Do I have a life worth imitating? (Disciple Making Essentials Series)

Last week I was coaching a pastor from Michigan.  We have been talking every other week for the past 6 months or so, and he is doing a great job refocusing the church he leads on making disciples (the one thing Jesus told us to do).  During the call he expressed some frustration.  The problem?  There is TOO MUCH information out there right now on how to make disciples.  Don’t believe me?

I just Googled “discipleship”.  In .36 seconds over 9,000,000 results were cranked out.  How about “making disciples”?  Well, it took a bit longer, but in .46 seconds Google delivered over 2,000,000 results.  Over the past 10 years there have been a glut of books, blogs (yes, that would include me), and training materials developed about discipleship.  In fact, for the typical pastor the sheer volume is overwhelming.  Where do you start?  Which system is best?  What is going to actually work for our church?

And then, the moment of truth came: “Tom, can you suggest a simple template for us to follow?”

Didn’t he realize that those kind of questions are illegal in a coaching relationship?  I am suppose to help him answer that question!  I can’t just go around suggesting simple processes for leaders to follow that will result in disciples making disciples, can I?  There are so many experts out there on this subject, wouldn’t it be better to suggest a book or seminar?

And that’s the point he was trying to make.  He has a shelf full of books, has been to many of the seminars, and is already sold on the vision.  The issue is not a lack of good information, the issue is too much information and too little modeling of a simple, repeatable process.

So, how do I respond?  I felt a little called out.  I felt a little like the disciples must have felt when Jesus looked at over 10,000 hungry people and said to them, “you give them something to eat”.  But Lord, I complain, all I have are these two puny fish and these five loaves of half-stale bread!

My attempts to redirect didn’t work.  He didn’t flinch.  He was asking an honest question and he was waiting for an honest answer.  The truth?  I couldn’t give him a good answer.  But I did make this promise: “within two weeks I will put something in writing that could help you draft a healthy disciple making process for your church”.  And then, I made a promise to myself.  Whatever I share with him must be rooted in my own experience – I will not suggest that he do anything that I haven’t personally experienced and found fruitful.

And so, I begin to share this with you today.  Keep three things in mind as you read on:

  1. This is very much a work in progress.  6 months from now it could look different in certain ways (although I believe the essential components will remain intact).
  2. This is auto-biographical to some extent.  Although I have attempted to boil everything down to universal, Biblical, and practical principles it will not be a good fit for every leader and every situation.
  3. I value simplicity over complexity.  I am not shooting for a comprehensive, just in case approach.  Instead, I am aiming for a simple, reproducible template that is both meaningful and memorable.  Just in time training beats just in case memorization hands down.

It all begins by having a Life Worth Imitating

The center of the three overlapping circles – the sweet spot of confluence and integration, is a life worth imitating.  This is a pretty simple concept – we don’t reproduce what we know, we reproduce who we are.  More is caught than taught – no matter how accurate the information or how slick the presentation.
OK, so how do we get a life worth imitating?

A personal encounter with the risen Christ

The upper left circle with the arrow-tipped cross represents the message of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and personified.  This is the good news.  This is the Gospel.
The downward arrow?
  • Jesus left heaven and was born of a virgin in the world he created
  • Jesus died on a cross, paying the penalty for our sins, and was buried for three days
The upward arrow?
  • After satisfying the wrath of God for the sin of the world, the sinless one conquered sin and death and rose again bodily
  • Forty days after his resurrection he ascended to heaven where he now sits at the right hand of his Father
Down again?
  • Upon returning to heaven he sent the promised Holy Spirit to indwell and empower his followers, making good on his promise to be with them always
  • His church awaits his return, the promised second coming of Christ that will literally bring heaven back to earth
The horizontal arrows?
  • In submission and love for his Father Jesus focused on two groups of people.  To his right were his followers, (he took ordinary fishermen and made them into fishers of men).  To his left were the lost sheep, (he came to seek and to save those who were lost).  When Jesus stretched his arms wide on that beam of wood – he demonstrated his love for both groups by spilling his blood.
The simpler version?  Jesus came, he lived, he made disciples, he died, he rose, he sent his Spirit, and one day he will return.
A life worth imitating begins when we repent of our sin and believe in God’s one and only Son, Jesus Christ.

Loving God and loving people

The triangle represents the three crucial relationships for both Jesus and his followers.  Jesus lived his life UPWARD toward his Father, INWARD toward his followers, and OUTWARD toward the world.  
As I pattern my life after Jesus’ example I begin demonstrating to others what a life worth imitating looks like.

Imitation over information

111/222 is a simple reference to two passages of scripture.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  Paul goes on to say to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
This isn’t cramming facts and figures into my short term memory to pass the written exam!  This is life on life apprenticeship.  And in this process we apprentice under another leader (we are Timothy getting discipled by Paul) and we apprentice others (we entrust what we have received to reliable people who are qualified to teach others).
When I follow a leader who is following Christ, and then invite others to follow me as I follow Christ, I activate a life worth imitating.
Let’s be honest, I don’t want you to imitate every single aspect of my life.  I mean, I can’t park a car straight the first time to save my life, I have no sense of direction, and last week I threw my keys away in the trash at Starbucks and had to search through 3 trash cans before finding them.  In a lot of ways, I am a mess!
However, in that sphere of my life where my relationship with Jesus, the patterns of loving God and loving people, and those life on life discipling relationships intersect?  YES – imitate that all day long!
So, there you have it.  A skeleton of the first stage for a disciple making pathway.  Next up?  Putting some meat on the bones as we discuss best practices for each of the three building blocks for having a life worth imitating.

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