From Disciples to Disciplers Featured on Discipleship Network


Happy August. And here’s a short note with a big link…🙂

Season 4 coverA couple weeks ago I was interviewed by Phil Miglioratti of Discipleship Network / Pray! Network about the From Disciples to Disciplers series (although I was able to sneak in a quick plug for Lay It Down at the end as well). You can read the whole interview here.

Check out the rest of the recently updated Discpleship Network site while you’re there — they’re still at it, even post-NavPress, and as such deserve your support.

If you’ve been following for awhile, you’ll already have a pretty good idea of what I said; if not, it’s a quick way to get a nice overview of my whole philosophy and why I felt the series needed to be created in the first place.

Either way, hope you enjoy it. Hope to be back soon with some new material (or new reviews, at the very least…).

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Starting in the Harvest


Our making of disciples flows out of our life with God, to be certain. Yet in some ways, the order needs to be inverted as well: Only as we make disciples are we perfected in the faith. As we reach out, we are shaped and transformed. As we go about life, the mission of Jesus is to recognize the people in sphere of influence and help them take the next steps toward God. Engaging in that mission results in not only an increased quality of relationships, but a changed life for us as well.

This “inversion” struck me from the outset, and it’s critical to what this book is all about. We are not only called to make disciples, but as we make disciples we become more complete disciples ourselves. That’s just one of the “differences” this book highlights.

TheDiscipleshipDifference-Cover-238x325Robert E. Logan and Charles R. Ridley. The Discipleship Difference: Making Disciples While Growing as Disciples. 224p., $14.99, Logan Leadership.

(Disclaimer alert: I’m not just a fan; I’m also editor for this book. But as mentioned before, I was a fan of Bob Logan’s writing and ministry years before I was his editor. Thus, I went in with a positive bias. :))

Two other main points Bob makes throughout the book: 1) One size doesn’t fit all—Jesus changed His approach with every person He encountered, and so should we; 2) We are not just meant to be disciples making disciples—we are disciples making disciples who make disciples. If people are sitting at our feet instead of moving on to help others sit at Jesus’ feet, we’ve missed something huge.

This holistic approach to discipleship is woven throughout the book, which is also borne out by the branches of the “discipleship tree” examined here:

  • Experiencing God
  • Spiritual Responsiveness
  • Sacrifical Service
  • Generous Living
  • Disciplemaking
  • Personal Transformation
  • Authentic Relationships
  • Community Transformation

Another huge point is that discipleship is not reserved for believer—it starts “in the harvest,” with those who haven’t yet turned to Christ. By taking this approach, the result is new believers who already are disciples, rather than having some false dichotomy between belief and some later “higher calling” to discipleship. The two were never meant to be separated, and they’re not here.

The overall format of the book goes between practical advice and a fictional case study (“Rob”), whose course we follow as he implements that advice. It’s a success story (of course), but as opposed to other books I’ve seen that have used this device it’s a realistic story — there are real challenges; everything doesn’t go perfectly; sometime things happen that make no sense at all, at least at first. But when it comes to discipleship, staying the course is more than half the battle, and our travels with “Rob” throughout this book help us to vicariously experience that—with the hope that we’ll experience it for real after putting the book down.

On the other side of the spectrum, Chuck Ridley adds dozens of more academic notes throughout the book “if you care about the research.” Put together, these two facets help maintain a balance throughout the book—not only illustrating how discipleship works, but also showing us proof that it works.

In the later chapters, we’re (re-)introduced to the tools of discipleship. And really, all that needs to be said is that the hardest thing about using these tools is being willing enough to obey and actually use them.

As always, I’ve really enjoyed (and been challenged by) The Discipleship Difference, and am confident it’ll do the same for many others.

 

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Living into Leadership


Spiritual eldership is something lived and recognized, not something attained. That said, growing into eldership requires guidance. Bob Thune’s book helps potential elders—and potential leaders at any level, for that matter—to get some of that guidance and training, and in a way that’s substantial without being overwhelming.

gospel_eldershipRobert H. Thune. Gospel Eldership: Equipping a New Generation of Servant Leaders. 144p., $14.99, New Growth Press.

(Disclosure alert: I was editor for this book. Of course, that’s just another reason why you should buy it.)

This book is set up so that elder training can be done in smaller groups, and includes practical exercises and discussion questions for each of the ten lessons here. As such, it makes a nice complement for books such as Oswald Sanders’ Spiritual Leadership or Alexander Strauch’s Biblical Eldership (the latter being a heavy influence on this volume). There’s a good amount of content here, but again in this form it’s manageable for people to process.

And again, there’s that “living” thing. The emphasis here, refreshingly, is not on “leadership skills” but on living in a way that reflects Christ—because, as an elder, you need to to be doing that, far more importantly than knowing business principles, etc. Thus, lessons and exercises focus on such matters as having a servant heart, dealing with false righteousness, inculcating spiritual disciplines, having a missional focus, and dealing with temptation (including those temptations that are peculiar to spiritual leadership).

It’s worth noting that Bob is coming from a complementarian position here when it comes to eldership, rather than an egalitarian one. (In layman’s terms: Only men can serve as elders.) If that’s a stumbling block, so be it. If not and/or if you’re on the fence about it, there’s plenty here worth processing, regardless of your own/your church’s position on eldership.

And again: All of us had better be on a path toward spiritual maturity. And if you are, there’s plenty to be gleaned from Gospel Eldership, whether you’re ready to become “that elder guy” or not.

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All This Gettin’ Born….


As I continue to ruminate on Bill Mallonee’s latest, it’s hard not to see it as a concept album of sorts, that concept being: Life is long. And hard.

Now, before you say, “Well duh, it’s a Bill Mallonee album,” hear me out.

It’s true that “existential [and sometimes literal] Dust Bowl tunes” have been Bill’s stock-in-trade for quite some time now. At the same time—and this was touched on in my review of his previous album, Lands and Peoples—with each passing album, the songs have become even less observational and even more lived-in. It’s music for the end of a long day—heck, a long life—when you’re finally slowed down enough to hear it properly.

That said: Despite the struggles that ooze out of Bill’s work, there’s hope. There’s always hope. And sometimes, even joy. That’s why I trust him—and why you should, too.

slow traumaBill Mallonee. Slow Trauma. CD $18; download $12.

So let’s touch on that hope and joy—and faith—a bit more. Because while there’s a deepening sense of mortality throughout this, there’s also an almost-constant reminder that life doesn’t end here, and that we can catch glimpses beyond this life even now. In the end, that’s what keeps us going even in this life. We get it all in the same package, good and bad, and a lot of this album is about accepting that truth.

And that truth is nowhere clearer than in the opening invocation, “One and the Same.” It’s probably the shortest song Bill’s ever recorded in 70+ albums, and yet it’s all you need to kick this thing off. Stately, slidy, “hi-strung” (Bill’s term) guitars ease in, as Bill croons in one of the highest vocal registers he’s ever hit:

What you hold onto
and what you let go of
and what you should give away
What’s gonna save you
and what makes you smile?
Sometimes, they are one and the same.

And with that, the Rickenbackers are off and ringing in “Only Time Will Tell,” a song of promise, both future and unfulfilled, about all of us who have ever come west in the hope of a new life: “You got your bonanza towns and turning up the soil / a kind of madness seems to take hold …. / Flash of a coin and we go under the spell / Where’s it all going? Only time will tell.”

From there, the next couple songs steer more strongly into that aforementioned mortality (and just plain human frailty) territory. Waiting for the Stone (to Be Rolled Away)” largely takes place in “the parking lot of the Holy Spirit Assembly / …a beacon in the desert night until the break of day,” and reminds us that “it’s so hard to get clean, and it’s hard to stay that way / Waiting for the stone to be rolled away.” Bill and wife Muriah Rose harmonize together nicely on the next one, the moody, cinematic, and probably self-explanatory “Hour Glass (Only So Many Grains of Sand).”

We get one of those literal Dust Bowl songs next with “WPA (When I Get to Where They’re Taking Us),” the story of a husband/father seeking work who-knows-where for who-knows-how-much: “Tossing you a scrap; throwing you a crust / it’s all ashes to ashes and dust to dust…. / Say good-bye to the family / I promise I’ll write regualrly / When I get to where they’re taking us.”

Just when things start to feel a bit too down, though, things perk back up with “Ironclad,” another song about leaving, but with a wry look at the past and with a better end in mind:

Wind the tape back to the very start
And offer up another broken heart

Georgia never was a place I could call home
Too many paths to navigate with those on the throne
And it’s good to know when to stay & when to flee
Every truth worth learning is right there on the streets.

The soulful, slightly trippy “High-Beam,” arguably my favorite here (but it changes near-daily), continues the threads of self-confession and departure:

My pen? It never went dry
This guitar could always woo
Till my soul my the color of box-car rust
& my heart was big-sky blue

Whatever is heavy as hell
is what you shouldn’t carry….

All this gettin’ born
and these roses & thorns, and the confusing parts
Well, I cobbled a life together with them
just to watch it fall apart.

“Doldrums in Denver” (an Allen Ginsburg reference) brings us back to the moodiness (“and it’s time you leave this town / there ain’t nothin’ for you now”), before looking up—and as way up as the man can muster—for the last couple songs. “The King’s Highway (A New Set of Wheels)” is really the first of two endings. After warning us, “You can go with God, or with a clenched fist,” we’re both cautioned and promised, “The Great Beyond is gonna have to wait another day / But you’ll get a new set of wheels on the King’s Highway…. Could be soon, could be far, but that’s not for me to say.”

And then there’s the official closer, “One Last Hill.” In it, Bill’s looking, praying for a longer glimpse of that Great Beyond, and hoping, praying that he’ll get it—even as he glimpses in the rear-view mirror at a past he’d wished had gone better in so many ways:

You know, it’s funny how things can get so damn misplaced
Where you bet your farm & where you place your faith…

Will the Gatekeeper know my name?
Will there be Someone to claim me for his own?…

Lord, gather me unto Thyself
when my wayward heart grows still
I just wanna see over that last hill.

And that’s something we should all be able to appreciate. So hit that link by the album cover above, and get appreciating.

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Pick It Up—Put It On—Walk It Out: a small-group session


For this session, you’ll need….

  • 1 old, beaten-up jacket and one new jacket, for every four to six people. The older and smellier your old jacket is, the better—but not so bad that people would get dirty just putting it on! (Know any mechanics or landscapers who’d loan you their jackets for the day/evening?) Pair up your jackets, and leave them in an open area where everyone will be able to easily access them.
  • a plan to worship
  • a plan to celebrate. However you want to handle this is up to you; perhaps you even want to have a separate session for this. But make plans to celebrate together what God’s been doing in your midst over the last several weeks.

Laying Down Your Day (15 minutes)

It’s our final session of this study—thanks for coming! I know you’ve just arrived and gotten comfortable, but I’m going to ask you to put on coats anyway—the coats you see over there.

Have your group gather into groups of four to six by each pair of coats.

Everyone should try on the old jacket first. But don’t just put it on and take it off again—get comfortable with it. Take a whiff of it; get a feel for where it’s been.

Put on one of the dirty jackets; show everyone how it’s done.

Once you’ve done that, pass it on to the next person to try on, while you go ahead and try on the new jacket. Again, leave it on for a few moments—get a feel for where this jacket hasn’t been yet, and what kind of person might wear it.

Pass on your dirty jacket to the next person, and repeat your actions with the new jacket. Once everyone’s had a chance to try on both jackets, bring the group back together. Discuss:

  1. Which jacket felt better while trying it on? Why?

Ask for one or more volunteers to read Colossians 3:1–16, then discuss:

  1. How was trying on and taking off each jacket like the taking off of the “old self” and the putting on of the “new self” that Paul describes here? How is it different?

 

Ask for another volunteer to read the following passage from Day 4. Then, discuss the question that follows.

Our natural “old” experience is life and death, and that experience extends to everything else in this life. The new resurrection life is life and life only.… Gaining this perspective on our lives on earth changes everything, and frees us to become more like the Savior we profess to follow.

  1. When have you experienced this truth? Or, put another way: How does “put[ting] on the new self” (Colossians 3:9) free us to “seek the things that are above” (v. 1)? Share from your own experience. 

Laying Down the Word (20 minutes)

Read Hebrews 12:1–15 as a group, letting each member read at least one verse each. It’s OK to let the same person read the opening and closing verses, but make sure everyone gets a turn.

Let’s connect this passage with how we’ve experienced this study, and discuss these questions together:

  1. Describe the flow of this passage. How does it start, where does it go to, and where does it end?

 

  1. Let’s apply that flow to ourselves now. On a personal level, how has the laying down of your life and your pursuit of Jesus—and the disciplines you’ve undertaken in order to do that—already begun to produce “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” in you? Share a little about that.

 

  1. How has that, in turn, enabled you to “ [s]ee to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God”? In order words, how has this study helped you to help others to “lay it down”? Again, share how God’s been able to use you in this capacity.

 

Have a volunteer read the following passage from “Pick Up Your Cross,” and then discuss the question that follows:

“Your life is no longer yours. Stop behaving as if it is. You cannot force God to lead you into the next phase of your life. You can renounce all you have and entrust your life to him, move when he tells you to move, and rejoice that he considered you worthy to be trusted with anything. Pick up your cross. Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Jesus. And truly begin to follow the One who carried your cross before you were even born.”

  1. How are you still wrestling with this idea? Is there fear, a lack of understanding, maybe even an unwillingness to deal with it? Take a step of faith here and be open about what you’re still working through.

 

Laying Down Your Life (20+ minutes)

Get into your pairs one more time. Give everyone time to reassemble.

We’ve spent a lot of time this week looking beyond this week. For the next fifteen minutes, I’d like you to do the same thing with your partner(s). Talk about how God’s been speaking to your heart this week, and over the last few months. How has God helped you to better understand what he’s created you for, and what are the next steps you think he’s leading you into?

When you’re done sharing, pray for one another. Don’t be afraid to pray not only about what the other person’s shared, but also about what you’ve been seeing in that other person over the last several weeks. Put together what God’s been showing you with what God’s been showing them. Let’s get started.

Bring your group back together after fifteen minutes. Ask for a few volunteers to share what God’s been showing them—but if more than a few people share, don’t cut if off. Let God have his way.

Afterward, lead your group in prayer, again giving everyone the opportunity to pray. Thank God for your time together—and for the eternal life you look forward to together. Ask God to help each of you to go even deeper into laying down your lives before him, and before others.

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Repent and Believe… Simple, Right?


There’s a number of things I really like about this book; there’s other things about it that are rather distracting/annoying (and which may or may not be the author’s fault). As such, it’s kind of the epitome of “three-and-a-half stars.” Whether you fall on the four-star side or the three… well, read on….

AndersonNeil Anderson. Becoming a Disciple-Making Church: A Proven Method for Growing Spiritually Mature Christians. 240p., $15.99, Bethany House.

A lot of people will recognize Neil Anderson, and should; his books The Bondage Breaker and Victory over the Darkness, among many others, have helped a lot of people discover how to live out of their identity in Jesus, and in so doing experience deliverance from sin and/or destructive habits and thought processes. A few quotes to give you a bit more of the flavor of this book:

  • “It took me years to realize that people are not in bondage to past traumas; they are in bondage to lies they believe because of the trauma, such as I’m no good. God doesn’t love me. I’ll never measure up. I can’t trust anybody. Essentially, we become prisoners to the lies we believe.”
  • “[A]n African bishop… asked, “Why do you have so much counseling in your country?… In Africa we repent!”
  • “Your old self was (past tense) crucified with Christ. The only proper response to this powerful truth is to believe it. You may be tempted to ask, “What experience must I have in order for this to be true?” We don’t make anything true by our experience [emphasis mine]. We choose to believe what God already accomplished for us and to live accordingly by faith—then it works out in our experience.”

If that sounds like the kind of book you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed here—especially if you’re unfamiliar with Anderson’s previous work. If you are… well, that leads into my kvetches about this book….

  • From the verso page, it’s apparent that almost everything here is a reworking of material from past books.
  • As the above examples illustrate, this book is really more about deliverance than discipleship. Granted, there’s a relationship between the two, but it was especially disappointing to get to the chapter “A Strategy for Making Reproducible Disciples,” and discover that its centerpiece is a bare-boned outline of Anderson’s Victory Series, basically listing the various studies in the series.
  • Indeed, when it’s not re-presenting old (albeit rich) material, the book often reads like an infomercial for Freedom in Christ Ministries. And again, while I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing more of Anderson’s materials—some of which I know is genuinely good stuff—that’s not what I look for from the book I’m actually reading.

That all said, there’s a very basic message here that all of us need to get back to: repent, and believe that Jesus is who He says He is—and that He can do what He says He can do in each of our lives. When that happens, people—and churches—become healthy, fully functional, and growing. And that message, as they say, is not nothing.

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Walk It Out


All of our lives, when lived rightly, are a journey into trust. A few days ago, I mentioned one prayer I’ve been repeatedly lifting up to God. In fact, there’s another particular prayer I’ve been praying for quite a while, and I think (and hope) that the development of this prayer has been reflected in these pages.

At first, and for a long time, it went like this: “Lord, help me to learn to trust you more deeply.” However, over the last several weeks, I’ve felt the need to add this: “…and to become more worthy of your trust.”

This is not about theology, so don’t go there. This is about relationship. I want to know God more deeply, but I have to allow him to know me more deeply. Again, suspend the theology; I know God knows me. And yet, I try to hide.

This journey into trust, however, requires me to stop hiding. It requires me to put my sin and my agenda and my fear away, so I can truly experience God’s knowing of me—that my relationship with God might be truly intimate and not just “all in order.”

The fact is, both parts of this prayer are flip sides of the same problem—there’s only one person in this equation who can’t be trusted. However, my own untrustworthiness feeds my inability to trust God. Only as I begin to obediently walk out what God’s commanded do I begin to, in turn, feel as if I can trust God with every part of my life. God doesn’t condemn me; he forgives me and wants me to be better.

This isn’t just for me. At the same time that I need to receive his grace, I need to extend it to others. I need to show genuine pity—not in the sense of “I feel sorry for you,” but in the sense of “I ache for you and want to help you.” Because that’s the kind of pity Jesus has shown to me.

As we’ve observed repeatedly this week, we know the way to where Jesus is going. It’s time to walk it out.

We are called to be a blessing to every person we meet, whether they realize it or not. The only way to become that blessing is to be emptied of our own stuff, so that God can fill and transform us into the individuals he has created us to be. Each of our lives need to move from being of Christ to being in Christ—and finally to the point where our life “is Christ” (Philippians 1:21, et al.).

Love is union—with Jesus and with those he’s called us to love. We as Christians—or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “little Christs”—are called to reconcile the world to God. We’re not just here waiting to be taken from the world, but to begin bringing a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven to the world now, even as we are “in the world but not of it” (see John 17:15–16).

We cannot change the things, or the opportunities, that we’ve lost, but we can be prepared to receive and walk in the new things God has created us to do. We are new creations. God is still creating something new within us. God wants to bring us into something new. But we must want what God wants—not just something new.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted…. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:1–3, 12–14).

One last thing to remember about walking: It’s not always exciting. Sometimes there are breathtaking vistas, and that great feeling of “a second wind.” Sometimes it’s monotonous. Sometimes it’s difficult. Often, it’s just plain tiring. But walking gets you somewhere. If we’re following Jesus, it’s somewhere better.

We can walk in the knowledge that tomorrow will be a good day—and that even if it’s not a good day, experientially speaking, God is working out the events of the day for our good (Romans 8:28). Because his good is our good.

The time to walk out our new lives in Christ is today. So let’s do it. And may God continue to bless you as you lay it all down again each day, for the sake of the One who laid down his life for us.

Lay It Down Today

We’ve approached your next steps from a variety of angles this week. Hopefully, at least one of these approaches has resonated with you. So now, it’s your turn.

If you sense what God is leading you into next, or know you’re already in the midst of it, spend time thanking God for the desire he’s given you, how he’s fulfilling it, and for the desire to keep moving forward. If not, spend time pursuing things with God. “[H]ow much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

Finally, spend some time thanking God for this journey into trust he’s taken you on over the last few months; and ask him to take you far beyond even where you are now—and into eternity with him.

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