Distinctives of Christian Training – Discipleship Series Part 3

26 01 2008

We’ve defined discipleship and unearthed training methods but what elements must be a part of Christian discipleship? Below is a list of seven that have been important for us as we’ve initiated processes intended for transformation from our old life into the life of Christ.

Strict Training – What little Christian training does exist it seems to have a level of intensity somewhere between Kindermusic and the Brownies. Perhaps this is why we would rather endlessly pontificate abstract general truths from the pulpit rather than get up in each other’s “bidness”. After all, isn’t hurting someone’s feelings a sin? (God save us from this lie).

Here’s a little explored passage these days. 1 Cor. 9:25olympiad.jpgEveryone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Notice that when Paul says “they go into strict training…but we” But we what? We go into strict training to get a crown that will last forever. We do? Do you remember the date you went into strict training? Further. Paul compares our training to Olympic training. Here is one of those cultural illustrations that actually still works for our culture but to no avail. We all know how Olympic trainers train but we have an Olympians skill at avoiding these kinds of uncomfortable Scriptures. Oh well, it’s only the Bible. And this was a long time ago. Maybe the people of Paul’s day needed strict training but today our transformed lives are so evident that all we have left to do is come together for 1 hour a week to celebrate the achievement of our unsurpassed maturity in Christ. Paul would be so proud (when the Christian activity of almost all mediocre Christians is “weekly celebrations” what exactly are they celebrating anyway?).

Faith-building – One big difference between training someone to master a skill (like playing the piano) and discipling someone in Christ-likeness is a shift from focusing first on behavior to faith. Jesus knew better than anyone that behavior naturally follows faith and the best way to transform behavior is to build the disciple’s faith. Our aim in discipleship is to tear down false beliefs that naturally lead to godless action and to carefully construct a new set of beliefs strong enough for the weight of real life.

Let me illustrate this process. In Genesis 1 we learn that men and women are created in the image of God (The Imago Dei) which is the foundation of our worth and that every human being. It’s a nice idea but I’ve never met a Christian that believes it. On a scale of 1-10 the may, if they are lucky, believe in the Imago Dei at a 1 but they believe in the culture’s definition of human worth (performance, appearance, and self-esteem based) at a 8 or 9. So almost all Christians think of themselves and treat others just like the culture because we believe the same as they do. If you teach them about the Imago Dei they will say to themselves “Come on, I’ve heard this before. I already know this.” And they are right, but they don’t believe it.

You see, the instant their faith in the Imago Dei grows (to say a 6) and surpasses their faith in the culture’s definition of human worth (say it falls to a 5) that person will instantly change. No joke. I’ve seen this over and over again. What is not instant is the process of increasing one’s faith in the truth and the deconstruction of one’s faith in the lies. Jesus didn’t care about what people knew, he cared about what they believed. We’ve replaced an obsession with faith with one of knowledge. A discipled congregation for most leaders is when their church knows all of God’s truth once they spent 20 years preaching through the Bible. Never mind these things they “know” they only believe at a 1. So how do you build faith instead of merely impart knowledge? It requires specific training methods we’ll build on later but for now I’ll say its often the dynamic interaction of two methods 1) intensely, intentionally and personally testing the real beliefs of trainees through invasive questioning followed by 2) aggressively, systematically deconstructing worldly beliefs by a skilled faith-filled Spirit-led trainer the trainee trusts and respects.

Christ-centered – He is our model our inspiration and the physical embodiment of the truth we are growing to believe. The Gospels that painstakingly describe Christ’s life must paint the target.

Narrative-based – What are we building faith in? Unfortunately we’re still recovering from a devastating period of human thought called “the Enlightenment” which ripped truths out of contexts, which tends to work fine for disembodied abstractions like math, but is devastating for theology (truths about God). We are living in God’s story and the Bible is mostly narrative, so we can experience God through his real life actions, not so we can dissect him in neat pieces for scientific evaluation. People need to become personally identified with who they are through the story of God. This Story-formed Life contains the categories for all the faith elements necessary for life changing discipleship.

Calls to Repentance – As disciples work through the story and identify truths they clearly don’t really believe (given the evidence of their life) we need to call them to repentance in every area. Radicle disciples have chosen to turn their back on lies and reorient their lives toward the truth the first step of which is repentance every time.

Spirit-filled – No doubt some have received teaching about the Spirit that they use as their excuse for avoiding this activity. I’m sorry but Jesus didn’t command the Spirit to make disicples, he told the disciples to make disciples (and us by extension). But with that said, discipleship, like everything in the Christian life, must be done through active dependence on the Spirit. Few things are more amazing to watch than a discipler, filled with the Holy Spirit, unearth the secret faulty foundation of a trainees heart in a way that brings a flood of freedom, life and Christ-likeness.

Lifelong – It doesn’t stop until we reach full maturity (which doesn’t happen in this life) so this process needs to keep going. But it’s precisely this unending nature that makes it so important to separate training into clear, burstable, bite-sized modules. Modular training allows everyone to start where they actually are at, but gives freedom to push well-trained disciples even farther in their pursuit of the Christ-like life.

In part 4 I’ll describe what we do at Koine to give one (imperfect) example of these principles applied.


Discipleship Methods – Discipleship Series Part 2

15 01 2008

drillsgt_moves_troops.jpgNow that we’ve defined Christian discipleship as “A defined training process that continues until the disciple’s life is brought into conformity with Christ’s teachings” from the elements of the Great Commission (click here to read more) let’s get practical and describe methods.

The first thing that must be said is that the prevailing definition seems to be that discipleship is any conglomeration of activities that might grow a Christian (sermons, relationships, small groups, books, seminary etc.). NOTHING has been more destructive to the creation of a real and effective discipleship process than this self-serving definition of discipleship by serendipity (happy accident). The reason for this (as I’ve described here and here) comes from a backward approach to mission and method (designing one’s ministry around a method or model instead of a mission). What church leaders and planters do is first determine their methods (creating a hip weekly worship service for example) and then try to accomplish the mission (discipleship) with this ineffective tool or with whatever is left over. And despite the enormous resources of Western Christianity we simply can’t disciple our congregations (much less the nations) while using less than 1% of our time, energy and money on the development and execution of an intentional, discipleship process.

So what methods fit this definition? To understand all the possibilities simply undertake this experiment. Ask at least 15 people you know (preferably a mixture of Christians and non-Christians) to describe anytime they were effectively trained in their life (don’t mention Christianity specifically) where they began not having a skill or mastery in an area and afterward had attained this and it changed them. Further ask them to identify what elements about that training they found to be particularly effective. I’ve asked more than 50 people this question and I can’t remember anyone mentioning Christian training (maddening considering this IS our mission and most of those I asked were committed Christians). What I have found is that almost everyone can remember effective training in the secular world whether in the military, nursing or even as a barrista in a coffee shop. Over and over the following elements were mentioned as essential (below is only a partial list) –

1. Intentionality – They showed up specifically to be trained (changed) and for that reason alone.
2. Commitment – They had made a decision to be trained in this area and had alloted the time, money and energy required.
3. Scope of Time – Each skill had a reasonable amount of time associated for mastery which was told to the trainee in advance so they could plan.
4. Outcome Defined – The trainee clearly knew what the training was expected to produce to greatly focus both the trainee and trainer.
5. Skilled Trainer – Some people have amazing gifts as trainers and when these people are the ones made responsible the outcome is vastly improved.
6. Clear Process – The steps to the training explicit and followed so successive progress can be monitored.
7. Group Learning – While individual attention can enhance training most find a group experience designed to not let anyone slip through the cracks most effective.
8. Interaction – Since the outcome is clear and successive steps can be measured interaction is essential to know where everyone is at at all times and to facilitate the possibility of group discovery.
9. Respected Models – While trainers are one kind of models, having access to many models you respect and can relate to gives trainees a clear picture of where they are headed.
10. Encouragement – Change requires us to be pushed and pushed people must also be encouraged to maintain the requisite energy and interest to complete the process.

Have you been through a process like this? If you’re like the random group of people I’ve asked most of you have but not within the church. We are all familiar with effective training methods, we simply fail to see their relevance to our Christian ministry (can you see how absurd this detachment is considering the Great Commission?). In later parts of this series I’ll describe our method and how we’ve incorporated these elements but there’s nothing revolutionary about what we’re doing. All we have done is actually attempt to train Christians with the methods that generally work.

One call in this series is to say that, before we do anything else, before we plant any more worship services ministries or start another Christian small group we must do at least the bare minimum to ensure that EVERY Christian under our care has access to a clearly defined process that will take them from wherever they are to an increasingly radical state as a disciple.

You may see how these elements can work well with training in a finite skill but how are they adapted to changing the way we live.

Check out Discipleship Part 3 – Distintives of Christian Training.