Discipleship As a Web of Relationship and Why This Is Important In Leading People in the 21st Century
Discipleship, Part 1
By Jared King
Discipleship…discipleship….discipleship. A word every church talks about and yet it seems like one of those elusive ideas that we all struggle to put our finger on. Every few years the church world hangs onto a new buzz word or idea. Books are written about this idea. Conferences title their big events after it. And churches seek to make themselves more focused on it. It’s not uncommon for “discipleship” to be one of these buzz words or ideas that pops up in christian and church culture every few years. Yet for all the ink that has been used writing about it and all the classes taught on discipleship, it seems, at least to me, that we still wrestle with what discipleship is, how our churches participate in it, how we as individuals make it a part of our lives.
Why is this?
We all know discipleship is important. Then why do we struggle to be disciple makers or to be disciples ourselves?
Laura and I had the opportunity this summer to build a “1 to 1 Discipleship” course for Lipscomb’s Hazelip School of Theology. It was a great experience. To build it we looked back at the seven years we have lived in Seattle working to start a new church. We are now several years into the life of our church and are discovering what we feel like is a useful, healthy, and effective understanding of discipleship. In the next few blogs we will share a bit of this discovery and, hopefully, it will serve you as you seek to be both a disciple of Jesus and to be a discipler of others.
How Do We Define Discipleship?
At its most basic understanding discipleship is an intentional relationship that encourages both parties to be WITH Jesus, BECOME like Jesus, and DO what Jesus did. John Mark Comer has been instrumental in helping us better understand some of the simple language of discipleship. At his church in Portland, Bridgetown Church, he taught a series with this framework of being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing what Jesus did. I’d encourage you to go listen to those teachings as they are excellent.
With this simple definition in mind we can begin to piece together some of the major elements of discipleship that are important for our 21st Century world. Namely, that discipleship is an intentional relationship with another person where both you and the person you are discipling are growing toward Jesus.
One of the greatest flaws we have committed in churches is teaching that discipleship is a top/down relationship where you sit on top and you are imparting your wisdom and knowledge of Jesus onto another person. This top/down kind of discipleship relationship has 2 main failings, that we will discuss in a couple weeks, which are narcissism and burnout. But beyond those two failings, the top/down model does not accurately describe the nature of two people walking together toward Jesus. But if it’s not a top/down model that is the best for discipleship, then what is the best model?
Discipleship As A Web of Relationships
The model we have used to describe discipleship is, what we have been calling, the “Web of Relationships.” If you draw a straight line and on one end write your name and the other write the name of a person you have a relationship with. The line between your two names is Jesus. What happens in discipleship is not that you pull someone else up to where you are in your relationship with Jesus. But rather it is Jesus pulling the two of you closer to him. As Jesus pulls the two of you closer to himself then the two of you actually grow in your relationship with one another as well.
This is the beauty of discipleship. Discipleship will bring you and another person closer together because Jesus is standing between each of you pulling each of you closer to himself. This means that each of you have something to bring to the discipleship relationship that Jesus will use to teach, develop, and grow you. In the top/down discipleship model discussed above, often the person who is the discipler is taught that there is either nothing for him/her to learn from the disciple, or, there may be regular everyday life things you can learn, just not spiritual things.
However, a discipleship relationship with you and another person on an even plane, with Jesus in the middle pulling each of you closer to himself, will naturally assume that, while one person may have been a Jesus follower for longer, both have something to learn about being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing what Jesus did. Fundamentally discipleship is about you, another person, and Jesus working to be WITH Jesus, BECOME like Jesus, and DO what Jesus did.
What Does a Relationship Web Look Like?
With this focus on the 3 relationships that make up discipleship (you, another person and Jesus as the connector between you both), we can begin picturing what a web of our relationships can look like. If this discipling line is one relationship, let’s begin to draw out all of our relationships in this way.
If you were to draw out a web of your relationships, you would start with your name in the middle. Then think of mentors and people who have discipled you in your life. Draw lines out from your name and at the end of the line write their names. They may or may not be currently discipling you. But somewhere along the way they served in that role for you. Then think of peers you have. Draw lines out from your name and write their names at the end. These peer relationships will have a lot of give and take in them. Some seasons you will more actively disciple them. While in others they will disciple you. Finally, think of people who see you as their mentor. Draw lines for them and write their names down. Hopefully what you begin to see is your web of relationships. And each line on this web, connecting you to some other person, represents Jesus as he is pulling both of you closer to himself.
How This Helps in the 21st Century
There are two really important points to consider about this Web of Relationships. First, this web should not overwhelm you and cause you to stress about all the people you have to disciple and make plans for their formal discipleship. There will always be people you are formally discipling with a greater sense of intentionality, planning, and teaching. However, with practice, what I hope you will find is that all your relationships will naturally become these mutually beneficial discipling relationships. The web of relationships should not cause you to feel overwhelmed but rather feel empowered.
The second important aspect of this web is to begin to see beyond your own web and realize that each person who is connected to you on your web has a web of relationships of their own. The more interconnectedness we have the more evenly the burden of discipleship is spread out. This is what discipleship is supposed to look like. Unfortunately, our church and Christian culture has created an unhealthy structure where the pressure to solve the problems of both the church and the individuals in the church rest primarily on the shoulders of the pastor. The pastor then not only has to carry all of his own struggles but all the struggles of the people in the church. But as you model your relationships in this discipling web you’ll begin to see people learn to do the same. And when you’re called away from your dinner table to help someone in crisis you’ll find that someone from your church has already invited them to dinner to listen, and someone else sent them an encouraging text, and so on. And there is nothing like the joy in seeing your people disciple one another.
Why This Matters
Changing our understanding of discipleship from a top/down model to a Web of Relationships matters a great deal. It means that we will accurately see ourselves as people who can learn from the person or people we are discipling. There has been a deeply troubling trend of narcissistic pastors and leaders in our nation. Again, we will talk about the major failings in a future blog. But this Web of Relationships will help us create less narcissistic pastors and leaders. It also helps eliminate burnout by sharing the burden of discipleship with more people. We have seen how effective this is numerous times in our ministry. When we allow people to be discipled by a plethora and diversity of individuals, we are setting them up for a lifetime of following Jesus. Churches, at times, have forgotten that discipleship is not a short term endeavor. Nor is it something you will be able to stick with for the entirety of a person’s life. Which makes helping people see their relationship web so valuable as you teach people to rely on a host of discipling relationships rather than one.
This also matters as it helps weed out the types of things that cause Christians to NOT look like Jesus. If we are to truly become like Jesus then we need a plurality of voices who help us see more than just a single (American, male, white, etc.) way of relating to Jesus.
Next time we will look at Jesus as our Guide to Discipleship.
Ways to Make the Ask
As a culture, we've become wary of making the ask. We're afraid of offending someone or pushing too hard, but often the response is, "I would have done it sooner, but no one asked me." Below are some ideas to help you make the ask to call people into life with God.
Ways You Personally Can Practice Reaping
Ways to Reap as a Small Group
Pick an activity that everyone in the group enjoys. This could include:
Consider who to invite to your small group reaping party. (Open Your Eyes to people around you.)
The evening of the activity, Open Your Ears. Listen to hear where people are coming from.
Take care of the people who come. Open Your Hands.
Reaping as a Large Group
There are, of course, many ways you can use large group events to pull people in and help them experience the love of God. Here is one example, what we called the Anybody Thirsty? Worship Gathering. Below, I've laid out a sample schedule for the gathering.
6:00–6:30 p.m. Meet & Greet Time
Gathering room with seeker friendly environment. This could include:
Whenever you're in reaping mode, asking someone to respond to what God is up to, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Be tactful, but not timid.
It is true that when Jesus interacted with people, He carefully controlled the volume of truth He shared in portions that matched the individual’s capacity to receive. Most people tend to err on the side of being overly cautious about just the right timing and delivery. So, don’t be overly concerned about tactfulness. Be bold in proclaiming the Good News about Jesus.
Spend less time talking about evangelism and more time actually sharing Good News.
Jesus knew that talking and training versus action could be the tendency of His followers. So he gave his disciples opportunities to share what they had seen and experienced.
“Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and . . . they went out and preached that people should repent.” Mark 6:7, 12
If we are faithful in proclaiming, God will be faithful to draw people to himself..
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6
5 Simple Ways to Plant God's Truth
We can begin to plant the seeds of God’s truth into the cultivated hearts of our spiritually lost peers using any of the following five simple ways.
1. Share What You Learn
For the next 30 days every time God teaches you something, share it with a Christ-following friend. As an overflow of your walk with Christ, you will soon find it more natural to share the same truths God is teaching you with your spiritually lost friends.
2. Share It Again
Maximize every opportunity for your friend to hear God’s truth and meet other Christ-followers. Remember, most people need to hear the Gospel seven times and know several Christians before they are ready to trust Christ.
We can plant seeds of God’s truth as we live out genuine Christianity by confessing our sins and seeking restoration in relationships.
Get to know where your friends are coming from… what’s their story?
“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:15–16
Sharing what God has done in your life is a persuasive tool for communicating God’s truth.
Revelation 12:11 affirms the power of personal experience: “They overcame [the accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”
I was praying over you this morning, asking God to open up your church for new people whom God will bring to bless you.
I regularly keep my eye open for ideas and resources to help you. One of the resources I’ve been paying attention to lately are the videos from Pro Church Daily. These guys are worth listening to. They’re classic millennials. Working with churches is what they do. They keep things short, direct, and innovative.
This morning I watched their video “How to Reach People When You’re a Church of 50 or Less.” Here’s Brady’s phrase that caught my attention:
“If you want to get somewhere you’ve never been, you need to be willing to do things you’ve never done.”
Here are three statements we talk about within Kairos that help us take those steps that move us forward to growth:
Brady’s challenge is to make this year a year to try things out.
If you want to do it, but don't think you can go it alone, we're putting together a Spring Surge group to help each other through. Click here to download a Spring Surge Preview Calendar to see if it's something you're interested in.
Let’s do it!
Recently a group from our church attended the Discipleship.org conference. We engaged with about 1,400 other “Discipleship First” folks to be encouraged by brothers and sisters from around the world and to hear the ways they grow disciples who make disciples.
Here are 5 key points that I walked away with from the conference:
2. The Word of God is powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrew 4:12). Make engagement with the Bible a central feature of your discipling process. What scriptures will you memorize together and why? What biblical readings will focus your attention?
3. The discipling leader sets the stage. As a discipler, you are inviting others to learn from your life. You determine the time, place, and the content. If they’re not willing to work with your schedule, they may not yet be ready to engage that level of discipling.
4. Discipling is best done in groups of 3 to 5 people of the same gender. The focus is on obeying scripture and reflecting on the interaction between scripture and doing. Being small in number and gender specific allows a greater flow of interaction, confession and accountability.
5. Any plan is more effective than no plan. There were 18 tracks at the 2018 Discipleship Conference, each led by a group with disciple making as their goal. Here are 3 of the plans presented:
Does your church have a podium or a stage?
That may seem like a strange question, but it is important if your church is going to attract and hold 21st century people. One of the major concepts that drive 21st churches is that worship is an experience—not a service. Services are by nature stable events that follow a standard, non-changing script. Experiences, on the other hand, are intended to be adaptive, creative and designed to communicate a story.
If the front of your church generally stays the same (yes, flowers may change or decorations may be added for specific seasons) you have a podium, literally, a place to stand. If the front of your church changes with the themes of the preaching; if it is designed to visually communicate in and of itself—you have a stage.
If your church has a podium I encourage you to make the shift in thinking from podium to stage. If you’re a church planter who already thinks in terms of stage, many times your challenge is you meet in rented space. You can’t set up a stage and leave it for six or eight weeks at a time. You have to create a portable stage.
There are some very good free resources to help you think creatively about designing a stage to help create your worship experience. Here are 3 YouTube videos with some great ideas to get you started on turning your podium into a stage.
Inexpensive Church Stage Design
3 Small Church Stage Design Ideas
Stage Design Ideas: LED Par Cans
In many cases, the time prior to the evangelistic event is as important as the event itself. This is your chance to train church members and have them identify and pray for their spiritually lost friends.
TO PREPARE YOUR CHURCH:
Communicate the Outreach Core Values. You might want to communicate that:
Help your people identify the spiritually lost that are in the natural path of their life.
IF THEIR FRIENDS COME, THEY NEED TO . . .
IF THEIR FRIENDS DON'T COME, THEY CAN . . .
In 2012 my wife, Katie, and I went through a Discovery Lab, our assessment event for potential church planters. Since then I’ve learned some about how other networks assess planters. It’s been interesting to see how much we have in common.Most assessment processes start with Chuck Ridley’s Church Planter Profile. He pinpointed 13 characteristics of successful church planters. He refers to the first six as “knock out factors,” or non negotiable.
I’ve always been drawn to church planting even though my training and most of my experience is in campus ministry. Really, it’s amazing how much overlap there is between the two. You see it when you get into Ridley’s competencies.
Church planters are missionaries. Campus ministers should approach their work with the same mentality. In fact, I think the six non-negotiables for church planters exist for campus ministers as well.
1. Visioning CapacityIf you’re a church planter you’re an entrepreneur. You’re creating something new from scratch. You have to be able to see it before it exists.
If you’re a campus minister you’re an entrepreneur. You may not be creating from scratch. But, if you’re going to reach an entire campus you’ll have to create some new things.
It all starts as a dream in the leader’s heart.
2. Personal MotivationNo one tells an entrepreneur when to go to work. They motivate themselves. In fact, getting church planters to work isn’t the problem. It’s often getting them to stop.
Since campus ministers function like missionaries they need to be able to motivate themselves. They need to be driven by their God given calling to reach the campus. You don’t have to tell someone with a calling to work.
3. Creating Ownership of Ministry/Building a Core TeamYou reach the many by impacting a few. Jesus modeled this. He spent three years with twelve men and really focused on three. It changed the world.
You don’t have to have a big personality to reach a city or a campus. But, you do need to invest deeply in the lives of others. You have to be able to build a team. This is the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-13)!
4. Reaching the UnchurchedChurch planting is an evangelism strategy. Plain and simple: it’s a way to reach the lost and expand the borders of God’s kingdom. Yes, it takes a core of committed disciples to do this. But, too many churches drift from this mission.
It’s the same with campus ministry. We want to help Christian students grow in their walk with Christ. But, we’re also called to penetrate the darkness of our campuses.
5. Spousal CooperationThis one applies to church planting, campus ministry, or any other type of ministry. If you’re married, ministry is a team effort. None of us will maximize our impact without the support of our spouses.
In the case of church planting, or any kind of ministry for that matter, if your spouse isn’t on board, don’t do it.
6. Relationship BuildingMinistry is people work. It’s all about relationships. This is true in church planting, campus ministry, or any other type of ministry. Long term effectiveness is tied to building healthy relationships.
Campus ministry is an important part of the church planting process. I love what Tim Keller said about church planting movements...
You have to have a leadership pipeline developing and that usually happens through campus work. You have to have really dynamic college ministry...you have to have a campus leadership pipeline other wise the church planting doesn't continue.
Preaching to the context of unbelief has not been normal. Try to find a book on the topic. Google: Preaching to Unbelief. You won't find much. Yet in our country where the Nones (those religiously unaffiliated) are the fastest growing segment of religious identification if we don't learn how to preach to unbelief we will lose our voice in society.
I was thoroughly schooled to preach to belief: 1) begin with the propositional truth of the biblical text, 2) describe and explain that truth to the audience, 3) illustrate that truth in action. That was the bones of the sermon. Deeper than this sermon structure is the sermon purpose. In preaching to belief the purpose is to confirm the already existing belief of the audience. We want our people to leave the worship experience confident in their belief and affirmed that they are right. But what happens today when people do not believe our presuppositions about God, Jesus, or the Bible? How do we connect with them in a way that recognizes their unbelief and provides room for us to engage one another around the question of belief? This is where preaching to unbelief enters.
Here are 4 keys to help you explore the idea of preaching to unbelief:
More people in America will be in church on Easter Sunday than any other Sunday of the year. Why? Easter represents spring, hope, and renewal. It's a time for family. And somewhere in the psyche of many Americans Easter still reminds them of church.
Still, consider that 39% of those who rarely attend religious services and 19% of those who only attend on religious holidays haven't decided if they will attend an Easter service or not. What can help them make that decision? You can--by inviting them to attend services with you.
Inviting people to a church service can be a scary thought for many people. Here's a few key steps to help your people gain confidence to invite their acquaintances to come to your Easter services.her with your church.
1. Pray for the people by name before inviting them. Prayer turns God's attention to these people and opens their hearts to God. We believe that God works supernaturally to make people ready to receive our invitations.
2. Be specific. People really do need specific, accurate information to make decisions. Tell them what time to be ready, how long, and briefly what to expect. Church is a scary place for people who are not or have never been part of a church. Take the mystery out of the invitation by giving them a good idea of what they will experience. By doing this it also helps them know you are really serious about your invitation. And don't forget to talk about how they can dress. Help them dress in a way that they will feel comfortable and not stick out abnormally at your church.
3. Pick them up at their house that morning and ride to church together. It's easy to just expect your guests to find their way, but how much better to make it a shared event. You, after all, are their guide for the day. Introduce them to people. Show them around. Minimize their fear and discomfort by being their tour guide to faith.
4. Put something in their hands. Even in our electronically saturated, social media world don't underestimate the power of a piece of paper stuck on the refrigerator. If your church has printed information cards great. Circle the date, time, and put your name and phone on it for your friend. If you don't have a printed card give them a handwritten note with the same information, the name of your church and when you'll come by to pick them up.
5. Arrange a time to visit with them later about their experience. This can be a phone call, a cup of coffee, a lunch date, or even a hallway conversation. Thank them again for coming. Ask them what stood out to them. Ask them what questions the experience raised in their minds (then be ready to listen carefully). Assume they do have questions so they won't feel awkward about not understanding everything. Finally, ask them how they might see themselves connecting furt