Building a Discipling Culture

Breen, Mike, and Steve Cockram. Building a Discipling Culture2nd ed.  Pawleys Island: 3 Dimension Ministries, 2011.

Mike Breen and Steve Cockram’s passion to see discipleship come to the forefront of church ministry is evident from the very beginning of Building a Discipling Culture. They allege that many churches have their priorities reversed, focusing on building churches while neglecting to make disciples. They propose an alternative model that Jesus Himself espoused, claiming that “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples” (Kindle Location 100). They later elaborate, “If you set out to build the church, there is no guarantee you will make disciples. It is far more likely that you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services that religious professionals provide” (KL 109).

So what is the difference between building a church and discipling people? Breen and Cockram argue that three things are necessary for building a discipling culture: 1) a discipling vehicle, 2) discipling relationships, and 3) a discipling language (KL 537).

A discipling vehicle is essentially a small group of four to ten people that you meet with regularly to disciple (at least every other week) (KL 546). Breen and Cockram call this group a “huddle,” and a huddle, diverges from traditional small groups in that it does not grow by adding new members, but by equipping and encouraging members to start their own huddles (KL 551). The reason for this is that, by definition, every disciple makes disciples (Mt. 28:18-20).

A huddle by itself, however, is inadequate for making disciples, because “the best discipling relationships always have an intentional, ‘organized’ component to them, as well as a less formal, ‘organic’ component” (KL 546). Covenantal relationships constitute the “organic” component whereby disciples have access to the discipler’s personal life. Breen and Cockram describe this dynamic in the discipleship triangle of “Information-Imitation-Innovation.”

Many churches convey “information” (classroom) very well. However, they often lack discipling relationships that facilitate “imitation” (apprenticeship and immersion), which in turn fosters “innovation” (KL 598). It would be a mistake, however, to equate discipling relationships with friendships. Friendship only requires invitation, but discipleship also entails challenge. Discipleship calls people to a greater conformity to Christ’s character and to a higher level of Christ-like competency. Breen and Cockram’s “Invitation and Challenge Quadrant” demonstrates that an ideal discipling relationship involves both high invitation and high challenge:

This kind of discipling relationship need not be inordinately burdensome. It can be as simple as inviting someone who is struggling spiritually to accompany you to the grocery store so that you can talk with him or her on the way and back (KL 580). It means inviting people to our quotidian comings and goings. This assumes, of course, that we first have a life worth imitating (KL 576), but we need not despair, because while we will never be perfect examples, we can be living examples (KL 624).

Up to this point, there is nothing radically insightful in Building a Discipling Culture that sets it apart from other books on discipleship. Almost 50 years prior, Robert Coleman delineated a similar process of discipleship in his classic The Master Plan of Evangelism, namely the Selection, Association, Consecration, Impartation, Demonstration, Delegation, Supervision, and Reproduction of disciples. Furthermore, modern books such as Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s Trellis and the Vine (2009) also decry churches’ shortsighted tendency to rely on vocational ministers and volunteers to build churches through programs and events (the trellis), rather than training the whole church to make disciples (the vine).

What sets Building a Discipling Culture apart from the other books on discipleship is its discipling language. Breen and Cockram explain that “language creates culture,” and that in order to create a discipling culture, we need a language to support it (KL 632). The discipling language that Breen and Cockram, and their ministry 3DM, use is called LifeShapes. The LifeShapes are 8 diagrams that seek to capture the essence of discipleship. Breen and Cockram note that Jesus chose parables as his preferred teaching method in an oral culture, and argue that we live in a visual culture that calls for an image-based pedagogy (KL 687-692). Since most of the book is dedicated to describing these LifeShapes, I will summarize and evaluate each of them below (I have edited some of the LifeShapes to supply missing details and enhance clarity):

1. Continuous Breakthrough: “The Kairos Learning Circle”

Kairos is a Greek word that denotes punctual, opportune, time, as opposed to chronos, which denotes linear, chronological time. According to Breen and Cockram, every Christian encounters kairos moments “when the eternal God breaks into your circumstances with an event that gathers some loose ends of our life and knots them together in his hands” (KL 772). This event can be “positive (a promotion at work) or negative (getting laid off from your job). It can be big (your wedding) or small (a date night with your spouse)” (KL 815). The “Kairos Learning Circle” is a diagram that helps believers respond appropriately to their kairos moments. The straight line stands for the believer’s linear journey, at which point a kairos moment (X) takes place. At this point, the believer needs to enter the learning circle, which consists of observing, reflecting, and discussing the kairos event in order to plan, account, and act (KL 834). This is the same process as repentance and belief (Mk. 1:15). This first LifeShape is a useful tool for promoting attentiveness and responsiveness to divine encounters in people’s everyday lives.

2. Deeper Relationships: “The Triangle of Following Jesus”

The “Triangle” seeks to illustrate the holistic life of discipleship that entails “Up, In, and Out” relationships. Breen and Cockram use Mic. 6:8 as the paradigm: “Act justly” (Out), “Love mercy” (In), and “Walk humbly with your God” (Up) (KL 1080). They challenge Christians simultaneously to leave their comfort zones to seek out the lost (Out) and establish communities characterized by intimacy and accountability (In), both, without compromising a deep, personal relationship with God (Up).

3. Rhythm of Life: “The Semicircle Pendulum of Rest and Work”

Breen and Cockram lament that “We have become human ‘doings’ rather than human ‘beings’” (KL 1300), and argue that we need a Biblical framework for rest and work. To this end, the “Semicircle Pendulum” describes seasons of fruitfulness followed by seasons of abiding (KL 1399). Breen and Cockram write that bearing fruit is supposed to be natural, just as vines don’t strain to push out grapes. The reason why we strain to produce fruit, they argue, is because we do not have proper seasons of abiding wherein we cease activity and rest (KL 1414). Specifically, Breen and Cockram advocate breaking the day down into “eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, four hours engaging, and four hours disengaging” (KL 1468). They also highlight the need for extended times of retreat for resting in the presence of God (Mk. 1:12-13) (KL 1487), as well as daily times of quiet resting (Mk. 1:35-39) (KL 1496).

4. Multiplying Life: “The Square of Discipleship Multiplication”

Drawing from his discipling experience, Breen and Cockram observe four levels of disciples (D1, D2, D3, D4) and the appropriate leadership style for each (L1, L2, L3, L4) (KL 1547). The confidence/enthusiasm of the disciples is inversely proportionate to the leader’s consensus/explanation, and the competence/experience of the disciples is inversely proportionate to the leader’s direction/example.

D1=high confidence/enthusiasm, low competence/experience (Mk. 1:15-20).
L1=high direction/example, low consensus/explanation
“I do, you watch”
This is the first stage of discipleship where the disciples are excited about the new idea and purpose in their lives but have little competence (KL 1564-1572).

D2=low confidence/enthusiasm, low competence/experience (Lk. 12:32-34)
L2=high direction/example, high consensus/explanation
“I do, you help”
This is when the excitement begins to die down and discouragement creeps in (KL 1622-1639). Breen and Cockram add that D2 is the most important stage of development for disciples. The leaders need to be highly accessible at this point and emphasize the grace of God.

D3=low confidence/enthusiasm, high competence/experience (Jn. 15:12-17)
L3=low direction/example, high consensus/explanation
“You do, I help”
The leaders need to highlight the sovereignty of God at this point (KL 1691).

D4=high confidence/enthusiasm, high competence/experience (Mt. 28:18-20)
L4=low direction/example, low consensus/explanation
“You do, I watch”
By this stage, the disciples’ confidence and enthusiasm are no longer a fledgling bud, but a full-bloom flower rooted in the gospel. This is when the disciples are released to go and do likewise (KL 1736).

The leadership styles presented by Breen and Cockram mirror the three leadership styles first noted by psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1939: Authoritarian (Autocratic), Participative (Democratic), and Delegative (Laissez-Faire). The Scriptural references adduced in the book are only tangentially, if at all, related to these various leadership styles, and thus this LifeShape seems to be derived more from general revelation than from special revelation.

5. Personal Calling: “The Fivefold Ministries Pentagon”

The “Pentagon” is a visual mnemonic for remembering the fivefold ministries specified in Eph. 4:7, 11-13 (KL 1820). Breen and Cockram assert that every Christian is equipped to serve as at least one of the following:

Apostles – Visionary individuals who are always pioneering into new territory, initiating new churches, ministries, etc. (KL 1843)
Prophets – Perceptive individuals with the ability to foretell and forth-tell God’s revelation in specific circumstances (KL 1853).
Evangelists – Personable individuals who enjoy spending time with and sharing the gospel with non-Christians (KL 1872).
Pastors – Empathetic individuals who care for, comfort, and encourage God’s people (KL 1890).
Teachers – Analytical individuals who delight in explaining and applying the Scriptures for others (KL 1903).

Breen and Cockram teach that every Christian has a “base,” or primary, ministry, but may still be called to engage in “phase,” or secondary, ministries for certain periods (KL 1920). They note that prophets, pastors, and teachers have a natural preference for stability and tend to be introverted (KL 1990), while apostles and evangelists have a predilection for flexibility and tend to be extroverted (KL 2016). This diagram is helpful, but it can be misleading because it conflates spiritual offices with spiritual gifts. First, the Apostles were those commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself to establish churches where they previously did not exist (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 9:2; 15:8). There may be people with apostolic gifts, but they are not Apostles. Second, while any Christian with the gift of prophecy can occasionally prophesy (1 Cor. 14:31), there are those who are officially designated as Prophets in local churches (Acts 13:1; 15:31; 21:9; 1 Cor. 14:32). Third, while all Christians are called to evangelize (Matthew 28:18-20), there are Evangelists (Acts 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5) who are to devote themselves entirely to the task of doing, and equipping others for, evangelism. Similarly, every Christian is called to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), but the Teaching Pastors (this designation is to be preferred since, in Eph. 4, the “Pastor” and “Teacher” are combined under a single definite article) were officially recognized as such and compensated for their work (Acts 13:1; Gal. 6:6; 1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Tim. 5:17). Therefore, not every Christian is called to fulfill one of the five ministerial offices. Rather, the emphasis in Eph. 4:11-12 is that God “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” themselves as gifts to the Church so that they might “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The spiritual gifts are distributed to each Christian (Eph. 4:7; 1 Cor. 12), but spiritual offices are given only to some for the purpose of equipping all for ministry.

6. Definitive Prayer: “The Hexagon of Lord’s Prayer”

The “Hexagon” is a way to teach the Lord’s Prayer as a model for our prayers (Luke 11:1-4; Matthew 6:9-15). It is based on the Father’s Character, and pleads for the Father’s Kingdom, Provision, Forgiveness, Guidance, and Protection (KL 2142). This LifeShape is instructive, although the Father’s Guidance and Protection really belong in the same category: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).

7. Spiritual Health: “The Heptagon: Seven Signs of Life”

Breen and Cockram suggest that the seven signs of living organisms, namely Respiration (Prayer), Sensitivity (Fivefold Ministries), Growth, Reproduction, Excretion (Repentance), Nutrition (Obedience), and Movement (Delegation/Distribution of Authority), ought to characterize a living Church (1 Peter 2:4-5). They argue that these are “a useful diagnostic tool for assessing the spiritual health of those you disciple and the ministries they lead” (KL 2219). The connection between the signs of living organisms and the signs of a living church appears promising at first, but the strained analogy disappoints. For example, the word “respiration” does not naturally suggest “prayer,” nor “nutrition” “obedience.” Here, the LifeShape begins to feel less like a mnemonic and more like a gimmick. Instead of serving as a visual aid, the “Heptagon” is a visual distraction.The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church is a superior model for assessing the vitality of a church.

8. Relational Mission: “The Octagon: Finding the Person of Peace”

The final LifeShape, the “Octagon,” is a way to teach evangelism based on the “Person of Peace” principle found in Luke 10 (KL 2424). Breen and Cockram posit that God has already prepared Persons of Peace who are receptive to the gospel, and that our job in evangelism is to identify these Persons of Peace rather than belaboring the issue with those whom God has not called (KL 2431-2499). There is a time for sowing and a time for reaping.

The eight principles for unlocking, or discovering, the Persons of Peace are:

  1. Presence: We are to model the Presence of Jesus in people’s lives by showing kindness and speaking encouragement (KL 2524).
  2. Passing Relationships: For people we come across only once or twice in our lives, our objective is to plant seeds in hopes that others will water and that God will give the harvest in the future (1 Corinthians 3:6) (KL 2533).
  3. Permanent Relationships: Evangelizing our friends and family may take a long time. It is important at this point to watch, wait, and pray, rather than trying to force the issue prematurely (KL 2540).
  4. Proclamation: In proclamation, we invite a person to faith in Christ. This is one way to identify Persons of Peace (KL 2549).
  5. Preparation: Breen and Cockram utilize the Engel Scale as an example to show that there are various stages of preparation for non-believers. Some are closer to faith than others.
  6. Power: This is a method which uses “awe as evangelism,” through miraculous healings and such (KL 2569).
  7. Perception: This is what Peter Wagner calls “testing the soil,” and calls for spiritual discernment regarding individuals and situations in evangelism (KL 2576).

This LifeShape is also less than helpful because it confuses several categorical axes. First, there is the context of evangelism (passing and permanent relationships), then there is the method of evangelism (presence, proclamation, and power), and finally there’s the measure of evangelism (preparation and perception). Lumping them all into the same diagram with unclear, even if alliterative, headings muddles the Person of Peace principle. Moreover, there’s only seven sides to this Octagon…

Notwithstanding my fuss over minutiae, Building a Discipling Culture is an excellent practical resource if you want to learn about discipleship. Breen and Cockram have a knack for presenting nuggets of insight with memorable alliterations and catchy phrases. Consequently, the discipling model proposed in their book is extraordinarily simple and reproducible. It has, and will continue to, serve the Church well. However, if you are looking for a theologically-nuanced and comprehensive book on discipleship, this is not one. For example, it does not include ways to teach Scripture study or theology, and omits other essential spiritual disciplines such as fasting and silence. It also tends to assume that the gospel is central to discipleship, rather than accentuating its importance. Discipleship that is not properly grounded in the gospel can degenerate into pragmatic legalism. One would be wise also to consult Jonathan Dodson’s Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Buy Building a Discipling Culture HERE.

Gospel-Centered Discipleship

Dodson, Jonathan K. Gospel-Centered Discipleship. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.

What is the difference between evangelism and discipleship? The common answer is that evangelism is converting non-Christians while discipleship is maturing those who are already Christians. However, Jonathan Dodson argues that this is an artificial division, since both evangelism and discipleship are about proclaiming the gospel–that Jesus lived a perfect life, died for our sins, then defeated death in His resurrection, so that we can be justified, sanctified, and glorified in Him. The gospel is not a once-in-a-lifetime vaccine, but our daily remedy for sin’s corrosive influence. As Dodson puts it, “persistent, unrepentant sin can disqualify us from the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5; Heb. 3:7-13). God does not accept us as we are. He accepts us as we are in Christ” (127). Therefore, Christians need to fight to believe the Gospel everyday. We need to abide in Christ. 

But is Dodson’s definition Biblical? What about the Great Commission? Isn’t “mak[ing] disciples of all nations” about “going and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [Jesus has] commanded [us]” (Mt. 28:18-20)? Where does he get the “gospel” from all this? Dodson notes that the Great Commission begins with Jesus’s statement that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and ends with his promise, “surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Hence, the main point of the Great Commission is not “to go (in [our] effort), but that we are sent (under Jesus’s authority and in Jesus’s power)” (32). Therefore, Dodson continues, the Great Commission is a Gospel Commission to “make and mature disciples by going with the gospel, baptizing disciples into gospel community, and teaching the gospel” (35). In other words, a Christian disciple is someone who learns the gospel, relates in the gospel, and communicates the gospel (38).

After thus defining “discipleship” in Part I of his book, Dodson unpacks how the gospel transforms the motivation for, and the application of, discipleship in Part II and III, respectively. He makes the keen observation that the motivation for Christian discipleship generally falls under two categories: (1) religious performance (i.e. legalism) and (2) spiritual license (i.e. antinomianism). Those in the first camp can be inwardly-oriented toward spiritual performance (e.g. Bible reading, prayer, fasting, speaking in tongues, moral behavior), or outwardly-oriented toward missional performance (e.g. evangelism, community service, social justice) (70). In either case, they behave as if their religious performance determined God’s approval. However, human religious performance is inadequate and unreliable, and therefore this view leads to spiritual insecurity and instability. On the other hand, those who are motivated by spiritual license behave as if they are above rule-keeping, leading to moral degeneration and apathy.

Dodson contends that the proper motivation for discipleship is not religious performance or spiritual license, but the gospel. The gospel teaches us that we do not need to win God’s approval with our religious performance, because “the performance of Jesus in his perfect life, death, and resurrection” has already won God’s approval for us (71). The gospel also teaches us that we are not free to disobey because spiritual “license” is really spiritual bondage to sin. “The religious are bound to keeping rules, and the rebellious are bound to breaking rules. The gospel, however, tells us that we are bound, not to rules, but to Christ” (73). When we truly grasp the gospel, we develop a religious affection, a “gospel-centered delight in God [that] … compels us to follow Jesus, not because we have to, but because we get to” (cf. Jn. 14:15; Ps. 37:4; Deut. 28:47-48) (76).

Then, what does Dodson recommend for those who do not feel this religious affection? Should they resign themselves to disobedience since being motivated by religious performance is a bad thing? Dodson adds an important qualification when he says that “faith also includes trusting God when we don’t desire him” (80). When our hearts refuse to delight in God, we need to galvanize our hearts with God’s promises and warnings and obey anyway (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5). The difference between this and religious performance is that when we repent, “We turn from our sinful behaviors and turn, not to good behaviors, but to Christ” (84). This sort of repentance leads us to treasure Christ rather than treasure our moral/spiritual triumphs. We obey even when we don’t feel like it, not for the sake of doing right, but for the sake of loving Christ.


In the end, of course, no amount of human exertion can produce religious affection. As Dodson’s diagram above shows, the Holy Spirit is instrumental in this whole process. “The Spirit regenerates us so that our lifeless hearts can beat for God in lives of obedient worship and adoration of the Lord Jesus Christ” (90). For this reason, Dodson writes that we need to commune with the Holy Spirit by praying to Him and addressing Him throughout the day (98). This might seem unorthodox to some, but Dodson is not suggesting that praying to the Holy Spirit is more efficacious for Spirit-empowerment than praying to the Father or to the Son. Rather, he is saying that the practice of addressing the Holy Spirit helps us recognize the Holy Spirit as a Person and increase our awareness of His promptings in our lives. As Dodson wisely notes, “as Westerners we easily mistake the presence of the Spirit for our own conscience or ‘enlightened’ reason. When we make this mistake, we easily dismiss the promptings of the Spirit as mere rational options,” and “When we depersonalize the Spirit, it becomes much easier to disobey or deny the Lord. When we reduce the promptings of Spirit to options, we miss out on communion with God.” (100)

In addition to changing our motivation for discipleship, the gospel changes our application of discipleship. An example that Dodson provides is that of a Fight Club, which is the name for gospel-centered discipleship groups at Austin City Life Church where Dodson is the pastor. Fight clubs are made up of two to three Christians of the same gender that meet regularly to help one another fight sin and believe the gospel of grace (121). In these groups, they ask three questions, “What,” “When,” and “Why?” to expose and fight sin (122). I’ve been in many accountability groups that ask the first two questions in order to identify the sin and locate the lairs of temptation. However, I have seen very few small groups that ask the question “Why?” This last question is critical because “it gets to the motivation behind our sin; it addresses the heart. No one ever sins out of duty. We all sin because we want to, because our hearts long for something” (124). Some common deceptions include lust (i.e. “If you find sexual intimacy on the Internet, then you won’t be lonely or stressed”), vanity (i.e. “If you perform beautifully, then you have worth”), pride (i.e. “If you received more compliments, then you would be more confident”), and anger (i.e. “If you get angry, you can get your way”) (124). By comparing the promises of sin to the promises of the gospel, we can “[see] the futility of sin next to the beauty of Christ” (135). The gospel tells us that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5-6). The gospel tells us that our worth is inherent in the fact that we have been created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-28) (55). The gospel tell us that God is sovereignly in control when we are not (Prov. 16:1-4). This emphasis on the gospel radically transforms our practice of discipleship. Instead of meting out graduated penalties or dispensing cheap grace and cheap peace for a troubled conscience, gospel discipleship forces us to examine our hearts and bolster our faith (66). As the (Reformed) Puritans understood so well, the failure to persevere in faith results in eternal damnation, not less sanctification, because, as John Piper writes in Future Grace, “the battle against sin is a battle against unbelief” (330-331).

Gospel-Centered Discipleship is not really a how-to book on discipleship like Mike Breen and Steve Cockram’s Building a Discipling Culture. Rather, it’s a theological exposition that undergirds the structure of discipleship with the gospel. Those familiar with Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections, Tim Keller’s teaching on gospel motivation, or John Piper’s writings on Christian hedonism will not find new insight in this book. However, everyone will find a compelling and practical application of the ageless gospel to the task of discipleship.

Buy Gospel-Centered Discipleship HERE.

Parenting Advice from a Childless Youth Pastor

Hanna and I have been praying for a child lately, which has led me to this reflection on parenting, but I must begin this post with a disclaimer that I am childless and have zero parenting experience. Now that I have destroyed my credibility, I humbly submit to you my thoughts on parenting after observing many parents (including mine) as a youth and now as a youth pastor. I have supplemented my observations with insights from Madeline Levine, who distills decades of research on parental involvement by clinical and developmental psychologists in Teach Your Children Well. In her book, she concludes that optimal parenting is neither permissive nor controlling, but involved and responsive (you can also read her NY Times article “Raising Successful Children”).

In a culture of “tiger moms” and “helicopter parents,” it may be news to some that over-parenting is often counterproductive. Helping your child unnecessarily or prematurely increases dependency and reduces motivation, while encouraging the child’s autonomy by limiting interference promotes creativity and increases motivation. Thus an important, albeit difficult, task of parenting is not doing for children what they are almost capable of doing, or, in other words, facilitating “successful failures.” Children perform better academically, psychologically, and socially if their parents set high expectations while respecting their autonomy.

What, then, should be the parents’ role in children’s spiritual upbringing? The most important thing parents can do, of course, is to model the pursuit of God in their own lives before demanding it from their children. Sometimes parents impose their dreams of successful parenting on their children and emphasize the outward form (e.g. respectful manners, well-groomed appearance, academic achievement, etc.) rather than inward transformation. Their children become their “projects,” thus alienating the children from their parents. The “image” of the perfect family becomes an idol, thus alienating the whole family from God. This does not mean that parents should never enforce certain non-negotiable standards. But even then, there is a world of difference between insisting that your children attend church on Sunday because you need them to be “model” Christians in front of others and insisting that they do so because they need to learn the fundamentals of the faith. Children can distinguish exhortation from intimidation, and authentic admonishment from angry scolding. When we demand things of our children to indulge our pride rather than for their spiritual formation, we prevent them from owning their faith.

The Barna Research Group has found that 61% of today’s twentysomethings in America were churched as teenagers but now spiritually disengaged. Perhaps the reason for this fallout is that we have not enabled our children to own their faith? How do we, then, encourage the children’s spiritual autonomy? What are some spiritual “risks” that we should tolerate? We need to encourage our children to ask questions about our faith, rather than discouraging doubt as sinful (Jude 22). And yes, we need to steward how and when our children are exposed to the sinful elements in the world, but we also need to recognize that sheltering is temporary. At some point, children will have to face temptations and evaluate the world’s messages on their own. For this reason, we need to instill not merely a code of Christian conduct but a Christian worldview from which children can discern what is true, honorable, just, pure, and beautiful from what is false, shameful, unjust, sinful, and ugly. Coaching children to ask the right questions about what they see and hear is even more important than controlling what they see and hear.

All of this should not come as a surprise to Christians, since Jesus’ death on the cross juxtaposed the heinous violence and injustice of the world with the perfect love and justice of God. Likewise, we need to teach our children to grasp both the horror of human sin (in themselves and in the world) and the glory of divine grace in their fullness. The goal of parenting is not innocence, but repentance (Luke 15). This emphasis on the Gospel should lead children to be confident not in what they have done (or haven’t done) and can do but in what God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ and will do through the Holy Spirit.

Ironically, research has shown that applauding children as “smart,” “athletic,” or “fill-in-your-blank” actually diminishes their confidence and entrepreneurship, because the possibility of losing their newfound status as “smart,” “athletic,” etc. encumbers them. They will either crumble under their insecurity or camouflage their insecurity in their perceived successes until exposed. Parents must not be foolish builders who build up their children’s identity on their words of approval rather than on the words of Christ (Mt. 7:24-29). Christ teaches us that “[we are] so flawed that [He] had to die for [us], yet [we are] so loved and valued that [He] was glad to die for [us]. This leads us to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God, p. 179). Our children must stand on Christ the solid Rock, for all other ground is sinking sand.

As a childless youth pastor, I am sure that parenting is much harder in practice than in theory, so let me end with this point: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6) is a truism and not a promise. It is what generally happens, not what God assures will happen. So then, good parents might raise disobedient and unspiritual children, while bad parents might raise children who are obedient and deeply spiritual. All parenting success is God’s grace and should be credited to Him as such. This fact should drive us to our knees all the more.

The Future of North American Missions?

It has been exactly two weeks since my return from the Lausanne Consultation for North American Younger Leaders in Madison, Wisconsin, and my reflections are long overdue. For those of you who don’t know, Lausanne is a movement that was birthed in its namesake city in Switzerland, out of Dr. Billy Graham’s passion to “unite all evangelicals in the common task of the total evangelization of the world.” Its vision is to “call the whole Church to take the whole Gospel to the whole World.”

The first Lausanne Congress was held in 1974 with some 2,700 participants from over 150 nations. TIME Magazine called it “a formidable forum, possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held.” My involvement with Lausanne began in 2010 when I a volunteered at the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa. Here’s a documentary of the congress.

(picture with the alumni of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary who were attending the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town)

Since then, I have begun serving as Lausanne’s Regional Liaison for North America, in which capacity I assist Lausanne’s International Deputy Director for North America, Tom Lin, who is also InterVarsity’s Urbana Director and Vice President for Missions. Though I am not remunerated for my work (at least not on earth), I cherish this opportunity to be involved in the work of world evangelization, because no project excites me more than God’s mission (Mt. 28:18-20).

Part of this job has been working closely with the awesome steering committee to plan and run the Lausanne Consultation for North American Younger Leaders, which gathered 120 younger (i.e. <40) evangelical leaders from U.S. and Canada to collaborate on the 6 calls to action from the Cape Town Commitment (the document coming out of the Third Lausanne Congress):

  1. Bearing witness to the truth of Christ in a pluralistic, globalized world
  2. Building the peace of Christ in our divided and broken world
  3. Living the love of Christ among people of other faiths
  4. Discerning the will of Christ for world evangelization
  5. Calling the Church of Christ back to humility, integrity and simplicity
  6. Partnering in the body of Christ for unity in mission

(120 participants at the 2012 Lausanne Consultation for North American Younger Leaders)

Meeting these amazing young comrades-in-Christ was like seeing a glimpse of the future of North American missions. Among the 120 incredible people was Nick Hall, who reminded us of our call to bear witness. As Billy Graham stated in his address at the First Lausanne Congress in 1974:

“This is a Congress of World Evangelization. Now, we are enthusiastic about all the many things churches properly do, from worship to social concern. But our calling is to a specific sector of the Church’s responsibility–Evangelism. We believe our point of view has not been adequately represented at some of the other world Church gatherings. Therefore, we are met to pray, talk, plan and–please God–to advance the work of evangelism” (p. 8).

Of course, we are called not only to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, but also to embody the good news in the form of social justice (Lk. 4:18-19). So Chris Heuertz challenged us to embrace “the voluntary suffering of the non-poor,” because, apart from authentic relationships with those oppressed by poverty and other social ills, we will only aggravate the situation and further marginalize “the poor” and “the other” from our realities. In order to “bear witness to the hope that God is good in a world that has legitimate reasons to question God’s goodness,” we need “to rethink the margins and the centers in the context of humanizing relationships that affirm the divine imprint in all humanity.”

Then, Elizabeth Paul reminded us that we are called not merely to make converts, but to make disciples. Every church should be able to answer two questions: (1) What is our plan for making disciples? (2) Does our plan work? And every Christian should be able to answer two questions: (1) Who am I discipling? (2) Who is discipling me? Disciples are those who are committed to cultivating the character and competencies of Christ in him/herself and others. Learning the competencies of Christ means we must learn to make disciples who make disciples, and so on. Learning the character of Christ requires confronting the culture of consumerism, competition, and celebrity, or, in other words, overcoming the temptations of appetite, ambition, and affirmation (categories from Mike Breen), which, by the way, are the temptations that Jesus faced before beginning his public ministry (Mt. 4:1-11).

As Doug Birdsall, the executive chairman of the Lausanne Movement, said in his closing message, learning the character of Christ involves humility and servanthood. It means living to be forgotten. It means being interdependent rather than independent. It means being faithful in “small” things rather than being anxious to move on to “bigger” things, knowing that only those who are faithful with little can be faithful with much (Lk. 16:10; Mt. 25:23). It means choosing infinity over zero, everything over nothing, recognizing that apart from God we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), but that with him we can do all things (Lk. 1:37).

Discipleship is a call to die to oneself and rise for the glory of God. And to make disciples is our divine commission. I hope this mission exhilarates and invigorates you as much as me, because the future of North American missions is as bright and sure as the promises of God.

Watch Me

The sermon I preached at King of Grace Church on June 10th, 2012.

“Imitate those who hope in Christ.” LISTEN

Philippians 3:17-21
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.