Archives For Disciple-Making

Basal GangliaHave you ever heard of your basal ganglia? Yeah, me neither. But I’m telling you now, and I beg you, please do not waste your basal ganglia. Let me explain why.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about how habits are formed in the brain. There is in our brain a golf-ball size lump of tissue called basal ganglia, which is integral to the formation of habits. Duhigg writes how, in the mid 1990’s MIT researchers began experimenting with rats to determine how the basal ganglia plays a role in the formation of habits as the rats performed dozens of routines. Rats were placed in a maze with a partitioned entrance, and with the sound of a click, the rats wound wander up and down the maze walls, scratching and sniffing, looking for the reward of chocolate. Eventually the rats would find their reward. What researchers discovered during these experiments is that the basal ganglia of rats worked furiously and exploded with activity with each new sight or sound. They discovered that the basal ganglia was the center for processing new data with each new adventure.

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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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“Clearly Jesus did not leave the work of evangelism subject to human impression or convenience. To his disciples it was a definite command, perceived by impulse at the beginning of their discipleship, but progressively clarified in their thinking as they followed him, and finally spelled out in no uncertain terms. No one who followed Jesus very far could escape this conclusion. It was so then; it is so today. Christian disciples are sent men and women—sent out in the same work of world evangelism to which the Lord was sent, and for which he gave his life. Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life. It is the heartbeat of all that we are called to be and do. It is the commission of the church that gives meaning to all else that is undertaken in the name of Christ.” – Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism

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Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life.

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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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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They Do It Better Than We Do

Tim Brister —  February 11, 2014 — 25 Comments

Imagine with me a disciple-making culture that looked something like this.

Disciple-makers have decided to commit a minimum of 9-10 hours a week providing hands-on practical training. This commitment did not coming with compelling arguments. The disciple-makers love it. They want to invest their time in the work. There is a team of disciple-makers–seven in all–committed to making a total of 12 disciples together over the course of several months. The kind of teaching and training they provide is not a classroom lecture, though there certainly is an intellectual component to it. But it is more than that. It is hands-on with a high level of participation and practice where those being discipled have an immediate opportunity to work it out. Along with the practical instruction and increasing depth of knowledge, there is constant encouragement from the team of disciple-makers. Any opportunity to affirm change and progress is acknowledged, not only by the team of disciple-makers but also those being discipled. Corresponding to the high level of challenge is a high level of celebration as it becomes evident that there is a high level of change taking place in those being discipled. The heads (instruction), hearts (encouragement), and hands (practical application) of those being discipled are trained by those modeling the life and work before them in their own context.

Sounds like a pretty amazing disciple-making experience, right?

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So often when we introduce ourselves to other people, we describe our lives by what we do, not who we are. “Hi, my name is Tim Brister, and I serve as a pastor at Grace Baptist Church.” What we do has become the default way of defining our lives. This also plays into how or whether a person commits to making disciples.

As I mentioned in my previous post, every person needs a plan, but at the center of that plan needs to be the understanding that identity comes first. Who you are as a Christian defines what you do, not the other way around. If what you do defines who you are, you have the cart before the horse. Let’s face it: It is very easy to get so focused on making disciples (what you do) that you forget that you ARE a disciple of Jesus yourself.

In gospel-centered terminology, the indicative (state of being) always precedes the imperative (call to action). I believe the reason we have defaulted to defining our lives by what we do is because we have assumed who we are, or at least failed to acknowledge that reality. The most effective disciple-makers I know are those who are defined by who they are in Christ and live out those implications in what they do for the cause of Christ (make disciples). Paul was careful to make this point throughout his writing and ministry. In Ephesians, he spent 3 chapters telling believers who they are (identity) in Christ (gospel indicative). Immediately following was 3 more chapters telling believers how they should live out their identity (missional imperative) in the world.

When we fail to place our identity in Christ first and center our lives on who Jesus is and what He has done to make us who we are, we are in danger of turning disciple-making into an idolatrous act. It is not about us. It is not even about the people we are discipling (ultimately). It is about what God is doing by His Spirit to magnify Jesus as we become like Him and call others to believe in Him. Assuming our identity puts an inordinate amountsof pressure and weight upon us that we were never intended to carry, and so we as disciple-makers lack the motivation and means ti persevere in the mission. By failing to put our identity in Christ first, we find ourselves on dangerous grounds where we evaluate our worth in the kingdom by how successful we are in making disciples rather than Jesus’ successful work in making us His own. Our worth is defined by His work, not our own!

So what is my identity? It is who I am in Christ. I am a child of God adopted into the family of God. I am a liberated servant joyfully seeking to please my Master and Lord. I am a worshipper who delights in the treasure of knowing and being known by God. I am a representative of King Jesus, entrusted with His mission and message. I am who I am because of what Jesus Christ has done for me, is doing in me, and promises to do through me.

When you embark upon a plan to be a disciple-maker, keep front and center your identity in Christ. The gospel indicative is the fuel for the missional imperative. It is the safeguard from missional idolatry. It is the measure of missional faithfulness. It is the mark of missional fruitfulness. Before you make disciples, remember you are a disciple. And as you remember, be renewed again and again as you rediscover the beauty and majesty of the great and glorious Savior that is Jesus Christ our Lord.

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One of the joys I have experienced through blogging is seeing a community of people embrace a challenge. In 2008, it was the Puritan Reading Challenge. In 2011, it was the Philippians Memory Moleskine. 2013 has been a year of reorientation around the mission of making disciples. I’ve always emphasized it in my teaching and preaching. It’s always been something I’ve enjoyed reading about and speaking on. But I came to the sobering realization that I wasn’t doing much as a disciple-making practitioner. Things had to change.

Making Disciples Is Hard

Making disciples is the call of every believer in Jesus Christ. Yet, I dare say for most of us, it has been permitted to accept a version of Christianity both personally and corporately where disciple-making is virtually non-existent. Disciple-making Christians should not be considered the “hard core” version of Christians or the “elite forces” of the church militant. The fact that such attributions exist reveal how non-normative disciple-making has become.

For many of us, it could be that we are simply not well taught or well trained in the words and ways of Jesus. No doubt, that is an issue. But for all of us, disciple-making is just plain hard. It’s hard because we have years of non-disciple-making habits in us like inertia that need to be moved by Christ’s call of living on mission. It’s hard because we have rarely seen it modeled well before us and therefore disciple-making is turned into a program or function rather than a way of life. It’s hard because we have to evaluate our lives in light of the mission and make disciple-making a priority, and that can be a very painful and challenging process.

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