A Better Way to Find Leaders

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

The Three Callings of a Christian

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.

Discipleship Groups Explained

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?

4 Questions to Help You Understand Where God is Calling You

If your heart has been gripped by the gospel and the Great Commission, sooner or later you’ll find yourself asking the question, “Where is God calling me to go?” That can be a tough question to ask, though, because it creates all kinds of follow up questions.

Does God want you to go overseas? Does He want you to quit your job and work for a ministry? Or does He want you to stay where you are when you thought it was clear you had to go?

The Apostle Paul knew that he was God’s chosen instrument to reach the Gentiles, so he knew he would be going where the Gentiles were. Peter knew he was called to lead the Church in Jerusalem, so he would be going across the street and into his neighborhood.

But that kind of clarity isn’t the norm, either today or throughout the Bible. More commonly, we are left with quite a bit of freedom for adhering to God’s commands. While that freedom can be a relief, it can also be cause for incredible stress as we seek to live out God’s will for our lives. We can get lost in our heads, playing out every possible scenario and wind up paralyzed from taking any steps toward going and making disciples.

If that’s you, here are four questions and answers that might help you understand where God is calling you.

4 questions to help you understand where God is calling you

1. What did Jesus come to do?

Answer: To seek and save the lost. 

When Jesus went to eat at the home of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, the religious people of the day scoffed, sneering to themselves and saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” They were correct. That’s precisely what Jesus was doing, because that’s precisely why he came to earth to begin with. After Zacchaeus repents and is saved, Jesus provides a retort to the snide religious peanut gallery for why he was hanging out with people like tax collectors. In perhaps the most glorious phrase ever uttered, Jesus, the God-man, said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

If Jesus had a vision statement, this was it. He came to seek and save the lost. That meant he was going to spend the majority of his time around people who didn’t know anything about him. He would be going out among the lost to seek and save those who were without hope.

That’s exactly what Jesus did throughout his ministry. And it’s what you’ll do if you want to go where God has called you.

But what about now? How does Jesus seek and save the lost now that he’s in heaven? That leads us to our second question.

2. How does He do that?

Answer: By sending us out as sheep among wolves. 

We have one really good look at what it was like when Jesus sent out his disciples for ministry. It’s recorded in Luke 10 where we see Jesus’ instructions to 72 of his followers as he was preparing them to go out on mission. One of the most interesting things Jesus says here is that he is sending his disciples out like sheep among wolves (Luke 10:3). Have you ever thought about that? When a sheep fights a wolf, the sheep doesn’t come out on top.

This is a sobering picture of what life on mission for Jesus is like. Those who would follow him and witness for his name are not promised a comfortable life (in fact, they’re promised the opposite; see Luke 9:57-58). More specifically, what this means is that if we’re really going to live the way Jesus calls us to, we’ll live our lives among the wolves (the lost).

But before you think this is a recipe for being miserable, consider that when the 72 came back from the mission field they were ecstatic with what they saw God do. Yes, it was hard and exhausting and scary, but they saw God move in ways they never would have if they stayed among the sheep (believers). And the same principle is true today.

We can spend our time among the sheep and still know God, but if we want to experience all that Jesus offers then we have to live among the wolves. And if you want to go where God has called you, there’s no doubt that it involves a significant amount of time among wolves.

If we decide to trust Jesus and live our lives among the wolves, what exactly does Jesus want us to do once we get there?

3. What are we supposed to do?

Answer: Go and makes disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded us.

Imagine a person you saw at their funeral walking up to you. Imagine seeing them being lowered into the ground, and then a few days later they showed up and had something to tell you. Whatever they had to say, you would listen. That’s because their words would have authority.

This is the exact setting in which Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission. He reminds them that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, then gives them this last command:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that pI have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Here we have Jesus’ last words, his last instructions for how to continue what he started. And it was pretty simple. Go into the world, as you go make disciples, then baptize them and teach them to obey all of Jesus’ commands. That may sound simple, but it affects everything in a follower’s life.

And this command is for every follower of Christ. It is the primary thing to which every disciple is called to, before their career or anything else. First and foremost, we are disciples of Jesus of who make disciples of Jesus. It’s not optional. It’s not something some of us are called to and others of us aren’t.

That’s why the primary question associated with our purpose in life isn’t what we are supposed to do. The Great Commission makes that clear. We are to make disciples. The only question is where do we go and do that?

4. Where do we go?

Answer: To Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 

Acts 1:8 gives us another glimpse at Jesus’ final words. Here we see Jesus giving specific instructions about where his disciples are to go once he takes his seat at the Father’s right hand. The disciples already knew they were to make disciples, but now Jesus tells them where to go:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

Jesus is sending his followers to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. No corner of the world is outside of the Great Commission. Starting right where they were (Jerusalem), Jesus was sending them out to continue spreading the Kingdom of God.

Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria are real places, and Jesus was actually sending them there. But beyond the actual locations at that time, they’re also significant because they help us see where Jesus is sending us today. Notice the progression.

First, Jesus sends them across the street by sending them into Jerusalem. Next, he sends them to a place with a similar culture by sending them to Judea. Then Jesus really ups the ante by sending them to the culture most of them would have hated before coming to Jesus — Samaria (remember how culturally explosive Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan was?). And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus then sends them to the very ends of the earth.

This means that Jesus’ disciples could obey his Great Commission by going to any of those locations, and the same is true today. As Ruth Ripken says, “Serving God is not a matter of location. It’s a matter of obedience.” We don’t all have to go overseas, though more of us should than are open to it. If we don’t go to another country, we are commanded to go across the street (Jerusalem), to the community next door (Judea), or to the people we would never associate with before coming to Jesus (Samaria).

And that leaves you with only one more question.

Where will you go?

Will you go across the street and tell your neighbors about Jesus? Will you go into the largest city near you to witness to the gospel? Will you build relationships with the refugees and immigrants that came to your community from unreached people groups around the world? Will you go to one of the 2.8 billion unreached peoples around the world?

The possibilities are limitless, but the mission is the same: to go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Where will you go?


Here are the 4 questions and answers for easy reference:

  1. Why did Jesus come? To seek and save the lost.
  2. How does he do that? By sending us out as sheep among wolves.
  3. What do we do? Go and makes disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded us.
  4. Where do we go? To Jerusalem (across the street), Judea (to the community next door), Samaria (to the people you find it hardest to love) , and the ends of the earth.

A Simple Template for Family Worship with Preschoolers

Family worship should be a basic discipline of a believing family. Tragically, it’s infrequently taught and modeled in American churches today. The reasons are varied, ranging from not knowing how to not having time, or simply not seeing the importance of it.

Nik Ripken notes this deficiency in The Insanity of Obedience, saying,

“We have discovered that many families do not know how to do this and, in some cases, they are simply not willing to try. Some families resort to playing a DVD, or watching worship through the Internet, of a worship service from a sending church, and they presume that the playing of that electronic tool has been ‘worship’ for them. This substitute for worship, however, is severely lacking. When there is no opportunity to gather with a group for worship, it is essential for the family to worship on its own. We have been surprised how difficult this is for most families.”

At the most basic societal level, God instituted the family. It is the building block of all human civilization, and it is the model for how God’s family, the Church, is to function. At the same time, man is meant to worship, and, in fact, he can’t help it. Why, then, do we neglect worshiping God in this most basic sense, and even outsource the activity to others?

The need for family worship

Perhaps in America it’s because we have such freedom of worship and gathering that it seems less effective to perform daily worship in the confines of our homes when we could have the professionals at the church facilitate it for us. That’s not to say we shouldn’t worship in churches or that we should all call our families house-churches. Of course we should worship corporately as churches. But we should also be able to worship in our homes and among our friends, or as the New Testament refers to it, “from house to house.”

As a husband and father, I realized after my third child was born and my older two were approaching preschool age that this practice would be essential to the spiritual formation of my children and wife. I began to see that without a plan, practice, or rule for worship we simply wouldn’t make time for it. But I had no idea what it should look like.

So one day I asked a friend that did something similar, looked up a few things online, remembered a quote from a book, then wrote out a short outline of what I thought it might look like to lead our family through worship after dinner. My wife helped me think through what’s most appropriate for our children’s age levels since she’s a trained educator and spends more time around them.

I knew intellectually that building family worship into our lives would be valuable, but I grossly underestimated the impact it would have on our family and others. In the short time since we instituted an almost daily worship time we’ve seen God work in numerous ways, such as:

  • Our children memorizing large passages of Scripture (2-4 year old’s can memorize much more than you think, and so can you)
  • Allowing us to worship with friends, family, and neighbors (if you’re at our house at 7:00 p.m., you join us for family worship time; we’ve had grandparents, neighbor’s kids, our house guests, and others join us on different occasions)
  • Creating space for theological conversations…with preschoolers (which some of you know is actually very deep and rewarding)
  • Cultivating a rhythm that’s focused on God (too much of our lives revolves around what we want to do; stopping to give worship and honor to God most nights centers and grounds my family in what it means to follow Jesus)

After working with my wife and refining our family worship time, here’s a simple template of what you can do for family worship with preschoolers.

(Please note: this is meant to be descriptive of our family worship time with our preschool age children. It is not prescriptive in any way, but hopefully will give you a window into what this looks like if you’re not familiar with it. We’ve had children as old a ten go through this and they’ve enjoyed it, though it’s meant for children up to age 6-7.)

A simple template for family worship with preschoolers

1. Open in prayer

We usually start family worship time right at 7:00 p.m. because families thrive on routine and this seems to be the best time for our family since it’s after dinner and right before baths and bed. We gather the family and whoever else is there into a living room where my wife and I sit in a rocking chair (we alternate for different parts of the worship time) and the children sit on the floor in front of us.

I sit down in the rocking chair first, and I open us with a simple prayer that usually goes something like this: “Father, thank you for this time of worship where we get to focus our hearts and minds and attention on you, which is what worship is all about. We pray that we bring you honor and glory through this time, and pray that you help us to have self-control throughout it.” (These are still preschooolers after all, so self-control is usually needed in gracious quantities!)

2. Recite memory verses and catechism questions and answers

After we open in prayer, mom usually takes over and leads the kids through their memory verses and catechism question and answer. This works for our family because my children are currently homeschooled and they work on these verses earlier in the day with their mother (that, and I can’t ever get all the hand motions down).

We always have two memory verses and one question and answer going. Since each child has a memory verse assigned for the month in their children’s ministry classes, we do that one (currently they’re the same verses since my children are two years apart and the youngest in under 1). This one is shorter, most often just one verse or part of one verse.

We supplement this with a longer passage that’s foundational, such as Isaiah 9 when we get close to Christmas, or the 10 Commandments, or being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry from James 1. My wife did a fantastic job picking these then formatting them for us to use throughout the year. You can download them here if you’re interested.

Once my wife leads us through these verses, we then do one question and answer from the New City Catechism. It’s a modern compilation of older catechisms, but it’s particularly helpful to use with children because each question and answer is accompanied with a shorter version for little learners. Mom simply asks the question, then has the children repeat the answer.

3. Read a Bible story

Now it’s back to dad and I take my place in the rocking chair to read through a Bible story. Last year we read through a Beginner’s Bible that was mine when I was a child. This year we’ve been going through The Jesus Storybook Bible, which is amazing. The stories are a little on the long side for preschoolers, but if you read it with enough energy and excitement (and shouldn’t we?) then it’s relatively easy to keep them engaged. We read one story per night.

After I read through it, we go back and check for understanding and comprehension. We’ll ask simple questions like, “Who was this story about? And what did he/she/they do? What do you think that tells us about God?”

Then we’ll let them ask questions, which is always the interesting part. The day I’m writing this, for instance, we had four extra children joining us, three of which are older than my children. When reciting the 10 Commandments as the catechism answer, one of the young girls was keen to know what adultery was. “Let’s ask your mom and dad about that one when you get home. But be sure to tell them you heard that when we were going through the ten commandments!” Another child wanted to know what God created the world out of (we were reading through Genesis 1-2). And another wanted to know why God created the world when He did and not at some other time. Those are good questions! Had we not been in that time of worship they never would have come up.

4. Sing some songs

At this point, we’re usually no more than 10 minutes into the worship time, but if you know preschoolers then you know their attention is starting to run thin. So we stop and sing some songs to Jesus. We keep a basket full of instruments in the room (tiny guitars, xylophone, tambourines, etc.) and allow the kids to choose one to “play” as we sing along. If there are more than about five kids present (or if our children are struggling with self-control that day) we’ll sing without instruments.

So far we’ve introduced a mix of preschool church songs such as “Father Abraham” and “The B-I-B-L-E,” and more classic refrains like “Our God is an Awesome God” and “Joy to the World” (leading up to Christmas). This is one area where we have some learning to do. We like to keep it fun, but also to choose songs which inform the kids theologically.

5. Record what you’re thankful for

After we make a joyful noise to the Lord (and I mean that literally), we all sit back down and I lead the family through a time where we simply remember something we’re thankful for from that day, and I write down the answers on a note card. We’re trying to build thankfulness into the culture of our family, and also to show the children all the ways in which God blesses our family. We call these our “thankful’s.”

Examples of what the kids say are too personal to share, but suffice it to say this is where you’ll hear some of the most sweet, joyous, precious, and moving things to come out your children’s lips. The profundity of children’s prayers can at times be overwhelming, and I’m constantly challenged by their vulnerability and trust.

6. Close in prayer

After we record our thankful’s, we all pray to close. Usually my wife starts, my oldest two will take turns, and then I’ll close us. The idea is that they’re specifically thanking God for their thankful’s, and anything else they want to pray about. When I close, I’ll usually reiterate what we’re thankful for, thank God for the time of worship and tell Him that we hope we brought Him honor and glory through our worship, and then add anything that might be pertinent that day (this can be anything ranging from a sick family member to help with a specific family expectation the children struggled to meet).

7. Store the “thankful’s”

This part is really cool. After we close in prayer, we rotate letting one of the children put the “thankful’s” in the “thankful bin,” which is just a bucket from IKEA. Each night we do family worship time, we drop the thankful’s in that bin so we look back on them one day. I imagine looking through them as a weepy mess when my kids go off to college or get married. But what a precious time capsule of the way God blesses us over the years! Some days the kids are thankful for cheese, but other days for their new friends or spending time with mommy. As I reflect on what’s written on some of those cards, I’m realizing that they’re one of the few priceless possessions we have.

And that’s it. That took longer to explain than it does to do it. The whole process usually takes us about 15 minutes. It can be hard to get past the inertia at first, but once you do your kids will be reminding you when you forget it.

We were made to worship. And we will do it in our churches as long as we can, but we should also be doing it in our homes as often as we can.