Disciples making disciples
The conversations were real. Even intense sometimes! And we could go on for hours if nobody interrupted. Close? We were really close. But somehow I don’t remember his name. Weird! As important as he was at the time, I probably could have gotten along fine without him. Which probably explains why I jettisoned him somewhere along the way. Imaginary Friends make the preschool years just a bit more manageable. And that’s a fact.
In the intervening years, I’ve come to appreciate most of the folks who’ve crossed my path, and come to cherish the many who’ve become friends. Real friends. The kind that are anything but imaginary. Like glue. Reliable no matter what your season; no matter what messes you find yourself slogging through... always there.
At this point, I think I’m supposed to add something like, “You know what I mean.” But I won’t, because I’m learning that not everybody knows what I mean. Over the past several months, I’ve had several conversations with people whose ‘friend’ experiences aren’t like this. They watch quietly from the sidelines as others seem to make friends effortlessly and wonder what that’s like. It’s not a jealousy thing, or even envy, it’s just not something that happens for them. At least not easily.
As I’ve listened, I found out that many of them have endured some really hard stuff, but after some exploration I realized that this wasn’t necessarily the issue. Not realizing how arrogant and insensitive I was, my extroverted self wondered, sometimes out loud, if they just lacked friend-making skills... you know, “Let me show you how it’s done, it’s so easy!” (What a schmuck). The reality is that they are wired differently. And this sometimes hurts because our culture tends to attach higher value to people who are at ease in crowds and who connect easily; even in the church.
I voiced this concern a few times earlier this year in our Sunday services, worried what unintentional messages we might be sending when it came to worship experiences and church culture. I remember wondering if there were folks at FCC who were coming, watching, feigning a sense of ease or belonging, and leaving more empty or desperate than when they came. Nobody ever affirmed this directly, but that it continued gnawing at me made me think there was something to it. And there was.
The confirmation came in the form of a book recommended by my sister, Dondi, and her daughter, Austin (my niece & Word With Friends nemesis). The title was intriguing enough; “Blessed Are The Misfits,” by Brant Hansen. But it was the subtitle, “Great News for Believers Who Are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They're Missing Something,” drew me in. The author, Christian talk-show host Brant Hansen, opens the book by explaining that he had never felt comfortable with modern church culture and had come to the point of assuming he was just a misfit who never would.
It’s compelling as he unpacks the ‘why’ of his disconnection, because in the reading you begin to realize that he represents a considerable number of people who either attend church but struggle deeply with not fitting in or, worse, simply move on, unable to overcome the disconnect. They often feel like there’s something wrong with them, especially when they are regularly urged to being more expressive and outgoing... “like us!”. It was hard to hear, especially since connecting has typically been easy for me. How much I didn’t understand or even care to.
I won’t attempt to tell you the rest of the story because I wouldn’t do it justice and, honestly, I’d like you to read the book, too. As I consider Jesus’ command to love God and to love others like God does, I can’t escape the sense that I’ve got some work to do. And, collectively, we have some work to do. Loving others like Jesus does will continue to challenge and stretch us to make a safe place for those who feel odd or out of sync with the way we’ve been doing it, but we’re His family and Father is calling us out. For the sake of others. For the sake of the Kingdom.
Eating breakfast in the greasy spoon restaurant in Clackamas on our way to a Cruise-In, Woody interrupted my conversation with another of his friends and quipped, “You’re a motorhead, aren’t you?” His words made me smile. His eyes twinkling, he went on, “I’ve never met a pastor who was a real motorhead.” (Definition: ‘motorhead’ - “someone who spends an inordinate amount of time in -- and derives a great deal of pleasure from -- thinking, talking, reading, fixing & hopping up any and all vehicles with motors or engines”). That really made me grin, mostly because I’d never met a worship band director who was a true motorhead!* With that, I had to disappoint him just a little by explaining that my interests stretched to anything with wheels, since I also have a passion for bicycling. Fact is, I even get a kick out of Pinewood Derby cars! If it rolls, I’m in... and the faster the better!
So imagine how cool it was when I came across a way to share FCC’s vision in the form of a wheel! (Remember: If it rolls, I’m in!) As we head through the summer, we’ll continue to unpack the nuts and bolts (motorhead talk) of becoming a church that Makes Disciples Who Make Disciples.
The wheel illustration is derived from Jesus words in Matthew 28:19-20, often called the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” It’s a pretty straightforward plan, and it worked incredibly well from the very beginning. Those early disciples pretty much turned the world upside down in a matter of a few generations!
So what about the wheel? Take a look:
The wheel illustrates the process of growth and commitment each follower of Jesus makes when they journey into becoming a true disciple. We all started spiritually dead, no matter how great we might have thought of ourselves in those days. What changed it all was surrendering our lives to the Good News (Gospel) that God had made a way back to himself through Jesus, who lived the life we couldn’t live, and died the death we had earned, so we could be adopted as kids into God’s family! So we were born... again!
What happens from our infancy depends on a number of factors, but generally our growth is dependent, like that of children, on our nurture and our will. The folks who showed us the way to Jesus are tasked with the responsibility of raising us up to maturity, but we have to be willing to go there!
The three quadrants that follow describe our growth in Jesus. The Child is, as kids are, self-centered and focused on what they want and what they get from Father and the rest of the family. They are pretty heavy into expectations, and determine if they are pleased or unhappy based on how they like things and whether their needs are being met. They show little interest in the deeper things of God, and find the rigors of growing and changing laborious and even taxing! This is normal for new Christians, but was never meant to be a stopping point. Every church has at least a few longtime members who have never gotten past this stage. Enough said about that, at least for now!
Young Adults have turned the corner in their lives, as they are stepping up to serve and doing so with excitement. They have also become motivated learners, enjoy studying and have even began taking responsibility for their own walk with God. They are eager for mentoring, willing to be corrected and motivated to grow. Young Adults really love Jesus, are eager worshipers, and find themselves quite naturally telling people about their faith They naturally complain less, as they are sensing the big picture and see their gifts and time as essential investments in building Jesus’ family. They are a delight to others in the church and truly bless those who they serve. They are also a joy to those who disciple and lead them.
Parents are all the things already described in the Young Adult brought to maturity and possessing the crucial character and skills of multiplication. Their eyes are now on the complete mission of the church and they are sold out to seeing it through. Parents are consistently sharing their faith, and are equipped and enthused by the responsibility of pouring their lives into (discipling) this new generation. Their great joy is to guide others through these same stages of growth -- around the wheel again -- until they, too, become multipliers.
The Wheel is a simple way of envisioning where we’re going at FCC. If you’re already a Christian, you can also use it to evaluate where you are in this process. As we roll (remember, if it rolls, I’m in!) through the summer, listen for opportunities to plug in, regardless of where you fall on the wheel. Whether you realize that you’ve not really grown and needs a Discipler in your life or if you’re a Parent; mature in Christ with a desire to begin leading others to Jesus and to that same maturity you’ve already experienced. As always, stay tuned!
*For those who never met him, Woody Aanestad was an incredibly gifted and skilled musician, band director and worship leader who faithfully served us at FCC for nearly 13 years before he graduated to heaven... many of us still miss him greatly!
Spine tingling! Awesome! Changed my life! Amazing! Blew my mind! The guys were absolutely exhausted but totally wired up as they piled into the vans and SUV’s for the overnight drive to our homes seven hours north. Even a midnight traffic stoppage for bridge construction couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm. As we drove through the night, one by one the guys dozed off until I was left alone with my thoughts and reflections. If you’re awake, night driving on a nearly deserted interstate can be pretty cool, especially when you’re fresh from an experience like nothing you’ve ever had before.
That was May of 1994 at Anaheim Stadium. About 40 of us from our church in suburban Sacramento had traveled to Promise Keepers on Friday morning, not sure what to expect. It really was amazing... and all those other things. The music was indescribable with more than 64,000 men moved by the Holy Spirit singing... loudly! Even the timid guys were belting it out! It was cool, but the stuff I continued to mull over on that quiet overnight drive were the messages. Some of that teaching was so crucial it still influences my thinking today. Some of it really didn’t connect. And some went into a file for later... in some cases way later! Like 20+ years later. Like the teaching on ‘The Three Essential Men for Every Man to Fulfill His Mission’, which came rattling back through my brain a few weeks ago.
The Three-Others were, in simple terms, a Peer to walk with us, a Mentor who disciples us, and another believer to whom we are a Mentor. Being a men’s conference, the teachers used a men from the Bible to help us process it, but the principles apply to everyone.
As we’ve embraced Jesus’ call to become a church that intentionally makes disciples who make disciples, this simple principle found it’s way back into my thought process. It makes so much sense, and can be put into action by anyone of any age from JH students to Super Citizens. Not to dwell on “what if’s”, but I’ve been pondering how much more I might have grown and influenced others if I had been more intentional in the intervening years... But wait, there’s more!
Last week, as I was ruminating on this blog entry, I ended up on the phone with my friend, Sean Thome. Sean heads up the church planting and pastor mentoring ministry, NWCEA, in the Willamette Valley and is coming to teach here at FCC on May 27 & June 3. As we were discussing his insights into the process of disciple-making, I mentioned that I was preparing to write on this Three-Others principle, and he responded that it really should be Five-Others, not just Three. Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate and I loved what he said.
He noted that there was a missing element at both ends of the original three. Starting with the obvious, he said every Christian must start with a solid relationship with God! (Insert forehead smack: Duh... why didn’t I see that!?). Rightly he noted that the richness we intend for the other relationships are a direct reflection of how closely we walk with God. If we’re tight with the Father, we will walk in humble teachability and wisdom. With that, Sean moved to the other end, the fifth relationship every one of us need: Someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus. In keeping with the other three, he represented this person with the biblical character of Zacchaeus, a man who was not a follower, but had a genuine interest in what Jesus was about.
It’s a fact that people like Zacchaeus are often the most overlooked folks by those who are already believers. I won’t imagine what all the reasons would be, but I’ll highlight one: The perception that folks aren’t ready for discipling until they make the commitment to follow Jesus. Using Zacchaeus as an example, we realize that his interest in Jesus predated his conversion by quite some time. He clearly knew of Jesus and had likely even heard his teaching or witnessed miracles some time previous to his actual conversion. He was probably a friend of the Matthew, a fellow tax-collector who had left to became a disciple of Jesus. Regardless, God’s Spirit had clearly working in his life prior to his commitment. His eagerness to surrender his life to Jesus was already in play by the time Jesus came back through town. Just like the Spirit will be working on our friends and family members... way ahead of us!
Give it some thought. Five key relationships. But go the next step. Begin making plans, in deliberate prayer and action, to put these folks in place in your life. Go and get it started... and then watch your life change!
Interesting conversation, it was. A dear friend of mine asked if we could meet and talk about his need for repentance. Curious as I was, my heart was instantly heavy, imagining what might be on his mind. I’ve always admired him for his utter transparency and I know his heart for what’s right and good, but it still seemed a bit ominous. Imagining some kind of looming crisis, I prayed for peace and moved forward to the meeting. Now, there are two kinds of imagination: One is a holy imagining where, by seeing a bigger picture beyond the immediate, we’re empowered as we slog through the muck of our lives with peace and confidence because we know the Father’s faithfulness. The other, much less holy, takes our thoughts to a negative and anxious places, leaving us full of dread or loathing. Yes, that’s where I went.
I should have known, of course! Leave it to my dear brother to bring something completely unexpected. It was a simple, but profound, insight. Typically, his request for forgiveness was untarnished and without condition: Simply that the Lord would restore him back to humility and forgive his desire to be recognized for his skills in the performing arts. Let me interject here that he is greatly gifted in these ways. He had, in his typically humble way, come to realize that his desire to be recognized was quietly siphoning away credit from God. I wouldn’t have known. His prayer concluded by declaring that all that mattered to him was his identity as a son of the Heavenly Father... and nothing else. It was priceless, and, as I said, profound.
Listening as he poured out his heart in prayer, reminding himself (and me) that all of his skills, abilities and gifts were from the Lord alone, I felt a twinge of holy guilt resonating in my spirit. How easy it is to imagine that us getting recognized is somehow good for God’s Kingdom! In fact, just writing that reminds me how ludicrous that really is! As he prayed, I began doing a bit of self-inventory. It really didn’t take long, as I was immediately reminded of my own battle with the same temptation. So, our meeting became a time of mutual confession and repentance, ending by exchanging reminders to keep our pride and desire for recognition in check through prayer and accountability. Certainly not what I expected, but that’s the way of our Father. He loves us too much to let us stay distracted or in sin. And, concurrently, we love Him so much that we are humbled to listen and obey when He illuminates an issue.
As I reflect on our meeting, Solomon’s familiar saying came to mind, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). That simple idea was at work in that meeting. My brother, in his humility and through the Holy Spirit, drew me to a clearer understanding and deeper conviction of my spiritual gifts and the defective attitudes deep in the recesses of my mind. Thus, we both left stronger and sharper than before we met. The writer of Hebrews says a similar thing, but with an even a more deliberate quality, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). In other words, purposefully tune your mind, ponder, consider how to help each other move closer to Christian maturity.
When it comes to being disciples of Jesus, fostering a few of these deep, trusting peer-to-peer relationship is essential to growing. One who walks out your journey alongside you. One who knows your stuff. One who has your back, but from whom you can’t hide. One who loves you as you are, but has been given permission to call you out when you need to hear it. One who reminds you of the Father’s heart and the ways of Jesus. Deliberately. On purpose. By design.
My old friend Leonard and I started this process together back in 1990 by asking each other four specific, ‘can’t squirm out of it’ questions each week. We asked about our devotional life, about our marriage, about the purity of our private thoughts, and then concluded by asking if we had lied about any of the previous questions! One guy joined us but then quit because he didn’t like to answer for his stuff! Over time, we didn’t even have to ask the questions because we would come primed to discuss where we were going in each area. When one of us confessed, the other would follow up with, “How are you going to take to deal with that?” The next time we met, we’d start with a report on how we followed through. Over the course of 9+ years, a lot of garbage got cut out of our lives because there was no comfortable way for it to stay.
Sound a bit intimidating? It is. It think it’s the vulnerability that gets to us. But we gotta’ have it. We flounder without it, too easily glossing over the stuff that’s getting in the way of God’s intentions, and finding it easy to ignore the Holy Spirit’s prompting. It takes a bit of time to get to the place where we were, but oh, was it is good. Give it some thought. It’s time.