Tag Archives: discipleship

Giving Mid-Life Saints a Vision for Real-Life Discipleship

They’ve been married and have grown kids. As empty-nesters, they are experiencing newfound freedoms and newfound challenges. Many are still plugged into successful careers, but have extensive personal life histories to draw upon. Some have been saved and serving in the church for dozens of years. Chances are, your church has a number of these men and women. They’re the mid-life saints who often form the backbone of well-rooted churches. They usually give of their time and resources in the offerings and programs of the church. They usually have strong walks with God. But if there’s one wish that their pastors had for them, it would be that they would serve as the disciplers for the younger members of the church.

What if our mid-life saints could catch this vision? Wouldn’t it be incredible if the multi-generational discipleship dynamic of Titus 2 would be deeply rooted in the soil of our churches? But let’s be honest; there are some major hurdles that keep mid-life saints from discipling younger believers. Mid-life saints aren’t frequently discipling the young married couples, college students, and teenagers in the church and need help from their fellow-believers to move them toward these meaningful relationships. In this article I’d like to examine 5 ways we can help our mid-life brothers and sisters follow this Great Commission call.

Leading Mid-Life Saints through Personal Discipleship

“Phil, to be quite frank, I haven’t ever been intentionally discipled,” the saved-since-childhood, middle-aged father of two confided in me. I was a little startled at first. But then I thought about it. Most of my millennial friends could share in the same sentiment. And from what I seen, my parents’ generation seemed pretty “lone-wolf” when it came to their faith. They were probably better at the corporate worship bit of their Christianity, but when it came to connecting deeply with other believers on a one-on-one basis for accountability and discipleship, they seemed to, on the whole, come up lacking.

So, Church, let’s help prepare these believers for discipleship. Pastors, take some time to invest in them. Young up-and-coming leaders, plug into the life of an older believer and allow the experience be one of mutual growth. Instead of seeking out someone your own age to be disciple by or to disciple, build these relationships with middle-aged believers. Mid-life saints will continue to struggle to disciple until they themselves have been discipled. Walk the road of life with a mid-life saint and exponentially multiply the Church’s impact on the younger generations (2 Tim. 2.2).

Preparing Mid-Life Saints for Paradigm-Shift

A huge challenge that keeps intergenerational discipleship from happening in the church is the divide between old and young. To many mid-life saints, the younger generation in their church may be too liberal, tech-driven, or worldly. These notions of the young believers in the church are often mistaken and driven by mere cursory interaction between the generations. Tensions between the generations result in a sort of impasse whereby each generation assumes that the other is out of place and neither generation benefits from the other.

Breaking the impasse requires a Romans 14 kind of experience where both generations loosely hold to what divides them and are willing to do whatever it takes on non-essentials in order to experience unity and growth. In this spirit, both generations are able to see their blind spots more clearly and and love each other better (Phil. 2.3). This paradigm shift of unity in the non-essentials is absolutely essential if mid-life saints are going to be able to do the difficult task of intergenerational discipleship.

One substantial realization that is essential to helping mid-life saints clear this hurdle is awareness that millennials crave the input from the older generations. It’s a big deal to us to have those older and wiser than ourselves invest in us. Despite our uncomfortable social media choices and our unusual clothing choices and our prickly personas, we really do appreciate you. Your paradigm of what a “good Christian” looks like may shift by hanging out with us and loving us. But the Church will be all the better for it; that’s the way it’s always been (Gal. 3.27-28; Col. 3.11).

Moving Mid-Life Saints from Monologue to Dialogue

Another challenge for the seasoned Christians in your church when it comes to interacting with younger believers is that most of our mid-life saints learned best and most frequently via monologue. But this isn’t so with many millennials. Most of us learn best in dialogue. In order to prepare mid-life Christians for discipleship, we need to prepare them for a new method of interacting and teaching. But this takes time and intention.

In order to begin a transition away from monologue in discipleship, it’s essential for the discipler to understand the effect of a misunderstood monologue. To a dialogical learner, monologue can be misunderstood as not caring about my perspective, a superiority complex, or not allowing for helpful questions. Monologue in a discipleship context results in a “speaking at” mode rather than “discussing together” which is essential for true learning. At its worst, monologue in discipleship comes across as what a few of my friends have called “drive-by accountability.” You pop out of nowhere with a baseball bat, smack that newb Christian down, and get out of there. And how do you think that young believer is going to react? He’s going to avoid discipleship relationships like the plague!

Let’s encourage the monologue-trending disciplers to take a cue from Jesus when he asked, “Who do people say that I am?” And when their answers had prompted a surface level of consideration, he brought the question home, not by telling them the answer, but by forcing them to answer. “Who do YOU say that I am?” Prepare middle-aged believers to disciple by pointing to this discipleship technique from Jesus’ playbook.

Healing Mid-Life Saints from Failure Paralysis

I think if I were to guess why more millennials aren’t getting discipled by the empty-nesters or men and women with college-aged kids is that most of our mature saints are paralyzed by past mistakes. They look at their kids and ask themselves if they’re really ready to speak truth into the lives of the next generation. Most of the time, the answer is “no.” They simply can’t get past what they see as their screw-ups and parenting failures.

This is a reality that we would do well to be sensitive to. The deep wounds and irreversible scars of those they love who are far from Christ are no small matters. We shouldn’t be surprised to find many middle-aged saints paralyzed because of the hurt in their lives. But sometimes this paralysis isn’t just due to parenting hindsight; sometimes the paralysis is the result of real personal failure. A divorce, a besetting sin, or an inglorious exit from vocational ministry can make a mid-life Christian question whether or not they would be the optimal candidate for mentoring the next generation.

I want to address this very real concern with two observations. First, the two men who had the greatest impact on my life could have easily allowed their life situations keep them from investing in others. One of these men had never married and had no children. Although he could have excused himself from investing in the youth of the church due to his lack of parenting experience, he instead used every gift that God had given him in the next generation of the church. The other man who plugged into my life is divorced and never remarried. In a church culture that often highlights what a divorced individual can’t do, he chose to focus on what he could do—disciple the next generation. And I think that God enjoys using those whose life experiences seem utterly disproportionate to the task at hand. Moses and Gideon doubted their capabilities too! Encourage the paralyzed to trust God with their weaknesses and failures and see what God might do through them in this Great Commission work.

Second, there’s probably no greater New Testament example of this paralyzed saint than the Apostle Peter. After denying Jesus and letting down the other disciples, Peter struggles to make heads or tails of what to do next. He checks out and returns back to his vocation of fishing the lake. But then Jesus shows up on the beach. After a rather abrupt and pixilated arrival upon shore, Peter finds himself struggling for words as Jesus asks him a tough question over and over. Lots of consideration has been given to what Jesus meant by “love” in this passage, but I think there’s something we miss in the process—the command. “Feed my sheep.” Why did Jesus tell Peter to feed his sheep? Why did Peter need to be told to feed the flock of God? What was it about Peter’s situation that demanded Jesus wake him up and drag him in this direction? Jesus knew that Peter loved him (Peter admits this), but Jesus wanted Peter to do the hard work of discipleship in, through, and for the Church. So many of the hurting and paralyzed saints in our churches, like Peter, think to themselves: “If you only know how messed up I really am you wouldn’t be asking me to disciple others.” But Jesus gently questions them, “Do you love me?” The paralyzed believers inevitably respond, “Yes, of course!” On that basis, our Lord calls out, “Oh hurting Christian, I want you to feed my sheep. I know you better than you know yourself, and I particularly want you to invest in my Church!” The passion that these paralyzed saints have for Jesus is the only thing that will help them victoriously disciple the sheep.

Arming Mid-Life Saints with Confidence

Instilling confidence in the established Christians in your church begins with our first point—disciple them! This process is not only important for their growth, but for establishing their footing for future discipleship. But beyond one-on-one discipleship, we have more options at our disposal for transitioning the mid-life saints from disciples to disciplers. First, strong disciplers can allow a mid-life believer into an established discipleship process with another believer. Pulling them in for a few meetings after which you can discuss the process with the mature believer can help take the edge off. Maybe using a group discipleship process could help here. Second, strong believers can coach mid-life saints in their own efforts at discipling others. This may look like handing off an existing discipleship relationship to them or meeting to debrief and prepare for another discipleship session with a less mature Christian. Finally, keep working them into discipleship relationships with other believers. Their own discipleship process doesn’t end until they’re discipling others. Continue to provide accountability, opportunities, and support as mid-life saints catch the vision for real-life discipleship.

Why Should I Care About Contextualization?

There are plenty of academic topics that honestly aren’t worth much of your time. They aren’t valuable because they don’t affect your daily life; they won’t really impact your understanding of the core doctrines of the faith. So most of us can get by without thinking about these abstractions. But this issue of contextualization isn’t one of those issues. It’s central to a number of practical Christian life issues as well as your understanding of certain Christian doctrines. I’ll survey several of these areas below.

Evangelism

If you’re like me, evangelism is something that you want to grow in. You want to build more relationships with people who need Jesus; you want to share the impact that your Christian faith has had on your life. But you may not know how to explain that faith to someone else. Contextualization is a study in how to communicate with others that you may struggle to relate with. In contemporary American culture, although adoption rates of technology and adaptation rates for new trends are narrowing, the overall stratification of subcultures makes contextualization necessary for evangelism. Making the Gospel meaningful to other subcultures means that we need to humble ourselves and ask some preliminary questions that will help us communicate better with people in these cultures. In the upcoming articles, I’ll be sharing some essential contextualization questions that Christians can ask in order to understand the culture of the person they’re speaking with.

Contextualization says that we can reject the extremes of syncretistic assimilation, that the community never recognizes as truth, and non-communicative withdrawal, whereby the community never comes in contact with the truth. Ultimately salt isn’t salt if it doesn’t function as salt (losing its taste), and it doesn’t function as salt if it doesn’t end up placed on something else (in the world). Both proximity and potency are essential. Some of the most potent applications of contextualization come to bear on the way we enter into evangelistic dialogue with people in our community.

Discipleship

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19a)

Contextualization doesn’t stop once a person believes the Gospel. If you’re involved in Gospel proclamation or one-on-one discipleship, you’re tasked with the privilege of diving deep into the lives of others and getting to know how they think and what cultural roadblocks they have in their experience that keep them from applying the Gospel to their Christian lives. Every Christian is a part of a culture and sub-culture that shapes us in incalculable ways. So as we engage in the process of discipling others, we’ll need to continue this process of asking questions in order to understand where they’re coming from, and continuing to communicate the message in an understandable and actionable way.

“For disciple-making to be effective, it must be grounded in the appropriate context in which people live. It is the context that allows us to understand the needs and issues of the new believers. Only after these needs and issues are properly identified and understood, can we then begin to design a curriculum that will help people to follow Jesus faithfully in their context. In short, borrowing discipleship materials or approaches used in another context ought to be resisted. Instead, national leadership must be encouraged and empowered to design their own curricula and approaches to disciple the new believers.” (Minho Song, “Contextualization and Discipleship: Closing the Gap between Theory and Practice”, 5)

Ultimately, contextualized discipleship steers away from the clone-model of discipleship, but focuses, instead, on understanding what discipleship looks like in ones’ present context. It means that we have to invest the time in understanding the challenges and aids to discipleship in your target culture, and don’t be surprised if those challenges and aids are vastly different than your own.

Worship

Worship has two focuses. It faces upward “to God” and also faces outward toward “one another” (Col. 3.16). Contextualization influences how we worship in this latter facet. Contextualization in our worship means that we the “teaching” and “admonishing” that occurs in the context of worship must be contextualized in order to communicate. And this contextualization moves beyond ensuring that the worship just communicates to the Christians in the congregation; we also contextualize when we take into account unbelievers that may observe the worship of the church (1 Cor. 14.23). We want to be cognizant that our worship doesn’t obscure the Gospel, but, rather, clearly points to the entrusted message.

Christians who resist the idea of contextualization in worship tend to focus exclusively on the doxological  aspect of worship while leaving out the ecclesiological dimension of worship. As we take both of those dimensions into account, we’ll see that contextualization doesn’t mean simply keeping up with the “cool church” culture or simply trying to make people “comfortable” in the worship service of the church. It means that we need to make our worship understandable and meaningful for those who express it, rather than trying to replicate traditional or contemporary models that we’re familiar with.

“As is too often the case in missions, church planting resembles church franchising” (Keesee, Dispatches from the Front, 19)

Sometimes by considering what contextualization looks like in other nations and cultures, we can look more objectively (with less controversy) at its results and then draw applications to our own culture more effectively. It reminds us that the Gospel doesn’t just get contextualized when it enters the boundaries of a foreign country, but it is contextual when it enters our neighbor’s front yard. Even missiologists from staunchly conservative groups recognize this reality. So one example we could use to give us this international perspective on our own culture comes from believers in Japan. They’ve spent time writing a statement on worship in order to help them contextualize worship appropriately. And others have followed up by suggesting a number of Japanese characteristics that churches should integrate in order to contextualize to their culture.  If you get a moment to read how the Japanese churches are contextualizing, I would recommend that you take a few minutes to consider: (1) Are there biblical issues with the sorts of cultural elements that they are drawing into their corporate worship? (2)  What would it look like if my church in my city took a similar approach to our worship and the culture that surrounds it?

Interpretation of Scripture

The text of Scripture must be interpreted and applied if it is to be handled properly. Simply having the true message doesn’t help if we don’t connect that message to life. The work of interpretation is essentially an effort to understand the author’s meaning; this process often requires the work of decontextualization, where the interpreter strives to arrive at the overarching transcendent principles of the text. Then, in the process of application, the text is contextualized and connected to the ever-changing culture that surrounds us. Ultimately, the contextualized meaning must align with a faithful reading of the text.

“The adequacy of an attempted contextualisation must be measured by the degree to which it faithfully reflects the meaning of the biblical text” (Hesselgrave & Rommen, Contextualization, 201).

“The biblical teaching on culture and hermeneutics provides the basic elements for an approach to contextualization. Applying biblically mandated behavior in a new context involves interpretation and application…. Contextualization of biblical thought involves three major concerns…avoidance of syncretism…constructive engagement with the cultural world-view…calling for personal change” (Larkin, Culture and Biblical Hermeneutics, 319-321).

For a deep but accessible foray into this issue see articles 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of “Where is Theological Continuity Found? Text or Context?”

Translation of Scripture

Translation is a process that requires more than just taking one word in the original language and matching it with the corresponding word in the target language. Sometimes translators opt for a strict formal equivalency, where the exact structure is maintained along denotative lines. But, at times, formal equivalency can undermine the connotative meaning of Scripture (whether in its context or in ours). Some interpreters use a more dynamic approach that connects thought-for-thought. In a sense, every translation is culturally and linguistically dynamic, but the degree to which the translation flexes toward meaning over form differentiates some versions from others. Contextualization touches on this issue by reminding us that, while form is important, we can’t ignore meaning. Translations that clearly and effectively communicate the meaning of the original text to the target audience in a way that those readers can understand and apply can be said to be contextualized translations. Some cultures demand a heavier hand of contextualization than others (e.g., cultures that don’t have sheep, but only pigs, or peoples who have never seen snow). But every translation is, in essence, a contextual document because it takes the language of particular cultures (Biblical Hebrew/Aramaic and Koine Greek) and transmits it with some degree of meaning into another culture’s language (e.g., modern English).

The Gospel

Ultimately, this whole issue of contextualization is, at its core, a Gospel issue. The Gospel is the “good news.” It is, at its heart, a message — communication. The Gospel is God’s speaking into the world. It started at creation, continued with the Patriarchs, expanded with the people of Israel, and culminated in the coming of Jesus. I love how John the Evangelist puts it; Jesus is “the Word of God.” Jesus is the message of the Father. And what did that message look like? Was Jesus look like an angel, an alien, a blinding light, or an American? No! Jesus took upon himself the form of a servant. He came as a Jew in a Jewish culture. He was born like a normal baby and developed like a an average human being. There was no special beauty or look that he had that drew attention to him. He spoke as one of their people to their people, but with great authority.

And this is the job of the contextual Christian. Sometimes, in a pursuit of speaking to people on their level, we syncretize and lose the authority of the Gospel. Other times, we avoid speaking to people on their level at all, and fail to communicate the Gospel in the manner in which we’ve received it. Jesus communicated and communicated with authority. Biblical contextualization seeks to maintain this Gospel tension of incarnational communication along with authoritative proclamation.

“Mission, in fact, begins with identification and communication with God made possible because He has identified and communicated with us. Apart from this vertical relationship resulting from His Incarnation and Self-disclosure, and the proper response of repentance and faith on our part, there can be no mission. Apart from that we may become philosophers and rhetoricians, but missionaries we are not. Missionary communication begins with a knowledge of God in Christ or it does not begin at all” (Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, 90).

Meaningful Discipleship in the Local Church: 6 Correctives

Discipleship is the call of the Church (Matt. 28.19), but is the Church really doing this job well? Can we honestly say that at least the majority of those who claim the name of Christ and darken the doors of our churches are intentionally in discipleship relationships that are moving them toward greater and greater Christlikeness? Yesterday I read Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen, and I was impacted by a number of insights on how churches could be doing a better at this all-important task.

  1. We must commit to relationships of challenge and invitation. Relationships that are all about challenge and lack invitation will spiral towards legalism and burnout. Relationships that are all about invitation without any challenge will lead to warm and fuzzy friendships without any meaningful accountability. Many churches today lack both challenge and invitation; they’ve become little more than a social event. Meaningful discipleship requires direct confrontation over sin, and loving invitation into real-life Gospel living.
  2. We must vary our approach to discipleship. Churches I’ve served in are usually very strong in their lecture-oriented, fact-based instruction, but usually offer little in terms of apprenticeship or immersion learning structures (e.g., Matt. 5.1). But these methods of discipleship are proven and effective tools! If we’re going to up our game in this area, we’re going to have to be willing to dust off some of these tools that have been sitting in the back of our garage. Discipleship includes distribution of facts (what we’re good at), but it also includes connecting truth to life in apprenticeship and immersion scenarios (what we’re not good at). Several additional thoughts:
    • A Caveat: Assuming that showing up at church or in a small group will count as “immersion” is assuming that the majority of the people in the church or small group have been discipled themselves. I think this assumption is unwarranted. I know a number of adult believers who have never been engaged in a discipleship relationship.
    • An Expectation: Apprenticeship is a substantial investment for both parties. But in this process, the rewards are always greater than the buy-in.
    • A Warning: Apprenticeship and immersion aren’t synonymous with cloning. We’re not trying to make a bunch of people like ourselves, we’re trying to make disciples of Jesus Christ!
  3. We must admit that the current structures that we’re relying on for discipleship are fundamentally broken. Most churches I’ve served in have relied on a Sunday School or small group structure for engaging people in the discipleship process. But there are a number of reasons why this structure (as typically implemented) may not be the best method for discipling believers.
    • Small groups are (and should be) open to visitors. This limits the intimacy and openness of dialogue amongst the members. Baring our souls is often a very difficult task. This only becomes more difficult with a number of strangers in the room.
    • Small groups grow in a linear fashion. As months go by, people come and go based on their church attendance. They lack a stability in membership and can grow too large. They also lack a natural step for members to go and make disciples on their own. This inhibition is due to their linear nature.
    • Small groups require facilitators or teachers. This kind of relationship lacks the authoritative and intimate “follow me as I follow Christ” kind of call of discipleship.
    • Small groups are primarily easy to join and easy to leave. They aren’t effective accountability structures. Attendance isn’t often an expectation to which people are held.
    • Small groups often rely on administrated content. In other words, they’re going to cover what someone on the church staff thinks the groups need to be studying. This sometimes misses the challenges and hurdles that the members of the group may be experiencing.
  4. We have to adopt a sound structure for doing discipleship. One such structure is what Breen calls “The Huddle” (oddly, the same name of the odd band of misfits being discipled that I was a part of in junior high). This group is made up of 4-10 people who have committed to a mentoring relationship under one individual. This group commits for roughly a year, at which point they should be prepared to start “Huddles” of their own. More people aren’t discipled by making the groups bigger, but by individuals preparing to replicate the groups in turn.  First-time leaders can start with groups of 4 in order to make the challenge less daunting. This vehicle for discipleship is powerful because it combines a two critical components of biblical discipleship.
    • First, it is an admission that discipleship happens best in a group scenario. Many churches do discipleship whenever a new believer comes along or one-on-one with people in a counseling environment. But this avoids the power of group learning that is evident in the ministry of Jesus with his disciples.
    • Second, it is admission that the plausible scope of discipleship is limited. While Jesus ministered to crowds, significant portions of his ministry were invested in his band of 12.
  5. We must call our people to allow greater access for their brothers and sisters into their lives. Only by allowing people into our lives in a more intimate way will we be able to achieve the kind of discipleship that God has called us to. Leaders tend to sit back and complain that church members aren’t rising to meet the challenge, but this kind of critique is unhealthy for the body. Rather, servant-leaders must begin by modeling the kind of discipleship that they want to instill in others. Leaders who get out of the air-conditioned office and into the dirtiness of a handful of peoples’ lives and then call on them them to do the same.
  6. We need to develop a language of discipleship that lends purpose and clarity to what we do. Breen offers a suggested series of terms with associated images and applications that serve as a quasi-curriculum for their discipleship “Huddles.” While I don’t see the writer’s structure here as incredibly helpful, it did give me some ideas for engaging others in the process of discipleship. My takeaways:
    • First, discipleship language needs to be memorable. Using word pictures (or pictures in general) can communicate biblical truth in a discipleship context far better than a massive and detailed curriculum.
    • Second, discipleship language needs to be fully-orbed. In other words, many churches are really good at teaching doctrines or Bible study, but few do a great job at discipling others in a holistic Christian life (which includes doctrine and Bible study, but so much more as well).
    • Third, discipleship language needs to promote discussion and engagement. However you do discipleship, it needs to be more than you just sitting back and talking. It needs to be something that others can relate to and engage with applications and questions.

The Sawdust and the 2×4

Many people have heard the analogy that Jesus made (Matt. 7.3-5) about people who try to pick a piece of sawdust out of another person’s eye while they have a 2×4 in their own. The analogy is hilarious, but the implications are serious. I had a few thoughts today on this topic, so I thought I’d share them.

Relation: Sawdust and 2×4’s are similar, yet different

This should go without saying, but both items are byproducts of trees. They’re related by type. But they are drastically different in terms of their size, significance, and effect. The implication here is fascinating. It isn’t that people tend to see *any* kind of fault in the life of another, but that they see *genetically related faults* in the life of another person. The issues that they see in the other person are a categorical reflection of their own sins. When you’re going through a time of life where all you can see is other peoples’ issues, it is time for you to seek out godly counsel for your own heart. Perhaps the things you’re seeing in others is a reflection of a bigger and similar problem of your own.

Prioritization: Sawdust is still a problem

I think some people get the implication that these verses give them a “Get Out of Jail Free” card when it comes to outside critiques. Oddly enough, Jesus uses this analogy only to point out the challenge that the guy with a 2×4 in his head will have in *extricating* the sawdust, but not in his recognition that the sawdust *really is there.* So when some flawed individual comes to you with an issue, still do your best to consider that claim as valid. You may do well to bounce the claim off some accountability partners whose ability to be honest and see your issues clearly is unquestioned, but ignoring the issue entirely isn’t really fair to the analogy.

Categorization: 2×4’s as a new category of problems.

What Jesus is doing with this analogy is incredible. Jesus is pointing out that there is a whole category of sinners that we’re prone to forget about. We often think about sexual sinners or people who commit sins of speech, and so on. But Jesus reminds us that there are a bunch of people out there who walk around with lumber in their faces and haven’t taken the time to remove the problem. The funny thing about this is that we tend to look at the world in right/left perspective. We see conservatives and liberals, religious and irreligious. We see the guy with the 2×4 in his eye socket as someone in one camp or another camp. But Jesus gives us a category that transcends our own. For example, we’ve seen recent examples of hard right fundamentalists and left-leaning liberal Christians attacking notable evangelical leaders. In instances such as this, we’re reminded that 2×4-types transcend our categories. In God’s eyes, these two dissimilar groups in this instance share more in common than we originally would have thought.

Perception: You’d think we could see a 2×4, right?

Related to the previous point, it’s important to remember that if all we do is chat with, read, or befriend are people who share our dendrite problem, we’ll never see it for what it is. We’ll always see the sawdust of others as 2×4’s and receive critiques of our own 2×4 as if people were seeing sawdust. By surrounding ourselves by less than objective voices only from our own carpenter shop, we will consistently fail to recognize the gravity of our situation. And maybe this is part of the value of the church — it provides us with a variegated spectrum of saints who are able to see our problems better than we can ourselves. Seek out accountability not only from those who are most like you, but from those with whom you find little in common.

Concluding Thought: The value of outside accountability

Accountability is important in order to (a) evaluate whether the critiques we make are reflective of our own faults and (b) evaluate whether the critiques we receive are valid. Outside accountability is essential because (a) it shows us when we’ve fallen prey to our own categories, and (b) it shows us when we’ve fallen prey to our lack of context.

From Boys to Men: Discipleship for Maturity

For some reason, the pre-teen and early teen years are some of the most important years of a person’s life. These are the years when critical decisions are made that will affect the trajectory of one’s life. And it was in these years that this quirky rail of a homeschooled teenager learned some important lessons about discipleship from two of my Sunday School teachers. I’d like to share these lessons as a tribute to these two childhood heroes of mine.

Discipleship doesn’t mean having all the answers.

I think a lot of us fear engaging others in discipleship relationships because we see that we’re still a work in progress. We see our flaws and our lack of knowledge as a hinderance to effective discipleship. But the two men that had an amazing formative impact in my life would be the first to admit that they didn’t have all the answers either. In fact, it was when we discussed tough theology or wrestled through difficult applications and they admitted the complexity that I was driven back to the Word and to deeper study on my own. Sometimes knowing the right questions to ask is better than knowing the right answers to those questions.

Discipleship doesn’t require someone amazing.

The funny thing about my childhood mentors is that they came from the two segments of the church population that are often the most marginalized and under-utilized: the singles and the divorced. Rather than seeing themselves as exceptions to God’s plan and placing themselves on the bench, these men stepped up and used their gifts anyways. As I’m writing this, I can’t help but think of the army of men and women who are sitting by watching the next generation of the church be mentored by the world, making excuses because they aren’t that hip. But making disciples isn’t a task reserved for the cool and the popular — making disciples is the mandate for *every* believer. And maybe that’s why the sidelined Christians do such a good job at it. Your impact as a discipler will always be disproportionate to who you think you are.
It is quite possible that you feel like you’re one of those sidelined groups in the church. Maybe you’re an older saint who doesn’t feel wanted in the lives of the young and progressive in the congregation. It’s easy to make the assumption that they don’t want you to disciple them and then just check-out. But, guess what, they *really do* desire your investment in their lives! No, they don’t want you to try to make them into little clones, and they aren’t looking for a list of preferences; they want someone to adopt them and grow with them.

Discipleship isn’t about following a program.

Here’s what discipleship looked like for me: cutting the church lawn in the dead of summer, watching thousands of Southwest Airlines 737’s landing at BWI airport, going on homeschooler field trips to historical sites, and gathering before church on Sundays to pray and talk about the Bible. None of this involved a book with pictures and blanks to fill in. None of this happened because someone at the top told them to do this. It happened because a couple guys had a vision and compassion for the next generation of the church. Sometimes our desire for programs and paperwork simply crowd out the real work of discipleship. I want to encourage you to put down the curriculum and pick up someone on your way to church. Stop waiting for administrative guidance and take some guys on a journey that will lead them to Jesus.

Discipleship doesn’t involve accepting the status quo.

Discipleship will break up your routines. If you’re just a Sunday-show-up-and-leave kind of Christian, discipleship is going to make you bend and break. It will demand that you arrange a morning coffee, invest your Saturdays, or turn Sundays into days of all-out ministry. The status quo is all about staying in your comfort zone and catering to your own needs; discipleship is all about breaking out of your comfort zone and ministering to the needs of others. Start small and build from there. Target a opening in your schedule and use it to make the maximum difference.

Discipleship isn’t neat and clean.

If there’s one thing I learned from being discipled by these two men is that discipleship will always cost you something. Maybe it’s the cost of a plane ticket or just a meal. Maybe it’s the time to visit a teen and his family at home. Maybe it’s the physical exertion that it takes to mow the church lawn or get rid of the leaves at a widow’s home alongside your disciple. I don’t know exactly what discipleship will look like for you, but here’s an idea: when you think of discipleship, think of Jesus. Think of guys trudging across the countryside, rowing across a sea in the middle of a storm, or starving hungry trying to figure out where to eat their next meal. This is where the real work of discipleship happens. Discipleship won’t happen as long as we remain in the pristine corridors of our churches or in the comforts of our homes. Discipleship will cost you something.
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Dedicated to Mr. Dave and Mr. Walt — selfless men with an incalculable eternal impact.