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Archive for discipleship

Mar
22

The volume of silence

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It has happened before. Recently, I am aware of situations where it has happened again. What if a leader was suddenly, unexpectedly unable to talk for an extended period of time? What if the best (and worst) sermons a pastor could give were already taught? What if a teacher’s audible lessons in discipleship were already taught? What would it look like now? How would the disciple(s) do?

I have seen and experienced situations where those who were making disciples relocated in places far from the disciples they were training. Perhaps we thought they were ready. Maybe not. It is beyond us…still at times it hurts.

This weekend I had the privilege of meeting Brother Sam in person. We didn’t talk much because he was unable. Due to significant pain in his mouth of late, he visited the doctor and learned that he has oral cancer. More tests and treatment are soon to come. My prayers go out to him, his family, and his church. I look forward to having opportunities to sit and talk with him in the future. Through being with him and praying for him at this time, however, I have been prompted to ask many questions.

What if I lived my life with the expectation that I would soon be mute and no longer able to teach or disciple those walking with me? What would I do differently? What if, as one who makes disciples, I was suddenly unable to speak? What would I do to help advance others in walking more as He did? What if all the lessons I could ever teach were by example? How much would I pray? How much would I serve? How much would I think of others as better than myself? What changes would that make in how I view church?

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Mar
01

G2g: Event-oriented

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Key principle #6 for moving discipleship from great to good: When considering evangelism, go big or go home.

good
A disciple communicates the hope he or she has in Christ to those who are without. In the realm of good discipleship, efforts to share the gospel often center around big events that attract the community to a church or group-hosted event. These events, designed for creating an opportunity to make a gospel presentation, take many forms. These include, but are not limited to: concerts, carnivals, circuses, living nativities, block parties, etc. These good events serve as spots in time that allow for a precision sharing of the plan of salvation. Ongoing opportunities to share the love of Christ and live transformed lives may happen in subsequent big events.

Great
The writers of the gospels did not record any big-event evangelism in the gospels. While there were some gatherings of large crowds, these were not used as opportunities to share the 3 key steps to accepting Christ or the 4 spiritual laws. Instead, Jesus shared about his audience’s incorrect understanding of the law as well as the practical ramifications of a life placed in His trust during the Sermon on the Mount. Other key events included the trial of Jesus. He was silent. A third big event was His crucifixion. His words were few.

In the realm of great discipleship, we see Jesus interacting personally with a Samaritan woman at a well; in the cover of night with Nicodemus; meeting often with his disciples; visiting at someone else’s home along with his disciples or in the midst of a social gathering; and being a visitor at another’s home during a time of grief. In many of these cases, these were the beginning or continuation of an ongoing relationship.

Go BIG or go home
In what is usually referred to as the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19-20 is Christ’s charge to His followers. Translated usually as “Go…make disciples,” I wonder if this promotes a big event, big production mentality. A command that often is viewed as being of primary importance–Go! What does it look like if we follow a closer translation? If we seek to “As [we] go, make disciples.” It is a process that is lived throughout the duration of our lives. It is daily. Constant. Ongoing. It is relationships. And context. Perhaps instead of “go big or go home,” our thinking should mirror the Energizer bunny. We are to “keep going, and going, and going….”

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

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Feb
11

G2g: Environment

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Key principle #5 for moving discipleship from great to good: Teach and practice discipleship in a safe, sterile environment to avoid dangerous encounters and messy situations.

good
One great bonus to being a follower of Christ is that transformation occurs. This is true not only in a person’s life, but also in a community. Missionaries share that when an entire village comes to Christ that the village is visibly transformed in terms of sanitation, meeting each others needs, etc. To take this reality and limit discipleship to the realm of good, then it will be important to ensure that discipleship happens in communities and with peoples that have already been transformed. Doing this will put disciples of Christ in situations where they can interact with those that are followers of Christ or followers of a moral code that mimics some of the changes of a transformed life. As a result, disciples pursuing good are safer and able to avoid some difficult, uncomfortable, or morally challenging situations.

Hermetic environments can include doing all discipleship inside the church, in homes of upper-middle class believers, inside conference settings, in cultural contexts that are familiar, etc. Additionally, for further good, extensive opportunities to disciple or be discipled in a safe context, believers can consider massing as residents in select neighborhoods. These could, once again, be in higher income areas or even gated communities. Also, this congregating of disciples can occur in a select country or countries.

Great
Jesus walked. He moved. He got dust on His feet. The same dust that stuck to His feet also stuck to the disciples’ feet. Making a strong point, Jesus washed the dust off the disciples’ feet. He walked on the streets in the cities and into the homes of sinners and tax collectors. He walked through other towns that were not places that were normal for a Jew to walk. Places that may not have been safe. Walking with His Father and walking with others, he did not pursue safety. Interacting with the sick, morally depraved, and diseased, He was Truth and Love to a people that had not encountered Him before.

At the end of John’s gospel, we read of a setting when Jesus meets with His disciples while there appear to have been fish flopping on the ground. What an environment for teaching. This was a call to Peter and to the disciples to make a decision if they wanted to pursue a life of fishing for fish or for men. Either course would involve some real settings with real people. One pursuit would matter forever, while the other would matter for a few hours. After this, they understood that this was not a call to either equality or comfort. But it was a great call–the only worthwhile thing they could pursue.

both / and
I find that evangelicals have historically been very in favor of a Jesus who saves. But He said, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.”  His life is emblematic of seeking the lost. He was also about saving the lost that He encountered. This is a both/and construct that He is passionate about. In the Great Commission recorded in Matthew He really calls us to “make disciples” “as we go.” According to his instruction and example, the going is a large part of the discipleship process. As a result, the environment in which discipleship occurs is constantly changing.

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

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Feb
10

G2g: Curriculum

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Key principle #4 for moving discipleship from great to good: Plan a comprehensive, ever-expanding syllabus approach to making disciples.

good
A good discipleship program consists of the things a person needs to learn or know to be more Christ-like. The curriculum generally is sufficient for a number of months, a year, or more. Through detailed planning, leadership will equip followers to have the requisite knowledge for whatever may come their way. Once the prescribed curriculum is studied and possibly even mastered, it will be time to move on to the most recent iteration of curriculum and syllabus.

Graduation is possible and will happen in the realm of good when the need for another discipler becomes more urgent than the need for the individual to be discipled. At times this will mean that a dynamic disciple is developing other disciples. At other times someone who has experienced little transformation and possesses little passion will be responsible for helping others grow in the image of Christ. This is not cause for significant concern, however, as the prescribed curriculum is good and sufficient to offset the deficiencies of a non-transformed disciple-maker.

Great
In the pursuit of great discipleship, Jesus was about showing the Father to the disciples and training them to obey. He prayed with and for his disciples in John 17: “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world….they have obeyed your word.” How did he get to this point of maturity with his disciples? He lived life with them. When his mom told him to go and take care of the shortage of wine problem, he obeyed (Jn 2). And he transformed water into the best wine in the ceremonial pots. He could have arranged to conduct a series of lessons with the disciples on: obeying the 10 commandments including command #5; the deity and humanity of the Messiah; and the role of religion in the community. He did, however, teach on these things. Actually he lived in such a way that these were addressed effectively. It was great–a great life, and great lessons.

With the Discipler removed, graduation was a bit of a necessity. But these followers knew the Savior who had consistently pointed them to the Father. They had the core curriculum mastered. Jesus prayed, “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.” They did not have all of the information learned. But they knew where it came from. They had been promised the Holy Spirit that would continue to teach and convict them. It was time. Time for the Discipler to continue a life of submissive obedience that consistently impacted the lives of others. It was time for the disciples to start their journey at a new level of faith resulting in new expressions of obedience–resulting in new disciples. It was time for great discipleship to continue and impact more lives.

Less and More
It has often intrigued me that for collegiate studies a topic is taught for 16 weeks or for some 45 to 48 hours. Whether the topic is anthropology, astrophysics, computer science, or speech class it takes 16 weeks or 45 hours to cover. It seems to me that some courses may possibly do better with 2 weeks of instruction and others at 22 weeks. Systems dictate that what can be learned through a university program will take 16 weeks even if it is 11 weeks of content. This brings order to the system and a clearly defined point for graduation. This is good enough for many things in life.

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

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Feb
01

G2g: Information

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Key principle #3 for moving discipleship from great to good: Celebrate learning and knowledge as both the process and the goal of discipleship.

good
G2gWhen pursuing good discipleship, it is helpful for the individual and the church to focus on learning as at least a primary objective. The number of Bible studies one has completed, books read, speakers listened to, and conferences attended can all be indicators of how well a person is coming along in their discipleship process. More advanced discipleship in the vein of the good may include: committing to memory arguments in apologetics, learning the beliefs of other religions, memorizing Scripture, pursuing some level of proficiency in systematic theology, etc.

Celebrations of the good seem to be effective when helping people understand they have graduated from some level of study through acknowledging their course completion publicly, presenting an object such as a certificate or a t-shirt, graduating from a course of study, etc. Stratifying disciples in levels of learning may help a group know that they still have a ways to go to become more discipled–to attain the good. For example if a person is sitting in a beginner’s course or a 101 level, he may look with a holy anticipation and inspiration at the people in the 301 and 401 levels. Press on.

The church can employ phrases to help celebrate and motivate disciples to learn the latest requisite information. Phrases worth consideration that may advance this motif could include being a “life-long learner” or talking about our quest as a journey “to know Him.” When emphasizing the data acquisition that is necessary to know more about Christ, these phrases may be helpful to achieve no better than the level of good.

Great
Frankly, I don’t think Jesus excelled at putting together programs of curriculum. I can only remember reading of one pop quiz that He gave His followers. While verbally, Peter passes the test, his actions soon after show that he had not fully embraced the truth.

Instead of emphasizing information acquisition, Jesus talked about salt being salty and light having the properties and effects of light. He spoke about and lived a life of action. He shared that, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (Jn 5). This was discipleship that was no less than great.

Jesus’ method of discipleship seems to have stuck pretty well with his disciples as they did a whole lot of Jesus-like actions after He returned to heaven. We find them writing about the same ideas. James puts it succinctly in his letter that we are not to be people who just hear the Bible, but we are to live it.

too much?
Thom Wolf states that in the West, “we are educated beyond our obedience.” In places where God is moving in miraculous ways around the world, there is usually (I am not currently aware of an exception) a large number of new believers that are playing integral roles in networks such as church-planters and leaders whether officially or unofficially. New believers that learn one thing and obey it fully are more obedient than seasoned believers that know 10 things and obey 7 of them. Also, the disciple that has just learned and obeyed one thing is then able to share this with someone who has not learned and obeyed this yet. Information in this situation is vital as it directly impacts obedience. Life-long learning here is essential as it is intertwined with transformation and obedience.

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

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Jan
21

G2g: Disassociate

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Key principle #2 for moving discipleship from great to good: Disassociate the spiritual from everyday life.

good
G2gTo limit discipleship to the realm of the good, it is helpful to compartmentalize things that are holy or sacred as distinct from other common or secular things. The good allows for reduction of spiritual things to the eternal condition of souls and the church as well as the nature and worship of God. There is upside to this minimalization. The limited range of topics allows one to delve deeper into the cognitive learning as the focus reduces the scope of areas to address. Additionally, with emphasis on a narrow definition of that which is sacred, requirements for disciples and those that would make disciples are minimized. For example, how one conducts business, interactions with neighbors, and family relations will not need to be under scrutiny except for when it involves eternal soul issues. Ultimately, the categorization of sacred vs. secular allows those who are righteous to disassociate from those that are unrighteous in most areas. Ongoing, interactive relationships are not important except for the moments where the gospel is being proclaimed when seeking to make disciples in a way that is good.

Great
Throughout His life, Jesus did so much to blur the lines of the sacred and the secular for the purpose of showing the mercy, grace, and glory of God. He did most of the teaching we read about in the gospels outside of the temple. He allowed a woman to anoint His feet with oil using her hair while reclining in the home of Lazarus. Interacting with the immoral Samaritan woman, He once again confounded the categories that religious leaders had established and maintained. Obeying His mother’s instructions, he changed water into wine in the stone jars that were reserved only for ceremonial washing. Also, he ate in the homes of sinners and tax collectors on more than one occasion.

Jesus was not simply content to come and be in the presence of the lost, but He made it His purpose. He shared that He came “to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” as well as “to seek and to save that which was lost.” His stories revolve around the lost coin, sheep and son. He told of the wealthy father that ran to embrace His filthy, stinky son who had squandered his wealth living as a hedonist. He provided examples and a lifestyle that belong only in the realm of the great.

ordinary
In his awared-winning book Seeing God in the Ordinary, Michael Frost writes:

The truly converted souls know that gratitude is the stuff of life. Our eyes are wide open because we’ve learned to see God’s goodness in the most mundane things. We see God’s grace revealed in movies, books, stories, good food and drink, sport and hobbies, cooking, small talk, raising kids, shared laughter, and strong coffee. And for this we are eternally grateful. Such gratitude sets us free from using others as objects. It liberates us from codependent, needy relationships.

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

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Jan
19

G2g: Identify the Start

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Key principle #1 for moving discipleship from great to good: Start discipleship post-conversion.

good
G2gAfter someone has made Christ their Lord, it is important to start teaching about who Christ is. Prior to that point, the person or group seeking to disciple at the status quo level of good should limit conversations and interactions with non-believers to evangelistic efforts. Many tools are available for the purpose including but not limited to the Roman Road, Four Spiritual Laws, Steps to Peace with God, the EvangeCube, Way of the Master, and a bevy of apologetic materials. Friendship combined with conversations about how Christ as Lord impacts family, work, relationships, etc. is risky or worse when maintaining the good.

Great
In the realm of great, discipleship began at the very first encounter. Jesus stated, “You have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” As a result, the life He lived before his disciples, the way He interacted with them, the words He spoke to them were representative of God the Father from the very first interaction. Even during introductions, discipleship had begun. This was the great model. It took some time until we see recognition of Christ’s Lordship from his closest followers. But all this time He was lovingly, faithfully showing them the Father.

intentional selection
It is essential that pastors, leaders, and other disciple-makers intentionally clarify when they will begin discipling others. If discipling is to be done exclusively with pre-existing believers, the message may be a little bit less difficult to convey with a little less mess. This, realm of good discipleship, is effective when helping nice people become nicer. Tranformation in this strata is difficult to find as celebration may revolve around maturation. This progression of maturity, however, is easier to construct and oversee.

pastor as discipler
When leaders pursue replacing the great with the good, it will be helpful for each to clarify his or her role as one who works only with believers. In large churches this could be limited to working primarily or exclusively with other church staff. This helps promote the good of encouraging other disciple-makers to invest their time in those that already identify themselves with Christ. This will effectively help the church body be a nicer group of people. Additionally, if all disciple-makers in the church are seeking to work only with the redeemed, it will preclude the godless from being likely to come into the church which may even help reduce the amount of intensive discipleship needing to be done. Whether or not the pastor chooses to disciple and who he selects for this time investment will have major ramifications in the pursuit of the great or the good.

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

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Jan
17

Learning from Eli

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Last night I had a date night with my wonderful, beautiful wife. We had a great time with a little Mexican food, great conversation, and a movie. For the first time in I don’t know how many years we were able to see a recent release–The Book of Eli. It was surprising, graphic, thought-provoking, and inspirational.

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There were several scenes and themes that were compelling for me. Carnegie’s devious plan to be the one who can read the words from the Book so that people would come to him and do as he says was insightful and disturbing. Solara’s desire to take the Word to her home town was inspiring. Seeing both the purity and change in Washington’s character were encouraging. However, the scene that stood out most for me was a partial, unfinished prayer.

Being with Eli as he prayed, Solara experienced her first prayer. Though uncertain how to behave during and after the prayer or what it was all about, she was obviously touched. This experience with a man that she had seen kill many justly who now treated her with a kindness she had not seen before sparked a change in her. The next morning, she sought to share some goodness with her mom as she led her in prayer. Though never told she must pray nor taught how to pray, she sought to emulate the one that had spent time with her. She was learning about the Father through Eli. Discipleship was well under way.

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Jan
15

G2g: The Intro

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G2gFrom different backgrounds, a group of men came together as a band of brothers. One would be lost in the journey, but those that remained were tight. They had walked through so much together. The group had feasted together and been hungry together. Rejoiced and despaired together. Laughed together and fought with one another. There was a bond of communitas that drew the students close to each other. These 11 men had seen their Teacher respond to others in ways they had never even dreamed possible. Lives were transformed, families were saved, each man had changed so much because he had walked and lived with, as well as watched and loved Jesus–because the Teacher had first loved each of them.

It could not have been better. The disciples had seen their Master be violently crucified. At the time each had lost his faith and run in fear. But Jesus came back; He rose from the dead. And then He came to them and showed His love for them and challenged them to do as He had modeled over the past three years. As they lived their lives, they were to make disciples that would experience life and transformation. The model was Christ. Pointing others to their Lord was the call and blessing of the disciples–now the disciple-makers. This was great. Improvement simply would not be possible.

Since then, some have undertaken the task of improving the discipleship process. It was you and me, your church and mine. How? Where? Why? When? With whom? All points were open for discussion. Through innovation and change we have effectively been able to make this a good thing that has some effect. Though this good of ours was not His great, it was at least good.

Maybe good is enough. Maybe that’s all we really want. Maybe this is close enough to obedience in the area of making disciples.

(Over the next several weeks I will be posting a number of excerpts from my non-book. We will be examining some specific ways that we have and still abandon great to pursue good in the area of discipleship.)

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Jan
11

Great to Good

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In the midst of a windstorm this week in the beautiful state of Alaska, I had a brainstorm. For now, my plan is not to write this book…

greattogood

While I do have a cover worked out just in case, I thought maybe I would make a few consecutive posts on this blog site with others spread over time that would be excerpts from this book I am not planning to write.

Disclaimer: Please note that there may be some similarities between the cover of this book and another book. If you stumble upon the other book, please note that I am a fan of said book by a Mr. Jim Collins. Any similarities or differences with said book cover are for the purpose of fun and communication. All original ideas in his book continue to be his while all ideas in the book I am not going to write are mine or somebody else’s and probably of very little interest to him.

Categories : church, discipleship, fun
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