Discipleship in 3 simple steps (Part 1)

Does that promise sound too good to be true?  I am not interested in oversimplification or catchy sound-bite titles, but I’ve gradually come to believe that discipleship is simpler than most of us make it.  It requires no curriculum other than the Bible and a disciple maker armed with 3 simple questions.

A couple years ago I was reading everything I could get my hands on by Neil Cole.  I continue to highly recommend his books.  He wrote Search & Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes a Difference on a discipleship idea he developed called Life Transformation Groups or LTG’s.  An LTG is 2 or 3 people that meet together and do three things:

  1. They read 30 chapters of scripture together each week.  If one of them fails to read all 30 chapters, the group reads the same 30 chapters the next week and each week until everyone completes the 30 chapters in that week.  Repetition is good.
  2. They each pray daily for the salvation of 5 people they know by name who do not know Christ.
  3. They ask each other a list of accountability questions.  Neil has a list of those questions in his books, but different users of LTG’s have added here and subtracted there and come up with different lists, which Neil has no problem with.  Neil emphasizes that the purpose of the questions is not accountability as much as an opportunity to confess sin.

 I like the system all except for the 3rd part, the accountability questions.  The concept of an accountability partner of the same sex has been around a long time in Christian circles.  Some believers report that they have benefited greatly from the practice, but others complain that it doesn’t work for them.  I’ve always been uncomfortable with it.  Why?

  •  Unless the person really wants to be accountable, it doesn’t work.  People will lie about hidden behavior if they aren’t motivated to change in that area.
  • No matter what list of questions you come up with, it may not be the right questions for a particular person.  There is always a question about viewing pornography on the guy’s list, but some guy’s real temptation may be anger or cheating on his expense form.  No prepared list of questions will nail each person exactly where they are on their spiritual journey.
  • It smacks of legalism.  I’m not saying it is legalism, because encouraging victory over sin is not legalism.  But legalism is whenever we take outward actions in response to spiritual truth and apply the same outward behavior to all believers regardless of what they feel God wants them to do with that truth.  In other words, the focus of these questions is more on the outward behavior than the disposition of the heart.

Some time later I was studying Mike Breen’s approach to discipleship in Building a Discipling Culture.  Mike grew an old dead Anglican Church in a worldly and secular town in Great Britain into a dynamic church exploding with growth through his discipleship methods.  I had to know what he was doing, because whatever he was doing it was working amazingly well in a place that is famous for dying churches.  Not only did it work while Mike was there, but it continues to grow at an exponential rate under younger leadership that Mike discipled prior to moving to America over ten years ago.  But honestly, as I studied it I couldn’t understand it.  Mike has this tool called “Life Shapes” which is a series of simple shapes that represent certain areas of life we need to give attention to in order to grow.  But it didn’t make sense to me.  The shapes were supposed to make it simple and memorable, but they only seemed to confuse me.  But I knew he was on to something because what he did worked, and it continues to work long after he left that church to move to another continent.  Then I heard one of his disciples teaching on the subject of the “huddle”, which is the term they use for a small group discipleship method for developing future leaders.  This guy said, “All discipleship comes down to two simple questions.”  My ears perked up.  This sounded simple.  Maybe I would finally get the heart of this thing.  He went on to explain that the two questions that all of discipleship hinges on are:

a) “What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?” and

b) “What are you going to do about it?

Suddenly a light went on for me.  I have seen how the spirit of God works in my life by zeroing in on different things at different seasons of life.  A prepared list of accountability questions may not hit the areas the Holy Spirit is trying to work on in my life.  And if you ask the average Christian that first question, many if not most of them would not know how to answer.  But in the huddle they ask this question weekly, and the huddle members learn to look at the circumstances of their lives and the scriptures they are digesting and begin to expect the Holy Spirit’s voice, and begin to recognize more and more how he is speaking to their particular sins and life issues.   Eventually they have no trouble identifying at any given time what the Holy Spirit is saying to them.  The second question takes it from the realm of theory and moves it to where the rubber meets the road.  The answer to the second question should be an action step that is specific and measurable.  If the answer to question #1 is, “The Lord has been convicting me of my meager prayer life”, then the answer to question #2 is not “I need to pray more”.  The answer to question #2 might be “I need to set the alarm x minutes earlier to allow more time for prayer every morning” or something equally measurable and specific.  But the key here is that each person sets their own action step based on what is realistic to them and what they believe the real answer is.

I realize that some people are going to be uncomfortable with the subjectivity of asking “What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?”  Some of us (myself included) come from such a strict cessationist background that if we can’t cite a verse of scripture for something then it can’t be God speaking.  But if the Holy Spirit indwells our very bodies, then what is he there for?  Yes, everything has to be evaluated in the light of God’s Word.  The Holy Spirit uses the Word, so the voice of the Holy Spirit may be heard in a sermon, or He may be heard as we dig into God’s Word in our daily time with the Lord.  But He may also be heard through the circumstances of daily life.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks through your spouse.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks through the death of a friend or loved one or some kind of major emotional event in your life.  Recently the Holy Spirit spoke to me quite clearly when I became aware of an area of my life where I had been less than honest.  I was deeply convicted of my sin and had to take some specific action steps that were very costly to me.  That didn’t happen as a result of reading my Bible or hearing a sermon (although my knowledge of Biblical teaching on the subject certainly played a part).  It happened because of a life circumstance that brought something to light in a way I couldn’t ignore.  I have no doubt I was hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.  If you still find yourself uncomfortable with this concept, consider the fact that this takes place in a small group where input from other members can bring balance and a scriptural perspective that others may need.

OK, so now you know two of the steps (questions) in this successful discipleship system.  What is the third?  Sorry, I’m out of time today.  I promise an extended discussion of the third step and the rational behind it tomorrow in part 2.