Ordinary Discipleship Training

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  -Acts 4:13

Our passion is to make disciple making disciples of Christ.

 

Messy, Messy, Messy

I have heard it said and said it many times myself that discipleship is messy. It is walking with messy people towards wholeness in Christ.  That statement is more true today than ever before and for anyone who has been around church any time, you know it to be true as well.  Discipleship is walking towards messes.  The thing is, the more you walk towards messes, the more mess you track through your life.  I want to share a part of another blog I wrote on September 13, 2013 entitled “How Strong Is Strong.”

 This morning I found myself with my head in my hands, sobbing uncontrollably.  I was emotionally undone.  My response, especially being a man, was to try to hide, wipe away, or to be strong.  I couldn’t though, it was as if the thunderstorms of my mind had cut loose.  If you’re honest, you’ve probably found yourself in a similar situation at some point.  In that moment I asked myself the typical ‘what’s wrong with me’ and ‘why am I crying like this’ questions.  Shortly into this, Christ spoke to me with incredible joy, “you are in the right place.  You’ve poured yourself out to others to the point of emotional exhaustion.”

      I’ve known, spoke about, and tried to live out this idea that discipleship is messy but there has rarely been a time when I’ve poured into one or two as intently as I have over this past week.  I say these things with great humility in the hopes that it encourages you.  We must pour ourselves until emotional emptiness.  The gospels are full of examples of Christ doing this, all the way to the point of death.  We must pour ourselves out as offerings over those we serve, love, and lead.”

I still remember that day well.  When I wrote this blog I was cleaning up from a football breakfast.  I was tired and obviously had given a lot emotionally to a couple of students.  It was a great day!  I find it interesting how often the words breakdown and breakthrough walk a very fine line together and are almost interchangeable.

We're messy people walking with other messy people towards wholeness.  Have a breakdown once in a while, it may lead to a breakthrough.

A Need For Strategy

What things come to mind when talking about strategy?  Go ahead, stop an think about it for a little bit.  For me I either think of football or military talk.  I spent some time in the Marine Corps and if you were to ask those I have lead and done life with the most, they would tell you I have a tendency to lean towards the military analogy. 

When I think strategy, it brings to mind images of General Schwarzkopfstanding over a sand table or in front of a giant map explaining to his staff how they are going to defeat the Iraqi army in the days and weeks leading up to Dessert Storm.  He explains what every element is going to do, time tables they will all be on, who is doing what, and who is in charge of what.  Then, after breaking down all the ins and outs, the strategy for victory, every possible scenario and detail, he turned to his staff and like every good leader said,

“now go and explain this to your soldiers.”

As history tells us, it worked.  The allied forces won.  It goes without saying, but they did not just show up and walk into a dessert to see white flags waiving.  The weeks, and probably months, leading up the to the invasion were spent planning, prepping, weighing the cost, and creating a strategy.

The question that naturally comes up, the question you may be thinking right now, is what does Stormin’ Norman have to do with me?  Discipleship and ministry require strategy but what does that really look like?  I would like to share some thoughts on developing strategy.

First of all, we must start with the end in mind.  I'm in student ministry so my goal is to get students through those awkward school years and on their way to adulthood.  What I try to accomplish is when a student graduates from high school they are able to step in and serve/lead in a variety of ministries or organizations.  That doesn't just occur though so if that's my end goal, I have to be giving seniors opportunities to not only lead but to plan, organize, and execute events, teachings, bible studies, etc.  But to even get them to that place I have to create a clear strategy that begins when a student enters my ministry in 6th grade.  For me, it starts basic.  We begin by making sure we're teaching that 6th grader how to read and understand scripture for themselves and how to pray.  How else will they be teaching as juniors and seniors if they can't open the bible and understand it.

Another thought is to develop from where you are.  Too many want to take another church's ideas, model, or curriculum and apply it thinking it's going to grow their ministry.  Take what you have in front of you and begin there.  I've heard people say, "I don't have enough students to do student leadership." The questions I always ask at that point is "how will you ever have student leadership if you don't start developing it."  We must be careful not to compare what we're doing to other ministries or organizations.  We must never think we don't have enough resources or people to accomplish great things or to develop leaders.

My hope for this is not convince anyone they are doing something wrong but to encourage you.  You don't need a organization or ministry of hundreds to accomplish this, after all, Jesus only had twelve.

Discipleship and State Farm Commercials

I love those State Farm commercials!  You know the ones with the exact same dialog happening but with very different scenarios and very different results.  My favorite is the one with the Green Bay Packers, a golf club through a window, and Clay Matthews with a mouthful of cheese.

Sometimes I feel the same is true when we talk discipleship.  That's a word that is prevalent in the church, any church.  We talk about discipleship events, programs, and teachers.  It feels like we're saying the same words but not having the same conversations.

Let me be clear, I believe in these things but only as a springboard to the relational.  If we look at discipleship as Christ did it, we have to stop and think immersion.  Yeah, as in baptism.  That is a big reason I say the words leadership and discipleship are interchangeable., in giving our students or people opportunities to lead, they are being immersed in discipleship and may not even realize it.  They, the disciples and Christ, did life together and yes there was teaching and seeing but there was also doing. 

What if we did life with those we're seeking to disciple in that way?  

I think the biggest hang up when we look to discipleship programs or events is too often we want them on our time and in our way.  We use Sunday school, small groups, disciple now weekends, and summer camps as our primary discipleship tools.  These are all important things but until we are willing to take the conversation beyond the walls of our own church building, the "discipleship" ends when that event does.  Yes, to do life at this level with someone is messy and costly and even hard at times.  That's the cost of truly pouring into someone, you.  You get to show them life, all of it.  The good and the bad but who are they going to turn to when their own lives begin to crumble, the one who pretended to have it all together but ultimately never really invested in them or the one who was real and gave all.

If you're looking for a nicely wrapped, clean cut, and easy way towards this, discipleship may not be what you're after.  As I said earlier, it's tough at times but I assure you, it's worth it when you begin to see someone you've walked with connect the dots and live it out.

The Gospel & Discipleship

In July of 2012, God began stirring my heart towards hosting my first ever discipleship conference.  I had no idea what I was doing or getting myself into.  I began to talk to people in my life; family, friends, and even people that I barely knew.  I was asking what I needed to be doing and how I needed to be praying for what God had in store for this conference and for me.  I had so many people speak into me, offering me great advice and praying for me and with me.  In August of 2012, the Ordinary Discipleship Conference was born on the premise of we’re ordinary people serving and extraordinary God.  We felt like we were not going for flash or big names but for substance and depth.  The theme for that first discipleship conference was, “there is nothing ordinary about discipleship except the people."  

That is just as true today as when I initially spoke it out then. 

These conversations I was having continued and I owe a great deal of gratitude to many who were willing to put up with me, speak into me, and pray for me during this time. 

Side note, that, in and of itself is a good picture of discipleship as well.  All these people that I have relationships with, do life with in different ways, taking their time to pour into me and pray for me because they believe in what God was doing in and through me.

Throughout this time and the many conversations, there was one particular conversation I had with my mom that I remember well.  I was sharing a little with her about how this was unpacking in my mind and in actuality.  Then she paused, turned and asked me,

 

“is this a conference for church kids or is it more of an evangelistic event?”

 

Now, I knew what she meant but I had to pause for a moment to consider my answer.  I knew what I wanted to say but that simple question made me stop and think, not just for a moment, but for weeks.  There were a couple of things I realized.  First of all, and this is something I knew deep down inside of me, too many times we, the church, separate our evangelism and discipleship.  We plan events and services with either in mind and the truth of the matter is, we are wrong.  That led me to my other realization; evangelism is the first step in discipleship.  You cannot have one without the other.  You cannot disciple someone who has not come to know Christ and in order for that to happen, the gospel has to be presented. 

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”  Romans 10:14-15

The opposite is also true, you can relationally give a lot to a person and positively influence their life, but if Christ is not in the picture, it is not discipleship.

The great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said,

“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

For me, how this realization affected my ministry and the conference was very simple but extremely complex, the gospel had to be everything.  Every time I teach, every conversation I have, it has to have gospel implications.  The gospel has to be what we, what I, am about before discipleship can begin to occur.  

I understand that every relationship looks different and the timeframe of what this may look like is different from person to person but what if I could somehow learn to live with that level of intentionality.  What might my world, my ministry, or my family begin to look like around me?

Take It Personal: Part 3 - Disciples

This is post 3 of 3 and I was very intentional about placing this section third.  I think the other two are so important and need to be addressed before getting into this.  Too many times we look at discipleship or even ministry as something that is exclusive to inside the church.  That being said, I encourage you to spend some time seeking God on the first two blogs before diving into this third one.  You can CLICK HERE FOR PART 1 or CLICK HERE FOR PART 2.

Take Your Disciples Personal

If we really stop and look in scripture at what discipleship is I think it may surprise some people.  We tend to think of discipleship as a teacher-student relationship and while that is partly true, it is also a misconception.  Discipleship is a baptism and I do not mean by water but literally the idea of immersion.  Jesus had his twelve that learned from him by observing and doing with him, not just sitting and listening to lectures or sermons.  They did hear and witness some amazing things but it was not long before Jesus was calling them to do also.

If we stop and process that a little bit many would have to admit that their “discipleship” relationships do not look much like this.  To walk that tightly and in step with another person is mind boggling to most.  It really is a scary concept.  You would have to be willing to let someone know you well.  They would know your heartbeat, your struggles, and maybe even things you would not want others to know.  On top of that you would know those things about them as well.  What you end up having is not as much a leader-follower relationship but one of two people figuring out life together.  Typically one is just a step or two ahead of the other.  This, of course, like just about everything else has no formulas.  There are no blanket statements that cover here to make this work.  As a student pastor, this has to look different with my students than with other adults I walk with.  The idea is still the same, it just means it may have to start on a different level than you perhaps thought.

This model or lifestyle is tough.  It is emotionally taxing and can cause a lot of heartache.  Discipleship is messy, there is no way around that.  No matter how much you invest yourself in or do life with someone you will find yourself disappointed or hurt at some point and they will in you as well.  There has been numerous times I have found myself crying over a student or young adult that I have discipled.  It has not ever been because they went off the deep end or gone crazy.  Many times it is because I want the best for them or maybe they are hurting so my heart hurts with them.  If you have ever been in a close relationship of any kind you know exactly what that is like.  The desire here is to be so emotionally and spiritually invested in someone that their outcome could affect yours.

To take someone that personal is tough but very rewarding.  I am seeing some that I have walked with living out their lives as young adults.  I am seeing them serving Christ in different capacities like on staff at camps and leading worship.  Our discipleship relationship has not ended, just grown with us and deepened as we walked.  I am not really sure there is a time that can define the end of a discipleship relationship.  I think to be truly that invested in someone would cause a relationship to go a lifetime even though it would look different as you both got older.  Even as I write this, it brings a smile to my face and great joy to my heart thinking about those dear friends that have allowed me to do life in that way with them.

My hope and prayer through these blogs is to give you some thoughts to process but more than that I want to give you permission to take things personally.  To live out a very real life that God has given you in a real way, with real people.  It is worth it.