Old Man with BabyThe story is told of a group of tourists who were touring a village. An old man was seated on a park bench, and one of the tourists asked him if any great men had been born in the small town. “No,” the man replied after a moment’s thought. “Only babies.” Just as no man or woman is born “great”, no Christian is “mature” immediately upon being born into the family of God. Each believer starts this new life as a babe in Christ. However, it is God’s plan for every believer to grow from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. He gives us the resources we need and provides a model for us to follow. We can understand the process of spiritual growth by examining principles seen in the life of Jesus.

The Goal of Spiritual Growth Is Christlike Character.

It is natural for the new believer to ask: “What does spiritual maturity look like?” The answer is that it looks like Jesus Christ. He not only is the object of our faith, but He is the object of our growth. From the beginning, God’s desire has been for those who believe in Christ to be conformed to His likeness (Romans 8:29). As we grow in Christ and become more like Him, those around us should be able to see His image reflected in us (2 Corinthians 3:18). This does not mean that we will become physically like Him with the same appearance, mannerisms, or manner of speaking. Rather, it means that we will become like Him in our attitudes and in our actions.

This is a lofty goal indeed and can be intimidating, especially to the new believer. However, it is important to remember that God provides us with more than the minimum daily requirements for our spiritual growth. In fact, 2 Peter 1:3 says that God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. Some Christians find this hard to believe, especially when they begin to experience challenges or frustration in their spiritual lives. And, sadly, there are sometimes people who mistakenly tell them that they don’t have everything they need⎜that to really grow they need something more. This “something more” may be a mystical experience, a special anointing from the Holy Spirit, a special degree of wisdom or knowledge, or something else. Regardless of how well intended this advice may be, it is a form of spiritual intimidation and should be rejected as such. Just as a healthy baby is born with all the parts it needs to grow and develop normally, so we are born spiritually with all we need to grow in Christ.

Spiritual Growth Occurs Gradually, in Phases

One error to avoid is thinking that God has not given us everything we need to grow. An equally dangerous wrong belief is that growth will occur overnight. Just as a newborn baby develops gradually and only after much nourishment and the proper care, so it is with the “babe” in Christ — the new Christian. We should expect to drink milk before we can eat meat, and to crawl before we can walk. God understands this better than we do, and He patiently works with us as He conforms us to the image of His Son. We see this principle illustrated in the approach Christ took with His disciples.

A careful study of the life and ministry of Christ will show that He was deliberate in the way that He related to and worked with His disciples. Because each of the Gospel writers recorded the life of Christ from his own perspective, it can be difficult to see a pattern simply by reading through the New Testament. However, when the Gospel accounts are combined into a chronological narrative, it is clear that Jesus taught His disciples things that were appropriate for each phase of growth, and that He moved them through successive phases. It is also clear that Jesus intended this pattern to be repeated as, before His return to heaven, He commanded His followers to make disciples in all nations, teaching the same things He had taught.

While people may label these phases differently, they can be described as follows:

1) Establishing Faith ⎜The necessary first step for anyone to become a disciple of Christ is to repent of his sins and former way of life and to trust in Christ as his savior. This event is referred to in Scripture as being born again (John 3). Regardless of whether a person comes to faith at age eight or eighty-eight, he becomes a newborn “babe” in Christ.

2) Laying Foundations ⎜The focus of this early phase in the life of the believer is gaining a better understanding of who Christ is and how to follow Him. As the new Christian learns more of Christ’s nature and character, He learns to trust Him not only for salvation but for other things as well. During this phase, Jesus invited his disciples to spend more time with Him so that He could reveal Himself more fully to them.

3) Equipping for Ministry ⎜In this phase, the disciple learns to serve others and engages in ministry opportunities under the guidance of more mature believers. Jesus’ call to His disciples, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” indicates that He was moving them to the next phase of growth. Jesus took His disciples with Him as He went about teaching and ministering to people.

4) Developing New Leaders ⎜As the believer progresses to this phase, he is ready to take responsibility for the spiritual well being of others. Jesus’ time during this phase with His disciples was characterized by teaching about how to live in His Kingdom. Also, He designated twelve of His closest disciples as apostles and sent them out on their own to preach the Kingdom of God and to minister to people’s needs.

There Are Two Dimensions to Spiritual Growth ⎜Equipping and Restoring.

Not only does spiritual growth occur in phases, but it also involves two dimensions⎜equipping and restoring. The equipping dimension includes building knowledge, skills, and abilities into peoples’ lives, while the restoring dimension refers to regaining the image of God by developing emotional and relational health. The phases discussed above relate primarily to the equipping dimension, which is characterized by growth in such areas as personal knowledge of Christ and His ways, the ability to trust God, and the ability to minister to others.

The second dimension relates to our emotional and relational well being. This aspect is necessary because, when a person comes to faith in Christ, he brings all of his baggage along with him. Some of us bring little baggage and some of us bring a lot, but none of us has the emotional and relational health necessary to grow to full maturity in Christ. As can be seen in the way Christ worked with His disciples, God does not wait to complete the equipping dimension before He begins to work on the restoring dimension. Rather, the two are interrelated and He works on them at the same time. In fact, it must be so because one’s spiritual growth is limited if emotional and relational issues are not addressed.

Because of our own sin nature and because we live in a fallen world, we develop unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving as we make our way through life. Many of these patterns develop as we try to protect ourselves from the inevitable hurts that come our way. God wants to restore us to emotional health, not just so we can minister effectively for Him, but also primarily so that we can enjoy our relationship with Him and with others. There is no relational health without emotional health.

As in all other areas, Jesus is our model of emotional and relational well being. It is an understatement to say that not everyone liked Him, but the way He related to friends and foes alike was healthy. His words and actions were characterized by integrity, purity, and honesty. And His emotions betrayed integrity as well. As G. Walter Hansenin writes in Christianity Today, “I am spellbound by the intensity of Jesus’ emotions: Not a twinge of pity, but heartbroken compassion; not a passing irritation, but terrifying anger; not a silent tear, but groans of anguish; not a weak smile, but ecstatic celebration. Jesus’ emotions are like a mountain river cascading with clear water. My emotions are more like a muddy foam or a feeble trickle.” Because of the hurts in our past and the resulting protective behaviors we have engaged in, many of us can probably identify more closely with the description of Mr. Hansenin’s emotions than we can with those of Jesus.

The Christian life is all about relationships. When we place our faith in Christ, we enter into relationship with Him. We also become part of the family of God. The Bible speaks of believers as members of the “body of Christ.” Much of the teaching of the New Testament revolves around how we are to relate to one another. If we have not developed emotional and relational health, these new relationships can be very challenging. The good news is that these new relationships provide a wonderful opportunity for us to grow. Believers should make up a restoring community, where we demonstrate unconditional acceptance and speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Conclusion

In light of these teachings, our primary concern should be that we see consistent progress over time in our spiritual growth and that this growth is evident in all areas of our lives. We should imitate the Apostle Paul’s mindset as reflected when he wrote, “…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14) The picture Paul paints is of an athlete who is straining every muscle as he pushes toward the goal. We should exhibit the same determination in our spiritual lives.

However, we should not become preoccupied with growth for growth’s sake. We should not become like the anxious six-year-old boy who every morning jumps out of bed and runs over to the growth chart taped to the back of his door to see if he has grown any taller over night. If we continue to press toward the mark, growth will come. And, each day we can rejoice in the confidence that He who has begun this good work in us will carry it through to completion (Philippians 1:6).

Application Suggestions:

• What evidences of change in attitudes/actions/beliefs have you seen in your life since you became a Christian that indicate you are progressing toward Christlikeness?

• Meditate on Philippians 1:6, thanking God that He is at work in your life and will continue to work.

Get this series Growing Spiritually, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

Atomic Bomb BlastThe Fall of man was like having an atomic bomb go off near Eden. Adam and Eve survived, but because they were exposed to the radiation, they were greatly deformed and sickened. It was as if they were altered genetically, and all their offspring for all generations would be affected.

All men have been affected by the Fall. They no longer love God and the things of God but have become hostile toward Him. The Bible indicates that as a result of the Fall, all men have received a sin nature. Paul in Romans 8 describes how this fallen nature affects everyone. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires . . . The mind of sinful man is death . . . the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:5-7)

A reasonable question in light of this is, “Has the image of God in man been destroyed?” The answer is no. God’s image was defaced and damaged, but it was not obliterated. The Bible continues to speak of mankind as being in God’s image and admonishes all men to treat others with dignity and respect because everyone still reflects God’s image to some degree (James 3:9, I Corinthians 11:7).

Because of the Fall, all people are lost and unable to respond to God. There is a desperate need to reverse the effects of the Fall. And God, in His graciousness and love, has set in motion all that is needed to gradually reverse these effects through two initiatives.

Reformation
The first initiative we call reformation. Man is in need of a radical change of heart: hostility toward God needs to be changed to love; a sense of alienation from God needs to be changed to a sense of acceptance by Him; a natural inclination away from God needs to be changed to a desire toward Him. But man cannot change himself. He cannot reverse the effects of the fall. There is nothing in this world that can change him. This world says that man can be changed through education or political views or his own will. Though there is some truth in these views, none of these can change or heal a heart that has turned against God.

Only God can change a man’s heart. God brings about a radical inward change when a person repents of his sin and submits to Him. Ezekiel the prophet describes this radical inward change in this way:

I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:25 27).

Christians usually notice evidence of this change of heart shortly after their conversion. They find new desires within themselves. They want to pray and seek God while in the past they did not have time for God. They seek to be around other believers and have a new desire to understand God’s word and to follow Him. They often have a new inward sense that they are children of God. One of the most surprising things that happened to me when I came to Christ was that I was changed from a totally self-centered person to a person who really cared about other people. I have no explanation for this change except that God invaded my life and changed me. God changed my heart.

Restoration
The second initiative of God toward us we call restoration. Even though He changed our hearts at salvation, He now needs to change our lives by restoring the defaced image of God in us. Paul refers to this in Colossians 3:10 when he says, “you have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” This is the process of renewing that begins when we come to know Christ personally, and continues throughout our lives.

We are being restored to Christlikeness. Jesus is the visible expression (image) of the invisible God, so to be made into Christ’s image is to be made into the image of God. This process begins at salvation and goes on throughout our lifetime. Then when we die and go to be with Jesus, God instantly finishes the project. Thus, the effects of the Fall will not be totally reversed in our lifetime, but God will bring to completion that which He has begun in us. (Philippians 1:6)

The restoration process has two parts. The first is growth in our relationship with Christ, which is accomplished as we spend time with God and His people seeking Him, learning about Him and His ways and applying His Word to our lives. The second part of restoration is healing from the damage of sin. We all come into the Christian life damaged by living in a fallen world and by the sinful choices we have made. We have all been hurt in our lives and often have little insight about how to heal from those hurts. Often, the need people have to heal from emotional damage has not been well recognized in the church, but it is clearly part of Christ’s message of hope to us.

At the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61:1-3 (Luke 4:18-19), which refers to the healing aspect of His ministry.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion –to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Jesus came to set us free from the damage that sin has done in our lives. The damage from our past sinful choices and sinful treatment by others may take many forms: addictions, depression, a distorted self-image, relational problems, unhealthy thinking patterns, unresolved emotional problems or many other difficulties These problems have roots in unresolved pain from our past, and to get better a person must process that pain and replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones. This takes time and help from others who understand the healing process. Notice that healing is a process and does not occur instantly at salvation.

God has set out to transform us. Apart from His work in our lives we would never be able to change. He has to reform us by changing our hearts and then restore us by giving us the strength and direction to become more like Christ. Apart from God’s work in a person’s life there is no hope of a better, more meaningful life.

Application Suggestions:
• Meditate on Isaiah 61:1-4
• Think about and answer these questions:
a. What are areas in my life that need to be restored?
b. How have I seen God begin this process of restoration?

Get this Pocket Principle in Understanding People, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

I had the privilege of hearing a bunch of middle schoolers share reflections about their time at our local middle school.  It was interesting that my perception of middle school was tainting my ability to hear with objectivity.  I have furiously attempted to avoid thinking about anything related to my Jr. High School experiences.

There are books written about teenage girls, queen bees, bullying and an assorted other difficulties related to growing up through adolescence, especially during the middle school years.  I previously posted about our experiences as parents of teenagers in a blog called Three simple steps to growing up with your teenager.

We are still learning here.  I do recommend you read “Like Dew Your Youth” by Eugene Peterson.  I have also had a great many talks with our C.O.O. David Parfitt,  who has just launched two teenagers into college and beyond.  His perspective has certainly been helpful.

As I sat there listening to these really awesome teenagers, some who performed music and others who read 2-3 minute reflections on Middle School, I was struck by the differences in maturity and perspective.  It reminded me of two things.

5120336436_0af6412eae_o1.  We’re not there yet.

If there is one thing that I have learned it is that none of us have arrived. From the moment you sent the first child off to preschool to the point where you release them into independent living, you remember at each point that none of us have arrived.  This living in the now and not yet, the point where you look at your heart or try to understand the heart of a teenager, the place where you are both able to remember that “we’re not there yet” is both scary and humbling and also a place for faith.

More than one teenager communicated that Middle School was a place to learn and grow. They shared the trials that were faced there, the loss of a teacher or parents, the loss of reputation, dealing with their own inner struggles and consequences of poor choices.  Some communicated about their dreams and plans, high hopes and confidence in their vision for a future.  That’s what those kinds of events are for.  But is was good to see that in the midst there were those who realized that “they were not there yet!”

This reminds me of a critical point for those who are helping build disciples and those who are being shaped towards Christlikeness, we are all in process! This process will not be done till we see Christ face to face.

2. The way up is the way down.

The second truth is somewhat surprising and at the same time confusing at first.  To grow spiritually, to grow into a person who has the character of Jesus, means that the way up is the way down!  What?  I thought that maturity means increasing holiness and perfection.  I thought that sanctification was getting better!

What was telling in the different teenagers who shared was that each seemed to have a bit of humility, they knew that they were not there yet, but there seemed to be a variety of ways which they would attempt to continue to grow.  Certainly there were mentors and teachers along the way that helped these optimistic and sometimes proud teens learn the lesson that they don’t know everything (something of which I still have to remind myself).  There were circumstances of loss, pain and grief that brought honesty and self reflection to these teens.  But one thing that wasn’t shared across the board was a simple truth that Jesus brings to the table.  The way to go up is the way down.

But not all Christians see Sanctification in these terms.  What about being “enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness”?  Doesn’t that mean I’m getting better! Well, yes and no.

The Westminster Confession of Faith says:

Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace,[97] whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God,[98] and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.[99]

[97] Ezekiel 36:27. Philippians 2:13.  2 Thessalonians 2:13.

[98] 2 Corinthians 5:17. Ephesians 4:23-24. 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

[99] Ezekiel 36:25-27.  Romans 6:4, 6, 12-14.  2 Corinthians 7:1.  1 Peter 2:24.

Note something in the first phrase that is sometimes missed.  Sanctification is the WORK of God’s free grace.  To support my first point, we are not there yet.  It is the ongoing work of God that helps us grow.  We are renewed after the image of God! Certainly more like Jesus than when we begin.  The last point is also true, enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.

So on the one hand, Yes, Sanctification is the work of grace where we are enabled more and more. So take heart, we do grow!

What does this look like?  Well, maybe we need to consider what this doesn’t look like!

Sanctification is not the work of my flesh, personality, or inner stubbornness to be a good person!  We remember it is a work of grace! That means God is more concerned with my spiritual growth than I am!  He has promised to complete what He begins!

So it doesn’t look like me picking myself up by my own bootstraps! I don’t grow by my own will!  (Getting Better is a hard phrase to explain here, but by my saying, No  – I am not getting better – means that “I” am not making myself better.)

To connect this back to my original point, I need to remember that I don’t arrive once I am saved and I still don’t arrive once I have learned how to grow and follow God.  The way up is the way down!

Some of this is perspective.  I have a brother-in-law who is an awesome mechanic.  If I were to go in to his shop while my car was getting a new timing belt, not knowing what it took, I might be surprised at all the things he has to take off my car to get that job done.  Simply, if all I have ever done “spiritually” is fill my “heart” up with gas, put in new coolant or give it a wash (metophorically speaking), then I would be shocked at what real “heart work” takes.  It is as if we forget that to grow takes both time and a bit of time under the hood.

The very thing that marks Christian maturity is the ability to grow in brokenness.  This is not simply admitting that I am a sinner, but the ongoing process of allowing the Holy Spirit to uncover the things in my life that need to be repented of and developing a heart that is willing to “go with the Holy Spirit” down into my heart. I have to allow Jesus to take apart the transmission, do an overhaul on the engine and maybe even do some body work.  I’m not going to see anything unless I allow the “great mechanic” under the hood.  And honestly, if I understand what the Bible says about my condition apart for Jesus, I need some serious time in the shop!

Self examination with the Word of God,  prayer producing God given repentance and Godly sorrow, and a healthy relationship with God means I need to go down!  (Psalm 5:17) The more I am aware of my sinfulness before a holy God the more I see my need for Jesus each moment!  It is at these very moments that I see the cross of Christ grow bigger and bigger! I realize the depths of my sin, but also begin to scratch the surface of the depths to which Christ’s death paid for my sin.  Jack Miller says, “Cheer up” you’re far worse than you think you are!  But you are more loved and accepted in Christ than you ever dared dream!

So I listen to the middle schoolers finish speeches and one thing that I’m reminded of is that some of them have a healthy view of self.  They realize that they have a ways to go and are learning.  They haven’t lived up to their own or others expectations and will continue to mess up.  But as with all of us, they still are in progress.  My prayer for them, for myself and for you is that that process of growth toward maturity begins with a humble and broken heart before Jesus that causes you to replace trust in yourself for self-improvement with faith to believe that Jesus is calling you to Repentance and Faith.

Walking with Jesus today means that I learn that I am still growing.  I learn that Jesus helps me see my daily sin, my love for self, my trust in this world; in seeing these things…. he calls me to ongoing repentance and ongoing faith.

Here are a few articles that can flesh these thoughts out further.

All of Life is Repentance: Tim Keller

The Theology of Sonship

Sanctified by Grace: White Horse Inn Blog

The Centrality of the Gospel

The author takes full responsibility for the content and links provided on this blog.  His views may not be held by or represent all the views of Worldwide Discipleship Association.  Feel free to jump in and have a good discussion!

annointed with perfume Jesus

annointed with perfume JesusThere’s an old story about an ex-prostitute who poured a bottle of perfume all over Jesus’ feet and wept while drying his feet with her hair. Judas stands by thinking, “What a waste. That could’ve been sold to benefit the poor.”

Of course, Judas really just wanted to fill the moneybag so he could help himself (as was his habit). But maybe in that moment he had convinced himself that his heart was of little consequence. And anyway, he was right wasn’t he? Wasn’t his analysis correct that this perfume represented a year’s wages and shouldn’t be wastefully poured on the ground? Shouldn’t someone stand for truth? Here was nothing more than an absurd emotional charade. Surely an objective, thoughtful analysis would lead to a better decision on how to use this precious stuff.

Heavy. That’s how I feel when I type those words. Because neither I nor my coreligionists have improved much on the example of Judas these 2000 years. Maybe it’s a guy thing. (Maybe not.) We still value analysis, truth, and wise decision-making that feed into strategic objectives. Spontaneous outpourings of lavish affection arising from faith? Not so much.

The amazing thing is that Jesus seems to say, “Let’s assume that you’re approach is right. Your filters stink. Your beliefs are wrong. You think I’m nothing more than a philanthropist magician. You’re not going deep enough. If you’re going to analyze this woman’s behavior, then consider this analysis: her actions are far more valuable than a year’s wages. Unbeknownst to her, she has prepared my body for burial and identified me as the Christ who must suffer and die. But furthermore, you assume that truth is truth and your heart is of little consequence. But I see what’s in your heart. I see that you’re a thief and it matters a great deal.

My heart is deeply and uncomfortably intertwined with the ways I process and speak truth. Yet somehow I’ve bought into the modernist myth of the objective analysis. Frankly, it doesn’t exist. Self-deception on the other hand is very real and very powerful. It’s SO easy to ride my truth horse into town, to make my stand, to take control, to sweep out the filth, and to leave feeling proud of my own courage. But I’d be dead wrong. I’d be Judas-wrong.

So Jesus comes in and says, “That might be a good idea if your truth didn’t stink so bad. See, if you knew me, you’d still get up on your truth horse and ride into town. Except the horse would be a donkey. And you’d come not to clean up the filth but to live among the filth. And the way you’d make your stand is to lay down to die.”

When the Pharisees objected to Jesus healing on the Sabbath, it’s amazing that he didn’t just say, “Ah, come ON guys! RELAX! I’m Jesus okay? You don’t have to be so strict all the time!” He says, “Alright let’s talk about the law then. Since you value it so much, why don’t you follow it? Furthermore have you considered that I might be the Lord of the Sabbath?”

Jesus engages analyzers on their terms, giving them better assumptions with which to form a thoughtful analysis that will lead to heart-felt christlikeness. Jesus helps the thinker think in better ways.

Jesus engages heart-givers on their terms, giving them better assumptions upon which to give their hearts in ways that will lead to thoughtful christlikeness. Jesus helps the feeler feel in better ways.

I just think it’s really cool that Jesus is a person and not The Force. As a person, he can relate to people in the ways they feel most loved. Jesus relates to me by giving me lots of intense and undivided attention. But for another person, it may look like his presence showing up in quiet moments to say, “We don’t have to talk. Let’s just be together.” Other people might feel like Jesus is always dropping little presents into their life or protecting them or helping them process reality.

But the end goal is always the same: to pull me—mind and heart—into a close relationship with him and to make me a mature person: Not the untouchable sage I think of when I hear the word “maturity” but a right-thinking, right-feeling, always-loving person. Ya know… like Jesus.

Discipleship Culture

Discipleship CultureWhy Discipleship?

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

To be a Christian is to be a “disciple” – someone who is learning the way of Christ and following the way of Christ – as Jesus says, learning to obey all that he has commanded.  The Apostle Paul even called it “learning Christ” (Ephesians 4:20), being transformed into his image.  The goal of discipleship is Christlikeness.

But how does that happen?  How do you grow as a disciple and grow up into Christ and become transformed into his image?

 

Ephesians 4:11-16 gives a picture of how discipleship happens…

“[God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

These verses give you a picture of the process of growing up into Christ.  They show two main elements of discipleship…

First, the Apostle Paul mentions the formal offices in the church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  (Some of these offices, we believe, were foundational and have passed away.)  These formal church leaders have a primary responsibility for discipleship.  Put another way, part of discipleship happens through the official ministry of the church.  Theologians use the phrase – “the public and ordinary means of grace” – which are the preaching of the Word, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and prayer.  These are formal, public and corporate means of discipleship.

In other words, coming to church is discipleship.  Discipleship is what happens in Sunday School, in the worship service, in prayer meeting, at the Lord’s Supper.  These are the corporate means of grace.

But Ephesians 4 also shows us a second element to discipleship, which is a “culture of discipleship” – the mutual discipleship of the Body, where all the saints are equipped for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all grow up into maturity in Christ, every part doing its share.

The key point is: Everyone is a disciple and everyone is a discipler.  Everyone receives and gives discipleship.  Everyone has a responsibility and a role to play.  There is no place in church for consumers.  We were all appointed to be producers, to bear fruit.  In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.”  In the Christian life, we all receive ministry, but we all also are to minister.  We are disciples but we also disciple one another.

 

2 Timothy 2:2 says,

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Titus 2:3 says,

Older women likewise are to be reverence in behavior, not slanderers, or slaves to much wine.  They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women…”

1 Thessalonians 1:8 says,

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

The people that Paul discipled were now discipling others.

Everyone is a disciple and everyone is a discipler.  Is that how you think of your Christian life?  Is that how you think when you come to church?  When you have children, you may think that way – that you have responsibility to disciple your own children.  But what about with other people at church – even people your own age, even your own pastors?  Do you any responsibility to disciple them?

 

What Is “A Culture of Discipleship”?

Biblically, discipleship is not a program, but is a culture.  Some churches have developed discipleship programs, which are kind of like classes that people complete.  These may have some value, but Biblically, discipleship is not a quantifiable skill-set, with set goals that can be achieved.  It cannot ultimately be a program, but is a culture.  Discipleship is what should happen in the ordinary ebb and flow of life.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Discipleship should be part of your daily life!

According to the New Testament, discipleship happens not just through instruction, but through relationships and imitation.

In 1 Corinthians 4:14-16, the Apostle Paul writes, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”

He repeats himself in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

In Philippians 4:9, he says, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

This kind of discipleship can only happen through the sharing of lives.  In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, the Apostle says, “Being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.”

The dictionary defines a culture as “The shared values, goals and practices that characterize a group.”  So what is a “culture of discipleship”?  It is a group of people habitually demonstrating through their values and daily practices mutual love for one another and mutual encouragement to be like Christ.

On an individual level, it is being someone constantly looking to others for help in being like Christ  and looking to help others be like Christ.

When my wife and I were young Christians, we were very affected by relationships we had with other Christians, particularly older Christians.  By God’s grace, we were very much the initiative takers in pursuing those relationships.  We were constantly inviting ourselves over to people’s houses, offering to babysit their kids, watching their marriages, watching how they raised their kids, watching how they lived their lives.  We were ruthless in asking people questions:  “We’re struggling with this… How do we get through this? … Why did you do that? … How do you do that? …”  We were hungry to learn how to live practically in godly ways.  We benefited from inserting ourselves into people’s lives and proactively and persistently pursuing people – looking for help in being like Christ.  We knew we needed help.  Fortunately, there were older Christians who made themselves available to us, who were completely open towards us.  They were people putting themselves in our path to let us in.  We were constantly seeking them out, but they were constantly putting themselves in our path.

That’s what a culture of discipleship means – a group of people who are ruthlessly and seriously looking to others for help in being like Christ and looking to help others be like Christ.  

It is younger Christians pursuing older Christians, pursuing relationships, asking questions.  It is older Christians opening up their lives, putting yourselves in the paths of the younger.  It is also Christians of the same age and station of life mutually pursuing and encouraging one another.

One very important rule when it comes to discipleship is: The initiative for discipleship depends on you.  You have to be hungry and thirsty for discipleship.  You have to seek it out.  If you wait for someone else to initiate towards you – offer to disciple you, or ask you to disciple them – this culture will never develop.  It happens as you live this way yourself and open up your life to others.  Sometimes you might pursue others for help or seek to help others, and it may not be reciprocated or appreciated, for various reasons.  But beginning with you, so much depends on you having your heart open.  The Apostle Paul said, “Our heart is wide open…widen your hearts also” (2 Cor.7:11-13).

How ‘Discipleship’?

So what does initiative in discipleship look like?  What practical steps can you take to engage in discipleship?

First, it is important to emphasize the place of prayer for discipleship.  Do you regularly pray for other Christians in your church or your small group?  When you don’t pray for other Christians, you’re not thoughtful about them.  But when you pray, your mind and your heart are stirred to care for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You’re thoughtful about ways they are struggling, thoughtful about their needs, and about how you might be an encouragement to them.  Your prayers for them are pleasing to God and near to his heart.  And he stirs your heart to be more purposeful in caring for one another.

Second, be thinking about ways you can use your natural gifts in discipleship What are you good at?  What are you interested in?  Could others be blessed by your sharing of these gifts with others?  A musician in our church mentioned specifically choosing hymns to play during the offertory that would encourage people she knew in the church who were struggling.  Instead of just picking a song by default, she was being thoughtful to use her gifts to encourage and disciple others. Are you a writer?  Are you a handyman?  Are you a baker?  Are you artistic?  Are there ways you can use these gifts to bless others?  Are there ways you could include others while you do these things?

Third, you cannot overstate the importance of hospitality for discipleship Particularly in our culture, which keeps people so far apart, inviting people into your home, allowing them in to observe your life and family, is incredibly powerful.  This was an important part of the early church (Acts 2:44-47, 4:32; see also 1 Peter 4:7-11).

 

The Fall issue of the 9Marks Journal on discipleship listed the following practical steps for discipleship:

In practice, how can I disciple other Christians?  

  1. Join a church.
  2. Arrive early at church gatherings and stay late.
  3. Practice hospitality with members of your church.
  4. Ask God for strategic friendships.
  5. If possible, include a line-item in your family or pastoral budget for weekly time with fellow Christians. Discuss this matter with your spouse. If possible, provide such a budget line for your spouse as well.
  6. Schedule regular breakfasts, lunches, or some other culturally-acceptable social engagement with teachable individuals (of the same sex). Depending on the person, you may decide to meet once, indefinitely, or for a set number of times (say, five). If you and the individual share a pastime, look for ways to share that pastime together.
  7. Ask them about themselves. Ask them about their parents, spouse, children, testimony, job, walk with Christ, and so on. In asking questions, however, do so in a manner that’s appropriate for your cultural context (don’t scare them!).
  8. Share about yourself.
  9. Look for ways to have spiritual conversations. Maybe decide to read the Bible or some other Christian literature together.
  10. Consider their physical or material needs. Would they benefit from your help?
  11. Pray with them.
  12. Depending on your home situation, invite the person to drop by your house or spend time with your family. Let them watch you live life.
  13. Look for ways to pray for the person throughout the week by yourself and/or with your spouse.

Appendix – Suggested Resources

Gospel-Centered Discipleship.  By Jonathan Dodson, Crossway/GoodNews Publishers.

Growing One Another: Discipleship In the Church (9Marks Healthy Church Study Guides).  By Bobby Jamieson, Crossway/Good News Publishers.

Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands.  By Paul David Tripp, P&R Publishing.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.  By Eugene Peterson, Intervarsity Press.

What Is A Healthy Church Member.  By Thabiti Anyabwile, Crossway Books.
Matt Foreman– Matt Foreman, studied at Furman University and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pastor of Faith Church in Media PA where he serves with his wife Mary Scott and a bunch of adorable red headed kids! Matt and Mary Scott are both Furman WDA alumni. Go Paladins! Read more of Matt’s blogs at http://blog.faithchurchpa.org/