Discipleship

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Some Holy Week sidewalk art has been one way that we’ve
sought to reframe our unplanned family togetherness.

Encouraged by a webinar led by Michael Hyatt, I released a video to our team of missionaries assigned to Mexico at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. My intention as I recorded the video was to help my colleagues both process their emotions and to be productive even as so much around us was closing down. As we’ve continued through the days and weeks of social distancing, I’ve felt that the message that I shared with them would be worth sharing with a wider audience, even as many look forward to returning to some sense of normalcy.

Those steps to process our emotions and stay productive at home are the following:

  1. Lament
  2. Lean and
  3. Lead

Lament
In our future-minded society, many of us feel that it may be unspiritual to mourn over the situation, or, if we choose to face reality, we somehow grant it power over us, but that doesn’t seem to be the biblical pattern.
Psalm‬ ‭42:4‬ ‭says, “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!”

The reality is that this crisis has taken something from all of us. Kelly and I were looking forward to making some memories with our kids who were on Spring Break when we were notified that we had to go into self-imposed quarantine. We had tickets to Europe. We were just $150 from finishing our monthly support. All of those plans and goals have been shifted dramatically. What we expected to be moments of joy turned to spasms of anxiety, assessing ourselves for the dreaded symptoms and concerned for those that we could not reach. Of course, what we’ve faced as a family is light in comparison to so many others who have lost income, work, businesses, and even loved ones because of this virus. Allow yourself to grieve over what’s been lost.

And don’t expect the grieving to be over after one good cry. I’ve been surprised as sadness has become at times particularly acute. One such instance came during Central Assembly’s Good Friday Service. From our TV, we saw images of a darkened sanctuary and an empty stage. An unseen choir sang accompanied by piano and violin while the camera panned the empty places where they would have stood. Inactive instruments seemed to memorialize the musicians who would have been playing. I cried as I wondered, “can we ever go back?”

Lean
Still, even as we may be tempted to allow the grief to simply wash over us, we need to understand that we must rise up again. While we take time to lament, we must also learn to lean. The same psalm states:
“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you.
I routinely pray the words of Proverbs 3:5 and 6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”
We may see things as bleak, but we cannot allow our limited perspective to determine our reaction. We must lean on the Lord. Trust in God, knowing that he is in control and that he will guide us through this crisis. He will take us through this storm and bring us into a place of peace.

Lead
So while we’ve allowed ourselves to lament and we’ve determined to lean, we must also step up to lead. With so much at stake and so little clear direction, it’s easy to find ourselves frozen with fear, allowing the news to overwhelm us, but inactivity is not an option. We must learn to be proactive in our approach, doing what we can where we can.

Stephen Covey can help us with this task. In this book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about 3 concentric circles that occupy our thoughts and actions:

  • the circle of concern
  • the circle of influence and
  • the circle of control.

Right now, we’re concerned about the world and those affected by the virus, we’re concerned about the economy and the effect it will have on our retirement, our work or ministry, and even the ability to meet our day-to-day responsibilities. However, there is little to nothing that we can do to affect change in that circle. Staying there produces little but worry.

Where we can begin to have an effect is within our circle of influence. In this circle are our coworkers and colleagues, our friends and families. There, we can affect change through interactions of love and genuine concern, but we can do little even here until we operate in our circle of control, that is, until we become aware of ourselves and align our lives with the values that we hold: loving God and loving others. In other words, our prime influence or leadership is that of modeling. In that, we take care to maintain our spiritual hygiene: prayer, study, and meditation on the word, worship, fasting, etc. If we’ve relegated our relationship with God to our church calendar, chances are we need to brush up on these areas. Let’s take the time necessary to get our heart in the right place with Him.

At the same time, we take care to model best practices when it comes to staying healthy: using masks in public and keeping our physical distance from people, staying at home to reduce the infection rate and washing our hands regularly. In addition, let’s not forget physical exercise and adequate rest, always good ideas no matter the threat we may be facing.

Then, as we do reach out, I feel that we should be focusing on the three things that we can give to those who are in our circle of influence: 

  • Equilibrium
  • Encouragement
  • Empowerment

The first gift, equilibrium, is the most urgent and perhaps the easiest to give. Here, we’re providing the stability many need as their sources of income and circles of support have been disrupted. If they are sick, we’re helping facilitate their care. If they are hungry, we’re arranging a grocery delivery. If they are anxious or lonely, we’re the listening ear. Certainly, there are many ways that we can help to support our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and acquaintances in this time of crisis. Some require our time, others, our money, but all require our thought and consideration. Let’s determine to be a blessing even as many of us have been blessed in our times of need.

The second gift, encouragement, is a bit more of a stretch. This requires us to step back and imagine what life might be like after this crisis passes. How will our daily lives look in this new normal, and how can we prepare ourselves to thrive in that reality? We’re painting for ourselves and others the picture of that future with the goal of embracing it. Certainly, there will be challenges but what about the opportunities? Yes, there will be routines that we will miss but what about the new experiences to embrace? Let’s make an effort here to help ourselves and those around us to begin to transition.

The final gift is empowerment. In business, this is the decentralization of the administration. In the church, this is the revitalization of the priesthood of all believers. This is the bestowing of the authority and the resources necessary to help our community make the transition to the new reality.  This gift is becoming more important by the day.  While I don’t believe that large corporations or professional ministry are going anywhere, if what we have after the pandemic is what we had before, we’ve missed out on a huge opportunity.  Why couldn’t we use this time to push decision making closer to the people who are affected by those decisions? Why couldn’t we leverage this opportunity to equip our volunteers to not only caretake but truly care for those in their ministries? This can happen in units as small as the family and as large as the multi-site megachurch. The coronavirus is rewriting the future of the way we live, work, and associate, why not have a hand in editing that future?

I imagine that, even as we saw this virus take hold in China, none of us thought that, here in the US, we’d be facing a crisis of this magnitude. Still, I think that as we give ourselves room to lament, as we learn to lean on the Lord, and as we step up to lead, first ourselves and then those in our circles of influence, we can not only survive but also thrive in this crisis. Know that Kelly and I are praying for you and are available to you via email, text, or phone call. We hope that you’ll be there for one another as we continue through this situation.

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When Jay Dickerson, Area Director for Central America and Coordinator for Missionary Formation, asked me (Dave) if I’d be interested in teaching the "Bible as Narrative" competency for new missionary candidates during their orientation sessions this month, it didn’t take long for me to give him my enthusiastic affirmative response. As missionaries in the Yucatan, we were passionate about facilitating encounters with the Bible. We know that as individuals understand the Bible story and see themselves within the framework of its redemptive history, their way of perceiving reality or worldview is changed.   That change makes possible their increased participation with God in that same redemption. What an honor it was to walk through the Bible with these new missionaries, giving them the tools they need to see that change happen in themselves and lead others to experience it as well.  As Mexico Area Directors we look forward to additional opportunities to influence the next generation of missionaries.

But this month we also had the chance to influence the next generation of missions supporters as we were invited to speak to the children in Lebanon First Assembly (Lebanon, MO) and Northland Cathedral (Kansas City, MO) about how Boys and Girls’ Missionary Challenge (BGMC) helps missionaries reach people throughout the world.  After grabbing their attention with our snake (Don’t worry, it’s not real.), we talked to them about how missionaries use BGMC funds that they give each week to help men and women and boys and girls all over the world know Jesus.

Thank you for your prayers and support that are enabling us to extend our influence. We appreciate your involvement in our team!

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Small but Significant

It may have been a simple shopping trip, but it’s shown us that our small but significant interactions are resulting in meaningful relationships. Interested in reading about it? Hit the link here, or click on the picture. While you’re there, don’t miss

  • Our latest installment in the Breakthrough Series,
  • a major milestone for the youngest member of the family,
  • And an opportunity to be a part of fulfilling our vision through your year-end tax-deductible giving.

Our online newsletter is viewable as a PDF document. If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat Reader software installed, you may download it here.

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In our April update, we took time to highlight the ministry of Light for the Lost. Through their support, we were able to furnish all of our church planters with the evangelism materials that they needed to effectively present the gospel to the unsaved in the neighborhoods, towns, and villages where they are starting new works. In this July report, we’re excited to update that story as we’ve been able to extend that support to churches throughout the district of Yucatán.

Leading the District Evangelism Department since July of last year, we’ve been promoting the idea that the local church is the engine that drives evangelism. It is therefore a pleasure to support these pastors and congregations, utilizing our network to distribute some 68,000 tracts and 600 Bibles in support of their evangelistic efforts. We’re convinced that through their desire to reach the lost and the use of these tools, their outreaches will leave a lasting impact.

We are also providing churches with a particularly exciting tool: Respuestas De La Vida (Journey Answers) cards. Designed to follow up gospel conversations or be left with restaurant servers, gas station attendants, taxi drivers, etc., these cards lead the lost to an online, relevant gospel presentation and a site where they can respond with questions, prayer requests, or make a decision for Christ. These respondents can then be directed to any one of our local congregations for continued discipleship. Our hope is that this mass distribution will lead many to respond to the gospel and connect with a church home.

Of course, this kind of operation does create its share of complications. Our spare bedroom has since turned into a warehouse/staging center as we prepare evangelism packets for distribution! Still, it’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to take another step toward fulfilling the vision of the Yucatan full of churches.

Pray with us, then, that these messages will reach their intended audience and influence them to become disciples of Christ. And, as you do pray, would you please add these additional needs to your list?

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We’ve paused our consideration of the Disciplines for a time, in part because of an increased experience of the Discipline of Service to my boys while Kelly was away in Oaxaca (You can read about that experience in our most recent newsletterPDF.), and in part because of the frenetic pace that accompanies the final weeks before Christmas vacation. Still, though our forward progress has been slowed, the practice of the disciplines considered, especially those of prayer, study, solitude, service, and submission have been constant companions, a means to orient my life toward the grace that, I have become increasingly aware, God longs to lavish on each one of his children.

However, as I traveled to ACLAME meetings in Springfield, MO. My need to switch to airplane mode to disconnect with the Internet and all of the urgency and distraction that it generates, became another opportunity for me to connect with the Disciplines and, with them, the God who has so generously provided them as a means to align us with his divine nature. Today we move forward into the Discipline of Worship.

While, as with the other Disciplines, I’ll look to define the Discipline of Worship and seek to record my personal experience with it, I felt the need to stop at a declaration of the author, Richard Foster: “God is actively seeking worshipers.” Jesus declares, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him” (John 4:23, [italics added]).” When I’ve read this scripture in the past I’ve always pictured God as waiting for those who would worship him in “spirit and in truth,” as though it was something to be found within us, something which we would generate from ourselves as we applied the right songs, the right postures, or the right words to convey that spiritual worship. But Foster goes on to talk about the God who seeks, looks for, and evokes reaction from those with whom he interacts.

He provides a list of examples: God looking for Adam in the garden, Jesus, drawing all humanity to himself on the cross, the Father running to the prodigal. Each one shows us a God who initiates the worship that he seeks from his children, who shows himself to them, who gives them every reason to exult in praise and adoration. And so we turn to the Discipline of Worship with a new understanding: even as the Scriptures call for a sacrifice of praise, we recognize that it is God who grants us the reasons and the resources that we need to present to him that sacrifice that he requests.

Like the father who receives with gratitude the gift that his child has purchased for him although the money for that gift came from the father’s own pocket, such is the expectation and subsequent joy of our Heavenly Father when we respond in worship although, in fact, it is a worship that he himself has made possible. May we then enter into to this Discipline knowing that we have divine aid ensuring our success. What a Good, Good Father he is indeed!

Before we go on in our study, let’s talk about this idea

What’s your take on John 4:23?
As we close out this year of 2018, can you remember instances when God has sought you out to worship him? Share it with us.

Photo credits: Nazarene General Assembly 2013 by Jake Guild used in accordance with a Creative Commons license.

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For the past two months we’ve been walking through an experiential study of the Spiritual Disciplines as laid out in Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. This week, we’re going through the Corporate Discipline of Confession. If you’ve missed my introductory post on this topic, I encourage you to go back and review it.

As we turn from its justification to its practice, I felt it helpful to use Foster’s “Diary of a Confession” section as a guide. During the past three days in which I’ve been silent in this space, I’ve been preparing, selecting setting up and appointment with my confessor and spending time in reflection, in the evaluation my past as I prepare to give my own confession.

The reflection consisted of dividing my life, as did Foster into three sections. In my case I chose adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood as my sections, effectively separating my life into my post conversion experience, my time of ministerial formation, and my life as a minister. I then spent time in focused meditation over the course of three days allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the past sins that came to the fore. My goal was not to explain or justify those memories, simply to write them down as I that which I believed necessary for me to share in the upcoming session.

Of course, the benefits that I’ve already received from this time of preparation led me to reflect on why I hadn’t taken the initiative to go through this process before or why I had never received an invitation to do so from the Christian communities of which I’d been a part. My search for reasons brought me to an article on CovenantEyes.com, the website of company that produces the accountability software that we use on our electronic devices.

In the article entitled, “Shame-Killing Churches: A Vision of Real Accountability” the author, Traylor Lovvorn, explains why so few Christian communities are able to operate at the level of the trasnformative community that it should be. He cites a Dr. David Powlison when talking about the problem of shame:

Shame [is] “a sense of failure before the eyes of someone else.” When this “someone else” is a perfect and holy Creator and our perspective is vertical in nature, this sense of failure is healthy in that it opens the door to the Gospel and allows us to see our desperate need for a Savior. But when our perspective is horizontal and we are comparing ourselves to peers and fellow believers, shame turns toxic and leads to a deep-seated unease with who we are that causes us to withdraw and hide.

Any attempts to establish community and accountability that do not account for and address this underlying issue of toxic shame only piles on a deeper sense of failure and drives men further into isolation and away from genuine community.

I invite you to read the rest of the article for his description of, what to me is, a far too common problem in our Christian community. Although his struggle was related to the sexual, I believe that his experience is a specific experience of an all too universal problem.

How do we escape this isolationism, the popular cliché that our private, hidden, relationship with Jesus is enough? I feel even more strongly now that it is by becoming vulnerable through confession. It’s by breaking down the facade that we’ve worn before others and showing them the radical nature of the redemptive work, a work that continues to the present day in every believer, and it’s by offering grace for those who are walking that same road with us.

As I write this, I’m readying for my own scheduled time of confession. To tell the truth, the preparation has already had a profound effect. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to living out the experience. After these last two posts, I hope you might be as well.

Photo credit: “Soderledskyran brick wall/a>” by Håkan Svensson utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

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In our consideration of the Spiritual Disciplines as treated in the book, Celebration of Discipline, we now turn our focus from service to the Spiritual Discipline of confession. This is also a movement, as the book suggests, from the outward Disciplines of Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service, to the Corporate Disciplines, which include Worship, Guidance, and Celebration, as well as Confession.

Of course, such a categorization of confession may seem strange to some. “Isn’t the confession of our sin a private matter between ourselves and God?” we may ask. Foster affirms this but also points out that the Bible calls for us to confess our sins one to another (James 5:15). He suggests that the reason that many of us struggle with the guilt of our past sins is because we have left this corporate discipline behind as a casualty of the reformation.

As a former catholic, I lament the loss of this spiritual exercise. If there was one thing that has maintained meaning for me in my religious practice after coming to faith in Jesus Christ it is the sacrament, as it is called, of Reconciliation. I remember the catharsis that I experienced as I audibly confessed to another human being the sins that I had committed, and there was a power that I felt as I heard the words of absolution. As I left the booth or the room where I gave my confession, I remember that there would be a lightness in my step, a smile on my face, and a joy in my heart.

Now, I know that confession has been criticized for its abuse, for the idea that comes from a misunderstanding of its purpose that we might sin to our heart’s content just so long as we give confession afterwards, that in this game that we play with God, as long as we follow the rules of giving confession, that he must forgive us. This is an attitude that we must reject. Still we must ask ourselves, do we negate the benefits of modern medicine because there are those who abuse prescription drugs? Do we stop giving to charitable organizations because there are those who have embezzled funds?

Certainly, I’m not advocating a return to empty rituals, I’m inviting us to experience the grace that comes from recovering a neglected Spiritual Discipline. In the days that come, we’ll explore what Richard Foster and the Bible have to say about the Discipline of Confession and we’ll take some time to walk through its practice. I expect it to be uncomfortable, but I hope and pray that, like any exercise, it will bring us benefit from its practice.

What would you say about the Discipline of Confession as we begin? What, if any, experience do you have with its practice? Have you experienced any benefit from it? Have you witnessed its abuse? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section.

Photo credit: “Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse – chapelle des reliques – Confessionnal” by Didier Descounes utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

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As we close our time in the Sprititual Discipline of Service as considered in the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I think that it’s important to relate my own experience with it during the past week. For me, as Foster suggests, my focus on service has been an exercise in the cultivation of humility.

Perhaps a bit of background might help to explain. I grew up in a household with pretty strict divisions of labor. Tasks were assigned by sex, age, and/or experience. For example, unless it had to do with the grill, my dad was strictly uninvolved with meals. In the same way, I never remember seeing my mom out in the driveway with my dad when it came time to change the oil in my car. And when it came to the menial tasks like setting the table, or doing the dishes or cleaning up after the dog, that was the domain of the children. When we would ask our dad to buy a dishwasher he would usually laugh and say, “Why do I need another dishwasher? I already have three! Of course, he was referring to us, his three sons. Needless to say, we didn’t find his joke very amusing.

I relate my childhood experience to explain its effect: all of the above created in me an expectaction of a time when I too would be above certain tasks, when I would be able to dedicate myself to the important things, the manly things, and leave the tasks that I considered beneath me to others, namely my own children!

As I have spent time in reflection on the Discipline of Service, however, I have realized how it breaks down this division of labor, how it calls us to humble ourselves and to accept the personal responsibility to fill the need that’s before us. This is not to say that before this past week that I hadn’t done the dishes, or that I’d left Kelly to slave away in the kitchen to prepare each and every meal, but I have to admit that my default attitude toward such tasks had been that they were beneath me, that they didn’t belong to me. I would routinely find myself, as did the disciples before their last dinner with Jesus, making every attempt to avoid the menial yet necessary task, even when I was staring at, or perhaps, as in their case, smelling the call to service before me.

The most interesting observation for me, however, has been the freedom that this humility has given me to engage in truly meeting the need. Now, instead of complaining about something that has been left undone, I am free to simply do it myself. Instead of arguing about whose responsibility the task might be, I am liberated to simply step in and meet the need and enjoy the benefits for having done so.

Granted, this reflection is in no way suggesting that we shouldn’t come to an agreement beforehand about certain familial responsibilities or teach our children to participate around the home so that they too cultivate an attitude of service, but it does suggest that when others let us down, we still have a choice. We can pick them up or put them down. We can encourage through serving or embarrass through shaming. As we continue to progress in this discipline my prayer is that we will increasingly choose the former and not the latter.

How ahout you? As you’ve progressed this past week in the Discipline of Service or have had other experiences with this exercise, what have you observed either within you or among those you have served? I look forward to reading about your thoughts and experiences.

Image credit,”Washing dishes with soap“ by peapodlabs, used in accordance with a Creative Commons license.

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On October 20th and 21st, leaders from throughout the district of Yucatan gathered together for a historic event called the Escuela de Multiplicadores (Multipliers’ School). This two-day session was held in preparation for the kickoff of our new church planting cycle, utilizing materials and methods from Red de Multiplicación (RdM). Its goal was to provide the information and the inspiration necessary to set goals for church planting in the two-year period ending in May of 2019 .

The event was a historic one, not because of the methods and materials that we were explaining (we had introduced materials from RdM in June of 2016), but because this was the first time that district officials had ever gathered to prioritize and strategize for the planting of churches in this way. The outcome of this first ever effort was more than what we could have hoped for.

Arturo Robles, the National Coordinator for RdM joined us from Mexico City for the event. During the sessions, he explained the philosophies and function of RdM and emphasized the belief that a healthy church was a reproducing church. He encouraged each participant to to be involved not simply in the growth of their church but also in its multiplication. It was gratifying to see the vision of the district of Yucatan full of churches becoming clearer to our pastors as they came to under-stand their role in its realization.

The time together culminated in a round table discussion led by our regional presbyters in which they challenged our participants to respond to the question ”What should we do?” We asked them to fix a number of churches to be planted as a goal to be reached by 2019. Reflecting back on the past two years, we found that 17 churches had been added to the 225 already in the district, bringing us to the present total of 242. As the numbers from each table were reported, the regions set a future goal to plant 158 churches, a growth of over 900% in comparison with the previous period. The sense of hope and commitment that that number represented brought tears of joy to our eyes.

The Escuela de Multiplicadores was indeed a breakthrough for our church planting efforts, something we celebrate. We understand, however, that the work is still ahead—in the recruitment of workers and the mentors that will guide and encourage them. That is the focus of this month of November. Will you pray that many will answer the call?

Photo Captions:

  • Arturo Robles, National Coordinator of Red de Multiplicación trains district leaders during the Escuela de Multiplicadores (large).
  • Regional Presbyter Juan Hau encourages participants from the western region in the goal planning session (top).
  • Regional Presbyter Raúl Sánchez takes a moment during discussions in the central region (bottom corner).
  • Dave shares inspiration from Isaiah 6 during the morning devotional (bottom right).

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The missionary task is two-fold. Primarily, it involves incarnating into the host culture, which includes partnering with the national church to spread the message of the gospel and discipling those who believe, but there is another part of the equation. Without the engagement of those who send, without inspiration to participate in the Great Commission in a practical way, it won’t be long before the missionary must return for lack of support.

Here in Mexico, the reduced costs of travel make it easier to bring these two worlds together, but this presents another difficulty—how to blend them. How do we utilize external support without harming the indigenous church? How can we insure a positive experience for those who come while producing a lasting effect for those who remain?

Such a balance requires a thorough understanding of the situation on the ground as well as flexibility on the part of those who come to minister. Fortunately, our partnership with church planters like Roberto Ortega, Josué Díaz, and Yónatan Segura provide that necessary insight into the local situation, while teams, such as our most recent from supporting church Chapel Springs of Bristow, VA, adapt to meet the immediate physical and spiritual needs our national partners express.

This past week, then, it was a joy to see this team of 19 youth and adults link arms with our Mexican brothers and sisters to make an impact in Kiní, Dzemul, and Motul, Yucatán. The trip began with a powerful welcome service, one in which a former spiritist couple committed their lives to Christ. This was followed by a week of construction on the church parsonage and bathrooms in Kiní in the mornings and Vacation Bible School ministry and sports in the evening in all three locations.

The week was not without its difficulties, heat and sickness among them, but, having worked together, a church building is nearer to completion in Kiní, a children’s ministry has begun in Dzemul, and a fledgling church plant has enjoyed increased public awareness in Motul. For this synergy in missions, we’re thankful.

Photo captions:

Rebekah gives explanation during VBS craft time in Dzemul (large).

David Bontrager gives shape to the parsonage in Kiní (top).

Mexican/American partnership in outreach to Motul (middle).

Bittersweet: The last missions team for our trio (bottom left).

Dave and Kevin minister in the midst of construction material (bottom right).

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