Archives For Discipleship

I have been listening (via Audible) and reading again through Robert Coleman’s classic book, The Master Plan of Evangelism. It has been over a decade since I last read it, and I am finding more and more jewels than before (hopefully a sign of discernment). This morning, I came across a profound observation from the ministry and method of Jesus in shaping and forming his disciples. In his chapter on “Supervision,” Coleman writes:

Here is on-the-job training at its best. Jesus would let his followers have some experience or make some observation of their own, and then he would use this as a starting point to teach a lesson on discipleship. The fact that they tried to do his work, even though they have failed at it, gave them greater awareness of their deficiencies, and hence they were more disposed to the Master’s correction. Moreover, their encounter with life situations enabled Jesus to pinpoint his teachings on specific needs and to spell it out in the concrete terms of practical experience. We always appreciate an education more after we have had the opportunity to apply what we have learned (96).

Jesus’ method of instruction and training was intensely practical. He employed his disciples in the work, and quite often they failed in it or did not understand the life Jesus was calling them to embrace. Having been confronted with repeated failure and disappointment, the disciples learned humility and greater dependence upon their Master. Being conformed into the image of Jesus meant a constant chipping away at their lives so their thoughts, desires, and actions were brought into complete submission to the way and will of their Master.

I find this method of Jesus rather foreign to current methods of training and discipleship today.

For example, when someone trained for leadership in the local church is told they should go to Bible college or seminary, they are brought into an environment of the classroom where they gain a considerable amount of knowledge. But where is the intensely practical training? Where is the opportunity to fail? Where is the molding and shaping of everyday life where they model their teacher? When these are absent, what we find is disciples to correcting others rather than being corrected by their Master. Because they know more, the “practical application” is exercising that knowledge to make a point, win an argument, or demonstrate their superior intellect – all manifestations of spiritual pride.

One of the reasons we do not have a movement of disciple-making in America is because we have bought into methods of training different from our Master. We are setting ourselves up for failure, and when we wonder why evangelism and disciple-making are waning, we ask those in the classroom to hold a conference or present a lecture on evangelism and disciple-making.

What we need are a bunch of failures who have stubbornly continued in deeper and deeper levels of humility to follow Jesus in his ways of loving people and sharing the gospel in everyday life. We need practitioners who view the front yard as their classroom, the neighbors as their disciples, and their community as their mission field. We need people who have felt the cuts and bruises of daily conformity to the ways of Jesus as their pursue the kingdom of God and pray it down in their hearts.

Where are these people today?

We need them.

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One of the more influential books I’ve read over the past year is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. Listen to how McKeown summarizes the way of the Essentialist:

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”

When I first read this book, I read it through the lens of an organizational leader with varying degrees of responsibility in a number of areas that seemed to make life complicated and difficult. This book was instrumental in helping me get to the essentials and drill down deep from that perspective.

In recent months, however, I have been thinking about the idea of essentialism specifically through the lens of living as a Christian. Could it be argued that the reason why we have so few people living an abundant, spirit-Filled, fruit-bearing life is because Christians have unconsciously adopted a non-essentialist approach to Christian living? Have we been “living by default rather than by design”? Of all people in the world, should not children of God be living by design? If so, then why does so much of our lives seem reactionary? Is this not another away of simply “being conformed to the world” as in Romans 12:2?

These are the questions that I’ve been asking myself lately. As a result, I have begun a pursuit of living an “essential Christian life.” But that, I mean a disciplined pursuit of less so that I can make my highest point of contribution to the kingdom of God. By design, I want to live with such intentionality that I am willing to say “No” to a host of good but trivial things so that I can say yes to the vital few that should mark my life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

When we hear that inner voice expressing frustration that we don’t have the time, we are simply too busy, we don’t know how, or it just doesn’t work, why have we not first asked ourselves how we got here in the first place? Have we uncritically adopted a manner of living entirely incompatible to the Great Commission given to us by Jesus and justified our being out of step with the gospel because “everyone else is doing it”? If we could acknowledge the essentials to healthy, fruit-bearing Christian living, would we be willing to have the “disciplined pursuit of less” as Christian essentialists so that we can make our highest point of contribution for the spread of the gospel, love of our neighbor, and advance of the kingdom of Christ? Isn’t that what we should be doing after all?

There has been a debate over the past several years in evangelical circles about being “radical” for Jesus and living “ordinary” for Jesus. While I that conversation certainly has merit, why don’t try to address Christian living from a different angle? How about essentialist versus nonessentialist Christian living? Would this perspective not shed a little more light on the status of evangelical Christianity in North America?

So the question then begs for a definition and description of essential Christianity. Let me propose five aspects of Christian essentialism:

  1. Jesus  – who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and why that matters for all of life
  2. Scripture – the revelation of what God has said and done, the story of God,
  3. Kingdom – the entrance, nature, growth, and impact of the kingdom of God
  4. Great Commandment – love God supremely and love neighbors sacrificially
  5. Great Commission – make disciples of Jesus by the power of the Spirit

I know there is so much more that could be argued for Christian essentialism. But the point of essentialism is to determine the “vital few” (pursuit of less) and build a “systematic, discipline approach” for making our highest level of contribution for the cause of Christ. All we need to do is take 10 minutes in a Christian bookstore to see how rampant nonessentialism is in our world today. Let’s not go there. How about we pursue a few things and execute on them with priority and passion so that they produce a lifestyle that makes a difference as disciples of Jesus?

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At the dinner table tonight, we experienced something profound, and profoundly lacking in our lives. As we enjoyed some Mexican takeout, we asked our kids to share about their favorite events in life so far. After each family member chimed in, we proceeded with round 2 of favorites. Then round 3, and round 4. Everything from favorite food to favorite chores were talked about, and there was no shortage of commentary and attention grabbing interaction.

But then the conversation slightly changed when one of our children mentioned something that his brother was good at. I decided to go with it, this time asking each of our children to think of something they could say to each other, affirming something they are particularly gifted in or excel at doing. One by one, they began sharing things how their brother is good at baseball, their sister is good at dancing, their mom is a good teacher, and dad is good at walking the dog and picking up his poop. For a good 10-15 minutes, we just took time affirm the virtues and blessings of having each other in our lives.

Sadly, as a leader in our family, I have not shepherded our conversations to learn the grace of affirmation. I call it “grace” because it is contrary to our human nature. Our sinful nature wants to receive the praise, not give it. In an attitude of pride, we want to be the center of attention rather than having a spirit of humility and make others more important than ourselves. Only grace, only Jesus can cause us to get over ourselves to focus on the beauty and blessing of the community we are so privileged to enjoy.

I have been deeply convicted tonight to lead our family better, to shepherd our conversations by grace to edify and build each other up. Enough complaining and whining and tattling. Enough looking for each others’ faults and highlighting our failures. It is time to highlight God’s grace and look for each others’ virtues. And say it out loud. Say it to each other, looking in their eyes, connecting our heart to theirs, and knowing the sincerity of the words are trustworthy and true.

If we can train each other to practice the grace of affirmation, how much different would our lives be? How would it impact how our children treat one another? How would it change the community we live in? Not just our family but our neighbors and church family? No matter how difficult a person may be, how down they may be on life, how different they are from you or me, they are made in the image of God with dignity, worth, and value. Though marred by sin, there is yet something beautiful despite their brokenness. While not denying the brokenness, can we yet learn to look for the beauty reflecting the handiwork of their Creator?

So in repentance, I am learning from my children, and in doing so, looking to lead them better by affirming one another and cultivating conversations littered with blessings rather than being defined by the curse of sin and brokenness. With God’s help, we will be a family that will focus on what is right with each other than what is wrong. Not as an attempt to prove our righteousness or goodness, but to point to the righteousness and goodness of the gospel freely given through the life and death of Jesus Christ, breathing in His perfect obedience, and breathing out a life directed to glad submission to His sovereign reign and rule in our lives.

Let’s make disciples of Jesus, beginning with our children, and in our families, cultivate a community marked by affirming grace, whether common or covenant. I believe we will love God and love our neighbors better when we do.

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Post-Christendom Missional AttractionalSo far in this series, I have touched on Posture and Perspectives in Post-Christendom. At the close of the “Perspectives” post, I argued, “I believe there has been a considerable shift over the past decade (or two) toward paganism where the majority of non-Christians today are ignorant, indifferent, and militant.” In this post, I want to elaborate on the two paradigms for engaging non-Christians in Post-Christendom.

The Attractional Paradigm

During the times of Christendom and its decline, the attractional paradigm enjoyed much success. It was a time when the majority of non-Christians in culture found Christianity relevant and were quite conversant from a cultural standpoint. Christianity was looked upon favorably by the many, and churches seemed to engage the “unchurched Harry and Mary“. The attractional paradigm saw the rise of the seeker-sensitive movement, where a large focus of the church’s mission was to get non-Christians to “come and see” through the church event what Christianity was about. Missiologists call this a “centripetal” movement where the draw is toward the center, namely the Sunday morning event/experience.

The attractional paradigm found ways to reach the non-Christians through a focus on relevance and pragmatism. The event focused on “the experience” wherein the message would have relevance to the most pressing issues of the day (sex, happiness, relationships, overcoming fear, etc.). Outside the event, the attractional model produced goods and services that the non-Christian consumer would find practical and beneficial. Relevance and pragmatism became a winning combination for burgeoning megachurches who could exceed consumer expectations on what they could offer them and the experience they could find.

Continue Reading…

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In the Disciple’s Napkin, I have explained a little about the 5 minutes of Bible intake. Today, I want to share about the four ways to serve.

A disciple of Jesus should have movement in four directions: upward, inward, outward, and forward. These four dynamics shape the four ways and rhythms by which a disciple is to flesh out a life of servanthood. They dynamics should be practiced on a weekly basis as “macro rhythms” in following Jesus.

Upward – Corporate Worship

Every disciple should be regularly and faithfully participating in corporate worship in a local church. The gathering of the saints to sing God’s praises and hear God’s Word is a non-negotiable means of grace as well as a weekly reminder of our identity as persons-in-community. While this may be something easily assumed, the research shows today that more and more professing Christians and church members find faithful participation in weekly corporate worship as optional. The more secular and post-Christian our society becomes, the more it will pressure and push Christians to conform to its mold, especially with its attitude toward the Lord’s Day. We must be careful and intentional to develop godly rhythms that give sacred preeminence to the gathering of the saints above all institutions of human origin (including sports, concerts, hobbies, etc.).

Inward – Gospel Community

Christians gather in corporate worship and scatter in gospel communities of light in the world. Whether you call them small groups, life groups, growth groups, or gospel communities, the structure of shared living within a context of deepening relationships are critical to the health of a disciple. Gospel communities are places where we discover the gospel depths, discover our own identity in Christ, and discover others as we press into knowing God and one another. It is an inward movement because God works in us through gospel communities to enable us to love Him and love one another as disciples committed to God and one another.

Outward – Spirit-led Service

The Spirit of God has sovereignty given to each disciple gifts and abilities for the purpose of edifying the church and evangelizing the world. Therefore, it is a matter of stewardship for each disciple to discover, develop, and deploy these gifts and abilities for those very purposes as Spirit-led, Spirit-equipped, and Spirit-empowered followers of Jesus. When each disciple is actively involved in service to others, the ministry of the saints brilliantly displays the beauty of Christ as we function as His hands and feet to one another and to the world.

Forward – Generous Mission

Jesus taught us to pray for His kingdom to come, for His name to be hallowed on earth as it is in heaven. We are commissioned to seek first the kingdom of God, and that seeking to be reflected in every area of our lives, especially in giving ourselves first wholeheartedly and unreservedly to God Himself. Christians are to be generous, but not generous for the sake of being generous, but generous for the sake of mission. God was generous by sending His own Son. What more could He give? What greater cost could have been paid? What greater sacrifice has there been known? As disciples of Jesus, we should joyfully embrace lives of sacrifice. Giving our money should not be a sore spot. Giving our time should not be questioned by our “comfort zones.” Giving our lives to go to hard places and do hard things should not be marginalized but magnified because that is exactly what our Savior did in leaving an example for us.

If disciples are not generous in giving financially for the cause of ministry and mission, then we are not seeking first the kingdom of God. If disciples are not generous with their time and energy for the advancement of the gospel, we are not seeking first the kingdom of God, If disciples are not generous with our lives, holding them out to God with an open hand and blank check, then we are not seeking first the kingdom of God.

Healthy Christians weekly are seeing movement happen upward in worship, inward in gospel community, outward in serve toward others, and forward in generous mission for the sake of kingdom come. These weekly rhythms provide robust dynamics to represent God and put His grace on display in and through our lives.

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When I first kicked around the idea for the The Disciple’s Napkin, the most amount of feedback I received had to do with the 5 minutes of Bible intake that I had proposed. Am I saying 5 minutes just to fit with the template of 5…4…3…2…1? Perhaps.

I chose a short amount of time for the following three reasons.

  1. This may be a starting point for several people.
  2. Bible intake is intended not merely for information but for transformation. There is enough truth to transform your life in five minutes of meaningful Bible intake. The problem is that we take in God’s Word, and sometimes so much, that we forget it and fail to apply it to our lives. I have heard men like John Piper say that often times it is a word or phrase alone in God’s Word that changes a person’s life. I have found that to be true in my own life as well.
  3. Bible intake is not only for our transformation but also transfer. You take what you receive from God’s Word, and as a faithful steward, look for ways to share that with others. Five minutes provides you opportunity to look for one simple truth from God’s Word to share with others in your life.

Of course, you may one to spend 10, 15, 30, or 60 minutes of Bible intake on a daily basis. That is great! I hope the DMN (disciple-making napkin) leads to that and more. But as I expressed in my original post, my goal is to present a vision for disciple-making that is accessible to every single Christian, and I think this approach suits that purpose.

So what do I mean by Bible intake? Here are some examples of 5 minute Bible intakes.

  1. Read one chapter in the Gospels (and make it your goal to read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John over the course of 6 months).
  2. Read one Psalm and day and make it the substance of your prayers.
  3. Find one verse that ministers to your soul and seek to put it to memory. Make a memory moleskine of daily verses that you take with you to meditate on throughout the day.
  4. Read one paragraph from the letters of the Apostle Paul.

Do you have other suggestions for Bible intake? I would love to hear them!

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The Disciple’s Napkin

Tim Brister —  December 16, 2014 — 4 Comments

The heart of the Christian mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Every Christian is a disciple called to make disciples. The making and maturing of disciples should be the centerpiece of our lives. However, it seems that, while we adhere to these truths in principle, so often disciple-making eludes us.

As I have talked with my fellow elders at Grace and other pastors among whom I share fellowship, the struggle to see the call of being a disciple-making disciple continually comes up on our conversation. Have we made it too difficult? Have we misunderstood the identity and rhythms of the Christian life in the world? Are we communicating a version of the Christian life where we can identify with Jesus but never identify with His mission?

Over the past couple months, I sought to evaluate disciple-making in my own life and church community. In particular, I wanted to focus on the biblically prescribed means of grace as the foundational disciplines for laying a framework of discipleship that cuts across every sphere of our lives. I don’t want it to be said by anyone, “I cannot make disciples because it is too complicated, too difficult, too demanding, etc.” No matter where you are in the journey as a follower of Jesus, I want it to be said by anyone, “I can do that. I can be a disciple who makes disciples of Jesus.”

During that time, I sought to incorporate these basic principles in the formative process:

  • Simple – I want to break down the essence of following Jesus. Keeping it simple it key to the other principles outlined here.
  • Rhythmic – I want to help Christians have healthy rhythms in their lives both on a daily and weekly basis. We don’t need busy Christians. We need intentional Christians redeeming everyday life for gospel advance.
  • Transferable – I want the practice of making disciples to be something that can be easily transferred to another person through informal conversation and shared living.
  • Memorable – I want to summarize the practice in such a way that it can be easily memorized for recall with relative ease.
  • Reproducible – I want the practice to so accessible that anyone at any level of spiritual growth can take part. Reproducibility presupposes the possibility of owning the practice by people without prerequisites (graduated Christianity).
  • Practical – I want the practice to incorporate the the spiritual disciples for application in accountable community. These practices are intended to be the transformative means to grow Christians by grace through faith in Jesus.

After considering these principles, the key for me was to find a way to consolidate and communicate them in the most effective way possible. I have heard it say that if you cannot cast vision or explain mission on a napkin, it is too complicated or unclear. So one afternoon, I sat down at a Subway and came up with what I call “The Disciple’s Napkin.”

The Disciple’s Napkin

In the coming days, I will walk through The Disciple’s Napkin with brief explanations. My hope is that by sharing this with you, perhaps others will want to take call to make disciples who make disciples. If you are a leader in a church and want to have a simple process to the practice, please join me for the journey. I pray the discussion and development of The Disciple’s Napkin will result in many Christians and churches embracing a passion for making, maturing, and multiplying disciples of Jesus.

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Me and My Ninety-Nine

Tim Brister —  June 14, 2014 — 2 Comments

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
(Luke 15:1-7 ESV)

One of the challenges I face when it comes to maturing as a disciple of Jesus is working through passages familiar to my head (knowledge) but unengaged in my heart (life change). The parable in Luke 15:1-7 is a classic example, and one where I am learning to grow in joy-inspired repentance.

We know how the story goes. A man loses one of his sheep and does whatever it takes to find that sheep. But when I dwell on this passage a little more and the unaddressed realities in my heart, a couple of things come to my mind. First, am I the kind of person who is not even aware of when a sheep is lost? Do I pay enough attention to the “sheep who are not of this fold” (John 10:16) to acknowledge when one is lost? Second, am I the kind of person who secretly tells myself, “Well, I only lost one. At least I still have the other ninety-nine. Why make the effort to go after the one who is lost anyway? Is that not a bad stewardship of my time and energy?”

In the past, I made it easy to identify with the man in this story who acts heroically to find the lost sheep. A big reason for that has to do with the superficial allowance I give myself in engaging the text merely in an intellectual manner. I agree to the truths that are communicated in the text, but I fail to discover whether my life is in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). To my own embarrassment, I am far more competent in exegeting a text of Scripture than exegeting the subtext of my own heart.

Let’s face it. Me and my ninety-nine is not bad after all, if we are playing the numbers game. From a pragmatic standpoint, I am efficient with my time and energy. I am leveraging my limited resources and stewarding them for the maximum outcome possible. The only problem with this thinking is the point Jesus makes in this story (and with His life). There is joy to be had for finding the lost. There is joy to be shared in inviting others to enter into that celebration. There is repentance to be remembered when the story of the good news of the sheep being found becomes greater than the sheep being lost. And all of this because in the one, the man found a mission to embrace that caused him to leave everything behind until the rescue was made. Too often, I am comfortable with the ritual of remaining with the righteous ninety-nine than the risk of rescuing the one needing repentance and the reward of joy that comes as the fruit of that risk.

Would you join me in learning to be faithful to the one by taking ownership of the rescue mission therein? I long to be able to say, “Rejoice with me.” But before that, I need to believe the joy in finding the one that was lost is of far greater value than the comforting of remaining with me and my ninety-nine.

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Last Fall, I began a series on missional living entitled “From Strangers to Missionaries” where I share about a personal strategy to win my neighborhood and city for Christ. After several recent interactions and encouragements, I felt I needed to provide an update and write more about my journey. For a review of what I’ve written thus far, click here.

Why I Hated My City

During the first four years of living in my city, I went from confusion to frustration to hate. I was confused because I was told that I live “in paradise” (sunny Southwest Florida) in what was one of the fastest growing cities in the country. But when my family and I established our roots, the boom town had become the epicenter of the bursting of the housing bubble. During those four years, 14 out of the 17 houses on my street went into foreclosure or short-sale with another one never making it past the cinder block facade.

My confusion led to frustration because, not only did my city suffer the hardest in the foreclosure crisis, but news came out that we also had the worst job performance market in the top 100 metro areas in the country. The frustration stemmed from the economic incompetency of my city to do anything but increase taxes on its citizens. Those years were full of “foreclosure tours” around the city, planned city protests my citizens against its officials, and alarming reports of increasing numbers of people attempting (and committing) suicide.

Over time, my confusion and frustration spiraled into hate. I hated the fact that I live in a city that has no roots. Very few have lived here longer than one generation. I would say that 8 out of 10 have transplanted within the last 10-15 years. They have come from all over the north (Snowbirds becoming permanent residents), from the south (Hispanics and Haitians from the Caribbean), and from the East (Europeans). So many cultures and backgrounds and traditions, there is no one cultural narrative and therefore no real city identity. Everyone is fearful and skeptical of one another, and I live in a city where every neighbor may not only be from a different state but from a different country in the world.

Continue Reading…

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