Discipleship: 7 Reasons Why It Matters

I love this article by Carey Nieuwhof about discipleship in the church today.  He has poignant insight about how the church has missed the mark on discipleship in many ways, and he provides thoughtful suggestions for moving forward.  I appreciate his diagnosis when he writes:

I agree that often Christians in the West are immature. I agree our walk doesn’t always match our talk.

But I also think the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.

The way many leaders approach maturity is to assume that knowledge produces maturity. Since when?

It’s wonderful that people understand what they believe, but knowledge in and of itself is not a hallmark of Christian maturity. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up. Love, by contrast, builds up. And some of the most biblically literate people in Jesus day got by-passed as disciples.

The goal is not to know, but to do something with what you know.

Discipleship is one of those things the church really can’t afford to ignore.  It can look really different depending on church culture and methodology, and be adapted and implemented in a variety of ways to suit our context….but we can’t afford to overlook it.

By the way, when I’m talking about discipleship, I’m talking about a lifelong process of FOLLOWING Jesus, INTEGRATING our faith into every area of our life, and MULTIPLYING our impact for the kingdom of God as we pass our faith on to others.

When we disciple people, we want to help them deepen their faith as a follower of Jesus in such a way that it translates to actively applying and integrating what they’ve learned into their day-to-day actions and decisions.  Eventually, as disciples draw closer to the heart of God and start to learn and care about the things that God cares about, they’ll have a natural outflow of wanting to serve, and begin investing their lives into others, thus multiplying the impact of discipleship.

The importance of discipleship will never go away.

Here are 7 reasons I think discipleship is essential:

1. A lost culture

The values of western culture continue to move further and further away from how God designed life to be lived.  Accepted attitudes about money, sex, power, and human dignity have never been further away from what God has communicated about his design for human flourishing.  The church has to respond not by telling people they are wrong (because they stopped listening a long time ago), but my showing how the life that Christ calls us to is actually a life worth living.  The answer is not to shout more loudly, but to live more authentically like Christ.

2. A generation gap

These statistics from the Barna group should make us take a long and hard look at what we’ve been doing, and what we need to change to reverse these trends:

  • 5 out of 10 in their fifties and older attend church weekly.
  • 4 out of 10 thirtysomethings
  • 3 out of 10 twentysomethings
  • 6 out of 10 spiritually active teens left the church in their twenties

(For more, check out this article and this article)

3. A loss of literacy

Biblical literacy is at an all-time low.  Fewer and fewer Christians are regularly reading the Bible, much less memorizing or meditating on what they are learning.  Christians used to be “people of the book” and now we are people of bite-size social media theology and feel good sayings.  (Read more here and here)

4. A promise of God’s presence

(Ready for some good news yet?)

In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus promises to be with his followers in their disciple-making endeavors.  “Surely I am with you always.”  Sure, we know that God is always with us because of that whole omnipresent thing, but there is an assurance that we will get to partner with God in a unique way in the work of discipleship.  Not many other enterprises come with that guarantee.

5. A reminder of God’s goodness

When we walk through life with someone we are investing in, and as we continue to point them to Jesus, we have a front row seat to the work God is doing in our disciple’s life.  Few things in life will bring greater joy than the living reminder we see before us of God’s active presence and goodness.  You will most likely be changed just as much as the person you are discipling!

6. A fulfillment of God’s command

God has clearly left this task for his followers to do.

Do you really believe Jesus was serious when he said, “Go and make disciples”?

There’s not a lot of wiggle room here that I can see.  Less memorizing.  More doing.

7. An example to follow

Jesus bet his life’s work on discipleship.  Robert Coleman puts it this way:

“His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with the men whom the multitudes would follow.” (From The Master Plan of Evangelism)

Jesus discipled 12 men for 3 years, and entrusted them to carry on his his message after he left this earth.  Jesus didn’t build a structure, or create a 5-year program strategy.  He discipled.  He instilled his life into a few close followers and trusted that they would then pass it on to others, who would pass it on to others. If we want to be like Jesus, we need to follow this example.  We need to disciple.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Why do you think discipleship matters?

Have you ever discipled someone before?  How did you see God work?  What did you learn from that experience?Dallas Willard Discipleship Quote

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Something You Can Build A Life On

In the swirling chaos of life, the advertisements competing for our attention, the online barrage of news and opinions (that often contradict each other), the relational conflict, the budgeting and financial pressure of making ends meet, the crises all around the world, and the unrest we hear about every day in the news, in all of this thing we call life, aren’t we all just looking for something we can rely on?

What is steady?  What can we trust?  What can we anchor ourselves to and find shelter through the rocky storms of life?

It’s a basic question every human has to answer.  What can I trust?  What foundation can I build my life on?  What can I know for sure?

We need a foundation to build our life on.  We need something we can trust.  We can’t build any sort of structure, any sort of life, if there is not a firm foundation to build upon.

This need for something we can trust, something we can build our lives on, is not new to the 21st century.  When the apostle John wrote a letter to first-century followers of Jesus, he addressed some of these same basic questions.

As he writes to these early followers of Jesus, he is writing to communities of believers who have been persecuted because of their faith.  The Jewish religious leaders of the day were opposing those who claimed that Jesus was God, and the ruling political power of the day, Rome, also sought out and persecuted the followers of Jesus.  It is to these people, the harassed and persecuted, those who have everything to lose by their allegiance to the cause of Christ, that John writes to give them assurance that they can, indeed, continue to build their life upon their faith in Jesus.  John assures these early Christians:

 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.  These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).

If you have Jesus, you have life.  If you know Jesus, you can have confidence that you know God.  If you don’t know Jesus, if you don’t have a relationship where you have trusted Christ and chosen to make Him the foundation you build your life upon, then you don’t have this life with God that is accessible only through Jesus.

Can it really be that simple?  Can we strip away the noise and complication and confusion and find this rock-hard truth that there is, indeed, an opportunity presented to us to live reconciled to God, to live a life with God rather than struggling against God, and to have confidence that this life will continue with God into eternity?

John writes to assure his readers, YES!  Yes, it really is this simple!  Yes, you can have confidence in your relationship with God!  Yes, this is something you can build your life upon!

Our confidence is not based in ourselves.  Our confidence is based on the complete work of Christ, and that if Jesus really is who He said He was, if He really did conquer the grave and rise from the dead, then we, too, can find a new kind of life in Him.  A kind of life that not even death can stop.  A kind of life that breathes and thrives and loves and overcomes.  This is the life offered to us in Christ.

The child-parent relationship is one that can never be broken.  Your mom and dad will always be your mom and dad.  No matter the status of the relationship, you will always be their biological son or daughter.  Nothing you do can ever change that connection!  This is one thing in life you can know for sure.

In the same way you can know that your mother is your mother, you can know that your Savior really IS your Savior.  Jesus really has come to offer us a new kind of life, to save us from the ways of this world and the consequences of our sin and show us a new way to live.

If you have come to believe that Jesus is God, and trust that He really did conquer death and rise from the dead, and you recognize that His death on the cross paid the penalty you could never pay for the wrong things you have done in your life, you can have confidence that you really do, through Jesus, have a new and lasting relationship with God.  A relationship that will last through eternity.

That sounds like a solid foundation you can build a life upon.

This reconciliation to God is just the beginning, and we have a whole life ahead of us where we learn how to live this new kind of life, to understand what the ways of God are, to find what it means to trust God and live our lives for Him, and to learn the patterns of walking through life with God.  But it starts with being reconciled to God through Jesus.

You CAN have confidence that you have a relationship with God.  This gives you a foundation that you can build a life upon.

Over the past year, I’ve been developing a curriculum called Following Jesus: Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.  The first lesson is what I’ve just been writing about:  Finding Confidence in Your Relationship With Jesus.  The book includes 9 studies total that look at what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and I’m excited to tell you that you can now check out this resource for yourself!  All 9 lessons are available as a PDF download here.  There are student copies and leader copies, and I’d encourage you to grab a friend and go through these together.  If you live locally in Orange County, you can also pick up a hard-copy at the bookstore at my church (Calvary Church of Santa Ana).

Following-Jesus-Photo

I would also love you to join me as I spend the next few Wednesday nights going through this at my church.  We’ll be meeting Wednesday nights at 7 pm and walking through and discussing these foundational lessons about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Faith, Doubt, and My First Car Accident

I can still vividly recall my first car accident.  Especially the part where I totaled my mom’s car.

I was 17, driving my mom’s forest green Dodge Neon to soccer practice.  I had just pulled up to a stop sign in the neighborhood by my high school, waiting and watching the cross traffic, ready to turn left and hoping to not be late to practice.  I saw the oncoming car slow down to make a right turn onto the street I was waiting on, and then I saw that same car lose control, skid straight towards me, and slam into the front of my mom’s car (thankfully no one was hurt—but the damage to the car was extensive enough to declare it totaled.  Yep, that’s right.  I totaled a car by sitting at a stop sign.  What did YOU do when you were a teenage driver?).

After the dust settled and I was back on my way to practice, my hands shook as they gripped the steering wheel.  For the next few weeks, whenever I sat at a stop sign, I eyed every car driving by as a potential wrecking ball bound for impact.

Before that accident, I had never questioned the safety of sitting at a stop sign.  It took a few weeks of safe driving experiences to finally move out of that stage when I suspected any oncoming vehicle of devious means, but eventually life as a teenage driver went back to as safe as could be expected.

It’s been 14 years since that accident.  Thankfully since then my driving safety has suffered little more than two slight accidents where I was rear ended.  Even with those, I experienced some minor PTSD for the next few weeks of irrationally bracing myself when I slowed down, expecting the car behind me to barrel into my bumper.

As I think about life, specifically in regards to faith and doubt, it helps me to think about how I react to car accidents.

I’m going through life thinking everything is fine and then – WHAM – something happens that completely knocks me off base.  Sometimes it is something unexpected, or sometimes it is something expected that fails to deliver and becomes a major disappointment.  Either way, my regular pattern of life gets hammered by a brutal reality check.

Over the course of my life I’ve driven countless hours in a car, and I almost never suffer anxiety about getting rear ended.  In my day-to-day experience of the world, drivers stop when they are supposed to stop.  It’s not until that regular pattern gets disrupted and I have a reason to question my experience, based on this new data of actually getting rear ended, that I’ll experience some sweaty palms and heart palpitations when I get behind the wheel for the next week or so.  But then, after a few weeks of reassuring normalcy that cars indeed will not crash into me on a regular basis, my anxiety subsides and I go back to my normal driving routine.

Let’s think about this now in the context of faith and doubt.  We all have the things in life that we place our faith in.  By the way, I like to define faith as trust in what we have reason to believe is true.  Based on our understanding and experience of the world and this life as we know it, we choose to place our trust and order our lives according to that which we believe to be true.  Faith, I think, is more of a choice about how to order our lives, what we choose to acknowledge as trustworthy, and how we make decisions in line with what we believe, and less of a feeling.

What I’ve observed in my own experience is that I’ll be going through life as usual, with no reason to question or doubt the things I’ve placed my faith in.  Then — WHAM! — the rug gets pulled out from under me.  Tragedy strikes, hopes are crushed, life hasn’t turned out how I thought it would, someone I trust hurts me, or some other life experience happens that makes me question if my way of thinking about the world, and how I’ve trusted certain things to be true, can really be trusted after all.

The question we’re faced with in these moments, as doubt creeps in and we wonder if we can really continue trusting those things we have set our faith in, is how much we let these unexpected moments define our experience of life.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m a much more fickle person than you.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that if we’re honest with what we really think, we all have moments of serious doubt at times.

What, then, are we to make of the tension that exists between faith and doubt?

While I think there is much to be unpacked in that question, I want to focus on one aspect of the relationship between faith and doubt that I’ve been thinking about more lately.  And it’s this:

Doubt is seasonal.

I think it is normal, natural, and actually healthy for our faith to go through seasons of doubt.

For faith to remain vibrant, and for us to not settle into ruts and do things simply for the sake of doing things, we have to constantly remember why we chose to orient our life and follow certain paths to begin with.  Seasons of doubt make us question what we really believe, and out of that is a healthy process of seeking the truth and either reaffirming that which we previously believed in with a renewed faith, or refining our faith and shedding false belief that hindered us from being growing people.

When I was driving during the weeks following a car accident, I questioned the safety of the drivers around me.  Generally speaking, I have faith in the rules of the road, and faith that the other drivers on the road will be following the same set of rules as I am.  I have faith when I’m driving down the freeway that the car next to me will stay in his lane and not drift into mine.  I have faith that cars will stop at red lights and go at green lights.  I have faith that cars will drive on the right side of the road.  We literally could not function as a society and drive our individual vehicles to and from work, soccer practice, dinner parties, and the grocery store if we did not all have faith that other drivers were following the same set of driving rules.   So it’s no wonder that when someone breaks one of the rules, resulting in an accident, that our faith in the safety of driving is shaken.  We panic.  We reevaluate how safe driving really is.  We question if we can trust what we previously trusted.  We wonder if there’s something we could have done differently to prevent the situation.

Maybe my response to these feelings of doubt is to look into buying a safer car.  Maybe I realize I’m not as aware of the other cars around me as I should be.  Maybe I realize my own guilt of being a distracted driver and resolve to change that.  Whatever my response, this disruption of my normal assumed safety is a good cause for self-examination and re-evaluation of what I’ve previously trusted.

However, just because I’ve been in an accident, it doesn’t mean I give up driving all together.  It reminds me that there really are no guarantees of safety in this world and that at any moment things can come crashing in and disrupt my day-to-day routine and experience of life.

Just because my faith has been shaken, just because I’m experiencing doubt, just because I’m questioning God, it doesn’t mean I give up my faith all together.  It reminds me that I live in a very fallen, very broken, very messy world and there really are no guarantees of safety.  It reminds me that at any moment things can completely fall apart, and there literally is nothing I can do to prevent it.

But just because I have doubts, it doesn’t mean I throw away my faith all together.

I’ve found over and over again that in these seasons of doubt, if I run away from God and stop trusting Him altogether, if I run away from my community of faith, I wind up running away from the very answers I’m looking for.

I’m not saying faith should be blind.  I’m not saying that we should just ignore hard questions and pretend everything is ok.  I’m actually a huge advocate of intellectual honesty in our faith.  I’m saying we should give God the benefit of the doubt in these situations and rather than running away, we should lean in even more.

Yes, ask hard questions.  Yes, be honest about how you’re feeling.  But do so as you press into God.  So the rug got pulled out from under you?  Do you think you’ll find the answers you’re looking for apart from God?

In my own experience, I’ve found that even though it’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings, entering into my doubt and not running from my fears has helped bring resolution sooner and grown my faith in significant ways.  Sometimes it hurts like hell, and often things get worse before they get better, but running away from my doubts and questions has never helped at all.

This is one of those sticky, messy areas of faith.  It’s the real life, dirty, gritty, blood-sweat-and-tears part of faith.  The part where I’m very aware of my humanity.  The part where I do a lot of yelling and cussing and crying in my conversations with God.  But it’s also the part where the dark corners of my heart, the places where the hope and love of the gospel haven’t penetrated to yet, get brought to the table and some real breakthroughs happen.  It’s where the most real growth and change happen.

I wish I had more answers.  I wish I could tell you that bad things won’t happen.  But the truth is, sometimes life can really screw with you.  Hard things happen, and we are left with lots of questions.  The point of all this is to say that when you find yourself with those hard questions, that you can take them to God and see what He does with them.  Don’t hide the questions.  Don’t feel guilty about asking them.

I wish I could tell you I know the answers to some of those hard questions.  I wish you had answers for some of mine.  All I know is that every time I hit one of these seasons, God is right there in the thick of it with me.  And the more I’ve learned to lean INTO him rather that away from him, it’s turned out a little bit better.

Remember that it’s a season.  Eventually, after an accident, you get back to a place where you can be on the road without being driven by fear.  Eventually, after a crisis, your faith will stop expecting the worst to happen.  I know that if you’re in a crisis of faith right now, it might not feel like it.  That’s ok.  This is where community is such a beautiful thing because where your faith is weak I can lend you some of mine.

Lean into God.  Lean into your community of faith.  Bring your questions, your heart, your honest self to the table.  Don’t let your fear drive you.  Lean in.  I know you can.

Follow Me

Two words have been resounding in my mind and my heart these past few months.  

2 simple words.  

1 incredible invitation.  

FOLLOW ME.

Follow me and find your true self.

Follow me and find what you were made for.

Follow me and find wisdom for how life is meant to be lived.

We were made for a purpose.  Every human life is a masterpiece created by God to accomplish great things.  When we choose to live life according to our own ways, we disconnect ourselves from God and His purposes for our life.  Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father, to fix the broken relationship caused by our selfish ways, and show us a new way to live.

If we choose to follow Jesus, we are invited and caught up into a greater story of how life is meant to be.  We learn from the Creator of life Himself how this span of years we are given here on earth was originally intended to be. 

We were made to know and be known by God.  We were made to live in healthy relationships with those around us.  Sin and brokenness have marred this life we were created for, but Jesus has made a way for us to get back to the relationship and the life we were intended for.  He paid the price we couldn’t pay for ourselves, dying on our behalf so that we could live for Him!  It’s not just about going to Heaven, but following a new way of life during our time here on earth—living differently TODAY because of the new life we have found in Jesus.

It’s the kind of life that has no regrets.

It’s the kind of life that has confidence in making good decisions.

It’s the kind of life that is abounding with purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.

It’s the kind of life that is invested in healthy relationships with the people we love.

Jesus taught and modeled a new way to live.  It’s a life of freedom, selflessness, joy, and adventure.

Maybe you’re new to who Jesus is, or maybe you’ve grown up hearing a lot about who He is but still haven’t quite figured out how and why it matters in your own life.  Or maybe you’ve identified yourself as a “Christian” but you are still choosing to live life your own way.

Jesus invites you to follow Him.  Follow His Way of life.  I invite and encourage you to find out what this means.

The more I’ve taken steps to live this life that Jesus has called us to, the more I’ve found it is the BEST life possible.  He really is the one who designed it, after all, so it makes sense that He would have the best advice on how it is meant to be lived.

He’s invited you into an incredible adventure and a new way of life…

Will you follow Him?

 

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full -John 10:10

 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do -Ephesians 2:10