Is it the method or the message?

Discipleship can be tricky business. You don’t always know what’s going to work with an individual, a small group or the larger congregation. Sometimes we think the solution to discipleship is giving people more books they won’t read. Sometimes we think it’s talking only about how we apply the truth to our lives (even if we don’t necessarily talk about how we arrive at said truth).

Gospel-Centered-Teaching

My friend Trevin Wax gets the frustration; more importantly, he’s voiced it in his new book, Gospel-Centered Teaching. What I really appreciate about what he’s written so far—and I’m only just a few pages in, so this isn’t a review by any stretch of the imagination—is he also get where the frustration stems from: it’s that we’re focused on the wrong thing. He writes:

I get the feeling that a lot of leaders are weary of running to the newest fad. Tired of trying to stir up enthusiasm for doing the same old thing. They realize it’s not enough to give the newest method.… I’m convinced that the method is not what matters most anyway; it’s the method. Get the message right, and God will work through a variety of methods. But miss the message, and the best methods in the world won’t bring about transformation. (Gospel-Centered Teaching7)

When we’re focused on methods, it’s easy for people to hide what’s really going on in their lives. It’s easy to hide your personal sin and struggles behind a video curriculum. It’s easy to ignore conviction when reading a how-to book.

It’s a lot harder when you’re being challenged to think in light of the gospel. Discipleship stems from the “therefores” of Scripture. “Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1 (HCSB); but the message comes first. We can’t walk in light of what we don’t know. That’s what Trevin’s talking about, and that’s what we need more of in our thinking on discipleship, whatever method we employ.

When you’re gun-shy about discipling others

word-balloons

There’s this young guy I talk with most mornings at my daughter’s bus stop. He’s a really nice kid, not quite 25… but, man, is his life a mess (the details about which I won’t get into because, well, they’re none of your business). He’s also a professing Christian, and one who’s extremely young in his faith at that.

Both Emily and I have spoken with him regularly over the last several weeks. When I talk to him about things going on in his life, I tend to probe to find out how aware he is of what it means to follow Jesus, does he know what the Bible says on particular subjects, how aware he is of how his background affects his decision making.

He’s a really nice guy, and typically very forthcoming. For example, today Emily learned he plays Bible Roulette. Crack open the book, read wherever it falls. So she asked if I had a book I could give him on how to read the Bible.

But when she asked, I realized, reading a book on his own may not be the most helpful thing. What he needs is someone to actually work with him in learning how to read and study the Bible.

In other words, he needs someone to disciple him.

If I were doing this what would I work through with him? Francis Chan’s Multiply. As I said when I reviewed it at the beginning of the year, this isn’t really a book for individual reading—it’s a discipleship tool, and a really good one at that.

But can I be really honest? I’m terrified of even suggesting the idea to him. Why? Because discipleship is hard. There’s the time commitment, sure, but it’s the emotional investment… and the risk of failure. I’ve had mixed results in my efforts to disciple some other young men in the past (some of which I absolutely have to own), so it’s got me a bit nervous. What if I fail with this guy, too? What if he sees what the Bible says about any number of areas of life and says, “yeah, no”?

But maybe I’m overthinking it. And maybe this fear also brings to light something I need to remember myself: the results of any sort of discipleship relationship are not in my control. When I worry about “failing” this guy, what I’m really saying is I want to control the outcome. Or at a minimum, I want a guarantee that things will work out alright.

But God doesn’t give us those kinds of guarantees.

Nowhere does the Bible say that every relationship is going to result in good fruit. After all, the apostle Paul experienced this when men he considered his brothers in the faith and co-laborers abandoned him and turned against him—including Hymenaeus and Alexander whom he “handed over to Satan” so they might learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20).

So why would I expect to have greater success than one of the authors of Scripture?

The thing I have to remember, again and again, is that I’m not responsible for the results of my efforts in this area. I can sow the seed, I can water, but only God is going to give growth. So that should probably be enough for me, shouldn’t it?

Links I like

10 Steps to Preach From Your iPad

Tim Challies:

About a year ago, or maybe a little more, Paul Martin (the Senior Pastor at Grace Fellowship Church) went away for a couple of weeks and left me to preach. Because I prepare my sermons digitally, I was finding it increasingly silly to convert them into the older medium of paper. They say that “while the cat’s away the mice will play,” so I took this as an opportunity to begin preaching from an iPad instead of a paper manuscript. I have been preaching from that iPad ever since.

There are many ways to go about it, but I will tell you about the system I have been using for the past year or so. I have found that it works very well. You need only two programs to do this: Pages and GoodReader (or Word and GoodReader if you use a PC). While I continue to use a full-size iPad, this system will work just as well with the Mini.

Note: this is more or less what I do, except I convert my notes to an ePub file and have my manuscript open in iBooks.

Zondervan’s perspective series on sale for the Kindle

Zondervan has put a number of their multi-view books on sale for $2.99:

Also on sale:

Is It Actually Hard to Be a Pastor?

Mike Niebauer:

As a pastor who often hears other ministers teach and preach, I am disturbed by the number of times pastors allude to their jobs as being particularly difficult. Yes, we face many challenges—ministry may involve times of high emotional and spiritual duress—but I don’t think these difficulties merit special recognition with regard to other vocations. After all, being a pastor involves almost no manual labor, which makes it physically easier than most other occupations in history. It doesn’t require a 60- to 80-hour work week, unless you somehow equate longer working hours with more of the Holy Spirit’s presence. And although the emotional and spiritual challenges faced are difficult, teachers and social workers—to take just two examples—face similar or greater obstacles.

New Research: Discipleship in Canada

Ed Stetzer:

Two-thirds (66 percent) of churchgoers surveyed agree with the statement, “I desire to please and honour Jesus in all I do.”

However, when asked how often they read the Bible outside of church, a third (34 percent) say rarely or never. Only 11 percent read the Bible daily. Just over a quarter (27 percent) read it at least a few times a week or once a month.

Only 3 percent say they do in-depth Bible study on a daily basis. More than half (53 percent) rarely or never study the Bible.

Most didn’t seem to feel bad about skipping the Bible reading.

Sixty-two percent disagree with the statement, “If I go several days without reading the Bible, I find myself unfulfilled.”

Get Blood Work in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Blood Work by Anthony Carter (ePub and MOBI) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory by Jeremiah Borroughs (paperback)
  • The God in Our Midst by Daniel Hyde (hardcover)
  • Sola Scriptura (paperback)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Book Review: The Gospel Commission by Michael Horton

What is the mission of the Church? Depending on who you ask, you’re likely to hear answers that address various aspects of social and personal transformation. Some will say that we as Christians are to care for the poor, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to be salt and light in the world.

And all of these are true. But what is the mission of the Church specifically?

Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus provided the answer to this question when he said to His followers, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

The mission of the Church is to make disciples. But is it possible that we’ve gotten a bit off-track? Are we actually making disciples—or are we doing something else? In his new book, The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples, Michael Horton offers a careful biblical and pastoral examination of the Great Commission, offering many helpful insights into how the Church can move forward in its role.

Two Promises

This book marks the culmination of a work that Horton began with Christless Christianity and The Gospel-Driven Life. Where those books necessarily spent a great deal of time dealing with the very serious errors that have crept into the Church, the vast majority of The Gospel Commission is decidedly more positive. Following the structure of Matt. 28:18-20, Horton bookends this work with the two great promises of this verse:

  1. Jesus’ absolute authority over all things in heaven and on earth given to Him through His death and resurrection; and
  2. Christ’s assurance that the Great Commission will not fail.

These two promises are essential to the Church fulfilling its mission. Without the assurance of Christ’s authority, we have no hope, nor any reason, for making disciples. “The early Christians were not fed to wild beasts or dipped in wax and set ablaze as lamps in Nero’s garden because they thought Jesus was a helpful life coach or role model but because they witnessed to him as the only Lord and Savior of the world.” (p. 33). His authority strips away ideas of private religion because He is not simply a “personal Lord and Savior,” He is the Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Redeemer and Judge of all the earth. In light of this, the call to make disciples is not a “nice to have,”—it’s an urgent imperative for all churches.

Additionally, because Christ is Lord—because He is decisively in authority over all things—disciples will be made. We cannot fail in the task to which He has appointed His Church. It also relieves us of a great deal of pressure. Horton explains:

Jesus is not waiting for us to fulfill the Great Commission before he returns in glory; rather, he is fulfilling the Great Commission by his Word and Spirit and will return on the day that the Father has set. This relieves us of an impossible burden, liberating us to participate in the missionary movement in which the Triune God has been engaged from the beginning of the world. (p. 294)

The return of Christ does not depend on you.

Disciple-making does not depend on you.

It all rests on the sufficiency of the gospel and His authority. Is that not good news for the weary believer? [Read more…]

Bid Them To Count the Cost

If we desire to do good, let us never be ashamed of walking in the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ. Work hard if you will, and have the opportunity, for the souls of others. Press them to consider their ways. Compel them with holy violence to come in, to lay down their arms, and to yield themselves to God. Offer them salvation, ready, free, full, immediate salvation. Press Christ and all His benefits on their acceptance. But in all your work tell the truth, and the whole truth. Be ashamed to use the vulgar arts of a recruiting serjeant [sic]. Do not speak only of the uniform, the pay, and the glory; speak also of the enemies, the battle, the armour, the watching, the marching, and the drill. Do not present only one side of Christianity. Do not keep back “the cross” of self-denial that must be carried, when you speak of the cross on which Christ died for our redemption. Explain fully what Christianity entails. Entreat men to repent and come to Christ; but bid them at the same time to “count the cost.”

J.C. Ryle, as published in J.I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle, p. 181

Watch Me

Photo by Jenny Erickson

In his latest (short) book, From The Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days, D.A. Carson shares a story from his youth on the necessity of one-to-one discipleship. I heard Dr. Carson share this story back in April and it’s stuck with me, so much so that I wanted to share it with you (which seems appropriate in light of yesterday’s post):

As a chemistry undergraduate at McGill University, with another chap I started a Bible study for unbelievers. That fellow was godly but very quiet and a bit withdrawn.

I had the mouth, I fear, so by default it fell on me to lead the study. The two of us did not want to be outnumbered, so initially we invited only three people, hoping that not more than two would come. Unfortunately, the first night all three showed up, so we were outnumbered from the beginning.

By week five we had sixteen people attending, and still only the initial two of us were Christians. I soon found myself out of my depth in trying to work through John’s Gospel with this nest of students. On many occasions the participants asked questions I had no idea how to answer.

But in the grace of God there was a graduate student on campus called Dave Ward. He had been converted quite spectacularly as a young man. He was, I suppose, what you might call a rough jewel. He was slapdash, in your face, with no tact and little polish, but he was aggressively evangelistic, powerful in his apologetics, and winningly bold. He allowed people like me to bring people to him every once in a while so that he could answer their questions. Get them there and Dave would sort them out!

So it was that one night I brought two from my Bible study down to Dave. He bulldozed his way around the room, as he always did. He gave us instant coffee then, turning to the first student, asked, ‘Why have you come?’ The student replied, ‘Well, you know, I think that university is a great time for finding out about different points of view, including different religions. So I’ve been reading some material on Buddhism, I’ve got a Hindu friend I want to question, and I should also study some Islam. When this Bible study started I thought I’d get to know a little more about Christianity—that’s why I’ve come.’

Dave looked at him for a few moments and then said, ‘Sorry, but I don’t have time for you.’ [Read more…]

Who Influences You?

Matt Chandler shares some of the story of his conversion and discusses some of the men who have shaped him:

There are certain people who have been a powerful influence on us, particularly in how we live out our faith.

I’ve spoken of some of them here before. My friends Adam & John have been major influences, particularly as we’ve been wrestling with theology together. Chris, a godly man who took me and a few other guys under his wing at a moment in my life when I desperately needed guidance and counsel. My Friday morning men’s group is increasingly becoming influential in my life as we try to work out .  

But what about you?

Who influences you?

Who has been an influence in the past and who continues to be to this day?

When Finishing Well isn't Finished Well

Photo by Jonathan Ruchti

 

A discussion that’s come up recently with some friends has been the idea of “finishing well.” 

When someone says, “I want to finish well,” I wonder how often they mean “I want to build a monument to my accomplishments”? This is probably because I’m naturally a bit pessimistic. 

I guess the question that’s been coming to mind is—is that really what we’re called to do? 

Do we want to “finish well” and try to protect our idea of what our legacy should be—and in the process see it crumble all around us? 

Do we hold so tightly to our ideas of what we think our place in history should be that we fail to see it slipping through our fingers? 

Do we spend so much time thinking of the perfect exit strategy that we don’t consider how we can prepare those coming after us? 

Is that what we want our legacy to be? 

Paul knew what it meant to finish well. He wrote to Timothy, 

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. . . . [A]lways be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim 4:1-2,5-8) 

Undeniably Paul speaks here of finishing well. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he writes. He persevered until the end. 

But how do we know that he’s done all this? [Read more…]

How Can You Encourage Your Mentor?

I really appreciated Piper’s response to the question posed in this video.

As someone who’s greatly been blessed by the ministry of a much wiser man, I’ve found that some of the most fruitful times of ministry are when we’re able to invest in each other, which is really the heart of mentoring, isn’t it? Not simply give or take, but a mutual exchange.

Anyway, take a couple minutes, watch the video or read the transcript and give some thought to these question:  

Do you have a mentor? If so, how can you encourage him or her today?

The edited transcript follows.


As a young Christian I am often encouraged by an older mentor. I find it difficult to know how to encourage him, because I feel like the student. What are some ways I can encourage him in return?

The sin in a mentor’s heart wants you to make much of him by saying good things about his mentoring. The righteousness in a mentor’s heart wants you to make much of God and Christ because of what the mentor has pointed you toward or modeled for you.

This second one will, in fact, encourage him that he has done something right, and that’s not a bad feeling. But it needs to be right for God’s sake and right for Christ’s sake, not just, “I really need complements here, I really need affirmation.”

So I would tell the person who is being mentored to describe in significant ways the Christ-exalting good that has been done in your life. Describe what you’re seeing about Christ. Describe experiences that you’re having in ministry and in life that show the spillover and the fruit from the mentoring relationship.

Don’t think you have to think of a list of good things about that mentor. What he’s living for—if he’s a godly man—is your change and God’s glory in your life. So talk about that! Talk about God and talk about ministry. That would be the main.

Secondly, I would say to pray for him, and ask him how you can pray. Mentors are not above the need for prayer.

And thirdly, be a really good thinker and listener. In other words, if he is pointing you to something—showing you something, explaining something to you—be there! Be there emotionally and be there with your mind. An attentive, eager student communicates, “I’m expecting something valuable here,” and that honors the mentor.

By John Piper. © Desiring God.

A Faith Worth Imitating

faith-imitating

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

 

Seven times—in 1 Cor. 4:16 & 11:1, Phil. 3:17, 2 Thess. 3:7, 1 Tim. 4:12, Titus 2:7 and 1 Pet. 5:3—we’re told to follow the example of others who are following Christ’s (imperfect as they may be).

It seems that the Holy Spirit was pretty emphatic on this point when inspiring the Scriptures.

The example of others is a critical part of our growth as Christians.

Of course, this also means that as we follow the example of others, we must be an example worth following.

I guess, then, the question for me becomes:

How am I doing with that?

Is my faith worth imitating? Am I an example that should be followed? [Read more…]

Book Review: Fight Clubs

fightclubscover1

All Christians everywhere are commanded to “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” (Matt. 28:19-20), but some of us aren’t all that great at it. Some of us are great at sharing our faith, but no so good at sharing our lives. We have community groups and accountability partners—but sometimes our idea of accountability is little more than a check list of things to not do, or a mutual pity party where everyone confesses worldly sorrow, but fails to repent.

But we’re called to something much greater than that. We are called to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim. 6:12) as we go forth and make disciples. And Jonathan Dodson, in Fight Clubs: Gospel-Centered Discipleship, wants to remind us of that.

In this short work, Dodson states that it’s by focusing on the person of Jesus that true discipleship happens. “We become what we behold. If we behold the beauty of Christ, we become beautiful like Christ” (p. 15). This is one of the most profound statements in the book, because truly, we do become what we worship. And when we take our eyes off of Christ, we become something ugly. We are not disciples worth imitating, because we are imitating the wrong things.

In focusing on Christ, inevitably our attention is  fixed on what we’re called to—the Gospel, the Church and Mission. We are saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus, into community with fellow believers, on mission to make disciples of all the nations. We do not exist in a vacuum. We are, as Steve Timmis says, “not individuals, but individuals-in-community.”

So what do we need? We need Fight Clubs, says Dodson.

“Fight Clubs are small, simple groups of 2-3 who meet regularly to help one another beat the flesh and believe in the promises of God. Men meet with men and women meet with women in order effectively address gender specific issues head-on” (p. 44).

There are three simple rules for Fight Clubs (and no, one is not “Do not talk about Fight Club”). They are:

  1. Know Your Sin
  2. Fight Your Sin
  3. Trust Your Savior

In order to fight our sin, we have to know what our sin is: Is it vanity, lust, pride, anger? Once we’ve identified our sin, we then need to know why we’re prone to it. We need to “get to the sin beneath the sin” (p. 46). Once we know where to strike, we can begin to put our sin to death so that our joy may be complete in Christ. And by trusting in Christ, we can be assured of both the promise of eternal life and the strength of the Holy Spirit to fight and put our sin to death (cf. Rom. 8:13).

Fight Clubs offers a powerful appeal. Biblical community on mission to glorify Christ. This is something that many of us sorely lack in our lives, and the concept is one that I want to implement into my discipling relationships. It’s honestly too easy to slip into a routine of “just hanging out” and not talking about Jesus or getting into some sort of bizarre checklist/sin management type thing that really kills the spirit of the relationship. I would highly encourage you to download the e-book or purchase a hardcopy from Lulu.com, and be inspired to continue to fight the good fight.

Sunday Shorts (08/02)

Get Religion Saves—Free!

Mark @ Here I Blog is giving away a free copy of Mark Driscoll’s Religion Saves and Nine Other Misconceptions.

To enter, all you need to do is comment and tell him why you’d like to win the book (and saying you like free books doesn’t count).

The drawing is August 8th, so enter today.

Free E-Book—Fight Clubs: Gospel Centered Discipleship

Jonathan Dodson‘s Fight Clubs: Gospel Centered Discipleship is now available as a free e-book from The Resurgence. Download a copy in PDF format or purchase a copy through Lulu.com.

UPDATE (08/04): Read my review of this book here.

Free Audiobook: The Divine Comedy

Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy is this month’s free audiobook of the month at ChristianAudio.com. Use the coupon code AUG2009 to get this book free.

Out of the Archives: Just Do Something

just do something“I feel like God wants me to be alone for a while.”

“I’m waiting for God to open a door to the right job.”

“If I choose this school, will I be going against God’s will for my life?”

We’ve all statements like these before. Whether it’s dating and marriage, the quest for the perfect job, what college to go to or where to buy a house, many Christians get hung up on the question of God’s will: Is it God’s will that I do XYZ? What is God’s will for my life and how can I know what it is? While it’s good to be concerned about living a life that glorifies God, sometimes we spend too much time navel-gazing when we really ought to just do something!

That, in a nutshell, is the point of Kevin DeYoung’s book, Just Do Something... Read the rest of this review.

In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Everyday Theology: “Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words” Why our approach to evangelism needs to be more than good works.

Some Doubted If people stood before the resurrected Christ and still doubted, we need more than a good argument or a nice experience: We need the intervention of the Holy Spirit.

“Free Pass” Theology Some early thoughts on a difficult subject: Do babies and young children automatically get into Heaven?