Archives For Discipleship

Over and over again, studies show the most important thing for spiritual growth is reading the Bible, yet most people in the church aren’t doing it. Only 45% of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. For each church attender who does read their Bible every day, there’s someone else who doesn’t read it at all.

Biblical illiteracy is an epidemic.

I say this as a pastor who talks to people every week, inside and outside the church, with next to no biblical knowledge. The most concerning thing is that there doesn’t seem to be a distinction between those who are new to the faith and those who isave been Christians for several years, sometimes even a decade or more.

Why is it that despite the evidence, despite our sincere longing to grow spiritually, we don’t do the one thing most capable of producing that growth?

In my experience, there are two main reasons people don’t read their Bible. The first is that people honestly don’t understand the Bible holds transformational power. Second, they don’t read the Bible because they don’t know how to find delight in reading it. Both issues are worth understanding in more detail.

Read the rest of my article over at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

I know—that’s a heavy question. But all of us ask it of ourselves at some point, and I guarantee some of the people in your group are asking it right now. We come up with standards we think will make us into the person we want to be, but we end up feeling crushed beneath the weight of it all. So what hope is there when you feel like that? Listen to this week’s episode to find out.

(Episode length: 15 mins)

Show Notes

Main idea: There’s only one Person who can bear the weight of living.

All of us are trying to live up to something

  • The tendency today is to set up some standard for yourself then judge your value and self-worth based on how well you think you’re performing next to your standards
  • We’re all bound to something; we’re all trying to live up to something

The weight of living is crushing

  • When you make your performance the measure of your self-worth and value, then you will always be crushed beneath the weight
  • Every one of our life-lies can and will be taken from us at some point because everything in this life is temporary

Jesus can bare the weight

  • Jesus didn’t promise for us not to be yoked to anything—he promised to give us rest, relief, from the weight of living, if we yoke ourselves to him instead
  • Jesus alone can bear the weight of living

This is part of a podcast I do for group leaders at my church. Browse the archives for more.

If your heart has been gripped by the gospel, sooner or later you’ll find yourself asking, “Where is God calling me to go?” That’s a normal question, because the gospel that saves is also the gospel that sends. That doesn’t make it an easy question, though, because it creates all kinds of follow-up questions.

Does God want me to go overseas? Does He want me to quit my job and work for a ministry? Or does He want me to stay where I am when I thought it was clear I had to go?

Read the rest of my article at Gospel-Centered Discipleship for four questions and answers to help you discern where God is calling you.

In the church, we talk a lot about “following Jesus,” or being a “Christ-follower.” But I fear that this is one of those terms we can hear so much that we become numb to what it actually means, or we assume we know what it means when we haven’t really thought much about it at all. When you look closely at what Jesus said, you might find that following him means something different than you thought.

LISTEN NOW

(Episode length: 18 mins)

Show Notes

Main idea: A disciple is one who responds in faith and obedience to the gracious call to follow Jesus Christ. Following Jesus is a lifelong process of dying to self while allowing Jesus Christ to come alive in us.

What “following Jesus” really means

  • The word “disciple” literally means learner, but in Jesus’ day that meant something closer to apprentice

A disciple responds in faith and obedience

  • Responding in faith to Christ, then, means we are assured, we are confident, in his promises of salvation, restoration, and eternal life
  • But responding to Christ’s call to follow him is not merely about faith – it’s also about obedience, or doing what Jesus tells us to do
  • If we have truly put our faith in Christ, then our inward transformation will have outward results

The gracious call to follow Jesus

  • We accept a gift that we graciously given to us by God through Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection (Eph. 2:1-10)

Following Jesus is a lifelong process

  • Following Jesus is a decision to enter into a pattern of recreating our lives to look more like his
  • God will see the work He began in us to completion (Phil. 1:6)

Dying to self while allowing Jesus to come alive in us

  • Jesus calls us to say no to ourselves so we can say yes to him
  • As we deny ourselves, we make more and more room for Jesus to take up residence in our hearts and minds

 

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The Bible tells us that God’s people are blessed so that they can be a blessing to others. That means our affluence should be used for influence. But how do we do that?

Read the rest of my article at Gospel-Centered Discipleship for some ways to get started.

You’re Trying to Change, so Why Aren’t You Making Any Progress?

This is the hardest thing to do in the Christian life:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4 ESV).

It’s simple to understand, but seems impossible to do. How do you find joy in the midst of a battle with cancer? How do you rejoice when you can’t find a job? How do you find joy when you want nothing more than your circumstances to change?

What does God want for you?

One of the most common mistakes we make when reading the Bible is thinking it’s all about us. While there are certainly applications for our life, the Bible is not a book about us – it’s about God. So when it comes to how to find joy in our suffering, we have to ask what God is up to by allowing it in the first place. And when we bring that question to the Bible, the answer is that God wants us to be made holy.

1 Peter 1:14-16 puts it this way: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Christians, then, are to constantly shed their old sinful desires and habits in favor of activities which increase their holiness. None of this is possible aside from the work of Christ, of course. His righteousness clothes us so we can come gleaming before the Father in all the splendor of the Son (Isaiah 61:10). In verse 16, God directly commands His followers to be holy.

If God is primarily interested in your holiness, then it makes a great deal of sense why he would allow you to enter into seasons of suffering. These seasons are meant to produce and refine your character. The biblical imagery often used for this process is of smelting, where a blacksmith heats up silver to the point where all the impurities float to the top and he skims them off. He does that over and over again until all the impurities have been removed. This is the refining process.

Does God want me to be happy or to be holy?

But you might be wondering where your happiness fits into all of this. Doesn’t God want me to be happy? Well, yes. He wants you to be happy, but he also wants you to be holy. And His primary interest is your holiness. God’s goal for you after coming to faith in Christ is for you to become mature in Christ, or to be made holy.

Happiness is simply an emotion based on our circumstances. Joy is something much more profound. It’s a choice. Joy is a disposition to be happy regardless of your circumstances. And joy is what God is calling us to: “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds.”

If you make happiness your life’s goal, you’re guaranteed to fail because your circumstances will change. Your beauty will fade. Your job will change. Joy, on the other hand, can’t be taken. If your joy flows out of your relationship with Jesus then no one can touch it. And that joy can even change how you experience suffering.

You have to want Jesus

To find joy in the midst of suffering, you have to really want Jesus. Like really want him. Like Paul, you have to be able to say, “…I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8 ESV).

To find joy when you’re suffering, you have to care more about Jesus than anything else. That seems simple enough until you ask yourself if you really want Jesus more than anything.

Do you really want Jesus even if he doesn’t get you that promotion? Even if you don’t get better? Do you really want Jesus even if your marriage never gets better or your child never comes back?

Change me, not my circumstances

Far too often we come to Jesus asking him to change our circumstances. We just want out of the suffering, out of the grief, out of the trial. But if we’re thinking like God, we should be praying something different. We should be praying, “Change me, not my circumstances.”

If you’re after the same thing in your life as God, then you’ll rejoice in times of suffering when they come. That doesn’t mean you can’t collapse over being betrayed, or weep over losing your friend. It just means that through it all you count the time of character formation as joy. It means you beg God for the wisdom to see how He wants to refine you through this trial. 

If you ask God for this kind of wisdom, He will give it to you (James 1:5). It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy. There will still be incredible pain. But if you truly want Jesus and you make the pursuit of holiness your goal, you’ll be able to count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds.

With the fall of celebrity pastors becoming a normal part of life, many of us are wondering what’s happening. Why is it that these men can build something so significant for the kingdom of God, yet fall into adultery, alcoholism, or narcissism? Their falls come at no small cost. As Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel have written,

“We live in the era of celebrity pastors whose platforms of influence stretch far beyond the walls of their local congregation, and who shake the earth when they fall off their pedestals.”

In the wake of these collapses, we sound the alarm for more accountability and stronger community, and rightly so. None of these efforts appear to be working, though, as we see pastors and church leaders making the same mistakes time and time again. These events should drive us to reflect deeply on what is happening, and about how we find leaders in the church.

What if we’re missing what’s really going on? What if we’re asking the wrong questions? And what if the fall of our pastors has at least as much to do with us as it does with them? 

Read the Rest at Gospel-Centered Discipleship

If you’re a Christian, you don’t have “a calling.” You have three. Two of the three are fundamental and universal—that is, they aren’t optional and they aren’t individual, but they are by far the most important callings in your life. The good news (and hard news, actually) is they each come with a community who can help you fulfill them—in fact, without that community you won’t fulfill them at all.

I’ve been trying to write my own version of this, but haven’t been able to say it better. Read the rest on Andy Crouch’s site.

Methods come and go in the church, and perhaps more in small groups ministry than anywhere else. One of the emerging methods in the American church is the introduction of discipleship groups. If you’re wondering what they are, who is doing them, and if they’re working, keep reading.

What are discipleship groups?

Discipleship groups are typically very small groups of 3-5 men or women (always gender specific) that meet weekly for the purpose of helping one another apply Scripture to their lives. There is most often one leader who is the “discipler,” and the rest of the group members are the “disciples.” Like small groups, they go by several different names: DNA Groups, D-Groups, Discipleship Groups, Base Camps, etc. These groups are meant to supplement, not replace, the usual small group offerings.

As you survey the church landscape, the key elements of discipleship groups seem to include:

  • Bible: Discipleship groups tend to be on the same daily Bible-reading plan as a way to facilitate regular discussion of what they’re reading in the Word.
  • Learning: Group members and leaders regularly learn about God as they read and study His Word and the themes they encounter. Some churches have the groups follow a curriculum they either made or chose.
  • Time: Discipleship groups usually last about 12-18 months, though that’s fairly flexible depending on where each person is in the process as they near the end.
  • Application: Bible study is a big part of the groups, but most of that takes place on the group members’ own time. The main purpose of the regular group meeting is to discuss application of the reading into their lives.
  • Accountability: Many of these groups have their members sign covenants agreeing to engage in the material and time commitment. During the group meetings, accountability questions are often asked of each group member, including the leader.
  • Multiplication: These groups are focused on multiplying themselves, and they facilitate this by continually encouraging the group members to pray for who they will take through the same process when the current group is done. Often, the last phase of a discipleship group is when the leader helps the group members get their own groups up and running.

What do discipleship groups do when they meet?

A typical discipleship group meeting might include the following elements:

  • Social: Brief time to catch up on the last week’s events, with an emphasis on how each group member did with applying the previous week’s learnings into their lives.
  • Study: Discussion of the previous week’s study material (this may be a book of the Bible or a curriculum the group is going through). During this time, areas of weakness are exposed and group members confess sin and come up with a game plan for addressing those areas. Common curriculums might include Growing Up, Multiply, or Discipleship Essentials.
  • Accountability: Discipleship groups hold each other accountable for what they’ve agreed to work on in their lives. This is most often done by asking a series of questions of each person. This is a key element of the groups since it is aimed at helping the group members be formed into the image of Christ in their everyday lives.
  • Prayer: As with most groups, they end in prayer.

Who is doing discipleship groups?

From house churches to large churches, there are many places that have implemented or are implementing discipleship groups across the U.S. Some examples of each are below.

Church plants

  • Two Cities Church (Winston Salem, NC): This church was birthed out of the Summit Network and planted in North Carolina with a strategy to include DNA Groups.
  • Emmaus Asheville (Asheville, NC): Another church plant from the Summit Network that’s leveraging DNA Groups.

House churches

  • We Are Church (San Francisco, CA): This is the church planting movement in San Francisco associated with Francis Chan. Though they are less formal in applying this method, they do follow it loosely through their various ministries.

Missional churches

  • Soma Family of churches: Soma (the family of churches originally founded by Jeff Vanderstelt) has popularized the DNA Group approach.
  • Doxa Church (Bellvue, WA): After Mars Hill collapsed, Jeff Vanderstelt was installed as the lead pastor of the newly named Doxa Church. The DNA Group model which originated at Soma is being adopted here. (Jeff’s Saturate the World ministry has a helpful page of resources on DNA Groups.)
  • City Life Church (Austin, TX): They win the prize for best discipleship group name with their Fight Club moniker.
  • Cities Church (Minneapolis, MN): Using an older name, Life Groups, Cities Church has begun begun being more intentional about utilizing the discipleship group model.

Large churches

  •  Long Hollow Baptist Church (Hendersonville, TN): Robby Gallaty, a huge proponent of what he calls D-Groups, became the Senior Pastor of Long Hollow recently. They’re in the process of integrating D-Groups into their culture.
  • Brainerd Baptist Church (Chattanooga, TN): Gallaty pastored at Brainerd for about 8 years before leaving to go to Long Hollow. The culture of D-Groups is still in place and encouraged under the leadership of Micah Fries, also a big proponent of discipleship groups and multiplication.
  • Crossroads (Cincinnati, OH): They might be unexpected on this list, but they have a detailed discipleship plan that includes Huddles, their version of discipleship groups.

Are discipleship groups working?

The most important part of any method is whether or not it’s effective at helping the church make disciples. So are discipleship groups working? Without firsthand experience of the groups at the churches mentioned above, it’s hard to say.

One of the more difficult aspects of the groups has to do with assimilation. Similar to a mentoring program, it’s difficult to place people in a group with the needed dynamics since it’s a very personal experience. Many of the churches studied connect people into the groups through their existing small group structure. The idea is that if you want to be in a discipleship group you would notify your group leader or groups pastor. They would help you connect with someone who is ready and willing to bring you into a group.

Of the churches listed above, discipleship groups seem to be part of their long-term strategy, and they have been doing them for years. Robby Gallaty has said that at the time he left Brainerd they were averaging about 500 adults in D-Groups every Wednesday night. Numbers aren’t everything, but it seems like the likelihood of life-on-life discipleship occurring in small, intentional groups is higher than in larger, more social small groups.

Closing

Discipleship groups have been a feature of the church’s discipleship strategy ever since Jesus poured into Peter, James, and John in very intentional ways. If you’ve ever participated in one or led one, then you already know the transformational potential they hold.

And if you haven’t been in one, what’s stopping you from starting one?