Maturing Disciples

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“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.).

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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.

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ

How can I invite someone into a discipling relationship?

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Earlier this year I described how to seek people who are looking for investment. Today I’d like to get really practical and specific about how to invite someone into a discipling relationship.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt 28: 19-20

Jesus words in Matthew are straight forward and simple, yet at the same time, not super easy. Sometimes I think it would be easier if the mandate of “go and make disciples” came with a manual. Fortunately, we have Jesus as our example and the Holy Spirit as our Guide.

So what is a discipling relationship?

The word “disciple” is translated from the Greek word “mathetes,” which means learner, more specifically, someone who learns the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus.

Discipleship is simply a term that refers to the process by which a person becomes more like Jesus in character and skill. It happens through relationships – with God and with one another – one disciple being the investor and the other learning from the investor the ways, words and works of Jesus. This can be through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, direct instruction and/or imitation. A discipling relationship is simply any relationship where discipleship is taking place.

Discipleship occurs in many different environments. Some disciples like to meet one-on-one, others in groups of two or three, still others prefer small groups of 6-10. Discipleship also takes place in missional communities as well as in our large corporate gatherings. And while discipleship can happen in many settings, one thing is clear. “GO” and “MAKE” are actions, not reactions. Therefore, someone does need to intentionally make the first step. And though this is often the hardest step to take, it doesn’t have to feel like a giant leap.

Let me share one way of taking that first step by letting God take responsibility for the placement of our foot to the pavement. Our responsibility here, simply put, is to create the space and open ourselves up to the possibility that He will do just that.

Here’s how we can do that:

  1. Begin by praying regularly that God would show you how and in whom He might want you to invest.
    • Does the Spirit bring any names or faces to mind as you pray?
    • Be persistent in that prayer. I typically pray consistently for several weeks or until 10-12 names come to mind.
    • Don’t hesitate to write all names down, even if they make no sense to you at the time.
  2. Reflect upon how you might open up and share your life with others.
    • Where do easy on-ramps already exist?
      • Do you eat lunch somewhere consistently?
      • What are you doing already where you could easily invite someone to join you?
    • What on ramps can you create for people to have access to your life?
      • Could you develop a rhythm that would enable someone to easily join you.
        • Is there a book or class you are engaged in from which someone else might benefit?
        • Maybe begin to grab coffee/dinner at a restaurant one night every other week and share that with a few people, who can decide to make that a rhythm in their life as well.
  3. Then keep your eyes and ears open as you go about your normal day.
    • Look for opportunities to engage in discussion with others about your desire to invest (especially with people on your prayer list).
    • Be sensitive to their response. Might they be persons of peace to you
  4. Pray through what rhythms you feel God might want you to pursue with these people.
    • Take into account your schedule and when/if you could commit to a consistent meeting day/time.
    • Consider how and at what level you may be able to share life with the people God’s brings to you.
      • Think of “shared-life” along a spectrum – high bar to low bar.
        • One example of low bar shared-life could be meeting them for coffee or inviting them to go to a sporting event with you.
        • A high bar example could be inviting them to a weekly dinner in your home.
  5. Develop a concrete, but flexible plan
    • How can you open your life to them?
    • Plan for both a structured time and a certain degree of shared-life
    • Consider the DNA of discipleship
    • Character & Competency
      • Handpicking a few
      • Organized & Organic
      • Invitation & Challenge
      • Common Language
      • Everyone Multiplies
      • Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit
      • These are explained in greater detail on our website HERE
        • http://www.gracegathering.com/2015/11/11/discipleship-mission-the-dna/
  6. Finally, find someone who can hold you accountable to putting your plan into action.
    • Share with that person all along the way from your beginning prayers and your initial meeting with those in whom you will invest.
    • Have this person pray for you as you step out and open your life to a new generation of disciples.

I highly suggest you pray through and develop your tentative plan BEFORE you begin the process of having discussions with potential disciples. This way you can give them a fairly clear picture of to what they would be agreeing.

I am beginning to disciple a few individuals this month and this is the means by which I allowed God to show me how and to whom to reach out.

HERE is what my “official” invitation looked like this time around. Keep in mind, again, that this was after many prayers, coffees and discussions with most of these individuals. LINK

Remember, you don’t have to be a perfect example to invest in others, just a living one – humble, honest and willing to let God teach you along the way.

May God bless you in this adventure!

Exactly What is Discipleship?

Discipleship

The Pattern of Discipleship – Mike Breen

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Watch this Seven Minute Seminary video from seedbed and Mike Breen, as he walks through three aspects of discipleship—information, imitation, and innovation.

Go and make disciples!? How do I know who to ask?

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“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

Matt. 28:18-20

Few can argue with the fact that we are called to pour ourselves into others. Even so, it’s understandably difficult to get over the human thinking that 1) we am capable, 2) we are competent, 3) we have anything to offer and that 4) we could even identify people who would want to learn from us.

There is good news!
1) God is the capable One. You just need to be available.
2) Competency doesn’t mean perfection. You aren’t called to be a perfect example, just a living one. Again, Jesus is the ONLY perfect disciple maker. ALL of the rest of us are, at best, just guessing as to how we best follow in His footsteps.
3) If you love Jesus and desire to seek His will, you absolutely have something to offer!

And the last bit of news is what this post is about.

4) How do you go about identifying and inviting someone into a discipling relationship?

Jesus chose twelve individuals in whom He would invest and then entrust with the spreading of the greatest news on heaven and earth. And though He didn’t give us his specific guidelines or selection criteria, I have noticed a couple things that I let guide me as I decide in whom to invest.

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them…”

Luke 6:12-13

Jesus “spent the night praying to God,” Luke tells us. He’s been tempted in the wilderness. He’s been baptized. He’s been healing. He’s been preaching the good news and casting out evil spirits. He already has many disciples following him. But none of this has kept Him from retreating to a “quiet place” regularly. We see here that just before choosing the twelve, he spent hours in prayer.

Before making any decision or offer to invest in others, I pray for several weeks that God would bring names to mind and that I might cross paths with those whom He might want me to invest. I then look for opportunities to have meaningful conversations with these people. I enter my day to day life with open eyes and ears. This has proven to be the most effective way of finding those who are receptive to investment from me. How often are you praying that God would raise your awareness to the people in whom He is preparing for you to invest? That is a great place to start.

Secondly, Jesus ministry and mission was in motion before He ever called anyone to join him. He didn’t wait until just the right people showed up to step into God’s purposes. He was preaching, healing and praying for others and many began following him. The bible calls them “disciples.” There are people following you right now, watching you, learning from you, whether you realize it or not. Some are close. Some are watching and learning from a distance. Some you know well. Others may be colleagues, classmates, or acquaintances. Some of them might even desire intentional investment from you. All that’s missing is the invitation. Look for persons of peace – those who welcome you, listen to you, and serve you – as you pray about inviting others into your life for intentional investment.

Lastly, while most of Jesus’ teaching and training happened as He was going about His Father’s business, asking the disciples to imitate Him, He still made time to pull the twelve away for “small group” time. Truth is that our experience is most likely the opposite. We can make room for a regular gathering for bible study or accountability, but find it harder to invite those outside our immediate family into life’s daily routines. But it is vitally important to imagine how you could engage with those you invite into a discipling relationship into some element of shared life. Much of what others will learn from you will be through your thoughts, words, and actions going about the ministry of life – more than you will even recognize.

While this is not a prescription, it has been a guide that I use when deciding how, and in whom, I will invest myself.

By way of example HERE is an email I typically send out, early on, to those in whom I feel God might be asking me to reach out. (Again, this is after much prayer.)

An Acts 1:8 Mindset

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In our last blog post, Andy shared in a video the concept of the person of peace found in Luke 10. In this passage we see Jesus send out the 72 into towns ahead of him in order to find people that are responsive to these disciples and to the Gospel. The person of peace is the “Who”, but another question that we must answer is the “Where”. We know that we are called to be missionaries, but where is it that we should go? We know that Acts 1:8 expresses that we are to go to “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In other words, God has called us to the place that we are living and to the people that are like us and are close to us (Jerusalem), to those that may be different than us and are a little further away from where we live (Judea and Samaria), and even to those in other parts of the world. Therefore, according to this Acts passage we are to be missionaries to both those that are near and far in proximity as well as those that are like us and are different than us.

Our family has spent seasons of our lives as missionaries in both these “same culture” and “cross-cultural” contexts. During our time at Grace Gathering, we have taken and led multiple short-term mission trips to Mexico, Honduras, and Haiti. These trips have been essential in helping our family gain a more “global” perspective of what God is doing throughout the world and how we can join Him in what He is doing. It has also challenged us to think through what it can look like for us to take these experiences and pursue them in our local context. In my experience, many times it can sometimes be easier to step more fully into our missionary calling outside of our current context. For our family, these experiences outside of our current context has both motivated us and enhanced our missionary calling in our current context.

Our family has also spent seasons in more cross-cultural contexts throughout our city here in Fort Wayne. Most recently at a place called Vincent Village, a homeless shelter and low-income housing project in the south part of Fort Wayne. During that time, we led a Missional Community filled with people that were stepping out of their culture and being used to reach people outside of their culture.

Within the past couple of years, our family has taken a more integrative approach to family on mission as we have pursued being more intentional in the contexts that we are currently in, more specifically within the relationships that our children have and the families of the friends of our children. With four children, this more integrative approach has been essential due to the time constraints that can come from the season of life that our family is in.

During each of these seasons, our desire has been to be a Family on Mission together, but this has looked very different and has been in different contexts. There have been times when our missional focus has been more cross-cultural in nature and times when we have focused more on people that are like us. Although there are naturally times when one is more of a focus than another which is both essential and healthy, an Acts 1:8 mindset maintains a wholistic approach to our missionary calling from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth and doesn’t fully abandon one for the other.

During this season of your life right now, where are the people that God is currently calling you, your family, and your extended family to (the who)? Where is your current Jerusalem? Where is your Judea and Samaria? How are you fulfilling your missionary calling to “the ends of the earth”? Do you and your family have an Acts 1:8 approach to your missionary calling here on earth? I would encourage you to take some time to discuss this with both your immediate and extended families.

Whiteboard Sessions – Person Of Peace

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out the 72 and tells them to look for people and places where their “peace rests” and is thus returned. Can we use this strategy today? If so, how? Here is a quick whiteboard session explaining what the person of peace strategy is and how to use it in your life of discipleship and mission:

Discipleship & Mission: The DNA

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As we observe Jesus develop the culture around him, several key characteristics/elements seem to stand out.

First, Jesus was intentional about challenging his disciples to grow in character, as well as in the skills of doing and leading ministry themselves. He was the Master. They were His apprentices. He led them towards understanding and speaking his words, doing His works and living in His ways, always knowing that one day they would be responsible for taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Secondly, compared to the incredible need before Him, he invited a relative few to join him on the journey. It was neither a single person, nor the multitude that Jesus called into his life. There were twelve invitations, though we can observe that the investment reached into their families as well. He spent time with many other people, but none had access to Jesus like these twelve men and their families. He did seem to connect more deeply with three of the twelve, but we don’t see Jesus setting an example of discipling in a one-on-one setting long term.

Neither do we see Jesus set an example of teaching and training in purely an organized setting. He shared life with his disciples. He also stepped into their lives and the lives of their families. They ate together. They prayed together. They played together. They shared resources. They served together. They also spent time in quiet places, receiving teaching from him, but it was always in the midst of living a shared life.

During their time together the disciples learned from Jesus a new language and set of tools with which to navigate a spiritual landscape. Jesus opened their eyes to new ways of seeing, new ways of discovering, new ways of interacting with people far from His Father.

Jesus had the ability to demonstrate an uncompromising, unconditional love for his family of disciples. His invitation to relationship was( and is) a covenantal one – “Nothing can separate us.” However, He lived a life full of grace AND truth. He was always ready to challenge a false belief, worldly wisdom, untrue word or any other detail that contradicted an eternal reality. Only in a selfless, secure, relationship can such a dynamic exist. It is the responsibility of every discipler to love and sharpen every other disciple.

If there was ever any doubt in the minds of the disciples that Jesus invested in them for their own benefit, it was removed when Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Mt 28:18-20 The disciples were equipped to go and make disciple themselves.

And finally, the disciples received a Power that they never could have imagined, though Jesus spoke of it often. The same Spirit alive in Jesus was available and living inside each of them. The Counselor. The Comforter. The Guide. The Intercessor. The Advocate. The Teacher. The Helper. The Witness. The Spirit of Life. The Spirit of Truth.

The same “Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” today (Rom 8.11). We must learn to walk with one eye/ear on earth and one eye/ear turned to heaven, expecting that He still communicates with us. We need only listen.

These biblical principals (core values) make up the DNA of discipleship at Grace Gathering. This is the culture we want to breathe into every discipling environment and relationship. In order to facilitate every person committing them to memory, we’ve created the acronym, C.H.O.I.C.E.S.

C haracter & Competency
H andpick a few
O rganized & Organic
I nvitation & Challenge
C ommon Language & Tools
E veryone Multiplies
S ensitivity to the Holy Spirit

Discipleship & Mission: THE PROCESS

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Figure 1

What is most important when considering the disciple making process? What can we learn from the ways of Jesus? What we do know is this: He did not simply sit them down, provide them with loads of information in “the way” and then set them loose. He did invite them into a covenant relationship and challenge them to step deeper into the life that God had for each of them and their extended families. He modeled what it meant to be a disciple, trained them in the skills of living and leading a kingdom life, and gave them opportunities to experience it for themselves. He then sent them out to do everything he said and did. (Figure 1) Jesus moved from providing information, to giving them an imitable example to follow, to empowering them to innovate by applying the principals in their own context. We need to follow the same example as we invest in others.

There was a significant element of shared life evident in Jesus’ model of discipleship as well. It involved more than just a number of rhythmic, formal meetings. Jesus invited them into a shared life with himself. Yes, they sometimes met in more organized settings, where He gave instruction, cast vision, and allowed for the application of skills. However, at other times he interacted with them in more informal, or organic ways. We want to actively pursue the development of this culture of discipleship at Grace Gathering. Every discipling relationship should include an organized/formal element, where information is shared, discussed and where every disciple can be challenged with some new way of observing and living and leading towards a kingdom life. However, if we are to desire to disciple in the way of Jesus, our relationships must include some level of a shared-life as well. (Figure 2)

SharedLife01

In a shared life we, EAT, PRAY, PLAY, SHARE resources, and do MISSION activity together. In modern American culture it’s difficult enough for many to practically envision doing these things with those INSIDE their immediate family, let alone with those outside the family. This is paradigm shift that we need to make to take the next step in discipling in the way of Jesus. It often helps by realizing that Jesus defined “family” as those who do the will of God. Thus we can open our definition of family to include those in whom we are investing towards doing the will of God. So, In what ways can we structure our personal and family rhythms to create opportunities that open our lives in these ways to include those in whom we are investing?

We can get a better picture of what this looks like practically by imaging a continuum (Figure 3).

 

SharedLife

The continuum stretches from low bar shared-life activities to high bar ones. Low bar activities could include grabbing a coffee together, going to the theater or sporting event together, send a text to encourage or let someone know you are praying for them, asking for prayer, loaning out a lawn tool, grill, coffee maker, etc, visiting a nursing home together, joinging one another to care for the lawn of a hurting or needy neighbor. These are simple ways to share life in meaningful ways. As you move right on the continuum you could think in terms of greater commitment or personal sacrifice, such as inviting them to a meal in your home on a weekly basis, making a shared purchase of a more expensive home appliance or vehicle, a vacation property, leading or serving with a mission community together or having someone move into your home. These are but a few pictures of shared-life. There are obviously an infinite number of ways to step into in a shared life in today’s world.

As this PROCESS moves us towards reaching the end GOAL of every disciple growing in living and leading like Jesus, we recognize several other key elements from the life of Jesus. These are the “DNA” we want to breath into every discipling relationship at Grace Gathering. Next week we will take a look at these “DNA.”

Discipleship & Mission: THE GOAL

OUR GOAL

As we work together as a “family on mission” to pursue the will and purposes of God, it is important that we are razor sharp as it relates to our corporate vision and strategy.

Our vision is to see the beautiful picture of heaven experienced on earth. 

Our STRATEGY for seeing God’s kingdom expressed here on earth is the same strategy Jesus modeled as He walked the earth. He trained and empowered people to have his character and his skill leading people to a life on mission.

So then, our GOAL is that every follower of Jesus would be growing in these two areas – being like Jesus (character) and doing the the things He does (competency). Very simply, it is living and leading like Jesus.

Growing in the character of Jesus includes things like, compassion, love for enemies, peace, joy, faithfulness, honesty, integrity, purity of mind, humility and the like. Growing in the skills of Jesus would include things like praying for spiritual breakthrough and healing, discipling others, communicating the gospel, speaking the truth in love, protecting the weak and marginalized, empowering groups and freeing people from evil or oppression.

This forms the rhythm of discipleship.

In the coming weeks, we will look at the processvalues and vehicles we will be pursuing as the family of Grace Gathering.

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