Discipleship: 10 Lessons I Learned Beyond Sunday School

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The CRC that nurtured my growth as a child taught me that Jesus saves and is present for me to reach out to in prayer in times of need. Adults there invested in my life. They taught me to work diligently as if for the Lord and more.

There were also lessons about discipleship that the church of my childhood never taught me. Of course, life is a good teacher, and being in ministry for 20+ years, seven of those focused on developing discipleship materials, has taught me a lot about how to be a disciple and follow the command to make disciples.

Here are ten important lessons:

  1. A disciple is one who is with/in the master (Acts 4:13), becoming like the master (Phil 2:2) and serving beyond the master—Spirit empowered (John 14:12).
  2. The best definition of “discipleship” I can come up with is “the process of growing as a disciple.” To me that is the process of growing more fully into the great command to love God and love my neighbor (even non human neighbors in God’s creation). It is to live as an ever clearer image of the one whom a person is a disciple of—Jesus Christ.
  3. Add “Discipleness” to our vocabulary. “Discipleship” is a made-up word. We need to make up another word which represents the degree one is like Christ. “Discipleness” is a good candidate to be that word.
  4. All Christians are disciples. Some like to distinguish between Christians and disciples. That idea is reminiscent of the old Pentecostal trick of separating super Christians from ordinary-garden-variety Christians. By definition, a Christian is a Christ one, one who is in Christ and growing like Him. That is the same definition for a disciple. True, some Christians remain in the kindergarten of discipleship for years on end. That may make them a poor disciple, but it does not negate the fact that since they are a Christian they are a disciple.
  5. There is no “God’s part” and “our part” in discipleship, as some are so fond of saying. “Our part” is really God’s part. He can transform us without us doing a thing. If you doubt that, ask Saul what part he played on the road to Damascus. He was simply bowled over by God’s part. Rather, the Holy Spirit makes us junior partners whom he forms and shapes, and allows us the joy to be part of.  We join in, but ultimately it is his work. For a good picture of what I believe is a healthy Reformed understanding of how the Holy Spirit works click here. He wraps his arms around us and makes our meager attempts at service sing. Really…Click ….It’s such a cool EXAMPLE of what this looks like!
  6. The Holy Spirit does not NEED us to be intentional in order to grow us as a disciple, but often seems to choose to work through our intentionality. He can grow us through calamity which can get our attention, without any intention on our part. Yet, when people, with a humble heart, set out to grow more like Him, the Holy Spirit often seems to use that for critical growth.
  7. Small groups and discipleship are not equivalent. There are small groups that have some purpose other than discipleship and/or do little for discipleship. Some small groups do have as their purpose discipleship and succeed at it, but not all do. There is discipleship that happens in ways other than in small groups.
  8. Triads and quads are a more effective avenue for discipleship than the method of small groups or one-on-one mentoring. This is true for many reasons. The two I will mention here is that in a small group of 6-15 one can still hide and invest little, whereas it is impossible to remain a viable part of a triad or quad and still hide or not invest. Another reason is that one-on-one mentoring often fosters dependency and infertility, whereas triads and quads foster interdependence. This I learned from my doctoral theological advisor, Greg Ogden and have since experienced to be true.
  9. If there is not a clear environment dedicated to application, triads and quads easily denigrate into more discussion about living God’s word and “shoulds” and “oughts”, rather than tangible, doable actions that are application of the gospel to life.
  10. Biblical thinking is a good and important thing, but changed thinking does not necessarily result in changed behavior.

Over the last ten years I have been practicing my personal value of innovation by shaping and molding the best discipleship tool I can think of, based on this experience. My goal has been to resource church leaders with a tool that they can depend on to actually help a broad variety of Christians grow in character and impact—it is called Ascending Leaders.  That is actually what I was asked to blog about. My next entry will explain Ascending Leaders in more detail, but in the meantime you can explore it at www.ascendingleaders.org .  I also invite those who have used Ascending Leaders to chime in with how you have experienced it to engage these ten lessons for discipleship.

Posted in: Small Groups; Blog Photo courtesy Andrew Lewin - http://www.flickr.com/photos/draml/2963125435/ Image: See Credit

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My first serious introduction to spiritual disciplines was through "Christ Habits", a study produced through Ascending Leaders. Actually, I've gone through it twice with two different groups. I refer back to the materials often as I continue to be "in training" as one of Jesus' disciples, rather than just hoping to be one. The more I practice spiritual disiplines, the more I change and grow. This study was also my first introduction to triads. I have not found a better way to go deeper into the Word and each other's lives.

We have used Ascending Leaders' materials in our church in a variety of ways - formal discipleship courses, informal triads and small groups, individual study and supplement for preaching series. The flexibility of the material and the rich content make for a wonderful resource to help people grow in their character, something that is really lacking in our churches today. I have grown in my faith using AL's materials as well. I highly recommend "Christ Habits", "Spirit's Fruit" and the other AL resources for spiritual formation in your church.

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