ChurchETHOS

Spiritual Discipline

Posted in christian habits, discipleship, spiritual disciplines by Nathan Creitz on September 23, 2009

a-prayer-for-times-like-theseSpiritual discipline doesn’t sound very exciting. Many Christians shy away from the disciplines because it sounds like work at best and legalism at worst. However, spiritual discipline is simply a name for the spiritual habits that a true follower of Jesus forms as he or she becomes more like Him. We want to follow Jesus and we know that He meditated on Scripture, spent time in prayer, and shared the Gospel with others, just to name a few. There are other disciplines that we can glean from the Bible that are important to consider as well.

But for the most part, these disciplines go neglected by the majority of church attenders. Does that make their Christianity suspect? No, it probably means that no one helped them to see the positive aspect of a disciplined life of faith. When we form regular habits, we need accountability. It’s the same thing when we form spiritual habits.

As a child I learned that I needed to brush my teeth, make my bed, not eat dirt, etc. No one would think my parents unfair or cruel for making me obey. Those were habits that my parents helped me form when I was a child. The disciplines are habits and we need help forming them in our lives. Not too many people have the inherent motivation to form a strong habit for themselves. As a child we had our parents help in showing us the habits that needed to be formed and the habits that needed to be broken. In our spiritual habits, we have the Body of Christ to help us but it takes initiative and responsibility on our part to come alongside immature believers and help them move toward spiritual maturity.

Pastors play a large role in equipping the saints and part of the equipping process should be the formation and spiritual growth of new believers. In order to be effective at fostering a Biblical understanding of the disciplines, the church leaders should first of all teach about them in a positive way. Secondly, leaders should model the disciplines and coach others in the process. Third, we should encourage accountability and fellowship in the Body so that there is a consistent venue for people to talk about their progress or lack thereof in a safe and open setting. Finally, we need to talk about the perils of not engaging in the disciplines. Dallas Willard talks about the cost of NONdiscipleship (rather than Bonhoeffer’s ‘Cost of Discipleship’). When we reject the foundational habits and activities of the Bible, we forsake the abundant life that Jesus has promised us.

So, we need to talk about spiritual disciplines, model them, hold people accountable to do them, and contrast the difference between a disciplined and an undisciplined spiritual life so that people can understand that these are not legalistic endeavors, but that they are helpful and fulfilling as we diligently follow our Master.

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Making Disciple-Making Disciples

Posted in discipleship by Nathan Creitz on September 3, 2009

Picture 1Making disciple-making disciples (or making DMD’s) seems rather redundant. Yet, in practice, very few are doing it. Making DMD’s is what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 28:18-20. Instead, many church leaders interpret the commission to “make disciples” in one of two ways. Some “make disciples” by making converts and then telling them to attend a church service. Others gather converts together and attempt to “go deeper” but place no emphasis on being a witness to their neighbor. This is the danger of separating evangelism and discipleship. The former is engaged in evangelism, the latter is engaged in what he or she believes to be discipleship.

Discipleship Training or Transforming Disciples?

Our “discipleship training” has become merely a class or a Bible study that helps us grow in our knowledge about God but it doesn’t always encourage us to live for God. Making DMD’s is a much more robust commitment to the spiritual transformation of another. When Jesus told His disciples to go and make disciples, He was literally telling them to make disciple-making disciples. Just as He invested in them, now they were to invest in others.

Matthew 28:20 says to teach the disciples to obey (or “observe”) all that Jesus commanded. Paul reminds us of this concept in 2 Timothy 2:2 which says, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Of course, this is not the definition of what it means to make disciples because Paul is only talking about teaching “what you have heard”.

Making DMD’s isn’t just about teaching, it’s about a lifestyle that invites others into your life. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.” This goes beyond the important teaching aspect to the equally important but much more vulnerable lifestyle of making disciples. Sermons, seminars, and classes need to be extra-curricular to the more risky and time consuming core curriculum of modeling a transformed life in front of others.

Reproducible DMDs

So what does it mean to “make disciple-making disciples”? The point of stating it redundantly is to emphasize the necessity of reproducibility. Disciples make more disciples but non-disciples don’t make disciples. But understanding what making DMDs is all about is like trying to explain swimming to someone who has never been in a pool of water. The best way to do it is to jump in and splash around. There are some principles and theories about how to do it but if you understand that the goal is to make disciples who will then make more disciples there is at least more motive for making DMDs in the first place.

Once you have the motivation for reproducible disciple making, the how-to becomes clearer. For example, in order for discipleship to be reproducible it can’t be specialized. The leadership training and scholarship of a seminary student is important and certainly plays a role in the body of Christ but it can’t really be referred to as disciple making. Making DMDs is much broader and less specialized. It should be universal to all followers of Jesus. There is no dichotomy between Christians and disciples. Instead, all who desire to follow Jesus will be compelled internally to share Jesus with others; mostly for their love for Him, but also because He commanded it. Anyone unwilling to make disciples as Jesus commanded cannot truthfully consider himself a disciple.

Being a seminary student or a pastor or any other church leader doesn’t automatically mean you are a DMD. Stated in another way, seminary students need to not only engage in their seminary studies, but also need to engage in those activities that are universal to all followers of Jesus. The same goes for pastors and other church leaders. This is just one example of what can be gleaned by understanding that the goal of disciple making is reproducibility. We haven’t defined what making DMD means, we’ve just narrowed it down by shaving off what it is not. Not everyone calling themselves Christian is truly making disciples.

Responsible DMDs

It could be said at this point that making disciple-making disciples should be the goal of all disciple making activity. It should further be stated that it is the responsibility of all followers of Jesus to be involved in making DMDs. The seminary student might happen to be studying Greek and translating passages of Scripture (a worthy and important activity) but she must also be involved in making DMDs. An Administrative Pastor might be responsible for the finances and logistics of a church but he must also be involved in making DMDs. A musician might do her best to learn the guitar and play it well for God’s glory but she must also make DMDs.

These should all be true much like it is also true that a business person or a stay-at-home mom or a consultant must make DMDs if he or she desires to follow Jesus. For some reason, though, our church leaders aren’t even involved in this most fundamental activity in the Kingdom. Jesus told His disciples to make disciples, it follows then, that to follow Jesus we will also make disciples and equip them to make disciples. Those first disciples did what He commanded and that has been the method God has used to advance His Kingdom for nearly 2,000 years.

Making DMDs goes beyond calling people to the least common denominator of devotion. Jesus’ call was to radical commitment, so why do we call people to a fraction of that commitment? Worse: why do we as church leaders often model a fraction of the devotion and commitment that should be inherent in the life of any Jesus follower. It’s like we’re selling life insurance rather than showing someone how to live the transformed, vibrant, abundant life that Jesus offers. Jesus doesn’t offer life insurance, He offers a new life. Making disciple-making disciples is about calling people to live that radical new life and walk along the Way with Jesus while simultaneously inviting others to walk alongside.

Checklist Christianity vs. Following Jesus

Posted in discipleship, guest post by Nathan Creitz on June 8, 2009

Picture 1 Jeremy is a pastor in Jackson, Michigan and he blogs at jeremyhoover.com. He writes most often about progressive faith and the intersections between faith, culture, and politics. Jeremy and I got connected through conversations on Twitter. Through 140 character conversations or less we found that we sometimes disagree on minor points but often are fighting for the same thing: relevant and authentic followers of Jesus. It has been a productive and ongoing conversation so I’ve asked him to write a guest post here at ChurchETHOS for your benefit:

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My thinking about the topic of following Jesus led to the first real conversation Nathan and I had on Twitter, so I’m thankful for it. I’m also thankful we grow spiritually by a variety of practices. But I’m always afraid of an overemphasis on what I call “Checklist Christianity.” “Checklist Christianity” is that form of religion that teaches, either directly or indirectly, that our spiritual growth, or even our worth as a Christian, is tied up in what we do. Specifically, the more bible studies you attend, the more extra-curricular “Christian” activities you are involved in, the more you read your bible and pray on your own, the more you are growing spiritually.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the forms of Christianity that we teach in the church. Perhaps I’ve given something away even in my description because if the emphasis in “church” is on “teaching” then the primary intent of our form is information transmission. This doesn’t mean we don’t connect with people and other things aren’t done; just that we view the primary reason for gathering as transmitting information about the bible.

The idea is this: The more you know about the bible, the more you will be equipped to live a Christian life. But the result is often very different from this.

I know Christians who have sat through more than 4,000 bible studies and sermons in their lives but who are no different today than they were a decade ago. I know Christian men who have sat through this same number of bible studies but couldn’t teach one even if their life depended on it!

This gives the appearance of the activity itself adding value. Instead, value should come from the transformative change that should occur through the activity.

So there is a clear disconnect (for me, at least) between how much and how often biblical information is transmitted…and how it is received. Instead, the activity serves as a checklist that, once checked off, indicates to us that we have “done our duty.” But the result is far worse: we have fooled ourselves into thinking that spiritual growth is about accomplishing things rather than being changed.

Being a Christian is about following Jesus. It seems to me, then, that a good barometer of our success would be in how well we follow him. Checking things off a list will never bring us close to Jesus, but actually following him, his teaching, and his example, will.

Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). We are called to be followers of Jesus. A follower, well, follows! So we should be doing the same things Jesus did.

But when we treat our Christianity as a checklist rather than as a relationship we view our relationship with God not as a true relationship but as a list of things we must do or a set of requirements we need to fulfill. We wait for others to take the initiative. We don’t connect with each other away from the church building because it’s not on our list.

If Jesus did not seek to be served by others, why do many of us? Why do we criticize the minister or someone else for not visiting us when we never bothered to pick up the phone or make an appointment to spend time with someone else?

Jesus served others. He added value to the lives of others. The best question we can ask ourselves is not how we can fill a building with people, or how we can get others to do what we want them to do, or how we can make sure the minister “does his job.”

The best question we can ask ourselves, to be a true follower of Jesus, is:

Who can I love right now? And how?

That’s what it means to follow Jesus.

A Gathering Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, fellowship by Nathan Creitz on May 6, 2009

img_2299What should Christians be doing when we gather together?

There are all sorts of people who want to know the answer to that question:
– Non-Christians who are wondering if there’s anything to this following Jesus business.
– Ex-Christians who are leaving the church because their time with other Christians seemed like a waste.
– Christians who are sitting in seats looking at the back of people’s heads wondering if there’s more to the Christian life.
– Pastors who are scratching their heads wondering what happened to all the people.

I’m sure there are others demanding answers and I understand where each of these groups is coming from. There are also other questions that we should be asking: How often should Christians get together? Where should we meet together? How long should we be meeting together? Who should lead our times together? Should anyone be leading anything?

The operative word in all of these questions is “should”. (You thought it was going to be “together” didn’t you?) We all know something is wrong. We all know there’s something missing. Something needs to change! What is it? What is it that should be? Doesn’t the Bible talk about Christian fellowship, brotherly love, you know, all those “one anothers”? We are missing the mark in our interdependence and interconnectedness with one another and something should be done about it.

So, what should Christians be doing when we get together?

We should be Loving one another

If there is someone in your church fellowship that you refuse to talk to then YOU have a problem. I don’t care what he or she did, if you know there is a wedge between the two of you then you are being disobedient to God if you aren’t attempting to reconcile with them.

If something comes between me and my wife I don’t give her the silent treatment indefinitely…we work it out. There are too many people who refuse to worship with other Christians because they’ve got a problem with someone else in the body. That is a big problem.

Colossians 3:14 says, “Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.” The “above all” refers to the short list of things we should be putting on as Christians: hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, etc. Those are the sorts of things we express to one another because of our love. Love wraps all those other gifts into a beautiful package that can be given away daily to our church family.

We should be Praying for one another

Praying for one another sounds easy doesn’t it? I think most Christians know that when we get together somebody needs to pray. I hate when I’m asked to pray simply because I’m ordained. Like I have some special connection with God that no one else has. We think the Model Prayer in Matthew 6 goes something like this:

Our Father who art in heaven,
bless Tom’s half-sister Ethel.
And for my toenail
that’s now ingrown
it hurts as it has all day.
Give us today our daily desires
and be with all people
as all people have need of prayers from us.
For yours is the ability
and the responsibility
to take care of us forever. Amen.

Okay, I kind of feel bad for being sarcastic about the way we sometimes spend our prayer time in our church gatherings…I’m over it.

We have to stop spending all of our prayer time praying for those twice removed from us. God’s desire is that we pray for His kingdom and glory. That’s priority one! Praise him, exalt him, ask him to use you to advance his kingdom, etc. A close second to that is praying for one another. Open up! Share what God is doing in your life. What spiritual challenges are you facing? Where are you being tempted? Finally, after you’ve spent 98% of the time praying for God’s glory and for one another, now if it’s important to ask for prayer for Tom’s half-sister Ethel, then I guess you are free to do so.

Praying for Ethel is safe because it doesn’t expose our inner turmoil. We might actually have to admit that we don’t have everything together. That’s hard, but we aren’t truly praying for one another if we’re only praying through a laundry list of people and problems who aren’t sitting in the room at the moment.

Be an adult and share!

We should be Caring for one another

To care for one another means we have to know one another on a deep enough level to know each other’s needs. A Christian should always be asking this question: What needs am I uniquely positioned by God to meet today?

picture-13Maybe you are meant to meet the needs of your spouse or children, your neighbor, your friend, your pastor, or your student. Maybe you have the ability to meet a financial need. Maybe you have the blessing of time that you can give to someone. Maybe you are able to listen or teach or advise or encourage or give joy or build or share or volunteer or sing or cook or hold a hand or repair or provide a shoulder. Find a need. Meet a need.

We should be Trusting one another

My friend Mark recently gave me a point to ponder. He asked, “Have you ever thought about how Jesus got the disciples to trust one another?” We had been talking about how at least two of the disciples had political views of hatred towards the Romans and then there was Matthew who had sold out his fellow Jews to work for the Romans – collecting taxes no less.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a whole lot of glimpses at the interpersonal relationships of the disciples other than the arguments they got into and the times Jesus had to correct their foolishness. Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? Regardless of our political or cultural or generational outlook, we need to learn how to trust one another. It takes time, it takes vulnerability, it takes effort, it takes Colossians 3:12-17, it takes a lot but it’s worth everything we put into it.

We should be Challenging one another

I’ll give you another sentence from Colossians 3: “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (v. 15) I also love Hebrews 10:24-25, which says, “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other…”

picture-3So, our meetings are characterized by encouragement, concern for one another, prompting each other to love and good works, and consistency according to the writer of Hebrews. The first verse from Paul to the Christians in Colossae says we are to teach and admonish one another, which is how the “Word of Christ” becomes richly indwelt among us. This includes a sermon that a pastor might give to everyone but it also includes a timely word, rebuke, encouragement, or advice between two or three friends.

Conclusion: A Vision for the Church

So how long and how often should we gather together? Where should we be meeting? When? The answer is, wherever and whenever and as long and as often as it takes to truly and deeply connect with each other as described above.

If you think you can accomplish all of the above in only one hour a week, or if you think you should be getting all of the above in only one hour a week, then you don’t understand what it means to follow Jesus. However, that doesn’t mean an hour or two with a large gathering of people isn’t important – far from it.

Imagine groups of three or four or ten or eleven or however many Christians coming together throughout the week praying and caring and trusting one another deeply, consistently, faithfully. They call each other when they are having a crisis. They can’t wait to share good news with their small group of fellow believers. They connect with each other often because they love each other. They’ve become family.

Now, when all these interconnected groups of loving, caring, praying people gather together with other small groups of loving, caring, praying people there is really a cause for celebration. They don’t just show up for a Sunday song and sermon, they are expecting God to challenge them and move them and change them. The “Sunday service” is valuable because people who are sharing the experience of fellowship are coming together to lift up their voices and worship God…together.

There are too many people throwing away the one hour Sunday service because it is meaningless and lifeless to them. They never realized they were supposed to live a life of discipleship beyond 12PM on Sunday. The answer isn’t to give up on that one hour, the answer is to give a few more hours and commit yourself to fellowship with other believers.

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You can also find this post at smallgrouptrader.com.

An Unnatural Life

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, cultural relevance by Nathan Creitz on October 28, 2008

The Church is on the decline in Western society today. There is division in the Church in part due to a lack of diligence on the part of elders to ward off false teaching. Christians have become lazy in their thought and in their actions. The Church has ceased to have any major impact on the world.

There are thousands of root causes to the lack of influence possessed by the Church in the West. However, there is one cause that presents itself as a large heading under which many of those causes are categorized. The problem with the Church in the West is that we’ve forgotten that Christianity has no power apart from struggle. Indeed, many church goers are doing their best to avoid struggle and pain. They are hoping that the Church will give them their best life now. Surely, being a child of the King of Kings bears a certain pride and privilege. After all, we aren’t like those sinners are we?

Many of the qualities of the fruit of the Spirit require struggle before they can be obtained. It takes effort. I’ve grown up hearing people say, “Don’t pray for patience or you just might get what you asked for.” They glibly realize and articulate that if our desire is for patience, God just might test us in a difficult way. We just might have to undergo a beating before we get it right. When we finally learn a lesson of patience God might just make us go through it again so we don’t get caught up in pride – humility being another quality that takes a lot of “lessons” from God (of all things, don’t ask God for humility, right?).

Struggle is essential to the Christian life. God will not develop such things as discipline, humility, selfless love, peace, and patience in us without tests of our character. The fact that the Western Church today lacks these qualities is due to the fact that we run from trials and tests. Peter says, “You rejoice in this [inheritance], though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials so that the genuineness of your faith – more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) James even encourages us to “consider it joy…whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) From these passages and others (not to mention the sufferings of Christ) we find the call to suffer. This call is referred to in several places as a refining process. The verse from 1 Peter even talks about being distressed by various trials even though we have a right to an amazing inheritance. 

Why do we go through this struggle? Purity, Genuineness, Sincerity, Experience, Endurance, Joy, Maturity, Perfection and God’s glory are but a few things that come to mind in light of the above verses and reflection on the life of Jesus. What happens when we don’t endure this struggle? Division, Greed, Selfishness, Laziness, Complacency, Unorthodoxy, Immorality, Jealousy, Strife, Envy, and Drunkenness all come to mind based on Galatians 5 and even a cursory glance at the status of the Western Church today. 

God has called us to something that is unnatural. God has called us to something that is impossible apart from Him. No wonder people give up so quickly when confronted with a difficult challenge. This is not natural! It’s not natural to discipline your body and your mind for God’s glory. There are natural laws that tell us the universe decays and winds down. Our spiritual life is under the same natural law that tends towards decay unless the Spirit of God energizes us and enables us to… to what? To have our best life now? To obtain all of the promises and inheritance of God? No, the Spirit energizes us to serve, to struggle, to discipline, to grow, to mature, to be patient, and to love. That doesn’t come naturally. God is the force that is at work helping us in our weakness to overcome various trials and tests.

The decline in the Church is due to natural rather than supernatural living. The Church is not in the habit of suffering and serving. We have traded in good habits for bad habits or simply stopped being spiritually disciplined all together. The Church is winding down due to a decreased desire for struggle and an increased desire for stuff. Ultimately, the Church will come to a complete stop if we don’t realize that we are called to live an unnatural life that is pleasing to God. It’s not natural to live by faith. It’s not natural to be self-controlled. It’s not natural to be patient. It’s not natural to love. But with God all things are possible. Let’s pray that the Church will receive the discipline of the Lord and become disciplined in their habits and actions.