Tag Archives: discipleship

3 Errors to Avoid with Missional Life Transformation Groups

This is part of a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

In case you were wondering, I was indeed trying to see how many Christian buzz words can fit in one title with this post.

As we talk about how Life Transformation Groups can be used for mission, it’s important to once again question how we view mission. As we talk about mission, we are mostly speaking of helping the entire individual conform to the life of Jesus Christ spiritually, physically, socially, and psychologically. Mission doesn’t just happen in one setting or in one meeting but throughout all of life.

When we grasp that, we see every arena as an opportunity to know God more and extend the gospel of Jesus Christ to others. This includes the joy from hanging out (Christianese translation: fellowship) with one another, enjoying a meal (Christianese: breaking bread), and sharing about your faith impacting your life (Christianese: outreach).

Most people think of Life Transformation Groups as a holiness endeavor for Christians, but seeing it as part of the Christian and non-Christian’s process of being more like Jesus expands our views and aims. We are ultimately creating space for anyone to explore God, see how He affects our lives, and actively pursue this change.

Jesus’ Life Transformation Group

When I look at Jesus’ disciples who followed Him for 3 years, Jesus was constantly on mission to them and with them. He was over-explaining his sermons, reminding them again of things they had forgotten, and inviting people who didn’t truly believe in Him to be near Him. He enjoyed time with them, laughed with them, mourned with them, spoke hard truths in very challenging ways, prayed with them, and taught them truth.

I want Jesus to lead my Life Transformation Group (and Community Group and church, ok, all of life). He’s the perfect leader.

His life is an example for us, but also the very thing that gives us and empowers our salvation. We can trust God like He did and be concerned with others knowing God even as we try to get to know God more ourselves.

We have to get this mentality before we ever try to be missional in Life Transformation Groups.

3 Errors to Avoid & The Way Forward for Missional LTGs

We will commit errors on the mission of God, but there are a few errors we must avoid in Life Transformation Groups for them to be a space where someone exploring Christ will want to be there.

1)     Don’t Act Holier Than Thou

The aim is not showing off our morality and confronting others lack. The aim is to acknowledge that we don’t match up to Jesus and that makes Jesus look awesome. Confessing your faults, errors, and sins is essential to making a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The Way Forward: Show that Jesus is Awesome for You.

Share how you struggle, where the Bible confronts your lack of faith and ways you want to change. Show that Jesus is the way forward as the only One who was perfect.

2)     Don’t Give The Answers

The learning is in the struggle. Let someone explore what the scriptures say about God without you giving them all the answers. They must learn to be a disciple of Jesus, not dependent on you.

The Way Forward: Ask Questions, Listen, and Fill in the Blanks

Most people will begin to explore their own beliefs and come to some conclusions. You become the facilitator of their exploration of God. Listen and remember your own journey in exploring faith. As necessary, fill in the blanks with other verses and thoughts. At this point, you’ve affirmed the value of their questions, thoughts, and you now provide them more context to understand.

3)     Don’t Ignore the Tension

At some point in your Life Transformation Group, you will come to a belief for followers of Christ that confronts the beliefs of someone who doesn’t follow Jesus. In the awkwardness, we all want to run and hide, downplay the tension, but you can’t ignore that Jesus confronts people. We also can’t ignore that he confronts the religious and irreligious, not just one or the other.

The Way Forward: Compassionately Align with Jesus

We must side with Jesus and take His positions on what is true, but we must also adopt His posture of compassion and understanding. Jesus engaged the tension humbly, but also confidently aligning with God in popular shared ideas and even in the unpopular. We must do the same.

As I’ve seen people be missional with their Life Transformation Groups, their vulnerability, honesty, and passion for Jesus is what provides the best opportunity for people to know God in Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ frees us to acknowledge that we all have flaws, are imperfect, and that our sin caused Jesus’ death. But we also see that Jesus forgives us, invites us by faith to have a relationship with God, and that we are no longer defined by our flaws or sins.

This gospel is our freedom and we have the opportunity to invite everyone to know this freedom.

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To Lead Well, Share Well

I was meeting with a leader of one of our Community Groups who was exhausted. He was ready to give up, discouraged by the lack of participation from the rest of the community and felt like he was doing too much. He thought the best answer was to quit leading and end the Community Group. After a good conversation over lunch, it became clear that one of the biggest issues facing the Community Group was that he was trying to lead everything. This seemed counterintuitive to him and to most of us. “If I’m the leader, shouldn’t I be leading everything?”

The biggest issue I see in leadership is hoarding responsibility. It comes from a great place, but does not serve the leader, nor does it serve those being led. It burns out leaders, frustrates those being led and rarely mobilizes or develops other leaders.

This is a major issue for gospel-centered communities on mission. To lead well, leaders must share well. Leadership is not about doing everything, being the superhero who plans every event, meets with every person, or finds every opportunity for mission for the community.

Leading like Christ leads us takes an empowering approach, especially to a community. This kind of leadership reflects the gospel of Jesus Christ. Believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ requires people to believe that we have flaws and only Christ was truly perfect in every way and sphere of life. A leader who is a follower of Christ does not assume that they can do everything the community or group needs accomplished.

Missional communities desperately need leaders who humbly seek to share responsibility for leading the community. The question we need to answer is why do we typically hoard leadership?

We View it as Scriptural Expectation

For many of us, we view this type of leadership as very scriptural. Aren’t we supposed to lead like Christ? Doesn’t this mean we sacrifice most and take on most responsibility, not demanding from others? This is a view of leadership doesn’t think a leader is ever supposed to share responsibility.

The good news for every leader: they are not Jesus Christ. Christ alone could fully embody every perfect gift and bear the burden of us all. The scriptures that follow Christ’s life, death, and resurrection point the need for communal leadership that seeks to empower every Christ follower for the work of ministry.

This is the point of passages in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 that speak to the reality we see everyday. We are all gifted uniquely, which leads us to need one another to accomplish the mission that God has placed in front of us. We cannot do this alone and the community can lead through individuals taking leadership in a variety of ways.

This how the scriptures speak of leadership and how it is demonstrated for us in the stories of the Bible. A community led by a community of people.

We Fear Losing Control

For some of us, if we’re honest, we fear losing control of the outcome. This could be born out of fearing that quality will suffer or that it won’t get done or done perfectly.

The gospel of Jesus Christ can free us from this. Christ’s gospel reminds us that we couldn’t accomplish salvation on our own and we were in need of Jesus to do it right for us. It frees us from thinking so highly of ourselves that we think we need to do everything or it won’t be done well.

Quality tends to suffer most when people hoard leadership most. Sharing leadership may result in a dip in quality, but part of good leadership is coaching and empowering those you share with to better than you were.

This sounds that a nice ideal, but it may actually be what is preventing us from sharing leadership in the first place.

We Fear Others Being Better Than Us

There are some leaders who don’t share responsibility and if they were really honest, would admit that some of it has to do with fear of others doing it better than them.

When we look at Jesus and His leadership, once again we are encouraged to move beyond this fear and make it a hope. Jesus says that His disciples will do greater things than what they saw Him do. He didn’t have a fear that they would accomplish more and do greater things, it was His hope and plan! Isn’t that amazing?

We see this same mentality in Barnabas in the book of Acts. If you follow the story of Barnabas, you see that he was the one who took a risk on Paul and discipled him. Over time Acts tells the story of how the discipler (Barnabas) takes a back seat to the disciple (Paul).

Great leaders don’t fear others being better than them, they aim for it. Sharing leadership can be the best way to empower and develop leaders that will take the community to greater places. It will redefine success for leaders who tend towards wanting credit and seeking glory, to wanting the same for others.

Leader who seek the glory can tend towards using people to get their own ends, instead of being for people, wanting greatness for those they lead.

We Don’t Know How

For others, and specifically for the Community Group leader I had lunch with, they don’t know how to share leadership.

Over lunch, we discuss the various aspects of his Community Group. They were seeking to be a healthy missional community. A community that prayed and discussed the scriptures together, ate meals together, served together, had accountability and incorporate non-Christ followers into the community. The main problem was that he was the only one initiating all of these things.

After discussing the people in his community and what they are passionate about in the community or naturally gifted in, it became apparent that the next step in his leadership development was to help them and given them ownership.

The first step in sharing leadership is personal invitation as opposed to mass messages of requesting help. This means identifying the potential gifts of those in the community, encouraging them in those gifts and personally asking them to use their gifts for the benefit of the community.

I encouraged the leader to work with them to get started and follow up with them after they began leading, but then to give them the freedom to lead. Eventually, a leader has to move from directing to coaching to fully trusting those with whom they share leadership.

The biggest transformation that takes place through shared leadership is the death of a consumer community and the birth of a contributing community. An entire community that seeks to contribute to the overall health of the missional community based on the gifts God has given them.

Only when this happens can the community truly display Jesus to one another and their neighborhood.

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Filed under Community Groups, Leadership, Missional Communities, To Lead Well

The Disciple

At our church, we just concluded a series titled The Disciple. We asked the question, how would a disciple of Christ look different than a disciple of the culture, specifically in New York City? As we looked at the scriptures to answer this question aiming to identify the true call of the follower of God in a context that increasingly does not follow God, we discovered that a disciple of Christ instead of culture would look different and point to an alternative way of life.

We narrowed it down to 6 specific characteristics and covered them over the 6 Sundays involved in Lent. It was definitely one of the most profound sermon series I’ve been a part of as it forced anyone listening to be confronted with whether the culture was dictating their life or their beliefs.

We are all disciples, it’s not a question of will we or won’t we be a disciple. The question is who are we disciples of? Our culture produces different disciples than our churches should be producing if the churches are making disciples of Christ. The Christian must consider whether they are following Christ with their life or merely with their words.

Each sermon and the audio is below. I had the honor to preach on the Supernatural Love of Others while the great JR Vassar preached the others. I was blessed by this sermon series and I hope you will be too. You can also download these podcasts from iTunes.

The Call to Rest

A disciple must first decide to follow a certain way of living. The invitation of Jesus is initially to find rest and trust in God rather than to find identity in exhaustive work and trust in our efforts. JR preached from Matthew 11:25-30 on The Call to Rest.

Incomparable Love

Many think of being a disciple as a duty, but Christ calls those who will follow Him to love Him most. The disciple is someone who loves God so much that his/her love for others looks like hatred in comparison to his/her love for God. JR preached from Matthew 10:34-39 on this type of Incomparable Love.

Renunciation of Self

Just as Christ has chosen to lay down His life for others, to be His disciple we are called to align with God even against ourselves. Instead of pursuing our own ways and our own desires, we are called to deny ourselves for the benefit of others. JR preached on Luke 9:23-27 about the Renunciation of Self.

Abiding in Jesus

The disciple of Jesus Christ is called to agree with, spend time learning about and letting their thoughts and affections be guided towards God. However we spend our thoughts or affections, intentional or not, is ultimately what we become. We all long for success, but the disciple of Christ finds this through abiding in Jesus. JR preached from John 15 on Abiding in Jesus.

Supernatural Love of Others

In John 13:34-35 Jesus issues a new command to His disciples to love others as they have been loved. Christ goes on to show that a loving community is the method of His mission. While the culture calls us to a tolerant love, Christ calls us to a transformative love. I had the privilege to preach on a the Supernatural Love for Others.

Stewardship of Life

All of us have been given certain talents, gifts, abilities, resources, and time that enable us to create a life for ourselves and others. While our culture encourages us to use these things for ourselves and the building of our most successful selves, Christ calls us to use all that has been given to us, much that we could not create in ourselves, for God and for others. It’s a redefining of success as faithfully using these things for God’s purposes and not just our own. JR preached on Matthew 25:14-30 about the Stewardship of Life.

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Missional Community Holes

Obviously I’ve written a lot about missional communities lately, but it must be recognized that missional communities have holes. They don’t solve every problem in the church despite reflecting the nature of Christian community described in the scriptures.

The brilliant Todd Engstrom talks about seeing the church as both a collection of missional communities and as a missional community collectively. It’s an absolutely essential way to recognize how to supplement missional communities in order for the gospel of Jesus to thrive throughout a church.

Here are 4 of the major holes for Missional Communities that I see. I do not pretend this is comprehensive as I surely have blind spots and you don’t want to read a 3 page blog despite my typical long-winded nature.

What Missional Communities are Unable to Accomplish by Themselves

Theological Training

Missional Communities are not intended to be a Bible Study. Bible studies are useful, but too often end on knowledge rather than a community on mission. Missional communities don’t abandon the scriptures, they must be word-centered (Bible-focused) in their approach to encouraging and challenging one another and extending the scriptures to those who are seeking to understand Christ for the first time.

But they are unable to provide the depth of scriptural theology that can often empower people to love fellow Christians appropriately, become contributors instead of consumers, and have a life that matches their beliefs.

There is a need then to supplement missional communities with theological training and bible studies. The important thing to consider is how these training environments and bible studies propel the gospel communities on mission rather than operate in contrast to them. Similar to a Sunday worship gathering, these environments must include inspiration toward missional community and application as a community to truly supplement and propel the gospel through a community on mission.

Christian Counseling

Missional Communities are not intended to be a support group. They provide and promote aligning with the gospel in our everyday lives, they remind us of the goodness of God over the allure of tempting vices, and they help us see where the scriptures address various sins in our lives.

But they are unable to provide the depth of counseling that can often be needed for marriages, pre-marital counseling, grief counseling, deep-rooted issues from the past and even in some cases counseling through addictions.

This doesn’t mean that every church should have a counseling center (though it would be cool to be based in a church and not outside the church), but it will mean that churches must do their due diligence to partner with Christian counselors who understand the mission of the church. For many churches, this has given rise to redemption groups.

Discipleship

While this is definitely the intent of missional communities, transitioning a church to missional communities will not automatically solve the need for discipleship. Discipleship must be modeled and eventually will take place inside of a missional community.

So this as a hole is a little deceiving as they eventually will be the places where discipleship happens most regularly. But discipleship is a church culture issue and not merely a community issue. Community is one aspect of discipleship, but discipleship must occur from the top down as Jesus models for us for it to truly take root in an entire community.

Transitioning or starting with a missional community approach will not insure discipleship, discipleship happens with thoughtful intent with the aim toward cultivating disciple-making disciples.

Family Equipping

While I completely advocate for families to welcome young marrieds and singles to take part in and own the discipleship of their children in a missional community, it must be stated that equipping parents as the primary disciple makers is essential.

Missional communities assist and relieve the parents-only burden as the only Christian influencers of their children, but the church has a responsibility to cast a vision and equip families from pregnancy to graduation and beyond. Parenting brings out the deep-rooted fears, concerns, and desire for comfort that often plagues every individual and impedes the ability for a community to be on mission.

A family equipping model looks to empower parents to disciple their children while providing age-appropriate peer community to also be on mission within their schools and extending the grace of the gospel to their classmates and friends.

What Missional Communities Can Accomplish

Now before we begin to outsource all of these holes, we must acknowledge that gospel communities on mission can do more than we think in all of these areas. This is because of the nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The gospel transforms our entire lives, giving us new thoughts, desires and a new understanding of the scriptures. We become empowered with the Holy Spirit of God dwelling inside of us to grasp the truth of the scriptures, apply to our lives and once applied to our lives, we begin to grasp how the gospel and the Bible can shape the lives of an entire community.

This enables us to provide more depth in our application of the bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ to our lives. This enables us to counsel people and exhort people away from the destructive patterns of sin in our lives. This enables us to become the disciple-makers that Jesus models and sends us to be. This enables us to be gospel-centered parents and families through the wisdom of the Word of God and the community.

We can too often sell short the work of God in our lives by not acknowledging the gospel as the power of God. If it’s powerful enough to bring people from death to life, it is powerful enough to grow us deep in knowledge, zeal, and life application. It is powerful enough to let us hear and empathize with the sins of others and instead of recoiling back, enabling us to enter into the challenge of helping them overcome their sin.

This is why I love the gospel so much. To enjoy the gospel with an entire community is to ignite a desire deep within Christians to embody Christ through our entire lives. When the gospel shapes a community, there is no greater expression of love.

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Discipleship Myth: You should always have a Paul

I remember being taught about discipleship in the church during college. I was told “You should always have a Paul in your life, you should always have a Timothy, and you should always have peers alongside of you.”

The intent was good. It was building on Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

The idea sounds great. You always have someone investing in you, you are always investing in someone else and the process repeats. But what happens when there’s not a Paul in your life? Do you wait for one to come around or do you keep investing in the Timothys of the world while you wait?

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this in regards to creating a discipleship culture in a community of Christ-followers. If it’s the mission of the church to develop disciples of Christ, it’s essential we understand the nature of discipleship.

Timothy Didn’t Always Have Paul

Timothy was discipled by Paul and then commissioned to develop elders and create a discipleship culture. But Paul wasn’t always in close proximity to Timothy.

Timothy had letters from Paul, he didn’t even have Skype-Coaching Paul. He was invested in for a time, but then it was his turn. That can be scary so Paul’s letters are incredibly encouraging to him to live out his calling with confidence in God’s work in him through the gospel.

Timothy had Paul as a loving consultant reminding him of his calling and guiding him toward right action, but he wasn’t present consistently investing in Timothy on a weekly basis going through Grudem’s Systematic Theology and asking about his sin. There were surely men that challenged him, held him accountable, but he did not always have a Paul present.

The Need to Be Discipled

This does not neglect the reality that we need to be discipled and discipling. We need more men and women who are pursuing Christ and investing their doctrine and their lives into other men and women.

But our discipleship begins at conversion in being discipled through the scriptures. If we make it our aim to be intimate in knowledge with the God of the bible, we are already being discipled by God. The example of Paul’s own discipleship from Barnabas or Apollos discipleship from Priscilla and Aquila was of men giving themselves to the knowledge of and mission of God. Then they were invited into relationships to gain a more accurate representation of Christ to the world.

This type of discipleship is Jesus’ method of discipleship. Reaching the many by spending time with the few and letting the few replicate the process. We have the great opportunity of recapturing Jesus’ vision for ministry through discipleship instead of programs. It will take longer to implement starting with a few, but it will always get better results than mass discipleship.

The Danger of Always Wanting Paul

But we must always be careful to guard ourselves from demanding a Paul in our lives. There will be a time when discipleship happens if we pursue the Lord, but after we have had that period of discipleship under a Paul-type figure, there is danger in looking for the next Paul in our lives.

This danger will lead you to bitterness toward those you place expectations on to be the Paul in your life. This type of self-righteousness declares that people don’t understand their responsibility to invest in people (me) and is always looking for someone else to teach them how to live.

All of us must eventually become big kids and stop being little kids waiting for the big brother to show us the way. This is what God has been impressing upon me. There comes a time when you’ve been invested in and sent, when it’s your turn to be the big kid, figure out some of your life challenges on your own and stop demanding that there be a Paul to show you the way.

We have to step away from discipleship myths that sound wise, but are foolish in application. We must look to Christ as our primary discipler through the work of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures, then trust that God has brought a community of Christ followers to teach us, whether young in their faith or seasoned.

We don’t move on from being learners, but eventually we must step into the discipler role. Jesus promises to always be with His disciples, but that doesn’t stop Him from sending them to be His disciplers of all peoples.

Let’s become a community of Christ followers who understand a disciple is also a disciple-maker.

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