Crash Diet Discipleship

20 04 2009

Most Christians have little interest or understanding of their need for ongoing discipleship training.  But when Christian leaders do become interested they seem to almost universally make the same mistake.  They treat discipleship training the same way many overweight people approach a diet – one new wonder diet idea after another.

When you’re overweight the only sustainable way to lose weight and keep it off is to make a lifelong change to your diet.  Sure you may start with an aggressive, unsustainable diet to knock off a bunch of weight in a single blitz, but if that doesn’t give way to a new approach to eating and exercise, the weight will come right back.

Most stabs at discipleship are like wonder diets that take you through a one time process like “40 Days of Purpose” or a membership course or one small group curriculum after another but is this creating a lasting change in your spiritual diet?  Is this an entry point into life-long discipleship training or a quick fix that replaces ongoing training?

So before you pull the trigger on the latest discipleship gimmick guaranteed to help your people grow or your money back ask yourself, is this sustainable?  If someone comes into our community 6 months from now can they get the same training?  If someone trains with us for 10 years can we keep challenging them at deeper levels?

God gave Israel a one-year curriculum for spiritual growth in the Torah that would repeat every year and deepen throughout one’s life.  Classical education involved one year’s worth of material every child would learn and deepen in every year.  The basis of discipleship must be a sustainable process that taps into the creation of an annual discipleship rhythm.  This is sustainable, repeatable, reproducible and endlessly challenging.

So let’s step off the discipleship roller coaster and design a lasting diet that can truly transform lives.

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16 responses

20 04 2009
Bob Kuhn

How right you are. It’s amazing how we tend to do exactly what you’re describing. Everything has a completion date: Bible college, seminary, Sunday school curriculum, etc.

Discipleship is a lifestyle & discipling others should be too.

Man … if I could just do the same with my eating habits. 🙂

20 04 2009
Mike Edwards

Jeremy

Where, in the Old Testament, is this curriculum laid out?

Thanks dude
Mike

21 04 2009
Daniel

I’d have to say that a big reason for the whole crash-diet discipleship thing, is not so much to do with not having the right courses, or “rhythms”, or lengthy enough curriculums… The problem is not to do with the inadequacy of these things (though some might be pretty lame…) but it goes back to the question of what do people see as the reason for why they need to be “trained” in the first place?

Do followers of Christ, generally speaking, see themselves as having a very “vital” role in the spreading of the Kingdom? Do most Christians see themselves as being called to a life that is significant for God, where they will be called upon to preach and teach the gospel to others? Or do they see their role as essentially to sit through an endlessly litany of sermons, classes, activities, small groups, as a passive listener, or at best, someone who has something to share on occasion?

Do Christians simply need to be pushed into more extensive discipleship programs, or do they maybe need to be pushed out into “the fray”?

Will someone ever really appreciate the need for hours of training/practicing for a sport, if they’re never put in the game? Will a soldier ever take his training seriously, if he knows he’ll never have to be the one to go into battle? Is a teenager going to show any interest in learning how to balance her checkbook, or find a job, if she expects to live under her parent’s roof forever?

My point in all this is mainly in response to the church-systems in which most of these “crash-dieters” currently are in. It is these systems which have a huge role in perpetuating the weekend-warrior Christian attitude, where professionals are relied upon to be the ones with all the answers, to do the serious stuff, while everyone else’s job is to sing, put money in the plate, and go with the program. Seems like we can’t talk about getting people serious about discipleship, while ignoring some major factors which serve to hold them back from truly stepping out, and living a radical life for Christ.

Once you start living outside of a system that more or less or regards you as a consumer of their services, and have to figure out what the heck God is calling you to do, then no one has to twist your arm to study the Word, or nag you about being discipled, because you seek it out for yourself! You know you need more and more of Jesus, because He is all you have!

27 04 2009
craigntammy

I grew up doing carpentry with my Dad. My family has been doing some form of carpentry for over 5 generations. And let me tell you, the funniest thing to see is someone who has ‘studied’ carpentry step on to the job site. They can sure talk it up during lunch break but don’t give them a hammer and expect anything to get done!

The problem with discipleship programs is the same. You can study about discipleship in a program but you cannot do discipleship in a program.

For example:

You can have a seminar on marital intimacy but it would of course be inappropriate and insincere to have any ‘application time’.

It is very similar with true discipleship. Jesus said “Follow Me” not “Follow My teachings”. We cannot separate discipleship from commitment and relationship anymore that we could separate wood from carpentry and intimacy from the marriage bed.

…Some things just can’t be done in a class room.

27 04 2009
Mike Edwards

Jeremy?

27 04 2009
Jeremy Pryor

Mike – I’m referring to the Torahic rhythms that included specific days weekly (Shabbat) monthly (Rosh Hodesh) Annually (Yom Kippur, Succott, Pasach, Pentecost etc.) as well as the 7 and 49 year rhythms (Sabbath year and Jubilee).

That adds up to almost 100 days per year packed with significance. Modern Jews use the Talmud and other extra-biblical works to determine how to keep these various days.

Christians rightly abandoned these days as a means of earning righteousness but wrongly abandoned them as a possible tool in their own discipleship and adopted a Christianized pagan calendar centered in the church instead of the family. This was an unfortunate exchange.

Daniel – Yes, I’ve written about this problem extensively and agree that its a larger issue than what I’m addressing here. However, I plan to post a lot on how a paid pastor(s), unwilling to do what you and I suggest as Step #1, could still encourage discipleship in their congregations (my mind is there at the moment because I’m working with many of them these days).

Craig – Yes, the apprenticeship model in trades needs to hold a central place in the discipleship process but training disciples to grow in faith is not identical to a how-to apprenticeship you’ll find in a trade. Paul trained in both environments (discussions in the School of Tyrannus and apprenticeships for Timothy, Titus etc.). I think the reason discipleship can work in a group interactive environment is because part of the goal of discipleship is not simply correct action but correct belief that leads to correct living.

27 04 2009
Daniel

Wow….

I thought when “craigntammy” said, “We cannot separate discipleship from commitment and relationship anymore that we could separate wood from carpentry and intimacy from the marriage bed.” , they absolutely nailed it…

Relationship…

I think the point being made was that it isn’t about a “model”, it’s about real relationship
“part of the goal of discipleship is not simply correct action but correct belief that leads to correct living.”…

I think this statement has given some insight into your understanding of what discipleship is, and how you think it should be done… The more we read, the more we hear of a mechanical process. It’s about this model vs. that model. (correct me if I’m wrong…)

If I once was a slave to sin, and Christ set me free, then I will want to see others set free… If you were once a foreigner and alien to God, and He brought you close, then you will want to see others brought close. If all we once knew was the world, and we then get a taste of the Kingdom, then we will give all we have to see others enter it. It really has nothing to do with “right living”…. correct belief, or in other words Truth, does indeed matter, but not just as it is embraced in the head, it has to penetrate the heart… How does one “train” someone else to let the Truth penetrate their heart? We don’t think it’s possible to “train” anyone to do that, it’s only possible to show how the Truth has penetrated US… It has to be modeled, in life, we can’t just talk about sin and forgiveness, life and death, in some abstract sense…. Nor can we just rely on cyclical reminders to impress these things upon people’s hearts. It has to be something that is real, and genuine, in the life of the one “teaching” others, whether that’s in a group, or one on one…

“Right living” is simply what we do in response to what God has already done for us, the natural response of someone who has been saved from their own wretchedness, their own tangible, real-life sin… It’s not the result of simply inputting the right doctrines into people’s heads…would you agree?

28 04 2009
Jeremy Pryor

Daniel, yes I agree. But let me ask you something. How many bloggers have you contacted, who live thousands of miles away, who then have put you in contact with men they have spent hundreds of hours apprenticing, who have then built relationships with you, only to have you come back on their blog to tell them their method needs to be more about apprenticing relationships? You must admit it’s a bit ironic. 😉

But in your defense, I’ve written very little about how I apprentice men and that certainly deserves a post someday. In the mean time I want to make sure you don’t mistake the first steps I take in the discipleship process as containing the whole process. I take about 150 people per year through the SFL and of those I typically develop ongoing personal relationships with about 20 and of those I develop life-long apprenticeship relationship with 3-5. But because I’m a part of a diverse body, many of those who confess Lordship can find many people within the body who can apprentice them in relationship. Jesus only apprenticed apostles and Paul seemed to mainly apprentice those on his apostolic team. That does NOT mean they are the only one’s who needed to be apprenticed but to your point and Craig’s, apprenticing is often about practice and who better to train in the practical outworkings of the faith than those who have similar giftings.

I also think its dangerous to downplay the role of testing and developing people’s beliefs using the Word of God where the Word itself is the focus. I’ve never presented an either/or dichotomy between Word-centered training environments and life-centered training environments. We need both.

And finally, it seems any process that is intentional and repeatable you deem “mechanical”. If you avoid intentional and repeatable processes you will drastically limit the fruitfulness of your ministry (a fruit bearing after its kind). Jesus and Paul used intentional and repeatable training processes throughout their ministry and these have been abandoned today by both ends of the spectrum – the traditional church using all one-time methods and the invisible church refusing to use any methods at all. I empathize with both but embrace neither. Just observe the lack of reproduction.

28 04 2009
Daniel & Heather

Jeremy,

Who have you “put us in contact with”? We can’t think of one person… Yeah, we’ve connected with a number of people who know you, but every one of those connections happened on their own (even you we found through an on-line search)…

example(s):

Mr. Crawford – google search for house churches in Washington, came up with “why i never want to be a part of a house church” had coffee w/him shortly thereafter.

Mr. Edwards – Conversations on a gentleman by the name of Aaron Snow’s blog, then facebook, then saw we had Mr. Crawford in common as well…see where this is going?

If there are others that come to mind, please let us know and we’ll let you know how we met them just so you’re not getting the wrong impression, but to be honest none of these connections happened through you… However, we can see how you might think that (consider how odd it was for us to see all of these connections throughout the country tied back to you).

Furthermore, the “relationship building” has been a mutual endeavor, we are not seeking to “apprentice” anyone, nor be apprenticed by anyone. We are simply seeking to build relationships with other Followers of Christ and to be led by the Spirit. We must admit it is quite strange to hear your take on the whole situation… It is ironic how God works these things out, isn’t it?

It seems you are still missing our point…maybe it’s because we’ve not communicated it accurately, as it seems you continue to respond each time with some clarification on your method, when the issue is the HEART…..

Have you perfected the method that will pierce the hearts of men and women and bring them to repentance (isn’t the Holy Spirit involved)? Have you found the formula that will enable people to see the emptiness of their sin, and their need for a Saviour?

We were never saying that anyone’s “method” needs to be more about “apprenticing relationships”… Whatever “method” one adopts is only as good as the power behind it…

…When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. -1 Corinthians 2:1-5

As we continue to try and understand the teachings that are being passed on through your “apprentice’s”, we’re wondering how blurred the lines have become between your approach to discipleship, and your approach to the business world… (“…developing sustainable business models”, “trying to create increasing levels of efficiency…”)

It is getting harder and harder to distinguish the difference in your thinking between “discipling” and Enterpreneurship…(Is there one?)

We’re trying to reconcile your teaching methods with the gospel, and at the same time stay true to His prompting, which is that we’d continue to seek truth in all situations.

Like CraignTammy said: “Jesus said “Follow Me” not “Follow My teachings”.

The more we hear, the more it seems that the Gospel that sets men free is just another product to be efficiently packaged and distributed…

We hope that we’re wrong.

The Cosby’s

28 04 2009
eden2zion

Yah, I think I’m confused about what you’re saying.

You seem to be suggesting Jesus’ method of “Follow me” is superior to the method “Follow my teachings” (which is a good argument that I agree with) while at the same time saying you’re not talking about method (which doesn’t make any sense).

28 04 2009
craigntammy

Well I am glad to see I sparked some discussion 🙂

Thanks for the kind words Daniel. My point was about having real relationship however…

In reply to Jeremy’s first response to my comment:

I was not negating the importance of teaching especially in an interactive setting I was merely stating that this alone Isn’t discipleship.

As you mentioned earlier you have various levels of involvement with people based on the level of relationship and commitment that you have with them. This of course was Jesus’ example. The 3, the 12, the 70, and finally the multitudes.

With that being said, (and I don’t know you beyond this blog, but hopefully that will change) I think Jesus also gave us an example concerning how much time is spent with each group.

The constant temptation for (most of) those who are apostles is to spend too much time with the multitudes and neglect those who are to be the apostles in training. Hence the mega-church.

One important thing to remember is that even meeting with the larger groups are perfect times to pass on the ‘DNA’ that cannot be passed on to those apostles in training in other times.

Jesus for example would often take His disciples aside and basically say, “Now let me tell you what just happened here…” “Do you understand now that you have seen the miracle?” “Do you understand the principles from the parable?” etc…

My point was not that Jesus didn’t teach. On the contrary He is the greatest Teacher of truth to ever exist, because He is the Truth! It was just that His teaching always pointed to right relationships. First with God, and then with Man.

I hope this clarifies my position at least and I hope that we get some positive understanding from each other as we further discuss this.

Also, (said in a very loving and humble tone) lets be very careful to keep the pressure on the topic and off of each other. I really believe that we are all aiming at the same thing here 🙂

1 05 2009
eden2zion

Craig, i agree 100%. We shouldn’t neglect any of these groups but the group that is traditionally easiest to neglect is the smallest group where you are in very close relationship. I do think I struggle with this and need to consider how to spend more time with this extremely important group of men in my life. Thanks for the feedback!

7 02 2010
Greg

Hello,

I just found your blog and will be reading it often.

A lot of material to think about. I particularly like the focus on a lifelong commitment to learning and doing.

14 03 2010
Is Discipleship Like Going on a Diet?

[…] Read the full article. […]

22 03 2010
Greg

I just linked to this article from my blog.

Thanks and keep posting more great content!

12 01 2014
Ronald Orr

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