Thursday, February 26, 2015

It's Time to Grow Up! (Part 4 of 6)

This week we will begin to look at Dr. Robby Gallaty's specific approach to discipleship. Up until now he has explained the importance of discipleship. Starting today we will begin looking at the various elements of discipleship. Dr. Gallaty uses the acronym C.L.O.S.E.R. to help remember the various elements.  This week we will look at the first two elements "Communicate" and "Learn".
(You can click these links to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series)

Chapter 5
Perhaps you have heard the phrase "prayer changes things". I have heard this phrase many times in my life and have even seen it on posters and bumper stickers. We often pray as if we can manipulate God. However, this chapter starts off making a very good and clear point for us to remember: prayer changes me!  We aren't convincing God of anything in our prayer time. He is convincing us of His goodness and power and love and willingness to work in our lives. He transforms us as we meet with Him in prayer.

Many think that a "good" prayer is one that is worded eloquently and delivered fluidly in public. However, Christ revealed that the best prayer is done privately and is deeply personal. It is simply communicating with God, but don't forget: communication is a two-way interaction. It is not just SPEAKING to God, it is also LISTENING to God.

You can read Jesus' outline for praying in both Luke 11 and Matthew 6. Six components of the model prayer that Jesus gave are outlined and the reader is encouraged to apply those components in his own personal prayer time. What a better way to learn to pray than from the model set forth by the Savior!

In addition, the concept of using a prayer journal is introduced in order to reinforce the expression of praise as part of your prayer time. As you add requests to the journal and then you witness answers, then a natural response will be praise. The prayer journal helps our forgetful minds remember the good things that God is constantly doing for us.  This chapter gives practical instructions for how to use and make entries in a prayer journal.

The remainder of the chapter explains the place and importance of being persistent in prayer, praying privately, making prayer a priority, spending time in public prayer, being very specific in prayer, being confident in God when praying, praying constantly and eliminating distractions that may take away from valuable time in prayer with God. 

Prayer is of utmost importance and is given its proper emphasis in this Growing Up book. I hope it will receive equal emphasis in your life. If you're not sure how to start, buy a copy of Growing Up and begin learning how to pray and watch your relationship with God flourish!

Chapter 6
Chapter six explores the discipleship element of "Learn". Its focus is on the need to study the Bible. Many people avoid studying the Bible because they do not feel they can understand it. This is an effective tool of our enemy Satan. If he can keep God's Word out of God's people by convincing them that it is too difficult to understand, then the world will be full of weak and ineffective Christians. However, Christians must recognize this as the lie that it is and take up the responsibility to learn God's word and apply it to their lives so that their fellowship with God can be made ever sweeter.

As believers we have a wonderful gift from God: the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-14). Each of us is filled with His presence at the moment of salvation. It is He who gives us understanding of God's Word. That understanding does not come all at once, but only as much as God desires to reveal to us at a time. I have been a Christian for 34 years and have not even scratched the surface of all the things that God can teach me from His Word. I am constantly amazed and in awe of what God shows me from the scriptures. He will show you too (1 John 2:27).

Dr. Gallaty outlines the Inductive Bible Study Method which includes observation, explanation and application. Observation simply inquires about what the text says, explanation looks into what the text means, and application seeks to discover how the text applies to your life.  The key to understanding any and all of these is the context of the passage.  What do the verses before and after the passage in consideration say? Who is the original audience? What is the surrounding circumstance or spiritual climate of those to whom it was written?

As you read about how to "dig in" using this tool, you will be armed with valuable information that will help you get over that hump of feeling intimidated by the scriptures.  God's Word is His revelation of Himself. It's His way of allowing us to know Him personally. He wants you to know Him, so don't be afraid of going deeper in your studies. Pray first. Ask for the Holy Spirit to help you understand. Ask Him to reveal things to you and to give you wisdom to know what resources to seek.

If you haven't done so yet, order a copy of Growing Up: How To Be A Disciple Who Makes Disciples. Get started in this most vital relationship. Not only will it benefit you, but you will be preparing yourself to mentor others in the future that are right where you are now.  

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's Time to Grow Up! (Part 3 of 6)

As I have read and studied the content of Growing Up: How To Be A Disciple Who Makes Disciples I recall my early years as a Christian. I accepted the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ at the age of 10. The church I belonged to then was Pembroke Road Baptist Church in Miramar, Florida. Our church had a strategic plan in place to disciple new believers. As a boy I was encouraged to attend the Survival Kit discipleship class and I also participated in Bible drill. We never went to the competitions, but our teachers often drilled us in class just so we could sharpen our knowledge of the Bible. I believe this was key in my maturing as a Christian and is highly responsible for me serving in the ministry.  

Not everyone who grows to maturity as a Christian will end up serving in full-time "professional" ministry. However, EVERY Christian is a full-time minister and is given the responsibility, by the Holy Spirit, to grow and prepare for every opportunity to share Christ.  This is why I am sharing this book with. There is nothing magical about THIS book. It simply provides a clear-cut, easy-to-follow plan for discipleship. This week I will highlight the third and fourth chapters. You can view part one here and part two here.

Chapter Three

Chapter three outlines the structure and purpose of a discipleship group (D-group). As I mentioned above, we are expected to grow and help others grow. The "professional" ministers are not the only ones expected to carry out the work of the gospel. This is why personal discipleship is so important. The only way you can help others grow is to grow yourself and then bring others along with you in the Christian life. 

So many people still attend church out of a religious obligation rather than from a spiritual desire or even responsibility. Many of us are simply checking off our "obligation boxes" for the week. It is much more important for us to set spiritual goals to attain. Dr. Gallaty builds a convincing case for the value of goals in every area of life, but especially in the spiritual arena.

One misunderstanding church-goers have is what a discipleship group is. Many think that Sunday School or the video-driven Bible studies count as discipleship.  These can contribute to discipleship, but so often they do not issue a personal challenge with accountability. They do not offer personal feedback and encouragement along the way. 

As you read this chapter you will find a clear contrast between discipleship and other Bible study groups. You will learn that a D-group is a closed group, which means only a few people can join and it is by invitation only. It is also a group of believers that desire a deeper, closer walk with Christ. Instead of a lecture, each member contributes to the group with the leader facilitating the discussion. When everyone has input, it also lends to the accountability relationship. You can challenge others, but you also must be ready to be challenged by others as well. The key is to make sure it is exercised in love and concern with the goal of helping and encouraging rather than "catching someone in the act" or administering a "gotcha" moment.

Next, Dr. Gallaty emphasizes the importance of trust within such a tight-knit and personal group. This trust demands confidentiality, provides permission for godly confrontation, and assures security for confession. These three elements are necessary for a successful D-group, but cannot be effectively achieved if there is no trust between the members. Time is spent in this chapter clearly defining what each of these means so there is no mistaking the expectation that a member should have of his or her fellow group members.

Finally, we read about the suggested structure of a D-group as demonstrated in the life of Christ. Jesus ministered in varying group sizes: large groups (hundreds and thousands), small groups (twelve)  and intimate groups (three). All of these are important, but this chapter teaches why an intimate group of no more than four is necessary for D-groups.  Also, wisely noted is the need for these groups to be gender-exclusive (men meeting with men and women meeting with women).

Chapter Four

Chapter four emphasizes the importance of spiritual exercise. The Christian life is one that must be strengthened. In the scriptures, new or immature Christians are equated with babies (1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12, and 1 Peter 2:2). We all know that babies are not born with the ability to walk or even with the ability to control the movement of their limbs.  A baby must gain strength. This takes time, but moms and dads try to make the conditions right for positive development. As a matter of fact, when a baby is not progressing, this is a cause of concern and the parents usually contact the doctor as soon as the lack of progress is evident. 

 At the beginning of life a baby is helped, but there comes a time when that baby gets big enough that he or she no longer wants help saying, "I do it myself!" Sometimes they even try things that are too much for them. However, if it is safe to do so, a wise parent will allow a baby to try something that is too much because that too assists in the learning process. Often, times like these are even cute to watch. However, there comes a time that it is no longer cute. When a child reaches a certain age, such as the teenage or adult years, it is no longer cute to watch them falter and fail. It can even be embarrassing for them and for those associated with them. This may seem like a harsh way to think, but the reality is that if we are not growing stronger as Christians, we are going to get to the point in which we "embarrass" the name of Christ.  We must continue to grow daily in our knowledge, commitment and service to the Lord in order to know how to more accurately reflect His glory to a watching world.

This is the reason for the spiritual disciplines outlined in this book.  Discipleship is like going to a spiritual gym.  You build on what you learned the time before and it makes you more effective and efficient as a follower of Christ. This discipline should be measurable and new goals ought to be set each time the previous goal has been met. Or...if a goal is missed, perhaps a new, more attainable goal needs to be set with the idea of working back up to the original, lofty goal.  The ultimate goal is godliness (to be made more like God). This is not something we can attain in our own strength, nor can we attain it all at once due to our finite nature. It is something we attain in the power of Christ through faith, which He also supplies.

In this chapter, Dr. Gallaty describes the three primary change agents that God uses to produce godliness in us. Two of those agents are external, but the one he focuses on is internal: spiritual disciplines. This is the only agent that God has given into your hands for your use. The point to note is that He has left you with the freedom to choose whether or not to use it.  You must decide whether or not spiritual disciplines are important enough to move you into committed and consistent action. The next six chapters of this book will provide you with the equipment to develop your spiritual disciplines. The question is: Will you use them?
I hope you will!

Let me remind you: what I am summarizing here is not enough to get you started. Please consider purchasing a copy of Growing Up: How To Be A Disciple Who Makes Disciples and begin implementing the tools that are provided (it is available digitally as well). You can find more resources at Set your personal spiritual goals, but also make it your goal to begin discipling others so that the gospel message will be multiplied!

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, February 12, 2015

It's Time to Grow Up! (Part 2 of 6)

This week I continue with summarizing Dr. Robby Gallaty's book  Growing Up: How To Be A Disciple Who Makes Disciples . (You can view part one here). We will be taking a look at the first two chapters.

Chapter One

In Chapter one Dr. Gallaty begins with a bit of his testimony. I think it is important to note that he tells of a young man that he encountered early in his college experience that witnessed to him. Robby rejected this witness at the time, but it always stayed with him and became prominent at a very key time of his life. The lesson here for us believers is to always be faithful in delivering the gospel and to let God choose when to apply it to the person's heart and/or conscience.

It was after a life-changing accident and a struggle with a drug addiction on two separate occasions that he remembered his conversation in college. He surrendered his life fully to God, accepting His forgiveness and committing to serve through the ministry.  He struggled with figuring out what to do next and a friend suggested that Robby begin to pray for a mentor. It was not long after he began praying that God provided one.  This testimony leads to the content of the book I am reviewing here.

Part of what is shared in this chapter are results of surveys which display time and again the believers aren't growing and that discipleship has not been a priority for most churches. Even churches that have what they call "discipleship" are largely ineffective in performing it. Churches often create a consumer mentality in which people come just to be "fed" rather than learning to become those who feed others. 

However, it is clarified that the failure does not rest solely on the church because " is true that many professing Christians never commit to a growing relationship with the Lord." And the reason often is that "many professing believers count the cost [of discipleship] and decide it is more than they are willing to pay (Luke 14:26-33)."

In outlining a four-step progression of how Jesus modeled the discipleship process, Dr. Gallaty emphasizes that discipleship is a matter of multiplication rather than addition and that is why it is so vital for the church to be intentional in the process of making disciples.  

The goal is to raise up each mentee to become a mentor. As mentees become mentors, they begin to raise up more disciples that make disciples that make disciples and on and on and on.  In just a short time the world could be reached with and raised up in the gospel as opposed to each individual leading one person at a time to the Lord and never touching their life beyond the conversion.

Chapter Two

Chapter two emphasizes the imperative nature of the call to make disciples. Based primarily on the commands found in Matthew 28:19-20 and 2 Timothy 2:1-2, the reader is taught about the expectation and responsibility of the believer to reproduce through discipling others. Dr. Gallaty states that "Going, baptizing, and teaching define Jesus' prescribed method for making disciples. Picture these terms as legs supporting the seat of a stool. Without them, you are unsteady. With them, you are seated on a firm foundation" (emphasis his).

So what is discipleship? The book defines it this way: " is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ" (emphasis his). It is important to note that being a "Christian" is much more than wearing a label. It is not who we are, it is what we do. We are called to be disciples, and simply defined, a disciple is someone who learns.

If you have never been discipled, then you are likely apprehensive about discipling someone else. Therefore, the first step is to think of someone you know who you could ask to meet with you and disciple you. We can all usually think of someone whom we look up to spiritually.  Those are the ones you start with. Ask them about their most common spiritual practices: What are some of the habits or patterns in their spiritual life that they feel draw them closest to the Lord? How do they "dig" into and understand the tough parts of scripture? What resources do they use to grow in their spiritual disciplines? How do they know what to say in their prayers? Some of this may seem easy to answer for some of you, but for others, these may be questions you have struggled with for a long time. Find someone to help you. Pray and ask God to show you someone or send you someone.

Another aspect of this discipleship journey that can be a tough bridge to cross is to ask this mentor to help keep you accountable. This means you have to build a trust in them because you will have to be vulnerable enough to tell them your struggles and your failures so they can regularly challenge you to overcome them and regularly ask how you have been doing in those areas of weakness. The positive side is that they will be your best source of encouragement. If you have a good mentor, they will not shame you in your weaknesses and failures, rather they will give you encouraging words of scripture and support and they will pray and even cry with you for victory over the most difficult struggles of your life. 

As already stated, the goal is to develop new disciples so they can make disciples. However, we have to overcome some of the myths about ministry the become road blocks to the goal. These myths are debunked in this chapter. The first is the myth which leads disciples to believe that only professional" ministers should do the work of ministry. The second is the myth in which believers feel they are disqualified from ministry due to something in their past or their lack of training or lack of particular talents. The third is the myth in which believers believe they must be a fully mature believer before beginning to minister to others. 

In contrast, Dr. Gallaty demonstrates how being active in ministry is an effective way to accelerate growth as a disciple and he also outlines three key relationships to help in this process: a Paul, a Barnabas and a Timothy. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and learn how these relationships are key to you becoming a disciple who makes disciples.

Next week, I will share the next two chapters with you. Don't forget, you don't have to wait to dig in. You can order now and get started on this discipleship journey.

For God's Glory,

Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, February 5, 2015

It's Time to Grow Up! (Part 1 of 6)

A little over a year ago, I began reading several blogs. The motivation for me to do so was that I began to realize that one of the greatest deficiencies our churches face right now is discipleship. We have churches FULL of immature believers. It's really not entirely their fault. When a baby is born, he or she MUST be fed by someone who is mature, someone who is "grown up".  There's a reason why new Christians are called "babes in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3, KJV). They are newly born into the spiritual life and need to be fed beginning with basic spiritual concepts. No one starts off with a deep understanding of God and Scripture. So, it takes those who are more mature to lead them. Many believers have been in church for years and have never been fed or equipped.

My problem is that I am not an "original idea" kind of guy. I need some starting points, and then I can adapt and create from there. There are others that God has gifted much more than I with an enterprising spirit. So I depend on their resources to get me started. It wasn't long after I began to look that I found a blog fully devoted to discipleship. The blog is authored by Dr. Robby Gallaty, pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN and is called Replicate Ministries.

Shortly after subscribing to his blog, an invitation was sent to all his subscribers to apply for the opportunity to be part of his book launching team. He was about to release a book that specifically walks believers through the process of making disciples.  I quickly applied because this was exactly what I was looking for.

I was blessed to be selected among many others. I received a copy of the book and read through it and upon finishing I thought, "That's it?! That's easy!"  I was privileged to meet Dr. Gallaty last March at a conference and shared my initial response with him to which he exploded with laughter and told me, "That's exactly what I was going for!"

So, I am going to begin a six week series today, summarizing parts of the book that he wrote called Growing Up: How To Be A Disciple Who Makes Disciples which will culminate shortly after with my review on his second book called Firmly Planted. My hope is not that you will gain any insight from me, but that you will buy the book and use it to grow yourself and others. I receive absolutely no compensation for this. I am personally using it to disciple a young man. I am watching him grow and learn and it's exciting. I want you to get excited too.

In the introduction Dr. Gallaty explains his motivation for writing the book and then proceeds to explain the importance and purpose of discipleship in addition to outlining the content of the book.  We will view the content in the coming weeks.  So for today, let me briefly share his motivation for the book and the purpose of discipleship.

First, Dr. Gallaty explains that the book was written as a result of the often asked question: "Now that I know discipleship is important, how do I get started." As I mentioned above, the discipleship process is not complicated, most people just don't know where to begin. Dr. Gallaty states, "I've come to realize that when people don't know what to do, they don't do anything."  This is where I was. I knew that discipleship is important, but I had no clue where or how to begin.  Growing Up outlines this process. It's not a cookie-cutter approach. It simply lays a foundation that you can eventually build upon apart from the book.

Dr. Gallaty also explains that the pattern he uses in this book is the same pattern that Christ used with His 12 closest disciples. He says, "He formed and personally led the first D-Group - and it worked. The men who emerged from that group took the gospel to the world, and ultimately, the laid down their lives for Christ." What better pattern can you follow than the one set by Christ Himself?!

Second, Dr. Gallaty explains several purposes of a D-Group:

Finally, in order to achieve the goals above, total commitment is required.  The book includes a disciple-making covenant for the members of the group to sign.  This kind of commitment is feared by many. We live in a culture of loose commitments. However, we must give our utmost commitment to anything that is valuable and this relationship with Christ is the most valuable "thing" on earth. It is the only thing that will remain when this world ends. So it is important to set the expectations at the beginning and let those who may be uncommitted and those who may become a distraction have an opportunity to bow out gracefully. Living for Christ is an all-in commitment, you don't want to skimp on it.

I hope you will stick with me for the next five weeks as we look at more highlights of Dr. Gallaty's disciple-making plan as outlined in his book Growing Up. I started walking through this with a young man this year and he is excited and growing and hungering for more each week.  However, as you will discover when you read this book, it is not recommended for one-on-one discipleship. I wouldn't be doing it this way, but the others that were invited were either not willing or not able to make the commitment so we ended up with the two of us.  I am excited to see what God will do with the life of this one young man. He is already praying about who we should invite to our next two D-Groups which he and I will begin when he gets to the point that he is ready to lead a group on his own.

By the don't have to wait for the next five weeks before ordering your copy and getting started. Click here and order now and start your disciple-making journey.

For God's Glory,

Chris S. Sweet