discipleship

New Book Release: Walk With Me

Today we're pleased to release our newest discipleship resource, Walk With Me: Learning to Love & Follow Jesus. Written by Jenny McGill, this book is intended to be a discipleship resource for women discipling other women. In a series of clear, brief, personal letters, Jenny writes on the basics of the Christian faith both theologically and practically. Walk With Me is not only useful in helping you grow in your understanding and practice of the Christian faith but is shaped to allow one-on-one conversations and community to form around the essentials of Christianity. Available in both paperback and Kindle format, we are excited that this resource will be a useful means of spiritual formation for everyone.

Here's what people are saying about Walk With Me:

“I love this book! It’s as simple as that! Jenny McGill has penned a guidebook for growing in Jesus and following after Him. Its brilliance is its epistolary form. Each wise and warm letter to the reader epitomizes the gospel, which is never about information only. It is always about relationship. As a young Christian, this is the exact book I needed.”

Leslie Leyland Fields, Award-winning author of Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Seas, the Fish and the Doubt

Walk with Me is a helpful introduction to the Christian faith that avoids stodgy, step-driven methods. Written in a warm, relatable style, this book covers key discipleship topics through brief letters that offer practical advice to Christian women.”

Jonathan Dodson, Lead pastor of City Life Church, Founder of GGD; author of several books including Here in Spirit: Knowing the Spirit Who Creates, Sustains, and Transforms Everything

"If you would like to be discipled and become a discipler, Jenny McGill has provided a clear, comprehensible, and transferable guide in Walk with Me. It is readable and practical. She reflects, with clarity and even humor, what the process looks like, what a disciple needs to know, and how a true follower can live increasingly like Jesus."

Judy Douglass, Writer, Speaker, and Director, Women's Resources at Cru

Killing The Devil's Radio with the Gospel!

George Harrison of The Beatles was right when he referred to gossip as the “Devil’s Radio.” In an age of overabundance of information, it is easy to tune into the frequency of social media where news are often blown out of proportions. Perhaps, in no other generation like ours is discernment required to such a great degree. While the gospel calls us to confess our sins, gossip confesses other people’s sins. Gossip broadcasts people’s weaknesses and sins in a whisper while others tune into the frequency. But it is always wiser to put a hold on any given subject until we’ve gained a fuller picture. We are all transparent before the Holy Spirit who sees and knows all our thoughts. I am transparent to my wife and other elders who speak into my life biblically and truthfully.

Everything is naked and laid bare before God, to whom everyone must give an account (Heb. 4: 12, 13). I believe we are to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another as priests (Jas. 5:16).  I believe in the kind of transparency that Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (I Cor. 11:1).  But what is often passed off as Christian transparency is sometimes-

Faux-honesty so often used as an excuse for voicing various kinds of complaints, doubts, accusations, fleshly desires, and other kinds of evil thoughts.  This exhibitionistic “virtue” is often paired with a smug self-congratulatory sneer or a condescending dismissal of anyone who dares to suggest that propriety and spiritual maturity may sometimes require us not to give voice to every carnal thought or emotion—i.e., that sometimes discretion is better than transparency.

Sometimes discretion may be better than transparency precisely because it takes spiritual maturity to be entrusted with confidential information.  In some cases, you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone and the gossip had already started. What should you do in such a case?

1. Listen objectively without taking sides and hold back judgments.

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov. 18: 17).  Listen with sympathy about the person being talked about, knowing that the person being talked about is not present to be able to defend himself/herself.  Don’t chime in or endorse!

In some cases, the person may come crying. When that happens, out of love for the person it is easy to believe everything the person says.  Sometimes, people cry not because they are innocent, but their burdens have become too heavy.  In such cases, tears can also be manipulative.

Think about when Esau returned from his hunt, he wept bitterly.  Esau was the victim of his own foolishness. He sold his birthright eagerly for a morsel of food to his brother, and when the blessing was given to Jacob (the swindler), he blamed it all on Jacob with tears—without admitting his own foolishness.  We are all skilled self-swindlers.  Besides it’s easy to feel sorry for the one who’s crying rather than the dry-eyed one–because when people cry, they can look like they’re the victim.  We must listen well with compassion, without being prejudiced in our discernment.

2. Gossip can destroy respect for the person being talked about.

It is wise to refrain from arriving at conclusions based on what you heard about the person. Gossip is second, third, or fourth hand information and when a morsel of truth is passed on, truth gets distorted and is diluted.

Even an element of truth becomes disproportionate and mixed up with personal opinions and judgments on the person’s character and reputation (sometimes this is done by well-meaning people).

For example: Person A may really respect person B, and because person A eagerly believed what he heard about person C say of person B, now person A has lost his trust and respect for person B (which may actually be partial truth but poisonous nonetheless).

Nothing may be as poisonous and destructive as gossip is in a community.

The Apostle James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers” (4:10-11).  The word “speak against” is not necessarily a false report.  It can mean just an “against-report.”  The intent may be to belittle a person or be contemptuous.  It can mean to disdain, mock, or rejoice in purported evil.  These are subtler yet sinful forms of speaking against a person created in God’s image. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18: 21ff).  So we can either speak life or destroy a person with gossip.

3. Realize that chronic gossip is in itself a deep character problem.

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The tongue, James says “is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3: 8).  Proverbs says that those who gossip are untrustworthy: “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much” (Prov. 20:19).  In Asian cultures, group conformity tends to encourage people to avoid confrontations to the extreme, whereas in Western culture, individualism tends to  lead people to err on the opposite side of over confrontations (Mat. 18:10-15).  “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Prov. 11: 13).  Those who gossip to you will gossip about you because they are not “trustworthy in spirit.”  In any case, prayerfully discern when to avoid the gossiper next time, or gently confront the sin (recognizing the ugliness of your own sin and the grace you have received) (Gal. 6: 1-2).

4. Pour water (not more fuel) to the fire.  

In other words, refuse to become a channel of gossip and walk in love (Eph. 5: 2).  Leviticus 19:16 says, “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.  I am the LORD.”  Gossip is smearing a person’s character.  Gossip may involve details that are not confirmed as true.  It endangers a person’s credibility and can bring your neighbor’s reputation to ruins.  It is the opposite of the commandment to love your neighbor—who bear God’s image.  Even if the report being said about the person ends up being true, be hesitant to become a carrier of bad news.  Remember how instead of piling up all your bad records, Jesus has cancelled them on the cross (Col. 2:14).

Seek prayerfully for clarification; ask God, before you ask others, what to do with the bad report.  Proverbs 16:28 tells us how destructive gossip can become in relationships: “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.”  Fight the urge to add more fuel to stir up “conflict” that separates close friends.  Satan is the master of division!

Someone once said that gossip is giving others some strife instead of peace.  It always brings more strife than peace! Gossip pours fuel on the conflict setting the entire community on fire.  It poisons relationships and multiplies misunderstandings.  Gossip never has positive outcomes!  Besides, there is a lot of truth that need not be passed around by people who are recipients of God’s lavish grace.

Gossip is always on the erring side because gossip is confessing other people’s sin without giving them the chance to repent.

Gossip is a like a terrible drug and very addictive.  For many, it is impossible to live without passing on bad news about someone, some churches or ministries because gossip has become a chronic illness.  Hence, gossip becomes an idol—something you can’t live with—something that gives you a false sense of superiority and self-righteousness over others.

The solution is not to simply try and control the tongue, because to be free from gossip an axe must be laid at the root of gossip.  “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness” (Jas. 3: 6).  Therefore, the root problem of gossip is in the heart: “for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6: 45).  Pray and give room and time for grace, repentance, healing and restoration to take place in a relationship that has been torn by gossip.

“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” –Proverbs. 26: 20

With the passage of time, as the gospel takes root in the heart whisperers repent, and if no “whisperer” passes on gossip, quarrels and strife will cease.  John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  Instead of kindling the fire of gossip, it must be killed.

While moralism flails at the branches, the gospel cuts to the roots of gossip.

Ultimately, Jesus was slandered on our behalf.  The Pharisees accused him of casting out demons by Beelzebul (the prince of demons) yet he was the purest of all (Matt. 12: 24).  All the accusations hurled at him were wrong.  Yet he endured them all on the cross for our sake.  He was accused of demon possession when he did not even know sin in purity.  Each one of us deserves to be put in His place, but we received what we did not deserve because of Him.

Even his most noble motives were challenged, yet in weakness he conquered the power of Satan, sin, and death. Jesus came not to condemn but to save sinners—which is the opposite of speaking against a brother or sister and hurting or destroying their reputation. In Christ, God offers us a clean heart, a new heart, with which we can honor our neighbors truthfully, and give praises to our God.

Do you struggle with gossip?  

  1. There is nothing in our sinful nature that has not already been covered by the blood of Jesus, so confess your sins instead of other people’s sins.
  2. Preach to your heart and say, “I am worse than what people think I am, but Jesus loves me more than I can ever imagine.  He already covered me with His own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). Therefore, I am free to discern the evidence of God’s grace in others instead of lending wood to the fire of gossip.”

Joey Zorina is a church planter in an artistic neighborhood in Tokyo, Japan.  He writes articles, essays and devotionals for Living Life, and blogs occasionally @regeneration).  He asks that you please pray for them and the Japanese.  You can connect with him at https://twitter.com/JoeyZorina

Finding Release From Our Spiritual Mistresses

God’s intention is to restore believers in Christ and turn them into new people. “If anyone is in Christ,” the Scripture says, “he is a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.” As Christians, it is our job to cooperate with this new creation vision for our lives. Our motivation for embracing newness of life in Jesus is quite different than moralistic motivation. Religious moralists obey God’s rules to feel morally straight and morally superior, and also to earn applause from God, from others, and even from themselves. Christians, on the other hand, are able to obey God precisely because they don’t have to.

Let me explain that one.

If you are a Christian—that is, if you have anchored your trust in the perfect life and substitutionary death of Jesus on your behalf, then you need to know that God smiles over you before you lift a finger to do anything good. Christianity is different than moralism. In that unlike moralism, God’s embrace comes to us at the beginning of our journey versus at the end of our journey. He approves of us not because we are good people, but because Jesus was a truly good person in our stead. His moral straightness, his righteousness, and beauty have been laid upon us as a gift. That, and that alone, is the reason we obey . . . because it makes us want to obey. God does not decide to love us because we first loved him. No, we love God because he first loved us. That is biblical Christianity.

How idolatry works

Imagine you are a married woman and your husband tells you he wants to start dating around. “It’s not that I don’t love you,” he says. “I’m not saying that I want a divorce. You are extremely important to me. We have been through so much together. But I just think that my life would be more complete if I could also date some other women—play the field a little bit, you know?”

Absurd as this may sound, this is precisely what we do to God whenever we disobey him. Every act of disobedience flows from a desire for something or someone besides God to be our first love, our true north, our reason for being. Each of us has his/her own unique potential mistresses—whether money, power, cleanliness, control, relationships, material things, entertainment, or even a spouse or children. Whenever anything becomes more essential to us than God himself (by the way, anything is usually a good thing), it becomes an idol. According to God, our true and everlasting Husband, we become spiritual adulterers. An idol is any person or idea, any created thing that captures our deepest affections and loyalties and will—and in so doing steals our attention away from God. An idol is anything that becomes more precious to us than him. It’s not that we love the thing (whatever it is) too much. Rather, it’s that we love God too little in comparison to it.

Idolatry is the sin beneath every other sin

Idolatry is the root beneath all sin and beneath every choice we ever make to go our own way instead of following Jesus in faith and obedience. Sin, ultimately, is not a matter of behavior, but a matter of desire.

We always obey that which we desire the most.

When we desire something more than we desire God, we will obey that something if ever and whenever we are faced with a choice to obey God or to obey it. So this is what keeps us from being good in the purest sense. Our distorted over-desires escort us into the arms of adulterous lovers, pseudo-saviors, counterfeit Jesuses that put a spell on us and make them appear more life-giving than Jesus, our one true love.

How do we do this? Thanks to David Powlison and his insightful essay, Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair, there are several diagnostic questions that can help us effectively identify and name our specific spiritual mistresses:

  • What do I feel I cannot survive or function without? What do I feel I must have in order to enjoy life, be acceptable as a person, etc.? What are the things I am terrified of losing or obsessed about having?
  • Where do I spend my time and money with the least amount of effort? The things we give time and money to most effortlessly are absolutely the things that we worship and serve. They are the things that we believe in our hearts will give our lives the most meaning.
  • What do I think and talk about the most? Where do my thoughts go most quickly and most instinctively when I am alone in the car, when I awake, when I am alone in a quiet, undistracted place? As Archbishop William Temple once said, “Your religion is your solitude.”
  • Which biblical commands am I most reluctant to obey? What do I treasure so much that, if it is threatened, I will disobey God to keep it? What is so essential to me that I will disobey God to get it?
  • What things anger me the most? What kinds of people, things, or circumstances irritate me the most, and what about these people, things, or circumstances give them this kind of power over me? What, if it happened, would strongly tempt me to curse God or push Him out of my life? (Remember Job’s wife. See Job 2:9)
  • How would I fill in the blank? I cannot and will not be happy unless.

Dismantling idols after they are identified

Idols are dismantled when they are first exposed and then replaced. Dismantling our idols requires that we labor in our study and meditation of Scripture to understand the many ways that Jesus fills our emptiness in a much more adequate, life-giving way than any Jesus-substitute we may be tempted to worship and serve. Replacing our spiritual mistresses means giving them a back seat to Jesus in our hearts and lives. Basically, every idol (and every sin) traces back to a self-salvation strategy. We use this strategy every time we attempt to replace something that only Jesus can provide, with a counterfeit. What does this mean for us?

It means that we must face head-on our own idols, and humbly admit exactly how the things we love more than Jesus will reduce us, empty us of ultimate meaning, and even destroy us. We must admit that our “over-desires” cannot bring us the lasting wholeness, happiness, or fulfillment (salvation!) we desire. Only Jesus can. Ironically, only when we love Jesus more than these things, we actually end up enjoying these things to a much fuller extent! As CS Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

When our love for Jesus exceeds our love for other things, we end up loving, cherishing, and enjoying these other things even more than we would if we had loved these other things more than we love Jesus. However, if we put the gifts in the place of the Giver, our enjoyment of the gifts ends up being spoiled. Why is this so? It is so because we are made in the image of God. The human soul is so magnificent that only God is big enough to fill it. As Pascal is famous for saying, “Only God is able to fill the God-shaped vacuum in the human heart.”

Be possessive of anything but God—a romantic interest, a career, a net worth, a life goal—and you will never possess that thing. Instead, it will eventually possess you. It will have you and it will hold you . . . around the neck! This is why we are much better off when we learn to pray like the Puritan who had nothing to his name but one piece of bread and a glass of water: “What? All of this and Jesus Christ too!”

Redirecting our deepest loves

Christian growth is about learning to see clearly that Jesus will fill our hearts in much more adequate and enduring ways than any Jesus-counterfeit ever will. Using Scripture, we must immerse our minds and stir our affections with the many ways in which Jesus delivers fully and truly on the specific promises—especially the promises that our specific idols falsely make to us. For example, if we thirst for approval, only the unwavering smile of God over us through Jesus can free us from enslavement to human approval. Or, if we hunger for secure provision, only the God’s sure promise to take care of us like he does the birds and the lilies can free us from our enslavement to money and things.

So what about you? What are your spiritual mistresses? How are they working out for you?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for his righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls.

Originally posted at www.scottsauls.com. Used with permission.

The Legacy of a Disciple-Maker

Ode to a Mentor

My mentor’s name is David. We met at a local pastor’s gathering where he took voluntary interest in me. I needed a mentor and he wanted to make disciples by caring for the next generation of pastors. For the next year and a half, David poured into me. He taught me the importance of sharing life stories, hunting one other’s sin, and giving each other grace.

1. We shared life stories together.

One of the first things David and I did at our monthly meetings was share our life stories. David wanted to model life-on-life discipleship, and the best way to start this was by retelling our histories. This meant we shared big events, little events, and even those embarrassing moments we didn’t want anyone to know about in a stream of consciousness. It lasted ninety minutes to two hours. The who listened asked three questions at the end:

  • What did you hear as David told his story?
  • Is there any place where your story intersects with David’s story?
  • What would you like to tell David in light of his story?

I remember David encouraging the pattern of shepherding leadership in my life. That meant a lot to me as I was approaching pastoral ministry. I encouraged his fatherly discipling of many men throughout his pastorate. It did not take long to become true for my relationship with him as well. Over the coming months we continued to talk about pastoral ministry, family, and God together. For as much as we shared life together, I wish we had shared even more.

2. We hunted each other’s sin.

Sharing our life stories with each other provided an opportunity to confess many of the ways we’ve failed. We were open about our sins so that we could hold each other accountable in our sin patterns going forward. This included anything from asking each other the blunt questions to searching out each other’s motivations. The purpose was always to help bring healing.

As we were beginning this fight against sin together, David pulled Timothy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage off the shelf. He read a quote about granting each other a “hunting license” to hunt out sin in each other’s life. There were only a handful of people he’d given this license too, and now I was one of them. He, of course, claimed a hunting license for my life.

David didn’t use his license often, and I only used mine once jokingly on him, but I was glad he had it. Instead of causing me to hide my sins when I was around him, it helped me open up so that he could shine some light on my darkness. This light was a mixture of first admonishment followed by grace.

3. We gave each other grace.

What I admire most about David’s discipleship of me was his continual reminder of my need for God’s grace. He helped me not only understand the gospel, but relish the grace within the gospel. I am a sinner and that’s just how it is for now. But my great savior Christ Jesus has come to save me because he absolutely loves me. He has gone so far as to trade his spotless record for mine, so that now God sees me as he sees his Son. Holy. Righteous. Clean. What better news is there than this?

David was especially good at making grace practical to my everyday. Instead of wallowing in my sin, he taught me to release my guilt as I prayed Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” When I shared with him how I wanted to be more satisfied and joyful in Christ, he pointed me to the book Pure Pleasure by Gary Thomas. There I began to learn all the ways God has provided for his people’s joy.

My mentor lived a life of grace. When he was diagnosed with stage four cancer, nothing about that grace-filled life changed. He went much quicker than expected, but I got to write him a letter before he passed. In that letter it was my turn to remind my mentor of his need for God’s grace. His wife shared through mass-email that she had been reading letters to David from all the men he had mentored throughout the years. He would just listen and say, “My boy, that's my boy.” I don’t cry often, but I cried when I read this. Even at the end, my mentor loved his sons.

My mentor’s legacy of discipleship lives on.

I’ve tried to take the model David gave me for mentoring, and use it as a framework for discipling others. Already I’ve experienced the blessings of sharing life stories, the responsibility of having a hunting license, and the joy of giving the gospel grace. I’ve seen others grow in ways David must have seen me grow. I want to be the type of mentor David was to me. He loved me and was an enormous example of Jesus to me. He is now present with the Lord, but the impact of his discipleship lives on. Praise God for mentors.

Jonathan M. Romig (M.Div., Gordon-Conwell) is the associate pastor at Immanuel Church in Chelmsford Massachusetts (CCCC). He blogs at PastorRomig.blogspot.com and recently finished teaching New City Catechism to his adult Sunday school class and self-published his first ebook How To Give A Christian Wedding Toast.

Cue Transformative Discipleship

What will the world look like in 100 years? Or more specifically—what will Christianity look like in 100 years? In a 1,000 years? In 10,000 years?1 This might be very hard for us to fathom. Thinking about the distant future is not something that we practice naturally. It takes intentional effort to think about the deep future. And here’s the thing about it: once we truly contemplate on what the world may or may not look like, we will recognize that the landscape in which we currently conduct our discipleship ministries will look nothing like the world inhabited by our future ancestors. Just think about the difference 50 years makes. Compare 1964 to 2014. Think about how the discipleship playing field has changed. Just think about the different strategies that Christians have implemented over the course of the past 50 years. Culture is always shifting. People are always changing. Christianity, to a degree, even changes. So how should this affect our discipleship-making? What can the Christian church do today to ensure that it leaves a lasting mark for the next generations of Christians? The Christian message might not need to evolve, but perhaps its discipleship-method does.

Cue Transformative Discipleship

Transformative Discipleship can be defined as a method of discipleship-making that is willing to change its form, appearance, and structure to effectively engage current culture with the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

What might this look like? In Center Church, Pastor Tim Keller helps us out:

Paul himself presented the gospel content in different ways — using different orders, arguments, levels of emphasis, and so on — to different cultures. And we should too. The gospel is so rich that it can be communicated in a form that fits every situation.

He goes on to expound upon this idea of gospel contextualization:

A contextualized gospel is marked by clarity and attractiveness, and yet it still challenges sinners’ self-sufficiency and calls them to repentance. It adapts and connects to the culture, yet at the same time challenges and confronts it.

Now what Keller calls gospel contextualization, I call transformative discipleship. The reason that I prefer this term is because transformative discipleship calls us to look at how discipleship-making methods have shifted throughout history. What this means is that we should be willing to look into the deep past and evaluate the positives and negatives of our ancestors’ discipleship-making methods. This would call us to analyze past mistakes and construct better present-day discipleship-making methods. Practically, here is what this model would emphasize:

1. Transformative Discipleship is historical.

Christians using the Transformative discipleship method would be willing to learn from 2,000 years of church history. The positives and negatives would be discussed openly, and gleaning wisdom from the Christian church’s past would be promoted.

2. Transformative Discipleship is culturally-centered.

Every culture places value on different things. That is why a versatile discipleship method is needed. The Transformative discipleship model challenges Christians to focus on the culture that they inhabit, engage with society, and learn how to best infiltrate the culture with the gospel message.

3. Transformative Discipleship is evolutionary.

This model emphasizes the importance of changing and molding the way current discipleship methods are being used within the church if necessary. As culture shifts and changes, the Christian church must practically “evolve” the ways that the gospel message is presented. This might seem commonsensical, but far too often the Christian church has not been willing to adapt its practices to fit its patrons. However, a flexible model is what Transformative discipleship is all about.

4. Transformative Discipleship is multi-faceted.

One of the key aspects of Transformative discipleship is its willingness to promote a vast variety of discipleship techniques. This mindset will promote to Christians the importance of going out into their surrounding communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This may look like door-to-door evangelism or perhaps simply having home groups scattered throughout the city. The transformative discipleship model is open to a number of different discipleship methods and approaches.

infiltrate culture with the gospel for the Future

Partner—GCD—450x300If you think that there is a possibility of Christians living on this earth even for the next 500 years, than perhaps teaching the transformative discipleship method would be beneficial to implement. Instructing present-day Christians the transformative discipleship method would hopefully begin to shift our focus to how this generation and the next generations can infiltrate culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our teaching would shift from teaching “one-size-fits-all” discipleship methods, to teaching a transformative model that emphasizes molding the message of the gospel to fit the audience that one is witnessing too. This is what Keller has in mind when he specifically talks about gospel contextualization. I just am taking it one step further and calling the church to consider the distant past and even the far off future when teaching discipleship techniques to today’s next generation of Christians.

Again the gospel message does not change, but the methods in which we teach the gospel is always transforming and molding. Specifically, our gospel-proclaiming techniques shift and change to best fit the people groups that we are ministering too. This aligns very well with what the Apostle Paul taught:

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” —I Corinthians 9:19-23

I have simply introduced a few of the ideas that a transformative discipleship method would entail. There is no doubt that these ideas would benefit from being developed more thoroughly. However, at this point, it suffices to say that the transformative discipleship model is a method that I believe should be adopted by most Christians and churches simply because it teaches current believers to look into the past, live in the present, and expectantly look to the future when discussing various facets of Christian discipleship.

1. J.L. Schellenberg’s book, Evolutionary Religion, has influenced me a lot when writing this article. His ideas of thinking about the past, present, and future have proven extremely useful when writing about Transformative Discipleship. I am in debt to his wonderful writing.

Matt Manry is the Director of Discipleship at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. He also works on the editorial team for Credo Magazine and Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He blogs regularly at gospelglory.net.

4 Benefits of Stories for Discipleship

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Not everyone values good stories. Sometimes Christians can be the worst of all, afraid of being of the world. What we must remember is that everything we do is part of a liturgy we live in. If we are not intentionally discipling ourselves and others with the truths of God’s story then we will be discipled by other things—for good or bad. Everything you hear, see, taste, and touch is telling a story. Reading good stories is crucial to combating these destructive stories. Christians must wisely choose stories that will help them mature as disciples.

1. Stories help us shed the skin of our unbelief.

“We are narrative creatures, and we need narrative nourishment—narrative catechisms.” — N. D. Wilson

Stories in the most fundamental way remove the barrier of believing that the impossible could happen. We read of dragons, knights, wizards, looking-glasses and these stories help prepare our hearts to believe truths that could not be believed without them. God has placed in our hearts the creativity to create stories that reflect the big truths of the story he is writing. Without these smaller glimpses, we might hear his story and balk at the fantastical nature of Red Sea crossing, killing giants, controlling nations and kings, and a virgin birth, but with them we hear his story and shed the skin of our unbelief.

Perhaps you enjoy reading fiction and you’re a fan of Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher novels. I enjoy these books for many reasons, but partly because my gut wants to believe that someone will make the wrong in this world right. That someone out there will make sure those who have acted wickedly and grossly immoral will get their comeuppance. Jack does this in a limited way. He’s limited because he’s a human with his own sinful actions and his thoughts aren’t always pure. But reading these books helps me to shed my unbelief, namely that the wicked I see now will go unpunished. These stories make me hope for a final judgement. For Someone perfect, unlike Jack, to come to earth and make all things right once and for all.

2. Stories mature wonder, bringing doctrine to life.

“We are like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of ancient instinct of astonishment.” — G. K. Chesterton

The book of Romans is masterpiece of logic and doctrine. Paul skillfully demonstrates his knowledge of Old Testament theology, the life of Jesus, and how it all connects for Christians who have been made alive. What I’m not saying here is that doctrine is boring. Romans in particular is one of my favorite books in Scripture. It’s a delight to read. But stories bring doctrine to life in a way that doctrine alone cannot. Stories create wonder and awe.

Paul understands this as he wrote Romans. His doctrine is attached back to the story of Israel—especially the Exodus—and what this means for Christians who have experienced this New Exodus from slavery to life. Also, a major theme in Romans is justification by faith and many have made the point (wrongly) that justification isn’t central to the Christian faith because Jesus never mentions it. However, what they miss is Jesus lives, walks, and breaths justification by faith. Jesus brings the doctrine to life—while Paul plumbs the story’s depth. Story and doctrine are protons and neutrons that make a complete atom. One without the other and you’ve got nothing.

3. Stories lay siege to our affections.

“We are essentially and ultimately desiring animals, which is simply to say that we are essentially and ultimately lovers. To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who are.” — James K. A. Smith

Stories have a way of grabbing our heads and our hearts. Suppose you were an atheists reading The Chronicles of Narnia and the crucial chapter is upon you. Aslan gives himself up for Edmund. He’s tied to the stone and wickedness and evil descend upon him. The darkness weighs in on the reader as well. In those short pages the reader is driven to grief and sadness, but Aslan doesn’t stay dead. He rises victoriously. Your heart will leap for joy as Aslan lives before your head realizes what your affections have been driven to. It could be days, months, or years. You may be minding your own business when a perfect stranger intersects with you and shares another story with you. “This Man died and rose from the dead,” she might say. For a second time your heart leaps for joy within you—even if for a moment. Why is that? Why did that happen? Because C. S. Lewis’ Aslan has already prepared your heart to hear the truth of the death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus Christ. Stories matter because they lay siege to our hearts and prepare our minds. They are a narrative catechism, as N. D. Wilson says, maturing our hearts and minds to love rightly.

4. Stories brighten our sense of imago Dei.

“We know God’s character through story.” — Peter Leithart

Ultimately stories brighten our sense of imago Dei. They remind us we were created by God and placed in a story. That story continues on today and we are part of it. As imago Dei, we are more aware of what’s happening around us when we realize this. We do not have a meaningless existence. We do not serve a utilitarian purpose. There is love, beauty, and truth in this story. We must pursue these things.

We also must create a story of our own. Some of us play our part by writing stories. Some play music, paint, engineer, farm, mother or father, or pick up trash. These are all beautiful because we are all imago Dei. Tolkien reminds us of this when he calls us “sub-creators” and Lewis when he says, “There are no ordinary people.” Consider the superhero genre and one of the major fixed pieces—the mask. It could be anyone. Any of us could have these powers and be extraordinary. It could be the geeky news reporter, the teenager living with his aunt, the reclusive billionaire, or the blind man. Stories brighten the sense of the divine in our hearts.

Stories should play a crucial role in discipleship. Choose wisely. Read broadly. Let the stories grab your heart as they form you into a more mature disciple of Jesus Christ.


Mathew B. Sims is the Editor-in-Chief at Exercise.com and has authored, edited, and contributed to several books including A Household GospelWe Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms for WorshipA Guide for AdventMake, Mature, Multiply, and A Guide for Holy Week. Mathew, LeAnn (his wife), and his daughters Claire, Maddy, and Adele live in Taylors, SC at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains with their Airdale Terrier. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA). Visit MathewBryanSims.com!