Shaping a Discipleship Culture

I recently had the honor of leading a workshop at the 3D Discipleship event held in Williamsport, PA. The event was sponsored by Growing Effective Churches of the Susquehanna Conference of the UMC. Here are some of my notes from the workshop.

Centre Grove’s Story
I shared a little about what God has been doing at Centre Grove, especially in recent years since engaging the Matthew 28 Initiative in 2011 and beyond (see my 2012 post). I talked about what has gone well (outreach) and ironically, our current challenges (shaping a discipleship culture).

Discipleship Puzzle
There are a lot of pieces to the discipleship puzzle. Thankfully, several of them were discussed at the 3D Discipleship event. What follows here are some pieces I want to focus on (but it’s not the whole puzzle).

Developing a Discipleship Culture
Having a discipleship culture matters. A discipleship culture helps people follow Jesus! A discipleship culture maximizes the quality (and quantity) of disciples of Jesus!

There are several components of a discipleship culture.

Culture is hard to define. Culture is everywhere. It’s all around us! It’s “The way we do things here” (Deal/Kennedy, Corporate Cultures). “Culture is to the church what the soul is to the human body” (Lewis/Cordeiro, Culture Shift). Culture is important because it ultimately determines behavior!

There are no cookie-cutter approaches to making disciples!

Discipleship is about building and growing disciples of Jesus. A disciple is a follower of Jesus, someone who has responded to Jesus’ call, “Come, follow me!” By definition, a disciple is a student, learner, and an apprentice of Jesus. As such, a disciple is teachable and coachable!

Interestingly, the word “discipleship” itself does not appear in the Bible. My favorite word in the Bible for discipleship is “training,” which I’ve written about before (see this post). In one of several uses in Scripture, Jesus told his disciples, “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6.40, NET). I love the word training because it conveys that discipleship requires effort and is a process!

Many churches, especially churches that are plateaued or declining, do not have a discipleship culture. Many of these church cultures could perhaps be described as a “membership culture.” While membership isn’t inherently bad, it’s come to mean certain things in today’s culture (i.e., it needs redefining/reenvisioning).

In a Membership Culture, people tend to be self-centered and inward-focused. There is a consumer mentality. There’s apathy. And, “It’s all about me!”

On the other hand, a Discipleship Culture is all about Jesus. Disciples grow to become more and more like Jesus. People experience spiritual transformation. People are growing servant’s hearts and becoming more active as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world!

Shaping a discipleship is not easy because it involves significant change. Member values and Disciple values clash; they cannot coexist!

The leader’s job is to cultivate the culture as a gardener cultivates the ground. Here are some things to cultivate in order to help shape a discipleship culture …

Model Discipleship
First and foremost, leaders must model discipleship. If we’re not growing as followers of Jesus ourselves, others will not grow, either. We model discipleship through our attitudes as well as our actions. We must be lifelong learners!

Teach Discipleship
We must talk constantly about discipleship, training, growing in Christlikeness. This is certainly part of our Wesleyan Methodist tradition (sanctification, works of piety and works of mercy). At Centre Grove, we often say, “Stay humble! Stay hungry! Stay in tune with God!”

Plan Discipleship
We must model and teach discipleship, and there must be practical ways for people to grow: Sunday school, small groups, women’s and men’s fellowship groups, etc. Bishop Robert Schnase writes in Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, a book which we’ve spent a lot of time in at Center Grove in the past …

Growing in Christ-likeness is the goal and end of the life of faith. … This growth in Christ spans a lifetime. … Christian faith is not static but dynamic. It requires cultivation (64).

At Centre Grove, we encourage people to prayerfully choose a One Word each year to focus their spiritual growth for the year. We use the Events feature in the Bible App to share sermon notes so people can refer to them throughout the week. Find practical ways to help people grow.

Pray Together
I also believe it’s important for disciples of Jesus to talk to Jesus together. A few core prayers have developed at Centre Grove over the years, including …

  • God, give us hearts like yours!
  • God, break our hearts for what breaks yours!
  • God, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable!
  • God, please use us to make your name great!

I think these are some prayers disciples of Jesus should pray, and I think it’s important we spend quality time praying together. Let’s pray for the cultures of our churches, that they will be discipleship cultures where people grow more and more like Jesus, and reach out and engage their community as the hands and feet of Jesus!

Our Worship Playlist

Music, particularly worship music, plays an important role in our family. In fact, one of my favorite spiritual disciplines is listening to worship music.

In 2007 (before kids), I wrote Songs for Leaders, a post reflecting on some songs that were encouraging me and challenging me, at the time. In 2010, I wrote about how we began listening to worship music with Ethan in Ethan’s Repertoire. And, last year, I wrote Sing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs! on the role of worship music in my life, particularly as it impact my passion for God.

I believe the music we listen to is formational for us, giving us hearts for God and making us more and more like Jesus!

Now, it’s not like we listen to worship music all the time. Mostly, we listen to music when we’re on the road, usually traveling out of town, though we may occasionally listen to music around the house. Of course, we sometimes go days without listening to music, but we try to make it part of our lives as much as we can.

I try to add an occasional new song to the playlist, one that I think will be catchy for the kids (not to mention contain good theology). Previously, I’ve written about songs like, “Trading My Sorrows” (the song that started this spiritual discipline), and “My Savior Lives.” Recent favorites include, “God’s Not Dead” (Newsboys), “Build Your Kingdom Here” (Rend Collective), “Your Grace Finds Me” (Matt Redman), “Open Up Our Eyes” and “Nothing is Wasted” (Elevation Worship), and the latest, “Our Great God” (Casey Darnell, North Point).

I enjoying hearing what phrases and concepts the kids pick up on. I love it when the kids pick up phrases that haven’t grabbed me yet.

How does music (especially worship music) inspire and shape you?

Sing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs!

One of the things I’ve discovered over the years that stirs my passion for God is listening to praise and worship music!

In Ephesians 5.18-19, the Apostle Paul wrote …

Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead, be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts … (CEB)

On a similar note, Paul wrote in Colossians 3.16 …

The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (CEB)

The Psalms often urge followers to sing praises to God and to sing new songs, including …

  • “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise for our God.” (Psalm 40.3)
  • “Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth!” (Psalm 96.1)
  • “Sing to the Lord a new song because he has done wonderful things!” (Psalm 98.1)

In the past, I’ve written about music, including: Songs for Leaders, “Songs for My Sons”, You Write the Words, Ordination Playlist, and Songs for the Valley.

Ever since Ethan was 2 years old (he just turned 6), I’ve had a playlist on my iPod with our favorite worship music. I’ve always tried to include songs the kids will like. Some of the kids’ latest favorites are “God’s Not Dead” (Newsboys) and “10,000 Reasons” (Matt Redman). The oldest songs on the list are “Trading My Sorrows” (Darrell Evans), “You Never Let Go” (Matt Redman), and “My Savior Lives” (New Life Worship) (one of my favorite memories occurred three years ago at a hotel playroom with another family in the room; Ethan was belting out the words of “My Savior Lives”: “Jesus you are the only way, my Savior, my Savior lives!”).

The newest songs on the list come from the latest (live) recording by Darlene Zschech, “Revealing Jesus.” So far, our favorite is “Victor’s Crown.” (I’ve always loved the worship music by Darlene Zschech and Hillsong.)

Looking back on my own journey with God, there seems to be a connection between the level of my passion for God and the practice of listening to praise and worship music. Knowing this, you’d think I’d be more consistent, but I go through stages where I neglect the practice. Sometimes I need reminded about the importance of listening to praise and worship music!

What songs stir your passion for God? Post a comment below with your favorite songs!

“The Power of Introverts”

TED is a great place for ideas and inspiration. And, as a communicator, I like to watch them to inspire me to be a better communicator. In fact, I’ve recently started watching TED Talks while walking on the treadmill (at least once a week) as part of my strategy to grow as a communicator. TED Talks generally last 18 minutes or less.

This week, I watched Susan Cain give a great talk based on her new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. You can watch the video here: The power of Introverts. This is a message that both introverts and extroverts need to hear!

Here are some quotes that particularly struck me …

Solitude matters, and for some people it is the air that they breathe. And, in fact, we have known for centuries about the transcendent power of solitude. It’s only recently that we’ve strangely begun to forget it.

Citing the role of solitude in major religions, Cain suggests, “no wilderness, no revelations.” In fact, one of my favorite verses is Luke 5.16: “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.”

At the end of her TED Talk, Cain offered some calls to actions. She said, “Stop the madness for constant group work,” both in workplaces and also in schools. I totally agree! Cain notes, while students need to learn to work together, they also need to learn to work on their own. The trend in seminars and conferences we’ve attended is to include more small group discussion time. Frankly, when I spend a lot of money to attend a conference, I’d rather listen to the presenter(s) than chat with others in small group discussion. A little is okay, but too often, it’s overdone!

Cain also challenged listeners, “Go to the wilderness … have your own revelations.” Cain suggested, “We could all stand to unplug and get inside our own heads a little more often.”

The world can be a very noisy place. With the astronomical growth of social media in the last decade, it’s harder than ever to find solitude. And yet, the need for solitude is as necessary as ever!

Great advice from Susan Cain!

5 Children’s Books for Family Devotions

Our most important responsibility as parents is discipling our children!

While we can always do better, it is something we’ve been intentional about from the beginning. Some of our previous posts include: Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, Praying for Your Children, Family Devotion, Teaching Kids to Pray, and “Praying Circles Around Your Children” (these last two were written in the last three weeks).

In the Family Devotion post, I listed a few books we were using two years ago. But, our list has grown, so here is an updated list of the resources we use for family devotions

My First Read And Learn Favorite Bible Verses (Mary Manz Simon)
This was probably our first devotional book. For the first few years, we read through it over and over again, about two weeks, at a time. These days, we prefer Bible story books, so we don’t use this one as much as we used to, but we occasionally pull it out.

Children of God Storybook Bible (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
We like this Bible storybook because of the international flavor. The writers and illustrators come from many different nations, and the stories reflect their native context.

The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones)
This is another a nice Bible storybook. The stories are well-done and the artwork is appealing. This is one of the kids’ favorite Bible story books.

Jesus Calling Bible Storybook (Sarah Young)
We just added this book to our collection within the last week. It looks like a great Bible storybook. We’ve only read a few stories, so far, but I expect it to become another family favorite.

Psalms for Young Children (Marie-Helen Delval)
We also just added this one. This book will be a good way to pass on our love for the Psalms. There are only a few verses of each Psalm, and not all of the Psalms are included. It is a “selection of Psalms, paraphrased for young readers.”

We go through one Bible storybook at a time, reading a story each night during our family devotional time just before putting the kids to bed.

We’re in the process of starting a new devotional practice — reading a Psalm and praying together before school. We just started this practice this morning. I’m sure it will be challenging, at times, but we’ll do our best!

If you’ve found a great resource for family devotions or want to share a favorite family devotional practice, please let us know by leaving a comment!

Teaching Kids to Pray

One of the most important things parents do is teach their children valuable skills they’ll use throughout their lives. “Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it.” (Proverbs 22.6, CEB).

There’s no greater skill than praying!

As parents, we want our kids to have a vital relationship with God. And, prayer is a key to the realization of that hope!

But teaching kids to pray is hard. There’s no “10 easy steps to teach kids how to pray” or “90-day strategy.” It’s a lifelong process. In fact, as disciples of Jesus (students, learners, apprentices), we’re still learning ourselves!

Some days are rough. Some days, the kids won’t settle down and be still while we pray. But occasionally there are glimpses of hope. I saw three glimpses this week.

On Sunday morning, I began the day by praying and preparing for Sunday’s worship service. Immediately, Ethan knelt next to me. It didn’t last long, but we prayed a couple of verses we’ve been memorizing, including, “Teach me your way, Lord, so that I can walk in your truth. Make my heart focused only on honoring your name” (Psalm 86.11, CEB).

Then, on Monday night, as I was dealing with an illness, and preparing to sleep on the couch, Sarah checked on me. I invited her to pray for me. Sarah, who’s three, said, “I will tomorrow.” I encouraged her to pray right then, and she prayed a meaningful prayer.

During devotion a couple of nights ago, we reviewed our memory verses. Afterward, Ethan offered to lead us through one. We weren’t sure where he was headed, but he proceeded to lead us through a simple prayer, phrase by phrase.

It is often said some things are better caught than taught.

We pray during our evening family devotion just before bedtime. We pray at mealtimes. Occasionally, there may be other opportunities, but those are the primary times. One day, a couple of years ago, I was home with the kids one afternoon while Joleen was returning from an out-of-town meeting. I suggested we pray before the kids’ afternoon naps. Ethan said, “Now? We don’t pray now!”

We teach prayer by what we do and also what we don’t do. It’s a challenging reminder to pray often, and when we do pray, to not go on autopilot by relying on tired clichés or formulaic statements.

Not only are we disciples of Jesus, but our kids are apprentices of us. God has given us the awesome responsibility of training them up in the way they should go.

If you’re a parent or a grandparent, what are your children or grandchildren catching from you?

If you’ve made some discoveries through your own trial and error, please leave a comment!

Teach Me Your Way, Lord!

Life isn’t easy. We need a guide, a compass, a way to live.

Last summer, I was reading through the Psalms, and a verse from Psalm 86 jumped out at me.

Teach me your way, Lord, so that I can walk in your truth. Make my heart focused only on honoring your name. (Psalm 86.11, Common English Bible)

That should be the prayer of every disciple of Jesus Christ. A disciple is a learner, student, apprentice. Disciples strive to be like their teacher.

“Teach me your way, Lord.”

Few qualities are more important for a disciple than teachability. Disciples—learners, students, apprentices—by nature, must be teachable. Disciples of Jesus want to know his way so that they can walk in it.

And, disciples of Jesus should have one sole focus—honoring God’s name. I love the last sentence in Psalm 86.11: “Make my heart focused only on honoring your name.”

I encourage you to internalize this verse and make it your prayer.

In our home, we’ve been memorizing this verse over the last few months. Ethan and Sarah know it pretty well. I hope it will always be our prayer. If so, we will be much more likely to live lives that honor God!

New Spiritual Practices for a New Year

We are starting two new spiritual practices in 2013.

First, we’re adding a practice to our evening family devotion routine. We’ve always read Scripture or a Bible story and prayed together as a family just before putting the kids to bed. Recently, we became more intentional about memorizing Scripture.

This year, we’re adding a little to it. Each month, we’re going to focus on a meaningful word. We will also work on memorizing and internalizing a verse of Scripture that reinforces the word.

The words and verses we choose will be concepts that deepen our discipleship.

We are starting with the word LOVE.

For the next month, we will emphasize love and have as many conversations about love as we can. We’ll talk about love in the context of our relationship with God, our family relationships, as well as relationships with others.

We will memorize and internalize Luke 10.27 …

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Second, Joleen and I are going to continue our devotional time together afterward by reading a daily devotional reading from Jesus Today. Then, we will pray together.

In the last few years, at least, our family devotion time has replaced our couple’s devotion time. But both are necessary (see Couples Who Pray Together Stay Together). This will help us be more intentional about praying together.

We expect these practices to strengthen our discipleship and deepen our walks with God. They will also help nurture our relationships with one another!

How do you cultivate your relationship with God in your family?

5 Benefits of Journaling

I was a 19 year-old college student when I sensed God calling me into full-time ministry. Shortly afterward, I transferred to a different college and changed my major, and my life focus, from engineering to ministry.

While I was finishing up my last two years of college, working on a Bachelor’s degree in ministry, I spent time in the library reading about great preachers from the past. There were two things that struck me about them: 1) they spent a lot of time in prayer, and 2) they tended to journal. I’ve always tried to emulate these two practices in my own life.

Of course, John Wesley was a meticulous journaler. W. Lee Spottswood, one of the preachers who preceded us in this area (and in this conference) 150 years ago, whom I’ve written about here and here, journaled. Currently, I’m reading through Francis Asbury’s journal (I blogged here and here).

On September 27, 1989, I started a journal and I’ve been journaling ever since. For the first several years, I journaled pretty intensively. In 1994, I switched from writing in a three-ring binder to typing on a computer. Amazingly, in the 23 years I’ve been journaling, I’ve written nearly two million words!

While I’ve continued to journal, it has been sporadic at times. However, I recommitted to the practice of journaling after hitting the wall six months ago (I wrote as many words this year as the last five years, combined) Incidentally, I switched from journaling on a laptop to an iPad. Journaling has been a helpful practice over the last six months.

Here are five benefits I’ve experienced from journaling …

  1. Journaling helps me process stuff.
    A journal is a safe place to write out what I’m thinking and feeling.

  2. Journaling gives me a place to write out prayers.
    I’m not sure I do this enough, but I am trying to write out more of my prayers nowadays. A journal is a good place to write out what I’m saying to God.

  3. Journaling helps develop writing and communication skills.
    This was a big deal early on. In high school and college, I really didn’t like English, so I’ve always felt like I had to come from behind in writing and communication. Journaling helped.

  4. Journaling provides a record of experiences.
    Our memories are not perfect, so recording events along the journey is important. Writing it down means I can remember it later. That said, I’ve never been very good at reviewing my journal. But, at least, it gives me the opportunity to do so.

  5. Journaling helps me grow as a follower of Jesus.
    As a practice that helps me process stuff, pray, and reflect on life experiences, journaling is an important part of my discipleship strategy.

If you journal, what benefits have you discovered?

Discipleship Wanes When Christianity is Popular

I’m reading Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community by Elaine A. Heath and Scott T. Kisker. I was challenged by the authors’ description of discipleship when Christianity is popular.

In its earliest days, Christianity was at times “illegal and semi-covert” until the conversion of Constantine in A.D. 312. Constantine made Christianity legal in A.D. 313. This single act changed the character of the church. Rather than counting the cost of discipleship, it became “socially advantageous to be a Christian. Discipline lagged. The church began playing the world’s game.”

The authors contend …

The change in the character of Christianity brought about numerical growth, but not the healthy reproduction of disciples. Like the growth of mainline Christianity after World War II, and of evangelicalism in the 1980s, numerical growth masked the true condition of the church.

Reflection questions:

  1. In Matthew 28, we’re called to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Reflect on the similarities and difference of church attendance and discipleship.
  2. In what ways does the church “play the world’s game” today?