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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.

Be Known

Our Innate Desire To Be Known

I have been thinking recently about the seemingly growing mass of people who do things just to be known and noticed. The examples are so numerous that it is hard to decide which ones NOT to mention. Just think on some headlines over the last few months. Add to that the countless people who still go on shows like Jerry Springer, or people who play to the paparazzi just to keep getting noticed – Lohan, Hilton, Kardashian, etc, etc. On the far more tragic side I was reminded recently that when Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon on a New York sidewalk the first thing he said was, “I shot John Lennon.” He wanted to be famous and the closest he could get was to be infamous.

So, what is it about us that we have this growing need to be known, to the point that we do the ridiculous (or even the tragic) just to have our proverbial fifteen minutes of fame? I think at the heart of it all, it goes back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve and our rebellion against God. The point of the story is that human beings are in some sort of rebellion against God and this rebellion, known as sin, has had cosmos altering consequences. We have become alienated from God and from one another. That alienation has produced fear and insecurity, loneliness and shame. You might be thinking, “Hey, we have always had alienation, fear, and insecurity. What’s different now?” What is different now is two-fold.

First, there have always been other social institutions that helped us overcome our alienation and fulfill our need to belong and be known. Once upon a time the tribal group (or community/family) gave us a sense of security, identity, and purpose. We knew people and they knew us. Not simply in the informational sense of knowing, but in the deeper heart sense of knowing. It is more like the sense in Dutch and Afrikaans of “ken” as opposed to “weet”. Weet is informational knowledge, you know about something or someone. Ken is heart knowledge. It is what the Bible speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when it speaks of a longing for a new day,

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

The more mobile and isolated we become, the more we run the risk of being alienated, yearning for connection.

The second factor is the divine element. During the rise of the modern era, and the commitment to science as having the answers to all our problems, we put God and spirituality on the shelf. We further isolated ourselves from the needs of our soul. Eventually people began to sense that modernism and science did not have all the answers and so an outbreak of being “spiritual” but not “religious” has been sweeping western culture. Why? Because we still have the deep inner need to be known and to know, especially by something or someone greater than ourselves.

In search of that need to be known, to be significant, many have taken a decidedly neurotic path. Others have taken a more reasonable and socially acceptable route. The rise in popularity of social media like Facebook or LinkedIn, is in part an attempt to stay connected or reconnect with people who are important to us. Such social media can be a great tool to keep and grow our relationships, giving us a sense of place and belonging. Of course it can also fool us into thinking that we have deep and meaningful relationships just because people see our status updates and we have hundreds of friends, some of which we have never actually met.

Ultimately, all our efforts to connect with one another, to be known by one another, to feel like we are significant and that we matter, will fall woefully short if we do not address the root cause of that alienation. We are alienated from one another on a horizontal plane because we first became alienated on the vertical in our relationship with God. We can have all the human connections we want, but until we are connected intimately with God, we will still be lacking and still looking for more. Blaise Pascal said it best: “We all have a God shaped vacuum in our soul that only He can fill.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about being known, he was speaking of the longing to be known by and to know God in as intimate a way as possible. All our searching for meaning, fame, security, belonging, and connection is at its core the result of a need to know that we are loved by God and to experience that love in deeper and deeper ways.

Failure

Failure and Succeeding at Things That Don’t Matter

What are you wonderfully failing at? I will ask this question again as surely you must be thinking you misread my opening line. What are you failing at? This is a question that I myself have wrestled with time and time again. However, after reading a quote by Bob Goff, author of the remarkably well-written book Love Does, I got a fresh perspective on this not so popular topic: failure. He concludes, “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I am more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” This quote hit like an arrow, straight to the heart. You see, I tend to get hung up on the first part of the quote: failing at something that matters to me. My guess is that I may not be the only one who lives with this burden and the ongoing pressure that comes from the need for approval and success. Yet, what about succeeding at the wrong things, isn’t that far more dangerous to the soul?

So I ask again, what are you failing at? Are you failing at a relationship with a loved one, a friendship, a job, a dream, finances, priorities, faith or another unmentionable roadblock that makes you pound your fists on the steering wheel as the GPS of life recalculates all your shortcomings? Personally, I have been there so many times, lost and devastated by the realization that I was failing, yet again, after so much effort was put forth. The truth is, man wasn’t made to be a punching bag and thus, failing should never knock you off your feet for long. Yet, how does any man have the determination to try, try, and then try yet again? The harsh reality is that some people do not recover from their failures, while others use their failures to propel them further ahead for the long-haul of life. Life requires the willpower to continue moving forward. God requires this too. After all, through failure and reliance on Him comes the character that only God Himself can bring beauty out of. I have come to see that while everyone loves success, a far greater man embraces failure. Likewise, Bob Goff takes it a step further when he reasons that it is better to fail and remain passionate, than to succeed in the wrong areas and not know that the triumph was pointless. It may be a blow to the ego to fail at something that matters, but to succeed and pat yourself on the back for the meaningless things in life is far worse. This, of course, reminds me of a story.

Paul, a Roman citizen and rather successful Jesus hater, radically changed the direction of his life when God intervened on the Road to Damascus. He went from succeeding in the wrong things to transforming millions of lives – a true way to measure success. Well, Paul was no stranger to listening to the voice of God, which in Acts 16:9-10 came to him through a vision:

“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

As the story moves along, we see that a woman named Lydia receives the Lord and opens her house to Paul and Silas. All is off to a successful start! Yet, the story is about to take an unexpected turn. As they are making their long trek, Paul’s second missionary journey from Jerusalem to Greece, they stopped along the way to minister to those the Holy Spirit led them to. One of these people happened to be a female slave who claimed to be a fortune teller. The Scripture tells us that this nameless woman was rather good at her profession and earned an abundance of money (talk about succeeding at the wrong things in life). Paul was bold in his faith and cast out the demons which possessed her. However, this angered the owners who were profiting off of this young slave girl. Next thing you know, Paul and Silas are being beaten for doing what God willed them to do and for following His guidance towards their end destination of Macedonia. Can you imagine being physically beaten for following God’s plan? This could have very easily felt like an absolute failure, but the reality was that God was about to turn what appeared to be a loss into a great victory. I am sure you have heard what happens next in the story. Paul and Silas are put into jail and they decided that instead of asking questions, complaining, or even becoming angry at God, that they would praise Him. Their lowest point, in what probably felt like a huge failure, became a moment of unfathomable success.  What if Paul and Silas had decided to just go through the city streets and tell nice looking people, “God bless you.” Sure, it may have felt like a success as people smiled, but would it have been what God would have called true success? Perhaps, playing it safe for temporary success is what Bob Goff would have considered pointless, more about a feel good moment than impactful Holy Spirit-led win.

The truth is, often times we look at life in the present moment and we forget that God sees the full story of what He is doing in our lives. This was the case with Paul and Silas.  Through their obedience, God displayed His glory and an entire family’s life was changed as Scripture indicates that the jailer and his whole family were saved. That was only made possible because Paul and Silas were willing to take what could have been considered a failed moment and instead allowed God make use of it. So, next time you look at your successes, measure them on how God sees them. Likewise, the next time you dismiss your failures, ask God if He could use them for more than a fleeting moment of sadness and instead, make a lasting Kingdom-building impact out of them.

Introverted Extroverted

Is It Better To Be Spiritually Introverted or Extroverted?

For those of you who have taken the Myers Briggs Test online, you may discovered what makes you, uniquely you. Everyone has a certain God-given wiring that makes them special and this wiring is necessary for reaching and loving others to whom they will be one day be sent to serve. As for me, I am an ENFP (Extraversion, Sensing, Feeling, and Perceiving) which means that I am people oriented with a deep emotional drive. The interesting thing for me personally is that some versions of the test will give you percentages and the last time I took it my test the results came back one hundred percent extraverted. This means that if given the choice to do any activity alone or with another person, I would always choose to be with someone else. The test was not lying as this is very true about my nature. You may be thinking – how cool is that? Or wow, that’s certainly not me. You see, this can be a doubled edged sword – especially when it comes to finding time alone with God. Now, for those of you who lean more to the introverted side of things, don’t worry, this isn’t all about extraversion. Instead, keep reading as you will learn that we all need to find a balance – we all need to become both introverted and extraverted at different moments throughout our days.

After expressing to a close friend my frequent feelings of loneliness, due to my need to be around people, she made a unique comment. You see, she could have easily agreed with me and said that this is just who I am and this would have served as an adequate response. Instead, she urged and challenged me to spend some time truly enjoying being alone. My initial reaction was simply, “easy for her to say, she tends to be much more of an introvert by nature than I am.” However, after giving it some thought, and some further discussion with this dear friend, I decided to look at Jesus’ life on earth for some inspiration on how to conduct our lives and govern our natural tendencies – be it extraverted or introverted.

So the question begs to be asked, was Jesus an introvert or extravert? What about when He ministered to others? Sure, we can argue that much of His story depicts time around his best buddies, the twelve disciples, and, therefore, this must mean He was a people person. Additionally, He clearly had no problem around the multitudes, speaking and sharing time with thousands of people, making any environment His home. Yet, we cannot write off that He also always made time to spend hours alone in solitude, praying to and worshiping His Father. Clearly, Jesus understood the value of both types of personalities: spending time around many people and rejuvenating through alone time. Here are two examples:

 “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” (Luke 6:12)

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said…” (Luke 14:25)

Perhaps you know exactly where you fall on this spectrum and you are not sure what it means for your spiritual life. I, personally, have come to find that every personality trait is fair game for God to use. So if you find that you, like myself, desperately need people, don’t be afraid to be alone. God needs you to spend some time hearing His voice and being still. It is through the stillness that He ministers to you, so that, you can go back out and bless others. However, if you find what I am saying peculiar and your tendencies would be to stay inside  and read a good book as opposed to socializing, you are probably are more of an introvert and the idea of constantly entertaining seems exhausting. You probably find meditating on God’s Word and solitude much easier than being a social butterfly. And, sure, it may be easy to say that the extraverts can handle the crowds, but the reality is, God needs introverts just as much as He needs the person comfortable holding the megaphone.

We are all called to be missional and that means that we all must go out and serve others. Likewise, we are reminded through Jesus’ life, and those who faithfully followed Him, that nothing can replace time alone in His presence. It is through these encounters with His holiness that we receive strength to fight the good fight that He has called us to.  So discover who you are because God didn’t make a mistake when He made you – challenge yourself to grow by both taking in who He is through solitude and releasing His presence through the accompaniment of many.

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.

Spiritual Trash

Spiritual Trash

I have a confession to make….there is one household chore that I refuse to do. I try my best to contribute whenever I can, but this one thing falls on my husband… every time. What is this nasty chore that I wholeheartedly hate to do?  It’s a little thing called taking out the trash. Perhaps I am being a little dramatic, but the intoxicating smell of rotting old food makes my stomach turn.  I am thankful for the new Febreze trash bags, but honestly, they can only mask so much of the odor! Keep in mind, I live in the always sunny, forever warm, Florida – so the trash gets an extra boost during the summer months.  You are probably wondering by now though why I am ranting about something that everyone has to do….take out the trash. The reality is we would never dream about letting all of our physical trash remain in our house for weeks or months on end, but I would argue that we do this unknowingly when it comes to our insides. Sure, we put fast food and over processed carbohydrates in our systems, but I am speaking in a matter of the spiritual trash that we allow to rot and fester in our lives.  When was the last time you took out your spiritual trash? 

Back in the day I was a new, bright-eyed, ambitious youth leader and I had the great idea to test out this ‘theory’ with a bunch of good-hearted teenagers. I proudly announced, “Kids, this week we are going to take out the trash,” (as I carried in make believe trash bags stuffed with pillows). Let me tell you, I was in for quite the surprise. The challenge for all the kids was a week of taking out the trash in their spiritual lives. Every student was given a journal and they had to record everything that they digested that could possibly be poisoning their systems. The lists were long, to say the least, ranging from perverse music, to TV shows, to language that they heard daily and had become immune to at school. Some of the teens journals were pages upon pages for each day of that rather long week. However,  I wasn’t there to become their personal conviction – that can only come from the Holy Spirit.  Nor, was I there to point the finger, because I too decided to take out the trash in my own life and my list was just as long! It was a harsh wake-up call for us all.

So here’s where the challenge is passed on to you. First let me start by answering some questions that our flesh loves to ask in order to counter our spiritual need for purity:

Is this necessary?

This is vitally important as we honor God. Our bodies are His temple and we must realize that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth does speak. We are all filled with impurities that stop us from living correctly and we must attack these issues head on so that the enemy will not cause us to stumble. After all, who wants their life to smell like trash?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. “ Romans 12:2

Because of the fallen world we live in, is it possible to do this without becoming a hermit?

I am not going to lie, living life right is difficult and everyone has their own burdens to release at the foot of the cross. Most of the things we intake are not allowing us to be transformed but rather conformed. Yet, nothing is worse than living in denial. Nothing is worse than covering up layers upon layers of sins that rot away at our souls, without ever taking the time to clean up. It’s a clever trick that the enemy loves to play when you feel trapped by all of your sins (the trash in your life) without feeling God’s sovereign love and forgiveness that wants to cleanse you completely. There is freedom in taking out the trash.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Can I even do this exercise without feeling guilty and constantly falling short?

The reality is that even when we focus on this ‘exercise’ we will be reminded of just how tragic our shortcomings are. This sheds light on all of our fleshly cravings and all of our weak temptations towards sin. Paul was no stranger to this, especially when he spoke about doing the very things he shouldn’t do and not doing the things he knew he should do. In fact, it was a constant battle for him to choose God’s will over his desires and this is the Apostle Paul! So be encouraged, because Paul was constantly coming up short, just like we do, and he was in a constant state of preaching God’s good news.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

I encourage you to meditate on God’s word as you clean your life from its hazardous materials. Don’t be afraid to allow other strong Christians to keep you accountable, and remember to ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. There is no shame in admitting that this will be challenging and there is no condemnation when you are striving to honor God. He will honor your efforts and give you the strength you need when your flesh is weak. So, perhaps we should all go do my most dreaded chore. Let’s all go take out the trash knowing that when we do this, we will begin to look a little less like our filthy former selves and a little more like the God we love and serve.