Author Archives: Paulo Lopes

When We Confuse The Toppings for The Bread by Paulo Lopes

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval. Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:27-35 (NLT)


“Most Christians have just enough religion to be miserable” – John Wesley

John’s description of this encounter between Jesus and his multitude of followers is fascinating both in terms of what we learn about human nature, AND what we learn about Jesus.

You see, this scene is actually a reencounter of sorts. Jesus had been with virtually the same group of people the day before, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. That first encounter begins with Jesus teaching and performing miracles, and ends with the well-known feeding of the five thousand (men) through the multiplication of a few loaves of bread and fish. In between that first encounter and this one, John manages to squeeze in Jesus’ “water-walk” to meet the disciples on their boat (so much more there, but onto this day’s encounter).

Now we find ourselves in Capernaum, where yesterday’s crowd finds Jesus once again. This time, Jesus begins with an exhortation in verse 27, Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” What follows is an exchange that culminates in one of the most quoted scripture verses of all time!


But, How?

Interestingly, the first part of the crowd’s reaction to Jesus doesn’t surprise me. If I were in that crowd, having just heard Jesus’ command not to work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, I think my follow up question would be the same: What must we do to do the works God requires? It’s the logical question to ask… the question of HOW. 

Yet, it also reveals a bit of our human nature. We hear that God wants to bless us and we ask “what do I need to do for this to happen?” It’s just the way we are. We want to know the “three steps” we need to take, or the “secret success formula.” Copy editors know all about this and have become masters at writing catchy “how-focused” titles to articles and videos to entice more clicks.

Jesus’ answer shifts the narrative, though. What he says is not what the crowd is expecting. He says in verse 29, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Do you see it? With just one simple statement, Jesus moves our focus from our own effort and from what we can do, to a person. He answers not with a HOW but a WHO!

This can be tough for us to understand because our relationships tend to be driven by exchange. I do this for you, and you do that for me. You give me a job, and I will do it expecting compensation. However, Jesus refuses to exchange with us. He instead wants to engage with us. When the disciples wanted to learn how to pray, for instance, they didn’t read a book about it, and Jesus didn’t give them a series of best-practice steps. He taught them by praying WITH them. He wants to do the same with us.

By the way, the idea that our faith is not about a HOW but a WHO sets the Christian faith apart from any other. It is one of the greatest tools in an evangelist’s “shed” (I work from a shed, so I just really wanted to work this one in).


Show Us The Goods!

The exchange continues as the crowd issues a follow-up request. They asked in verse 30 and 31, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

Okay, now I’m confused! The first question made logical sense to me, but this? Are you as confused by it as I am? They’re not just asking for a miracle. They’re asking for one that is almost exactly what Jesus had just done the day before! I mean, sure, God sent manna from heaven to the people of Israel, but didn’t Jesus just feed thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread and fish, yesterday?! Are their collective memories that short?!

I actually think their memories are just fine. They are just not enough. At a later point in the same gospel of John, Jesus points to this reality saying “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” He was aware that believing is easier when we are able to see. But, seeing something today doesn’t guarantee that we will believe tomorrow.

Oh how easy it is to be forgetful of all that God has done and continues to do for us. I believe this is why God gave the people of Israel all kinds of rhythms of remembrance baked into Jewish law. This is why Jesus did the same, for instance, with the sacrament of Holy Communion. This is why we instinctively create rituals of remembrance in our own cultures and families, from holidays to family traditions, to Facebook memories. We do these things because our memories fail us.

When it comes to our faith, however, remembrance alone is not enough. It isn’t enough because while our faith does not come from what we do, it is also not really about the things God does for us. Ultimately, our faith is about a person, Jesus Christ, God made flesh, the living Word of God, who lived, died, is risen, and will come again. He is the beginning and the end, the author and perfecter of our faith, and he is seated at the right hand of God the father. Jesus Christ alone is our vision, our sole objective. He is the main thing.

Don’t get me wrong. The things we DO because of our faith are great and important! They’re just not the main thing. The things that GOD DOES for us are great and important! However, they’re also not the main thing. It’s like confusing the toppings for the bread. Have you ever had a spoonful of butter?! Gross!


A Different Kind of Bread

Jesus ends the exchange with a bold assertion about himself: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus’ words were a little too much for the crowd to handle. After some debate, John tells us that many disciples began to desert Jesus. It’s interesting to note that this is the only other instance where this happens outside of Jesus’ imprisonment and crucifixion narrative.

I’m tempted to be judgmental towards that crowd, wondering what in the world was wrong with them. Jesus’ word came after a series of powerful displays, making it almost impossible not to believe. Except, the truth is that Jesus’ words can be hard for me today as well. The idea that there is nothing I can do “to do the works God requires” but believe should be freeing! However, the part of me that wants to control my own narrative and outcomes. The part of me that sees myself as the hero of my own story. That part of me wants to resist.

You see, when Jesus becomes our Bread of Life, he also becomes the Center of our lives. Everything we do, how we act, how we think, how we relate. All of it flows from the Bread of life.

The problem is we still want our own toppings to be the focus. Our lives do not need the ever changing toppings of religion, ambition, or provision. Jesus, the bread of life, is sufficient! This requires full belief and trust. Trust that God is able to do more than we can think or imagine. Trust that God’s ways are better than ours. That God’s thoughts are greater than ours. I could go on and on. You know those scripture passages by heart. At some point, we have to decide if we want to live off the toppings or the actual bread.

God, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Do we want Jesus to show up? by Paulo Lopes

When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.” (Mark 5:15-17)

It’s one of the hardest questions I have learned to ask over the years. It’s hard because it keeps me honest in ministry. Here it is: “Do I really want Jesus to show up in … (this situation, this challenge, this relationship, etc.)?”

The truth is that as exciting as it can be to look forward to what God wants to do in us and through us, sometimes it makes us a bit anxious, nervous. Sometimes, it goes beyond that, even turning into fear. This is precisely what happened to the community in the fifth chapter of the gospel of Mark. When Jesus showed up in this community, they suddenly lost a huge part of their livelihood. Yes, He had done a great thing for a demon-possessed man living by himself in a cave. Yes, something had to be done about that situation. However, in doing so he was messing with things they cared deeply about. So, they asked Him to leave.

The truth is we are more like those people than we care to admit. Most of us want Jesus to show up and to make things better. Fair enough. Jesus said he came to bring us abundant life, and that’s what his presence brings.

The problem is that in addition to wanting an abundant life, we usually want everything else to remain the same. 

We want business as usual. Status quo intact. This is true for us on personal levels, but also when it comes to our communities, our cities, and our nations.

We want Jesus PLUS economic prosperity. We want Jesus PLUS safety. Jesus PLUS our jobs. Jesus plus ____________ (fill the blank with the things you think you need).

Jesus doesn’t always work like that, though. It’s not that safety, security, and prosperity cannot coexist with Jesus and his movement among us. It’s just that our desire for safety, security, and prosperity at the expense of Jesus cannot coexist with Jesus and his movement among us.

It may just be that what stands between us and the powerful manifestation of the presence of Jesus in our life is the very thing we believe MUST coexist alongside him. Big things like the economy and politics. Or smaller things like our friends, or our schedules.

But in order to give us what we need – abundant life – sometimes God has to take away some things we think we really want. The things we hold onto most tightly are often those which we need to let go of most desperately.

In the gospel of Luke chapter 19, we read the story of Zacchaeus who instead of hesitating, put everything he owned on the line to ensure that Jesus would come to his house. After Jesus invites himself, verse 7 tells us the people began to mutter “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner”. Zacchaeus promptly offers to give away much of his possession in order to make things right and hopefully guarantee that Jesus would not change his mind. Jesus’ response was “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (vs. 9-10)

On the other side of the risk Zacchaeus decided to take, was the abundance of life that comes with Jesus’ presence. May you and I be willing to take risks for the sake of God’s manifest presence in our lives.

Make the Most of It by Paulo Lopes

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 – NIV)

An English phrase I catch myself saying all the time is “I need to make time for this.” My intentions are always good when I say it. Because I realize there are things I would like to (or should) be doing with my time. Unfortunately, it seems there is never enough time to do them.

As I think about it, I realize there’s a problem with that phrase. This is because there is really no such thing as “making time.” Actually, that’s not completely true. Scripture tells us that time has an author, and He is not making more of it on this side of eternity. You see, as much as I would like to, I just can’t “make time.”

Scripture does however have a solution for us. It counsels us to redeem or “make the most of every opportunity” with the time we actually have! Like redeeming a promotional code or a gift certificate for all of its value. We are called to maximize time to its full potential. However, the danger here is to trade the biblical “making the most of every opportunity” for its counterfeit idea, carpe diem, originally found in Roman poet Horace’s work, Odes. You see, carpe diem (seize the day) is typically see as call to make one’s life extraordinary, memorable, etc. It usually involves things like jumping out of an airplane, taking a spontaneous trip, or making a big career move. But that isn’t necessarily making the most of your time. Instead, it could actually be wasting some of the most valuable opportunities God has for us in the time we’ve been given.

If you read Ephesians 5:16 in context, “making the most of every opportunity” is connected to living a life that pleases God. When the same phrase is used in another text, Colossians 4:5, the context is introducing people to Christ. You see, we redeem time when we make decisions and take actions that affect eternity, when time will cease to be.

One day time will end. Consequently, the greatest moments of our lives will be the ones we carry into eternity. Seeing coworkers and friends who are far from God be filled with life in Christ; Using our gifts and graces to solve meaningful problems and make people’s lives better as a present sign of things to come; Overcoming a sin that has plagued our family for generations; Building God-honoring families and raising children in the ways of Jesus.

We have the time to do these things every day. If something eternally insignificant is taking up the time that God has given us, we can’t make more time. Our option is to simply get rid of it. God’s power to impact the world and eternity through us is unlimited. Our time is not. Let us make the most of every opportunity!

Living In The Tension by Paulo Lopes

Over the years I’ve observed that many of the problems we have in mission and ministry stem from our confusion between two similar, yet distinct, things: Conflict and Tension.

Now, since these are pretty common words it might be helpful to offer definitions for the sake of this conversation:

Conflict: An incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests.”

Tension: A relationship between ideas or qualities with differing demands or implications.”

The differences are subtle, yet the implications when we fail to recognize them can have devastating effects in our communities. You see, conflict and tension will always exist in our congregations and in our communities at large. The question is how we choose to deal with each one.

Conflict demands resolution. It exposes inconsistencies and problems within groups. So, the group MUST find answers and apply them. In church history there are many examples of conflict. One of the greatest ones revolved around the divinity of Christ. Left unchecked, that disagreement would have defined the witness of the church for future generations because it questioned the core of why the Church exists. Conflicts must be resolved.

Tension on the other hand can’t be resolved, only managed. Tension typically exists because there is something in between those involved, pulling them back together like an elastic band. In this analogy, resolving tension would be similar to cutting the elastic band. The result is the loss of a common core.

Some of our greatest troubles arise when we decide to flip the script by managing conflicts and resolving tensions. As a church leader, surely you have been in rooms and meetings where you know of underlying conflicts which have gone unresolved for years, deteriorating trust and hindering our capacity to boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The same happens with tension. I’d like to point to one in particular which has existed for as long as the Church: The tension between OLD and YOUNG. I have yet to see a community that has not dealt with this tension. However I have seen many churches make the mistake of trying to resolve the tension instead of managing it. In some places this might look like separate worship services for the old and the young. In the U.S., a common choice is to hire a youth worker to care for the needs of teenagers while the “grown-up pastor” cares for the adults (note that I’m not opposed to the employment of youth workers, but rather a specific motive often behind it).

When we resolve the tension between old and young, the old miss out on the vibrancy and innovation of the young, while the young are left without the wisdom, groundedness, and memory, of the old. The results are catastrophic! As leaders, we must resist the temporary comforts of creating ministry silos for leaders of different ages. Instead, we must learn to live in the tension.

Yesterday, WME launched a cohort of emerging pastors who will spend 10 months learning from each other, from a coach, and from experienced leaders who will provide much needed wisdom and grounding for them. We wouldn’t have it any other way! The health of our churches, and our capacity to reach the next generations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ depend on our ability to live in the tension between young and old. The fruit of this is a church that is exciting and vibrant, full of new ideas and innovation, yet grounded in the “faith once delivered to the saints” and steeped in wisdom. This is the kind of church the world needs today.

I’ll leave you with a selection of Scripture passages challenging us to live in this tension.

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (Joel 2:28)

One generation shall praise your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:7-8)

“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isaiah 58:12)

Giving Preference by Paulo Lopes

Romans 12:10

Words are a funny thing. Not just words on their own, but the ways we choose to use words and give meaning to them. For instance: a young lady meets a young man and they begin going out on dates. Then they become “exclusive.” Pretty soon the pressure begins to build as the young lady and the young man try to figure out exactly how they feel about one another. It’s a big decision to use that 4 letter “L” word to describe how they feel. “What if he doesn’t feel the same way?”- she worries. Can you picture the scene??

Here’s where it becomes interesting: The same word causing all this drama and dilemma, LOVE, is also being used to describe one’s feelings towards anything and everything. That same girl facing her dilemma is probably saying things like “i LOVE chocolate!”, “I love that TV show,” or even “I LOVE my shoes!”. It’s just one word, but two completely different meanings. It can be confusing!

There are also those words that are suddenly considered “Bad Words”. Two of my favorites that keep coming up in the Bible are Submission & Humility. These two have have become “bad words” in our culture. Instead of being told to humble ourselves, we are told to assert ourselves and not to care about what others think of us. Instead of being told to submit to one another, we are told to be independent, to “just do it.” Submission and humility have become things of the past. You know, back when we weren’t “free” to be all we dream to be!

The apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12:10 are great because they help us get around our negative word bias. Instead of telling us to simply submit and humble ourselves, he instead says “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another”. Now that sounds different, doesn’t it? Another version says “Honor… above yourselves”. Suddenly it makes a bit more sense because we’re not biased towards the word. God asks us to GIVE PREFERENCE to one another, and to HONOR one another. Because the truth is this:

The outcomes of our daily interactions rely primarily on our willingness to GIVE PREFERENCE to each other.

Stop and think about that for a minute. Think about situations you’ve been through at work, at home, in your community, etc. Families win when husband and wife act in ways that GIVE PREFERENCE to each other. Friendships last when friends decide to HONOR EACH OTHER ABOVE THEMSELVES. Our communities win when Godly people decide to GIVE PREFERENCE to their neighbors.

Giving preference to one another starts when we begin to ask questions like “Whose well being am I concerned about?” or “Who wins if I get my way?” It’s very simple, and yet so difficult at times!

Giving preference may even seem unnatural to you. But here’s why it matters:

1- We were made to submit to one another:

Genesis 1:26 says “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness”. Typically, when we read this we think of individual attributes such as intelligent, loving, kind, honorable, etc. While it is perfectly fine to read it that way, it’s also incomplete. The other way to read this is that man and woman, both of them, together, would be like “US,” the triune God. It’s a subtle change, but it helps us understand that we were made to live together in mutual submission, just as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, giving preference to one another. If it works for God, it’ll probably work for us!

2- Jesus himself did it:

Jesus modeled this kind of relationship in two different ways. First, He submitted to the Father saying things like “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38) Jesus submits to the Father even to death. Secondly, Jesus GIVES PREFERENCE to us! Phillipians 2:6-8 says this: [Christ]… “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

What would you have done if you were Jesus, and you came down from heaven to this mess?! We surely didn’t deserve what Jesus did for us. He chose to GIVE PREFERENCE to the Father and to us.


Hopefully by now you’re at least tickled by the idea of GIVING PREFERENCE to one another. But here’s the actual golden nugget in all of this:

In order for you to be able to GIVE PREFERENCE to others around you,
you must first GIVE PREFERENCE to Jesus!

We can never truly live in a way that honors others above ourselves if we don’t first give our lives to Jesus, depending on Him to fulfill all of our deepest needs. In Him we find the freedom to GIVE PREFERENCE to one another.

In a world of individualism, selfishness, and self-promotion, people are hungry for a different way of being. Giving preference to Jesus and to one another changes the tone of our relationships, our conversations, and ultimately our witness to the world.

Faith-Sharing Movements by Paulo Lopes

What will it take to effectively help Wesleyan/Methodist emerging leaders around the world build faith-sharing movements?

This is the BIG question we have been praying and dreaming with God about over the last year at World Methodist Evangelism. And we’d like to invite you to join us in our praying and dreaming because the stakes our very high when it comes to emerging leaders. We are absolutely convinced that the world is in desperate need of young men and women called to offer a better vision of hope for their lives and their communities.

I am excited to share some of the vision with you our global family. More specifically, we’d like to share a few shifts we are making in response to this great challenge:

  • From “one-off” events to a formation journey: Over the years we have hosted wonderful gatherings creating opportunities for leaders to connect and learn with others from different backgrounds, cultures, and traditions. These events have been very fruitful for participants, many of whom are renewed and even transformed by their experiences! However, effective leadership development happens through an intentional process and strategies which include, but are not limited to, single events. Our leadership development process will seek to identify emerging leaders (through relational and institutional networks), to connect leaders (through Metanoia events around the world), to equip leaders (through ongoing accountable cohorts), and to encourage leaders (through online events, new initiatives, and strategic partnerships).
  • From centralized community to a “network of networks”: The task of helping leaders build faith-sharing movements is not one we believe God has called us to undertake alone! Instead, in this next season of ministry with emerging leaders, we are being challenged to multiply our efforts by connecting and partnering with networks of leaders around the world who share in our key values and purpose. We will collaborate, share resources, and learn from those networks. Additionally, we hope to expand our reach and our ability to identify emerging leaders through these key relationships.
  • From western-driven to cross-cultural team-driven leadership: Finally, as we begin to enroll people into this journey, and as our networks develop and grow, we hope to build teams of talented young leaders with passion for evangelism and mission, as well as unique cultural perspectives. As the center of the Wesleyan/Methodist movement continues to shift from the global north/west to the global south/east, we don’t want to miss out on the opportunity God is giving us to collaborate with and to learn from our sisters and brothers from different parts of the world where the Church is flourishing.

Paulo Lopes ~ Essential Practices for Personally Making Disciples (Part I)

You and I are called to be personally engaged in making disciples of Jesus Christ.  

Actually, this is one thing all of us should be doing if we claim to follow Jesus. If you’re a church leader, this is especially important. You can’t expect the community you lead to do something you’re not willing to do yourself. 

(By the way, if you struggle with this assumption, you may want to start by reading THIS post from a few weeks ago.) 

To keep things simple, I’ll work with this definition of a disciple: A disciple is someone who spends time with Jesus, learning from Jesus how to become more like Jesus in character (who he is) and competency (what he does). At some point during this process, a disciple will confess Jesus as Lord. 

An easy way to figure if you’re currently engaged in disciple-making is to ask yourself a simple question: “Who are my disciples? Who is being led to spend time with Jesus, learning from Jesus how to become more like Jesus, because of their relationship with me?” This is the same question the Holy Spirit asked me several years ago. If, like me, you can’t think of someone who fits that description, there is work to do! 

The truth is that for those of us in full-time ministry, it’s tempting to think that our work equals making disciples. We think of things like preaching, teaching and leading our churches as our parts in the process. And that’s true! But there’s no legitimate substitute for developing friendships outside of church circles, investing in those relationships, sharing our faith, and walking alongside people as they discover a transforming relationship with Jesus 

It’s much less comfortable, and it challenges our sense of adequacy because it forces us to reflect on and adjust the ways we deal with our families, money, time, or any other aspect of our lives. Developing discipleship relationships exposes us for who we truly are.  

I want to share three simple elements that helped me make sense of disciple-making as something personal: a people; a place; and a plan.  

A People 

Disciple-making involves people. What we often fail to realize is that it usually involves a particular people. In the Bible, God chose a particular people to reveal God’s grace and purpose for the whole world. This choice had nothing to do with how good the Israelites were. It had everything to do with a God who refuses to be generic in approach 

Jesus didn’t just parachute into a Jewish community. He was born into and shared a history and a culture with a people. This is what being incarnational means. I’m always in awe of the lengths to which God was willing to go to act out his reconciling, redeeming love for us all. 

We can’t stop at this sense of awe, though. Jesus invites us to imitate him in our approach, to become missionaries 

But how do we go about this today? Here are a few simple questions to get us started: 

Who do I relate to naturally outside of church?  

You might have a tribe outside of church relationships already. They may be your neighbors, coworkers, teammates, hobbyists, or staff at the local coffee shop. If you relate to people in at least one of these circles, start there.  

If you don’t, then it’s time to set aside at least one day a week to get outside of “churchtown.” Find a hobby, meet a neighbor, or work from a coffee shop. It doesn’t take much to find people disengaged from church or faith. 

I moved with my family to Richmond, Virginia two years ago. We spent our first three months looking for the right home for us. We had a wish list for our house, but we also wished for the right people. We prayed for a community where we could develop friendships that lead to discipleship. God came through, and just a year and a half later, our most significant relationships are with our neighbors. We have hosted and have been invited to parties, we’ve gone out with friends, and we’ve gotten to know the stories of people in our community. In the process, we’ve come to love our neighborhood 

God is calling you to love a people. Start by spending some time praying for that people. Pray for God to prepare encounters, conversations, and opportunities to learn and share.  

Who are the “persons of peace” in my community?   

I was introduced to the idea of “person of peace” by Jo Saxton and Mike Breen (You can find them here and here). “Persons of peace” are people you encounter who a) welcome you; b) receive you; c) are open to you; d) are curious about your life because of Jesus; e) serve you. You will find examples in Luke 9 when Jesus sends out his disciples, or in Acts with Peter and Cornelius, Paul and Lydia, and Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  

“Persons of peace” are community insiders who open doors for you simply by becoming your friends. Because of God’s prevenient grace, we should simply assume that God was at work in people’s lives before we ever show up. “Persons of peace” are one of God’s ways of reminding us of this. They are ready to receive even before you arrive. Since many of us haven’t lived in our communities for very long, finding “persons of peace” is essential.   

Fourteen years ago, my mom discovered an illegal housing settlement just outside her church’s neighborhood. This is common in many Brazilian city suburbs. People come seeking opportunities, and end up in slums – often illegal land settlements – when they are unable to find decent jobs. She decided to reach out to that community only to discover they had been exploited by pastors who preached a prosperity gospel and were all too eager to receive their tithes and offerings.  

Then she met Mr. Dirceu, a local community leader who was a “person of peace.” People feared Mr. Dirceu but they also respected him. He welcomed her, introduced her to people, and vouched for her. For four years, all my mom did was visit people, hear their stories, pray for those who were sick, and share her faith.  

We eventually planted a church in that neighborhood. Today she is trusted and beloved by that community. In an area where police raids, killings, and drug-related violence are all too common, she is protected like one of their own. This would have never been possible without Mr. Dirceu.  

Who has God prepared ahead of time to welcome you? Could it be that friendly neighbor who knows everyone? The loud barista at your local Starbucks who’s always striking up conversation? Could it be your boss, your gym instructor, the super-involved parent at the local PTA? 

Do you have someone who comes to mind? Spend some time in prayer and ask God to lead you to persons he’s prepared in advance for you. 


Stay tuned for the next piece of this two-part series where we will look at a place and a plan. 

Paolo Lopes ~ Taking Discipleship Personally

About a year into my first experience as paid staff at a local church, I felt pretty good about myself. Our youth group had doubled in size and was as busy as ever. Our new mid-week contemporary service was beginning to come together, and young adults were getting involved in programs. I had even convinced a group of parents to go through a small group curriculum with me, the young and energetic leader they had always been waiting for! (That last part isn’t true, but I want you to get the idea that things were moving along just fine.)

Or were they?

For some reason, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, so I decided to pray about it. A few months later I was with a friend in Chicago participating at a leadership event. It could have been simply leftover thoughts from a conversation I had the night before, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit. I believe it was the latter. Either way, I heard something in my head: a question.

And it continues to challenge me today, almost seven years later. The voice asked, “Where are your disciples?”   

I thought of all the great programs, events, and all the people involved, but I couldn’t come up with a single person I would consider to be a disciple, someone I was deeply invested in.

After quite a bit of processing, I noticed a simple problem I had that kept me from personally engaging in discipleship. What’s worse, I found that the problem is pretty widespread.  

What I noticed is that we tend to emphasize individual Christian practice when it comes to things like prayer, reading Scripture, giving, serving in the church, forgiving, or loving God and neighbor (we say “I pray” or “I serve”). We actually consider all of these as signs of Christian maturity. However, when it comes to making disciples we instead have a tendency of emphasizing our corporate call to reach others with the gospel of Jesus (we say things like “we make disciples” or “the church makes disciples”). Unfortunately, many times we just decide to hire someone to do it (any discipleship directors out there?)!

The problem with this tendency is that by overemphasizing the corporate mandate to make disciples, we dodge our individual responsibility (and privilege) to engage in reaching our families, neighbors, and workplaces with the hope we have found in a transformative relationship with Jesus.  

That’s exactly what I was doing. I went through all the church motions and processes with the assumption that disciples would be made simply by going through my well-oiled programs machine. But I personally was not engaged in deep relationships whereby my friends would grow in relationship and obedience to Christ.

You see, we must realize that organizations, and in this case the body of Christ, can only reflect the sum of the people who are part of them. This is especially true when it comes to core values or purpose.

A couple of college interns at our office this summer decided to visit a church near where they are living. That church, they were told, is (supposedly) known for being warm and welcoming. So you can imagine their disappointment when only two people approached them to say hello during their visit.

Does this mean that people who are part of that faith community are simply not welcoming or friendly? I doubt it! But somewhere along the line, being welcoming became the job of a few people (committee?) in that congregation, as opposed to simply being part of their culture. The point here is that the organization wasn’t corporately welcoming because the individual members were not personally engaged in that behavior.

If the core purpose of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, then every person who is part of the Church must be personally involved in making disciples! If not, we cannot claim that the church is making disciples.

I was struck sometime ago while reading Matthew’s gospel. I noticed something for the first time. I call it Matthew’s “missional brackets.”

(By the way, I’m positive someone else smarter and more knowledgeable than I has already dissected this. I’m also aware that brackets [inclusio] are used repeatedly in Matthew as a means for organizing passages and making important points. I just hadn’t noticed this one myself.)

These “missional brackets” open with Jesus calling his first disciples saying “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matt 4:19) Here we find a clear invitation (“follow me”) followed by a promise (“and I will make you fish for people”). The bracket closes with Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples saying, “…all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

This time we don’t find an invitation. Because Jesus is now recognized as lord, he gives his disciples a charge (“make disciples”), and once again a promise (“and I will be with you always”). Simply put, I’m convinced that everything we find in between these two brackets can only fully make sense within the context of learning to follow Jesus, and helping others do the same.

I don’t mean to diminish Jesus’ mystery, nor do I mean to deemphasize his work on the cross and his resurrection. My point here is simply to say that as part of God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation and renewal of all things, the Church (you and I) is invited to follow, to be transformed through, and commissioned by Jesus to make disciples.

This invitation is just as personal as it is corporate, because at the end of the day, programs can inform people, but they can’t form or transform people. Everything we do must be placed in the context of discipleship. If developing a life of prayer, or growing in compassion for others, or even becoming diligent learners of God’s word doesn’t feed into our desire to be and to make disciples, then we are missing the point completely.

My challenge for you is this: avoid the temptation of thinking about the people you lead right now, and how you can help them understand their part in this.  

Instead, consider how you might set an example. Are you making time for neighbors? Do you have a small group of people you are investing your life in right now? What’s your next step? 

As for me, I’ll tell you more about a few steps I’ve taken in my next post.