it takes a village [to build up a follower]

When I think about Old Europe I am drawn to the massive cathedrals. These marvelous monuments to Christendom took hundreds of years, thousands of man-hours, and millions of dollars to build. Dedicated craftsmen have embossed cathedrals with ornate artwork, colorful stain-glass, meaningful sculptures, and rich relics, which all add to the message of Scriptural themes. To this day these cathedrals are engineering marvels.

The church is often misunderstood and misapplied. As beautiful as these cathedrals and churches may be they are not the church. The church is not a building—it is people. The church is built up by followers of Christ displaying the glory of God and discipling one another to godliness.

The purpose of the church is quite important as it relates to the growth of the people within the church. Discipleship is often described as a one-on-one personal if not private endeavor. As we disciple someone in Christ the first things we teach them is about private growth: practicing devotions, private prayer life, and personal obedience. This is good and true, however, the personal growth in Christ also happens biblically through community within the Body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:12]. Seldom is discipleship viewed as a community project.

EPHESIANS 4:11 And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 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, 14 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. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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.

Ephesians 4:11-16, teaches us about the corporate aspect of discipleship. Once a follower commits to Christ they can immediately contribute to the Body of Christ [cf. Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-10; 1 Peter 4:11]. Without contribution to the Body of Christ we fail to mature in our faith or have accountability to continue in our faith. Christian growth does not happen in isolation, rather growth happens in community. According to verse 13 there are three aspects of discipleship that cannot happen in isolation: unity, mature in knowledge, maintaining a measure of fullness of Christ.

Unity of the faith is the first and most obvious aspect of community discipleship. Communities have common goals for the benefit of one another. God’s people are moving towards the goal of one faith. Faith is not just personal, but it is a public way to stir one another to faith and good works [cf. Hebrews 10:22-25; Philippians 1:27]. This means followers are using their God-given gifts for His glory and the growth of the community. New believers need to see the unified community of faith [cf. Colossians 2:7].

The second aspect of community discipleship is maturing in the knowledge of the Son of God. Knowledge is not only a personal entity, but refers to the community of followers [cf. v.12]. The knowledge of Christ is the core of the church. Together we encourage one another know Christ and make Him known. This maturity of knowledge is illustrated by infants of who are immature and unstable, like a storm-tossed boat blown in all directions by the winds of false teaching [v.14]. Mature followers are able to discern more clearly what is true and false, but new followers need to grow in their knowledge of Christ. Knowledge of Christ is not an end in itself, rather being transformed by Christ is the goal of this knowledge [cf. 1 John 2:3-4].

The third aspect of community discipleship is maintaining a measure of fullness of Christ. This is the end result of community discipleship—being like Christ.[1] Now the church is already the fullness of Christ [1:23; cf. 4:10], but the future element is still present in our need to be like Christ. The maturity of this growth is measured by nothing less than Christlikeness.

Community discipleship is critical to the growth of the individual followers. Rechargeable batteries do not power up by themselves. They need to be plugged into a power source in order to be recharged. So it is with Christian maturity—followers cannot grow apart from being plugged into the church.

Christ is both the Builder and the Foundation of the church [2:20; cf. 1 Timothy 3:15]. Without a connection to the community of Christ—the local church—we cannot grow, as we ought. If we do not encourage new believers or immature believers to be connected to the Body of Christ they will remain immature, if not disillusioned by true Christian growth. A believer can growth through Bible Study, prayer and personal obedience, but more complete growth happens in the context of the church community. When this is happening the members of the body are being built up and growing the way God intended.

It takes a village to disciple a follower. The church is that village, and together we can encourage one another to unity, mature knowledge, and fullness of Christ. As John Stott says, “Maturity in unity which comes from knowing, trusting, and growing up in Christ.”[2]

[1] John Koessler, True Discipleship. Chicago, IL. Moody Publishers, 2003. 180.

[2] John R.W. Stott, God’s New Society. Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 1979, 169.

risky move

The Discipleship Experiment.

This year our student ministry leadership set a goal: be disciples discipling others to be disciples. We decided to do ministry biblically, thus the discipleship experiment took life. It was a risky move, but a bold biblical endeavor.

We had some speed bumps, U-turns, and engines overheat along the journey, but overall I am ecstatic to see our adult leaders become more actively involved in the spiritual growth of our students. Though many would admit, “I feel like I’ve failed.” I would say their input into the lives of the students was exceed by the spiritual output. In other words, high risk [discipleship] equals high reward [disciples].

What is biblical student ministry?

Student ministry biblically is a ministry of the church coming alongside families equipping them to become faithful followers of Christ. Student ministry is intensive discipleship geared towards students and their families. Intensive discipleship is both encouraging one another to follow Christ [evangelism] and equipping follower in Christ [followership].

Discipleship is difficult. It’s difficult because of the cost involved. The cost may involve time, studying the Word to help student see their lives mirrored in the Word, willingness to get messy as students fall into sin, and desire to pour your life into another by living in a way that models a disciple of Christ. Discipleship takes a willingness to be selfless for the sake of another to see and savor Jesus Christ.

Discipleship is all for Christ and all about Christlikeness.

It is easy to disciple for all the wrong reasons. Some disciple to feel needed, important, or appreciated. Others disciple to impress, lord-over, or act as mini-Messiah’s. This is not discipleship. We don’t disciple as matter of self-defense or self-promotion. You don’t pour your life into others to fill yourself up. How selfish. Discipleship is selfless because it is promoting Christlikness.

When you gaze at the cross and get a glimpse of the gospel you see that you are unworthy, but God in Christ is worthy. Discipleship must always be rooted and nourished by the living message of the gospel. Jesus died, He was buried and resurrected that you and I might have abundant life [Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:20-21]. Without the gospel discipleship is dead.

This year I watch Brent pour his heart into middle school boys. Middle schools are not the easiest flock to shepherd. He would take them out to Taco Bell before FUEL or have them work on construction projects at the church. These middle schoolers know that Brent cares. Brent made a risky move–doesn’t feel like he did enough–but was willing to pour Christ into middle school boys. To Brent discipleship was more of a risk than being a stunt man. He was willing to get get messy and be spent of the sake of Christ.

Successful disciples are servants first [Matthew 20:25-28].

Christ became the servant of all. It is crazy to think that a King and Creator of the universe became a servant to His creation. Jesus gives us a genuine model for leadership and discipleship: humility [Matthew 11:29; Luke 14:7-11; Philippians 2:3-4], trust [Mark 10:32-41], shepherding [Mark 10:45; John 10:11], gift oriented teamwork [1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Luke 9:1-2], responsibility [John 13:15; Ephesians 4:11-13]; and risk [Hebrews 11:1].

Discipleship is a risky move, but it has great rewards.

following in His steps

“Our Lord’s first obedience was to the will of His Father, not to the needs of men. His obedience brought the outcome of the saving of men. If I am devoted to the cause of humanity only, I will soon be exhausted and come to the place where my love will falter. But if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity though men treat me as a doormat.” – Oswald Chambers

followership begins with a passion for God and compassion for people.

True followership begins with a passion for Jesus Christ. Jesus is passionate about building His church. This passion is as contagious as a runny nose in mid-Winter because it flows into our compassion for others. Those who discipled me from middle school until now have modeled a real passionate faith. So passionate that I want to be like Christ because they looked so much like Christ.

Whether we are discipling to Christ or in Christ all Christ’s. I cringe at the idea of calling someone “my disciple”. This is a term we find in the New Testament only coming from the mouth of Jesus. As believers in Christ we are His disciples. I am not a disciple of any man but Christ. Paul talked about “my son” Timothy, “my brother” Ephaphroditus, and co-laborers as “my fellow servants”. New Testament authors never called a fellow believer “my disciple” or “my follower.” in fact, Paul freaks out when he hears that some are calling themselves followers of Paul or Apollos. “ Is Christ divided? he wrote, with evident frustration. “Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” [1 Corinthians 1:13] Paul had his eyes on Jesus, so He must be our focus and passion as followers too.

followership invites others to “be with” you.

Christ appointed twelve followers and “designating them apostles, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach.” [Mark 3:14] Christ is the initiator in challenging and calling men. His vision is clear: before they were unleashed to the world they were invited to “be with Him”.

As a follower of Christ His presence is with us always [cf. Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5]. The original twelve followers were “with Him”, and Jesus “with them.” We find Jesus in their homes, having dinner with their friends, and engaging lovingly with their enemies. True followership begins by inviting others to be with you.

followership is being shaped into the image of God together.

“We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all His might, which so powerfully works in me.” [Colossians 1:28-29] Our goal for every follower is to reach maturity in Christ, that their life begin to look like His.

An artist was asked what he would paint on the white canvas. “You see a blank canvas,” he said. “But I see a mountain, lake and beautiful sunrise. As I gaze at the canvas I smell the mountain air, feel the brisk morning air coming of the lake, and then simply brush the strokes of color onto the canvas.” As followers of Christ His portrait should always be before us, and the canvas of our lives is being transformed into the beautiful image of Christ.

followership is not complete until the follower becomes a teacher.

In Matthew 28:19-20, we often miss the an important point of the Great Commission. I would call it the Great Omission because Jesus says to His followers, “teach everyone everything you have heard and seen in me.”

As a follower of Christ I am doing the ministry of multiplication. No one is becoming mature in Christ until they begin to reproduce Christ in others. Jesus sent His followers out to serve without Him. He warned them they would need at some point to carry the message on their own.  A follower of Christ was prepared from the beginning to make other follower, who in turn made other follower, who made still more follower. And so the gospel of Christ reached you and me.

What if doormat discipleship characterized each of our ministries? What if people were truly shaped into the image of Christ through discipling relationships? What if followership began to take on a life all its own, bigger than any program in our church? What if people left our ministries and continued to make followers of Christ for the rest of their lives? This is the path Jesus destined for His followers to walk after His death [Matthew 28:19-20].

build it and they will come

Build it and they will come: Changing the way we do gospel ministry

Changing the way we do ministry towards a gospel-centered focus is not easy. It is a paradigm shift from the cry of our culture. Or cultural proverb says, “Build it and they will come.” There is some truth to this Field of Dreams proverb. However, it depends what you build on that could affect whether it will last.

We are not about building the greatest ministry that makes the cover of Christianity Today. We are not about growing huge numbers, having the coolest coffee-shop-like atmosphere, blasting the craziest and latest worship tunes, or any other low-level purpose. We have a higher purpose: we build on the foundation of Christ [1 Corinthians 3:9-17]. All other foundations mentioned above–if not grounded in the bedrock of Christ–will blow over in the gale force storms of culture or sink into the quicksand of lustful lures and low-level goals. Christ is our goal and the gospel is absolutely central to a surviving and thriving ministry.

Our number one job and joy as ministry leaders is gospel centered discipleship [Acts 28:31]. Between Acts 1 and 28 the church of Christ grew not by a Christian circus rolling through town, but by constant and relentless followers proclaiming the core gospel truths about Christ. Our student leadership has been growing in their understanding of this truth this year as we have implemented changes to meet this goal. We have seen first hand how difficult it is to cultivate a Christ-centered culture of followership. The past few months, I have observed some amazing blessings through the diligence and sacrifices of our student leaders:

Followership is contagious reformation to Christ.

Our students are recognizing and excited that their leaders really care about their walk with God and want to help them apply God’s Truth [Philippians 2:12-13]. Followership is fulfilling your role as a priest under the Priesthood of Christ [1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10]. Every believer is a priest of Christ who is leading others to Christ worshiping and sacrificing for the sake of the glory of Christ. Like Luther, we are reformers who desire to point people to the person and work of Christ.

Followership is active participation in the Gospel.

Our student leaders are less passive and more active in their faith knowing that they are expected to dig deeper into the lives of one another. By its very nature the gospel is the saving sacrifice of Jesus’ person and work. The gospel impacts every aspect of our life. The gospel never sleeps and is actively involved in the process of conforming us to the image of Christ [Philippians 1:5-11]. Followers are participates of Christ’s gospel to the world and specifically to those they are ministering.

Followership is the incarnational.

Our student leaders are coming along side our students encouraging them to follow Christ. By doing this they are resembling the incarnated Christ to those they are discipling. They struggle along side the students striving to live for Christ even though they see themselves as chief sinners [Philippians 2:4-5] spreading the grace of Christ with compassion.

In conclusion, our number one job and joy as ministry leaders is gospel centered discipleship [Acts 28:31]. Changing the culture of our youth ministry to model this goal is a process that will not happen over night, in a semester or even in a school year, it will be an ever-changing process. Followership is a life-long process followers encouraging others to follow Christ too. Building a ministry that will last is built on the gospel of Christ. He has built it, all we need to do is come to Him.

a nun, a Chinaman, and a Jedi Grand Master

A follower. What a unique word. Not many people aspire to be a follower. When we play the game follow the leader most want to be the leader and have all the followers mimicking behind them. Do you know that you are called to be a follower?

Being a follower is not like being a nun or monk hidden away in a mountain monastery. God doesn’t call us to be quiet, secluded, and sheltered about our faith. Quite the country. He calls us to be actively following Christ and seeking other followers to mentor. He does not call us to a monastic list of rules, but to a monastic view of our sacred vow to Jesus Christ. He doesn’t call you to put on the drab nun garb, rather you are called to be peculiar people because of the change Christ has done in your soul as His follower.

Have you heard of the spread of Christianity in China? It is amazing. I have never been there to see it ground level, but I have heard first hand stories from Chinese followers. There is a movement in China of Christ’s church that is rising up underground taking His message to that nation and others with relentless passion. We can learn from the Chinese followers about true followership in action. Their monastic followership resembles that of Jesus and His followers. It is like an apprenticeship: followership is incorporated with all of life, followers are considered learners, learning is viewed as a lifelong process, and maturity comes through holistic imitation of the Master.

I am not a big Star Wars fan [unlike some of my friends], but another take on followership that follows this apprentice learner mold is the way of the Jedi. Christ follower are like young padawans following their Grand Master. There is no dichotomy between secular and sacred for the progressing Jedi. There is no rush to fix everything today: patience, persistence, and practice over a lifetime will yield results [note: progression from follower to faithful follower; John 1:25ff; John 18:1ff; John 21:1ff; Acts 2:14ff; Acts 4:11-12]. Seeking to emulate the one you follow. At times the process begins when the apprentice is quite young [8 years old], but the process is lifelong no matter when the training begins.

A call to followership is not tucked away in a monastery, but visible in everyday living. Unlike China, the American church has largely lost this sense of apprenticeship. We follow our Master, Jesus Christ the Grand Master, after whose pattern we are recreated as image bearers. Followership is a lifelong process without immediacies, but you must be driven to invest in yourselves in others because that is what followers do.

you are a worshiper

What is worship? What is a worshiper? Worship is about God, to God and for God. Worship is about what you love. You love something or someone. What you love you give time, talents and treasures to without thinking. Worship comes natural to us because that is how God wired us. We are wired to worship.

The Bible is chalked full of men and women who followed God with an unquenchable thirst. Followers of Christ are worshipers. Followership is another word for worship. One such follower is Habakkuk. Even in bleak circumstances battered by extreme doubts he praises God [3:17-18]. Then there is the Paul who is imprisoned for his faith [Acts 16], but still finds a way to share the good news.

Over a hundred years ago there was a songwriter by the name of Fanny Crosby. As a baby she experience a traumatic life-altering situation. This is how she describes it,

“When I was six weeks old I was taken sick and my eyes grew very weak and those who had charge of me poulticed my eyes. Their lack of knowledge and skill destroyed my sight forever. As I grew older they told me I should never see the faces of my friends, the flowers of the field, the blue of the skies, or the golden beauty of the stars…Soon I learned what other children possessed, but I made up my mind to store away a little jewel in my heart which I called content.”[1]

When she was only 8 years old she penned this song:

O what a happy soul am I! Although I cannot see,

I am resolved that in this world contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy, that other people don’t.

To weep and sigh because I’m blind, I cannot, and I wont.[2]

I wonder what my response would be like if I were in the same situation as these saints who have gone before? Would I have complained or become calloused? Or would I be content, compassionate and worshiping God? Though blind, Fanny could not wait to see Jesus’ face. She has an eye for worship. She didn’t see an end in blindness, but viewed endless opportunities to praise God.

Once you get a glimpse of God you are never the same, even in a world that does not acknowledge His presence or purposes [Isaiah 6:1-13; 29:13]. What we learn from Isaiah in the divine throne room is that God is full of wonder, awe and mystery. He is Qadesh [Holy]. His name is Holy One. There is nothing or anyone like Him ever. He is set apart, therefore, He is worthy of our fear, reverence and life. Once you have seen God you become a worshipful follower. On this side of heaven we have only get to see a drop of His glory in the ocean of His splendor.

Here is both a comforting and convicting fact of the Bible: You become like what you worship. What you follow you worship. Who you follow is who you worship. You will become like the object of your worship either for your ruin or restoration.[3] You will either be blind, deaf and lifeless like idols or full of life like God. Worship must be about God, to God and for God. Worship is about what you love. You love something or someone. What you love you give time, talents and treasures to without thinking. Worship comes natural to us because that is how God wired us. We are wired to worship.

[1] Fanny Crosby, quoted in S. Trevena Jackson, This is my story, This is my Song, Emerald House, n.p.

[2] Ibid.

[3] G.K Beale, We become what we Worship, IVP, 2008.

followership unmasked

Are disciples looking for perfect leaders or authentic leaders? As Christian leaders, it is tempting to want to put on a mask that hides the fact that at times you struggle with sin and fail in your faith too. Now I must never give glory to my sin, but glory in the grace I have in overcoming sin. Here are some biblical ways we can build trust and increase deeper counsel with those you are discipling:

Transparent prayer. Our prayers can be vague and lifeless. Learn to pray honestly and humbly. Pray expresses our neediness of God and that He is the only One able to meet our needs. Psalm 32 and 52 are great examples of transparent prayers that express need for God.

Share your life story. I am sure you have been through some valleys and climbed some mountains. Like the apostle Paul we have a story dotted with dark spots [cf. Acts 22:1-21], but those times make God really big. Sharing how you have been transformed by the power of God and continue to battle against sin take be a tremendous encouragement to those you are ministering.

Ask for Help. You are never self-sufficient or independent of your need for accountability and ministry from others. It is helpful to get others believers to pray for you and hold you accountable. You have not arrived yet, nor are you invincible. I need your help in the partnership of the gospel [cf. Philippians 1:3-18].

Admit you don’t know it all. What do I do if someone asks me a difficult theological or practical questions I do not know how to answer. I say, “That is a good question, I do not know, but I will find it out for you. I believe the Bible has the answers. Can I get back to you on that question?” [cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; Isaiah 55:9]

Be real. Do not hide your pain, sorrow, joy, heartache or frustration [cf. Romans 12:9-21]. God gave you emotions to use for His good [cf. Jeremiah and Lamentation]. Real men cry.

Point to the promises of God. Putting on the mask of sinlessness fails to help others to see the God’s faithfulness [Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 Corinthians 1:9]. Whatever good I have in my life was put their by God. I am not holy, but He that is holy has helped me to become Holy by the Power of His Spirit [cf. 1 Peter 1:13-25]. People need to see and hear that from you. Pull off the mask and let people see how God is at work in and through you.

True followers are seeking other genuine followers who are following hard after God.

being comes before doing

“I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser…Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the Vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” [John 15:1-5] Abiding in Christ appears eleven times in this passage and it also appears throughout the Bible [cf. 1 John 2:6]. If a word appears like this as often as it does, it is probably important.

The phrase abiding in Christ [μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί; John 15:4] is an aorist active imperative. In other words,  “You are to keep on remaining/abiding in Me.” Abiding is not something you get, it is something you are. If you are in Christ, stay there. Don’t go anywhere else. I am an American: by birth, citizenship and passport. As a follower of Christ we are already have a passport to the kingdom, adopted as citizens of heaven. Having this divine imperative brings a lot of freedom for living in the here and now. I abide in Christ because I know I will be with Him one day, but I can also strive to be like Him today.

What is the difference between being and doing? How do I be? Some followers of Christ get so worked up over performance and playing the part that they forget that Jesus has already performed the work. Children are taught from a young age, even by godly parents or teachers at the church kids program, that if you do this you will be a good Christian. If you memorize these verses, complete this Bible study or workbook page, if you follow all the commandments and pray you will be a complete bonifide follower of Christ. Now each of these disciplines are valuable in themselves: hiding Gods Word in your heart that you might not sin against Him [Psalm 119:9-11], saturate yourself with God’s Word [Psalm 63:1; 2 Timothy 3:16-17], and keep the commands of Christ [John 15:10-17], but doing is not as important as being.

Doing simply leaves you and others exhausted and unmotivated. Each of the verses above and the disciplines within them have a common artery: to have my heart parched for the greatness of our God and utter dependent upon Him for daily nourishment. It is not do this and you will be this, rather it is be like Christ and you will live [do things] like Christ. Being in Christ is what I am because I am grafted into the Vine. I am to be a branch that is abiding in the life-giving, fruit bearing doing of Christ. Christ’s doing [sacrificial death] comes before my being [saving faith], and my being [saving faith] comes before doing [sacrificial living].

So how do I love people who are hard to love? I be like Christ. Sure, I am commanded to love [John 15:12], but just because I am commanded to do it does not mean I am motivated to do it. When I consider the Gospel and how Christ became love [John 15:13], it gives a new perspective on how I can become love to others [John 15:17].

lies we believe about following Christ

How are you doing as a follower? As a follower of Jesus? Are you making follower of Jesus? Depending on your answer you might be joyful and excited or confused, guilty, and frustrated.  There are some misconceptions of what a follower of Jesus is and what the process of becoming more like Jesus really looks like.  The following are common misconceptions of what discipleship is:

“I attend church and that’s enough for me.” Following Christ is a relationship. It is a lifestyle within a community. It cannot be tied to a program or church. A lot of followership can happen at church, but most of the time it doesn’t and shouldn’t. Following Christ happens in a community of followers doing life with one another [Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25]. Following never happens alone. If your only following is sitting under your pastor for an hour or two a week that is a poor view of followership.

“I can grow on my own.” Left to ourselves following Christ does not happen–for long [Luke 9:57-62; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11-16]. I grow by becoming constantly confronted with the gospel of Jesus. Lone Ranger and Tivo Christianity do not cut it. I must be willing to count the cost and commit to be vulnerable within a family of followers.

“I am more mature now; following is for new Christians.” You are never too old to be discipled. Seasoned Christians realize that problems do not go away because they are Christian, they simply realize they are sinners [1 Peter 4:12-13]. Until we leave this planet we will continually struggle with sin and our faith. As a follower of Christ, I am not quite like my Master yet, so there is room for followership.

“I read my Bible.” We must not be content with only reading and knowing more about the God of the Bible. Some Christians are like an overstuffed Chipolte burrito. It is not just what you know, but what you do with what you know [James 1:19-27]. There is a great difference between being a student and a follower.

“I am not responsible to change everything.” Following Christ cannot be compartmentalized or systematized. It is all of me or none of me. Christ wants to be all and in all. Christ wants to be involved with my money, parenting, marriage, singleness, career, resume, fashion, habits and more. Sound intrusive? That is discipleship. It is not behavior modification, rather it is dealing with sin and living like Christ. True followership takes all of Christ’s teaching and applies them to our life.

“I do not have time.” If someone in your family dies you make the time to be with the ones you love. You ask off of work, you reschedule your plans because family matters [Luke 9:57-62]. So it is with your faith and the faith of others around you. Followers understand they have been given a whole new identity, a whole new agenda, a whole new mission, a whole new community, and a whole new life through the gospel. Followers of Christ make the time because it is a relationship with a living God and our faith at times of dying.

“I don’t know enough about the Bible.” Followers are not just theology PhD’s or seminary trained pastors. In Jesus day, they were fishermen, tax collectors and everyday people fired up about what Christ can do in a life. If you have a Bible, if you have one verse memorized or if you are a follower of Christ that is breathing you can disciple [1 Corinthians 11:1]. Sharing the gospel is enough.

“I am worried I will lead other followers astray.” If you stick to the Word of God and teach the truth therein you are not accountable for how others respond to God [2 Timothy 3:16-17, 4:1ff]. Speak the truth in love. Even your struggle with sin is a great teacher [Colossians 3:13; Philippians 3:12-13]. Authentic followers attract more followers than they distract.

Following Christ is learning what it means to live your whole life in light of the gospel of Jesus. Living as a follower of Jesus is learning how to live in the reality of this new life you’ve been given through faith in the gospel. Not that it’s easy, or without pain or cost. The joy and excitement of living in light of all that God promises in the gospel outweighs any pain or cost.

a map of true follower

Before you take any trip you have to map out where you are going or you might get lost and watt a lot of time and money. It is also the same with discipleship in the church. Before you guide another on the journey of transformation you must consider the keys to the map.

Being a follower begins and ends with God, not man. God calls us into a relationship with Him by following Him. In Jesus day students would usually ask their Rabbi’s if they could follow them, but with Jesus that Master of all He asks us to follow Him. God initiates the relationship. He is the starting point of our relationship with Him [Rom.8:29-30].

Being a follower means knowing Christ personally and intimately. Is a relationship with God personal. Yes, it is really personal. It is not just knowing facts about Jesus, but a lifelong commitment. When a student would ask a Rabbi to be a mentor it was a life long commitment. The same for a relationship with Christ. He asks us to commit for the long haul. Knowing what the Bible says about Jesus is not enough. Jesus is the living God [John 1:14].

Being a follower has to do with the image of God. We were created in God image and likeness. We are dominioneers [Ge.1:27]. This gives and eternal and valuable aspect to our following Christ, the King of the dominion of man. Discipleship is not our agenda, but Gods, “teaching them to observe all I commanded” [Matt.28:19-20].

Being a follower means God is for us, not against us. Do not believe in the god of your own opinion, but the God of the Bible. The way we view God, can be on of the biggest distraction to our spiritual growth. A little view of God can mean little growth.  God is not a gregarious ogre, He is a Rescuer, Savior, Lover, Helper and Care-giver.

Being a follower starts and end with God. If we think we have any part in changing a person we are prideful and overly arrogant. Give God the credit and glory for what He can do in a followers life. Followership is not a program, behavior modification, a magical formula seen in Scripture, or a sacred system that works for every person. It is a daily delightful relationship with the God of the universe. This is the journey to discovering the life of a true follower.

what if those I am pouring my life into have gone empty?

Sometimes relationships go sour. Sometimes discipleship hurts. Sometimes those we invest our lives into bail on life and our efforts seem bankrupt. What do I do when I pour my life into someone and there are empty returns? What do I do when I am left speechless on the other end of and unanswered call? Or your cries are unheard or ignored?  Here are some good thoughts to remember:

Discipleship is intentional. When I invest in someone’s life I want him or her to know that I am. I intentionally let them know that I want to spend quality time encouraging their relationship with God not because I have it all together, rather together we can begin sharpening iron. Echo the voices of Jesus and Paul, “follow me.” [Matthew 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Timothy 1:13]

Discipleship is eternal. I am intentional about discipleship because I feel the weight of my responsibility before God: to reproduce my vertical relationship with others horizontally [John 15:16ff]. I am responsible for the spiritual growth of our teens. That is a heavy burden to bear, but God brings the fruit. My relationships matter to God. My relationships have eternal ramifications. That is huge.

Discipleship is generational. My relationship does not end with someone after a year or 12-class study. They last a lifetime [Matthew 28:19-20]. From one generation to another I must be willing to disciple and be discipled.

Discipleship is personal. When relationship end or the parking brake seems stuck that can be frustrating. Relationships do not come with 90-day money back guarantee. We might get burned and bruised. If you have some one you are investing in that does not want to be around you: give them over to God, keep tabs on them and don’t close the door on them ever. Chose another to invest in and press on. May our motto be, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” [2 Corinthians 12:15]

discipleship: a process, not a program

Discipleship is a wonderful word. It sounds good in church talk. It appears purposeful and biblical on the cover of curriculum and Christian books. One can throw around the word in a conversation and look quite spiritual. Discipleship is a wonderful word, but a difficult to do.

Paul spoke of his commitment to discipling believers as a labor, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me,” [Col.1:28-29].

Christ has called us to disciple [Mt.28:19-20]. Paul viewed the value in Christ’s command and was willing to labor until it was complete. If we truly want to be a disciple that is discipling disciples, we must consider the following:

Discipleship is not a program; it is a process. It is a lifetime commitment. It’s not a sleek, red sports car that burns rubber and gets you and one suitcase there in a hurry, but rather, it is a locomotive that slowly leaves the station, containing the strength to transport an unfathomable amount of cargo. Being committed to discipleship means that we cannot become impatient and bail when things aren’t moving at the pace we desire. Time is required to present each of your students as “mature in Christ.

Discipleship is a grueling workout. I do not like to run, but I know it is one of the best cardio workouts. I do not convey a good message if I promote running, but I’m obscenely obese. Exercise personal spiritual disciplines is involved in the process of discipleship. How can we possibly pass on what we do not possess? In order to pass on a deep love for Christ and the tools for building a relationship with Him, we must first possess them ourselves.

Discipleship is intimately acquainted with relationship. Day-to-day, life-on-life experience and instruction helps transform church into life skills. Real church happens in the context of loving and accountable relationships. To be left alone in your faith isolates true discipleship from happening.

There are no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts” when it comes to the process of discipleship. Creating a program out of discipleship is the easy thing, but frankly not effective or biblical. Jesus must have thought the same things as many turned and walked away from His call to radical discipleship. If a student will test your love for them, they will also test your commitment to the process. When they see your love and understand your resolve, they are more likely to join the journey to spiritual maturity.

transformation: more than meets the eye

As a kid I love to play with transformers. There is something about having a car that can instantly transform into a android. Transform is another word for change. When it comes to spiritual change transformation is key. Do you find some of your students have a wealth of biblical information but a lack transformation? Here are great tips to cultivate spiritual transformation in students you are discipling:

Acknowledge that the Holy Spirit who teaches you and leads you into truth, is the same Holy Spirit who teaches and ministers to the students. Watch and hear what He wants to teach the students on any given weekly session or small group.

Make sure the meat of the session actually searches the Scripture and is spent in examining God’s Word and is not just a discussion of students’ and leaders’ opinions or beliefs. It is only by having hands on God’s Word that your students will discover real truth and be transformed.

Be careful not to answer your own questions. Give students time to think when you pose a question. Let them know that the quietness that follows your question is not awkward. It will also help settle your own uneasiness when a vacuum of silence follows your question. When we answer our own questions, we teach students that they do not have to respond and their answer was not important.

Work toward using activities that lead students to discover what we already know or found out during our personal devotion and preparation. When we lead students to discover truths out of God’s Word for themselves instead of telling them what we know, we allow opportunity for the Spirit to do His work.

Watch for those times that the Holy Spirit makes Himself known within the session. Those times, very frequently, take place as students share within small groups. Be ready to help students make connections with God and His Word during those times.

Prepare your heart for worship to take place during the Bible study session. Real worship takes place any time we come face to face with God and leave His presence transformed or changed. So actually, worship should take place in our Bible studies, messages, discipleship or small groups. Sometimes when students share in small group, students will say things that are totally profound, let your students know that you just had worshiped God.

Make sure that your students are given an opportunity to measure their own lives up against the Biblical Truth you have discussed. When students take the time to examine their lives, compare themselves to a Holy God, realize that they fall short, and make a commitment to Him and His truth…then true worship takes place.

discipleship defined

What is discipleship? And what does it look like? This is a good question. There are about as many favors of definitions for discipleship as there are suckers at the candy store. To be verbosely pithy my response to what discipleship is NOT is that discipleship is followership. As Paul in his simple yet divinely given wisdom stated, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” [1 Corinthians 11:1]

To illustrate the point that there are many great views of discipleship I have attached an essay that shows the views of volunteer leaders in our student ministry [Discipleship Defined]. Each of them slugged a homerun: discipleship is following Christ and helping others follow Christ too. Those we seek to disciple have different needs, with different situations and different means to become discipled. This causes discipleship to be hard work, but the rewards are literally out of this world. Discipleship is active, alive, and fluid, but supremely rooted in the work of Christ.

goulash of discipleship


Goulash is a mixture of random ingredients that make up a tasty meal. This is a recipe of random discipleship ingredients for FUEL leaders inspired by FUEL leaders.

Be a disciple that is discipling disciples and be willing to be discipled [goal, Mt.28:19-20].

We are devoted to discipleship that changes lives [core value].

You are like the One [or one] you follow. The Eastern mindset of Jesus’ day was, “Follow Me, I will show you as we do it together.” The Western mindset of today is, “Follow me as I tell you how to do it.”

You have to be creative when reaching spoon feeders and meat eater [1 Cor.3:1-4].

Discipleship is messy [especially when one doesn’t want to be discipled].

Discipleship is tough because it takes time.

Discipleship is not about information, but transformation.

Discipleship is a process, not a program.

Expect unbelievers to act like it.

Confront sin by calling it what it is.

Until you care to know them, they will know you care.

If you give an inch, they will take a mile.

“If you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried anything.”

Sharpen regularly your tools of the trade.

You are not babysitting, rather spiritual parenting.

You are a spiritual coach cheering victory in Christ.

You cannot change Christ’s child, alone.

Two words: Grace and Truth [John 1:14].