Maturing Disciples

DiscipleshipContinuum

“God uses many different people and contexts to shape us into the image of Jesus Christ.”
– Discipleship that Fits, Harrington & Absalom

As humans, we are always looking for the “best” – the best food, the fastest or shortest way to get somewhere, the best education, the most accomplished teachers, the best … you get the picture. I’ve struggled for years, as it relates to my own spiritual growth, to find the best avenue of growth. Could it be found in my daily prayer and study? Is it this small group? Is it a mentoring relationship? Is it to go back to school or taking a class? Can I find it in a missional community? Is it in a Huddle? Where can I get the best return on my investment of time and energy?

I think by searching for “the best,” we put way too much pressure on ourselves, and on those who lead in these environments. I’m frustrated just keying in these words on my computer!

Here is an idea. What if we were to simply offer up a humble prayer that went something like this:

“Dear God, I have no idea what is best for me, but I know that You do. Lord, create in me a desire to seek what You desire – Your will, Your way, Your image growing in me. I lay down my expectations. I open my hands to be filled with your provision. I approach each new day with eyes open to the opportunities you have for me, ready to respond and grow in the ways in which You desire that I grow. Lord, I am open to ANY context or person(s) You wish to use to grow me as your disciple.”

Then what if we were to simply LISTEN and LOOK for opportunities to take a the step out of the boat and to trust that God can and will use these opportunities, and our obedience, to do what only He can do – transform us – heart, soul, mind and strength.

The truth is that there is potential value in every context and person when we approach humbly and from a perspective that God can and will use each to transform us.

A discussion over coffee at the local coffee shop.
Lunch with a group of friends or coworkers.
A consistent small group meeting with fellow disciples.
A mission community gathering.
A prayer meeting.
A class.
A cook out with neighbors.
A Sunday worship gathering.
A family meeting after dinner.
The list goes on.

Yes, God certainly does use many different environments and people to develop our Christlike character and skill.

Speaking of growing and living as children of the light, Paul writes:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,  making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Eph. 5:15-16

So, if there is potential value in every context and relationship, how do I know to which ones to say yes?

Well, rather than looking to find the “best” means of growth, let’s simply consider each context and relationship in view of how it reflects Jesus’ own way of discipleship.

I’ve written in an earlier post describing in detail the DNA of discipleship that we observe in the life of Jesus. When we study the ways in which He discipled those who followed him, we see several patterns. These patterns make up the elements that, as leaders, we intentionally work to develop in all of our discipling contexts. Figure 1 shows, among other things, a short list of these elements (C.H.O.I.C.E.S.).

DiscipleshipContinuum

Figure 1

If we were to sift our discipling environments through the filter of these elements, we would notice that they fall on a continuum, as it relates to which, and how many, elements are expressed or emphasized. Some venues, for example, an organized bible study, may focus on the development of the character of Jesus. Another small group, like an accountability group, might emphasize character development, as well as, handpicking a few, and invitation &  challenge. A prayer group may look to grow a persons sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t make one group any “better” than the other. One may simply be more comprehensive, emphasizing more of the elements of Jesus’ approach to discipleship. As one moves to the right on the continuum (or stairway as it appears in here), we see that the environments are becoming more and more comprehensive, expressing an increasing number of elements (in no particular order) of Jesus’ own model of discipleship.

There exists at Grace Gathering many discipling contexts – small groups, prayer meetings, large group gatherings, corporate worship gatherings, missional communities, bible studies, classes, one on one studies, huddles, etc. to simply name a few. All of these have purpose and value. The end goal is that the disciple is growing in the character and skill of Jesus. The hope is that as we mature as leaders/disciplers, we demonstrate maturity by naturally injecting an increasing number of the elements into every discipling relationship and context.

For example, let say I’m leading a small group which meets on Tuesday evenings and is focused on the development of the character of Jesus (Character, Organized). I am wanting to lead this small group more like Jesus. So, in addition to the development of character in an organized group meeting, I could ask members to come earlier and bring some sort of snack or drink to share or to join my family for dinner on another night of the week, allowing for more organic time in which to grow together (Organized + Organic). I could also make plans to pause periodically during our group meetings and explain why I asked a certain question, or why we do some of the routine things we do. This gives the people I am leading an opportunity to see glimpses of what is happening in my head. I could then create opportunities for each of them to lead, in some way, a portion of the small group time, following it with a time of encouragement and evaluation. I’ve now allowed my members to grow in the skills of leading a similar type of environment (Character + Competency, Multiplication). I could make plans to invite the members of the group to join me on a trip to serve others in a ministry environment where I am already serving, thus leading them in the development of their skill in ministry.

These are just a few examples. There are many different ways to grow into the way of Jesus. It isn’t necessary to jump all the way in and feel as though you must include every single element right away. The idea is to think of developing patterns which would allow you to express a new dimension of discipleship in the contexts and relationships where you are already leading. Remember, as we pursue Jesus’ way of discipling, there is value in every context and relationship, even if its focus early on contains only one of the elements. However, as leaders in discipleship, we should grow to be more comprehensive in our leadership/discipleship IF we want to live and lead like Jesus.

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