Restoring Your Heart was designed to help people grow towards spiritual maturity by experiencing emotional healing. The process was aimed specifically at individuals.
However, as more people participated in RYH groups, their families began to change. People learned that their past, though over, was still having an impact on their present life.They also learned what makes a healthy family and then applied those principles to their children. When husbands and wives both participated in RYH groups, the benefit was even greater. Marriages improved as people better understood themselves and could talk about their hurts with their spouses. Communication improved. Both spouses learned about healthy families and became better parents.
The natural outcome of healthier families is healthier communities. We have been so encouraged to see this happen over and over again. It makes participating in a RYH group all the more valuable. Not only are you receiving your own personal healing, the benefit spreads to your family and friends.
We believe the implication for communities is huge.
We’d like to share a testimony from a person who participated in a RYH group simultaneously with her spouse.
“A friend of mine took Restoring Your Heart and described to me how powerful and life defining it was for her. I became intrigued as she talked about how it led her to take a personal & spiritual inventory of her life. I will boldly confess before you today that as engrossed as I was in her story – literally hanging on her every word – the woman lost me when she told me the length of the group, and I felt myself shut down when I learned the cost. 17 weeks and $30 was a bit more of a commitment than I was accustomed to surrendering for a Wednesday night group.
She laughed at my shock and awe. And told me that if I put in the work and attended the group, she guaranteed I would get at least $30 worth of restoration.
I talked to my husband about it and we thought it would be neat to do the group together. We could discuss our answers and get to know each other a little better. There’s always more we can learn after 16 years of marriage, right?
There are two types of Restoring Your Heart groups. One focuses on the losses in our lives and the other on understanding emotions. I signed up for Understanding Emotions and my husband signed up for Processing Pain. It turned out to be the best thing for us individually and as a couple. We were still able to share our answers, but not cover the exact same content.
We started talking about Restoring Your Heart so much that the title got to be too long so we just referred to it as RYH. If something happened in our family, we’d be quick to say, “Oh! This is a RYH moment!”
In RYH, I learned how to handle and process emotions that I had long suppressed. I had cracks in my spiritual pottery that I didn’t know about! Or the cracks I did know about, I didn’t worry about repairing. I studied emotions from a Biblical perspective and took a look back at circumstances in my past that were driving how I respond to life today. I learned that how I respond to situations in my life flows through the very spiritual cracks lined with decades of past, unresolved emotions. So how you respond to stress, strife or struggles in your life is directly related to your past unresolved hurts. There’s no way around it.
I had THE best small group in the world. Together we chose to let the light of Jesus shine through our spiritual cracks and made ourselves available for Him to refill them with the Holy Spirit. We’ll never forget our journey together. “
So now that I’ve completed one group, I’d like to write a public service announcement for RYH. If RYH was a Visa commercial, the announcer would say…
RYH Group $30
Time Investment 17 weeks
The Spiritual Transformation & Freedom PRICELESS
We start with one person and God, then the benefits of healing fan out to everyone around them.When will you start to heal your community by healing yourself?
I hear people say, “I love God. I read His Word. But I don’t see any good reason to go to church. I can be a good person without going to church. Besides, so many of those people are hypocrites!” What reasons do you hear from those who don’t attend church? Do you think their reasons are legitimate?
Let’s look to the New Testament to discover God’s plan for the church, and how church could make a difference in our lives.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
During His time on earth, Jesus trained his disciples (later called apostles) to carry on His ministry and establish His church (Mark 3:14; Matthew 16:18). After Jesus’ death, the apostles led the first church in Jerusalem, but eventually went out establishing churches everywhere, turning the leadership over to qualified believers (Acts 6:1-7; I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).
SO, WHAT’S A CHURCH?
The Greek word for church, ekklesia, means “gathering.” It’s a gathering of believers who are committed to following God, ministering to one another and taking the message of God’s love to the world.
In one sense, it’s an organization, structured with regular meetings (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2) and official leaders (I Timothy 3:1-13). In another sense, it’s an organism. Believers are members of God’s family (Ephesians 2:19), so that we are spiritual brothers and sisters (Luke 8:21). Through this gathering, we draw closer to both God and other believers.
For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:20)
From Him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:16)
Once you establish a set of solid relationships, you’ve found a sweet fellowship that can change your life.
Some might object, “But can’t we draw closer to God simply through walking in the woods and draw strength from other believers by visiting at a coffee shop?” Sure. But for some reason the church gathering makes this happen in special ways that other methods can’t. Perhaps that’s why Hebrews challenges us:
God wired us to function best in the context of significant relationships. We need each other.
Since we don’t know people’s hearts or their private lives, it’s often hard to tell the sincere from the insincere. So don’t get turned off when you meet hypocrites at church. We should expect them! Even one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples was a hypocrite: Judas. But once you establish a set of solid relationships, you’ve found a sweet fellowship that can change your life.
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…. (Hebrews 10:25)
WHAT THE CHURCH IS NOT:
A GATHERING OF PERFECT PEOPLE
At a typical church service you’ll find some dedicated believers who came to worship, others who came to please a spouse or parent, others who came to make business contacts, and still others who came to find someone to date. Even the committed believers aren’t perfect (I John 1:8). Some are more mature than others. Some have better people skills than others. Some are downright obnoxious.
Here are a few of the reasons that God wants us to get involved with a local church.
1. For Fellowship
God wired us to function best in the context of significant relationships. We need each other. Successful individuals have often discovered the value of regularly hanging out with those who have similar interests and goals.
Twenty-two-year-old Albert Einstein and likeminded friends met frequently in each other’s homes and talked on hikes, sometimes all the way through the night. These conversations had an enormous impact on his future work. They called themselves “The Olympia Academy.”
Fifteen-year-old Bill Gates met regularly with other computer enthusiasts who called themselves “The Lakeside Programmers Group.”
Benjamin Franklin met every Friday for decades with a diverse group of civic- minded thinkers called “Junto.” Many of his great accomplishments were a result of cross-pollination from this group.
Writers J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met with a group called “The Inklings,” on a weekday morning and Thursday evenings at Lewis’ house, often reading their manuscripts aloud to get input. I think it’s significant that the groups were organized enough to have names: “The Inklings,” “Junto,” “The Lakeside Programmers Group,” “The Olympia Academy.”
If the synergy of such gatherings can make people vocationally successful, doesn’t it make sense that regular gatherings with committed believers could make us spiritually successful? So what is it about fellowship that helps us spiritually thrive?
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
First, fellowship stimulates us through the sharing of ideas (Hebrews 10:24,25). These extremely successful people found that the collaboration of several minds produces more wisdom than the sum of their thoughts working separately. It’s the same in our spiritual lives. When I read the Bible on my own, I come up with a few applications to life. But when I study it with others, I discover a whole array of life applications that I would have never come up with on my own.
Our spiritual fire will diminish if we forsake meeting with motivated believers.
Second, fellowship keeps us balanced in our thinking and our lifestyle (Ephesians 4:11-16). On our own, we gravitate toward certain teachings while ignoring others. I suppose that’s why the New Testament authors had to spend so much time warning believers that they’d gotten off course with their understanding of grace or legalism or spiritual gifts or the second coming. Each believer offers wonderfully unique insights into Scripture and life that keep us out of spiritual ruts and guard us from extremes.
Third, we build relationships that motivate us spiritually. Close together, the sticks in your campfire burn brightly. Spread them out and the fire quickly goes out. In the same way, our spiritual fire will diminish if we forsake meeting with motivated believers.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24,25)
Fourth, we find support and encouragement for difficult times (I Thessalonians 5:11-15; II Corinthians 1:3,4). When my wife was ill with cancer, church folks brought meals and offered other practical help. Raising four boys, working, and caring for my wife overwhelmed me. I needed help. The church came through. But those relationships don’t generally come from just having your name on a church role and showing up at Easter. It comes from developing solid relationships through participating in small groups, learning and serving together.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR OTHERS?
Fellowship isn’t all about me. It’s also about helping others. God’s equipped each of us in special ways to build up, encourage and instruct others. You may not think you have much to offer. But God’s Word says that each of us has been given gifts that are critical for the health of the church.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others….(I Peter 4:10)
“But I don’t know what my gift is. How can I serve?” you might ask. I’d suggest, “Start serving wherever you see needs.” Spend time with the lonely, encourage the discouraged, give advice to those needing counsel, keep the nursery, assist in a small group, help with clean-up, build wheelchair ramps for the needy…well, you get the idea.
There are many gifts and ministries (Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:1-31; Ephesians 4:11-16; I Peter 4:7-11), so start trying them out! The more I serve, the more I discover what ministries I enjoy, what people say I’m good at, what I’m most motivated and equipped to do. Ask the leaders of the church you attend to help you find areas of service that are appropriate for you.
And don’t get infatuated with the gifts that get the most attention, like preaching and singing. The Apostle Paul likens the church to a body (I Corinthians 12:12ff.), with each part doing its part to make the body work. Toes and thumbs may not be glamorous, but if you wake up one morning to find them not working, you’ll realize pretty quickly how important they are!
In other words, there are no small gifts. So take what you’ve got and begin serving.
2. For Learning the Word of God
We’ve just seen how the church is a family that nurtures us. But it’s also a school that teaches us. Sure, I can read the Bible on my own. And I should (I Peter 2:2,3). As the Psalmist said,
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. (Psalm 119:97)
But I also learn from gifted teachers and preachers (Ephesians 4:11-13) who’ve spent years studying the Bible. While a young believer can read a chapter and glean some truth, a mature, gifted teacher can bring in many other related passages to bring balance and depth to that truth.
But just because teachers are gifted doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. That’s why Luke praises the noble character of the Bereans. When Paul taught them, they didn’t blindly follow. Instead, they “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11) Over time, the nurture and teaching of the church helps us to grow up in our faith, so that we may one day find ourselves teaching others (II Timothy 2:2).
3. For Worship
What is Worship?
Worship is declaring God’s worth—that He is above all else, number one in our lives, the One most worthy of our worship (I Peter 2:9). Someone has defined worship as “setting our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection on God, praising Him for who He is and what He has done.”
Worship is declaring God’s worth—that He is above all else, number one in our lives, the One most worthy of our worship.
If that’s true, then it’s entirely possible to attend a worship service, but never truly worship! If we’re more excited about our things and our friends than our God; if we sing songs about God while our thoughts are elsewhere, we’re not really worshipping.
First, God is worthy of our worship. He created this vast universe and breathed life into each of us. He sculpted the mountains, filled the oceans with waterand created exquisite beauty with His masterful artistry. He provides rain and sunshine to grow our crops, His Word to light our path, intelligence and wisdom to navigate life.
And even after we failed Him horribly, rebelling and going our own way, He sent His Son to pay our penalty, so that we could experience true life and look forward to an eternity in heaven. Truly, God is worthy of our worship!
A second reason to worship is that it meets one of our deepest needs. Everyone worships something. If we fail to worship God, we’ll find something else to worship, like material things, sex, power or false gods (Romans 1:21-23). But all those objects of worship fail miserably, leaving us feeling shallow and unfulfilled. God is the only object of worship who truly satisfies our deepest longings.
HOW TO WORSHIP
There are many ways to worship God, so don’t get stuck in a rut! In the Bible, we find worshippers speaking, singing, and playing instruments to God. They used a variety of instruments (horns, cymbals, tambourines, stringed instruments) and praised Him in different locations (in a house, in nature, in His sanctuary, in bed, in jail), in different manners (leaping, clapping, dancing, lifting hands), with different content (thanking Him for personal blessings, for His character and attributes, for His creation).
Some people enjoy reading a Psalm to God; others write a letter of thanks to Him. Some sing to Him; others take a walk with Him, thanking Him for the beauty and wonder of their surroundings. Find what works best to keep your mind’s attention and heart’s affection focused on Him.
Often we worship privately, but neglect corporate worship in the gathering of believers (Colossians 3:15,16). “But can’t I worship God just as well in the privacy of my bedroom, or in my car on the way to work? Why commute to worship when I can do it at home?”
Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to compare our relationship with God to our closest human relationships. Are you familiar with the concept of “love languages”? In brief, when I want to express my love for my wife, I don’t express it in the ways that mean the most to me. I express love in the ways that mean the most to her—in her love language.
So if I love cold orange juice in the morning and she prefers hot coffee, what do I bring her in the morning to express my love? Obviously, the hot coffee. I don’t have to like hot coffee. I don’t have to understand why she likes hot coffee. It’s enough that she told me that she likes coffee, likes it hot, likes it with a spoonful of sugar, and likes it in the morning. If I want to express love to my wife and her love language involves hot coffee, I will bring her coffee just as she likes it.
I think of worship in the same way. Some may think, “I don’t like lots of people talking to me at the same time. I prefer intimate, one-on-one settings. God’s probably the same way, preferring my individual worship more than group worship. Therefore I don’t need to go to church to worship.”
But if worship is about showing God our love for Him, we’d best pay attention to His love language more than our own. How does He tell that He prefers to be worshipped? Since we know that He established the church, called it His body, and that we see corporate worship demonstrated throughout the pages of Scripture, we have to assume that corporate worship is an important part of God’s love language.
Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the saints. (Psalm 149:1)
Finally, we worship God by the way we live. He’s not impressed with beautiful voices, lengthy prayers or perfect church attendance on Sunday, if our hearts and actions are far from Him on Monday through Saturday.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17)
WRAPPING IT UP AND APPLYING IT TO LIFE
Church isn’t a place that we passively attend. It’s a living fellowship where we actively interact with fellow believers and with God. All believers should find a church where they can have fellowship through building relationships, learning God’s Word and worshipping Him.
If you’re not currently involved with a church, make plans to visit a church with a friend this week. Perhaps the person who shared this Pocket PrincipleTM can recommend one. If you already attend a church, make sure you’re deepening your relationships, learning His Word and truly worshipping.
To get more involved, consider praying these three things on the way to church,
“God, today at church, help me to:
•Meet other believers and encourage someone who might need help.
•Learn something from You and other believers that I can apply to my life.
•Truly worship You, rather than just say words while my mind is elsewhere.”
If you want to express love to God in His love language, make church a part of your worship experience.
When I consider what it looks like to fulfill the great commission I can get overwhelmed. Jesus commands us to make disciples, bring them into fellowship in the Church, and provide places for them to grow to maturity. In my life context, I have been considering how to be part of Jesus’ plan by investing in people who share a love for creativity and art. This whole Atlanta Arts Network idea is at the root a movement of artistic believers who understand the need to grow in their faith and to live out the vision of Christ. But getting my mind around how this works in just my own local church is daunting at best. This is why my focus at first has been on a few leaders both in my church and also in Atlanta.
While this blog isn’t about our methods of building a ministry or the overall philosophy, it is important to remind myself at times that Atlanta Arts Network is a Network, made up of individual churches who are capturing a vision to build arts communities. For this to happen I am praying for a grass roots movement of individuals who love creative people and love to invest in them.
I am convinced that one of the tools that must be embraced for this to work is Life Coaching. For a pastor or lay person to begin to see artists join the community of Christ, they must first know how to determine where a person is in their spiritual journey. They must also know where they need to go next. I serve in a larger ministry, Worldwide Discipleship Association, that has been building mature disciples for 40 years. One of the tools we use is called Life Coaching.
For Arts Communities to grow in our churches we will need creatives who have a heart to pour their lives into others. Life Coaching teaches how to make this happen. But what do you have to know to be a life coach? I think there are four points that are helpful to remember: Relationship, Promise, Faith, and Plan.
Life Coaching is Relational.
WDA* believes that it all starts with Relationships! Relationships take time. Time is the critical component for discipleship and Life Coaching. Jesus called the disciples at first to come and see. He went into their world. (John 1:38-40)
Life Coaches know God’s promises.
Jesus understood that they needed to know the promises of God. They would have heard his pronouncement that the kingdom of God was in their midst. (Luke 4:16-18)
A Life Coach has to have faith in God.
Jesus begins the great commission by stating that He is the one with authority. It is not faith in myself, but trust in Him. He, the King, is building people to Christlikeness. He is the one who also will be with me! (Matthew 28:18-20)
A Life Coach has to have a plan.
Jesus modeled for all of us how to help people grow to maturity. He spent 3 years taking time in relationship, teaching content, helping them apply truth and holding the disciples accountable, praying for and with them, as well as creating situations where they could put into practice what He was teaching them.
WDA Life Coaching is a great tool for anyone who has a heart to help someone grow but might not know how to go about it. It takes time to invest in someone else. It will cost us. In the process, I learn to remember God’s promises, live by faith and follow His plan.
Sure, not everyone feels like they are gifted as a disciple maker. There are those who might be called to pursue making disciples as their primary calling. For the artist, Life Coaching is an art too! For us to be part of God’s work in our churches, we will need creativity in how to make disciples. It might not be a formal program but it might be one person who God has brought into our lives. It might be a musician who plays in worship. It might be someone who shares a similar love for our form of art. It might also grow to a community of artists who are living in community together, creating, serving, loving and contributing to the flourishing of our world.
What do you think? How could life coaching be part of the life of the artist? What ways do you see that you could invest in the lives of others? What benefits to your church could there be if you and other creatives began to share this kind of life together?
The Atlanta Arts Network exists to connect artists and worship artists, to encourage people who create and share art and cultivate a love for the arts as well as to aspire artists in the context of Christian community.
The central locus of the Christian faith, the very heart of the matter, is in a set of relationships that we’re invited into. Like politics or the mob, it’s not about WHAT you know but WHO you know. Jesus is all like, “I’m in the Father, He’s in me, so if you’re in me, He’s in you.” He’s all like, “Phillip, don’t you KNOW me?” It started with an “eternity past” self-sustaining triune love relationship. Then people come along and we get invited to the party, to a love feast. Before some book of rules floated down from the sky, the first human was in the habit of taking walks with God. Very cool.
So in my opinion, salvation is more about relationship to the Truth (Jesus, both the cosmic and incarnate “logos”) than it is about the exegetical purity of your creed. (by the way Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, and C.S. Lewis helped me out there.) Actually, I think God’s going to laugh at some of our ridiculous theology. Oh he’ll judge us alright. But not by the bullet points of our creed.
So… ya know how it feels when you sit down with someone and see past all the nonsense (work, pedigree, image) to the real person beneath, the inner 10-year-old? I wish we could do that with everybody we meet. It wouldn’t excuse their beliefs and behaviors, but it sure would shed some light on the brokenness that informs their thoughts and decisions. I’ve been recently offended by people who come off as passive-aggressive, arrogant, and judgmental. But the more I know about their back stories, their families of origin, the more compassion I have. Their behavior is still unacceptable and I believe they should be in counseling. But THEY are acceptable. That’s the difference. Here I am, lumping people into groups and condemning them when every single person is totally unique.
The cool thing is, God sees the heart of every individual. He has compassion on them in all their brokenness. He invites them into His family, but doesn’t tolerate immature and insecure behavior. I wish I were more like that, seeing past the outer orbit to the core of the human heart.
The end of the story (I’m reading John 14 again, btw) is Jesus really wants everyone to join his Dad’s commune. He’s going up to heaven to put fresh sheets on our beds so that “you also may be where I am.” He’s inviting us all upstairs for the ultimate slumber party. Everything else flows out of that relational proximity, that closeness to the Truth.
My favorite hang out time in community is in the morning over a cup of coffee. So I make a habit of spending my mornings in community with Jesus, not saying a lot, just enjoying His companionship. That’s what I’m doing right now. Just sidling up close to Jesus: my housemate, my mob boss, my friend.
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 seriouslylooking 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).
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?
Join a church.
Arrive early at church gatherings and stay late.
Practice hospitality with members of your church.
Ask God for strategic friendships.
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.
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.
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!).
Share about yourself.
Look for ways to have spiritual conversations. Maybe decide to read the Bible or some other Christian literature together.
Consider their physical or material needs. Would they benefit from your help?
Pray with them.
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.
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, 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/