Thoughts on Discipleship #4

Let’s talk about discouragement. 

No aspect of ministry is easy! Often, there are struggles and opposition to contend with. In the New Testament, we read about the persistence of Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and others. Paul told the church in Corinth about what was endured in Macedonia: “…we had no rest. Instead, we were troubled in every way: conflicts on the outside, fears within”(2 Cor. 7:5). 

In our context, leading a group has its share of difficulties. Maybe some just can’t commit to attending faithfully. Others are unwilling to hear the truth of God’s word. Perhaps some are unkind or critical. These and so many other facets of small group ministry can be disappointing, and that can lead to discouragement if we are not careful. And as there are those in our groups that are hurting and need encouragement, we are less effective if we are discouraged ourselves. 

In Acts 14:21-22, Paul and Barnabas encouraged the disciples on their journey to keep the faith even though they would face hardships. Paul wrote this in 2 Corinthians 1:4: “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 

We know that we will face problems, though they pale in comparison when compared to those mentioned above. When we face problems, we must rely on God to comfort us so that we are then able to comfort others. Going through difficulties and dealing with discouragement prepares us for circumstances in ministry. We do not have to have gone through the exact situation as those who come to our groups. We do have to rely on the peace of God. Philippians 4:4–7 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 3:2 says, “And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you concerning your faith.” The word “encourage” is the Greek word parakaleō, which literally means “to call to” or “to call alongside.” It is the picture of coming up next to someone and getting involved personally. When group members are hurting, we must be willing to come alongside them – with others when appropriate – and help. Scripture, prayer, and encouragement can have an incredible impact on the lives of those we lead. But we must rely on God’s comfort so that we can be there for those who need us.

Thoughts on Discipleship #3

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.
—Chinese proverb

I read that proverb this week in the book Discipleship that Fits: The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow by Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom. They advocate an approach to discipleship that involves a balance of relationships, experience, and information. They illustrate this approach in this way – this may be an interesting experiment for you to do. Take one minute for each of these…

• List five sermons you have heard that have impacted your life for Christ.
• List five things that have happened to you that have impacted your life for Christ.
• List five people whose influence has impacted your life for Christ.

Which list was the easiest to write? For most people, listing five people is the easiest. Harrington and Absalom said, “Discipleship is primarily about imitation over information, and it is through relationships that it most powerfully occurs.” Paul often told others to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor 4:16, 1 Cor 11:1, Phil 4:9). When Jesus trained the disciples, he did so relationally by living life with them and training them up. When you are in that kind of community with others, imitation can occur.

That is why relationships in our groups are so important. Group leaders… even if you don’t think your group members are watching your life, they are! May we all be able to say that those we lead can follow our example… because we are following Christ.

Tragedy in Nashville

The last few days have been very sad and alarming. There are other terms I could also use, but for now, those descriptors will have to suffice.

Sometimes a blog serves no better purpose than to mark an occasion, good or bad. This is one of those times.

The school shooting in Nashville is heartbreaking. Three children, three adults, and the assailant dead. Chaos and uncertainty are found in abundance. Answers to pressing questions are uncovered, but more questions take their place.

As a follower of Jesus, I don’t typically ask why these things happen. I know why these things happen. This is a sin-filled world, and sinners living in a sin-filled world will do sinful things. Knowing this does not quench the desire for answers, but it does inform what the end result of those answers will be.

I won’t take the time here to talk about the killer’s motive, afflictions, or pronouns. And while I would describe this senselessness as a hate crime against Christians, whether or not that’s true will not reverse what happened.

None of the particulars negate the tragedy. Many things in today’s culture are called “tragic,” but this violent act truly is tragic. And I grieve for those who lost loved ones. I grieve for the school, church, and community. I pray for restoration, for recovery, and that even in the hardest of circumstances, God will be glorified.

Again, sometimes an occasion just needs to be recognized for its most simple characteristic. This was and is a tragedy.

Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5 (CSB)

Thoughts on Discipleship #2

For the next few posts, we’re going to look at an excerpt from David Olsen’s book, Discovering Your Leadership Style. The article is entitled “Lead Like Jesus.”

First, a word about leadership. Some of us are hesitant about calling ourselves “leaders.” There are a number of reasons why this is. To some, leadership is a power-play, where someone just wants to be in charge. Others prefer to see themselves as a guide in the middle of a discussion. Still others see leadership as a responsibility that they do not feel comfortable with, so they sidestep the designation. 

Those who participate in our groups look for examples of how to live. When group attendees ask questions, they are participating, but they are also seeking guidance. Make no mistake – if you are in charge of a small group, you are leading! 

So what are some ways we can lead like Jesus?

Olsen discusses three core foundations of leadership wisdom – instinct, fruitfulness, and multiplication. Today, let’s briefly look at instinct.

There are different definitions of instinct depending on the discipline being discussed, but for our purposes, Olsen defines instinct as “unconscious thoughts or actions that are conditioned into a person through repetitive behaviors, habits, or experiences.”

Leader instincts are developed over time through experience and wisdom. As we lead, we should constantly self-evaluate – how we handle situations, address topics, love and guide others – anything and everything associated with our leadership. The more often you encounter a scenario and handle them wisely, the more your instinct will develop, and the more you’ll see God work in and through your ministry.

We all ought to be seeking to gain experience and wisdom so that we are more effective. For those new to leading a group, this may involve seeking out those who have been leading longer for tips and advice. Books, seminars, and other resources may be helpful as well. Pray that God will give you insight regarding how you can develop your leader instinct so that you are better equipped to handle whatever situations arise. 

What are some situations you’ve encountered that helped you develop your leader instinct? How did they help you with similar situations later on? Comment on IG and Twitter.

Thoughts on Discipleship #1

Since I joined the staff of my current church, I’ve been sharing some thoughts with our Growth Group leaders in the form of a weekly email. I’ve decided to share some of these. I pray they are a blessing to you…

Spiritual Disciplines in Small Groups

How do you promote the concept of spiritual disciplines within your groups? Is it a subject that you address with intention and frequency? Do you talk about it when your lesson plan calls for it? Or do you forego such discussions?

It is important to make the discussion of spiritual disciplines a part of your group’s discussions on a regular basis. Our call to make disciples includes training fellow believers to develop good spiritual habits that will enable them to grow in their relationship with God. 

Studying the Bible, giving, serving, praying… these are all actions. While there are aspects of the Christian walk that are matters of the soul or states of mind, serving in the church is an action. Giving faithfully is an action. And so on. This is why a habit needs to be formed.

Finding occasions to bring up spiritual disciplines need not be difficult. Since we are all instructed to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”(2 Peter 3:18), and disciplines help the believer accomplish this, then we as group leaders need to motivate others to “act” in ways that benefit our walk with God. When you pray together as a group, encourage them to pray for that week’s requests during their personal prayer time. Give them topics related to your group’s study that they can study during their quiet time. Ask for testimonies of folks who have witnessed to others recently so group members can hear what worked and what didn’t.

Did you know that there are two types of spiritual disciplines? According to Dr. Don Whitney of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, there are personal and corporate disciplines. For instance, we are to pray in private, but we are also to pray together with other believers. When you encourage your group, make sure to speak of both types. Make sure your group is the smaller meeting that happens between the larger gatherings (Acts 2:46-47).

Why is it important to emphasize spiritual disciplines? Because we all forget to do them from time to time! Even “holy habits” can skip our minds. And while it can be discouraging to mess up, our response needs to be renewed motivation instead of giving up (“I’ll never have a good prayer life – why even try?”). We as leaders should encourage our groups to persevere. 

Let’s all look for opportunities to encourage others to grow in their faith, and to do what it takes to make that happen.

A Response to “A Strong Word”

I don’t know how many blogs you read, but if you have read any posts from anyone in ministry over the past couple of years, you’ll know I mean it when I say MINISTRY IS HARD.

Sure, it’s easy to blame the current (and past) worldwide health situation. I often say that if anyone wants an excuse not to go to church, they’ll find one. Well, the world found one.

But if it was just that, wouldn’t all our churches be full again? Sure, there are lingering effects, fear, some illness, and a lot of caution. But if as ministers of the Gospel truly believe the Good News we proclaim is the best news anyone can hear, wouldn’t the people of God be flooding back to the church as soon as it was in any way possible? If not, why not?

As Ron Edmondson put it in “A Strong Word for Some of My Pastor Friends,” we as pastors need to understand that many of those who left simply will not be coming back. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but if we can’t operate in reality, we operate in delusion. I think he’s correct, unfortunately. But with that understanding is the further understanding that our churches are now filled with different people. Maybe fewer for now. Or maybe fewer for a while. But the church as it currently exists is the only church that actually DOES exist. 

And that is the church to which we must faithfully minister.

Do we reach out to the estranged? Absolutely. Some have fallen out of the habit of attending and need a reminder that the church is still around. Some need affirmation that the church still cares. Others may prefer their occasional live stream viewing when convenient. And still others may just be done. But if someone does not come back, that is not a defeat. It’s not up to the pastor to win them back.

The win is in being faithful.

Trying to encourage those who have stepped away to step back in the fold to be shepherded once again. Letting them know that they are missed. And continuing to minister to the church that remains. New folks, long-timers, and everything in between.

Because they are real.

Christian One Issue Voter Seeks Candidate

Let me start this post by saying that I am by no means a political prognosticator. My views are likely not unique. I do not have any inside information to share. But I feel that I need to mark the occasion of this election due to the controversies, implications, and divisiveness it has wrought.

First off, I am not going to indicate for whom I voted (I voted a few days ago). I am not ashamed of my decision, but I am not giving free publicity to my chosen candidate(s) either. There are plenty of pundits from the evangelical world that have weighed in on how they are voting and why (Piper, Grudem, and Mohler to name a few). These articles offer thought provoking opinions, especially regarding the WHY. I believe that such discussions should ultimately be limited to issues of governance. After all, how are we to debate which failed, sinful human being is a worse failed, sinful human being? If this is a contest on character, I am just as wretched as any candidate on any ticket, and am not qualified to judge.

I have decided to make this election about one issue. In secular culture, this kind of decision is met with disdain, assuming that one who makes such a decision is uninformed, uninvested, or does not care about the election’s outcome. None of these are true of me. In fact, I am not a one-issue person in general. I have conservative opinions on the gamut of cultural, economic, governmental, and international subjects. Still, I have decided to make this election very simple.

I voted for life.

I am a blood-bought, sold-out, Bible-believing child of God. I make no apologies for this, and have no shame in declaring such. I believe that the destruction of unborn human life in the womb is sinful. I grieve for the millions of unborn babies that have lost their lives due to a court decision based on bad law and bad practice of it (as well as those globally). I lament for those who regret the decision to have an abortion or to perform them, and I encourage them to seek forgiveness and peace from the God of all comfort. I envision a day when we can look back on the years since Roe v. Wade with sadness but hope for a future without its ramifications. I call upon God to spark a revival in this country and around the world, and I pray it begins with me.

My vote was cast for the candidate that I believe is more likely to protect life, based on past governing decisions and statements. Legislation, Supreme Court nominations, executive orders and policies… all are factors that can either slow or stop abortions in this country or can remove existing restrictions and speed up and/or fund them. I pray that candidate governs for the former instead of the latter.

As I close, I urge us all to pray for all our leaders, and for those that are elected or remain elected tomorrow (or whenever all the votes are finally counted, but that’s a topic for a different blogger). Regardless what happens, I will not grieve. No election in the history of the world has removed God from his throne, and 2020 will not be the year to break that trend. Please believe me when I say that. We will weather whatever storm is coming, because one always is coming. Trust God.


Have you ever thought that something that came from your brain was completely original, but you find out that it already exists?

Once, I had an idea for a pre-pasted toothbrush that could be purchased from a vending machine for the dental hygiene fan on the go. Apparantly this brainchild of mine was not original, as it was on the market (by Reach, I think?) a few months later.

Yesterday, I thought I coined the term “yeahbut.” We’ll say I did coin the term, since I’m going to use it differently than it’s current definition.

Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock,” is an inspirational figure. He famously started his career with 7 dollars in his pocket, and has progresed from football player to WWE star to movie and TV star to XFL and tequila company owner.

Well, now he appears to want to transition to political pundit.

I’m not going to go into the politics here. Basically, The Rock endorsed a set of candidates for the 2020 election. He is absolutely allowed to endorse whomever he wants, just as he is free to think that I should care who he (or any celebrity) endorses.

I just think he has added a “yeahbut” to his career.

See, there are those who think that the candidates he endorsed and the party to whom they belong are reprehensible and that their election would be awful for this country for years to come.

And many of those folks are wrestling fans. Football fans. Health and fitness fans. Action movie fans.

So now, when Person A says, “Man, I like The Rock in the new Fast and Furious movie,” the response from Person B who is one of the fans I just mentioned could be, “Yeahbut, he endorsed XYZ.” And no matter what accomplishment of The Rock that Person A mentions, Person B can negate it with the “yeahbut.”

The moral? Don’t let your next statement or decision be a “yeahbut” on your testimony as a child of God, your employer, your ministry, your family, or your reputation. Guard what you say. Especially online.