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One of the perks of my job is that I get to meet with some wonderfully gifted pastors. These men love Jesus and are regularly laying down their lives for the sake of the people they love the most, their local churches. I wish I could share more openly about their lives, but it would not be appropriate.
But I will say this: these gentlemen love God, their wives, and their churches. It seems as though the only thing they think about is how to better care for others. It is inspiring and personally convicting to me. It is a definite perk of my job and a privilege to consult with such humble men. God has positioned me to come alongside a few of these good men to assist them in thinking through how to do better soul care.
If you want to follow what Jesus asked all Christians to do, you must have this worldview in mind all the time. These four components are not negotiable if you aim to obey the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). With these things in mind, let me take you on a quick tour through each one to break them down into chewable pieces.
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). You know this truth well. Thus, if you want to grow in your faith, you need a source of information that will assist you and others in Christian maturity. Fortunately, God is a “speaking God.” He gave us His words so we would not be in a dark room searching for the exit (Ephesians 4:18).
The only essential, unique, sufficient, authoritative, and infallible words that we have from Him are in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, the Bible becomes the foundational basis for any knowledge that you will use to train anyone. That tidbit does not mean you can’t use other sources of knowledge.
It would be unwise to “stick to the Bible” like a parrot without implementing one of the most significant grace gifts that we have in the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand and communicate God’s Words in practical ways. If you could not speak about God, by using Spirit-illuminated words that were not in the Bible, your life would be clunky and Spirit-deficient.
The Spirit of God is active in our day, just like He has been throughout church history, always illuminating us to help us think more clearly about God’s words. The fruit of the Spirit’s work is boundless. He has assisted many believers in writing good books about God and all things practical.
The world is full of books from godly men and women who archived their thoughts about God and life. This article is a small example of how a person can work from the primary source of knowledge and extrapolate teaching that is not out-of-line with that base. Instructively, a commonly asked question is, “What would be a good book for our group (or person) to go through?”
I realize the intent of the question, but their concern is not the right question the individual should be asking. For discipleship purposes, you don’t necessarily need to find the right book. We know how to find reliable God-centered books. In the States, with the plethora of them, you can get one as quickly as the DSM folks create disorders.
Still, yet, many folks are always in search of the one right book that will tell them how to do the one right thing so that they will be right with God and others. Book-centered Christians are pandemic in today’s church. Before Gutenberg, having the right book was not the issue. The wise person knows that the abundance of good books can lead to solitude, self-centered thinking, and “Dead Sea living.”
While the Bible is our sole authority and other good books will give you some direction, neither the Bible or a book will make your individual life practical without the assistance of a disciple-maker. As I was writing this article, someone asked a question on our site about a significant marriage problem. He probably knows more theology than I do, but he does not know how to navigate his tumultuous marriage. Carefully reflect on what I just said.
The book is the tool, and then there is the person who needs your customized care (Acts 8:31). Your goal is not to make that person an educated man or woman. That is step one, without question, but your ultimate aim to help this person to become a practicalize man or woman. Your point-of-focus must be on how to take their knowledge and help them practicalize it.
To practicalize the Word of God in a person’s life, you must contextualize and customize it into the “warp and woof” of their psyche (soul). What you don’t want to do is sit around reading, talking, explaining, and learning what a book says. There is a place for understanding the Bible and other godly books, but discipleship is not discipleship if that is all you do.
Typically, when I lead a small group, we go through the Sunday sermon from the previous weekend. The message becomes our “base of knowledge” that we use to give us a point-of-departure and a lane to move down for the evening. But when the small group is over, it’s not the sermon that we take home.
If we only restated what the pastor said so that we could remember what he said, it would be nothing more than stacking more knowledge into our over-stuffed knowledge silos. The sermon, like any book we read, in no small degree, vaporizes at the end Sunday unless you shake the “sermon globe” during the small group to talk about it again.
The average Christian listens to more than fifty sermons a year, and more than 95% of that information only makes it as far as their short-term memory banks. There is a better question to ask in your small groups.
What has God been doing in your life? Or, how have you practically applied the sermon from this past Sunday into your life? It is not the Bible or the books or the messages or even my articles that they remember with clarity. It is how they practically applied the knowledge to their specific lives.
You learn by applying, not by sitting and soaking in God-centered materials. When Jesus talked about the Bible, He was applying the Bible to those He was discipling. Though He taught them knowledge, He was careful and patient to teach them how to make it practical. This perspective is why you rarely see Him making monologues to anyone, outside of Matthew 5-7.
And when He did bust out a monologue on a group, He would be quick to make an application to the lives that those folks were living (Matthew 5:27-28). This training style is essential in the discipleship process. Jesus wanted more than smart “Bible guys.” He hoped they would know it, understand it, and practically apply it to themselves in transformative ways (John 17:15-17).
Jesus wants you to get smart by learning knowledge. And Jesus wants you to experience sanctification from your knowledge base (John 17:17). Do you have someone teaching you the truth? Do you have someone helping you to experience customized sanctification that flows out of that truth?
The centerpiece of the Bible is the gospel, the person and work Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. He is our focal point. If the Bible were a landscape, the gospel would be its highest peak. The Old Testament writers pointed to Him, the gospel, and the New Testament writers told us about the gospel, Christ, and church history reflects on the gospel.
We are supposed to follow, emulate, be in, and exalt Christ. The gospel is the profound message of God’s Word, and it must be the heartfelt message of our lives. The difficulty for us is how to connect the gospel to the mundane realities of our lives. Notice how Paul joined the gospel to our everyday lives.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Paul is not primarily interested in them becoming smarter by memorizing Ephesians 4:31-32, though that would be a good thing to do. He is applying that knowledge practically to real people with real lives with real problems. And it’s essential for you to see that Paul does not want them to divorce what they do—forgive—from the motive for why they do it—the gospel.
Do you see how he connected the gospel to a practical need in our lives? If you divorce your practice from your motivation (gospel), you could become a rote-Christian or even a Pharisee. There are plenty of people in the world who do good things, i.e., being kind and tenderhearted.
Paul wants you to do better than being a sound moralist. He wants you to live out a gospel-centered lifestyle. You don’t want to “move Christ” to the perimeter of your life while inserting something else as your driving motivation.
When someone asks you why you did something, your answer must be, “The gospel.” Learn how to make “gospel connections” by joining all your thoughts, words, and deeds to Christ. When a bitter person asks you why she should forgive her husband, you will be ready with an answer.
Ma’am, it’s because of the gospel. Christ forgave you, and God calls you to forgive others, even if all you can do is forgive him in your heart because he is not asking you to forgive him. Though he may never be free from his sin, what he did should not manage you. You can “let it go.” See Romans 5:8; Matthew 18:23-33.
The goal of discipleship is not about personal wholeness primarily, whatever that means. The purpose of discipleship is about being Christlike (gospel) to others. The number one reason a person comes to counseling is to get their lives straightened out. Rarely will someone come for more than that purpose.
You will have to teach them that as Christians, we have higher goals than merely getting over our problems. An unintended consequence of the modern counseling movement (and our culture) is that it has helped to create a pack of me-centered Christians. The point of the Bible is to go and pour your life into others.
Sometimes pastors bog themselves down in helping people overcome their problems because they have no choice. It can be so time-consuming, that to do preventative discipleship training is not an option. They are more like life coaches. There is a world of difference between a life coach and a discipler. The former helps you with your questions, while the latter helps you to help others.
Paul did not counsel. He discipled. If Paul helped someone (counsel, if you wish), it was to ramp-up that person so he could spread the gospel to others. He was all about spreading, pushing, and sharing the gospel around the world. He emulated the purposes of Jesus. Christ did not come to give us wholeness only. He came to give us a message to share. We are disciple-makers!
Too many Christians see Christianity as an opportunity to have a better marriage, better children, and better friends. While those things are good and sometimes a by-product of Christianity, Jesus never meant those things as the central focus of our lives (2 Timothy 2:2).
The best way to make your discipleship effective is to give your disciples someone to disciple. If you want your disciple to be a humble learner, provide them with somebody with problems. I would give some of the folks in my small group people in the church that they could come alongside to love and help through a situational difficulty. And I would disciple the small group member through this process.
When this happens, my small group members are more attentive, more humbled, and more curious about how to care for these people. They are learning by doing rather taking the “sitting and soaking worldview” from Sunday into our small group meetings. I’ve set-up our Mastermind Program with the same worldview; our students start discipling from week one.
In college, you sit and learn a lot of great stuff, but you have no questions and no vocation to apply all the fantastic knowledge that you are acquiring. Four years later, when you hit the production floor, you have a ton of questions, but you cannot recall all you learned way back when. Nobody can do that. Teach a man how to fish by putting a rod and reel in his hand. I guarantee you that he will pay attention and will be asking you a lot of questions.
Parenting Analogy – When our children were younger, they would ask me about all kinds of things when we went somewhere, e.g., Walmart, restaurants, coffee shops. If we’re sitting around the house, doing nothing, they would not know what to ask about our world. But once we hit the road, I felt like I was in an inquisition. They were seeing, wondering, examining, and asking.
Jesus did not sit around teaching a Bible study. He walked with his friends, giving them things to do while instructing them all along the way. And when they came back from their disciple-making opportunities, He would do a de-brief with them (Luke 10:17). This method is how you want to train others; you can do better than merely helping them through their problems. Give them someone, so they will be motivated to practically know what they need to know while passing it along to another.
Be like Jesus: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).