Conversatio Divina

Part 13 of 34

The Great Omission

Dallas Willard

In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary's Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas's last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor's Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]

So, now I am back to The Great Commission but now I say, think about this in relation to ministry, specifically. I am talking about what we do in the process of our occupation. So, here’s the wording again. “I have been given say over all things in Heaven and in earth as you go, therefore, make apprentices to me. Submerge them in Trinitarian reality and train them so that they do all things I have commanded you. And, look, I am with you every minute until the job is done.” Now, you would perhaps have the natural impression that, if you were to locate a group of disciples, that’s what they would be doing. They would be making disciples, gathering in the presence of God, living there, and learning in the sense of transformation of their thoughts and all of that training so that when you found them confronted with something Jesus said, well, they would just do it. So, here you are and someone is cursing—a disciple, so you would think, “Okay, the disciple will bless them because Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you.” That would be the plan. [2:22] Now then, what I have to do is to raise this issue—is that what we do? When we think of ministry, do we think of this pattern? Sort of the three fold steps. I do think they have to work generally in succession. You don’t want to assume the Trinitarian presence if you don’t have disciples. If you have got converts of various kinds and so on, that’s different. The presence may be quite different from Trinitarian and if it is, then you’re likely not going to find people naturally progressing to the point to where they would sincerely pray for those who despitefully use them. See, again, you have to put thought into what would that be like? I suspect nearly everyone here has been despitefully used; it’s hard to avoid it. What would it mean to pray for them? Well, that’s where love would come in. Love would mean you want what is best for them and are prepared to do what is best for them in so far as it is in your power and of course, if you love people, it will naturally drive you to prayer because what you want for them will always be more than you can provide. [4:08] Prayer is a natural expression of that. Now, we have to come back and spend half a day, maybe, just on the Sermon on the Mount so I am not going to carry further there with that. I think you get the idea. [4:29]


So you would see a group of people—I would hope that this would be an ecclesia church—a group of “called out” people and what you would see them doing is being disciples, making disciples, gathering in the presence of God and learning and teaching how to do the things that Jesus said.  I don’t like to get on the critical side but you have to ask the question, “Is that what we do? Or do we have, what I call, the great omission?  The great omission, as I use the language, is omitting to teach people to do everything that Jesus said. Now, this is a simple, straightforward question. It’s a question about what you see, what you have when you look at those who are gathered as Christians. And now, in case you have any doubt about this, I would just have to say, “No we don’t see that.” And then you can holler back at me. Right?


I said years ago—I think it’s on page 16 of The Spirit of the Disciplines, I try not to read my own books but I think that’s where it is—that I do not know of a single group that has a plan to teach the people in the group to do everything that Jesus said and actually, not everything, just a few things. Now, I parallel that and that was a time when the national debt was much smaller than it is now, I said, “It’s like the government; I don’t know a single government official that has a plan to pay off the national debt.” Now, we’ve got a few people now that are actually working on it so that wouldn’t be quite true…the Senator from Oklahoma, Ryan and I forget where he is from. They actually are trying to get a plan; not with a lot of luck, by the way. But it is an interesting comparison. Now, I say here to follow The Great Commission, requires no special facilities, programs, talents or techniques. Now again, I am ready for you to holler back at me but that’s what I am saying here. You don’t have to have a special building or a budget to do this.  Anyone can do it; it doesn’t even require a budget, just the decision to do it and the willingness to learn as you go from the One who has all say and who is with us. This is what the first disciples, a most unspectacular lot, did with spectacular results. I refer here to an old book, William Paley’s book, The Evidences of Christianity, but this has been updated many times, most recently, help me, I am having a senior moment—the sociologist who’s been writing on this—the rise of Christianity—Rodney Stark, thank you. That’s right and he’s written on this and he is a sociologist and he got tons of criticism about it but the facts are pretty impressive when you look at what happened for these people who heard this and of course there are other formulations in Mark and elsewhere and they just did it. [8:49] They just did it.


Q: You made a statement in your book, Spirit of the Disciplines that you do not know of any churches that are doing this 25 years ago. Do you know any examples now of churches doing this today?


Jane and I are faithful attendees and supporters of the Valley Vineyard in Rosita and they are wonderful people and the pastors and they love us and care for us and all of that and they read the books but they don’t do this. Now, in most cases, what prevents it is they have in their mind a model of what Vineyard does or what Baptists or what Catholics or whatever and that’s what they are looking at and that is not this. Now, in the details of course if you are going to do it, you have to teach certain things and practice certain things and that doesn’t fall within the range of the prescribed Christian activities so now falling under the spirit, that’s great. Let’s do that; that’s Vineyard. Less and less, by the way, but at least that fits the model. That’s what you have to look—what’s the model?  What’s the model of the person who says, “OK, we’ve done church.” Did you teach anyone to bless those who curse you? Well, we ranted at them about it and said they ought to. Did you teach anyone in such a way that they would naturally and actually do that? No. Well, we didn’t do that. Probably couldn’t do that in a morning service and our people kind of think that when they’ve done the morning service they’ve done it, right? So, now what I’m pushing you all toward here is deep reflection on why we do what we do and whether or not we ought to do something else. [11:18] I certainly would warn you, don’t go and announce a revolution; you will just have fight. Don’t go in and say, “Now, we are all going to be disciples.” You will get some interesting responses among which would be, “Aren’t we already?” So, lots of interesting things but that’s what we are talking about. This is a seminar/retreat on spirituality and ministry so we have to ask those questions. See, now, some of you I know are doing something much more in this direction but some of you have been pushed out of “church as usual” because you are doing something else and you have decided that what you have been doing in “church as usual” is not doing it and you want to see something happen and so you are doing something different.


Q: Are there things happening in your own life that you could give as an example of this is how the Lord has manifested Himself through these things I am trying to teach you?


I can’t think of anything right off. It isn’t like this is an endless process. We are told what to do and so then making disciples—I’m not a pastor and so I have different venues in which that happens. I do make disciples—not of me. I try very hard not to make a disciple of me but disciples of Jesus and primarily that is a matter of helping people sort of get a different hold on the gospel. What is it? And then getting them to venture into learning particular things that Jesus said and we’ll talk more in detail about some of those when we come to deal with the Sermon on the Mount. But, basically, anger is always a huge issue because there is so much of it so, helping people understand what anger is, what contempt is and moving out of it. I see that constantly going on in people who have said, “You know, I really would like to be a disciple. I would like to learn how to do this.” So, I don’t have a mass movement to show for it but I know it works and if you can help people get past the mental barriers, they are ready for it and everywhere I go for any length of time, and just talk a little bit, you have people, as it were, coming out of the woodwork saying, “This is what we want.” But, most of them have never been given an opportunity to make a decision to be a disciple. See, that’s the upfront reality and you want to be filled with the Spirit? “Oh yes, I would like that.” So, then, they have a picture of what that means and it does not include transformation of character. It just doesn’t. One of the things I hope you read was the Rule of St. Benedict, for example; maybe Augustine—see, those are all precisely plans for the kind of community that accomplishes what Jesus is talking about. Now, again, if you write a plan, it will be subject to criticism because you or I don’t know everything and we can’t get it all right but that’s why I have said to you and will say again, being right isn’t the only thing. Right? God can bless you even if you are not right. What a thought!!  Well, if He can’t, then there are not going to be many people blessed, are there? [15:24]


So, now, don’t throw yourself into turmoil about all of this. Just think about it. Look at how it works. Imagine what it would be like to have church whose main business was teaching people to do everything that Jesus said. See, you realize then that you are gonna have to work through a lot of stuff. Most people don’t believe it would be safe to do that—to do what Jesus said. If you were to develop a pill that would remove anger, not a lot of people would take it because anger is a primary device that they have developed for dealing with their life. So, you start out, “love suffers long and is kind.” Well, most people are out the door at that and they like to make jokes about patience or longsuffering but they are not particularly big on getting it because then, how would they manage their life if they didn’t have available, impatience? How would they manage their family? Their children? See, those are the background issues. That’s what we have to teach and address if we are going to do anything with this in the church setting. Now, we would certainly be marked as heretics if we do that; that’s a part of what you get. That’s you opportunity to learn how to love your enemies. You’ll find a few at church. Then the practice, “Well, you’re my enemy, I’m out of here. I’ve got another church down here that has a better worship service or a better speaker so, I’m out of here anyway.” That just abandons the very thing that would help you. Am I making any sense at all? [17:39]


So, now, who is a disciple? And I wanted to try to get this in before lunch and we will have to come back to it. But I have this little screen here and a good bit of this is in the handbook but let’s just talk about it here?  Who is the disciple or apprentice? An apprentice of Jesus is one who is learning from Him how to lead my life in the Kingdom of God as He would lead it if He were I. How would Jesus lead my life? It’s not what Jesus would do but what would I do? [18:18] So, I am with Him in all of my circumstances and learning to be like Him. OK? Where am I learning? Everywhere! Wherever I am; that’s where I am His disciple. Now, I am going to say a lot about work and jobs because most of our lives are spent at work and if that isn’t’ a place of discipleship, discipleship is not going to go very far. On the other hand, only discipleship to Jesus can make the world work.  Of course, many people say that’s not our job. We are getting people ready to bail out. It doesn’t look like that in the New Testament so we have to talk about place. Where am I? Well, you can be a disciple at church too. That would be a good idea. At church, I am learning how to do church and whatever my capacity is as Jesus would do it if He were I.  So, how would He approach sermon preparation? Committee meetings? From within the Kingdom of God.


So, I separate three main aspects and once again, I am trying to get this in front of you before lunch because I want you to be able to start thinking about it as we go on from here and we will return to it. There are three main aspects of discipleship and one is just simply learning to do what He taught. He said, “Listen, don’t use someone as the means of stirring up your sexual lusts.” Don’t say to people, “You fool.” Let your “yes” be a “yes” and your no be a “no.” Now, you know all of that; that’s just straight up Sermon on the Mount. If someone hits you on one’s cheek, turn the other. Now, you have to work all through what that means and how you learn it and so on and He’s giving just a list that are basically illustrations. He is drawing the illustrations from real life. That’s why He starts with anger, contempt and lust because that’s the street level stuff.  He doesn’t start with love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. He doesn’t start there.  And the elaboration of what love is, He leave to later people, everyone from Bernard of Clairvaux to Augustine to Wesley—a lot of wonderful people—Bonheoffer.  They spell it out and that’s for us to do. We are here now and we are the ones that have to do it and understand it. Jesus teaches from the ground up—what are people caught up in—anger, contempt, lusting, divorcing people, hurting people—that’s where—so He goes there. Now, He doesn’t start there. He starts with “blessed” because He knows that you can’t do anything with that sort of thing unless you know what blessedness is. It’s only if you know what blessedness is that you can drop anger. So, you have to teach that and that’s what He does. [22:04]


Learning to handle the ordinary events of daily life within the principles and power of God’s Kingdom rule—running a business, a difficult committee meeting, a family dispute, writing a book, living through some political dispute, running a taco stand, teaching third grade. Learning to handle ordinary events that He doesn’t say anything about so we are learning that and then thirdly, learning to act with God’s power in bringing the Kingdom to bare on obvious human needs, individual and social. You are going to need the power to do the other things. [22:44]


So, I list these three things separately just for purposes of discussion. They are not separate. You can’t do one of them and not the others.  So, that’s what we are doing. We make disciples and of course, we teach people in a way that they can come around and look at that and say, “Well, you know, maybe that would be a good thing. It would be a good thing to live without cultivating my lusts whether they are sexual or otherwise. Being free of envy, of covetousness and so on.” That’s what we would be learning but you have to convey blessedness so that people will say, “If I don’t cultivate my lusts, I will not be blessed.” They can say, “I can drop that and still be blessed.”  The form that temptation takes is “If you don’t do this, you are going to miss out on something good.” Isn’t that right? It’s the way it works. What did Satan say to Eve? “If you don’t don this, you are dong to miss out on something good. You can’t trust God. God will not pick up your case so you better do it.” That’s the general form of temptation and generally, it comes in the form of lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life. That’s what shapes the world. So, you have to have a vision of what is good and what is blessed that will allow you to look at things that are sinful and say, “Who would want to do that? Why would anyone want to do a thing like that?”


Now there is one piece here on pornography and spiritual formation and that’s an issue that’s so big in our world that we have to deal with it but people are drawn to it because of how they think. You have to change how they think if they are going to be able to look at that and say, “Now who would want to do something like that?” Right? And that’s what we are aiming at as we teach and train is to help people come to see that and say, “That’s slop; who would want to stick their head in that?” Try sticking your head in the commode; it will be cleaner. Am I making any sense at all? [25:27]


OK; well, let me go on just to make it to the bottom of 32 here and we will talk more about who is the disciple and how that relates to discipline and so on because the structure of the retreat in terms of concepts is very simple. There are only four or five of them and we will be fitting them together. One of course is discipline and if you become a disciple, well then, you will want some discipline.


Now, but I say here under 5 on 32, this understanding of ministry clears the way for simplicity and effectiveness in what we do. And I give you a number of references here to Paul and how he carried out his ministry. But I think the most important thing to say at this point is that you escape the curse of performance. Now, you have to handle that word carefully because obviously performance is a good thing. We want to be able to perform but there is a sense of performance, which ties it to making an impression so you are going to perform for an impressions and that’s what we want to step out from under.  We want to perform well as we said, we want to do our best but we want to be free of manipulating the impressions that people get of how we are doing. [27:30]


There was a great Presbyterian minister of other years named Donald Gray Barnhouse and no puffing—he was a great minister and had a great effect for good but he came to a large Southern Baptist Church in the south and preached and did not give an invitation. Well, he didn’t get invited back even though he was an absolute lion for Christ and had tremendous effect on people’s lives. He didn’t perform. So, performing is often a matter of trying to identify the assumptions in your audience about what is good work and trying to match them. Very often, they don’t need that. They need something exactly the opposite. They need something that would challenge their assumptions and might change them.  So, this is a real burden that we have to deal with and it’s not really a good thing, I think to quote yourself, but here is something that is so good that I will quote myself. This is in Renovation of the Heart and I say, “The sufficiency of Christ to all is the basis of our efforts in gathering and in service. The ministers, pastors, teachers and others should, with time and experience, expect to receive from “Christ with them” profundity of insight, sweetness and strength of character and abundance of power to carry out their role in the local group. The minster does not need tricks and techniques but need only speak Christ’s Word form Christ’s character standing within the manifest presence of God.” [29:5e] And that would set aside performance and I like Larry Crabb’s phrase, “The pressure is off.” And that’s where we need to live—where the pressure is off and if we are able to escape performance by learning to stand simply in the power of the Kingdom as we speak and live, then the pressure is off. [30:27]


OK; questions or comments on all of that now. This part is on ministry. Yes?


Q: One of your favorite sayings is “do your best but never trust your best.”


That’s right so you do your best but for the outcome, recognize that God is in charge of that and so you don’t trust your best.  Now, your best may not be very good. That’s just reality; sometimes it’s not, but God is in charge. You have signed that over to Him and sometimes your best is very good and God can bless that too but you don’t rely on your best to bring out the fruit of your ministry that God wants you to have.


Q: Does total trust in God rule out making plans for the future?


We still have to decide what to do and some things are better than others so that’s where we do our best and that could come under the heading of vision casting. It’s a little hard to know what that means until you get into the particular situation but for example, if you have a church of an ordinary sort, you have to think about buildings and meetings and those kinds of things. Some things are not as good as others so we have to pay attention to that. Now, is that your hope? Part of the thing that happened with church growth programs was people began to think that this is stuff that really isn’t of God’s concern but you could build a church. You get your parking lots right and your program right and one of the only times I have ever walked out on a meeting was an individual who was saying that your church would grow better if it was ethnically homogeneous. Is that true? Well, he thought it was true. But, if that’s all we are putting into our efforts, then I don’t want to go there. So, we still have to exercise a judgment about what is to be done. See, now, my point is simply do your best, don’t rely on that. God’s blessing and activity—the glorious arm is much better and we need to understand that the church has generally been more powerful the less it had and our problem is never that we don’t have enough people. Now, you know, don’t worry about me; I make these general statements and you come back at it. But generally speaking, I would say that our problem is never that we don’t have enough people. It’s kind of like piling up matches. The problem is never that you don’t have enough matches. One of them at least has to get hot, and then you’ve got a different scene but it doesn’t help to pile more matches on until one of them gets hot. And then action begins. [34:42]


Q: In regards to growth and leadership styles, what should our attitude be toward those who don’t find our particular styles attractive?


Our attitude should be to find out why they are not and do what we can to deal with that. And, for example, if it were to occur to someone to say “Well, one thing might be, we don’t pray or we don’t actually get out and visit people in the neighborhood or we don’t teach people how giving is a part of living in the Kingdom of God, right? So, what I would say is, “Well, try to find out what is wrong” and that would mean asking God to guide us as well as using our best intelligence and our thinking with others and very often, it isn’t all that difficult to find out what is wrong.


Now then the next question is, “Why don’t they? See, that gets back to the issue of teaching. What do we teach? How do we teach it? I mean, nearly all of the problems you will run into in a local church are fairly directly traceable to the lack of discipleship and again, just to take the simple case of giving. I mean, the rate of giving among Christians in this country is absolutely ridiculous. But now, why? Well, that’s because they still think they are running their Kingdom and they don’t understand that giving is a primary way of participating in the Kingdom of God.  We have to teach and that comes back to what we teach and Satan constantly hammers us on that. So, I think the thing is you look and you try to find out what is wrong. Now, some of these situations like, since it’s pubic knowledge, I’ll talk about it like what happened at the Crystal Cathedral. I mean, anyone who looked at that closely over the years would say, “Something is wrong” before it went “coo bust” but, the teaching didn’t deal with that.


OK, well, Kirk, you have a word or two for us and then we will go to lunch.


Kirk: So, hi to all of you. My name is Kirk Fredrickson. If I haven’t had the chance to meet you yet, some people say I am in charge of the doctorate of ministry program, I think the doctorate of ministry program kind of controls me but it’s a delight to be with you. I apologize that I didn’t get here until Thursday of this week. Normally, I am in here on the first day but I have been kind of all over the country this week.


The first part of the week I was in Washington, D.C. at a really significant event called The National Jewish Evangelical Conversation. This is the fourth time that we’ve been together, half evangelicals and half people form Jewish faith getting together just talking about the things that we have in common as well as the things where we see things differently . . .like Jesus. It’s a really important conversation. We are still learning how to trust each other and talk to each other and just a whole lot of issues but it’s really good to get together. On the evangelical side, names like Jim Wallace were there and Joel Hunter from Orlando and David Neff from Christianity Today so it’s a really, really important conversation that we are a part of.


Then yesterday I was up n the Bay area in Oakland. One of the major funders of our Center for Lifelong Learning puts on a lunch for all the people that they distribute money towards. I thought that would be a good place to be so we were up there yesterday.


I am really glad that you are part of this class; normally when I am here on Monday, I say, “This is going to be an amazing experience for you.” We are at day four; you know that this is an amazing experience for you. The tagline for the Doctorate of Ministry Program that we don’t publish but is the one that we really live by is “This program will disrupt your life.” And, this class, I think more than any other class really speaks into that sense of disruption that comes into your life. It creates a mood. Dallas and Keith create this mood for how to do ministry and life because all of ministry flows out of life and you are picking up this different mood on how to be people of faith and ministers of the gospel.  So, I am glad that you are here and that you are taking time out of you very busy lives to get this degree and also particularly to be part of this class so I know it’s good for you. I trust that it will continue to be good for you as you finish this week and go into next week as well. And I just wanted to say, “Thanks and glad that you are here.”


Part 18 of 34


Dallas Willard
June 11, 2012
Part 22 of 34


Dallas Willard
June 12, 2012
Part 28 of 34


Dallas Willard
June 13, 2012