The preacher closed the sermon with a call for those ready to trust Christ as Savior to raise their hand. He acknowledged their decision and led them in a prayer of confession, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ. Afterward, the church applauded in celebration of those who committed their lives to Christ. The pastor dismissed the congregation, and everyone went home talking about what a powerful service they had. But what happens next? What happens to those new believers who courageously placed their faith in Jesus?
Discipleship is about continually taking the next steps. To be a follower of Jesus, you have to follow. So many Christians move forward until they find a place of comfort in their faith. It's here that, tragically, they plateau in their faith and stop growing. This is not God's plan, nor his will.
My wife and I recently bought a home in our community. The property has a good backyard, but the wooden fence is in terrible condition. Time, weather, and termites have taken their toll. If we don't take action to replace the fence, it will soon fall, leaving the property without the protection of the boundary.
Like a fence around my property, I need borders in my life. Boundaries are essential for several reasons. They clearly identify what belongs to me. They outline areas that are permissible. Within the limitations, I have accessibility and freedom. Boundaries also protect things that might bring danger or harm to my life.
The letter came to my church office. It was from one of our members, a woman we knew well. She was writing to inform me she was leaving our church. "I just don't get it," she wrote. "Why do you preach about doctrine so much? Don't you know doctrine brings division in the church? You should stop preaching about doctrine, and instead, focus on the love of God.
I was sad to hear she was leaving our congregation, but I wished before her departure, she had sat down with me to talk about the importance of doctrine. Even the love of God, she wanted me to focus on, is a doctrine.
As a youth pastor in the early 1990's, I was blessed to serve with a lead pastor who was 78 years of age. I was in my first ministry position. He was in his last. Some might have thought our relationship would be a recipe for conflict. After all, he was 55 years older than me. But the opportunity was exactly what I needed.
I was smart enough to respect his 50 plus years of ministry, and he was kind enough to give me a chance to serve when few others would have. We would spend two years together until he retired. Looking back now, I recognize how formative those 24 months were in my life. They were so impactful because of the pastor's intentional discipleship and mentoring of my character and ministry.
Years ago, my family vacationed in England. Towards the end of the trip, we spent a couple of days in Oxford. When it was time to head home, we checked out of the apartment we had rented and took a taxi to the train station. The train would take us back to London for our flight out of Heathrow. As we were standing in line at the train stations, my wife looked at our tickets, and I heard her gasp. "We bought train tickets for the wrong day," she said.
I took a look at the tickets and confirmed our mistake. To make matters worse, all the computers were down at the train terminal. The ticket agent's advice was to board the train and hope for the best! We boarded the crowded train with our three young daughters. As the conductor approached us, checking each passenger's tickets, our hearts were beating in our chests. Should he put us off the train, we would have been stranded in the city with no place to go.
Has scripture memorization become a lost art?
When I was growing up, our pastor often talked about the importance of getting God's Word in your heart. Our Sunday School classes memorized passages of the Bible together, and prizes were awarded as an incentive. Growing up, our family learned verses together. I especially remember us memorizing Romans chapters six and eight together, in the King James Version. Most of it is still with me today.
While I can't find an exact verse of the Bible that commands us to memorize Scripture, we are instructed to keep the Word in our hearts. Consider the following verses.
The challenge with spiritual disciplines is the "discipline" part. To say something requires discipline makes it feel like a "check-the-box" duty, not something enjoyable. We understand that we are referring to the spiritual practices that help us abide with Christ and grow deeper in our relationship with God. Most of us would agree that without regular connection and communication with God, our relationship will suffer.
Growing up in the faith, I have experimented with a variety of spiritual disciplines. At age 15, I felt compelled to get up at 5:00 AM to read my Bible and pray. I was able to keep the commitment for six-months until I realized that the "crack of dawn" was not required by God. Over the years, in different seasons, I have tried various approaches to keep my walk with God fresh.
What do we need to do to be a disciple of Jesus? We know that a follower's life begins at our conversion when we are born again by placing our faith in Jesus Christ as savior and Lord. But the journey forward to be like Jesus, what does it look involve?
In my journey as a follower of Jesus, I have experienced different seasons. There have been times as a disciple where I felt like I should be doing more (more prayer, scripture memorization, fasting, etc.). In other seasons I sensed God leading me to do less (rest, solitude, sabbath, etc.). Is there a right way, a wrong way, and only one way?
I'm learning that doing more or doing less follows having the right understanding of being a disciple of Jesus. All the things we "do" as followers must flow out of a heart of gratitude for God's saving grace, not as a means to earn God's favor. At the same time, God is not opposed to our efforts and discipline to follow, pursue, and know Him more.
Note: We are only 20 days away from the launch of The 5 Minute Discipleship Podcast! Can't wait to share it with you!
I'm not a thrill-seeker, but I do love a good adventure. It doesn't have to be expensive or dramatic. The experience can be as simple as getting lost in a used bookstore or eating at a new restaurant. It can be as fun as exploring a new city on foot or traveling overseas. I enjoy the excitement of something new.
Following Jesus is an adventure. When you say "yes" to God, you begin a journey of change, freedom, growth, opportunity, and purpose. Being a Christian is not boring. It's not an empty life. Jesus said in John 10:10, "I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full."
Is there a better life than being a follower of Jesus. I think not. Have you ever heard some say they regretted giving their life to Christ? I haven't. On the contrary, I've listened to many who said they wished they hadn't waited so long to surrender their life to Jesus.
Note: I'm excited to announce that The Five Minute Discipleship Podcast will launch one month from today on August 17th! Each short episode (admittedly not always limited to five minutes) will include a story, a scripture, and a point of application. Thanks to everyone who has been so encouraging!
Growing up in church, becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus was more "caught than taught." I'm not sure our pastor had a "strategy" for discipleship other than to encourage and inspire people to make Jesus and His church the center of their lives.
Recently, I was reflecting with a friend I grew up with about our spiritual experiences as children. He noted that we attended church about six times each week: Sunday School, Sunday morning service, Sunday evening service, Wednesday evening service, Boys Club, and our church. We even had a Saturday evening service we were expected to attend. Yes, our lives were centered around the church.