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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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Exponential Leadership: The Difference Between Ministering to People and Ministering Through People

November 17, 2014 1 comment

One of the fundamental differences between a worker and a leader is that a worker knows how to get stuff done, while a leader not only knows how to get stuff done, but also how to train other people to get stuff done. As one leadership proverb summarizes, “a leader is not someone who can do the work of 10, it is someone who can train 10 to do the work.”

This might sound antithetical, but the truth is that most would be leaders sideline themselves by getting in their own way.  Upcoming leaders are people who know how to get work done well. The only reason they are potential candidates for leadership in the first place is because they know what it takes to get results.

Catalyst or Bottleneck?

The problem is that the more work a person gets done, the more work there is to do. Good results typically yield more opportunities, which in turn leads to more work.  As this pattern continues a potential leader ends up finding himself with more work to accomplish than he can do alone. If he doesn’t train up more leaders he will eventually hinder his own progress.

I learned this first hand as a volunteer chaplain on my college football team. As a freshman I was one of only three Christians on a team of more than one hundred.  Bothered by this, the two other Christians and I decided that we, by God’s grace, were going to change that. We started preaching the gospel to our teammates before games and after practices and we made it a point to spend as much time discipling our teammates as we could.

Within three years God used our efforts to bring thirty teammates into the ministry.  About eight of them became authentic followers of Jesus. We now had a problem.  There were more people to disciple than the three of us had time for. We had a choice.  We could either bottleneck everything by trying to disciple everyone or we could multiply our efforts by training the new converts to disciple their teammates as we discipled them.

We chose the latter and it made all the difference.  Five years after we started God had used the ministry to gather at times sixty of our teammates.  Another half dozen or more were won to faith in Christ and a third generation of leaders were developed.

From Ministering To, To Ministering Through

This kind of impact would simply not have been possible if the three of us had tried to disciple everyone on our own. It was simply the result of equipping the next generation and then empowering them to do the work with us.  In fact, the results we saw came mainly from the second and third generation of leaders.  The original three had little to no direct involvement in the remaining 50.  We simply invested in the first 10 or so.

The apostle Paul says something similar in 2 Timothy 2:1-2.  He tells an upcoming leader named Timothy to be “strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” and to entrust the teaching he received from Paul to reliable men who would be able to teach others also. Here we see four generations of leaders: Paul, Timothy, reliable men and others.  Paul exponentially multiplied his disciple-making efforts by ministering through Timothy to others, rather than ministering to others himself. 

Image via harvestwaterlooregion.ca

Image via harvestwaterlooregion.ca

In order to become more effective leaders, we must intentionally transition from ministering to people to ministering through people. A good leader adds, a great leader multiplies. This means instead of trying to disciple everyone we must intentionally disciple a few that we can equip and empower to disciple others. Ministering to people will add more people to your ministry.  Ministering through people will exponentially multiply your disciple-making efforts. 

Spirit Empowered Ministry

October 20, 2014 3 comments

When it comes to leadership a lot of attention is given to strategies and principles. There are literally hundreds of books written about how to lead more strategically.  You’d be hard pressed, however, to find many good books about Spirit-empowered leadership and ministry.

Such a neglect of the Spirit in ministry would have been entirely foreign to first century believers. I don’t think they would have disagreed with the importance of strategies and planning, but they would have always subjected their strategies and plans to the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit. The first Christians understood that no strategy would ever be enough to turn someone’s heart toward Jesus or to overcome a person’s resistance to God. They knew that only the Holy Spirit could do that.

The Spirit Trumps Strategy

The Lord’s final instructions before ascending into the heavens was for his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had received power from on high. (Acts 1:8) At this point Jesus has already been crucified for the sins of the world, buried and resurrected.  He’s given his followers their disciple-making strategy, their leadership lessons and the essential truths they would need to teach new converts.  Even with all of this good teaching Jesus knew that his disciples lacked one thing, power.

The disciples weren’t short on strategies and principles, they were short on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. These would-be world-changers had learned all the best disciple-making techniques from the best disciple-maker that ever lived and they still needed something more. Certainly leadership strategies, disciple-making methods and ministry techniques are important (Jesus had them), but that doesn’t mean they’re enough to actually get the job done. We need the Holy Spirit for that.

Power From On High

Shortly after Christ’s ascension, the disciples did what they were told.  While prayerfully waiting for what Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven, rested upon each of the disciples and then empowered them to preach the gospel with great effectiveness.  Their preaching was so powerful that 3,000 people became disciples that day. (Acts 2)

Image via hopesingapore.org

Image via hopesingapore.org

Throughout the rest of Acts, the Holy Spirit works in and with the early Christians to make converts, establish churches and fulfill the Great Commission. Their ministry had both strategy and power.  The results were nothing short of world-changing. (Acts 17:6)

Imagine a military vehicle rigged with all of the latest technologies.  It’s got the most comprehensive GPS system, a top-of-the-line radio, the best off-road tires a person can buy and plenty of artillery.  This vehicle might have all the potential in the world, but if its tank isn’t filled with gas it will be significantly limited in its effectiveness.

In the same way, we can have all the right doctrine, the best apologetics, world class leadership techniques and the most simplified disciple-making strategy, but if we aren’t filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit we won’t be accomplishing much. We need power for ministry, not just equipment for ministry.

Extraordinary Power for Ordinary People

The difference between a Spirit-empowered leader and one who is not is the both the effectiveness of his ministry and the orientation of his heart, the latter leading to the former. With his death and resurrection Jesus not only gave believers access to the Father, he also gave them access to the Spirit.  Christ followers not only have power to know God through Jesus, we also have power to make him known through the Holy Spirit.

If we want to have truly effective ministry, then we must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Like a military vehicle, it’s not enough to have all the right equipment, we also need to be filled with gas. Practically speaking, this means that the effective minister plans, prepares and strategizes to position himself to be used by the Holy Spirit, but that in his heart he completely relies on the Holy Spirit to do work in peoples lives. Don’t hinder your disciple-making efforts with self-reliance.  Daily ask the Holy Spirit to empower you for effective ministry.

For more on the Holy Spirit check out this series of videos from the Living Hope Church- Maryville Campus. 

The One Thing That Will Make You a More Effective Leader

In 2009 I took my first full-time paid ministry position as a staff member for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  My official title was Area Representative and my primary responsibility was to equip and empower coaches and athletes to leverage their influence for Christ. I was responsible for all FCA ministry within a six county area.

At the time, the area I covered had no clear strategy for disciple-making, ministry efforts were scattered and disconnected and there were few athletes or coaches on board.  To say that it was hard to figure out what to do would be an understatement. I was simply overwhelmed.

A Timeless Principle That Makes a Timely Difference

In need of both clarity and encouragement, I sought out a respected leader in our city.  He was the CFO for a well respected bank.  He’d led the organization in that capacity for more than a decade and had substantial influence.  He was also a leader at a local church and was committed to making disciples.

I didn’t know him very well at the time (we’d only been introduced once), but in my mind he was the perfect person to get some insight from, so I asked for a meeting. To my surprise he agreed. What he had to say literally changed both my life and my leadership.

I shared with him my situation and asked for his input.  After an extended silence, he looked me in the eye and said, “consistency over time leads to influence and results in impact.” That was it? It seemed so simple.  I was honestly hoping for something more profound.

As I sat there dumbfounded he went on to explain that results take time.  There are no overnight successes.  In most cases, impacting people isn’t something that can happen in a day, a week or even a year.  It’s something that takes years of consistent effort in the same direction.

Most leaders, he said, don’t gain substantial influence because they’re too focused on immediate results.  They have sky high idealism and unrealistic expectations. As a result, they get heartbroken when those expectations are not met within just a few short weeks or months.  They change strategies, goals and direction so often that none of their efforts have time to gain traction.

It’s the leaders who keep the big picture in mind while striving for consistency that make the biggest impact.  Onward they march one day at a time, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year until their efforts build up momentum and eventually see breakthrough.

Image via inward-fitness.com

Image via inward-fitness.com

Consistency = Results

This principle was a game changer for me.  For the rest of my ministry I consistently focused my efforts on one big idea, equipping and empowering coaches and athletes to impact their teams for Jesus Christ through team specific ministry.

I started traveling to all the schools in my area to talk about team specific ministry every semester.  I traught student-athletes to start team specific ministries through leadership training at the local college every week. My supervisor and I even started an annual leadership camp to help coaches and their invited student athlete leaders start team specific ministries.  On top of all that, I made it a priority to meet with various athletes, sponsors or coaches every week for discipleship the entire time I was with FCA.

In other words, I made sure that I consistently aligned everything I did with the purpose of making disciples through team specific ministry.  If an opportunity didn’t directly align with this objective, then I simply didn’t do it. The results of this consistency speak for themselves.

By the end of five years we saw dozens of leaders raised up, roughly 20 team specific ministries started and hundreds of unchurched coaches and athletes influenced toward faith in Jesus, many of them even becoming Christians.

One Thing

Consistency is the one thing that will make or break you as a leader.  If you are inconsistent in your convictions, character, vision, strategy, goals, communication, relationships, approach or a number of other factors don’t expect anything less than inconsistent results.  Jim Collins, author of several leadership books, is right when he says in his book Great by Choice that “the sign of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.You simply cannot expect great results with an inconsistent approach.

If you want to be a leader who leverages opportunities for extraordinary impact, then make it your ambition to master the art of consistency.  Learn to be consistent in your faith, character, approach, relationships and life.  Identify the one thing God is calling you to do and then consistently do only that which is in line with that calling. Keep at it and over time you’ll eventually see breakthrough.

Discipleship in the Margins

September 29, 2014 3 comments

This past summer I had the privilege of directing an FCA leadership camp called EXCELeration Leadership Training Camp at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO.  The camp was geared toward coaches and their invited team leaders, but my focus as director was to get the right staff and volunteers involved.

A great camp is only possible when you have great people making it happen.  It was also evident, however, that my primary responsibility was not to develop the coaches and athletes that were attending the camp. It was to train, develop, equip and empower our staff and volunteers to do that.

With this in mind, I intentionally scheduled two half days of training for our camp staff and volunteers.  I poured every possible leadership principle into them that I could during that small window of opportunity.  I also created a few training checkpoints throughout camp so that I could further develop our camp leaders along the way.  We even ended camp with a one hour follow up so that our leaders would be better prepared for their next camp as well.

A Surprising Discovery

After camp was over, I asked my assistant director what he thought the best part was.  Without hesitation he said, “discipleship in the margins.” When asked to elaborate he explained that the scheduled training sessions were helpful because they gave him tools for his leadership tool box and put him in the right frame of mind for camp, but that it was the one-to-one time that he and I spent together in between scheduled activities that made the biggest difference.

Image via bestforbeginners.com

Image via bestforbeginners.com

His response caught me off guard. I thought for sure he would have said a segment from our pre or post-camp training.  Looking back on it, though, his answer makes sense.  When the assistant director and I were able to connect walking between activities, during a meal or on break we were able to discuss what we were learning as it was happening in real time.

I asked him questions.  He asked me questions.  I gave him leadership pointers and we were able to identify together what the Lord was doing in his life right then and there. It was personalized leadership development that was tailored to what he was experiencing as he was experiencing it. 

Intentional Relationships Not Just Scheduled Meetings

In John 3:22, the Scripture says that Jesus went to the Judean countryside and “remained their with” his disciples.  The Greek word used in the verse is “diatribo.” It literally means “to rub against” or to “rub off.” In other words, Jesus was doing discipleship in the margins.  This time wasn’t scheduled training, it was just Jesus “rubbing off” on the disciples by spending intentional time with them in between scheduled ministry activities.

In the same way, our most impactful discipleship will come not from scheduled meetings, but from intentional relationships.  Scheduled meetings are important (and we should utilize them), but they are only half the equation.  We must always work the truth of Jesus Christ into the lives of the people we’re discipling by being intentional in our relationships outside of those scheduled meetings.

You and I can exponentially increase our disciple-making effectiveness simply by being more intentional in our relationships.  This kind of discipleship is never convenient, but it’s always worth it.  It will happen with your children late at night when they should be in bed, but are instead struggling with theological questions.  It will happen when a co-worker shows spiritual curiosity while you’re trying to finish that email so you can get out of the office and go home.  It will happen after church when that person you’ve been ministering to finally asks to hear more about Jesus, intruding on your football watching.

This kind of discipleship cannot be planned, but it must be prioritized. Always be prepared to coach people up, to ask heart level questions and to point people to Jesus. If you’re willing to be intentional, it’s the time int he margins that will make the biggest difference.

Inside Out Leadership: Leading Others by Leading Yourself

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment

It has long been understood that leadership is about influence.  That’s just what leaders do.  They influence the people around them toward a specific goal or a desired outcome.  When we trust ourselves to a leader we subconsciously submit ourselves to their influence.  That influence effects our worldview, convictions, attitudes and even lifestyles.

Leadership is a privilege that comes with great responsibility. Most of us are so eager to make a difference that we focus all our time and energy on influencing others.  We think, pray, plan and strategize so that we can leave a lasting impact on the people around us.  This is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus of our leadership efforts.

A lot of leadership books, philosophies and approaches focus almost entirely on the external factors of leadership.  They’re concerned with casting vision, clarifying objectives, setting goals and motivating followers, but they miss the core responsibility of a leader, the responsibility to lead himself.

As Goes The Leader

When I volunteered as the chaplain of my college football team I made it my ambition to glorify God by winning as many of my teammates to Jesus as I could.  There were 100+ guys on the team and only three of us were Christians at the time.  I was a freshman and had zero leadership experience, but I knew that God was calling me to make a big difference on our team.

I read some books, talked with some friends and assumed I had everything I needed. I was wrong.  I did what I thought would make a difference.  I set a vision to see a team as committed to Christ as it was to championships.  I made it clear that my objective was to glorify God and make disciples.  I even had a strategy for how I was going to see those objectives accomplished.

The two other Christian teammates and I decided that we would host Bible studies once a week and do a devotional after practice on the field so that our teammates could stop to hear the gospel on their way into the locker room.  Sadly, we never had more than one teammate show up for the entire first year, and he only came a few times!

Our lack of results were embarrassing.  To say that we wanted to quit would be an understatement. Wanting to give this leadership thing one more try, I devoted my summer to prayer and contemplation so that I could identify exactly why our efforts weren’t having the impact I had expected. What I found haunted me for the entire summer.

As I examined my leadership, God began to make it painfully clear that the reason I couldn’t lead others was because I wasn’t leading myself.  My life didn’t reflect what I claimed to believe and my teammates could tell.  I was undisciplined, inconsistent and, at times, very contradictory. No wonder I didn’t have influence. How could I ask my teammates to do what I wasn’t doing?

Image via recoverydays.com

Image via recoverydays.com

Leading from the Inside Out

A veteran church leader named Paul emphasizes the importance of self-leadership in a letter he wrote to an upcoming leader named Timothy.  In the letter Paul specifically tells Timothy to, “watch [his] life and doctrine closely, persevere in them, because if [he does he] will save both [himself] and his hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16) In other words, a leader’s primary responsibility is to lead himself. Why? Because our example to others is what brings Jesus’ to life for others.

Paul’s message is simple.  You can’t give what you don’t have and you can’t ask others to do that which you are not doing.  If Timothy wants to influence others toward Jesus, then he must be living in a way that is consistent with the gospel.  His life and his teaching must be consistent with one another.  The Word of God actually needs to shape his convictions and conduct.  He can’t just tell people about Jesus, he must be personally devoted to Jesus himself.

Do you want to lead with greater influence? Great, then master the art of self-leadership.  People will do as you do, not as you say.  Focus your attention on the Lord’s work in your own life.  Learn to bring yourself before God daily and allow him to do work on your inner being.  Let Jesus transform and rule over your convictions, character and conduct.  Then and only then will you be able to influence others in the way that you desire.

The 3 Kinds of Discipleship

Discipleship is the process of learning to live for the glory of God by faith in and obedience to Jesus through relationship with other Christ-followers over time.  It is an ongoing relationship between one believer who assumes the role of mentor and another believer or non-believer who assumes the role of an apprentice.  In most cases, discipleship involves one would-be Christ-follower learning from another more mature Christ-follower.  In other cases, discipleship involves two maturing Christ-followers learning God’s ways with one another. (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:1-8)

In my experience, no two people are discipled in the exact same way because no two people are alike.  What you did to help one person grow in Christ won’t necessarily help another person grow in Christ.  I have found, however, that there seem to be three broad categories of discipleship.  Each of these methods of discipleship works different for each person, but the general principles behind them are the same.

I’ve listed the three types of discipleship in the order in which a person typically experiences them along the journey from non-believer to mature disciple or leader.  It’s important to note that as a person matures the mentor does not stop using the previous method of discipleship, but simply adds to it an additional method of discipleship.

Image via jrbriggs.com. Click the image for the original article for this image.

Image via jrbriggs.com. Click the image for the original article for this image.

1. Person-Oriented Discipleship.  This is where most discipleship relationships begin, particularly between a Christian and a non-Christian.  In this kind of discipleship, the mentor is focused almost entirely on the apprentice’s personal relationship with and attitude toward Jesus.  The goal is to help the person being discipled to believe in and experience the person of Jesus Christ at work in his or her life. It is the most casual kind of discipleship and it often happens as friends in the context of everyday life: at the office, over a meal during your lunch break, playing golf or hanging out while watching the big game. You can think of this as discipleship of the heart. 

2. Content-Oriented Discipleship.  This kind of discipleship often happens between both a mature Christian and a seriously interested, but not yet converted non-Christian, or a mature Christian and an eager to grow Christian who is typically newer in his or her faith. With content-oriented discipleship, the mentor and apprentice  typically spend most of their time reading through books of the Bible together, studying doctrine and discussing specific topics such as the Trinity, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, spiritual growth and obedience. This is the stage in which a person is learning what the Bible teaches, why it’s important and how it should effect his or her life. You can think of this as discipleship of the head.

During this phase, a mentor must be sure to continue with the person-oriented discipleship, while adding to it content-oriented discipleship. A person can’t grow in Christ if he or she doesn’t know about Christ.  Content-oriented discipleship ensures that the apprentice is learning about Christ, while person-oriented discipleship ensures that he or she is actually getting to personally know Christ.

3. Task-Oriented Discipleship. Where person and content oriented discipleship are focused typically on the matters of the heart and head, task oriented discipleship is concerned with matters of the hands.  In this type of discipleship, the mentor is typically training the apprentice to do a particular task or responsibility such as lead a small group discussion, oversee an area of ministry or serve in a particular way.

The mentor does not abandon the matters of the heart and head, but rather helps the apprentice understand how the matters of the heart should inform the way they think (head) and affect the way they use their skills (hands).   Good follow-up and coaching allows the apprentice to not only learn a skill, but to understand how the gospel should inform the way they think about and do that skill.

To be effective disciple-makers we must capitalize on all three kinds of discipleship.  This enables us to make well-rounded disciples who not only believe the gospel, but whose lives are shaped by the gospel.  What are some of your discipleship tips? You can leave a comment below.

For more posts on discipleship click here.

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