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The golden pot of accountability

There’s a fairy tale of Irish folklore on how leprechauns would hide their treasure in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The problem was that the closer you got to the end of the rainbow, the farther it went from you. In other words, you’re chasing something illusive.

The Christian version of the disappearing pot of gold is “accountability.” 

Many of us want accountability, and rightfully so—we go to mid-week gatherings, we sign up for redemptive groups, we meet other Christians for coffee, we ask pastors for wisdom, we set up counseling appointments, and these are often with great effect—but not everyone who does this is as vulnerable, humble, and teachable as they need to be. So instead of “accountability” what we end up with is victimization. Instead of surrounding ourselves with people who can check our blind spots, we surround ourselves with people to blame. Accountability is illusive, not because there aren’t people willing to bear our burdens, but because we sometimes expect those people to do for us what we are too prideful to do ourselves: repent of our sin.

When this happens,”accountability” is nothing more than a cheap buzzword that we think will save us if we say it repeatedly. “Accountability,” “Keep me accountable,” “Who are you accountable to, bro?” “She’s been keeping me accountable.”

Accountable how, exactly?

Think about this. If you struggle with lust, you can probably entertain those lusts, even act them out, in secret for many years—perhaps for the rest of your life—without anyone finding out. What good is having a hundred accountability partners if you are better at hiding your sin than they are at keeping you accountable? I think we give other Christians too much credit in this regard: we think that others will check us on all the sin issues of our heart, and yet we are masterful at hiding such things! The only way our friends can really know how we struggle, and thereby work to restore us, is when we are brutally honest with the right people. But some in the church feel as if “accountability” will do all the work for them, kind of like a butler who launders their clothing while they are asleep. Yet they wake up to find their dirty clothes strewn across the living room floor because they don’t really have a butler, and they don’t know how to operate the washing machine by themselves. The problem with Christian accountability is not accountability, per se, it is the Christian who is not really willing to humble themselves, submit to others, and face the fact that they are worse than they think. We all are.

Instead of throwing around magic buzzwords, the Bible calls us to open our lives to fellow Christian’s who we trust and can speak into our lives. And it’s not enough to ask people to “keep us accountable”—we must also listen and heed the righteous judgment of others, while being honest with our shortcomings, sinful habits, and idolatry. This is true accountability. It’s a two-way street where all our crap is on the table, and brothers/sisters can gently show the blind spots in our lives. It is also a God-ordained means of sanctification, whereby God uses the community around you to conform you into His likeness.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” James 5:16 (HCSB)

Accountability involves honesty, humility, teachability. Without these, we’re just chasing rainbows.

Operation Lydia ~ Discipleship

Operation Lydia is a four-part series, which is a simple way to consider mission within the context in which you live.

You can find a longer explanation here, the first post here (image), and the second post here (mission), and the third post here (community).

This is the final post, and arguably the most climatic once it is experienced…

4. Find your “Lydia”

Acts 16:12-13 ~ “On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening…”

Assuming you’ve been frequenting a particular place where you normally enjoy life, begin to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider a “regular” there who you will commit to in friendship for a long period of time. The rest is simple: engage with that person! The knowledge that you will be devoting yourself to that person in friendship for the long haul will remove from you the pressure to paint a target on them as a potential convert, and will allow you to more freely learn who they are as fellow imagers of God, empathize with their struggles, and enjoy them as potential friends. 

I challenge you, after identifying your “Lydia,” to spend the next six months just learning and listening to them.

You will be surprised what a litte L&L can do to further the mission of God.

Reproduction vs. Reciprocity (5 Reasons We Don’t See Discipleship)

Here was the Apostle Paul’s singular strategy in the expansion of God’s kingdom,

Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others  (2 Tim. 2:1-2).

His strategy was Timothy!! Not only Timothy, but all the little Tim’s that Timothy would produce by following these simple instructions. Looking back on early Church history, and the Gospel’s explosive growth through Paul, it seems like he was doing a few things right. If we are doing a few things wrong (we are), then perhaps we should compare our modern methods of discipleship with tried, ancient practices.

5 reasons we don’t see discipleship.

1) We neglect mission because we are satisfied with community

We have fine circles of faith, but those circles never overlap with non-believers who can experience the love of God, and have their questions engaged with, because we feel as though we’ve achieved everything within our subculture. We’ll begin to feel the repercussions of this when the crowd gets bigger.

2) We don’t pass on what we’ve learned; we flaunt what we’ve learned

We aren’t taking the time to pass on the things that have effectively kept us out of darkness, and equipped us for mission. When we are around people who ask questions, the pull is so strong to make ourselves look good, instead of handing to others what we’ve learned.

3) We obsess over non-essentials instead of teaching “these truths”

We get bogged down in silly disputes over theology. While theological nitpicking can be fun, it rarely causes immature Christians to grow. The foundational building-blocks of the gospel of God’s kingdom are what we need to chew on for our spiritual health.

4) We don’t invest into “trustworthy” people that will pass on truth to others

We surround ourselves with people who are on a similar level as ourselves for the purpose of having fun conversations. Yet we never have the opportunity to hand down what we’ve learned to younger Christians who actually NEED to hear what we know.

5) We do not teach others how to teach others.

This is the pebble in the shoe of modern Christian discipleship. Even if we are successful with teaching others how to feed themselves on the Scriptures, we may fail at teaching them how to teach others. At best, we only produce ourselves—we do not re-produce ourselves. Discipleship is a task of reproduction. We may raise amazing Christians around us, but if we do not TEACH them to carry on the same pattern with others in the same way we have done with them, they will die as sterile clones of ourselves, and not as disciple-making disciples of Jesus.

Christian culture seems to be ok with staying in this stagnant space: not wanting to teach and equip the people we are called to invest in to live their lives on mission for the Gospel of Jesus. Deep down, I think it’s because we are more concerned with feeling the reciprocity of friendship, than the reproduction of disciples. This desire must change in my heart. In our hearts. Until then, discipleship will remain as it is. And the books coming out to address the problem of its powerlessness will continue to haunt us.

Discipleship and the Assembly Line Mentality

This is a five minute podcast involving a discipleship dilemma. If you have any thoughts about this, I would love to interact in the comment section. Thanks for listening!

The problem of growth and the need for discipleship

Growth is only good news if it’s good growth

Adorn passed the 400+ mark a few weeks ago as a new surge of freshmen joined us to start off the third year of our gathering. While numbers aren’t everything, it certainly does change how things work, especially in regards to relationships. Tim Keller writes about this in an article entitled Leadership and Church Size Dynamics,

Size has an enormous impact on how a church functions; that being said, the “size culture” profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, and how its staff operates. We tend to think of the primary differences between churches in strictly denominational or theological terms, but that underestimates the impact of size on how a church operates…[the] person who goes from a church of 400 to a church of 2,000 is making a far greater change than if he or she moved from one denomination to another.

Hmm… growth affects “how relationships flow,” or cease flowing. An easier way of saying that is, the more people there are, the less relational depth. Bummer.

So the changes at Adorn may be great on the surface, but not so great if we ignore the change in our culture as a result of this rapid growth. Meaningful relationship in the Bible is often raised under the header of “discipleship.” But how does one make disciples in any large gathering?  I think it will make more sense to split that question into three that are more specific…

1) How do we know if we are disciples?

Before we can make disciples, we ought to be disciples. My most simple definition of a disciple is someone who learns and follows. We must be influenced by someone else to such an extent that we follow them and learn from them. As disciples of Jesus, we must follow him by learning from those who have been following him longer. I give a more in-depth definition of what a disciple is here, how it affects our community here, and the importance of pursuing it here.

Before we start discipling other people, we first must be followers of Christ in community with others. Does our private life exude a relationship with Jesus, including time in the Scriptures and prayer, that we would gladly teach to others?

2) How do we disciple other people?

Exerting effort into mission, evangelism, and worship will not automatically create disciples. The slow act of discipleship must be interwoven in everything we do.

Mike Breen, the pioneer of the missional community movement in England, wrote recently that without discipleship, the missional movement will fail. Discipleship is not a conveyor belt. We sometimes concentrate on width (many converts), but neglect depth (faithful disciples). We can’t afford to do that anymore.

Our efforts are best spent on fewer people, for longer periods of time. That means instead of trying to save the whole world, perhaps we should just invest in three people for three years. And if we had three people, would we know how to instruct them from the beginnings of conversion to mature growth?

3) How do we teach disciples to make disciples?

Discipleship is something we should replicate. It’s not enough to make disciples, for we are called to make disciple-making disciples. Are we teaching those we influence how to influence others? Or will the whole process die with them? How do we make discipleship simple enough so that the average new believer can replicate it, and fulfill their calling to make disciples?

My fear is that if we do not cultivate all three of these elements of discipleship, even the biggest gathering will be nothing but a crowded house of fish in a barrel.

Missional Millennials (part 5) ~ The Narrative of Mission

In the past three years of pastoring a college ministry (Adorn), I have been overwhelmed by God’s grace to send his Spirit and his presence upon us on a weekly basis. We started as a prayer meeting of three people that used to meet at the Mason Street campus at Brooks Institute of Photography to pray for college students. Now, it is a worship gathering of 400+ twentysomethings that meet on Friday nights in Carpinteria, coming as far North as Isla Vista, and as far south as Malibu, Thousand Oaks, and Newbury Park. Out of this group have come restored identities, passionate worshippers, overseas missionaries, builders of community, beautifiers of culture, and lovers of the King.

I’ve noticed five elements that are prevalent in these young adults who are cultivating a lifestyle of a Millennial on Mission…

  1. They are always having their identity renewed in Jesus (identity)
  2. Their new identity forms their worship of Jesus (worship)
  3. Their lives influences other lives (discipleship)
  4. They bring everything back into community (community)
  5. Their community reaches outsiders (evangelism)
Notice that this is not a systematic, point-by-point outline of steps you should take. It’s not, “Ok, first lets go evangelize at Target, then let’s go disciple some people at the coffee shop, and then let’s have an outdoor concert, and how about a bible study on Thursday, and then…”

Rather, these elements seem to happen all at once!

It’s not a system, but a story.

But wait, you say, “where is the ‘missional’ element in this series on Missional Millennials?”

All five of these elements encapsulate mission, because in order for mission to work, the messenger must be identified with Christ, a worshiper of Christ, wanting to draw others to worship Christ through every area of life, and in a community that is just as concerned with outsiders as they are for each other. It’s a culture.

It’s communities of 18-30 year old men and women that are living in this story, not only through Adorn, but across the Coast, that have captured my attention, and they seem to be making a difference, by the wonderful grace of God.

For this reason, I sometimes refer to them as Missional Millennials.

Missional Millennials (part 3): Community through discipleship

Let’s say you committed a day out of your week with someone outside of your church community, doing something that you both enjoyed. Over time, you would eventually begin to establish a community.

All communities develop around a common purpose.

So if you begin shooting pool at the local billards once or twice a week with the same people, you will inevitably form a community around pool (I explain this process a bit more in depth here).

Common purposes give two strangers an excuse to hang out—thats why people throw parties.

Bonding may start on a personal level, but it doesn’t have to remain a one-on-one situation forever.

The Bible suggests that there is tremendous power in community (Acts 2:42-47). So why be satisfied with individual camaraderie when you can invite individuals into a community of kingdom-minded friends?

If you can wield a certain amount of influence through shared activity, think of what a community can do if you were risky enough to open it to non-believers.

A few weeks ago, some people got saved and baptized at our annual lake trip because this was being lived out by normal young men and women. Why? Because common purpose is the mission field that brings people together. And these college students decided to step on the field and expand the Kingdom of God.

A hobby may become an excuse to socialize for most people, but millennials on mission choose not to underestimate the power of a shared purpose, and often make sure these hobbies lead to the raison d’être of all communities: knowing God together.

So…got any hobbies?

Sterile Christians are Contradictions: On The Art of Discipleship

Sterile |ˈsterəl|

adjective

  1. not able to produce

Contrast “sterile” with this…

A Christian is a disciple of Jesus who re-produces.

He produced us, and we are to reproduce ourselves.

Jesus said,

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (John 15:1-5, NLT)

Jesus’ mission strategy was to reproduce disciples

Robert E. Coleman noted the unique relationship between Jesus and his disciples saying, “The purpose of both the vine (himself) and the branches (believers in him) was to bear fruit” (The Master Plan of Evangelism, 789). Jesus’ entire evangelistic strategy was to persuade his followers to make more followers. Yet we sometimes downgrade biblical fruit to include various works, effects, and other general successes, e.g. “I had some great conversations with my co-workers at lunch, there was much fruit,” or “my church has a bumpin’ singles ministry—so much fruit,” or “We just had a very fruitful smoothie outreach.” Eh…you get it.

But we’re being dishonest if we cheapen Jesus’ strategy to comprise anything less than freshly-made disciples! Jesus was calling us to reproduce disciples, not just get busy and productive!

Jesus devoted 3 years to only 12 guys

He was teaching them to reproduce themselves! This is so foreign to our culture’s motivation for numbers and crowds. His unswerving commitment to a few would result in over 20,000,000 disciples by 310 A.D. (Hirsch. The Forgotten Ways. p.18). This was how Jesus planned to build a church that would terrify hell itself (Matt. 16:18), by creating a few disciple-making disciples. It was what he staked his life on.

It is not enough to rescue the perishing, though this is imperative; nor is it sufficient to build up newborn babies in the faith of Christ, although this, too, is necessary if the firstfruit is to endure; in fact, it is not sufficient just to get them out winning souls, as commendable as this work may be. What really counts in the ultimate perpetuation of our work is the faithfulness with which our converts go and make leaders out of their converts, not simply more followers (Coleman, 826).

Jesus had no back-up plan

You’re looking at the best grassroots structure in the history of the world. The Lord of Heaven and Earth sought to win the world to himself by making twelve disciples, who would make more disciples of Jesus, who make more disciples of Jesus, etc. And this movement eventually reached you with the same basic plan—The reproduction of disciples. Fruit.

This means if we are not reproducing disciples, we are living lives that are inconsistent with what we believe and who we follow. We are sterile Christians….which makes about as much sense as a football bat.

The future of the church is largely affected on whether or not we make more disciples.

Unlike Energizer, the Easter Bunny doesn’t keep going

Eventually the raw energy wears off.

My car died once when I was a teenager, and when my various attempts to jump-start it proved futile, my seasoned father gave me shrewd advice that would linger with me in ways he probably didn’t even intend. He said something like this,

Chris, the car battery isn’t your problem. Your alternator is dead. You see, people think that the car battery is what powers the whole car, but that tiny thing doesn’t have nearly enough juice to make a car run! It’s there solely to start the ignition. Once the car starts, your car kicks the burden of power from the battery to the alternator, which is the real life-sustaining power behind your car. When your alternator died, the car defaulted to the battery, and, well…it was only a matter of time before the battery gave out. It’s just too weak to sustain the whole car.

A revival is kind of like a car battery.

You need it to kick in periodically to engage the ignition of your heart so that the rest of the “car” can start. But it cannot support the weight of your soul, much less the souls of the entire church for the long haul without the “alternator” of consistent, faithful teaching and discipleship” (God-Sized Vision, p93).

My local church and I are about to embark on the biggest Easter service of our lives.

I have no doubt that many souls will be saved by the grace of God,

but what will become of those saved souls?

We must understand that this Easter gathering is simply the igniting of a flame which must be continually fanned by consistent growth in the Word of God, and in fellowship with the saints. For others who are not a part of my particular church, you are a part of another. Or perhaps you have long abandoned the messiness of corporate gatherings to stimulate an addiction to the spiritual highs of revival that come in the form of conferences, worship nights, and road trips to anointed special speakers. Brother and sister, the Scriptures declare that we have need of committing to each other and “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, ESV). A side note to my fellow Realitians who are bringing unsaved friends to Easter…

Do you have a long-range, relational game plan for how you will follow through?

Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!! Plan!!

How will we follow through with them in the next week? How will we cultivate relationships with them over the next month? How can we make sure they don’t end up falling through the cracks? Are we planning on connecting them with other Christians who will love them? Are we planning on visiting them, getting to know them and their families, and keeping the gospel-conversation going? Or are we planning on taking them to an Easter altar-call, letting the preacher do all the work, and hope they can fend for themselves for the rest of their lives?

We cannot live or function solely on weekend revivals.

An evangelistic event may provide the ignition, but the sustaining of that event will come through the long-term missional Christians who get and stay engaged in the lives of new believers. Don’t let revived souls burn out due to neglect. Instead, let the igniting of the Holy Spirit be fanned into flame by the consistent, planned discipleship of thousands of men and women.

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