Karate Kid, Discipleship, and Why Some Are Leaving Christianity

Mr. Miyagi knew discipleship. He knew what it took to train someone to be able to do the things he did. Miyagi trained Daniel this way, not because cars needed to be washed but because these were the moves Daniel had to repeat enough times that it became natural to him (think muscle memory). When you do something enough times, your body is able to do it nearly instantaneously, almost without thinking. Daniel had to learn this…not just head knowledge alone . He had to learn how to act and react if he was going to succeed and grow. He had to learn this because there was a fight coming and he had to be ready.

The same is true with our faith. We disciple people in times of peace to ready them for times of trial. We lose credibility when we fail to make the Miyagi connection, letting people know that there is more to all they are doing than what they see. When we don’t make the connection between what we do “at church” with real life (relevance) all we leave people thinking they are doing is washing cars and painting fences. That is one of the biggest reasons young people have left the church is because we haven’t always made the obvious connection of how what we do is preparing them for significant things that they must be ready for.

It is crucial we help people make this connection.

May Guest Post Series: Women of Faith

In the month of May we are going to highlight some of the ladies out there for their perspective on faith, following Jesus and more. I am really looking forward to this for a few reasons. First, I am really appreciative that they are willing to contribute to this and I look forward to reading their thoughts. Second, I am also looking forward to the dialog that I hope this generates both here and on their own blogs and websites. I have seen sites rank who they think are the top female bloggers but I haven’t seen anyone highlight them in this way. So get ready to read some really insightful posts and become familiar with some ladies who God is using in some powerful ways!

Why Are Young Adults Leaving Church? A Comprehensive Answer

There has been a mass exodus of young adults from Christian churches (including but not limited to Churches of Christ) over the last few decades. As I mentioned a few posts ago, there is a flurry of debate in blogs, facebook, etc on why young people are leaving the church in their early 20s. What you end up finding is that the experts tend to give the one thing they are most passionate about as the one reason young people are leaving. Well, there isn’t one reason. There are many. There are two big questions that are on people’s minds when it comes to this issue: 1) Why are they leaving? (what this post is about) and 2) what can we do about it? (future post). There are a variety of reasons young adults leave the church in their early 20s. They are not all leaving for the same reasons and not every reason is the church’s fault (which tends to be the chorus out there…the church is fully to blame. Not really). I believe there are four categories that all work together into a devastating mix that have resulted in this movement.

Re-frame the discussion: Who/what are they leaving?
Before I dive into the four reasons let me say this. The whole discussion needs to be re-framed from the start. We are stating the problem in terms of young people leaving “the church” when what is more concerning are young people who are “leaving the Lord”. One reason for that is, it is easy to measure when someone leaves the church. They stop attending. It is easy and measurable but it gets us off on the wrong foot in the discussion. Our goal is not first and foremost to get them back to church attendance but to get them back to Jesus. That is an important distinction. I do mean to diminish the church in saying that. I am just trying to get everything in the right order. I want to credit Eric Brown for pointing this out to me sometime back.

1 – Themselves

 Them factor #1 – Identity Formation
Young adults are at a transition point in life where they are trying to figure out multiple major decisions. What career will they pursue, where will they study, who will they marry, how many children will they have, and the big question “Who am I and how do I go about answering that question?” It is a time of investigation, experimentation, transition and stress. We might assume that, if they grew up in church, they should already know who they are through years of Bible class, youth group, summer camp, etc. Many didn’t develop a faith of their own during those years.

When you are a child, our society guides your path. You know you go to first grade after kindergarten and you know you go from middle school to high school. It is all mapped out for you. But when you enter your young adult years the map is removed and all you have to go on is whatever you have been taught and experienced up to that point in your life. The way isn’t clear and it isn’t easy. They are going to make a lot of mistakes along the way and, from what they remember about church, it is not necessarily the place they want to be because they don’t believe they will be welcome their given the decisions they have made or are currently making trying to form their own identity. Many are forming an identity and that identity no longer identifies with “church” as they knew it growing up.

Them factor #2 – Freedom, decisions and experimentation
Adulthood comes with a new set of freedom to make a path for yourself in the world. Finding that path comes with experience, experimentation and the influence of others. Many are already engaging in risky behaviors (drug usage and sex) in their teens years (yes, even while in the youth group). When they get the increased freedom of adulthood and being away from home and influenced by a new set of non-Christian peers, the behaviors that were so private in high school may be taken to a whole new level. They know those behaviors were preached against in church. They may not feel like church is the right fit for them because they don’t see how church has anything meaningful for their life to influence them into a better way of living. They just anticipate condemnation from those who disagree with their choices.

Them factor #3 – Never a disciple to begin with
Another “them” factor is whether or not they were ever “bought in” to being a disciple of Christ in the first place. In the past, the assumption was that faithful attendance equaled mature disciple. When they got on their own they ran for the door. They did that because in adulthood they now had the freedom to choose and finally chose what they would have done years prior had their parents not been forcing them to attend.

For this crowd, they were a part of our attendance number…but they weren’t really serious about their faith to begin with. They never made it their own. This transitions us into the next two categories that may have had an impact on why they never made their faith their own in the first place: 1) the church & 2) the family.

2 – The Church

 Church factor #1 – The “institutional appearance” of the church
There has been a lot of talk about how institutional the church has become. I think there is some truth in that but I think we also have to be careful to not talk institutionally of Christ’s bride. That also, though, means the church has a responsibility to not relegate itself to the level of institution along the way. What does it mean when someone talks about the church as an institution? What most people mean when they say that is that the church has lost sight of its mission and has become an organization that exists to perpetuate it’s own ecclesiology, often not seeing much distinction between tradition and scripture.

There aren’t going to be many churches who actually do this in a purposeful way. Most churches are doing what they believe God’s mission for them is in some sort of way…even if they just think it is worshipping for an hour on Sunday each week. The problem is that many congregations are presenting themselves in institutional ways and don’t realize they are doing it. For example, the practice and attitude that spiritual things must happen at a building and not in homes communicates that the church is an institution.

We frame this whole discussion from an institutional perspective – the big discussion today is why young people are “leaving the church”. That is an institutional way of framing a deeper problem. Shouldn’t we be framing this as young people are leaving the Lord? We talk about how they have left church because that is how we measure things, by an institutional measure we call attendance. Counting is fast and easy. Discipling someone is slow and difficult.

When a young person is looking for answers and for a relationship with Jesus but all they find is what appears to be the spinning of wheels of an institution with little warmth and no visible mission other than to get back again on Wednesday and Sunday and do it again that young person may go somewhere else where they can find that. Then we say they left the church. Did they? Even the thinking that people are leaving the church is institutional

There are several more “church factors” but they are all influenced by the problems that come along with institutional church. Here are the rest…

Church factor #2 – Woefully Inadequate Discipleship
As a teen, if I was there regularly it was assumed I was a disciple of Jesus. Even more basic than that, if I was baptized then everything was good as long as I kept attending. I never experienced any intentional discipling until I was in graduate school studying psychology. My major professor discipled me in clinical psychology. Not what you expected? She did. We worked out major projects together. She taught me, mentored me, took me under her wing. She gave me guidance in the field. She was the expert and I was the student and I spent hundreds of hours with her helping me grow into being the best psychologist I could be. How is it that a state school graduate department has a better method for discipling people than most churches?

My experience has been that we do a better job teaching someone why they need to be baptized (which is important) than we do actually teaching them to follow Jesus. The truth is, you teach those things the same way. It is all under the umbrella of helping make a disciple. Many churches have missed the boat on this. If you want to know more on how to do this have a look at Mike Breen’s material. It is excellent. We are working on our own discipling material that will be done in 2013.

Church factor #3 – Age segregated ministry, a body divided
A body that is divided cannot grow unless you are a worm. A few decades ago the youth ministry model became really popular and still is today. There are many good things that came through youth ministry. I was blessed by a good youth ministry in my teen years. But we cannot be blind to the problems that it fosters. 1) It isn’t geared to disciple. There are some exceptional youth ministries out there who do better at this but for the most part that is true. 2) Teens don’t know anyone in the rest of the church. Eric Brown said that if you have a viable youth ministry, you have at least two churches that are meeting in your building on Sunday. The teens don’t know the rest of the church. When it comes time for them to graduate out of the youth group the leap is too big and they jump ship. There are some transitions that can be made that will be discussed later.

Church factor #4 – Ecclesiology
Some churches haven’t changed their worship service in decades, if ever. I am not saying that is a sin, I am just making an observation. The tempting route here is to talk about how we need certain things in worship in order to make it relevant. I won’t deny that certain things will help connect with a younger generation but I that discussion comes after a much more important one. The discussion that has to happen first is to understand why a church can worship with the same order and the same songs and the same topics for 100 years and never make much of a visible change. This is a value issue that points to something under the surface that needs to be examined if we are going to reach the next generation. Here is how I can say that with confidence. Go into a church that has been doing it like that and move communion to the end of the service and see what happens. People will be up in arms over it! Why? Because we haven’t ever done it that way, it’s not scriptural to have it after the sermon, the guys who started this church would roll over in their graves if they knew we did that and on and on it goes. What you won’t hear is an actual scripture that says its wrong or that God even cares. What you will find is value in tradition that is so deeply rooted that it becomes destructive, stifling and insulating.

It is not the lack of powerpoint that will run young people off or keep new young people from coming in the first place. Faster songs won’t heal an unhealthy dynamic in a congregation. It is the actions, attitudes and underlying values that will take care of that. Before you can deal with the young people leaving issue you have to dig around in why you do the things you do and whether God is more concerned about when you have the Lord’s Supper or that your attitudes and values are driving away your own children. I think scripture is clear about the second and is absolutely silent on the first.

Church factor #6 – Leadership & Change
In Churches of Christ we are notorious for having a difficult time with change. Fear can keep us from addressing this issue. I grew up being taught that on every issue there is a right and a wrong. Change was bad because change could logically only have two outcomes (and both were to be avoided), 1) you either had to admit that what you were doing was wrong in order to do something different or 2) what you are doing now is right and the new way is wrong. Some churches are willing to go to their grave and shut their doors rather than tweak the negotiables. Some believe there is no such thing as a negotiable. There is a fear that the only way to reach 20 somethings is be negotiating core beliefs or even some very important, non-core beliefs and doctrines. We fear we will have to compromise scripture in order to reach them. That is just not the case. Leadership must be willing to disseminate control and responsibility even to young adults. They aren’t kids any more. They need a voice and they need to be heard. We might even fear what they will say if we let them speak. Well, get over it because some are leaving because no one cares enough about them to listen or love them.  Some will fear that these young people will want us to do some crazy things and it will all get out of control, nothing worse than losing control right? Control is an illusion. Did we ever really have control of things in the first place? What isn’t an illusion is their absence.

3 – The Family

 Family Factor #1 – Families are broken
The divorce rate remains high, even among Christians. Kids are experiencing trauma and hurt in their lives at a very young age. Teenagers today are exposed to things that you cannot even imagine. Substance abuse is becoming common place. Teenage pregnancy is running rampant. This is not just “out there” but in the church as well. Families are broken and the kids are feeling the pain as a result.

Family Factor #2 – Families aren’t  discipling their own kids
Youth ministry worked well when families were intact. As families have started to deteriorate and our churches have less and less intact families, the spiritual development of teens has been left in the hands of youth ministers as the families have spent less and less time developing their kids spiritually. It used to be common for families to eat together, pray together and even read scripture together, that is happening less and less. What is more, in our attempts to show how vibrant our youth ministry is parents have assumed that the ministry can disciple their kids. Again, if they attend, it must rub off. Youth ministry only works well as a supplement to what the parents are doing. Parents are doing less and less spiritual development. These kids are growing up and we are seeing the effects today in the mass exodus of young adults from our church.

About 10 years ago I worked with a bus ministry. Every week we knocked doors and every week we would bring in around 100 kids and 0 parents to the church. We formed relationships with them. We sang with them, taught them, baptized them and loved them. Now those kids are adults and very, very few of them that I am aware of are still actively involved in their faith and relationship with God. It wasn’t for lack of effort. The family card trumps the church card nearly every time. For more information on how families can disciple their own children see Impartfaith.com

4 – Culture

 Cultural Factor #1 – Post-modernism, Perceived Relevance & Questions
It is easy to see that the world has changed. Christianity is on the decline and agnostics are on the rise. Post-modernism has put the world in a “question everything” state of mind. That can be healthy. In some instances, the church wasn’t ready to give an answer to those questions. Or let me put it this way, we were so out of touch with the culture that we weren’t even aware of what questions people were needing answers to. Instead, some kept answering the same worn out old questions over and over again. When you spend your time answering questions no one is asking and ignoring or are ignorant of the questions people are asking you box yourself out of relevance.

Cultural Factor #2 – The Church’s position in society has changed
The church no longer holds the position in society that it once did. Church scandals, this lack of relevance, and a general distrust of absolutes (both moral, ethical and epistemological) have resulted on the macro level in a growing distance between the church and the unchurched. The politicizing of the church has also played a role for some in recognizing the church with one political party over another. It muddies the water of what the church exists for. However, on the micro level Christians have become so much like the surrounding culture that it can be hard to tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians. The actions, attitudes, and beliefs of both groups have gotten blurry. That can make church an unattractive place for a young adult who is looking for something different than they find in the world when they come to church and find the same antics they see in the world.

All of this to say, the church is losing its identity and place in the world. Now, that is to be expected if we are following our biblically mandated mission, that the world will not understand or even hate the church. It is tragic, though, if the church loses its place in the world because those inside and those outside the church are not radically different from one another. The church loses its relevance because people can find the same thing in church that they find in their workplace, their home, and everywhere else.

Culture Factors #3: The Need for Real Experience/Encounter
95% of the activity of the church is geared toward less than 1% of the week, that special hour of corporate worship on Sunday. They want a faith and teaching that translates into the other 99% of their life. The church “experience” doesn’t seem to reflect real life or the early church at all. We have traditionally favored logic and reason over emotion and yet emotion is still a part of real life and worship should not be distanced from reality. When worship is unengaged and seems like it is going through the motions, it doesn’t click with a culture that values transparency and authenticity. This includes things like a lack of celebration. Big things happen in the church…a lost person is saved and no one seems excited. It just doesn’t add up so it must not be real. They will leave. The structure of the church and its activities don’t match up with real life. There is no lament. The order of worship has too much order and not enough worship. Life is messier than what we put on on a given Sunday. Let it happen when it needs to happen.

 Combination of Factors Over One Main Reason

 What I have attempted to show here is that, while we all have our pet reasons about why young people are leaving, there isn’t one answer to that question. There is a constellation of issues that all culminate in a mass exodus of young adults from church and even from faith. There are more things that could be added but I figure 3200 words is a good enough running start. I am going to tackle what it is we can and should do about this in the next post.

For more information you can read my handouts from the 2011 Tulsa workshop on reaching 20 Somethings.

Bottom line – If you want to know why someone left, don’t get bogged down in all of this…go ask them. Let them know you love them and miss them. Invite them into your home and show them how much you care about them, even if they have made every mistake in the book.

Additional reading:

20s & 30s Section here at Kingdom Living – 40+ posts on ministering to 20s & 30s
James Nored
Why are Churches of Christ Shrinking (Part 1)
Why are Churches of Christ Shrinking (Part 2)

Danny Dodd – Everything Has Changed
Lynn Stringfellow – Why Our Kids are Leaving the Church
Russ Adcox – When I Grow Up

Two Questions that Are Essential For Discipleship

Last year we created an evangelistic study of Mark called Jesus 101. The study is designed to be used with seekers so that they can discover who Jesus is by studying Mark. Mark is the perfect book for that because it is a little bit of a mystery until chapter 8. At that point in Mark and in the study things start to crystallize about exactly who Jesus is. Before you can become a disciple you have to answer the question “Who is Jesus?”. What is more, this is exactly what Jesus asked his disciples in Mark 8:27-30…first Jesus asked who do people say he is and followed that up with “who do you say I am?”. We are working on a followup study on discipleship and its focus is going to be the second most important question that has to come after the first, “Who, then, am I?” In order to be a disciple you first have to figure out who Jesus is and then figure out, based on all of that, who you are. That is all very simple but for some reason it has taken a while for that to crystallize in my mind.

Here is What is Creating a Disconnect in our Churches and Why So Many Leave (Leadership & Ministry Lessons Part 6)

I have been writing a series of posts on leadership in ministry based on the book Combat Leadership by Captain Adolf Von Schell. This sixth post is probably the most important one yet. So important, that I changed the title in hopes of getting more response out of this one. Please read the whole post, especially if you are in church leadership.

In chapter 6, Von Schell reminds the reader that training for war and real war are two different things. When you are training, everything goes just right but it is never like that in the real world. Here is how he put it,

“In our peacetime map problems, war games and field exercises, we have simple situations. There is no uncertainty, nothing goes wrong, units are always complete. Every company has its appropriate number of officers. Every battalion has its commander…Long written orders are published and in an unbelievably short time, reach the individual to whom they are addressed, who promptly carries them out. Every man has his map and compass. He knows that the attack will be pushed forward in the exact direction of the 179 1-2 degree magnetic azimuth.”

What he is saying here is that up to this point in history, combat training assumed ideal conditions where ideal orders are given, everyone is present, communication is perfect and everyone has their map and compass pointed the right way all the time, every time with more precision than you would be able to do with bullets going over your head. He goes on,

“In war it is quite otherwise. There is no situation that our imagination can conjure up which even remotely approaches reality. In peace we have only grammar school tactics. But let us never forget that war is far more advanced than a high school. Therefore, if you would train for the realities of war, take your men into unknown terrain, at night, without maps and give them difficult situations. In doing so use all the imagination you have. Let the commanders themselves make their decisions. Teach your men that war brings such surprises that often they will find themselves in apparently impossible situations…Every solider should know that war is kaleidoscopic, replete with constantly changing, unexpected, confusing situations. Its problems cannot be solved by mathematical formulae or set rules…All armies of the world learn, in peace time, how to write long, beautifully constructed orders. I believe that it is correct to learn to think of everything and to forget nothing, but we must never lose sight of the fact that, in a war of movement, our orders must be brief and simple.”

His point is that training must reflect the realities of what you are training people for. When you look at publications that tell you how to run a specific ministry, do evangelism, discipleship, or any of a number of things this is too often true. We are presented and trained for ideal circumstances where your staff has every gift imaginable and where life never seems to get in the way. How do we train people in ministry “in the trenches” rather than just sitting at desks in a classroom? How do we train Christians in ways that are real and relevant to the world they live in? Often Sunday seems too disconnected from Monday. We train for the ideal but the world will never be ideal. So why do we keep training like it is?

He continues,

“There is a tendency in peace time to conduct training by use of stereotyped situations which are solved by stereotyped solutions. In war, however, we cannot say, ‘This situation is so and so and according to the rules which I have learned, I must attack or defend.’ The situations that confront one in war are generally obscure, highly complicated and never conform to type. They must be met by an alert mind, untrammeled by set forms and fixed ideas.

In our peacetime tactical training we should use difficult, highly imaginative situations and require clear, concise and simple orders. The more difficult the situation, the more simple the orders must be. Above all let us kill everything stereotyped; otherwise it will kill us.” (p.63-64)

Kill the stereotype or it will kill us. What is he saying there? He is saying that in the classroom, there are perfect formulas that work every time but step away from your desk and onto the battlefield and those same formulas no longer look as relevant. Here it is, I am convinced that what Von Schell is saying here is one of the most important lessons we can learn in ministering in the 21st century. The culture we live in is no longer predominantly Christian. People are getting shot at all the time. Then they come in on Sunday or Wednesday and get trained for a world that exists only in the classroom and only in the mind. There may be application but not necessarily for the world they live in.

This is why there is such a disconnect today, especially with young people. What Von Schell is saying here is perfectly describing the disconnect young people especially feel in the assembly. In order to address it we have to change our tactics. We have to change our training. We have to understand the real world and understand how Christians can live in it and support one another through it, much like soldiers huddled together in a war zone. As I type that I am reminded of what Mike Breen wrote in Multiplying Missional Leaders,

“Sending people out to do mission is sending them out to a war zone. When we don’t disciple people the way Jesus and the New Testament talked about, we are sending them out without armor, weapons or training. This is mass carnage waiting to happen. How can we be surprised when people burn out, quit and never return to the missional life (or to the church for that matter?) How can we not expect that people will feel used and abused?” (p.12)

Have you all experienced this? How have we missed it?

For those who want to read more reflections on Combat Leadership, here are the other parts to date:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5

Discipling Is New The Hot Topic

Discipleship is all the talk now. If you have a method of discipling people that works, people want to know about it. They want to know what it looks like, how it works, etc. It is the Hot Topic in Christianity because we have now realized how important it is but don’t have a clue how to do it. So people are looking for answers.

The great news is, Jesus showed us how it is done. The problem is, we have looked to Jesus for the wrong agenda…to prove our points, win battles, etc rather than to actually be discipled by him and learn his ways. If we look to the Gospels to find out how God has made disciples in the past, personally submit to Jesus being our Lord in ways that run deeper than doctrine, and then use those same methods to reach others we will find that we don’t need the latest book or the latest conference or seminar to make disciples. It was all there in front of us the whole time…we were just reading it all wrong.

Time to read Jesus as a follower, not as a leader. Too often our leaders read Jesus to learn how to lead. Makes sense, right? Before you can lead you have to learn how to follow. Jesus showed us that over and over as he kept saying it wasn’t about bringing glory to himself but about bringing glory to God through obedience to his Father. In other words, Jesus was following God first and foremost and through following God’s lead, Jesus was a leader. Too often we try to lead first without following Jesus. Ok…you get the point!

An Excellent Free Resource on Discipleship

Lance Ford recently put out an e-book called “With Me: Relational Essentials for a Discipleship Ethos”. The book is short. The book is free. The book is excellent. You can get this book from the Exponential site in pdf, Kindle, or e-pub all for free by clicking the above link. Lance breaks the move toward discipleship down into three chapters:

  1. What’s missing here?
  2. The Jesus’ Plan
  3. Discipleship Communities

What is missing here?
Mark makes the case that most churches struggle to even know how to make disciples. They struggle to know how because they haven’t ever seen it done or experienced it personally. If you ask someone “Who helped disciple you?” you will probably get met with blank looks in many churches. We do a better job of planning the corporate worship assembly than we do actually discipling people. By discipling people Lance means we need more mature Christians to invite young Christians to “follow with me”. Instead, he says we have focused on teaching our leaders and ministers to run a church rather than make disciples. The fix is relational rather than learning more administration. It is not that we don’t need systems. Lance says systems are important but often we got so bogged down in administering systems and “doing church” that we don’t connect relationally with the people around us.

Another thing that distracts us is an unhealthy desire for great leaders who don’t first know how to be great followers. The reason we miss that step is because leadership training is not usually done in the context of one person leading another in a mentoring fashion. Instead, leadership training is done by teaching people leadership principles that they don’t have the experience to really grow into as fast as they are being taught (that’s my point, not his).

Here is a quote that you need to store away somewhere,

“It is entirely possible to preach beyond your own character and Christlikeness, but it is an impossibility to disciple another person past the level of your own character. The pulpit and the lofty position it so often implies can be a safe haven for surly souls. Leaders can be whoever they want to be from the positions of hierarchy. But when we  take the mantle of the servant and join the everyday people on the dusty trails of day-today life, our true selves can’t help but to come forward. The plea here is this: Be followable. Do everyone else a favor and don’t develop people like yourself if you are not like Christ—regardless of your leadership level.”

Wow. I think ever single minister and church leader needs to hear that and I must say that I am the first person who needs to hear that on a regular basis. I would love to hear what you all think about that quote.

The Jesus Plan
Lance’s main point here is that Jesus had a plan to disciple his young followers and that we would do well to imitate Christ in how we do the same. Here is another great quote that is worthy of meditating on and tucking away some place where you can find it later,

“Jesus’ plan was to actually let a handful of folks share His life. He didn’t live just the life of a preacher. He didn’t spend 20 to 30 hours a week crafting a sermon and sketching out a church service without leaving margin for others to share life with him. Our Lord spent the majority of His time with others, sharing his life with them. Jesus had a distinct plan to bring others into the actual living of His life. He gave access to a few people so that he could rub off on them. Jesus’ strategy was to invite followers to get their hands dirty with the actual doing of the stuff of serving others. This entailed fieldwork more than class work. Jesus pushed His disciples into situations that stretched them and exposed their weaknesses of faith, perseverance and character. Sure, He taught them in the classroom as well, but He trained them on the job.”

What would our ministry look like if we did that? What would change? I asked these and some similar questions in a post a few weeks ago. One book that goes into more detail on Jesus’ model for making disciples and reaching the world is Coleman’s classic work, The Master Plan of Evangelism. I just ordered 30 copies of that a few weeks ago and gave them out to some of our people who are reaching out to non-Christians. Coleman goes through the ministry of Jesus and talks about his methods of training his disciples to make more disciples [HT: Frank Viola on Coleman’s book]. He gives some criteria of what makes a good discipler and lays out what the discipling relationship should look like.

Discipleship Communities
In the last chapter, Lance lays out what a discipleship community can look like. It is not one more program in the church. It is about intentionally fostering relationships that are mutual, accountable, and non-hierarchical. He talks about our need for intentional fellowship and spiritual development and how to meet that need in biblical and effective ways. I am not going to give you all the details here. For more specifics click here to download the book. If you read the book, feel free to use the comments to discuss it.

HT: Eric Brown for pointing this book out to me last week!

Discipling Doesn’t Happen Very Well in Age Specific Groups Alone

When I was studying Clinical and Healthy Psychology at the University of Florida we had two forms of mentoring. First, you worked very closely with a fourth year student who was just about to get their doctorate. You had a lot of accessbility with this person as you worked in the same lab so they were able to give you a lot of attention every week. In addition to that we would meet regularly with a faculty supervisor. This person was top in their field. Mine in particular had well over 100 publications and was very well known in the field. You had less accessbility with the professor compared to the amount you had with the fourth year student but it was still there, needed and utilized.

As I reflect on that situation I am realizing more and more that we can learn a lot about the discipling process through those kinds of environments. The first person who clued me in on that connection was my friend Eric Brown. The more I have thought about it the more I realize it is a brilliant insight. Then I take a look at the way we try to make and grow disciples and how Jesus did it and I a lot of things jump to the surface. First, Jesus used a similar approach. The disciples spent time with Jesus and they also spent time just with each other. They needed peer-to-peer interactions of people in the same boat they were in. They also needed time with the Master teacher who was far and away further along the road spiritually speaking than they were but it gave them someone to follow and imitate.

Now, that is where we run into problems. We tend to embrace one of those but not the other. We do a really good job of getting people with others in their same stage in life, whether it be youth group or a young adult ministry. Many churches do a horrible job of getting people with those more mature than themselves. I can tell you right now, college students are not able to disciple other college students. But for some reason we tend to create environments where that is the only other people in the church they spend time with or even want to spend time with. We fear that if we rock the boat too much into time with the “old fogies” (who they desperately need to get to know if they are going to grow) that we avoid it and never implement the changes that they really need to grow.

Solution – just like in the graduate school experience we need a both/and approach. You need relationships with people in your stage of life. That is just how it is always going to be. We also need to foster relationships that integrate/interconnect the generations where those more mature in their faith can mentor and disciple those who are far younger and less mature. This is going to take some guts and creativity and great communication of our purpose in doing this. I am afraid we are dying from isolation because we only know how to do half the process well to the exclusion of the other.

How have you seen intergenrational ministry done well?

Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen: The Challenge

If you have your ear to the ground in Christianity today you hear one question being asked over and over again. The question is, “How do you disciple people in today’s world?” It may not always be asked just like that, but that is the gist of it. They key to answer that question is found in Jesus Christ. He is our model. There is no substitute for that. One voice that I have found very helpful in unpacking Jesus’ ministry for our culture today is Mike Breen. Mike has been discipling people in Europe for the past 25 years and has a knack for understanding how the eternally useful principles of Jesus’ ministry can be applied in contemporary Western society and churches. Mike Breen and Steve Cockram lay out their approach in their book Building a Discipling Culture (get it on kindle). I am going to spend a few posts unpacking their approach and share my own thoughts about how this might work out for some of us guys who are in more traditional ministry contexts (aka not church planters). In these posts I am just going to hit the highlights. I don’t want to take anything away from Breen’s book. I would recommend that you buy it as well as his other two books Multiplying Missional Leaders (one of my favorite ministry books of all time) and Launching Missional Communities.

Chapter 1: The Challenge
Jesus calls us to make disciples. The problem is, most of us who have gone to seminary have been trained to build and lead an organization rather than make disciples. Breen says it this way, “most of us have actually never been trained to make disciples. Seminary degrees, church classes and training seminars teach us to grow our volunteer base, form system and organizational structures or preach sermons on Sunday mornings and assimilate newcomers from the Sunday service…Most of us have been trained and educated for a world that no longer exists.” (p.11)

It isn’t that we are trained for a world that doesn’t exist. That world is alive and well. It is the corporate world. The problem is the church is not a corporation but we train leaders to manage it that way. We treat churches more like corporations to be managed than organisms to be nurtured, watered, and experience healthy growth. We adopt corporate methods and measures of evaluating success. We train people to run programs, not disciple people. Breen says, “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church you rarely get disciples.” (p.12). He goes on to say, “Most of us have become quite good at the church thing. And yet, disciples are the only thing that Jesus cares about and it’s the only number Jesus is counting. Not our attendance or budget or buildings. He wants to know if we are ‘making disciples'”.

Now he has hit the nail on the head of what confounds many of us in ministry but we didn’t have the words to describe. We know what Jesus has called us to, we know what we have been trained to do, and we know what is actually happening. The problem is, these three things don’t often overlap very well and so we feel the void. It gets even tougher. When you are executing what you have been trained to do and what “church culture” encourages it would seem that you would feel fulfilled through those efforts but too often things feel flat. Have you been there? Does this make sense of why you have felt or are currently feeling that way?

Mike takes it a step further and in doing so he really describes what many ministers find frustrating painful today. “Effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way around. We need to understand the church as the effect of discipleship and not the cause. If you set out to build the church, there is no guarantee you will make disciples. It is more likely that you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services that religious professional provide.” (p.12). Isn’t that what we are experiencing today? Isn’t that much of the byproduct or even directly results of much of our past work? Isn’t that part of the culture we have created that plagues the church today? The point is, we have challenges ahead that must be addressed. Some of them are the direct results of our past misdirection, mismanagement and poorly defined methods of calculating success. Jesus had only one measure for calculating success and it was the degree to which we are making disciples.

Lastly, Mike believes we have divorced mission from discipleship. In our efforts to be more mission minded we have looked out and placed the emphasis on shaping people outside the church to the neglect of discipling those inside the church. He says the result is we stopped investing in our people and directed our energy to outsiders. It is great that we have gotten more outward focused but if you follow the ministry of Jesus closely at all Jesus never neglected the discipling process of the insiders for the sake of time with the outsiders. There is so much more that could be discussed from chapter one but the main point is this – we have challenges ahead if we hope to embrace the call of Jesus to make disciples it is going to take a real investment of our time, energy, attention and resources. But what else would God have us do?

Thank you Mike Breen for writing this book and the rest of your work. It is a God send to me and my ministry. My prayer is that God will continue to use us here and many others abroad to join in the work of discipling others. It starts here and it starts now.

Just Take the First Step

Over the last few months we have been implementing a ministry to encourage evangelism among our members. It has really been working well and we have had a ton of positive feedback and success. There are still a few pieces that I am figuring out but I have noticed that the more I work at it the more the answers to our questions become clear. Sometimes we fear trying something new unless we think we have it all figured out. What I have learned from this process is that as much as I want to figure it all out in advance and create the perfect ministry at the start and then do it, rarely does it work that way. You rarely know step #10 until you take 8 or 9 steps. So here is what I have learned in all of this – just take the first step. Just do it. Start walking down the path and answers will come, the ministry will improve, questions will get answered. Too many good things never happen because we were waiting for it to all line up completely first. Often answers only come through experience and programs only improve through seeing both success and failure.

For us, the next step is working on discipling. I don’t have the perfect plan yet and probably never will (well, except following the Jesus’ model of discipling) but it is time to get to work anyway and take that first step. What are some things you have been wanting to dive into but haven’t for fear of not having the perfect plan in place?