Tag Archives: discipleship

A Process for Discipleship: part thirteen

3 Mar

Christianity is not just a doing religion.

It is a religion based on certain truths, certain great realities, and if you don’t understand or believe those, you will never understand how God wants you to act or anything else about the Christian life. It is not just, Christianity, a certain experience or feeling, it’s very concerned with truth and that’s why it is so essential that we as disciplers help the people we are discipling understand what the Scripture teaches in a systematic and orderly way. 

Now the next question of course is what is it that we should make sure to teach?

And again you may remember from the previous post in this series, that right now, I am talking about sort of formal instruction, and I am imagining you are looking at the person you want to disciple, and you are thinking what is it that they must absolutely know?  And the thing here is that I want to be as practical as possible, so you can actually do something with this, and yet, I don’t want to be so rigid that we all do the same thing no matter who we are talking to.

So I started looking at Paul and the way he discipled and I think we can identify four basic fundamentals we need to make sure we teach or at least we make sure the people we are discipling understand.   

We can look at the first today and the rest in posts to come. 

First of course is the gospel message. 

1 Corinthians 15:1, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.” 

It is so easy for us to assume the gospel, and so we are talking to someone and they say they are Christians, and they go to church, and we just assume they understand the gospel and that is a very dangerous assumption to make. 

When people say they believe the gospel, they can mean almost anything really, from going to church, calling oneself a Christian, having a religious experience, being what the world calls a good person.   

All of those things are fine. But none of them are the gospel.

Very practically, this means when we are going to disciple people and they say they are Christians, we need to be asking what that means and when they say I love Jesus, we should ask them why, and when they say they believe the gospel, you ask them what it is.

You probably will be surprised how many people have been in church all their lives and never really understood the gospel.

The fact is even those who do understand often lose sight of it and neglect it and forget its significance. 

In 2 Peter 1, Peter talks about Christians who aren’t growing, and he explains why.  He says in verse 9, “For whoever lacks these qualities (the qualities of a growing Christian) is so short-sighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”

If you are wondering where to start with people when it comes to teaching in discipleship, it’s hard to go wrong when you start with the gospel. 

Now maybe the only way you can go wrong is if you have an inadequate understanding of the gospel yourself, where you think it is just reciting a few words over and over to someone.  The gospel is simple in that you can understand, but it is also profound.  There’s enough to talk about with someone who is new to the Christian faith and someone who has been a Christian for years and years.

To get very specific and practical with you, there are a number of resources you could use to begin instructing the person you are discipling in the gospel. 

First, you might just begin with some of the passages in the Bible that focus in specifically on explaining the gospel.  I will give you some examples, just from Paul, and this is totally just as a start, and you can enjoy searching for more. 

Acts 9:20

Acts 13:16-47

Acts 17:1-4

Acts 17:22-31

Acts 19:8 and 20:20-21

Acts 26:4-23

Acts 28:17-29

Romans 1:1-5

Romans 10:9-13

1 Corinthians 15:1-4

2 Corinthians 5:18-21

Galatians 1:1-5

Ephesians 3:4-13

Philippians 2:6-11

Colossians 1:21-23

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

1 Timothy 1:15

2 Timothy 1:10

Titus 3:4-7

And if you are wondering what you could do with all those Scripture references, well you could just begin with the person you are teaching, by getting out a Bible and a piece of paper and reading through these texts, and then marking down what it says about the gospel, what they mean, how they apply and what kind of encouragement you should receive from these texts.

A second way you could help some understand the basics of the gospel better would by looking at some key biblical terms, words that are important for understanding the gospel and then working your way through a biblical definition of each.   If you are wondering what kind of words I am talking, let me give you a list of ten associated with Christ’s work to start and again you can enjoy looking for more.

Atonement

Justification

Propitiation

Expiation

Redemption

Reconciliation

Substitution

Imputation

Union with Christ

Sanctification

If you are wondering what do with those terms, one you can find every time you are used in Scripture and try to see how the Scripture itself explains them, two you can, if you are able, you might try to get what they call a dictionary of theological terms, there’s one I know that is called Dictionary of Theological terms by Alan Cairns, another called the Westminster Dictionary of Theological terms, and you can work through the definitions there.

A third approach you might take is pick up what they call a catechism, and work through the sections on the gospel that you find there.  Now obviously you wouldn’t just pick up any old Catechism, there are several helpful ones, and I’ll mention a few.

First, there’s the Westminster Shorter Catechism and then the Westminster Longer Catechism.

There’s one called the Heidelberg Catechism.

A great preacher named Charles Spurgeon even has a catechism you can find online, if you just type in Spurgeon and catechism or Puritans catechism.

There’s also a newer catechism that I think might be helpful called the New City Catechism.

I have also noticed, if you believe it or not, that there are apps for your phone, catechism apps that you can use in regards to this.   

And what you can do with these catechisms, is you can work through their explanations of the gospel, memorize them even, define the terms, try to have the person you are teaching prove that they are true from the Scriptures, or if what they are saying isn’t quite accurate, then you have to prove that it’s not from God’s Word. The nice thing about these catechisms is that they are in question and answer format, so they basically force a discussion.

Still another approach, and I am just trying to show you that there are lots of ways to go about this, is to get a set of the messages that we have preached at the church here on the gospel and then listen to the messages together, or you could listen to it, make your own study guide with questions, and then have them answer the questions and get together and discuss, if my accent isn’t that helpful, you can even ask me if I have a manuscript of the particular sermon for you to read and then you could read through the message together and anytime it doesn’t make sense, just stop and talk about it.  

One more approach when it comes to teaching the gospel would be to go through a good book on the gospel together.  Have them read a chapter, then get together, and you discuss that chapter, if you don’t know what to discuss, just ask them what was the main point of the chapter, what was confusing in the chapter, what did you learn from the chapter, was there anything in the chapter you didn’t agree with, how can you be different as a result of what you read, that’s five questions right there.

I would encourage you not just to read any book, but maybe pick up one of the books on the gospel we have on our book table, or ask, I mean, I will be happy to give you suggestions and even if I have them, give you the book to borrow and use.  In fact, let me share with you five different books you could use that would really help the person you are discipling better understand the gospel.

First, the Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges.  Now this is a nice book because not only is it easy to read and yet deep at the same time, it also comes with a study guide and you could have the person you are discipling work through that study guide, it would be a huge help.

Second, the Cross of Christ by John Stott.  This is a book that will give you such a deeper appreciation for the work of Christ on your behalf.  It would be difficult for me to recommend it more. 

Then there’s All of Grace by Charles Spurgeon.  Charles Spurgeon was a pastor that lived and preached over a hundred years ago, but wow, this again is one of those books that is packed with dynamite explosive truth and will give such encouragement to the person you are discipling.

A fourth book that’s pretty devotional, meaning shorter chapters basically leading you to worship, would be In Christ Alone by a man named Sinclair Ferguson.

And then finally there are curriculums almost, more than a book kind of things that you could work through with someone, like there’s a great curriculum called the Gospel Project and then there’s a simpler explanation of the gospel that you could take time with, it’s called Two Ways to Live and look with all of this, I understand not everyone likes to read, but I am convinced if you can slowly but surely help the person you are discipling learn to read, you are taking such a step forward, because you won’t always be there for them, and you are introducing them through reading to some godly and learned men who can disciple them when you can’t. 

Everything depends on the message

1 Mar

“Everything…depends on the message which your living agents proclaim. They must know what they have got to do. If they only go about telling men not to get drunk, not to fight, not to gamble, not to swear, not break the Sabbath, they may as just well stay home. If they want to do good, they must tell men to believe as well as repent.  They must tell the story of the cross.  They must magnify that grand article of the Apostles’ creed, ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sin.’ They must make much of that doctrine which fits the empty heart of man just as the right key fits the lock, I mean the doctrine of free and full pardon of sin through faith in the vicarious death of Christ. 

This is the glorious doctrine that was the strength of the Apostles when they went forth to the Gentiles to preach a new religion. They began, a few poor fishermen, in a despised corner of the earth. But in a few years, without money to bribe adherents or arms to compel assent, they turned the world upside down. They changed the face of the Roman Empire. They emptied the heathen temples of their worshipers, and made the whole system of idolatry crumble away. And what was the weapon by which they did it all? It was free forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.”

J.C. Ryle

A Process for Discipleship: part ten

21 Jan

One of the primary goals of discipleship is to help someone else mature spiritually.  

But what does spiritual maturity actually look like?

There’s a sense in which that question is easier to answer and difficult at the same time because there is so much in the New Testament that talks about it.

The way John describes it, if we go back to 1 John 2:13. 

“I am writing to you fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.”

So spiritually mature people don’t just know truth, they know God. There is truth there and there’s a relationship there. They love God. 

I think Paul describes spiritually mature people in many of his prayers, when he tells people what he’s praying for them about, he’s basically praying for spiritual maturity in different words.

Like Philippians 1:9 and 10, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Spiritually mature have abounding love for God and others, love that is smart, that is wise, that is thoughtful, they are able to tell what is best, they are filled with fruit that comes out of Christ’s working in them, and brings to glory to God.

Besides Paul’s prayers, we can look to Paul himself as an example of someone who is a spiritual parent.  He describes himself as a spiritual father.  And what do we see in Paul? 

In terms of his attitude towards himself, he wasn’t arrogant.  He saw himself as nothing more than a servant of Christ and a steward of the mystery of God.  In other words, he didn’t seem himself as a big deal and he wasn’t trying to get anyone else to think that.  He just wanted to be faithful, and with spiritual parents, you will see that, they are more concerned about doing what Christ wants than anything else. 

It’s interesting as you look at Paul throughout his life, there seems to be an increasing awareness of his own sinfulness and how little he deserved the grace of God, and that again is typical of spiritual parents.  They are not proud of themselves.  They are very aware of their flesh.  They don’t think they are beyond sinning.  

With Paul, again we look at his attitude towards his own life, what was it, to live is Christ and that’s spiritual parents, their life is focused, how can I honor Christ?  They are not desperately clinging to life in this world, to be honest, they would rather be with Jesus than here.  Their minds are set on heavenly things.

They are not motivated by a desire to get God to like them, instead they are trusting completely in Christ’s righteousness, and what they want more than anything else, is to know Christ and to see Christ in His glory.  Paul puts it like this in Philippians 3:14, “I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus.  Let those of who are mature think this way.”   This is how mature people think.  They are not proud of themselves, they have stopped depending on what they have done, and are fully resting in what Christ done, they know their citizenship is in heaven, and they eagerly are waiting for a Savior from there.

When you look at Paul’s attitude towards others, you see the way a spiritual parent thinks, he longs for them to be mature, and he takes steps to help them become mature.  I think of how when it came to the unsaved, Paul said at one point, he almost wishes he could be cursed so that they could come to the knowledge of the truth and when it comes to other believers, he describes in Colossians 1 and 2, the way he struggles and toils for their spiritual growth.

There are a number of other passages that help us understand what it means to be spiritually mature.  For example, Hebrews 5:14 says, “Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good and evil.”  So, mature people eat solid food, they love truth, they are able to understand and process it, they are people who are discerning, and they are discerning because they have practiced spotting the difference between good and evil.

In Colossians 4:12, Paul says that Epaphras was praying that the Colossians would be mature, and “fully assured in all the will of God.”  So there, a parallel description of maturity, or at least something that goes along with it, is a full confidence about what God wants.  

James 1:2ff talks about a mature person as being one who has learned to count it all joy in various trials, and has developed endurance by continuing to trust God in the middle of the trial.

Look obviously, we are not talking about someone who is perfect, they are in heaven, but someone who is steady, intentional, humble, who loves God and is excited about grace, lives a Spirit-filled life, whose relationships are basically in order, is able to feed himself spiritually, wants to make disciples and is interested in other people and their spiritual growth, he is able to be serious about truth and also eager to maintain unity, is seriously committed to the good of their local church, they are people who are longing for the return of Christ, and basing their life on that future hope.  They know how to share the gospel.  They have a deep love of the cross, you don’t have to convince them of their need for Christ, they are very merciful towards others, they have relationships with people not based on what those people can do for them, they have a heart for the least of these, they are sincere, love peace, gentle, you are able to reason with them, they are not stubborn for no reason, they are merciful towards others, patient, they follow up on people, they don’t always have to be first, they have a strong desire for the people they are working with to mature. 

People talk about what they love and so when you listen to a spiritual parent, you might hear them talking about what God is doing in their lives, but not as a means to brag on themselves, but instead to see Jesus honored.

They say things like (and remember, some of these are from Jim Putnam’s book, Real Life Discipleship):

“Will you pray for me as I seek to explain the gospel to someone this week?”

“How can I pray for you?”

“How can I be of encouragement to you?”

“I was so challenged by the Word today.  I am going to go home and think and pray specifically about how I can change and put what I have learned into practice.”

“I know I need to disciple my children.  Will you hold me accountable for that?  And when you see me not doing that, will you help me by challenging me to pursue it?”

“I have a person in my gospel community who is really good with children.  I am going to sit down and talk with them about ways in which they can use their gift in the church.”

“Please forgive me for this specific sin I committed against you.  Will you pray for me that I can change?”

“I love this truth and it has shaped my thinking in this way.”

Now, don’t think that just because someone is spiritually mature, that they don’t need relationships and encouragement.  For one thing, none of us are completely spiritually mature yet. There are places where we are mature and places we aren’t.  For another, in the Bible, a wise person isn’t someone who never has need to change or be rebuked, but instead he’s someone who knows how to rebuke and even loves rebuke and is changed by it.  So, please don’t leave spiritually mature people out there on their own. 

One thing you can maybe do to encourage a spiritually mature person is to try to find ways to help them.  With Paul there’s no way he could have done everything he did on his own, he was constantly asking for prayer, and then he had these friends around him who were co-laborers, and you might just want to come alongside a spiritually mature person and look for ways you can be of service.

A way you can serve them for sure, is through encouragement,  advice. Spiritually mature people need someone to bounce things off, they may need you to point out areas where they aren’t as mature as they think they are, they need constant refinement in their thinking and in their ministry, they need discussions where you talk about the important things of life.

It’s a privilege to be involved in the lives of other people, and to think that God would use us to help people grow, it is huge.  It’s not something we should take lightly, we need to be willing to work hard, by pursuing people, by asking questions, and by processing the information we receive, thinking, specifically about who they are, where they are at spiritually, and what they need if they are going to keep maturing in Christ.  

A Process for Discipleship: part eight

17 Jan

A third possible spiritual condition is that of a spiritual child.  

You remember how John says, I am writing to you children. The person you are discipling might be spiritually dead, a spiritual baby, or they might be a spiritual child.  Now of course, I am just trying to provide you some practical help, some things to think through.  These aren’t cast in stone, but I am trying to give some guidance to your discipleship. 

One of the fundamental characteristics of a spiritual baby and a spiritual child seems to be ignorance of the truth.  When you are discipling, think about the person’s relation to truth.  We saw in 1 Corinthians 3:1, spiritual children could only handle milk and in Hebrews 5, the basic teachings. If we go over to Ephesians 4, we see another description of a spiritual child.  He says in verse 14, we need the church, so that “we may no longer be children.” O.k., what does it mean to be children.  Here’s his description, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  Children are very easily fooled spiritually.  They are unstable spiritually because they don’t know what is true and what is not, theologically.

One of the things about children is that they will like almost anyone who is friendly and who gives them something, and spiritual children are like that as well.  They will often like a teacher more because he is nice or because he is positive, then whether or not he is telling them the truth.

Hebrews 5 describes spiritual children like this.  Hebrews 5:12 and 13, “You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.”  So a child is what?  Someone who is unskilled in the word.  “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

So a spiritual child lacks discernment, that’s one of his fundamental characteristics.  When they are getting good teaching, they hunger for it but when they are getting bad teaching, it’s hard for them to tell the difference. They are just hungry and they keep stuffing themselves with whatever is given to them.

Now they usually have a little more knowledge than a baby, but still there’s not always a good understanding of some of the nuances that come along with knowing something really well.  What you find with a spiritual child is that they will often end up majoring on minors and then minoring on majors.  They will get too excited about things that aren’t all that exciting and not excited enough about stuff that really is.

They sometimes focus in on one Christian leader or pastor and it is like they find their identity in their attachment to him.  There’s still a worldly way of thinking about them, where instead of finding their identity in Christ, they are finding their identity in people.  (That’s what the Corinthians were doing, I am of Paul, I am of Apollos.)  They sometimes have more knowledge of what their pastor says or other Christians say than what the Bible says.  They tend to get on bandwagons and become very narrowly focused on just one area of the Christian life.  They often think they know more than they really do.

They usually have a hard time knowing how to apply what they are learning to their life.  They may have more understanding of biblical information, but sometimes there are huge gaps between that knowledge and their everyday lives.  (I think that’s what we see in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2.  They are having these divisions, because they weren’t applying the gospel to the way they thought about things.)

There still is this childish self-absorption going on with spiritual children.  I think of the Corinthians, how when they came together for the Lord’s Supper, they were so self-focused, that some of theme would eat and eat, when other people were going hungry, all they could think about was their own stomachs.

Spiritual children are often pretty interested in self-promotion.  There are often motivated to do spiritual things by a desire to be seen and to get a reputation as spiritually mature.  You remember how with the Corinthians again, they had these spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 14, you can check it out, but they were more interested in coming to church to show them off, than they were to use them to build others up.

Because they are self-absorbed, they are pretty focused on their rights, and what they want to do is more important than other people’s good.

They often believe that others aren’t caring enough for them.  They will often blame their problems on other people.  They are eager to serve, but they also are quick to give up when things get difficult.  They lack endurance.

They will frequently have a consumer mentality when it comes to the church.  That means they think more in terms of what can the church do for me, than they do how can I serve God in this church.

They often don’t see the danger of sin.  This of course is what a simple or foolish person is like in the Proverbs, they are easily deceived by the pleasures of sin and in Corinthians, these people who are described as infants, they were rebuked by Paul because they weren’t taking sexual immorality seriously in the church.

They say things like:

“I just love this particular teacher.  Because when I listen to him, he makes me feel so good.”

“Who are all these people coming to my church?  Tell them to go somewhere else.”

“My church isn’t taking care of my needs.”

“I understand the Bible is important, but do we really need all that teaching?”

“It’s mean for you to say that person is wrong.  The Bible says you shouldn’t judge.”

“I didn’t like the music today because it didn’t use the instruments I like them to use.”

“I am strong.  I can be around bad stuff and it doesn’t really bother me.”

“Temptation isn’t that tempting to me.”

“Don’t talk to me about all this doctrine.  I don’t need all these stories. Just tell me what to do.”

“I don’t have the time to study the Bible to see whether you are right or not.  I am just going to trust what my pastor says.” 

“It’s my right.  If they have a problem with what I do, then that’s their problem!”

What spiritual children need from you is to help them become a vital part of a spiritual family.  They need desperately to learn how to live in a church family.  They need help learning how to feed themselves spiritually.  They need someone to show them who they are in Christ and to appreciate what they have in Christ.  They need encouragement in how to walk with God, how to have deep and lasting relationships with other believers, the nature of sanctification and appropriate expectations for their own spiritual growth and the growth of other believers.

When you are working with a spiritual child, again a lot of instruction is needed.  Children need to be taught.  Children need to be encouraged and they need to be admonished, and so your teaching of spiritual children will include a lot of that, affirming where they are doing well, but also don’t be afraid to say this is wrong, just make sure to show them why. 

Gently instruct, but instruct. 

They may need some firm accountability at this stage.  So what you might do is get together with them, and actually give them something specific to do, a kind of homework assignment related to whatever you think they need to learn, and then follow up with them to see if they have done it, and if they haven’t, challenge them and help them do it.  You are going to want to learn to balance, telling them exactly what to do and then also letting them learn on their own and learn some things the hard way.  I think of how Paul says the strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and there may be times with a spiritual child, you have to bear with them while they learn.  But there are other times where what they are doing is so dangerous, you have got to just step in and say this needs to stop.

Sometimes at this point in your discipleship of someone, when they are children, it’s good to get them reading a difficult book or listening to lectures together.  Part of the purpose of this may be to show them they don’t know quite as much as they think they do.  Don’t overwhelm them, but expose them to the fact that there is much more to learn.  And help them learn how to think.  You are going to want to show them that thinking deeply about truth is enjoyable but it also is a discipline and takes work.

Another thing to do with a spiritual child is help them learn how to benefit from our Sunday gatherings.  This is going to be a big part of their life in the future, and a lot of people have never received help knowing what these gatherings are all about.  You can maybe show them how to listen to a sermon.  You can teach them how to take notes.  You can also help them come up with plans so that when they come on Sundays they can have a ministry here, maybe giving them the challenge of meeting two strangers at church and then calling on them to follow up.

One big thing with spiritual children is to help them learn to endure in doing good.  Steadfastness is a major biblical virtue.  So give them ministry opportunities, but then as you do that, also give them clear instructions on how to go about doing what you are asking them to do, and then come back to it, and make sure you follow up with them on how it went. 

In terms of their relationships, you are going to really want to help them learn to love others.  Watch out for them being too harsh, without really caring about the person to whom they are speaking.  There are a lot of terms Paul uses to say we need to put off in our relationships with others, but sometimes we don’t know what those terms mean in practice, and so you are going to want to help them evaluate their speech, is it malicious, well what does that mean and on and on you go.  You are going to want to help them notice others.  This is a new way of thinking for them, caring for someone outside themselves.

All of this of course assumes time.  And with spiritual children, you want to look at your schedule and think, how can we organize it that we do get some time together?

It may be that you set up a once every couple week meeting, and when you do, you might be deliberate about what you discuss in those meetings.  Now of course the goal isn’t just getting through a curriculum, but almost using that curriculum as a bouncing off point to talk about all of life.  And there are all kinds of things out there that you can be talking about with spiritual children, like the spiritual disciplines, how to read your Bible, how to pray, or you can work through a book on the attributes of God, the sovereignty of God.  You can barely ever go wrong when you are discipling anyone just to go back to the Bible and find out what it teaches about God.

Now working with spiritual children isn’t always easy, because remember that children tend to be self-absorbed and if you know anything about self absorbed people, you know that they can sometimes love you and sometimes get pretty upset with you and it doesn’t always have so much to do with you and what you are actually doing as it does with them.  You can just watch the way people treated Paul, and how they misjudged him, so there are going to have to be times when you come back and lovingly say, hey, you know the way I was, what you are saying, feeling now, this is not right.

Children need someone to imitate.  They are not usually the best example, so make sure you as you work with them, that you are not ending up imitating them, but that you are showing them a godly way to live.  What can happen with children is you do what they do, they yell, you yell, they are grumpy, you are grumpy, no, you need to be the example.

Children also need to be pushed to grow, but make sure you are speaking in a way that they can understand and giving them homework and opportunities that are appropriate to where they are at spiritually.  We can sometimes get frustrated with spiritual children too quickly because they can’t do something, when the problem is, we haven’t given them good enough instructions how.  It is like with your own children how you have been doing something so long it is easy and you tell them to do it and you think it is simple, but they have no idea, and you need to remember that with spiritual children before you get too frustrated, you need to help them understand step by step. 

A Process for Discipleship: part five

16 Dec

If you picture the Christian life, it is not that you become a Christian and then kachow, you know everything and you are obedient in every area, you come out of the new birth, spiritually an adult.

No.

That’s not how growth works. You wouldn’t use the word grow if that’s how it worked. It wouldn’t make sense to say grow in this, if you came out complete and fully developed in every area spiritually.

And it’s clear, in the New Testament you don’t.

You are saved and the moment you are saved you are justified completely. You are saved and you are loved completely. You are saved and the moment you are saved you are set apart for God completely. You are saved and the moment you are saved you are forgiven completely. But, when you are saved, the moment you are saved, you are not matured in day to day obedience and holiness completely.

That’s why when the writers of the New Testament when they talk about our spiritual life as Christians, they talk about it in terms of growth.

There are many passages which indicate this.

Ephesians 4:15, “we are to grow up in every way.”

Colossians 1:10, “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking … that you might walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every way and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

2 Thessalonians 1:3, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right because your faith is growing…”

And we could go on and on. The Bible assumes that you don’t become a Christian and then you are as spiritually mature in practice as you will ever be, no it assumes that you will learn more and more, love more and more, believe more and more, in other words grow.

And that’s why the Bible sometimes uses the image of a person’s different life stages as the illustration of a person’s different spiritual life stages.

In a way that is similar to how we move from baby to child to teenager to adult in our physical lives, we are to move forward spiritually.

One place we see that very clearly in 1 John 2:12-14.

John writes, “I am writing to you, little children because your sins are forgiven, for his name’s sake. I am writing to you fathers because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you children, because you know the Father. I write to you fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

I take those phrases, children, fathers, young men, not to describe someone’s literal ages, but as categories to describe different people’s spiritual condition. Some people spiritually are like children. Some people spiritually are like young adults. Some people spiritually are like fathers. And then of course, we know there are other places in the Bible that describe some people as being spiritually like a baby or an infant.

When it comes to helping other people and discipling, I think this is such an important concept to appreciate, I want you to think about where the person you want to disciple is in this maturing process, and I think it is important for a number of different reasons.

One is and I think this is why John brings it up, one reason it is important to understand there are spiritual children and young adults and babies and fathers, that there are these stages, is because sometimes when we read the Bible and all the calls to be holy, we can be overwhelmed with our own sinfulness and begin to doubt our salvation.

And there’s a sense in which we all need to every once in a while check where we are at spiritually, because it is possible to fool yourself into thinking you are a Christian when you are not, and that’s part of why John writes, there are people who say they are Christians but they are not, and he writes to give tests to help us be able to tell the difference between false professions of Christ and those that are real, but as we look at these tests, it is important that we don’t somehow get the mistaken idea, that these tests mean that everyone who is a sincere Christian will be at the exact same level of spiritual maturity all the time.

Because there’s room in God’s family for spiritual babies and spiritual children and spiritual young adults.

There are stages in a person’s spiritual journey and we shouldn’t write people off immediately just because we see them not acting as mature as we think they should. That’s what is behind John saying, I am writing to you little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. You may be a child, but your sins are forgiven.

And as we talk about these different levels of spiritual maturity, and as I ask you to think about where you are at spiritually and where the people you are discipling are at spiritually, you need to remember that spiritual babies sins are forgiven just as much as spiritual adults.

This idea of identifying one guy as a spiritual baby and another person as a spiritual adult, it has nothing to do ultimately with your standing before God, it has nothing to do with how much God loves you, it has nothing to do with whether or not you are chosen by God, when we say someone is a spiritual baby, we are not talking about their value, in fact, babies are often valued more than adults, we are just trying to get a grip on where they are at, so we can best know how to help them.

That’s one way I think identifying how someone is maturing spiritually and seeing whether they are a baby, child, or the others is helpful; another reason I think it is important is just as a reminder that we are supposed to move forward spiritually. If we have a baby and we are holding them in our arms at the hospital, that is wonderful but if it is ten years later and we are still holding them in our arms like that, something is wrong. Something is wrong physically when a thirty year old still looks like a baby, that is a medical problem, that is not normal, and the same is true spiritually, you are supposed to be moving along spiritually, it’s fine to be a baby for a while, but it is not fine to stay a baby, not growing is not normal.

This is why Paul rebukes the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 3:1. “But brothers I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.” It’s like Paul is surprised. This baby stage was one thing when I was there the first time, but still, it’s too long, you need to be moving past this.

And that’s why the writer of Hebrews, he says something similar. Hebrews 5:12, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.”

If you are a believer and part of church, I know your church really wants you to see, spiritual growth as a normal part of the Christian life, over the years you should be expecting God to grow you to a different place than you are spiritually, and as you disciple people, we want you to be patient with babies, but you should be watching where the person you want to impact is in the growth process, and expecting them to grow, if they are believers, this is normal.

To help you in that process of thinking about all this, I think we can identify five different places a person can be spiritually besides heaven or hell, and as we look at those stages in the posts which follow, I want to give you some ideas of what those stages look like and what specific help people in those various spiritual conditions need from you.

A Process for Discipleship: part one

26 Nov

It’s one thing to know that you are supposed to do something. It’s another to know how.

Understanding that we are supposed to go out and make disciples is great, but if we as believers are actually going to make disciples, we also need some help understanding how exactly we can go about doing that.

That is why at our church we have been working through some of the key elements in the disciple-making process. We began by looking at the apostle Paul and the way he describes his ministry in 1 Thessalonians 1 and 2, as an illustration of that. We talked about how a disciple-maker shares the gospel, depends on God, encourages the saints, models the faith, perseveres in trials, maintains his aim, cares for people, and teaches the truth.

And I was thinking, even as we were working our way through that passage, that while it provides us a good overall picture of some of the things a disciple-maker does, some of us might still need some more help with understanding the specifics of the actual disciple-making process.

Maybe because I grew up in a counselor’s home, I am always thinking, did I give them what they need to know to put it into practice, because discipleship isn’t something we are just supposed to be good at talking about, but doing.

So what I want to do, is just give you a basic discipleship process, model, method maybe; where you have someone that you really want to intentionally influence for Christ and help them become influential for Christ as well, and you are wondering, what’s involved in being of a real help to this person?

And the way we are going to go about this, you need to understand at the front, is by walking through a model or method, and this model or method I am giving you is not really new to me, I didn’t make this up, I am going to walk you through some steps, eight steps in all, and they are not really steps, but components that others have taught me, mostly my father really, so I guess he discipled me in this, and I have found it very helpful to work through when trying to disciple others.

We’ll start in this post with a phrase that summarizes step number one.

This is where I think we should begin when we disciple others.

Follow Jesus.

Before we look at the person we want to disciple, before we ever pick a book or curriculum to walk through with them, we need to take some time to look at ourselves.

And ask ourselves, am I actually following Jesus.

The principle here is simple:

“I can’t lead others to Jesus, if I am not following Him myself.”

You see, we often use the word disciple as a verb, something you do to someone else. You disciple them. That’s how we are using it now. We are talking about discipleship as in, what we are doing to help someone else. But most often in the Bible, the word disciple is a noun. It is not something someone does to someone else, it is something someone is.

The word disciple was actually the first name for Christians. There’s a verse in Acts 11 that’s interesting, Acts 11:26, it says, “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” So before Christians were called Christians, they were known simply as disciples and the word disciple had to do with them being a learner, a student, a follower of Jesus.

And the reason I am bringing that up is to say that before you disciple as a verb, you need to be a disciple as a noun, you need to be a learner, a student, a follower of Jesus in order to really help someone else learn from and follow Jesus.

Because a big part of discipleship is not just talk or giving information; it is actually showing. One of the big goals of discipleship is to show someone how to live, but you are not trying to show them how to live in order that they become just like you, but how to live to be like Jesus and so if you are not following Jesus, then you obviously are going to have a hard time showing them that.

We often read Paul saying, imitate me. But ultimately, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1, it was, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” You can imitate me, because I am imitating Christ. And when you begin thinking about discipling others, you want to ask am I doing that, am I imitating Christ?

I think one of the dangers we face when it comes to discipleship is that there are some people who are always feeling so inferior. They don’t feel like they can ever disciple someone because they know they are sinners and obviously we don’t have to be perfect to disciple others because then only Jesus could do it. There’s only one perfect person, that’s Jesus. And when Jesus spoke to the disciples in Matthew 28 and commanded them to disciple, they had made a lot of mistakes, he knew they weren’t perfect, I mean, most of them had only just come back from running for their lives, betraying Jesus when he needed them most, so we do have to get over the inferiority complex when it comes to discipleship, because it can be an excuse. We really should be discipling others, but we just try to get out of it by saying, I am not good enough.

But at the same time, on the other hand, there are some people who feel so superior to others, that they never really evaluate their lives, and ask am I actually following Jesus; so even though they are pretty much going the opposite way as Jesus with their lives, they feel like they can go around telling other people what to do, and I am just saying, that as we go to disciple others, we should use that as an opportunity to look at our lives and evaluate how well we are following Jesus ourselves.

Look, maybe just to put this in an African context, you know, so you get what I am trying to say. It’s not, who here is white, o.k., you disciple a black guy or I am black, I can’t disciple a white guy, or I am rich, so I guess I am ready for discipleship, no, this is absolute craziness, what matters is not your color or your wealth, but are you actually following Jesus.

Because a big part of what we want to do in discipleship is set an example. That’s why your life does matter.

Jesus actually gave a warning about discipleship, that I think illustrates this point. He says in Luke 6:39 and 40, Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall in a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

This is more a warning, not to follow the wrong teacher, but we can apply it the other way. What happens in discipleship is that the people you are discipling become a little bit like you, and that can be a bad thing if you are not like Jesus, but it is supposed to be a good thing, really. I mean, this is supposed to be how the church works.

As we are around people who are living like Jesus, we become more like Jesus.

That’s actually why God gave the church all these qualifications for elders and deacons. If you look at those qualifications and you can do this on your own, 1 Timothy 3, there are all these character qualifications, and they don’t seem that radical really, when you look at them, most of them, seem kind of ordinary, but I think the point is that what we need in our churches are these men who are living lives that show us what ordinary Christianity looks like.

I am supposed to be able to come to church and find men who can show me in their lives what loving and living for Jesus looks like.

That’s why if you ever take the time to study the responsibilities of church leaders, you won’t find a lot of talk about a lot of the things that people seem to think are important today, but what do you find is a lot of talk about being holy, because God knows what we so desperately need are examples.

And that is why I am saying if you want God to use you to help change others, the first big thing you should be asking Him is that He would change you.

I guarantee you, if God is using you, changing you, He’s going to be using you to help change others. It’s inevitable.

One of the things you might do is to work your way through Scripture, answering the question, what does it mean to be spiritually mature? What are the characteristics of a spiritually mature person, and then evaluate how you are pursuing that.

Another thing you might do, is enter into a discipleship relationship yourself. Don’t wait around for someone to come and disciple you, go, find someone and ask them if you can watch them and learn from them so that you can be mature enough to disciple others.

Look, I am not saying again you have to spiritually perfect in order to disciple someone else, because I think part of maturing is discipling someone else, you can’t mature without doing it, but I am just warning you, that you are going to be dangerous if you think you are spiritually mature when you are not, so it helps as you go to disciple someone else to take advantage of the opportunity to evaluate how well you are actually following Christ.

Maybe it will help you to say this, so you know what I am not saying and what I am saying.

I don’t want any believer to think I can’t disciple people until I graduate from seminary. Discipleship is for all of us who are Christians. You just want to know a little more than the person you are discipling. What we are talking about is not so much your knowledge, what we are talking about is more your attitude, are you growing, because you know what I will take a guy for discipleship who doesn’t know much but is willing to obey Jesus whenever he learns something new over someone who knows all kinds of things but isn’t willing to obey, any day of the week. Maybe what we are talking about is spiritual warmth, that’s what we are looking for, a person who loves Jesus and is obedient to the light that he has. When it comes to elders, we need spiritual maturity obviously, when it comes to disciplers, we are looking for spiritual warmth, someone who is trying to follow Jesus.