Donald Miller Helped Me Disciple Youth Last Night

I have been working on a teaching moment for a couple of weeks now. It revolves around a play on the words James the Apostle is probably known best for. His “faith without works is dead” is probably one of the most quoted lines in discipleship. I believe that, but I have a phrase of my own that is similar.

Knowledge without purpose is dead.

One of the issues I have with the western church is that they teach so much but expect so little. We really have one of the most educated generations alive. And yet, there is little difference in the lives of believers compared to those who have no faith. If what James says is true, we have a lot of believers, but not a lot of practitioners of faith.

So I have this idea about knowledge informs purpose and how purpose guides our actions. It has percolated in my head now for years but recently come back into my thoughts. Enter Donald Miller. I read his blog pretty regularly. He wrote something so simple. It wasn’t event he point of the post, but it had a profound impact on my thinking and gave me a context for teaching this though.

His words:

The elements of a meaningful story are the same as the elements of a meaningful life:

1. A character.

2. That knows what they want.

3. And is willing to overcome conflict.

4. To get it.”

So last night, I opened our discussion with the question of “What’s your story?” After a few questions about what I meant, we got down to business. Each person had a chance to think and talk about their character (who they are), their purpose, and what they were willing to do to get it. WOW! I hadn’t imagined that it would have such an impact.

I also read James’ passage about faith and ended with Philippians 2:13 (it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose). I think some big decisions were made last night.

Being Decisive, Love Wins and Discipleship

Wow, friend Jeff Goins sent me a video interview of Rob Bell for his new book Love Wins. It is the closest I have seen anyone corner Rob Bell. Watch it for yourself.

There has been a lot of talk about Bell and his new book. Much of it centers around his video and how it seems universalist. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t chime in, but that’s not the point here. What disturbs me is how Bell seems to deliberately obscure what he says. He says that love eventually wins and also that what we do now is important in the case of salvation. Waving off how those two ideas coexist, he claims paradox. If it’s just paradox, like he says, then why write about it?

Granted, the interviewer has an agenda and super-imposes ideas onto Bell. Where Bell says love wins, the interviewer says God wins. I have never heard Bell actually say that. The interviewer accuses Bell of softening the gospel into a more palatable idea. He also asks if it’s relevant what we do in this life repeatedly, even after Bell answers with an affirmative. Even so, Bell still doesn’t make himself clear.

I have been accused of being esoteric and vague at times myself. When faced with a direct question though, I tend to be as explicit as I can. It’s important for me to speak plainly if I can so that I am not misunderstood. Bell doesn’t seem to have that problem.

In discipleship, we speak into people’s lives. Some things are paradoxical and are therefore hard to wrap our minds around. If we can’t make a decision about an idea and clearly communicate it, we should be silent. It isn’t fair to guide someone in their faith, raise a bunch of questions they haven’t thought of and then be obscure in our reasoning to answer those questions. That’s just cruel and irresponsible.

I don’t know what is going on with Rob Bell or his book. He says there are questions he hears as a pastor that led to writing this book. Maybe he has people around him asking these questions. Maybe he explains more in his book and doesn’t want to give anything away in an interview. For whatever reason, I take more issue with what seems careless pastoral awareness than theological expression.

Resurrecting Moments

I was channel surfing the other night and somehow landed on the movie Tin Cup. This movie stars Kevin Costner and tells the story of a driving range golfer who struggles with self-control. He always goes for the impossible shots and ends up paying for the lack of wisdom. One line has stuck with me after the ten minutes I watched (yeah, I couldn’t stay there and watch).

“It’s a defining moment. In a defining moment, you define the moment or the moment defines you.”

I wonder at the truth of that statement. Can we ever define a moment for ourselves? Certainly others try to define us in those moments. For a follower of Christ, I think he defines us in our “moments.” I wonder about all the moments that pass us by that unrealized as defining. If what Jesus says about God the Father is true, that he is always at work, shouldn’t our lives be full of these moments?

In discipleship, we work to realize as many of these moments as possible. Discipleship helps a person realize these moments and points to God’s work in their life. But it shouldn’t end there. We need to resurrect these moments to be relived in our lives. Our memory of those moments convince us that our faith in God exists. Faith is the evidence of things hoped for and these moments point to our hope – a life of God defining us through carefully planned moments.

Do you remember a moment?

Confession – I Like Ideas

When I was in high school, I was given one of their standard career placement tests. Many events from that time have since lapsed from my memory, but the results of this test probably never will. It said that I “like working with ideas, and sometimes, people.” I had no idea how true that test was.

Recently (in my YMCP time) the ugly side of this reared its head. When I am acting like an orphan in my faith, I am arrogant. That’s what was happening last week. It wasn’t overt of directed at any person. Instead, it was directed at ideas. A good friend called me out on it like this:

“Paul, you struggle with arrogance sometimes don’t you?”

“Uh, yeah. (That’s nothing new.)”

“You know, it doesn’t seem like that happens with people. It’s not that you think your ideas are better. You just think you are right and everybody else is wrong.”

“…  that makes sense. I have never thought of that. (yippee! a new idea)”

The same person later affirmed me in such a way that I knew they cared about me in that criticism. They called me an empath. I immediately knew he was right.

At this point God steps in. All of this happened the week I was presenting ideas on created identity. I firmly believe that who we are is more revealed than formed after birth. And here God opens my identity up in front of a group of guys and whispers, “I made you this way. It’s not only ok to like ideas, that is what I made you to do.”

So on either side of my created identity is arrogance or empathy. Both are tied to seeing people where they are – accurately. One side is judgmental and the other is compassionate. In this duality, I will always struggle with the tension between the two.

This understanding helps me to know when I function out of Romans 7 in doing what I don’t want to do. It also releases me from self-condemning thoughts like Romans 8. Understanding my duality helps me make a more deliberate choice between the two because I can more easily identify them.

Any other dualists out there?

Discipleship Environments

I have written several times about how the coffee shop has become the backdrop for discipleship. I guess a post dedicated to it is overdue.

I don’t think anyone would question the effect of ambiance. In America, it’s the difference between a dollar coffee and a $4.91 ceramic mug of seattle’s finest latte. Americans generally pay half again to three, four, or ten times as much for a name brand. We couldn’t be that shallow though, right? There has to be some kind of intrinsic value over the change in price.

Not necessarily. I think the way we assign value to objects or experiences makes this intriguing. When it comes to the experience of discipleship, this is especially interesting.

The narcissist views a meeting with someone based on their value to them. If a they see their appointment as a high value, then they will impart that value to the experience of meeting that person. This becomes a problem and benefit of discipleship.

As a life-investing discipler, I always need to consider what value is being assigned to me. What environment do I create? What experience do I provide? A friend asks the question in a different way. He asks, “What do you fill the room with?”

Here the environment becomes apparent. We can sit in one of many coffee shops, bagel shops, churches, you name it. But the value we create in that experience relies on us. Specifically, it relies on the Holy Spirit working through us. Only through God’s revealed glory in us do we reveal something valuable in another.

What do you fill the room with?

Coaching – Why YMCP Works

For the past six or so months, I have been a part of the Youth Ministry Coaching Program with Mark Oestreicher. I knew that it was going to be a life changing experience. Being a part of a community as transparent and vulnerable as that has to mark you. What I didn’t know was how much I would learn.

We read books together, present ideas, talk about youth ministry issues and share our lives. All of these are things I have done before. Having all of these happen in a group that reflects and pushes back on each other is invaluable. I really can’t fully describe how amazing it is.

For less than the cost of two semesters of seminary, I get to be a part of something that I know will leave a legacy. Every person in this group will go on to do great things. I have no doubt about that. The knowledge alone would be worth the cost. But what YMCP really teaches is the ability to know yourself and share that with others.

Oh, and I am going to lead a group in September in Atlanta. If you want to learn more than a seminary can teach you, if you want to see a depth of character that has been revealed in the mirror, if you want to see how you are made for things beyond what you can imagine, contact me.

(Or read this, visit the YMCP site, or watch the video)

Montessori Discipleship

Jeff Goins asked me if I ever used guest posts a few weeks ago. The idea never crossed my mind before that, so I had never had one. This is the first! If you don’t know Jeff, you’re missing out. He is worth knowing. He has worked for AIM with someone I highly respect (Seth Barnes). Where Jeff really shines is in his ability to see. Jeff just doesn’t see like normal people. This helps him in his creativity and problem solving. Also, he is a writer.

If discipleship is defined as “apprenticeship” as Dallas Willard claims, then we the church need to consider changing everything about how we facilitate spiritual formation, especially in the lives of young people.

Discipleship is an organic process, not a programmatic one, so adding more programs to your church isn’t going to make disciples. What many American churches need is a new model for discipleship.

I believe that churches should function more like Montessori schools.

At a Montessori school, the job of of a teacher is to provide a space for a self-directed learning activity. In this vein of education, teachers believe that children have an inner natural guidance and need only opportunity, space, and freedom to learn and grow. A lot of emphasis is placed on the child’s innate sense of what he needs for emotional and intellectual development.

How this relates to discipleship is that if it undermines how we typically help people in churches develop their spiritual gifts. Traditionally, we teach a certain ideal of behavior and then invite others to conform to it. While we don’t always explicitly say it, most of us have some picture in our minds of what a “model Christian” looks like.

The problem, of course, is that this isn’t scriptural. There is no model Christian, nor should there be. We are many parts that make up one body (1 Cor. 12:12-14).

As an alternative to this popular paradigm, I suggest we make disciples by identifying their core spiritual competencies and helping them develop those gifts through apprenticeship.

If you are someone who wants to see people growing in their identity and calling, then you need to become a facilitator of experiences. To put it bluntly, you need to stop coercing and start letting people be who they are.

For you control freaks, this may be an initial challenge. It may mean that instead of teaching a sermon series on the five traits of a mature Christ-follower, you instead identify a unique spiritual competency in five people and pair them up with a mentor. Then, through shared experiences, the apprentice learns directly from the “master” about how to cultivate her gift.

In our hyper-rational, western world, this is uncommon. But in preindustrial societies, the practice of learning a trade through real-life observation and practice (not classroom teaching) is still the norm. Why should it not be the same with spiritual growth?

Jesus wasn’t a “teacher” in the sense that we use the word today. He wasn’t a “pastor” like we have pastors today. He was a rabbi, a peripatetic proclaimer of truth that taught through his life. If you wanted to learn from Jesus, you had to actually follow him and do life with him for awhile.

For you youth workers, this idea of “Montessori discipleship” means two things:

1) You need to start facilitating experiences and stop forcing them.
2) You need to step out of the spotlight and bring in other help.

This means more than a multigenerational ministry or having adult volunteers at your youth group. It means partnering apprentices with mentors in real, adult environments that are not artificial or merely didactic. They need to be experiential learning opportunities in which competencies are explored through doing, not just talking.

The Quest for Five

Somewhere in my past, I was asked a question that has since shaped my view of discipleship. It was actually my counselor who asked it. The question?

“Tell me five things about you that will always be true?”

I immediately started trying to figure out easy answers. I will always be a son. I will always be a man. He brushed those off easily and ignored my attempts at safe answers. If this is about forever, think of it as what you will do on the new earth. After almost an hour, I had nothing. His point was for me to realize how truly little I knew about myself. My quest for answers has led me someplace else.

My development of discipleship theory has formed in me an idea. I am convinced that we have a created identity. This created identity is a war with another identity I call imposed identity. Created identity is fairly straight forward. It’s how were are created uniquely as individuals, and yet, in God’s image. Our imposed identity comes from the culmination of messages telling us what we should be.

In my quest for five things, I have refined this idea of created identity. God made us diverse and unique. He constantly works to reveal those unique traits that are centered in our soul. The more we see that created identity, the are able to function correctly. I think of a coffee pot trying to make sandwiches. If it doesn’t try to function according to its purpose, it isn’t effective. If it had feelings, it would be frustrated.

So after more than five years in my quest, I now have three of my five identified.

1. Teacher – I love, am energized by talking through and explaining concepts.

2. Analysis – A true scientist at heart, I could sit for hours breaking things down and putting them back together. The medium doesn’t matter. It could be a V8 or Goethe.

3. Synthesis – God really shines in me here. I have this weird ability to take several things, ideas or concepts and put them together in unique ways.

How about you? Do you have five?

Practicing a life of being, not doing

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