming task to disciple nations. But we must start viewing ourselves as tiny pieces of the bigger machine. We must start accepting our specific roles and appreciating all the others. We start from where we are, knowing with confidence that we are doing God’s will when we disciple nations. If we feel inadequate, then we are in the right place. We need humility, not arrogance as we bring warning, stimulation, and encouragement to our place in society.