Some Parallels Between Discipleship and Nursing

A few months ago, my wife Stephane came up with some parallels between discipleship and nursing. I thought they were insightful and decided to pass them along to you.
1. Both must take place often.
Mothers know that every few hours, her baby must be fed. The baby only has a small stomach and therefore needs regular feedings to continue growing and maturing. The same could be said of the disciple. Ideally, the growing Christian will meet regularly with a spiritual mother or father who will guide them in understanding God’s Word and following Jesus. The Bible tells us, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).
2. Both require the right kind of nutrition.
Stephane quickly learned during her time of nursing that it is important to eat the right kinds of food. For example, oatmeal increases the milk supply, while cabbage decreases milk supply. The most obvious parallel to discipleship would be reading the right kinds of literature. For example, the Bible = oatmeal while a Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer book = cabbage. I can almost assure you that a steady diet of God’s Word will result in a growing Christian. In contrast, a steady diet of your token pop-Christian book will result in a stagnant Christian at best.
3. In both, the relationship will eventually change.
Eventually, the mother will take steps to get her child off of the breast and onto solid food. We would be a little alarmed in a child was still nursing at 4 or 5 years of age. Unfortunately, many professing believers don’t grow up to Christian maturity (check out Hebrews 5:12-14). Many people who populate our churches today don’t want to leave behind their comfortable Christianity to take up their cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24-26).
4. In both, the ultimate result is multiplication.
Years later, every parent has the hope that their child will eventually “be fruitful and multiply” and make them grandparents. In the same way, Christian parents want their children to grow up to be disciple-making-disciples. This is where the snowball effect kicks into play – disciples of Jesus Christ are being multiplied left and right as God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6) and that’s exciting!
What about you?
Are you involved in an intentional, one-to-one discipling relationship? If you are not, let me encourage you in that direction.

A Multiplying Ministry

A key element in the apostle Paul’s ministry strategy was to reproduce himself in others. Perhaps this strategy is most clearly seen in 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul writes, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This process started with Paul investing himself in Timothy, but it was not to stop there. As Timothy grew and matured, he was to commit himself to the training of other “faithful men.” This is where the multiplying effect really kicked into gear. These men were expected to “teach others also,” who would teach others also, and on an on it goes. This is nothing new – Paul simply followed the ministry strategy of Jesus in His training of the Twelve. What his Savior modeled and taught, Paul modeled and taught. This worked very effectively as the early church grew and flourished. The same is true over the past two thousand years – when this ministry strategy was followed, the church (in a particular context) experienced growth and health.

Today this standard still applies. If pastors and leaders are not working and planning with the aim of raising up other leaders for tomorrow’s church, they are falling short of our Lord’s commands. As Bill Hull explains in his book The Disciple-Making Church, “The communication and reproduction of the Gospel must become the criteria for leadership. A candidate (for leadership) must be spiritually motivated and propagating the Gospel must become his ultimate objective.” The goal for the pastor is not simply to build a big church with lots of attenders, but to build a healthy church that is filled with disciples. In Luke 6:40 Jesus explained that, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Faithful Bible teachers all look the same and sound the same. Of course, they all have their own unique personality, but down through the ages as disciples have been reproduced, they bear a striking similarity to their teacher, who is ultimately…Jesus.

As we recognize individuals who are in love with Jesus and who have the right character and giftedness for leadership, we must not fail to invest, train and mentor them, and raise them up so that they can do the same for others and lead the church into the future. To be sure, this process takes time. As Oswald Sanders reminds us in his classic book Spiritual Leadership, “Leadership training cannot be done on a mass scale. It requires patient, careful instruction and prayerful, personal guidance over a considerable time. Disciples are not manufactured wholesale. They are produced one by one, because someone has taken the pains to discipline, to instruct and enlighten, to nurture and train.”

In conclusion, pastors and leaders must be intentional about training up “faithful men” in their ministry strategy. It doesn’t just happen without careful planning, implementing and investing. This is going to take a lot of time and effort, but as the multiplying effect gains momentum, the fruit of this ministry strategy will be evident.

Are You Growing in Your Walk With the Lord?

In a few weeks, our son John will turn 1. The pace of his growth has been breathtaking, but especially of late. It seems like every week, he reaches a new milestone. It has been fascinating (and fun) for my wife and I to watch this remarkable growth, along with the growth of our twin daughters Anna and Elizabeth, who are fast approaching their third birthday.

More than once I have wondered; is it realistic to expect Christians to mature at the same pace as a growing child? After pondering this, my conclusion is yes. It is certainly possible, but it is not the norm. I believe it is possible for a Christian to rapidly grow in their walk with the Lord and their sanctification. Nowhere in the Scriptures are we encouraged to reach a certain level of maturity (whatever that might be) and then park yourself there until you die or until Jesus returns.

2 Peter 1:5-8 puts it this way: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are your and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What the apostle Peter is saying is that Christians should strive to grow in their walk with the Lord. If we are serious about following Christ, then our faith will result in virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. This is a sanctifying work that God performs in our lives through the Holy Spirit. It is an act of grace that continually takes our faith to the next level. But we must understand that we have a role to play in all this, which is why Peter said, “make every effort to supplement your faith.”

The apostle Paul was also serious about growth and sanctification. In fact, he rebuked the Corinthians for their lack of progress in the faith. “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is still jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

When we see a 6-month-old baby being nursed by his mother, we don’t think much of it. However, we would rightly be disturbed if that same baby grew into a teenager and was still on the breast. We would think to ourselves, when is that child going to grow up?  Sadly, many churches are populated by adult infants. They have attended church for decades, but they never heeded the inspired words of Peter. They are still on milk when the solid food of the Word is available to nourish them.

Another lamentable reality is the fact that we often have a hard time encouraging fellow believers to pursue Christ with abandon. When we see a brother or sister in the Lord who is not growing or maturing, we have a hard time challenging them. Perhaps one reason for that is we know what the bible says about judging. Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) But we need to be careful that we don’t simply use this as an excuse not to challenge one another. God gave us brothers and sisters in the Lord that we might be responsible and accountable to one another. “And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). If we truly love our Christian brothers and sisters, we are going to do everything we can to point them in the right direction. The right direction always involves moving closer to Christ and growing in maturity.

Perhaps it would be beneficial to take this time to examine your own life (2 Corinthians 13:5). Are you growing closer to the Lord – every year, every month, every week, every day? If our son John stopped growing and maturing, you can bet my wife and I would be concerned. I hope and pray we will show the same concern for our own Christian maturity and sanctification.

What is Family Worship?

As a pastor, I have discovered that just the thought of “family worship” or “family devotions” can be overwhelming to Christian parents. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because parents think they need to duplicate the Sunday morning worship service.  The reality is that family worship doesn’t have to be complicated.

Quite simply, family worship is the family coming together to worship God. The Puritans were big on this and called the family a “little church” of sorts. They believed that the worship of God should be a regular activity, not just something that happened on Sunday. Over the past few years, we have tried to make family worship part of our daily routine. Our three kids are still pretty young so it can be a challenge, but it has also been a great blessing to our family. I can almost guarantee you that if you start doing family worship, it will have a unifying effect on your family and will draw you closer to the Lord.

There are many ways of doing family worship, but there are a few key elements that I would like to highlight for you. Husbands and fathers, as head of the family (Ephesians 5:23, 1 Corinthians 11:3) take the initiative to call the family together for worship. Begin by reading a portion of Scripture. It doesn’t have to be long, but I would encourage you to work through a book of the Bible. One day you can read half a chapter or a chapter, and then next day you can pick it up where you left off. After reading a portion of Scripture, ask the kids a few questions that pertain to the reading. Help them understand what God is saying through His Word. Don’t think you need to preach a sermon every time you have family worship, but it is your responsibility to expose your children to the word of God (Ephesians 6:4).

Next, grab a hymnal or a church songbook and sing a couple worship songs. Most kids love to sing so compliance will not be an issue here. Finally, finish off your time of worship in prayer. Offer God your praises, petitions, and thanksgivings together as a family in prayer. In these two things (praise and prayer), you are responding to God’s revelation, goodness, and mercy. If you are not already practicing family worship, I would encourage you to start. Our family worship times usually only last 10-15 minutes so it doesn’t have to be long. The important thing is to get started and to allow the Lord to direct you.

If you are a couple without any kids, then it goes without saying that you can still have times of family worship. You just have more freedom to worship in a manner that suits you. I would say the same thing to grandparents. Your kids may have left many years ago, but that shouldn’t stop you and your spouse from studying God’s Word and worshipping together. When you visit the grandkids, do what you can to teach them the Bible (Deuteronomy 6:7) and to model a life of worship. Lastly, for those of you who are single, find another person to worship together with on a regular basis through one to one meetings. I would suggest a similar format – studying God’s Word – dialogue – prayer, and even praise if you are so inclined.

I have come back to this quote from Paul Tripp again and again, “God designed our spiritual lives to be a community project.” Whether it is our immediate family, our church family, or the global family of God, God has placed us together. We grow together, we worship together, we rejoice together, and we weep together. What a brilliant plan! But it only works if we come together for the glory of God.

Twitter, Social Media, and True Influence

I have always been a late adaptor when it comes to technology and social media. For example, I waited several years before joining Facebook. When I finally joined back in 2009, one of my college friends joked, “Welcome to 2006, Dan!” Well, after several years of holding out, I finally decided to give another social media sensation a try – Twitter. Someone invited me to join so I thought why not give it a try? Long story short, I closed my Twitter account after only 1 week and 6 “tweets”.

I was surprised by all the random people who signed up to follow my account. Why did these people want to follow me? As I looked into their accounts, I noticed that many of them were following thousands of other people. Sure, they had thousands of followers themselves, but I found it curious that they were following so many people on Twitter. Obviously, they weren’t truly “following” them, which means it was more about self-promotion than anything. “I’ll sign up to follow you, and then you sign up to follow me, ok?” That’s the kind of game they were playing.

To be sure, not everyone on Twitter is like this. I’m sure that some people use Twitter for noble purposes. It certainly doesn’t encourage sustained critical thought (a maximum of 140 characters per tweet), but for some, it is a useful tool for sharing information and I am not necessarily suggesting you close your Twitter account. However, as the digital age continues to transform our society and particularly, how we communicate, there are few things we need to keep in mind as Christians.

First, be careful not to let the technology rule you. Social media can be a great time waster. I remember reading a blog post by a Christian leader announcing that he had just reached 20000 tweets. It doesn’t take long to produce a tweet (or Facebook post), but I can’t help but think this guy wasted a lot of time on his way to 20,000 tweets. Although you might think the world needs to know what you had for lunch, the truth is, no one really cares, regardless of how many followers or friends you have. Be careful not to let social media (or anything) take you away from what is most important.

Second, measuring one’s influence by the number of Twitter followers, or Facebook friends, or blog hits-per-day is not a good measuring stick. Stats and numbers can be very seductive and we must not fall into the trap of equating them with influence. Most of the time, we never really know how God used a particular post. There are times where people comment and join the conversation, but most of the time, the best thing we can do is surrender our work over to God and say – use this (whatever it may be).

Third, our influence is often best realized in one to one relationships. For example, two people studying the Word of God together can be flat out powerful (check out Acts 8:30-35)! In the Gospels, we see how Jesus modeled this with the disciples. If anyone ever had the ability to draw a crowd, it was Jesus. On occasion Jesus did preach to the masses, but his main focus was investing in the Twelve, and to a lesser extent, the 72 (Luke 10:1). For Christian leaders today, there is the temptation to focus more your social media network than on discipling a few people in your church. As you crunch the numbers, there is a very simple reason we are inclined to think this way. I can reach hundreds with a blog post (for some of you thousands), while I can only reach 2 or 3 or 4 in one-to-one discipleship. So which is a better stewardship of my time? Well actually, unless you are John Piper or Albert Mohler, the best use of your time will be in one-to-one discipling and in focusing on your weekly preaching and teaching responsibilities. As the maxim goes, we have to have a big enough vision to think small.

Fourth, find time to get away from the computer and social media and all the distractions the world offers. As a late adaptor, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t yet have a mobile device like an iphone or an android. I just have a plain old cell phone and it serves me well. However, I still struggle to pull myself away from the computer at times. If you have a curious mind, the internet can be a serious distraction and it can have the effect of tuning out the voice of Jesus in your life. Don’t rely upon the internet or social media for your information feed. Instead, develop a rich devotional life with daily time for just you and God, without the distractions of the outside world.

Fifth, if you are going to tell the world something via social media, blogging, or some other form of media, make sure it is something worth saying. There is a lot of information floating around in cyberspace and if you are going to add to it, make sure it’s edifying. Every once in a while, our church has a testimony time and sometimes I encourage our people to follow the ABC’s of sharing. It should be Audible, Brief, and Christ-centered. I think this fits for our discussion here. No point in wasting your time or someone else’s either. And if it’s not Christ-centered, then it’s really not that important.

I quit “tweeting”, but I haven’t given up on blogging (obviously), Facebook (at least yet), or of utilizing of our modern communication mediums. If you are a pastor, my advice is to focus on the things that Pastors have always focused on – prayer, the Word, and on training up the next generation of leaders (2 Timothy 2:2). By all means, use modern technology to accomplish that, just make sure you are not “used” by the technology.

The First Task of Discipleship

The Great Commission mandate is clear. In our going, baptizing and teaching, we are to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This has not changed for 2000 years, nor will it change until the Lord returns. The chief business of the church is to make disciples who will make disciples, and on and on it goes. In this process, disciples of Jesus Christ are continually multiplying and being reproduced.

Recently, I watched a conference video of Francis Chan. Chan is a popular speaker and writer calling the church to reconsider this critical task of discipleship. In the video and while speaking to thousands, Chan challenged the crowd (allow me to paraphrase). “Discipleship is all about multiplication, but I’m not so sure we would want to multiply this group of people here today. Many of you are angry, prideful, unforgiving, and slanderous, etc., etc.” Chan then proceeded to explain that before we make plans to multiply disciples, we must first be disciples of Jesus Christ.

Incidentally, Chan’s new book is called Multiply. If this has wet your appetite for more, you might just want to purchase a copy of the book. Whatever the case, Chan is right. The first task of discipleship is being a disciple. This means being committed to following Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. It means being committed sanctification in your life and having at least some resemblance to your Master, Jesus Christ. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:24-25).

Ask yourself, is there evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in my life? If you are going to help others follow Jesus, it stands to reason that you must first take up your cross and follow Him. You can’t give others what you don’t already have. But as you commit yourself to discipleship, the strength of your witness will increase, and in turn, you will be more effective in helping others follow Jesus. You will be able to say, like Paul, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I am not suggesting that you need to be perfect before you can help others follow Jesus, but I am suggesting that there should be evidence of growth and transformation in your life.

Later on in the same video, Chan noted, “Some of you are going to be welcomed into Heaven and the King will say to you, (again, a paraphrase) “Well done good and faithful servant. You made 8 disciples and you had a church of 9.” Sure, we can find some humor in that, but it’s true. Helping other people follow Jesus is a lifelong task that does not happen overnight. Many of us are accustomed to a paradigm where disciples are made through programs and classes. It is designed to be almost instantaneous. This model has helped us fill our churches, but we’ve filled them with angry, prideful, unforgiving, and slanderous people, who look more like the world than the redeemed of the Lord. In other words, we’ve filled our church with pseudo-disciples and not true followers of Christ. We have multiplied, but not in the way Jesus intends us to.

My intention is not to point the finger at the modern church. It is what it is and we can’t change the church as a whole overnight. However, we can individually commit ourselves to the first task of discipleship – being disciples. We can commit ourselves to sanctification and a holiness of life that will speak volumes to those around us. And as we do that, we can more effectively come alongside other disciples and strengthen them as they pursue Christ.

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10)

Training up the Next Generation of Christ-Followers

In my estimation, evangelical churches today are failing when it comes to training up the next generation of men and women. We are not mentoring and discipling younger Christians the way we should be. Discipleship happens in a number of different ways and contexts, but an important component of that is in person-to-person relationships. While giving some instructions to his young apprentice Titus, Paul makes it clear that older men and women must be willing to mentor and teach younger men and women (same gender). In other words, those with life experience and Christian maturity should desire to impart their wisdom to the next generation. And those who are young and lacking in maturity must demonstrate a submissive spirit and be willing to learn.

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:1-4).

In some churches, these types of relationships are common and they are reaping the benefits. But I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that those churches are not the norm. I say that for three simple reasons. Older Christian men and women don’t feel like they have anything to offer the next generation. Secondly, the younger generation is too proud to admit they need godly counsel. Third, those in church leadership are not encouraging and facilitating Titus 2 mentoring relationships. Thus our churches lack depth and maturity – something that is essential for healthy and flourishing churches.

We need one another as Christians. As Paul Tripp has said before, God designed our spiritual growth to be a community project. We need the church and we need one another. The local church offers a way for older and wiser Christians to connect with younger, less mature Christians. It is also important to mention that age doesn’t matter when it comes to having Titus 2 relationships.  We all need a Paul (a mentor), a Silas or a Barnabas (an associate) and a Titus or Timothy (an apprentice) in our Christian walk. Even if you are younger (I’m around 30), God can still use you to mentor and disciple teens and young adults.

This brings up another important question. What about older believers who are new to faith? Is it all right to seek out someone younger, but more mature as a Christian? The answer is yes! It will take some humility, but both parties will be blessed from that type of relationship, as the Holy Spirit works in their lives.

If this is where your heart is, but you don’t know where to start, a simple place to begin is by praying. Ask the Lord to put someone in your life for you to mentor or for you to be mentored by. Sometimes finding a good match is the hardest part, but that is certainly not beyond the ability of the Creator God. So trust God in this whole process and then intentionally seek out Titus 2 relationships. Perhaps you already have someone in mind that would be a good fit.

I often remind our church of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and the need to “make disciples.” There is no question that Titus 2 relationships are an important part of the disciple-making process. Let’s ensure that we are doing all we can to make this happen in our own lives and in our churches.