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Discipleshift

DiscipleShift Book Review

I have read more books on discipleship and small groups ministry than I can remember. So, when I was recommended the book DiscipleShift by Jim Putman earlier this summer, I was somewhat hesitant to dive in. Much of what I have read over the past ten years concerning discipleship in contemporary Christianity is largely theoretical. Of course, there are obvious standouts in the discipleship literary landscape that have fundamentally shaped the way we as Christian leaders think about helping Christians mature. But, for every Exponential by Jon and Dave Ferguson (which offer abundant and paradigm-setting insights), there may be five to ten other works that provide not the how’s of discipleship, but the why’s and what’s. This information is useful to be sure, but perhaps not as helpful.

DiscipleShift belongs to the former category: a book published in April 2013 that I believe ought to be in the hands of every pastor and ministry leader – a book that will provide leadership insights into the importance of genuine Christian discipleship for years to come.

What causes this work to stand out among the rest is its absolute insistence on the fact that  the discipline of discipleship in a Christian community is not merely one avenue among many toward having a healthy, growing, ministry – it is the only avenue. If the Church isn’t making disciples, maturing followers of Jesus Christ, then it can’t rightly be called Church. The community of Christians exists for this one purpose: making disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them all that [Jesus] has commanded. DiscipleShift is honest about this mission and offers suggestions and tools for leaders to guide their communities into being shaped by that one goal.

“Attendance, busyness, construction, finances, and programs are not real indications of success. The core question of effectiveness the question that ultimately matters is whether the people who are getting saved are being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Are we making mature disciples of Jesus whoa re not only able to withstand the culture but are also making disciples of Jesus themselves.?” (p.19)

Far from being a book which makes discipleship sound good on paper only, Putman and his co-authors Bobby Harrington and Robert Coleman draw from years of experience and rigorous study to help form a picture of ministerial success that measures and values the same things Jesus did during His discipleship ministry.

“This model we advocate measures success by how many people are being loved and led into the way of Jesus, are coming to Christ and following Him. It measures how many people are being transformed into Christ’s likeness and are pursuing His kingdom mission. It values and measures how many are actually becoming disciples who can make disciples” (p. 29).

Rather than measuring the classic numbers of how many people, how many programs, and how much money, DiscipleShift calls leaders to dig deeper and measure not how many people showed up or raised their hands, but how many of the people who showed up got connected to a small group, or how many people in a small group are being mentored to lead, or how many leaders are mentoring others. It’s a model that teaches us to  focus on reproduction for the life of a believer; not just involvement, but fruit – the very things Jesus told His disciples were most important.

So if you’re struggling with not seeing the results from the ministry with which you’re involved, and if you’re looking for a resource that can help shape or re-shape the work God is asking you to do, or if you’re simply interested in finding out more about what the word “discipleship” means at all, pick up this book and apply it. I certainly intend to.

Amelia Earhart

What The New Amelia Earhart Can Teach Us About Being A Christian

William Shakespeare posed an interesting question once when he wrote, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” I have often wondered if a name truly speaks volumes about who a person is. Those of you who have kids, perhaps you remember picking out a specific name for your baby because of its meaning. Or, perhaps, you recall not choosing certain names because of who that name was associated with in your past. We place such importance on names in our society, but what role do they play in our day-to-day lives?

As we explore the topic, I wonder if you have heard of the rather fascinating story making it’s rounds amongst internet circles – it’s one that bridges history with the present and it all revolves around the story of a young fearless woman with the very unique name: Amelia Earhart. The historical Amelia Earhart was first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and, today, her name is remembered for the legacy that she left behind which inspires woman to achieve greatness – whatever that greatness may be. However in 1937, as Amelia was bravely attempting to fly around the globe, she never completed her mission as she disappeared,  never again to be found. In fact, that very tragedy is still considered a mystery to this very day. Now, over seventy-five years later, another woman wants to fly the same route and essentially finish Amelia’s original dream. The catch? This new young traveler is also named Amelia (Rose) Earhart… but shares no DNA relationship to the first pilot. Amelia Rose will be the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine aircraft if she completes the flight plan of her role-model’s quest. She explained, “By recreating and symbolically completing Amelia Mary Earhart’s flight around the world, I hope to develop an even deeper connection to my namesake and also encourage the world to pursue their own adventures. Amelia believed that, ‘adventure is worthwhile in itself’ and it is that type of attitude that spurs us to seek the unknown, push our limits and fly outside the lines.” Therefore, truly, a name contains within it the potential to evoke emotion or even inspire average people to do great things.

Amelia Rose was inspired to fly because of her name and I wonder that if as Christians, have we generically labeled ourselves without truly being inspired to  fly outside the lines for the name of Christ? The name Christian means to be ‘of Christ’ and this means that there  is much expected of us when we say we are a Christian. We are, in effect, telling those around us that we are not only connected to Christ, but that we are of the same nature. It should be no surprise to us then that we are often called hypocrites by people far from God as we continually fall short to very definition of our name. Yet, the truth is, we aren’t defining ourselves by one mere act of bravery, such as Amelia is by flying around the world. Rather, we are labeling ourselves after a perfect man, in all His characteristics. It’s no wonder we are called ‘flawed’ so often! Yet, this is no excuse to sour His precious name. Like Shakespeare concluded, a rose is sweet regardless of what you call it and a true Christ follower displays His character despite the label. So, the question begs to be asked, are we living up to the name God has given us as His children? Are we following in Jesus’ footsteps, continuing to pursue the metaphorical flight plans that He wants us to finish? Are we seeking out the adventure He has for us? Are we honoring His name when we tell others that we are a Christian?

I have come to find that there is a lot that goes into a name and while we do come up short, as Apostle Paul also concluded in scripture, this does not mean that we give up. We are carrying the torch, leaving a remarkable legacy as we join our dying flesh with God’s sovereignty. We become a new creature, given a spotless name and a new start. We are Christians, not because we are good, but because we are His. Therefore, we must begin to make a conscious effort to give Christ’s name the honor it deserves, representing it well at all times. Paul encourages the new Ephesian Christians, who were once Gentiles like us,

“to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

We must remember that our name is tied to a new person, no longer bound by our former sinful ways, but rather evolved from corruptness to holiness because of God’s righteousness. This is the beauty of a name and the legacy that goes with it. While we may never fly across the globe and proudly boast that we have a heritage of adventure embedded in our name like that of Amelia Earhart, I would argue that we have something far greater and extremely newsworthy. We are Christians. We date back to the most remarkable time in history, when a perfect man asked a few average men to follow Him. Through this lineage, we are made into true followers and “Christians” – being of the very nature of God. How fascinating of a story is that? We bridge the history of one spotless man with the present and it all revolves around the very unique name we all share: Christian.

Spiritual Conversations

3 Easy Ways to Have Spiritual Conversations

Do you know how people come to know Jesus? If you look at the modern landscape, you would probably assume that most meet Him in a rather emotional moment during a well-crafted sermon. If not, chances must be that it came from a time of fantastic worship from one of the more well-known songs being played in churches throughout the country. Yet, all the statistics tell us that most people come to know Jesus through spiritual conversations with those around them. You’ve likely already all but determined that having conversations with others about God is either something you feel comfortable with or not, but stick with me just for a moment. In fact, most of the nation has aligned with the latter option out of fear for how the conversation might go. Questions abound in our minds of whether we could answer the difficult questions or if we are even skilled enough to introduce someone organically to the loving embrace of our Savior. What I am here to share with you is that there is a way that anyone, anywhere, can engage someone a in spiritual conversation. In fact, often brand new Christians are the best at this method and see the greatest impact in the lives of their friends. Without further delay, I’ll introduce the easy-to-remember three step process. I promise, if you give it a shot, and allow yourself to be a bit vulnerable, you will see some incredible results as you minster to those around you.

Spiritual Conversations Tool #1: Questions

Can you ask somebody a question? Sure you can. I’ve learned that often the things we first speak about when we are sharing our lives aren’t really what we wish we could share if we knew we could truly be vulnerable with the person sitting across from us. You see, back in the day I had the opportunity to work with people dramatically reaching out for help – they would hear a phone number on the radio and would call in to talk to someone about their issues. Wouldn’t you know that almost every single time the first ‘issue’ they brought up wasn’t really the issue at all? Trust me, when I would get calls from 14 year olds dealing with unplanned pregnancy I couldn’t imagine there was a deeper layer – but there always was. I heard stories about how the child was the result of rape, abuse, and on more than one occasion it was actually their own fathers child. Sure, they wanted help with the immediate issue of being pregnant, but the person couldn’t actually be healed until we dealt with the deeper issues and we could only get to those issues if I was willing to ask more questions about their lives. They didn’t have to be hard questions either. Things like “how did that make you feel?” or “what pains you the most about that?” were pathways to hidden alcoves I could have never imagined existed. The most difficult thing, however, is restraint. As humans, we have been trained to immediately comfort or offer advice. It would be easy for me to sympathize with the young girl, alone and pregnant, hiding in her Dad’s woodshed just to make the phone call – but would that have really helped her long-term? Or, I could have immediately started going down the list of healthy options for her – but we were only on the surface and really meeting people where they are demands we dig deeper. So, as you are talking with people, always keep in mind that there are likely more questions you can ask. If you have genuine interest in a person, the questions won’t be hard to find either. As you start to ask the questions, you will begin to realize that we, as people, are more than willing to share our hurts and pains… we actually desperately want someone to talk to about them with, we just haven’t found the right person yet.

Spiritual Conversations Tool #2: Life Stories

When dealing with spiritual things, we often like to simply give people the answers. For instance, when someone asks you “what about baptism…” how do you respond? Do you give what you know as the traditional Church answers to baptism-based questions? Probably. When people ask us about our faith, we inherently feel the burden to answer the person’s question directly. While that may seem harmless, it actually produces an unhealthy bond between you and that person. The person you have the conversation with, knowing you always have the answers, cleaves to you instead of Jesus. So, how can we still be sympathetic to the question without creating utter spiritual dependence? Tell people about your life. This is beneficial for a bunch of different reasons: First, this should produce a feeling of ease within you as you no longer have to be a subject expert on every matter of the Bible. No one can tell you your life experience is wrong, therefore whatever you share can’t be the wrong answer to the question being asked. Then, for instance, when someone asks you about baptism, you can always tell them your experience with it – whether you have been baptized or not. Even if the person isn’t asking a direct question, there are few things more powerful that a personal testimony. Sharing your walk to faith and being vulnerable about the ups and downs of life go miles in helping someone to see God in you and how God might want to be a part of their life too.

Spiritual Conversations Tool #3: Scripture

But, what about those times where there is a direct question you simply can’t answer with anything but the facts? The answer here is scripture. Remember, we need to be trying to help people cleave to Jesus, not to us. Would you rather, whenever they had a question about their faith, they call you up, wanting a spoon-fed answer? Or, would you rather they pick up the scriptures and find the answer themselves? Or, even better yet, they call you up and ask to take a look at the scriptures together? When a topic comes up, or maybe even a direct question from the Bible makes it way into the conversation, feel free to rely on scripture. So, when someone asks how God can be a good God, but still just – find a Bible nearby (there are likely 3-4 in almost every home that haven’t been opened in years). In a couple different versions of the Bible, there are actually topic-based indexes in the back that you can browse to find the topic you are dealing with. So, in this case, you could flip through the back of Scripture to find the topic “judgment” and together you could explore what the Bible has to say on the topic. Remember, you don’t have to be the expert – let Jesus do the work.

 

So, now, the hardest part actually is having the willingness to engage others in spiritual conversations. Our new reality is that just about anyone can ask a question, tell a story from their past, or open up the Bible – none of this requires any level of in-depth knowledge – it just requires a willingness to be vulnerable.

One final word before we conclude… you are not the Holy Spirit. You see, we have a tendency to get frustrated if every conversation doesn’t produce ripe fruit or go ‘our way.’ But the reality is, we have to let God work in God’s timing. You might simply be the first seed that gets planted in years of spiritual tilling, or you might be the final person to harvest years of spiritual seeds planted by others. So, whatever you do, don’t judge the conversation based upon how you think it went – we have to leave the work up to God. The important thing to remember is that God can use our willingness to transform lives and I promise, if you are willing to have spiritual conversations with people and follow these three simple principles, in no time you will be making a big impact in the lives those you engage.

China

Why it’s Easier to Follow Jesus in China than it is in the United States

When Christians in America talk about China it usually is a conversation filled with a focus on how hard it must be to follow Jesus in a country that has not historically been seen as friendly to Christians. What I found on my recent trip was that it is very possible that Christians in the west are the ones who are really at a disadvantage. Why? In many ways it is just too easy to be a Christian in America and other western countries where Christianity has historically been strong.

Consider this: On Sunday morning we went to Church in Beijing. This Church has 5 services each Sunday. Eight hundred in the main auditorium and 500 in an overflow. It is packed for all five services. What was really incredible was that people stood in a line for half and hour before each service just to get a seat. It was near 90 degrees outside, yet they waited patiently. Twenty minutes before the service the place was packed, while in most churches in America people regularly come in late and leave early.

When the worship team started singing  the congregation was inspiring. They nearly took the roof of the place. Everyone was engaged and seemed to want to make sure that Jesus knew they were praising Him. There were no casual folks looking to be entertained. The people there were either legitimate seekers, deeply interested in finding out about Jesus, or in most cases, already following Him and glad to let the nations know that their Lord is King.

I then had the opportunity to speak with the pastor and received an even clearer picture of what it is like for people to follow Jesus in China. There is very little in the way of programs that the Church can do to impact the community. Organized church evangelism projects, or even programs intended to serve the needy, are frowned upon by the government. To actively evangelize is viewed as disturbing the balance and harmony of society. So the Church can’t do that. Organized programs to meet the basic needs of people is the role of government. So no Church food banks, or clothing drives, or other common ministries that Churches carry out in the west.

So how is it that the Church is packed and growing if it can’t setup programs or ministries for the needs of people? Simple, the church can’t organize these things but individual Christians can do these things themselves. And guess what? They are doing it. Without fancy programs, events and staff organizing things, these followers of Jesus are living out their faith, everywhere, everyday. As a result people ask them about Jesus. When that happens, you are free to share the Gospel. If you see a person in need, you are free to meet that need, just like the Good Samaritan that Jesus taught about in Luke 15. They are being living witnesses and doing what the Bible tells them to do. As a result Christianity in China is alive and well.

Is it hard to follow Jesus in China? Sure it is. But not for the reasons we usually think. It is harder to do Church there, but it is too easy to follow him here. In reality I am not sure what many of us Christians in the west are doing that can really be called following Jesus. It is far too easy. There is no cost to it, no deep personal investment. We look to Jesus to be our spiritual and emotional fix-it guy. If suddenly there were no Church programs to do ministry, I fear that Christian activity in the west would slow to a crawl. In China the opposite is true. They are not handicapped by our expectation that the Church does everything. They are instead living for Him no matter what. Their lack of programs has meant that as individuals they own their faith deeply and follow Jesus gladly with a passion. Maybe for them it really is easier to truly follow Jesus. It is harder for them to do Church than it is for us, but that is not exactly the same thing as following Jesus.

Christianity

Are You Taking Jesus Out of Christianity?

Recently Bruxy Cavey (teaching pastor at The Meeting House) shared,

“Christianity – Jesus = Hate empowered Religion”

When I heard this, I had to write it down and reflect on it. The issue Bruxy is digging into is how we love people. It reminded me of something I was reading this past month –  how easily people can shift to a form of Christianity which fully excludes the basic teachings of Jesus. It left me perplexed by the cultural and spiritual connection we hold to the term ‘Christian.’ How can a person call themselves Christian if they also overtly and outwardly deny the teaching of Jesus? Bruxy summarizes it well in saying that taking Jesus out would result in hate-empowered religion. Some might look at this and get bent out of shape on the suggestion made, but consider a few passages:

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

Do we apply the principal of loving others or are we filled with the idea of “them vs. us?” Do we really understand the teachings of Jesus and apply them to the life we lead and our desire to follow Jesus?

Here is a unique approach to answering those questions. Read the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-11 and honestly react to the following questions:

-How does this change my attitude?

-Does my heart understand Jesus?

-How do we follow His teaching?

Once you have gone through the exercise, leave a note with your answers – I think you’ll be surprised by your own response.

Passion

A Relationship of Passion

No one likes being ignored.  Personally, as I’m sure many of you have also experienced, I have been lied to, stolen from, cursed, demeaned, cheated, and even physically harassed – but I would willingly go through any of those abuses over being ignored or treated with deliberate indifference.  When someone ignores you with an intent to wound, that is the ultimate offense (at least receiving some kind of abuse means being confronted by your abuser).

In the long history of God’s relationship with humankind we are most guilty of the sin of indifference toward God.  He so loves us and is so eager to draw us into His eternal presence that He calls we who are His people, His church, His bride and He loves us as a perfect husband.  In Ephesians 5:25, one of the Bible’s most misused and abused passages, Paul describes the love of God through Jesus in just such terms:

“For husbands, this means love your wives just as Christ loved the church.  He gave us His life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.” (NLT)

That is the depth of God’s love for us, but we have not reciprocated that love.  Rather, we have looked the love of God in the face and turned away indifferently, ignoring the most magnificent potential relationship in the cosmos.

God calls out this indifference directly in Ezekiel 16:30-32,

“What a sick heart you have, says the Sovereign Lord, to do such things as these, acting like a shameless prostitute.  You build your pagan shrines on every street corner and your alters to idols in every square.  In fact, you have been worse than a prostitute, so eager for sin that you have not even demanded payment.  Yes, you are an adulterous wife who takes in strangers instead of her own husband.”

These are the harsh words of God who is the scorned lover of all of humanity, ultimately and shamelessly ignored by creatures on whom He has poured his lavish and unashamed love.

And yet, God’s perfect love remains constant in the face of our indifference – God is always faithful where we are faithless.  Romans 8 tells us nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, so what ought to be our response to this love?  Contrary to first consideration, the opposite of indifference or to ignoring a pursuer, is not mere acknowledgement but passion.  Jesus calls us not merely to believe in Him, but to follow Him wherever He goes (Matthew 9:9).  A relationship with God through Jesus is not one of simple intellectual acknowledgement, but is intended to be one of infinite passion – to love the Lord Your God with all of your heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Anything less than our all, Jesus tells us is not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37).

So if you find yourself constantly playing the prostitute with God, looking to other things for love while completely ignoring His, the only solution is a complete turning to God and running after Him with ultimate passion.  As James 4:8 reminds us, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”