The Discipleship Spectrum

April 29, 2015 8 comments

There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of discipleship methods. On one end of the spectrum you’ve got the hyper-casual, and on the other the hyper-formal. Those who are hyper-casual tend to advocate for the organic, unplanned moments when God shows up in everyday life. People who are hyper-formal often emphasize the intentional, planned meetings that focus primarily on spiritual development.

I’ve been in ministry for almost ten years now. I’ve seen both of these methods used. Both have their proper place in every discipleship relationship. As with most things, though, people often drift toward one end of the spectrum or the other. This is fine, but we must learn to manage the tension between the two. If we don’t, our discipleship gets one sided and we can fall short of really teaching someone to believe in and follow Jesus.

simple spectrum

Considering the Options

Like most things, both types of discipleship have their benefits and drawbacks. The benefit of casual discipleship is that it’s usually pretty natural, it’s easy to be authentic and you get to help people believe in and experience Jesus in real time as the Holy Spirit is working. The drawbacks of this type of discipleship is that it can be easy to miss opportunities to speak into people’s lives and if you’re not intentional you won’t get anywhere.

The benefit of formal discipleship is that people know exactly what to expect, it can be incredibly focused and you can teach people a lot at one time. The drawbacks are that it can become cold and rigid, faith can become something you talk about rather than something you live and if you’re not careful discipleship becomes a task rather than a lifestyle.

The key is to operate out of your strength, while being intentional in your weakness. If casual discipleship is more natural for you, then do that most of the time. If formal discipleship is more natural to you, then do that most of the time. Be careful, however, not to neglect the area of discipleship that doesn’t come as easily. If you do, your discipleship will become one sided and the people you’re discipling will miss out on some valuable experience.

Find the Right Fit

In my experience, casual discipleship seems to be most effective among non-believers. Formal discipleship seems to be more effective among leaders. Non-believers usually aren’t going to be as eager to talk exclusively about spiritual topics for 90 minutes at a time. They benefit more from the intentional relationships through which your faith rubs off on them because you live differently and answer honestly.

Leaders, on the other hand, are often busy making disciples themselves. They don’t usually have as much time to casually hang out. When they need input they often want as much as they can get in as little time as necessary. Focused meetings allow them to ask a lot of questions, get a lot of answers and discuss a wide range of topics much more efficiently than just waiting for those topics to pop up in everyday life.

Strive for Balance

Personally, I advocate for formal discipleship in the context of casual discipleship. Discipleship is about teaching people to believe in and follow Jesus through intentional relationship over time. A formal meeting isn’t going to do much good if there isn’t any genuine relationship. You need some casual, relaxed time with a person to gain that. At the same time, you can speed up the process of discipleship by including a few focused and formal meetings (such as a weekly Bible study lunch to discuss a specific topic of interest) from time to time.

This spectrum gets even wider when we also consider the individual and group dynamics. On one end of the spectrum we have discipling an individual in or toward Jesus and on the other we have discipleship in groups. Here I advocate for individual discipleship in the context of a group.

The benefit of groups is that each person gets a broad experience and understanding of the person and work of Christ. You simply have more people contributing to each person’s spiritual growth. The drawback, on the other hand, is that it can be shallow and easy for people to hide.

The benefit of individual discipleship is that each person gets a depth that can sometimes be difficult to get in groups. Conversation can also be customized to the specific topics that will be most helpful for the person you’re discipling. The drawback is that the person can end up becoming more like you than Jesus if you’re not careful.

Jesus seemed to disciple people all over the spectrum. At times he was casual with a group of his disciples. At other times he was intentional with an individual. He was also intentional with groups and, at times, casual with individuals. We’d all be more effective leaders if we discipled people using a variety of approaches, rather than just one method.

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Enjoying God for All He’s Worth

April 22, 2015 6 comments

The other day I enjoyed a particularly breath-taking moment with God. I had just finished a good work out and was eating some fruit in the living room while my wife rested from a long day. I like fruit, but for some reason, I was particularly aware of it’s sweetness this day.

I intentionally slowed my pace so that I could really enjoy the sweetness more thoroughly. As I did I began to take note of a few other delights as well. I focused on the beauty of some roses sitting on our coffee table, relished the companionship of my wife and relaxed in the silence of a nice Spring evening.

This was the first time in several weeks, maybe even months, that I had slowed down enough to really savor life. My wife and I have been busy preparing for our first child, selling our house and taking care of our daily affairs. It has been particularly easy to miss out on all the good around us.

A Taste of Something Sweeter

For some reason, on this particular night, however, God seemed to put the world on pause so that I could enjoy him in a way I hadn’t for quite some time. Then it hit me. I wasn’t just enjoying the fruit, the flowers or my wife, I was enjoying God through the fruit, the flowers and my wife.

Psalm 19:1 says, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” The same is true of the rest of creation as well. God radiates his glory, excellence and beauty. It proceeds from him, like light and heat proceed forth from the sun. All of creation then reflects God’s glory, excellence and beauty in one way or another to one degree or another, like the moon reflects the light of the sun.

That’s breath taking enough as it is. When we take a step back to meditate on this Scripture a little longer, it becomes even more breath taking. This ultimately means that fruit is only sweet because it reflects the sweetness of God’s glory. Roses are only beautiful because they reflect the beauty of God. Companionship is only enjoyable because it reflects the companionship we can have with God through Jesus.

Image via colindye.com

Image via colindye.com

Seeing and Savoring Christ

Amazing right? It gets even better. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” Romans 1:19-20 reminds us that God has made himself known plainly through creation. This means that things like a refreshing Spring rain, a savory meal or an adventurous road trip are all means by which we can enjoy more of all that God is for us in Jesus.

It is through Jesus that we enjoy, as Ephesians 1 says, “every spiritual blessing.” It is through creation that we get to savor those spiritual blessings through tangible experiences that bring the many benefits of Christ’s work to life for us. God’s glory is to be seen and savored through all of creation as creation redirects our hearts back to the good things we have in Jesus Christ. Next time you do something that you enjoy, let your enjoyment of God’s creation redirect your heart to God so that you can enjoy him for all that he’s worth.

Categories: Theology Tags: , , ,

The Unexpected Benefits of Generosity

April 15, 2015 8 comments

Money is a hot topic in our culture. Everyone wants more of it, anyone can get it, few seem to keep it and even fewer gladly give it. There are spenders, investors and savers, but there aren’t nearly as many givers.

The Money Trap

In America money is king. We look to it for security, happiness and freedom. We hoard it to make ourselves feel safe from potential disasters like illness, unemployment and unexpected expenses.  We spend it on frivolous pursuits like excessive shopping, expensive dinners and extravagant vacations to temporarily gratify our appetite for pleasure. Worst of all, we pursue it tirelessly working ourselves to the bone 60+ hours per week at sometimes two or even three jobs because we believe the lie that if we could some how get more of it we would be free to retire, work less and play more.

The sad reality is that money always promises, but never delivers (at least not permanently). It promises security, but breeds worry when our bank account isn’t as full as we’d hoped.  It promises happiness, but often results in disappointment when the things we buy lose their appeal. It promises freedom, but only enslaves us to our jobs and our debts.

Promises Fulfilled

The good news is that Jesus always delivers on what he promises.  Where money fails, Jesus succeeds.  Through Christ believers enjoy eternal security in the Father’s love. Since no one can undo what Jesus has done, no one can take that security away.

Through Christ believers enjoy eternal satisfaction.  Money and possessions will always lose their appeal.  Goods get more expensive and clothes wear out, but God’s presence is never ending.  Through Jesus believers live in and enjoy God’s presence for all of eternity. This is a happiness that truly satisfies.

Best of all, through Jesus believers enjoy lasting freedom.  In Christ, we are free from the anxiety, the temporary gratifications and bondage that money brings.  We are free to be at peace in God’s provision, free to enjoy the eternal satisfaction of God’s presence and free to enjoy life without the need for a never ending pursuit of material possessions.

Image via makinghistorygrow.wordpress.com

Image via makinghistorygrow.wordpress.com

The Benefits of Generosity

One of the best ways to experience more of the security, happiness and freedom that are in Jesus is to become a more generous giver.  Here are five reasons why.

1. Generosity increases our dependence on Jesus. So much of our well-being is tied to the strangle hold that money has on us. When we give generously we have no choice but to trust the Lord to be and do for us what we were looking to money to be and do for us. It is through generosity that money’s grip on us is severed and Christ’s unending supply is realized.

2. Generosity increases our delight in God. Money is important to us because of the value that we ascribe to it. By giving it away we remind ourselves that God is infinitely more valuable than anything money can buy. It is through generosity that God becomes an infinite treasure from whom we enjoy unending pleasure.

3. Generosity increases our contentment. By giving away what we cannot keep, we discover that which we cannot lose. Generosity teaches us to enjoy more of God by wanting less of this world. It gives us a deeper experience of Jesus by making room for him to fill our hearts, something he cannot do when we let money crowd that space.

4. Generosity multiplies our blessings. This is true in two ways. First, by giving to others we get to share our joy with them.  When this happens other people get to enjoy God’s blessings with us.  Second, by giving to others we are storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven.  If we keep it to ourselves we get to enjoy it now.  If we give it away we’ll enjoy it exponentially more in the kingdom.

5. Generosity advances the kingdom of God. Church planting, oversees missions, church operations and leadership training all cost money. By investing our money into the things of God we get the joy of advancing of the kingdom of God. Why wouldn’t we want to be used of God to extend his glory in all the earth?

Money can either be a god we worship or a tool with which we worship God. When money reigns supreme in our lives we miss out on the fullness of God. By giving generously, however, we learn to enjoy God for all that he’s worth. Don’t let money take from you that which only God can give you. Jesus has secured for you everything you need before God. Give yourself room to experience more of that by becoming a generous giver!

The Best Encouragement Ever

Encouragement.  It’s something we all crave.  We all want to be told when we’ve done something well, that our efforts made a difference or that our circumstances will improve. A few thoughtful words can improve our outlook, the right words bring lasting change.

Known Challenges & Temporary Disappointment

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hosting a weekend conference with Living Hope Church.  The conference was just a short 24 hours. It started Friday night and ended Saturday night, but it required some significant work.  We had about a dozen volunteers contribute several hours worth of free labor.

By the date of the conference two of our volunteers were unable to participate in the event they worked so hard at.  Their babies were due that weekend.  They couldn’t justify leaving town when their wives could go into labor at any minute. Both men were disappointed, but knew they needed to put their wives first.

At the end of the event I publicly recognized everyone who helped with the conference.  I intentionally explained that some of the volunteers didn’t even get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It was a comment I thought would go unnoticed, but it didn’t.

Unseen Treasures & Eternal Encouragement

Shortly after the event was over a gentleman that I didn’t know pulled me aside.  He told me to inform the two volunteers who weren’t able to attend that he was praying that God would give them extra treasures in heaven.  His response caught me off guard, but it also gave me great joy!

Image via johnhartrealestate.com

Image via johnhartrealestate.com

This guy didn’t offer some hallow, half-hearted consolation such as “I’m sorry they couldn’t make it.” He was genuinely interested in their well-being.  He knew that missing out on the reward of there efforts that weekend didn’t mean they had to miss out on their reward at all.

By keeping an eternal perspective, this man was able to offer encouragement that surpasses any encouragement I’ve ever heard before.  He understood that there is more to life than meets the eye, that this world is not all there is and that those who believe in Jesus Christ will spend eternity in a place far better. His encouragement was so life-giving because he focused on the unseen treasures that last for eternity, rather than the temporary pleasures that fade with time.

Life is hard.  Disappointments are frequent.  Setbacks occur regularly. Next time a friend, family member or co-worker needs an uplifting word, choose to offer encouragement that will last.  Give them a deeper experience of Jesus by reminding them that in Christ believers have treasure in heaven that will never spoil or fade!

“This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

When Your Well Runs Dry

March 30, 2015 3 comments

We’ve all been there.  Early mornings, long days and late nights trying to fulfill all of our obligations. Work, family, school, bills, entertainment, volunteer work, exercise, hobbies, managing a social life and keeping up on social media, all while trying to pursue our ever elusive dreams.

It’s not uncommon for American’s to work 50-60 hours a week, to sleep less than six, to fill our weekends with sporting events and social gatherings, then to spend Sunday evening frantically trying to squeeze every ounce of joy out of life before having to do it all over again on Monday. It doesn’t take long for the American Dream to become the American Nightmare.

Image via blueinkalchemy.com

Image via blueinkalchemy.com

We’re overworked, under-rested, exhausted, frustrated and always one step away from burn out. Our dreams manage to stay elusively out of reach or we obtain them and they fail to deliver. Our days are filled with stress and our nights with worry. What if I can’t cut it? Will everything I’m living for be what I hoped it will? Is it even worth it?  Each day is a treadmill and the life we want is always just out of reach.

Looking for Life in All the Wrong Places

At this point, we want someone to tell us that we can do it, our dreams are within reach and the life we’ve always wanted is just around the corner. The truth is, our dreams demand more than we can give and always promise what they cannot deliver.

In Luke 9:23-25 Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”

The prophet Haggai likewise declares, “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes” (Haggai 1:6).

The Unexpected Let Down of Getting What We Want

Even if we obtain what we’re pursuing it will eventually fool us and fail us.  It temporarily gratifies, but it does not eternally satisfy. Take New England Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady for example.  The guy has won four Super Bowls, has a supermodel wife, is famous and has more possessions than the average person can dream of.

Yet in an interview with 60 Minutes he said that he “didn’t expect winning to come with so much baggage.” After his third Super Bowl win he asked with desperation, “why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still feel like something is missing?” Maybe the Lord was right, life “does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15) Neither does it consist in the achieving of one’s dreams.

Getting Life from the Source

Proverbs 4:23 says it best when it warns readers to “guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” This is a warning to be cautious about what we source our lives in.  This isn’t to say that our dreams are bad, it’s to say that they’re a poor place to put our hope.  If our life is sourced in anything other than Jesus we are going to run dry because nothing can be for us and do for us what only he can be and do.

Life isn’t found in the achieving of one’s dreams it’s found in Jesus, the giver of life.  He is the only well that won’t run dry because he is the only source that is eternal. When our lives are sourced in Jesus we are free to pursue the dreams God has put into our hearts without being enslaved by them.  We are also free to move on to the other things God has in store when life doesn’t go according to plan.

More importantly, we have to understand that our dreams can’t give us what we really want, only Jesus can.  We pursue fame to feel important, money to feel secure and friends to feel accepted.  These aren’t bad things, but they will often fail to deliver that which we desire.

When our lives are sourced in Jesus we have all the significance, security and acceptance we need. We will be free from tirelessly chasing empty promises because we won’t need them to give us what we already have in Christ. The tighter we hold onto the fleeting pleasures of this world, the more we’ll miss out on the eternal satisfaction of God. 

How to Share Your Faith Without Being Weird

March 18, 2015 2 comments

When I, by God’s grace, first became a Christian at age 17 my life had been so radically changed by Jesus that I wanted to tell everyone about him.  I had met the living God and wanted everyone else to meet him to.

The problem was that I didn’t know how to share my faith. I felt unqualified and uninformed.  Did I know enough? Could I explain my conversion clearly? Overwhelmed by the task and lacking someone to show me the ropes, I awkwardly tried to convince all my friends to believe the gospel but failed miserably.

Image via forbes.com

Image via forbes.com

Away With Evangelism Propaganda

When I got to college I joined a campus ministry and was instructed to use a series of gospel illustrations such as “The Bridge,” “Seven Spiritual Laws” and other pre-packaged propaganda.  I was then told that evangelism meant approaching total strangers and asking them if I could talk with them about eternity.

I tried this for about four months.  It was the worst experience I’ve ever had! In a relatively short period of time I became the “weird Christian guy.” This approach only pushed the people I was “witnessing” to further away from the Lord. It was awful and unhelpful.

All-Natural Evangelism

I quickly said good-bye to that ministry and its evangelism techniques after seeing that they made my faith feel plastic and negatively effected non-believers. During that season, I invested hours studying the Word and reading books about effective evangelism.

Everything I read convinced me that the Lord’s primary evangelism method was discipleship. He focused on teaching people to believe in and follow him through intentional relationships over time.  As I put this method to use I quickly realized that people aren’t opposed to the Christian faith, just to Christian propaganda. 

The Power of an Honest Answer

Colossians 4:5-6 is a great example of this. It reads, “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.” Paul is essentially saying that the easiest way to introduce people to Jesus is to live differently and to answer honestly.

The contrast between the lifestyle of an authentic Christ-follower and someone who doesn’t know the Lord is generally drastic enough that it catches the attention of the watching world. When people see that authentic Christ-followers are different they naturally want to know why. An honest answer, as Paul says, is like salt.  It causes people to thirst for God. 

Ongoing Dialogue or One-Time Decision?

Instead of searching for the next evangelism fad, stick to a simple Christ-like approach. Live with such gospel intentionality that the unbelievers in your life take notice of your character, speech, conduct, attitude and worldview. When people begin to comment or question your lifestyle, honestly tell them that the difference is Jesus.

Focus on an ongoing dialogue rather than a one-time decision. As this happens with increased frequency you’ll be begin to see the Lord do work in people’s lives.  They’ll see Jesus in your life, hear Jesus in your words and experience Jesus through your friendship. This is what it means to share your faith.

The Science of God

As a pastor living in a college town I run into skeptics, doubters and unbelievers regularly. One of the most common objections I hear about the Christian faith is in regards to science. People just can’t seem to wrap their minds around God.

I get it.  I really do. I have a degree in biology and psychology.  I’m more than familiar with naturalistic evolution, evolutionary psychology and the behavioral sciences than I’d like to be.  I’ve taken physics, chemistry and genetics.  I, like many of my peers, appreciate hard facts, empirical evidence and measurable results.

In a world of scientific questions, factual evidence is our friend. Measurable outcomes are important, but when it comes to God I’ve learned that they just aren’t enough.

theosophical.wordpress.com

theosophical.wordpress.com

When Science Isn’t Enough

Science is built on the premise that what can be known is measurable.  It can be quantified with empirical evidence. This is true to an extent.

When it comes to the natural world we can use natural means to measure natural outcomes.  The problem is, God is not natural.  He is supernatural. He is beyond that which is natural and is therefore immeasurable by natural standards.

It is absurd to conclude that a supernatural God does not exist because he cannot be measured through natural means. How can what is limited measure that which is unlimited?  That’s like concluding that the ocean doesn’t exist because it doesn’t fit in a five gallon bucket.

The famed physicist Albert Einstein is credited with rightly saying, “What’s measurable isn’t always important and what’s important isn’t always measurable.” He, a self described agnostic, understood that even the most skeptical among us should have “an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”¹

Scientific Limitations

The infinite God cannot be defined by that which is finite. He who is limitless cannot be comprehended by that which has limits, unless he chooses to reveal himself within the context of those limits.

Imagine that we live in a two dimensional world with a three dimensional God. If this three dimensional God were to stick his finger into our two dimensional world we would describe his cylindrical finger as a flat circle because we wouldn’t have any way of accurately seeing his finger for what it is.

Our two dimensional science just doesn’t have what it takes to measure this three dimensional God. The limitless God is beyond the limits of science. Furthermore, to say that God must submit to the laws of science is to make science God.

Giving God His Rightful Place

The very definition of God refers to a supreme being who retains ultimate authority over the world he created.  By definition he cannot be bound by science, since he the Great Scientist is the one who put it’s laws into effect.

Just like a software developer has the power to by-pass the codes he put in place to make a software function in a particular way, so God also has the power and authority to by-pass the natural laws if he so chooses, and sometimes does. You cannot say that God must be measurable by science because that would make science God, which it by definition cannot be.

A Window Through Which to See the Creator

What does science tell us about God, then? A great deal actually.  In Romans 1:19-20, the apostle Paul explains that God has made himself known to us in part through creation.  We can learn about his attributes and enjoy his glory through that which his hands have made.

Jesus himself also used creation to teach his disciples about the Father, particular in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7). In them he used plants, animals, agriculture, seasons and weather to help his followers better understand the nature of God. It was from this very notion that many of the first scientists, who happened to be Christian or influenced by Christianity, pursued the sciences, because they believed that the study of science would better help us understand the Great Scientist

Science cannot, however, tell us all that there is to know about God. It is just too limited. The only way for man to fully know God is for God to fully reveal himself to man. The remarkable truth is that God has chosen to make himself known to us through his Son Jesus Christ.   John 1:18 tells us that “no one has ever seen God” but that “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

We don’t have to stress over how to scientifically prove God. He validated and vindicated himself in Christ. He can be known and enjoyed through Jesus and Jesus can be known through the Word of God.

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*For more on the historical Jesus and the Bible check out “Simply Jesus: Does the Church have Him Wrong?“, a sermon series from Living Hope Church about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

¹ Isaacson, Walter (2008). Einstein: His Life and Universe. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 390.

² Driscoll, Mark (2010). Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, pp. 97-104.

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