Wednesday, October 24, 2012

207. Discipleship and Mission Workshop in Lexington KY with 3DM

My friend Brent Barger called me this week and let me know about a really cool opportunity. If you live near Lexington KY and would like to expose yourself to some really good tools for being and making disciples, as well as missional communities, 3DM will be hosting a workshop November 7-9 at the Cross Roads Church

As someone who has personally been through their workshop and subsequent Learning Community process, I have no problem championing these events and their organization. These guys are excellent practitioners of disciple making and missional communities, with a track record of effectiveness to go with it. If you end up checking it out, look me up, I am actually hanging out at this one. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

206. The Role of Chemistry in a Discipling Relationship

In science, when two different chemicals come into contact, certain reactions occur based on the elements within those chemicals. The reaction can be good or bad depending on what you are trying to achieve. When we talk about chemistry in relationships, we are talking about a certain kind of reaction between people. We all know good chemistry when we experience it. You have a certain connection with someone that you do not have with other people. It could be personality, season of life, or some other factor. When good chemistry is there, you find yourself saying to yourself “I would enjoy spending more time around that person.”

So what does chemistry have to do with discipling relationships? Well, chemistry is actually one of the most critical ingredients to a successful discipling relationship. Discipleship is fundamentally about imitation. If this is true, then we are given our first clue as to what holds a discipling relationship together. Without a significant level of attraction between leader and follower, then a discipling relationship is not even likely to start. There has to be a positive reaction between leader and follower that makes them want to spend time around each other. They have to like each other and be open to each other.
You may be saying something like this to yourself right now: “That sounds right, but shouldn’t we be open to discipling everyone? It sounds like you are saying we should only disciple people we personally like. Doesn’t Jesus tell us to disciple everyone? Isn’t this chemistry thing a bit…well….selfish? Should this really be a part of the equation, or is this whole chemistry thing just an excuse not to engage people who are different from us?”
Well, this is a typical response, so let’s go a little deeper to substantiate the necessity of chemistry. Discipling relationships require frequent interactions. If the follower is going to imitate the life of the leader, then the follower has to have access to the leaders life. This means they will spend time with each other outside of the classroom, small groups, or bible studies. If there is not a significant amount of chemistry in the relationship, both people will experience relational fatigue. After fatigue sets in, then hanging out together in organic and spontaneous ways is not likely to happen.
Also, a discipling relationship is characterized by what we call invitation and challenge. If you already rub someone the wrong way (or if they rub you the wrong way), then imagine what introducing and ever increasing levels of challenge will do to that “rub” in the relationship. There will be some serious friction…otherwise known as conflict! Good chemistry is the permission structure that allows challenge to take place in a discipling relationship.
Jesus, as a wise leader and discipler, knew the critical role chemistry played in the discipling relationship. Notice what Mark says in his gospel about the criteria Jesus used when inviting the 12 to become apostles: ”And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach…” There are two things here worth noting.
1. Jesus had a preference for who he wanted to invite closer and invest his life into. We do not know what these preferences were, but those preferences were a determining factor in his method of choosing the 12. This runs counter to our notion of equality and treating everyone the same. The truth of the matter is, Jesus modeled for us the best possible way to choose people we will invest our life in.
2. Jesus chose the twelve that they might be with him. That means they would be around each other a lot! If there is no chemistry, then this can be a real problem….for both people involved, not to mention the rest of the group. Chemistry is the attractional force that holds voluntary relationships together.
Good chemistry is not always experienced the same way or at the same level between people. This can make the process of inviting people into a discipling relationship a bit tricky. A leader may not have a lot of chemistry with a potential follower, while that same potential follower may actually experience, on their end, a higher (sometimes unusually higher) level of chemistry with the potential leader. Chalk it up to charisma, gravitas, or whatever, but I think we have all had the experience of someone revealing to us that they really like us and we in turn think to ourselves “Really, because I thought you didn’t really like me at all.”
This can also happen from the leader’s perspective. They may think there is a high level of chemistry between them and another potential follower, when in actuality it is only the leader who is experiencing a positive reaction. Recognizing the various levels of chemistry that can exist between people helps us discern the potential for success in a discipling relationship. Consider the matrix below.

Flop happens when the leader over estimates the level of chemistry in the relationship and invites someone into a discipling relationship. If the potential follower is not open to the leader, and is not able to receive an ever increasing scale of invitation and challenge, it can make it quite challenging for the relationship to stay together. This kind of relationship typically happens when we take an overly mechanistic approach to discipling people. Discipling relationships do not form like signing up for a small group. It is an entirely different kind of relationship characterized by high commitment and high accountability. Without significant levels of chemistry the follower and the leader, in the long run, the relationship will be a flop. In most cases, it either does not last the course, or becomes a significant drag for both the leader, the follower and the rest of the group.  The only exception to this scenario is if the follower has a significant level of maturity in their life.
When neither the leader or the potential follower have significant levels of good chemistry, then a discipling relationship rarely forms. When neither person says to themselves “I think I might like to spend some more time around that person” then cause and effect typically keep this kind of discipling relationship from happening. However, there are times when people try to force this kind of relationship into a discipling format and it can be a disaster. Steer clear when chemistry is hovering close to nill.

Drop happens when someone experiences chemistry with you as a leader and is open to being discipled by you, but you do not share the same level of chemistry with them, or you simply do not recognize their openness to you. A good way to limit the number of opportunities that you drop is to develop a routine of praying about people who are within your social reach. More often than not, we drop opportunities when we are not being sensitive to who the Lord is putting in our pathway. Sometimes someone may be open to you, but they may communicate it in ways that you don’t recognize. Jesus spent the whole night in prayer before he selected the 12. There are obvious spiritual implications to this, but I can’t help but wonder what kind of revelation he received during the night from the Father that maybe caused him to change course and select Thomas instead of …..Mathias? Jesus was sensitive to what the Father wanted to happen, and when it came to inviting people into discipling relationships, he spent a significant time observing the crowds, reflecting on his impressions, and discussing it with the Father.
A word of caution: It typically requires a certain degree of maturity in the leader to effectively disciple people he does not have chemistry with. This has to be discerned, just like Jesus, in reflection and discussion with the Father.
P.O.P. stands for Person of Peace and is taken from Jesus’ teaching in Luke 10. The basic definition of a Person of Peace is this: “You like them and they like You.” Stated positively,  peace is about harmony and synergy. Stated negatively, it can mean hostility or opposition. Jesus told the 72 in Luke 10 when he sent them out that when they came to a house they should say “Peace to you.” If a “person of peace” was there, they should stay at that house. What Jesus was essentially saying was this: A person of peace is someone who wants to hang out with you and invite you into their personal space. When you have a moderate to high level of chemistry with someone, this elevates the potential for relational capital to emerge and creates an environment in which a discipling relationship can flourish. If discipleship is about imitation, then the person of peace is somehow drawn to want to be around you. They demonstrate openness to you and may want to serve you and even follow you. This kind of relationship is teeming with potential for imitation, fruitfulness, and a lot of fun!.
I have experienced a FLOP and a DROP before, and each time, hind sight being 20/20, a good amount of observation, reflection, and discussion with the Father would have probably steered me into another course of action. As I mature in becoming a disciple maker, I find that I am more keenly aware of where I am in relation to other people, and where they are in relation to me as a leader/follower.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

205. The difference between Coaching and Discipling Part 2

In Part One, we looked at the importance of imitation in relation to the pattern of the disciplers life and the process they use to make disciples.  In this post, we are going to take an even closer look at how coaching differs from discipling.

Coaching is primarily focused on developing competency and skills in relation to performing certain tasks. If we use sports as an example, a basketball coach is looking to help his players become better dribblers, shooters, passers, and rebounders, as well as better team players. The really good coaches look to develop the character of their players as well. However, as some of you may be able to attest to, a player rarely has access to a coach outside of “practice” and “game time.”  Despite a coach’s good intentions, without relational access to the coach’s life, the scope of imitation in the relationship will typically be limited to what is made available during organized times of “practice” and “game time.” The learner, then, in a coaching relationship, will be primarily focused on imitating the methods and practices which the coach uses to train the players during practice and game times. In this sense, coaching is somewhat one dimensional in that it is primarily task, or process oriented.
What makes a discipling relationship different from a coaching relationship is that the learners in a discipling relationship, in addition to participating in an organized process, will also have what we call “organic access” access to the leader’s life. Organic access includes regular times of interaction where the disciple shares in the rhythm and pattern of the discipler’s life. Things like eating dinner together, exercising together, or just plain hanging out for the fun of it. Basically, sharing life together.
Adding “organic access” to an “organized process” is what moves a coaching relationship to a discipling relationship.  The inverse is equally true. When access to the leader is restricted to an organized process, then the nature of that relationship will, by definition, shift away from being a discipling relationship and be characterized by other types of learning relationship. Without access to the leader’s life, the scope of imitation will default to the more narrow venue of the organized training environment.  Notice the diagram below.
While a discipling relationship is the ideal thing to shoot for when it comes to learning, distance and availability do not always afford this kind of relationship to take place. If time, distance or other variables pose a challenge to the disciple having organic access to the leader’s life, then a coaching relationship is possibly the next best thing to be involved in. As you notice from the diagram above, coaching still involves an organized process, but it lacks the kind of relational interaction to qualify as a discipling relationship.
The other two kinds of relationships where learning can take place are through spiritual fathers and mothers in Christ, and advisors. Fathers and mothers in Christ give us organic access to their life, but do not always provide an organized process of learning. It is typically on an as needs basis. Paul described himself as the father of the Corinthians because he helped bring them into existence through his seeding of the gospel. However, by virtue of his absence, Paul did not sustain an ongoing “discipling” relationship with them. This is not to say that imitation could not take place in the relationship. However, the scope of imitation was limited to their memory of his example via his absence, hence the need to send Timothy (I Cor 4:12-17.)
Spiritual fathers and mothers in Christ can be a source of encouragement and  accountability to us. They are there for us when we need counsel or encouragement, and they can also be there when we don’t want them to be, if they feel we need to be admonished or exhorted to pay attention to something we have neglected to pay attention to. They are people we often orbit in and out of our spiritual household (oikos) or extended family, or we orbit in and out of theirs.  
Advisers are people who we deem to have wisdom and discernment, but may or may not be a part of our “oikos,”(spiritual household) or extended family. It is advisers who, upon our request, offer occasional feedback and input into our lives.  Advisers could be elders or other spiritual leaders in your relational network.


I always get this phrase mixed up, but it is a valuable phrase. A rectangle, like a square, has four right angles. But having four right angles does not make somethign a square. No, a square has another feature that puts it into a different category. A square has four right angles PLUS four sides of equal length. A square is more defined and therefore occupies a different category than a rectangle.
So to apply this to our discussion, discipling includes coaching, but not all coaching can rightly be called discipling. A discipling relationship, by definition, has additional features that set it apart from other learning relationships.
Clarity in this area is critical if we are looking to obey Jesus’ command to be and make disciples. Without access to the leader’s life, the relationship will not be able to supply the range of exposure and learning characterized by a discipling relationship.
This reality poses a dilemma. If we only coach people on how to disciple people instead of discipling people to disciple people, we essentially violate the principle of imitation. We end up saying, in part, “do what I say not do what I do.”
There really is no way around this dilemma. Coaching people on how to be and make disciples, by definition, will always possess this inherent contradiction. However, naming this distinction between coaching and discipling allows us to name the relationship for what it is, and thereby guard the generative nature of authentic discipleship. If someone walks away from a coaching relationship and thinks they experienced discipleship, then the coach has failed to adequately define the relationship.

Friday, October 05, 2012

204. The Difference Between Coaching and Discipling Part 1

If we are going to grasp what discipling is, we have to let Jesus be our example. Discipling takes place when we are invited into a relationship where we are challenged to imitate the life of another person. Jesus said it like this: every disciple who is completely trained will be like their teacher. (Luke 6:40) Notice he did not say the disciple will simply “know what the teacher knows.” He also didn’t say the disciple will simply be able to “do what the teacher does.” No, the fruit of a discipling relationship is much more than this. In a discipling relationship, you not only want to “know what the teacher knows” and “do what the teacher does”, you also want to “be who the teacher is.” You want to imitate the life of the one who is discipling you.


When we say that a disciple imitates the life of another person, contained within this peron’s life is the process they use to make disciples. In other words, the one being discipled not only imitates the leaders pattern of life, they also imitate the leaders process of making disciples. So in a discipling relationship there are essentially two basic focal points of imitation.

We see these two focal points of imitation coming to the fore when Paul explains to the Corinthians why he is sending Timothy to them. Paul says in I Corinthians 4:15-17 “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me…(think pattern of life)… For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, …(think process)…as I teach everywhere in every church.” Paul spent 18 months in Corinth, and now in his absence the church has been turned away from the patterns of the gospel into ego-centric forms of leadership and ministry. Paul knew that in order for them to mature in Christ, they needed more than just a letter (information). They needed strategic leadership that could provide a tangible point of reference on how to put the principles of Paul’s teachings into practice. Timothy was sent to provide the Corinthians with the concrete example they needed to move forward and stay on course. The nature of Timothy’s task is reflected in Paul’s language when he says that Timothy will reminding them of his “ways” in Christ. That word in Greek is hodos which means “a course of conduct or pathway.” It carries with it the idea of a sequential flow or process, of moving forward along a pathway towards a destination. Timothy would essentially blaze the trail and lead the Corinthians back into the messianic pathway of cross and resurrection.
So why Timothy? Why not  Silas or someone else? Paul needed to extend his influence back into the Corinthian community. Timothy had been discipled by Paul, which meant he had been exposed to the pattern of Paul’s life. Not only this, but he also participated in the process Paul used for making disciples and planting churches. As such, Timothy was well versed in both the pattern and process of Paul’s life and ministry. If Paul could not be in Corinth, then he wanted someone there who would be able to represent his “ways” to the Corinthian community.  Timothy was definitely qualified to do this.


If discipleship entails the imitation of someone’s life (pattern and process), then not just any learning relationship qualifies as a discipling relationship. In order for the scope of imitation to include someone’s pattern of life, there has to be a certain level of relational access (spatial proximity) to the life of the leader. This means interaction with the leader has to move beyond the controlled environment of the classroom/conference call and into a more experiential and practical setting where the follower can observe the rhythms and practices of the leaders life. This kind of learning relationship is often characterized by a certain degree of relational frequency and situational variety. In other words, there is regular interaction in multiple settings.
It is important to recognize that a discipling relationship is not the only relationship where imitation can take place. Imitation can also take place in a coaching relationship, but we have to be clear about what can actually be imitated in a coaching relationship. Once we understand discipleship as essentially being about imitation centered around pattern and process, we not only discover the essential framework for what a discipling relationship looks like, we also have a point of reference by which to understand the nature of other relationships, like coaching, in which learning and imitation can take place.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

203. Discipleship and Missional Effectiveness

Karl Weick, in his book Making Sense of the Organization, says, “…whenever you have what appears to be successful decentralization, if you look more closely, you will discover that it was always preceded by a period of intense centralization where a set of core values were hammered out and socialized into people before the people were turned loose to go their own ‘independent, ‘autonomous’ ways.”*

Weick is pointing out an important ingredient here when it comes to decentralizing the church for missional ventures. As much as we would like to see the church decentralized for mission, we can not successfully de-centralize for mission until we first go through a period of centralization where the necessary foundations for movement are embedded within the community.

This is exactly what we see taking place in the life of Jesus, the revolutionary founder of a global movement. For 3 1/2 years Jesus discipled the twelve and modeled for them what discipleship, community and mission really looks like. When it came time for the disciples to launch out into a decentralized mission of disciple making and mission, they had the necessary training and tools to lead the movement. You can’t get to Acts without passing through the gospels. And you can’t make it through the gospels without passing through discipleship. The reality is, Jesus did not expect the 12 to know how to be or make disciples, live in community, or be on mission with God until he had modeled and trained them for 3 1/2 years.

Trying to catalyze a decentralized movement without laying a good foundation of discipleship is just trendy new-speak. In fact, if you try to decentralize without first going through a period of centralization where the core practices of being and making disciples along with living as an extended family on mission, you will not end up with movement at all. What you will end up with is a fragmented group of disillusioned people with no point of reference for how to move forward. To put it another way: Decentralization before discipleship equals diaspora. Decentralization after discipleship equals movement.


Most churches find themselves stuck in a stage of centralization, but it is not the kind of centralization Jesus has in mind. Instead of centralizing around the core practices of being and making disciples, and living as an extended family on mission, the church often centralizes around teaching and information. In this model of centralization, discipleship and mission take a back seat to the centralized gatherings that are primarily focused on preaching and the band. If there happens to be any mission minded leaders in the bunch, they typically challenge the church to go and do mission, but in essence they are wanting people to spontaneously go out and do mission on their own.

The only problem with this approach is that people tend to do what you model for them. So if you give only give them information, then challenge them to do mission, they will most likely equate mission with giving people information…about the centralized gathering where you receive…that’s right….more information.

The missing link in this informational approach is discipleship; specifically, the principle of imitation. In order for me to learn how to be and make disciples, and live on mission, then I need to be invited into a relationship where I can have access to someone who actually lives it out in their own life. To get me going I need something to imitate. My friends at 3DM use this triangle to illustrate the proper relationship between information, imitation (discipleship) and innovation.

It starts with information, then leads to imitation, and finally moves into innovation. Centralization takes place during the first two phases. Decentralization takes place as you move towards the edge and innovate with new expressions of ecclesia. The order is really critical if you want to see a decentralized movement of disciple making and mission to emerge. The missing component, for most church plants (and churches for that matter), is the phase of imitation where a leader invites people into a relational process where they model for them how to be and make disciples and live like an extended family on mission. If the leader is aiming for decentralized mission where people move towards the edge and innovate new expressions of ecclesia within every nook and cranny of their context, then they need to invest the necessary time and energy to centralize around the patterns of Jesus’ ministry. Those who take the time, like Jesus, to build a discipling culture will always get what Jesus got……a movement. If we want a movement like the one Jesus started, then we need to do it the way he did it. There is just no way around this.

It is true that anyone can start a movement, but the sustainability of that movement will hinge upon whether or not the leaders of the movement can be and make disciples…that make disciples…that make disciples…  

*Karl Weick, Making Sense of the Organization, (Maine: Blackwell Publishing, 2001) p. 341