Who Were the 72 Disciples Jesus Sent Out?: An Interview with John Teter
They were not professionals. They were not celebrities. We don’t even know their names. We know very little about them, except that they were ordinary people who were drawn to Jesus. When Jesus asked them to join him in his mission, they stepped up, answered the call, and went out in his name. And amazing things happened as a result. They were the 72.
Bible Gateway interviewed John Teter (@johnteter72) about his book, The Power of the 72: Ordinary Disciples in Extraordinary Evangelism (InterVarsity Press, 2017).
What is the biblical context of the 72 your book is about?
Rev. Dr. John Teter: The calling, training, and sending of the 72 does not happen in a vacuum. The Gospel of Luke was written by the only Gentile author of the New Testament. Many believe that Luke converted in Acts 11 at Antioch. I wonder how many late night mission conversations Paul and Luke shared as they traveled on their church planting journeys. The sovereign foundations of his conversion, cultural experience, and global mission training clarifies the main point of the third Gospel: Jesus came to preach good news to the poor. The other Gospels teach us how to be disciples. But Luke exhorts us to consider where we’ll live out our discipleship and how we’ll benefit from our obedience to God.
By Luke 10:1-20, the reader is familiar with Mary’s Song of praise to God for how he lifts the low and pulls down the proud (Luke 1:39-51); understands the Spirit of God is upon Jesus to bring good news to those who live on the margins (Luke 4:16-21); and clearly sees Jesus live out that mission by preaching, teaching, and healing the economic poor, women, those with immoral vocations, the sick and diseased, and the Gentiles. The context of the 72 is Jesus calling ordinary disciples like you and me to partner with him by personally delivering good news to those who think the party is not for them.
What do you mean, “I would like every Christian to see themselves in the anonymity of the 72”?
Rev. Dr. John Teter: We know very little about the 72 that Jesus trained for mission. All we know is that Jesus communicated with them personally to join his mission team. And we know they obeyed. I think it’s intentional that Luke puts this mission event in the very next chapter after the 12 are sent for mission. We see the 12 go and think to ourselves, they are the apostles and they should do that. But then when the 72 do the exact same thing we’re internally challenged that this might be our calling as well. Luke gives no details about the 72. We don’t know their age, gender, race, socio-economics, education, marital status, spiritual gifts, or even their names. In keeping them completely anonymous, Luke is inviting us to see ourselves in the mission.
Barna research says 51% of churchgoers don’t know of the Great Commission. Explain what the Great Commission is and your reaction to that poll.
Rev. Dr. John Teter: Unfortunately, I’m not shocked that 51% of church goers don’t know the Great Commission. Many churches today are accommodating the fallen culture around us and seek to be relevant hoping to be liked in an ever-ever-strengthening idealogical world of progressive tolerance. The Great Commission is offensive and takes real courage to preach and live out. It’s much easier to speak about dealing with stress, families, and personal finances (all topics the culture happens to like).
The Great Commission follows Matthew’s literary pattern of mountain top moments highlighting that Jesus is the new Moses, and so much more. Jesus defeats the devil after 40 days of fasting on the mountain. Jesus preaches his greatest sermon on the mountain. Jesus is transfigured on the mountain. Jesus preaches a second sermon on the mount (of Olives). And Jesus delivers his last address on the mountain. To live into Matthew 28:18-20 is to embrace three eternal truths:
- Claim – Jesus has all authority and the final word on every matter in the universe
- Commission – We’re sent to adopt his thinking and imitate his deeds
- Comfort – He’s with us always through the Holy Spirit.
Every person is a disciple of someone or some ideology. There is not one person, from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin to Oprah Winfrey to LeBron James to my gang member neighbor, who does not follow someone or some ideology. We must live our lives in such a way that people realize being Jesus’ disciple is the only to true life.
What is core-book Bible study and how have you used it for this book?
Rev. Dr. John Teter: Dr. J. Robert Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Seminary, brought forth research that 70% of pastors stop studying the Word for themselves once they turn 35 years. Sermons become a job and quiet times lose their power (and frequency). The equipping formula identifies four dimensions of mastery. The first three levels are:
- Devotional – Personal prayer (often the Psalms) where the Holy Spirit ministers to us
- Familiar – 30,000 foot level of biblical knowledge, such as the one-year Bible reading plans
- Topics – What does the Bible say about key discipleship issues.
The fourth love is core-book study. To study a core book, we read the text five times, familiarize ourselves with themes, inductively study the entire book verse by verse, prepare communication events, and teach the book in all of of it’s resonant context in power.
Unpack your chapter titled “Faith Comes First.”
Rev. Dr. John Teter: The Lord Jesus is the Great Physician. He is profoundly concerned with our spiritual health, our souls, and discipling us so that we might finish well. In Matthew 8-9, Jesus preaches, teaches, and heals highlighting ten deeds of healing. The Lord cares about us and our healing is the end goal.
Today, there are so many that are eager to please God with their ministry fruit. There’s an anxiety about pleasing the Father as if someone converting causes an impatient father to give us a cookie. I’m all for mission, growth, and expansion, but our ministry must flow from our being or we turn people into projects. And there are so many today passionate about changing the world.
I’m all for deliverance, fighting injustice, and bringing the Light of the Kingdom into the dark places in our city and world, but the foundation must be faith. Jesus does not say, “You will bear fruit and remember to thank me at the press conference.” His command is that we abide in his healing presence, enjoying all of his supernatural resources, and only then will we bear fruit that lasts. Our greatest need today is not flashy ministry, it’s holy habits of deep inner lives that connect to our Father in Heaven.
What was the power of the 72 and how does it apply to Christians today?
Rev. Dr. John Teter: The power of the 72 was the Holy Spirit leading faithful disciples into mission. He’s the general in our army and he sends us where he wants us to go. Through our feeble attempts at making friends, helping people experience God, and telling the story of the gospel, he brings about conviction and saving faith. We access that power today as we live our lives under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He’s the great Seeker, touching hearts and lives to bring about faith. We must join him in the evangelism work he’s already doing.
What habits of the 72 have you identified for application today?
Rev. Dr. John Teter: The first habit every Christian must master is to strengthen your heart in God. The crushing pressure of the world to conform is real. We give in a little every year and then suddenly we find that we have no power to raise our voice.
The Holy Habits of Bible, prayer, Sabbath, and Christian community is our foundation in Christ. The outreach habits we must master are about delivering the news. I believe we can grow in our communication with non-Christians and in our teaching our unbelieving friends the gospel.
Athletes practice all the time for the big game or big tennis match. They do this for money and glory. We must practice all the time in our evangelism. Eternal glory or billions of years of severe punishment in hell is at stake. What we practice makes permanent. The stakes are too high to not get better.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Rev. Dr. John Teter: My wife and I share a life verse: John 1:16. This is how, with The Trinity, we have built, are building, and will build our lives and ministry. Grace is unmerited blessing and undeserved blessing. I’m very open about my past, my struggles, and my pain. Without God’s unsolicited breaking into my life, I’m certain I would have ended up in prison or dead. But today, we live our life from his fullness, amazed at how he replaces grace, with another grace, with another grace, with yet more grace, and we know he will do it, until we see his face.
Bio: John Teter is senior pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church in Long Beach, California. He also serves as executive director of FOL Antioch, the church planting wing of FOL. John has also served as the Evangelical Covenant Church’s church planting team leader and evangelism team leader. He formerly served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at USC, Cal State Dominguez Hills, and Compton College. John is author of The Power of the 72, a Bible expositor, and evangelistic preacher. He and his wife, Becky, live in Long Beach with their three children.
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May 21, 2019