discipleship

Review of A Mile Wide by Brandon Hatmaker

I love to read.  I’ve set my goal high this year, one a book a week, and I’m on track to meet that goal.  I almost always enjoy the book I’ve read (I did pick it, why wouldn’t I.)  But rarely do I not only love the book, but also feel jealous that I didn’t get to write the book I’m reading.  That is how I felt about Brandon Hatmaker’s new book that released this past Tuesday, A Mile Wide:  Trading A Shallow Religion For a Deeper Faith.  I wish I had wrote it.  It is just so good.  God forgive me of my covetousness.

The book is divided into two parts: The Gospel In Us and The Gospel Through Us.  Brandon encourages us to take our small view of the gospel and make it bigger.  As we grow our view of Christian life we can take that gospel and pour it out with a truer mission, seeking justice for our communities, full of grace and truth.

There is an idea in Brandon’s new book that I’ve been discussing with anyone who will verbally process with me, and that is the idea that discipleship happens during outreach.  (I even wrote a whole blog series on it called #servetogrow over the summer.)  Brandon illustrates this idea beautifully.

My favorite part of the whole book is in the chapter discussing discipleship called A Deeper Discipleship.  Brandon tells about an experience he had volunteering one Tuesday night with an organization called Mobile Loaves & Fishes (MLF) with his friend Alan Graham.  After spending the evening handing out groceries, blankets, and clothing to homeless and working poor families, Alan fills Brandon in on his mission at MLF.

‘I’m making disciples,” he [Alan] said. ‘You see, we’re doing a lot of good here. But my job, and yours as a church leader, is to make disciples. My job is to get as many people out of the pews and onto the streets of our city as I can, because I know it’ll change them.’

This was paradigm-shifting for me. I’d served people before. I’d been on multiple mission trips and served in different environments. But this was different. This was in my hometown on a Tuesday night. It was something profound wrapped in something seemingly simple. Somehow what we had just done shifted my thinking from handing out a sandwich to learning a name, hearing a story, and connecting at the soul level.

And I heard the Spirit whisper, Remember what you’re experiencing. Capture how this feels, and help others feel the same. This is going to change you. It’ll change them too.

I’ve thought about that night a thousand times since then. It’s the moment when I realized for the first time that something was happening all around me that wasn’t about me but was changing my heart. After years of checking boxes and hoping for transformation, I could physically feel my heart being reshaped.

Everyday experiences become discipleship experience when we have the right attitude and perspective.
— Brandon Hatmaker, A Mile Wide

I’ve only given you a piece of the story.  You absolutely have to get this book and hear more.

There are other stories that are very touching.  When I first picked up the book to read, I found myself quickly in chapter two blinded by tears.  Brandon tells a poignant story of his encounter with an Ethiopian woman on his very first flight to Ethiopia.  I won’t retell it here, but I will tell you that you will be shocked at the reason for that this woman on Brandon’s flight spontaneously praises the Lord on that airplane.

All of these stories are so stirring to me and you as a reader because it is so evident on the page that these stories are not just cute antidotes to Brandon.  You can feel how life-changing these moments were in the writer’s sensitive-to-the-Spirit heart.

This book isn’t just about moving stories.  One of the things I love about A Mile Wide is how well thought out it is.  Every point has been considered and tested.  Every chapter has lists of helpful ways to proceed or recommendations for moving forward.  This isn’t a book that ends in head scratching and warm feelings.  This is a book that ends with action.  Each subject covered has so many layers for every Christian.

I hope I have convinced you how well your time would be spent on reading A Mile Wide.  I don’t over exaggerate when I say that you will be affected by this book.  Grab a copy and let Brandon lead you deeper into a faith that not only changes you, but leads you to change others.

What about God’s Word?

#servetogrow part 7

When I started this #servetogrow series, I began to make a case that discipleship didn’t just involve studying God’s Word.  I proposed a theory that serving others brings spiritual growth in our lives.  As I wrap up this series today, I’d like to revisit that theory and see if our perspective has changed over these last six blog posts.

The most popular definition of discipleship involves sitting down in groups and studying the Bible.  That is what we picture when we hear the word discipleship.  If we look up the definition of (lower case) disciple, it is defined as “any follower of Christ.”

Discipleship is learning how to follow Christ.  

I want to point out what an active verb that “follow” is.  When we picture the word “follow” in our minds, we don’t see someone sitting at a desk or sitting with a book, do we?

Let me be clear that the Bible is the clearest way we can know the character and commands of Christ.  It is our training book for being right with God.  It is infallible.  It is our teacher.  It is what equips us for every good work.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
— 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

Studying God’s word is clearly necessary to learn how to follow Christ, but I believe it is just a piece of discipleship.

There are so many active things that we can do to actually be a disciple, and we don’t just immediately know how to do these things once we’ve prayed to receive Christ.  Sharing your faith, sharing your testimony, leading a friend to know Christ, serving the orphan or widow, feeding His sheep, and doing justice work are all pieces of being a disciple, and those actions take practice There is a learning curve to both studying God’s Word and putting action to God’s Word.

As you attempt to do the things disciples do, you will naturally rely on God’s Word for help, encouragement, instruction, and support.  As we feel ill-equipped to live out our call as a disciple, we will naturally lean into His Word.

The biggest encouragement to becoming a self-feeder with a good grasp on scripture is heart-felt need in your daily life as a disciple.  We all start out as a spiritual newborn, but as we serve, learn, and grow, our hope is to move forward from milk to solid, self-fed food.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation
— 1 Peter 2:2 ESV

If we agree that being a disciple involves more than just studying the Bible, we should agree that discipleship should involve more than just studying the Bible.

But where do we start?

If we go to God’s Word, we can find plenty of commands for disciples who are following Christ.

We can look to the Great Commission and know every disciple should be going into the world to make other disciples.  We can look to commands about justice and spend time feeding the poor, caring for the fatherless, serving the widows.  We can look to examples of actions of His sheep in Matthew 25 and feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and visit the imprisoned.

The key to this is to do it together with other disciples.  As you serve together, the more mature Christians will be put into a natural position to mentor and disciple the less mature Christians.  Together they become The Church practicing being disciples.

Most local churches offer discipleship weekends that have sessions of teaching.  Wouldn’t it be crazy to offer a discipleship weekend that involved feeding the poor, clothing refugees, visiting a prison, praying with the sick, or just fishing for men?  The benefit would not just be for those served, but also for those serving.  The act of serving will lead to learning more about following Jesus.

I cannot miss this opportunity to point out how important the Great Commission is in our walk following Jesus.  We are all commanded to make disciples, and when we lead someone to make the decision to follow Christ, we have made a disciple.

It is only God who saves, but He allows us to be a part of this process of making disciples because He cares about our obedience.

There is nothing on this Earth that makes me feel like the least-equipped, least-knowledgable Christian ever than talking to another person about salvation.  As we do this uncomfortable, challenging work of sharing the path to salvation with others, we will never feel more lead to dive into studying and know God’s Word.

Discipleship involves both studying and doing the Word.

Doing the Word will drive you to study the Word, and studying the Word should drive you to doing the Word.

Let’s change our view of discipleship and begin serving to grow!

 

I like to share a song with every blog post.  I love how deep & full of truth Christian rap is.  It is comforting to me on days when my heart is so heavy for my city.

  "Lord give me an explanation for your grace
So I can have an answer when they're starring in my face
Not an answer for the question but answer for the cancer
Like why me and my darkest thoughts are always so romantic? Huh?
Why do I love what you hate?
Why does my obedience come and go?
I need the combination to the safe
Lord I pray you show yourself to the lost
And give the streets a revelation of the cross"

Becoming like our Rabbi

#servetogrow part 4

You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.
— Deuteronomy 11:18-23 ESV

The idea of teaching about God in every situation of life, sitting, walking, lying down, and rising, has really become what I’ve strived for as a parent.  This is how real life truths are taught, by observation of lifestyle and by answering questions as we encounter them.  In Jewish culture, rabbis took this model and used it to teach their most gifted students.  The student would become an apprentice, living life with the rabbi.  The rabbi taught their students by making them accessible to their life.

Jesus adopted this rabbi-student model with his apostles.  He told them to “come” and to “follow me.”  But Jesus did something no other teacher could do, He atoned for their sin, and then He promised them that they would do greater things than He had done.  Jesus knew the Holy Spirit was coming to be their helper and dwell inside of His students.

Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.
— John 14:12-14 The Message

This promise of doing greater things than Jesus, it was hard for the disciples to believe.  It is hard for me to believe.  They knew what Jesus had been doing.  They’d seen it.  I’ve read my Bible.  I know what Jesus had done.  But Jesus said it.  He said to trust Him.  He said the Father would give us the same work to do that He had been doing.

In this statement, Jesus answered a question that every person and every local church asks, “What should we be doing with our life?”

We should be doing what Jesus was doing here on Earth.

I listed this out in part 1 of my #servetogrow series, but let me summarize again what Jesus did on Earth.

Jesus traveled from town to town, loving people.  He healed men, women and children.  He raised people from the dead.  He fed huge crowds of people.  He taught in stories called parables.  He preached the sermon on the Mount.  He welcomed the children to Himself.  He calms storms.  He gets alone to pray to His Father.  He dines with tax collectors and sinners.  

Are we really expected to be like Jesus Christ?  Can we really do all of these things, and even greater things than these?

Paul said this, in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

He asked his brothers in the church in Corinth to imitate him, as he did his best to imitate Christ.

That is the call of a disciple maker.  As we carry out ministry on Earth, as much as possible like Christ, we should have young people who are coming along with us in that ministry.  They will learn from us as we make our ministry accessible to them.

These verses confirm my suspicion that discipleship is active.  It doesn’t always involve books, classroom, and study.

As I continue my #servetogrow series in the coming weeks, please comment.  Let me know if you have thoughts or ideas on this subject.

If you want to read more about the rabbi-teacher relationship in Bible, here is a great article.

Get out of the classroom

#servetogrow part 2

How did Jesus teach His disciples?  He didn’t put his carpentry skills to work and a bust out a dozen desks.  Instead, He said, “Let’s go.”

I believe the Lord still teaches OTF.  OTF, that’s “on the fly.”

If this is the case, why does 90% of our discipleship as a local church involve sitting down and taking notes?  Could we missing out on a big component of discipleship?  

I feel like I’m saying something a little bit controversial here.  If you have felt any hesitancy to accept #servetogrow, it might be because so few local churches are doing discipleship outside of a classroom.  Please set what usual churches do aside.  

Or your hesitancy might be because you interpret my #servetogrow idea as “works” based teaching.  I don’t intend to suggest that any works would save us.  I believe fully in the grace that God offers all of us, and I know that there is not a single physical ministry anyone could do that would make them worthy of His Throne.

But aren’t studying, reading, and praying verbs that could be considered works too?  Those church activities should set off your “works” based teaching red-flags as well.

I want to be clear that reading The Word is as necessary as eating and prayer is as necessary as breathing.  As Christians, we should be filling ourselves with His Word and His Spirit.  Without this preparation, no ministry is possible.

If you read through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you begin to see a pattern to Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus traveled from town to town, doing things.  He healed men, women and children.  He raised people from the dead.  He fed huge crowds of people.  He taught in stories called parables.  He preached the sermon on the Mount.  He welcomed the children to Himself.  He calms storms.  He gets alone to pray to His Father.  He dines with tax collectors and sinners.  

As Jesus was performing these miracles and acts of mercy, the disciples tagged along asking questions.  Sometimes they also got a little side lessons the Bible calls “being rebuked.”

A few times Jesus sends the disciples out on their own.  He gives them His authority to proclaim His kingdom and heal sickness.  Whenever He did this, He would send them empty handed, going out in complete faith.

Can you even image a bigger opportunity to learn lessons about God?

As His disciples, we can still go out empty handed to serve the lost, sick, and lonely.  Wouldn’t we learn from such an experience?

Last week, when I introduced #servetogrow, I said it was a theory that we grow spiritually by serving others.  I’ve been witness to something at my church, Citychurch, for a few summers now that I want to share with you.

Our ministry at Citychurch is seasonal.  We have different outreaches during different times of the school year.  We have spurts of meeting physical needs during the school year when children have holidays and school breaks, but the majority of our ministry is old-fashioned Bible teaching.  We have youth and pre-teen services, elementary aged Bible clubs, a preschool, and Sunday school.  You would think that during these times of the year, as a teacher in these programs, I would observe a lot of spiritual growth in our children and youth’s lives.  That isn’t what I’ve observed.  I’ve actually seen more spiritual growth during the summer months.  In the summer, our church is action-packed and busy with outreach.  Many of our pre-teens and youth are very active in these outreaches.  They help pack lunches, deliver on vans and bicycles, and assist with programs in the park for children.  It is during these times of outreach when our youth seem to make leaps and bounds in their ability to bear fruit.

During these times of service, the young people in our church are being mentored by the staff and volunteers.  They are putting their faith into action.  They learn OTF, and the lessons stick.

What about you?  Have you ever come back from a short-term mission trip, and said these words, “That trip changed my life?”  Have you ever learned something about the Lord as you were teaching others?  Have you served your community out of His grace, and realized you had been receiving His grace through that service?

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing some active commands the scripture gives us.  I believe that completing these actions is a huge part of your discipleship and how you should be discipling others.

 

 

I like sharing music, and I'm still on a Santigold kick.  Her new album, tho.  This song is a hilarious comment on the state of American culture.  My friends who've been to Ethiopia will recognize the influence of Ethiopian music, especially in the intro of the song.  I don't know about myself, but I can't get enough of this song.