Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Making Disciples- NEXT

This is Post #8 of the Sacred Roads: Tools for the Tour Guides blog series. Sacred Roads is a new curriculum published by Threads that helps participants explore and experiment with Biblical and historical expressions of discipleship. The Sacred Roads small group curriculum and leader kits are available at

This blog series provides tips and ideas for discipleship pastors and small group leaders who are charged with facilitating the discipleship process for others.

So what’s next? Where do we go from here? I guess the first step is to experiment with some of these historical paths we have explored. Lean into one that naturally resonates with you. Stretch with one that makes you a little uncomfortable. Maybe create a Rule of Life that incorporates all of them into some spiritual workout goals.

But don’t stop there. Keep exploring, experimenting, and discovering what’s in store for Discipleship Next. We’ve got to re-engineer and re-imagine discipleship for our generation and make our contribution to the grand story that God is writing throughout history.

Like the preceding posts, it seems that the sacred roads of discipleship in our generation will twist and turn with the prevailing philosophies and emerging technologies of the day. Are there ways of discipling people that no one has thought of before? Are there ways of discipling people that were not technologically possible before?

We religious types tend to swing from one extreme to the other in how we view and engage technology. Some of us view technology suspiciously and label it "the devil" when we see its potential adverse effects. Others of us hail it as the new savior-- the way the world will finally for once and forever be reached by the Gospel. But technology is neither devil nor savior-- that would be the devil and Jesus, respectively. It's a tool. And if used correctly, it can be a tool that advanced Biblical discipleship.

Blog, Twitter, and Text
The printing press fueled the Reformation; technology will likewise fuel the next Reformation. If you are a pastor or leader, you can use a blog for digital discipleship. Put your sermon notes on your blog or training topics for your small group leaders. Replace the old-fashioned prayer chain with Twitter. Send quick words of encouragement and prayer thoughts via text. I wonder if Paul would have blogged Galatians, sent his letter to Corinth via email, and shot his thoughts to Philemon as a Direct Message.

My Pastor and mentor, Mark Batterson, says, "If it's worth preaching, it's worth podcasting." Capture every small group training talk on audio and video and upload it to your website. This will allow for your leaders to reference the information later and could also be a blessing to other churches that need good training. If you offer a great platform-driven curriculum, consider offering it for free on your website so people can participate in on-demand discipleship.

Lead Online Small Groups
Do you have leaders on the go? Or leaders that have recently moved overseas? Consider organizing an online small group for them to connect in. Services like Tokbox and Skype offer free video chat services that we at NCC will be using soon to provide an online experience for former NCCers living abroad. If Tokbox were available in the first century, the Council of Jerusalem might have taken place online.

Ask Good Questions
This has nothing at all to do with technology, and everything to do with the relational dimension of discipleship. It was the first pathway in discipleship history, and I believe it is still an important environment to nurture with emerging generations. The best disciple-makers will not be the ones who dispense the best information. They will be the ones who ask the best questions. I'm becoming more and more convinced that making disciples is less about leading people to right answers and more about leading people to right questions. Jesus asked over 307 questions in Scripture. Of the questions Jesus was asked, he only directly answered a couple of them. Henri Nouwen said, "We have to keep looking for the spiritual questions if we want spiritual answers."

Where do you see discipleship going? What's on the horizon? Let's be like the men of Issachar, who "understood the times and knew what Israel should do."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Making Disciples Incarnationally

This is Post #7 of the Sacred Roads: Tools for the Tour Guides blog series. Sacred Roads is a new curriculum published by Threads that helps participants explore and experiment with Biblical and historical expressions of discipleship. The Sacred Roads small group curriculum and leader kits are available at

This blog series provides tips and ideas for discipleship pastors and small group leaders who are charged with facilitating the discipleship process for others.

The incarnational path of discipleship is physical, active, and tangible. It equates worship with activity. Like personal discipleship, it gained great popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries, but it focused on the outward instead of the inward. Within the framework of the incarnational model, people grew in their knowledge and relationship with Christ by seeking to become his hands and feet through service and outreach to others.

Dag Hammarskjold said, “The road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.” From William Wilberforce to Mother Teresa to the emerging monastics and missionary movements of the 21st century, this chapter will explore the historical background of the incarnational approach to discipleship. An approach that embraces and engages in a form of service that is not only the result of our spiritual growth, but the actual vehicle through which that growth occurs. This article provides some ideas for incorporating incarnational methods of discipleship in the environments you lead.

Stretch Yourself
To lead others down incarnational roads of discipleship, many of us need some additional education. Not the kind you receive within the climate-controlled comfort and safety of a classroom. But the kind you get while hanging out with the kind of people Jesus hung out with. We need to break out of our soft pastel painted walls of the church and expose ourselves to the issues of justice and compassion in the world. We need to be courageous enough to step into the world of learning about human trafficking, poverty, homelessness, and unfair labor. In short, we need to "get uncomfortable" as Todd Phillips encourages us in his curriculum of the same name.

Go to the Streets
Take your small group or Sunday School class or worship time to the streets one week. Send folks out to do a prayer walk, to listen to real people talk about their honest views of the church, to pick up trash. Take one night of small group and do a service project in your community. Take cookies to your neighbors. Offer a free car wash.

Go on Mission
Take your group on a mission trip. Build a mud hut in Ethiopia or an orphanage in Uganda. Teach skills and trades to AIDS victims in Africa. Build schools and dig wells in Ecuador. Show the love and grace of Jesus to girls trapped by the sex industry in Thailand. You get a quadruple whammy with this one-- participants will grow relationally, experientially, personally, and incarnationally while on mission. Identify a big project and ask people to give a week's worth of vacation and income to make a difference overseas. Consider turning every small group into a mini-mission trip by asking each group to do a service project in their neighborhood.

Host a Week of Justice
This idea was championed at National Community Church by John Hasler. Designate one week a year as "Week of Justice" and host events that raise awareness and give action to issues of injustice around the world. Bring in speakers, be creative, be open to dialogue, show films, create controversy. We do it during our annual missions series and we've covered a wide range of topics, including sex trafficking, urban poverty, homelessness, environmental concerns, sweat-shop and other unfair labor practices, orphans and widows, international debt, etc.

Meet With the Mayor
Schedule a meeting with your mayor or city council and ask questions: 1) What are the greatest needs in the city? 2) What can we do to make this city a better place? and 3) How can we pray for you? Until we start making our communities a better place, no one will care about what we have to say. Large crowds followed Jesus because his hand was extended to heal. Let's extend our hands in order to capture their ears.

What are some other ways we can guide people down incarnational paths of discipleship?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Making Disciples Personally

This is Post #6 of the Sacred Roads: Tools for the Tour Guides blog series. Sacred Roads is a new curriculum published by Threads that helps participants explore and experiment with Biblical and historical expressions of discipleship. The Sacred Roads small group curriculum and leader kits are available at

This blog series provides tips and ideas for discipleship pastors and small group leaders who are charged with facilitating the discipleship process for others.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the emphasis on the idea of personal conversion and the encouragement to establish a personal relationship with Christ propelled a shift to a personal approach to discipleship.

Within the framework of the personal approach to discipleship, the church moved from a state institution to small fellowships of people who had experienced a personal conversion to Christ. The church provided people with personal growth resources and taught them how to develop a relationship with God, and people grew in their knowledge and relationship with God through personal discipline and time alone with God. This article provides some ideas for incorporating personal methods of discipleship in the environments you lead.

Develop a Rule of Life
Before guiding others into spiritual disciplines, make sure you are practicing them yourself. It's a lot easier to teach about them than to actually do them. I would encourage taking a tip from the leadership of St. Benedict and developing a rule of life-- a pattern for practicing spiritual disciplines. It's about finding rhythms and practices that help you grow in your relationship of Christ and imitation of him. Set goals that are specific and measurable and are bound to a specific period of time.

Establish a Rule of Life for Your Community
After you've experienced the rule of life for yourself, establish a rule of life for your small group, Sunday School class, or ministry. Allow all participants to be a part of the development process and ask them to covenant together to observe it for a specific period of time. It's a lot easier to practice spiritual disciplines regularly and consistently when you are doing them together.

Call for Prayer and Fasting
Spiritual disciplines work best when there is a specific goal or purpose fueling them. Maybe it's to pray for a specific need in the world or community. Maybe it's a fast to give lunch money to a local soup kitchen. Maybe it's to start the the practice of some new disciplines or to re-engage some old ones at the start of a new season. Be like the Old Testament prophet Joel and ask the people you lead to enter into a time of prayer and fasting at the beginning of the year, at the start of a new school semester, before a missions team departs, etc. Be creative about ways to incorporate personal disciplines into the regular, every day life of the church.

Observe Lent
Most of us on this blog are Protestant. And I believe it's to our great disadvantage that many of us threw a few proverbial babies out with the bathwater during the Reformation. Lent might be one of those things we need to dig out of the trash heap. Too often, we miss the true joy and celebration of Easter because we have not adequately prepared our hearts for it. We have not walked through a time of transformation and reflection and therefore are not as grateful as perhaps we should be. I believe that Easter will be more meaningful and more worshipful if we observe Lent in some way.

Incorporate Disciplines Into Worship
Find creative ways to incorporate personal times of practicing spiritual disciplines in retreat settings and worship services. Give people five minutes to meditate on Scripture before you preach on it. Set up prayer stations where people can go to pray for specific needs. Schedule a retreat that minimizes presentation and maximizes practice.

What are some ways you have practiced or would like to explore personal roads of discipleship?

Sabbath This Weekend

I'm gearing up to kick off our new Ritual series at NCC this weekend, and I'm going to tackle the ritual of Sabbath. We preach best that which we most need to learn, right? Hopefully, it will be a fresh look at an ancient ritual. We'll explore some myths and examine some of the reasons we have such a hard time with this ritual of grace. Just like the Pharisees, we have a tendency to want to box it up and organize it in an attempt to understand it and practice it, but we wind up destroying it in the process. We don't celebrate the grace that is extended to us in it.

We will explore how the idea of Sabbath evolved over the course of Scripture. Here is just one example. As you might know, the Ten Commandments are given twice in the Old Testament-- once in Exodus and once in Deuteronomy. Take a look at the Sabbath commandment in each:

Exodus 20:8-11
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy."

Deuteronomy 5:12-15
"Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.

The instructions for following the Sabbath remained the same, but the reason for practicing it changed. Interesting, huh?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thoughts from Connect

I loved hanging out at the Connect Conference in Shreveport this week. Here are a few take-aways that really stuck with me. I'm not directly quoting anyone as I was not taking notes that closely, but this is the general gist.

Behave, believe, belong used to be the pathway we embraced for ministry. We've got to reverse and re-think. It's got to be belong, believe, and become. (Jim Johnston)

A servant uses their hands. A craftsman uses their head and hands. An artist uses their hands, head, and heart. We must be artists in our ministries. (Tim Miller)

Color inside the lines, but think outside the box. In other words, follow well and lead in a way that honors and respects the context you are in. But think creatively about new ways to do ministry. (Tim Miller)

Four markers for young adult ministry- Community, Connection (to older generations), Depth, and Responsibility (Jason Hayes and Jim Johnston)

The issues that the emerging generations care about are also the things that are on the heart of God (Jason Hayes)

"I've got fried dill pickles!" (Pastor Jeff Jones) :)

Making Disciples Intellectually

This is Post #5 of the Sacred Roads: Tools for the Tour Guides blog series. Sacred Roads is a new curriculum published by Threads that helps participants explore and experiment with Biblical and historical expressions of discipleship. The Sacred Roads small group curriculum and leader kits are available at

This blog series provides tips and ideas for discipleship pastors and small group leaders who are charged with facilitating the discipleship process for others.

As the Dark Ages lifted, the world became more driven by science than superstition and reason than religion. The Renaissance, the Age of Reason, and the Age of Enlightenment elevated the importance and primacy of human reason over experience. New voices emerged in the theological debate and introduced an intellectual approach to discipleship.

In intellectual discipleship, people were taught about Christ and grew in their relationship with him through a systematic, academic study of Scripture and the writings of Godly teachers. This article provides some ideas for incorporating intellectual methods of discipleship in the environments you lead.

Study Well
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." Paul might call it "renewing our mind"-- making it more like Christ's. If we want to guide people along intellectual roads of discipleship, we've got to be constantly learning and growing ourselves. We need to exercise our mind, stretch it, and make it wrestle with the Scriptures.

And while some of us may not like it-- leaders are learners. Which often means leaders are readers. Set some goals for personal study-- both in the Scriptures and from the writings of the church fathers (both ancient and contemporary). Review basic doctrine and assess how well your actions line up with the convictions you claim to possess. Dive into a section of Scripture that you have not explored in a while.

Review the Creeds
Gather up the people you lead and spend a night reviewing the Creeds-- Nicene, Apostles, the confession or statement of beliefs of your own denomination. Learning a little bit about the historical underpinnings of each might be a helpful and enlightening dimension to such a study. Check out as a resource.

Study Theology
To most, it probably sounds stale and less fun than cleaning the lint tray from your dryer. But for some folks, a brief introduction to good theology-- the kind that helps you see God more clearly and elevates his character-- might be a major turning point in their spiritual journey. And the reality is that everyone is a theologian. If you have thoughts about God, you are practicing theology. The question is, are you a good theologian? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Read Galatians and Romans. Compare and contrast and discuss the evolution of Paul's theology.
  • Read Who Needs Theology? or Across the Spectrum as a group and discuss.
  • Write a statement of faith for your community.
Teach Proper Bible Study Methods
We are ministering in a Biblically and theologically illiterate generation. Don't assume that the people you lead know the basic stories or doctrines of our faith. Find an environment for modeling and teaching good Bible study methods. Teach them the importance of reading, memorizing, meditating, and studying Scripture. At NCC, we use Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods for a 3-week class on studying the Bible. If you are in a position of teaching or preaching, utilize the sermon to model Biblical study and interpretation. Create tools and assemble resources for helping the people you lead become better students of the Word.

These are just a few ideas. You can also dive into massive Scripture memorization, apologetics, inductive Bible study, the reading of the classics, interfaith dialogue, etc. What are some ways that you have practiced (or would like to explore) intellectual roads of disciple-making?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Will Preach for Fried Dill Pickles

I'm in Shreveport hanging out with the awesome Threads peeps- Jim Johnston and Jason Hayes-- and new friend Tim Miller. We are speaking at the Connect Conference. When I walked into the church, Pastor Jeff Jones brought me a bowl of hot fried dill pickles. Oh my goodness. Yum. He had read my little bio on the side here before I came and learned that I have a particular love for them. Thank you, Jeff!!

And for whatever it's worth, I'm willing to preach for fried dill pickles anytime, anywhere.

Making Disciples Experientially

This is Post #4 of the Sacred Roads: Tools for the Tour Guides blog series. Sacred Roads is a new curriculum published by Threads that helps participants explore and experiment with Biblical and historical expressions of discipleship. The Sacred Roads small group curriculum and leader kits are available at

This blog series provides tips and ideas for discipleship pastors and small group leaders who are charged with facilitating the discipleship process for others.

In 313 AD, history launched the church into a new dimension of cultural influence. Some argue that the political affirmation of Christianity was a good thing for the Kingdom of God and others argue to the contrary. As the church transitioned from a movement to an institution in the late fourth century, the Relational mode of discipleship gave way to a more Experiential mode of discipleship. Buildings for worship were constructed, incense was burned, music was composed, and the mass, or the re-creation of the passion narrative, was celebrated every week.

In experiential discipleship, people were taught about Christ and grew in their relationship to him through a full immersion into a medieval multimedia experience. I think there are some expressions of discipleship from this time period that can be especially helpful to us today as we once again seek to transform people who are image-driven and are fluent in visual language. Today, we will explore some ways that we can make disciples experientially.

Experience God
When was the last time you truly experienced God? The book of Acts tells us that the early church was in awe at the work of the Holy Spirit in their midst. When was the last time we found ourselves in awestruck wonder at the work of God? If it's been a while, I would submit that it's not a lack of God's activity; rather, it's the busy-ness of our own lives that has eclipsed our view of him. We cannot facilitate discipleship experiences for others if we have not experienced God ourselves. To shake yourself out of the routine, consider doing one of the following:
  • Go to a different style worship service to engage with God in a new way.
  • Plan a personal retreat.
  • Spend a few hours in personal or private worship.
  • Find a place that inspires you (mountain, lake, cathedral, coffeehouse, art gallery, etc) and read about the great God encounters of Scripture (burning bush, wrestling with God at Peniel, transfiguration, resurrection and ascension, etc)
Exegete Movies
Whether we like it or not, emerging generations are getting their theology from music and movies. Movies can create powerful experiences that transform us inwardly in ways that are difficult to articulate, Even the writers of the Bible appealed to the secular writers of their day to help them preach the Gospel in a relevant manner. Watch a movie like Passion of the Christ and celebrate communion together. Watch Luther and talk about the convictions we would be willing to die for. Watch a movie like Crash and talk about the power of community, forgiveness, and humility.

For whatever its worth, I think that live theatre has the ability to capture our imaginations more powerful than the big screen. But it's not always as accessible.

Lead a Pilgrimage
Plan a pilgrimage to a local site of spiritual significance. It might be a church or monastery in your town. It could be the site of a historical event with spiritual overtones. Even a cemetery can serve as a teaching trip. Put feet to the discipleship process and talk about themes of sacrifice, loving God with all our strength, and connecting with something that is larger than ourselves.

Meditate on the Stations of the Cross
I talk in more detail about this medieval devotional practice in the Sacred Roads study. As a facilitator of spiritual growth, find a stations of the cross service in your area during Lent and take some people with you. Afterwards, talk about the experience. What did you like? What did you not like? What was Biblical? What was merely tradition? Does it matter?

Then, create your own Stations of the Cross devotion as a team. One that fits the theology and ecclesiology of your group.

These are just a few ideas. Think in terms of places and events that touch the physical senses and heighten our awareness of God's presence. What are some other ways to practice experiential discipleship?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Making Disciples Relationally

This is Post #3 of the Sacred Roads: Tools for the Tour Guides blog series. Sacred Roads is a new curriculum published by Threads that helps participants explore and experiment with Biblical and historical expressions of discipleship. The Sacred Roads small group curriculum and leader kits are available at

This blog series provides tips and ideas for discipleship pastors and small group leaders who are charged with facilitating the discipleship process for others.

Before buildings, Christian Life Centers, and Lifeway bookstores, followers of Jesus made disciples relationally. In homes, in catacombs, and on the road, people grew closer to Christ as they grew closer to one another. As you strive to make disciples relationally in your context, consider doing the following:

One-Another Well
Did you know that there are over 30 commands in the New Testament that cannot be obeyed outside the context of relationship? They are the "one another" commands and they instruct us on relating to one another well. Love one another, serve one another, honor one another, confess to one another, forgive one another, encourage one another...

If we want to make disciples relationally, then we must first ensure that we are one-anothering well. Are we relating to other people in healthy, Biblical ways? Are we making sure that we are in growing, accountable relationships with other people? Take some time to go through the New Testament and write down the one another commands that you see. Then reference it once a year to check the alignment of your heart and relationships with Scripture.

Lead a Small Group
Sometimes, pastors don't lead groups because they are leading leaders. I think it's a good idea to get back in the trenches every now and then. At NCC, we operate on a tri-mester system, and I try to lead small groups for two of the three semesters each year. Many of you reading this probably already lead a small group, but if you don't, think about leading one this year.

Invest in a Few
Find three or four people to invest your life into for a season and teach them what you know by doing life with them. It doesn't have to be an awkward weekly meeting where you talk through a book together. That can work (minus the awkward part), but I've found that the best discipleship happens in our every day walking around lives-- in the car on a road trip, on a mountain while hiking, in a mall while shopping. Who are the few people that you, as a leader, are intentionally investing in? And are you expecting them to turn around and do the same for others?

Wear Out Your Welcome
I've already written about this quite a bit here and here. Invite people into your home until your doormat is shredded and the"welcome" is faded. Invite large groups of people who have common interests who need to connect. Invite small groups of people who might benefit from knowing each other. Make your home an Emmaus- a place where people can come face to face with Jesus even if they don't recognize him a first. Discipleship happens when you put food on a table and invite them into it. Consider incorporating communion into the meal and turn it into a first century Love Feast.

Validate Community Where It Is
One final idea-- validate community where you see it. At NCC, we don't have a huge list of requirements for small group qualification. If you connect together regularly and one of your purposes for connecting is to help people grow closer to Christ, you can be a small group. Too often, we church people devise very specific sets of criteria for what a small group is, and then we tell our people "Community is important, so you need to come to one of these groups." But really, we have just thrown another time commitment into the rotation of activities that are already crowding our bulging schedules. Why not look at where community already exists and call it valid?

Hopefully, these are some ideas that will help you facilitate relational discipleship, but the opportunities are endless. What are some other ways we can make disciples relationally?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Far-Reaching Roads

The New Jersey Turnpike turned into a sacred road today. This morning, I hauled suitcases, hiking packs, and two dear friends into a borrowed truck and drove four hours to the Newark Airport. My friends had a flight to catch, and I believe it was an appointment with destiny. They are heading now to South Asia where they will work to combat human trafficking. These idealistic 20-somethings are crazy enough to actually believe God is serious when he says, "Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17) And crazier still, they are willing to invest their law degrees, their talents, and their lives into that search for justice. Pray for them.

After sharing some hugs and high fives, I walked back to my car. My eyes swelled with a salty liquid and my heart swelled with pride for my friends. I was overwhelmed by the joy of doing ministry at NCC and humbled at the opportunity to be a part of events like today. But it's only one story of many. They are not the only NCCers who are wandering down far-reaching roads. On Monday, another incredible NCC leader heads to Ethiopia. The Monday after that, another NCC leader flies to the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are all going in different roles and capacities, but all are going with one ultimate goal-- to see God's name glorified in their lives.

They are willing to journey down far-reaching roads to fulfill the calling of God in their lives and spread the Gospel in their generation. I want their lives to inspire mine. Sometimes, going down a far-reaching road does not have to be geographically far at all. Maybe it's going down a far-reaching cultural road to build some new friendships in my neighborhood. Maybe it's venturing down a far-reaching spiritual road to enter into conversation with someone far from God. I want to turn the roads that I walk every day into sacred roads because my feet are carrying the Gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) to the world I encounter.

Historical Amnesia

This is Post #2 of the Sacred Roads: Tools for the Tour Guides blog series. Sacred Roads is a new curriculum published by Threads that helps participants explore and experiment with Biblical and historical expressions of discipleship. The Sacred Roads small group curriculum and leader kits are available at

I’m concerned that we have not met the discipleship challenge because, like the Pharisees often failed to understand, we do not see the larger story that God is writing throughout history. For most of my life, my understanding of church history went something like this: God created and started working in human history in the Old Testament. He sent Jesus to die in the New Testament. The church was birthed in the book of Acts. The Reformation was really cool and there were some neat revivals here and there but nothing much else happened until…now.

Bruce Shelley, author of History of the Church in Plain Language begins his book, “Many Christians today suffer from historical amnesia.” That was my diagnosis. Historical amnesia. It was also the reason I failed to understand discipleship. I had neglected 2,000 years of experiments and discoveries. In ignorance, I did not realize the wealth of spiritual growth opportunities that the church had used throughout its history.

When I began to explore my own heritage as a follower of Christ, I discovered new/old models and expressions of discipleship that could catalyze my own spiritual growth. Exploring the history of church in the Catacombs gave me a new understanding and appreciation for Christian community. Realizing that God was still at work between Constantine and the Reformation, I rescued some proverbial babies that most Protestants threw out with the bathwater. I even conceded that the Social Gospel, no matter how theologically messed up it might have become, had some things to teach me about the heart of Jesus.

Disclaimer. This Sacred Roads study is by no means intended to be a comprehensive overview of church history. In fact, it doesn’t even scratch the surface. I would point you to Church History in Plain Language and Water From a Deep Well for that. But I do see some trends in discipleship throughout the history of the church:

In the first three centuries, the primary model of discipleship was relational. There were no building campaigns. No programs. No Sunday School curriculum. Just people. As Jesus developed relationships with Matthew and his friends, people grew closer to God as they grew closer to one another.

In the fourth century, the church moved from living rooms to cathedrals, and the relational mode of discipleship gave way to a more experiential mode of discipleship. Like Jesus rocked Peter’s worldview in the boat, experiential discipleship was directed at all 5 senses, and people were taught about Christ and grew in their relationship to him through a full immersion into a medieval multimedia experience.

The Age of Enlightenment, Protestant Reformation, and Industrial Revolution sparked a new form of discipleship that was rooted in an academic or educational model. In the intellectual approach to discipleship, people were taught about Christ and grew in their relationship to him through a systematic, academic study of Scripture and the writings of godly teachers. It echoed the theological showdowns and throw-downs that occurred when the religious establishment dared to enter the ring with Jesus.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the emphasis on establishing a personal relationship with Christ propelled a shift to a personal approach to discipleship. Within this new framework, the church provided people with study materials and taught them how to develop a personal relationship with God, and people grew in their knowledge and relationship with God through personal discipline and time alone with God. It was an imitation of Jesus as he withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

Another pathway for discipleship emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries that focused outward instead of inward. Within the framework of the incarnational model, people grew in their knowledge and relationship with Christ by seeking to become his hands and feet through service and outreach to others, just as He reached out to love the unlovable and touch the untouchable.

As you serve as a tour guides to others on the road of spiritual growth, you can learn from the 2,000 years of spiritual tours that have gone before you. Church history is not just a stale accounting of dates and dead people. It's not a museum or shrine of cold monuments to the past. Exploring our history may be the key to unlocking our destiny and moving us away from spiritual workbooks and back to spiritual workouts.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sacred Roads: The Adventure of Discipleship

Explore. Imagine. Experience. Discipline. Relate. Train. Receive. Care. Act. Inspire. Understand. Enlighten. Grow. Transform.

These are words that describe the process of spiritual growth. Components of a challenge passed down to us from the red letters of Scripture and from the generations who have gone before us. Though the word has grown stale and cold for many of us, it is the adventure of discipleship.

The pages of Scripture reveal anything but a dull life for the disciples. As far as we can tell, Jesus never herded his twelve Galilean buddies into a living room for an evening of cookies, Kool-Aid, and surface conversation and labeled it a “discipleship group.” Discipleship with Jesus was never reduced to a workbook of questions with obvious and simplistic answers. It was raw, active, in your face. People were being raised from the dead, demons were flying out of people, and Pharisees were being smacked upside the head (metaphorically speaking, except for during Jesus’ temple tantrum; then it might have been for real). And there was never a one-size-fits-all approach to anything.

A Kaleidoscopic Disciple-Maker
In just one chapter in the book of Luke, for instance, we observe Jesus’ creative and unorthodox strategies. Luke 5 opens with Jesus on a mission to choose his followers. Forgoing the more honorable resume postings at the local synagogue or the temple in Jerusalem, he found Peter on a fishing boat in the Sea of Galilee. After giving Peter and his crew a catch of fish that left them awestruck, Jesus told Peter to follow him. And Peter did. He gave Peter an experience that changed his life…and Peter’s life would never be the same again.

Jesus then encountered a leper. With the simple statement, “I want to. Be healed,” Jesus restored the leper to health. It wasn’t out of obligation or simply because he had the ability; rather, he healed the man because it was his heart’s desire. Jesus reached out with healing power as God incarnate and met the leper at the place of his deepest need, changing his life forever. He reflected his Father’s heart and changed a life simply because he cared.

Then, just as Jesus ministry was really picking up speed and his fame was beginning to spread, he did the unexpected. Rather than building on the excitement by performing miracles, Jesus withdrew to the wilderness to pray. If Jesus had employed PR agents, he would have driven them nuts. He recognized the value of personal time alone with God and realized it was a path to staying on track and reflecting the heart of his father.

The next day dawned with the healing of a paralyzed man (there is never a dull moment on the pages of Scripture). But this wasn’t just about healing; Jesus was picking a fight with the religious establishment. A theological show-down between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus not only healed a man, but he scored an intellectual victory over the Pharisees’ short-sighted and hard-hearted theological arguments.

The next item on Jesus’ agenda was the recruitment of another disciple—this time a tax collector by the name of Matthew. Jesus literally got into Peter’s boat in order to build a relationship with him. Getting into Matthew’s boat, metaphorically speaking, meant partying with his friends. It wasn’t about creating a life-changing experience, it was about entering into life-changing relationships. Jesus’ simple offer of a relationship drew Matthew to him and inspired Matthew to try to bring others into relationship with Jesus as well.

In each of these instances, Jesus was discipling people in new and unexpected ways. He gave people like Peter life-changing experiences. He met people like the leper at the place of their deepest needs and then changed their physical circumstances. He valued personal time with his Father even when the ministry demands were at an all-time high. He questioned the teaching of the religious leaders and debated them on an intellectual level. And he invited people like Matthew into relationships.

Jesus initiated not only a new covenant, but new methods of spiritual formation. And it drove the religious leaders nuts. And it all came to a head at the end of Luke 5, when the Pharisees demanded to know why Jesus’ disciples weren’t fasting.

Fasting? Seriously? That’s the best you can come up with? After miraculous catches of fish, lame men walking, and lepers with cleared skin, you are going to nitpick about why the disciples don’t fast? First of all, that’s some serious attention to the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of the law. Secondly, the Pharisees have clearly forgotten a little bit of history, like the clarification in Isaiah 58 about the kind of fasting God prefers.

Jesus responded this way:

“No one puts new wine into old wineskins. The new wine would burst the old skins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be put into new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the fresh and the new. 'The old is better,' they say." (Luke 5:37-39, NLT)

Jesus was not knocking fasting here. It was a discipline he practiced himself. But Jesus was trying to point out that the Pharisees were missing the bigger picture; they knew how but had forgotten why. The Pharisees tried to grow closer to God by following rules. Rules they had been following for hundreds of years. They were too small-minded to see the bigger story that God was writing throughout history.

Jesus didn’t throw out the rules; rather, He re-imagined, re-invented, and re-engineered them. He developed new methods and metaphors for what a growing relationship with God looked like and he implemented new pathways for discipleship. Experiences. Compassion. Personal discipline. Battle of the minds. Relationships. These were the sacred roads of discipleship that Jesus walked.

Spiritual Chores
Here’s my concern: our generation is failing to meet Jesus’ challenge to make disciples because, in true Pharisee fashion, we have sought to follow a law. We have reduced discipleship to a one-size-fits all program of do’s, don’ts, and meetings. We’ve replaced spiritual workouts with spiritual worksheets. We aren’t making a significant contribution in our generation because we have not learned from those who have gone before us. Like the Pharisees, we have not viewed our lives against the larger backdrop of the grand story that God is writing throughout history, and that has left our spiritual experience boring, stale, and predictable. Discipleship for me typically got reduced to a list of approved spiritual “chores” that supposedly would help me become more like Jesus. And in their defense, the spiritual chores often did help me grow. But there were other experiences, as well, that weren’t on the list but often led to more dramatic growth.

At the youth retreat at Covenant College, I experienced the power of Christian community. The kind where you eat a bunch of Pay Day candy bars, wash it down with Orange Crush, and then throw it all up in the bathroom. And your friends are there for you.

When I celebrated communion at Christ Anglican Church, I experienced the holiness of God and the mystery of his presence in a way that opened my eyes to a new dimension of his character.

Digging for dinosaur bones in Drumheller, Canada helped me understand the majesty and sovereignty of God more than any sermon or book I had ever read on the subject.

Taking notes in Mrs. Waite’s 4th grade Bible class gave me an appreciation for learning theology and for journaling my walk with Christ.

Practicing for the children’s Bible Drill Team developed a love for the Word of God and a desire to know it better.

Reading about the life of John Wesley spurred me to grow in my faith more than any Sunday School lesson.

Was it possible that there were encounters with Jesus and opportunities for growth that occurred outside the approved list of spiritual chores?

The disciples were lucky enough to be a part of a grand adventure that took them all over the known world. For us, the adventure seems reduced to Sunday School literature, sermons, slides from the visiting missionary, and the occasional potluck.

There must be more…

Tools for the Tour Guides
Sacred Roads is designed to help participants explore five dimensions of discipleship: relational, experiential, intellectual, personal, and incarnational. This blog series is designed for the tour guides-- the people who have been charged with guiding people down the ultimate sacred road of transformation. It will provide practical tools for introducing new models, methods, and paradigms of discipleship to the people you personally lead. It will give you fresh ideas for leading relationally, experientially, intellectually, personally, and incarnationally and give you ideas for ministry implementation.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thoughts From the Road

When I walked up the sidewalk to my front door on Friday, I was greeted by a big box...full of copies of Sacred Roads. On October 1, the workbook and leader kit hit the shelves of your local Lifeway store, and I'm praying it gives people some new language, metaphors, and ideas for spiritual growth.

Between now and then, I thought I'd blog some thoughts from the book. The book looks at patterns of discipleship from both Biblical instruction and church history and encourages us to broaden our understanding of spiritual growth. As we explore 2,000 years of discipleship experiments, models, and methods, we learn that there are many roads of becoming-- relational, experiential, intellectual, personal, and incarnational, etc.

Tomorrow, I'll give a general introduction and overview of the study. On Tuesday, I'll talk a little bit about the importance of understanding church history. And for the next six days, I'll talk about the various roads of discipleship.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Operation Ka-Boom

As I mentioned in the previous post, we have abandoned our zone/team leader structure for coaching and caring for leaders. Blew it up. Leveled it. Destroyed it. And we are exploring how we can recruit, train, coach, and care for our leaders better.

Two things are not on the table at this point: semester system and free market model. I think it's healthy to re-examine everything you do regularly, but it didn't take us long to acknowledge that these things are not broken and work well in our given environment. They are the two best things about our small group ministry.

Everything else is pretty much up in the air-- from Leadership 101 to summits to Leadership Retreat to coaching structures to communication to reporting mechanisms. And there are key issues like leader recruiting that could probably use a little bit of work.

Transition Team
The rebuild began earlier this week. A transition team of 15 met at our house to begin to dream about the future. Mark Batterson share vision. We had presentations on coaching best practices from the world of athletics, military, marketplace, discipleship, and parenting. We placed some questions on the table and proceeded to divide and conquer. In about a month, we will return together to report on our findings.

Transition Coaching Team
In the meantime, we have a transition coaching team in place to serve in a support role to our leaders this fall. We've stripped down the position and responsibilities to place them in a posture of availability as opposed to one of active discipleship. We have asked them to 1) call their leaders twice this semester to express our gratitude for their leadership and pray for them, 2) send them an email monthly to deliver the same message, and 3) meet with them face to face at our semester summit. Ongoing training will be delivered in the form of Simple Small Groups, a book by my friend Bill Search that gives practical but potent ideas for leading groups.

Looking forward to where God takes us.

Friday, September 18, 2009

End of an Era

Sunday afternoon marked the end of an era. The zone leaders of NCC gathered for one last annual picnic. Seven years ago, I approached Leslie Adams, Nathan Gonzales, and Brian and Kim Hill to ask if they would be willing to help me lead the small group ministry of NCC. I called them "zone leaders" and assigned them each a few small group leaders to coach, support, and care for. At that time, we had a handful of groups, a lot of passion to help people connect and grow, and very little idea of what we are doing. Over the years, we added Sarah Owen, Heather Gonzales, Chris and Lora Jarrell, John Hasler, Juliet Main, and the amazing Ryan Zempel. Those guys walked with me, grew with me, dreamed with me, challenged me, argued with me, pulled all-nighters with me, blogged with me, killed the blog with me, and preached "Be One, Make One, For One" until we couldn't stand to say it anymore. We planned seven leadership retreats together, including the precedent-setting One retreat, the controversial Forceful Advance retreat, and the best of all Greater Things retreat.

At the end of the summer, we initiated Operation Ka-Boom-- a systematic dismantling of our entire small group coaching system. Some of these people will keep coaching in the new structure, some will have re-defined portfolios in the new structure, and some will pursue new passions. It all remains to be seen. In the meantime, I'm so thankful for each of these people. Their investment has made NCC what it is today.

If you know these people, be sure to let them know how much you appreciate them.

Greater Things Workshop

NCC will be sponsoring another “Greater Things Workshop” this Fall. This workshop is a must for current and future entrepreneurs who want to advance the kingdom of God through their businesses, non-profits, and faith-based ventures. The workshop will focus on
  • Greater Freedom: Turning your venture over to God
  • Greater Vision: seeing the unseeable and achieving the unachievable through the power of God
  • Greater Results: Turning vision into reality
  • Greater Identity: Bringing who you are to what you do
  • Greater Foundation: Running your organization by “the Book”
Dates: Thursday, 10/1 in the evening and Friday 10/2 all day

Registration deadline: Friday, September 25, 2009

Price: $145

For more info contact

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sacred Roads Trailer

Sacred Roads from threadsmedia on Vimeo.

Threads has just released a video promo for my upcoming study, Sacred Roads. When Jesus left us with the challenge to go make disciples, he didn't give us a lot of guidelines for doing that. But he did leave us the legacy of his life-- which was rich with teaching the ways of God and inviting people into a deeper experience with God through life-giving relationships, transformational experiences, intellectual stimulation, personal devotion, and incarnational living. That's the focus of Sacred Roads-- exploring the various Biblical and historical patterns of discipleship and discovering new ways of re-imagining and re-inventing them for our generation.

Come join the journey at the Sacred Roads Fan Page on Facebook for updates, news, and events.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to be Mentored

There is a lot of information out there about how to be a good mentor-- how to train, coach, lead, disciple, guide others into growth. But there's not much to be found on how to be mentored. The characteristics of a good mentee. I would argue that learning to be a good follower is just as important as learning to be a good leader/mentor.

Here are a few thoughts I shared with the Proteges during our huddle this afternoon.

1. Take initiative. Be proactive in looking for projects and relationships that will be beneficial to you. Projects give you opportunities to invest your gifts. Relationships give you opportunities to develop and grow your gifts. Don't wait for someone to teach you; take the initiative to learn from them.

2. Assume a learning posture. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I have never met a man that was not my superior in some particular." In other words, each person we meet has the potential to teach us something. Make learning your passion and look for the lesson in every situation. Approach every situation as an opportunity to learn.

3. Cross-pollinate. Diversify. Learn from other areas. When people ask me how to develop their preaching gift, I tell them to take an acting class. Engineering taught me more about discipleship processes than a Bible class. Explore a diversity of interests and look for the connection points and the metaphors.

4. Choose your attitude. There is one thing a boss, leader, or discipler cannot do for you, and that's choose your attitude.

5. Know the importance of timing. Be sensitive to the calendar of your leader. Sometimes, it's best just to schedule an appointment so that they will be fully present mentally and emotionally when you need to talk to them about things. Look for the right opportunities to have difficult or long conversations.

6. Be a team player. You learn best by being a part of a team and recognizing that then name on the front of your jersey is more important than the name of the back of the jersey.

7. Add value. The best way to learn from someone you really respect is to add value to what they are already doing. Instead of adding an appointment to their calendar, look for ways to add value to their ministry (or job). If you want to hang out with your pastor, don't add to his schedule; find ways to get involved in what he's already doing-- a small group, a missions trip, an outreach. Find ways to advance the dreams of your leaders and they will find ways to advance your dreams.

8. Take good notes. Have you ever wondered why we have the books of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus in our Bibles? Those were personal letters written to specific individuals. Evidently, the found the content valuable enough to keep and pass on. The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory. Write stuff down. When we write stuff down, we see more and learn more. More about that here.

9. Ask great questions. Develop a couple questions that you keep in your back pocket and ask everyone you encounter. What books have been most transformational in your life? How do you grow in your faith? What is one leadership lesson you would pass on to the next generation?

10. Set specific goals. Make a list of 5 things you would like to learn and/or experience this year. This one was specifically for our Proteges, but it gets at the larger issue of goal setting. I've had so many meetings and conversations with people who were convinced they wanted a mentor, but they had absolutely no idea what they wanted a mentor to do for them or teach them. Having a set of goals is a starting point. It will help you find the right mentors for the right things and will bring definition, purpose, clarity, and intentionality to the process.

Any other thoughts or ideas out there about how to be mentored?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Protege Day!

Today, September 10, 2009, is officially Protege Day at National Community Church! We started out Protege program last year. Modeled loosely after the program at Mosaic Church in LA, Proteges spend a year at NCC in a full-immersion discipleship and ministry leadership experience. Each Protege is assigned to a department (kids, media, church planting, discipleship, etc) where they invest the majority of their time and energy. But they also get a good comprehensive picture of life and ministry at NCC. We seek to pour as much NCC DNA, discipleship, and leadership training into them as possible with the desire that they can go out and expand the Kingdom in their own unique callings and gifts.

We've got an incredible team this year! NCCers-- please welcome them. Introduce yourself, ask to hear their stories, encourage them. If you are not an NCCer, pray for them anyway!! They are here for a year to invest and grow-- for no pay. :) And they have to hang around that Batterson character.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


Today, we continued the series Figuratively Speaking, and I talked about the Parable of the Great Feast. It just seemed right to celebrate communion in the middle of the sermon, so that's what we did.

We used a video element to guide people through a reflection and examination time. 1 Corinthians tells us we must examine ourselves before taking communion. I used to think that meant going through a spiritual checklist to make sure I confessed every single sin I could think of before coming into communion. But I'm not so sure anymore. The Scripture says we should examine ourselves so we don't dishonor the body of Christ. With that in mind, I think it has more to do with seeing ourselves in light of the grace of God than in trying to clear the air between us and Jesus. I think it's about recognizing we are at the table not because of who we are or what we've done...but because of who he is and what he has already done for us.

Jesus has invited us to his table...where he feasts with those who are broken, bruised, dirty, burdened with baggage.

The communion video we used was created for the new Sacred Roads curriculum, and you can obtain it at

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Five Questions

Want to lead a Bible study? Not sure how to do it? "Going deeper" in Scripture has less to do with the development of intellect and more to do with the development of spiritual muscle. And that happens when we wrestle with Scripture. Here are a few good questions I picked up out of The Tangible Kingdom:

  1. What did you like about what we just read?
  2. What didn't you like about what we just read?
  3. Was there anything you didn't understand?
  4. What did you learn about God?
  5. Regardless of where your faith is at right now, if you were to apply what we learned about God to something in your life this week, what would that look like now?

Strategic Small Group Training

I'm really excited to announce a small group leadership training opportunity that we will be hosting at Ebenezers Coffeehouse in Washington, DC on December 10-11, 2009. This is being offered at a very strategic time in our own growth at NCC (we are bringing them in because we need help), and I'm confident it will be a benefit to a lot of other churches, as well.

We are bringing in Russ Robinson and Dave Treat, formerly with small group gurus at Willow Creek Community Church, to help us explore the obstacles and opportunities that we encounter when leading small group ministries.

“Strategic Small Group Ministry Leadership” is a one-and-one-half-day facilitated workshop with six interactive 90-minute sessions that will help you implement:
  • Clear Ministry Objectives
  • Effective Point Leadership
  • Successful Coaching Structures
  • Ongoing Leader Development
  • An Open-Group Mindset
  • A Broad Bandwidth of Groups
  • Assimilation that Works
To Register:
Registration is by table, with up to eight participants from the same church at each table. Registration: $1499 per church/table. Email: or call (847) 567-6961.

Also, check out more information here.