Four assumptions that could scuttle your Discipleship System
Four assumptions that could scuttle your Discipleship System
Right now, you may have a bunch of issues overwhelming you. You may feel defeated by the way you live. You may be using camouflage to keep people from seeing these parts of your life.(Religion is one example, but another is being socially outgoing or its opposite—being very private; or being indispensable and handy so no one will ask questions; or controlling people and information; or putting on a happy face. Smokescreens come in numerous forms.) But you know the hidden issues slip out. And if no one else knows, your family does. Moreover, you yourself have a backstage view of yourself. You know the truth. You see no way to fix yourself. The idea of becoming whole seems laughable to you.
Coming to know the depths of God’s love for you is essential to have the courage to go on. Failing to believe the truth of this fact is at the center of why you struggle with trusting God with your life.
Perhaps you do find this truth hard to believe. Your inner voice may tell you that God is not all that pleased with you. One person I know told me that for many years she thought God must be disgusted with her for all the ways she failed to measure up to His standards. You might even think God has it in for you, that He really does not want you to succeed in your life. While I cannot sweep away these lies for you, I can affirm that God’s love for you is deeper and more amazing than you can imagine. You will find as you come to know Him better that His love contains the power you need to address your unfinished business.
This is why the gospel is good news. God has not made His transformation of you dependent on your own puny strength. Out of His love God has given you everything you need to be saved from the power of sin…everything you need to be transformed…everything you need to address your unfinished business.
This is not something that God will give you later on when you have become a good person. The power to be transformed was gifted to you from the instant God made your spirit alive. Otherwise transformation would be impossible. Note how Peter said in his second letter. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4). What is he saying? That there is nothing you lack to be made whole from the corruptions in the world. You have been empowered through your connection with God in such a complete way that you no longer have to continue to live being damaged and damaging others. Note that this is based on God’s promises, not just on Peter’s wishful thinking.
Paul expands on this theme in Titus 2:11-14. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” What does this mean for you? It means you are already ready to deal with your unfinished business. The underlying power for this is the grace of God “that brings salvation and teaches us to say, “NO.” What you need to see right now is that you have everything you need from God to be made whole. You do not need to wait for something. You don’t have to pray for it. You don’t have to pay your dues to the Lord. You don’t have to read the Bible more. You don’t have to wait for someone to come and lay hands on you. God has already given it to you. The issue is that you must appropriate—grab and use—what God has already given you.
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I learned how to disciple others out of necessity. I was in my first year as a pastor and realized I knew zilch (technical term for ‘nothing’) about the process because I had never been discipled by another person. I had ‘learned’ how to follow Jesus through reading Christian books, sermons, Sunday School lessons and those famous all night youth lock-ins. I probably absorbed more from watching my parents live out the faith—which is as it should be. But no one ever took me under his or her wing and intentionally invested time in teaching me to walk as Jesus did. As a result, I had no pattern to follow when I started to work with new believers coming to faith as adults. I read everything I could on discipleship, used the most popular materials available at the time and learned both from my mistakes and God’s leading how to guide someone into deeper intimacy with and obedience to Jesus.
Helping people learn to live the life by pursuing God was addictive. I decided when I came to Florida to plant a new church that I would teach others how to do what I had been practicing for the first ten years of ministry. I remember recruiting my first disciplers. I had a core of early 30-something-year-old leaders emerging already in the second year of the church’s existence. Just as I had never been formally discipled myself, none of these leaders had been either. They were game to try, but a little apprehensive. “How are we supposed to do this? How long will it take to raise up a maturing disciple? What if the new believer we are discipling doesn’t prepare?” were their questions during the training. I told them to trust what the Spirit shows them and that they would do fine. And they did. This made all the difference in the growth of our church.
If you want to have a robust discipling system, one to one discipling is an important approach that you will want to develop. It may not be the whole of what you do, but without having people able to guide others, you are handicapping your discipleship process. Why is this so? One reason is that people need to be exposed to both the cognitive and relational aspect of the faith. Hearing the Word without being exposed to someone doing the Word often falls short in its life impact. People need the gospel with skin on it, so to speak. Another reason this matters is that people progress in the faith at different speeds. A one class lecture that fits all does not exist. One to one discipling allows new believers to ask their questions and understand how God’s truths apply to their personal situation at the pace they are ready to hear.
Many churches recognize one to one discipleship as being one of the best approaches for guiding new believers to maturity, but have no idea how to cultivate a team to do this in their congregation. Here are some early steps that can help you if you choose to intentionally start such a team.
Choose people who are going somewhere with God, even if they are not fully mature. Ying Kai and Steve Smith (another one, not me) wrote T4T, which is about a discipleship revolution in a part of Asia where people were not so much discipled as they were trained to be trainers, which is what the book title means (Training 4 Trainers). What Ying discovered as he was being used to start a church planting movement in his country, was to expect people to do what they were being taught—witnessing, devotion to God, prayer, etc., then expect them to immediately begin teaching others to do what they were doing. This led to the rapid multiplication of both disciples and leaders.
While new believers also need sound doctrine to soak into their minds, walking as Jesus walked is transferable at a very early stage of the discipling process. So do not discount how God can use people who are in your congregation as disciplers. If they are showing that they are going somewhere with God, recruit them to guide others. Remember that discipling another person often pushes the discipler further on ahead in his or her own faith.
Choose portable materials. A common mistake that is made in starting discipling is in choosing materials that require a Bible degree to use. If your goal is to train trainers, then you want to put materials in their hands that the learner will be able to lead someone else through when they are asked to be a discipler. Remember that using simple materials does not mean they should lack depth. Instead, use materials that can easily be understood and mastered by a young believer.
What helped me in choosing materials was learning to think like a new believer. I was brought up in church and all my life I had been exposed to biblical truths. I learned to listen to those I was discipling to figure out what I was assuming they knew (which they did not) and what would best help them gain understanding of the faith. If you have never discipled a new believer personally, take the time to chat with several of those who are new to the faith to discover this for yourself.
Make it simple. When I started teaching disciplers how to do it, I emphasized that they were preparing the new believers with whom they were working to become disciplers. So the goal was not for them to teach by lecture, but by questions. I taught them four questions that they were to use each time they met with the person they were discipling.
Go and make disciplers!
A friend of mine reached out to help a believer caught in a staggering situation. Her businessman husband in jail, all personal assets seized, with no money or job skills to live on while raising small children, she faced both the public embarrassment and a lonely future with no one to help her. These were all major wounds.My friend hired her into his company and personally taught her all she needed to know to earn the kind of income she needed. Except, to the horrified astonishment of all who watched, she began to pursue a sexual relationship with his married business partner. My friend took her aside and counseled her time after time about the damage she was doing to herself and her children and how she was betraying Jesus. Nothing he said was heard. She mistressed his partner until he finally divorced his wife. She divorced her jailed husband and they married. The rest of the story was full of sadness also.
Why did she do this? Nothing in her background even hinted that she would live out a sordid story like this. She had been raised in a devoted Christian home, never stepped outside the boundaries of decency, had been a loving daughter, wife and mother. She never stopped going to church, even during her pursuit of this businessman. How did this happen? The answer is in how she chose to comfort her pain.
If you sense, in reading this story, that we are backtracking, we are. The kinds of stories I enter into are full of people like this one . And I often get in at the worst moment, when the person’s choice has already started its death spiral, when the destruction is out where everyone can see it. Christian leaders, pastors and their wives, like everyone else, have the same ability to hide inside issues and compartmentalize sinful behavior out of the sight of those who would spiritually intervene. But at some point, it all comes splattering out into public. And often, at that point, the person no longer cares.
So let’s talk about the deadly sins that are in our heart. The main issue that we have to face is that comforting ourselves by sin is a personal choice. It may be consciously or unconsciously made, but it is our decision. The person who wounded us did not force us on that path. No outside being put a gun to our head to make us go in this direction. The devil didn’t make us do it. Deciding to comfort our wounds by sin is not even an age or maturity issue. At its root, it involves three forces at work influencing us that we may not even perceive at the time.
1) our depth, or lack of depth, of intimacy with God. All of us know that God has the right to reign over our lives. Doctrinally, we can recite the right beliefs and quote the right passages. But the flaw revealed in us through the Fall is our desire to blame God for our mess. This desire often gets in the way of our intimacy with Him. We withdraw even while we are busy serving Him and the church, and then feel empty and wonder why He demands – or why His people demand – so much of us. Then new wounds come up or old ones come out. We become angry at Him for not appreciating our obedience, our sacrifice, and yet we deny that anger. After all, how can we hold God accountable? So we reroute the anger and find ourselves in a place where the sin of our heart feels a whole lot better than listening for His voice. It is hard to ask God to heal us when we, at some level, are blaming Him as Adam did.
2) The rolemodeling that has taken place in our personal world. When the people of our world, who can also be the source of our wounds, model certain kinds of sinful choices in their own lives, we secretly resonate with them, even when rationally we are repelled. For example, people who have had a bad home life grow up say that they will never be like their parents. Except they often find that they really are when they have children. The DNA for that metamorphosis was implanted through the rolemodeling they endured. Sin begets sin. We know this action was wrong when ‘so and so’ did it, but it makes so much more sense to us now it is we who are choosing the action.
3) How open we are becoming to the lies of Satan. When we find ourselves out of intimacy with God, the truths we hold have a way of becoming twisted and sounding hollow. Satan shows up with his pretty lies. He speaks to our bruised egos. He sympathizes over our wounds. He suggests a way of hopeful recovery. Satan lies to us every day, until his lies begin to take on the veneer of reality and we try his suggestion ‘just this once.’
Except it never is just this once. All sin is addictive. READ THAT AGAIN! Do you understand what this means? It means that in a very short time that sin you choose will take charge of your will and you will no longer be able to choose not to do it. Your damaged emotions will press you to do it again and again until you give in. You will feel emotional pressure or release based on your response to the power of the addiction. You will not be able to stop yourself. And, in time, you will rationalize it. In case you missed it, the disgraced S.C. governor, Mark Sanford, asked his wife for permission to go see his mistress after he confessed the affair! You know the rest, as it has been thoroughly discussed by the media. That kind of addiction will happen to anyone who buys into Satan’s lies. It is just a matter of choice.
What is more, the addictive behavior has now become a source for further wounding. This is the irony of choosing sin for comfort. I was wounded and chose to comfort myself with one of the deadly sins in my heart. Now I am wounding myself from the result of that choice and am in a worse place than before. Hmmm – what sin will I choose to comfort me now?
Now we know why people caught in the tangle of the sin of their heart do not listen to wise spiritual counsel. The emotional blare of our sin addiction is louder than the truth of God – and the love of God. But this tale does not have to end in despair. We can choose even now to surrender to Jesus, who alone is able to do two things in us.
1) Deliver me from the sin of my heart. This is obvious. That is why God sent Jesus into the world in the first place. Sin produces brokenness in us, breaking not only our relationship with Him, but causing the damage that only He can repair. While I do include our sinful actions as needing Jesus’ deliverance, our real need is not for a particular addictive sin to come under His rule, but for the root cause of our actions to be removed. Not just gambling – but greed. Not just pornography – but lust. Not just selfish ambition – but pride. We need Jesus’ reign over the deadly sins that are the root of our destructive behavior. Then the visible sinful actions that mark our lives will lose their grip on us.
2) Heal the hurts of my heart. Yielding to Jesus’ reign over the sin in our heart is not enough, however. To break from the power of sin, we also need Jesus to heal the hurts of our heart. This is the desire of our souls. If we do not allow Jesus to touch the wounds, close ourselves off to His examination and healing power we are doomed to repeat the cycle of hurt, comfort and addiction for as long as we resist. We need to surrender to Jesus both of these things at the same time. This is the core of the good news of Jesus Christ. If we surrender, He is faithful in His promises to us. I encourage you again to meditate on the offer of finding mercy and obtaining grace in God’s presence, about which the author of Hebrews 4:16 spoke. I will pick this up here next post.
What do all these people have in common? Two things. The first is that they are all wounded people. The second is that each has decided to comfort the wound they carry with equally destructive choices. People are not made by God to be able to handle pain in their souls. So they seek to comfort themselves instead of asking God for healing. This is true of everyone you meet, including the face in the mirror. The symptoms of what you choose for comfort may not look like any of the ones mentioned in the list, but they are just as damaging and, worse still, are robbing you of becoming the person you were created to be by God. Even church leaders. And pastors and their wives. None of us are immune from the consequences of choosing comforting over healing. So where do we start the healing process?
If you are honestly looking for God to bring about deep change in you, the starting point is to ask Him to do a ruthless search in your life. (Psalm 139:23) Ruthless searching is saying to God that you are ready to hear truth about yourself, to open up yourself to having closed areas of your soul, on which you hung a “Keep Out!” sign, penetrated. ‘Closed’ as in not wanting to revisit the pain because you did not know what to do about it. ‘Closed’ because you thought time would heal or had healed the wounds. ‘Closed’ because you decided it was a waste of time. ‘Close’d because you wanted so badly to forget and get on with your life.
Some of you reading this are already shaking your heads and saying, “What’s there to find?” It’s time for you to face an inconvenient truth. You, too, are just as wounded as everyone you meet. I am not speaking about occasional hurt feelings that dissipate with time. Nor is this about the kind of wounds that discipline inflicts, the ‘this-will-hurt-for-a-time’ sort given by a parent or mentor that ultimately helps you grow more mature. These are the soul touching kinds of pain that not only do not fade, but continue to ache years after the wounding. Whether you are public or private about your pain, this kind of pain resides in all of us. You may no longer feel the immediacy of it, but the pain does more to shape you than you ever perceived. This woundedness is the root of your unfinished business. This may be the hardest issue for you to ever face. Why? Because it is here that you will have to look intentionally into areas of your soul with God, areas which you would rather leave alone.
If you want to know how to enter into this search with God, consider the promise of the first affirmation. God is in the process of conforming you to the image of His Son, Jesus (Romans 8:29). Here is the entry point for joining God in the search – where is your life not conforming to the image of Jesus? How do your life actions and attitudes line up with Jesus? This should not lead to an ‘I’m-not-perfect-like-Jesus’ moment; this is for a ruthlessly honest “Ah-Ha! I see that this area of my life is out of line with who I am created to be,” realization. You will know when you have gained real insight from God’s search because ruthless honesty also sparks humiliation and true guilt – a “Woe is me!” response similar to Isaiah’s in the temple when he saw the Lord.
All real journeys towards deep change sparked by God’s searching take place in the heart. The heart is the place where we make all our life choices, where our rational thoughts and emotions are weighed to determine what we will do or become. Our unfinished business directly affects the function of our heart. The wounds we have received by living in a world affected by the Fall have damaged our emotions. As a result, our damaged emotions will weigh more heavily in guiding our lives than our rational thinking. We will say, think, and do things that we would hate in others, but the pressure of damaged emotions drives our choices at a level we don’t even notice, or understand if we do.
What is more, sin lives in us, according to Paul (Romans 7:17, 20). He is not referring to sin as actions, but as an inner motivation that affects and controls how we live out life. Because sin resides in all of us, and because we are being guided by damaged emotions rather than truth, we choose sin to comfort our wounds instead of asking the Great Physician to heal us.
William Backus, founder of the Center for Christian Psychological Service, spoke in detail about this kind of choosing in his book, What Your Counselor Never Told You. He explained that most counseling invokes no long lasting change, nor promotes healing, simply because people are unaware that they are rejecting God’s remedy. Instead, most of people’s distresses can be traced back to one of seven traits, known as the Seven Deadly Sins – lust, anger, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth or pride – or more likely, a combination of these. All are attractive because all offer a temporary emotional release to our wounds. While we should know better as redeemed people, essentially we have been convinced by our emotions that we ‘need’ this sin, which produces different sin actions (i.e. symptoms) in us. However, we buy into the deception that the product is a comfort activity, which makes us ‘feel’ better. But it is a false hope, because in time, we become captive to the action the sin within us produces, and, ironically, suffer further wounding by this activity. This brings true addiction, needing the comfort activity more and more and hating the consequences of the activity, whether it be using alcohol, money, relationships, power, work, leisure, lies, laziness, violence, or what have you. In the end, we find that we are comforted to death.
There is hope. God offers a true healing, no matter how addicted you are. But it is a hard path for many of us to embrace. It takes us through the pain of our wounds, not away from it. Review the questions asked in the last post. Do I feel safe enough to ask God to do a ruthless search in my life? (Psalm 139:23) Am I at a place where I trust Him enough to allow His mercy and grace to address my unfinished business?
Throughout my ministry, I have had to deal with believers whose lives have fallen apart spiritually. Some of them have seen their marriages crumble or they have given in to sin addictions that surfaced and destroyed their credibility as a Christ-follower, or a leader, or a pastor. Though each had signaled there was something wrong before the explosion, it appears that nothing that any outside friend or leader said or did got at the real issues soon enough and deep enough to help.
I have received some pointed questions from others who came to know of these sad cases. Why aren’t seemingly mature people more submissive and obedient to Jesus in such matters? Why don’t these people seek help and fellowship before this kind of stuff happens? I realize that each of these questions is worth asking. But the real question is much more basic – Why do people ignore the chance to draw closer to God and let Him heal them in their deepest places before Satan uses their unfinished business to destroy them and their families and rob them of the joy of their salvation?
Some of you who are reading this are close to the same kind of precipice. You have unfinished business. If you are alive in this world, whether you are a newer Christian or a seasoned saint, you have unresolved soulish business that is a time bomb waiting to go off in your life, your home and your church fellowship. Whether it is out where everyone can see it for the looking or buried under layers of an efficient and successful lifestyle, the unfinished business of your inner self continues to make its mark on you until you intentionally choose to see it rooted out. This is always a painful process. If you ignore it, it will terrorize you. If you face it, it will fight you to the death. But it must be done or the unfinished business of your life will do what you secretly fear – bring destruction into your world and, even worse, rob you of becoming the person you were created to be by God.
What exactly is unfinished business? It is simply whatever unresolved emotional, mental, or spiritual baggage we continue to carry. It is what traps us into living out our life in unhealthy ways, hiding behind the mask of “I’m okay.” Or at a lower level, “I’ll survive.” Unfinished business is the monster that lives under our bed, bodies hidden in our cellar, skeletons in our closet, secrets not told. It is the unsettled issues that we avoid even now dealing with – or deny that those issues even still exist in us, as if they were ancient history. These are issues from our past that we have never let anyone, including God, touch.
You may think about getting healthy, of seeking relief from the pressures unfinished business create in your life, but you never really take step one to deal with it. By this I mean decisions that will put you into a healing process with God. So let me ask you as a fellow believer – why do you risk all that you love by not letting God deal with your most closely guarded secrets – some so secret that you yourself have not ever been aware of their presence in your soul?
I have noticed over the years that those who lead in God’s Church tend to become involved in the mess of others’ unfinished business only after the bomb explodes. I want to suggest that we consider taking a different path from here on out. I suggest that we start dealing now with our own unfinished business so that we can rolemodel the kind of spiritual life Jesus promised. That through our own transparent process with God we draw others away from destruction and towards freedom and healthy emotions, true spirituality and the renewing of their minds.
How do we do start? Here are a few affirmations that we all must grab hold of as we begin this ongoing process to let Jesus explore and heal the hidden recesses of our souls.
As you proceed through my posts, take seriously the truths I share about this journey. God can use them to save you from personal destruction. They are not therapy lessons, an invitation to engage in positive thinking or a part of a self-help program. But they will help lead you somewhere further with God and towards the person He created you to be in Christ Jesus. I can affirm this from my personal journey.