How’d you and Jesus do this year? Are you growing in your faith?
I’ve been a pastor for more than 30 years, and for too many of those years, I was never completely at peace with how we were helping our people grow in Christ. If you asked me what our discipleship plan was for new believers, I would have said, “Well, we offer a class, ask them to read a few books, and our elders check up on them for a couple months.” If you asked me what our plan was to keep established believers growing, I might have said, “Well, we offer classes, ask them to read a few books, and pray.” It honestly was a dismal plan.
Meanwhile, if you had asked me what the marks of maturity were that we were looking for, I’d point to Sunday attendance, maybe small group involvement, and an attempt to tithe. But all the while I could think of countless people who checked all those boxes, yet were still trying to figure out what to do with the Bible, didn’t know how pray, never shared their faith, and were still struggling with the same sins they brought into the kingdom with them. They were, as Pastor Pete Scazzero once said, “One year old in the faith, ten or twenty times over.”
So again, how’d you and Jesus do this year?
What Were We Missing?
A few years ago, I began hearing the phrase discipleship pathway kicked about. The phrase made me think of all the hiking trails I’d walked in my life. Those trails are groomed, marked, mapped out, measured, with plenty of resources available to guide the hikers and help them measure their progress.
Inspired by that thought, a couple years ago, my church set out to study everything we could get our hands on about discipleship, with the plan of establishing a solid pathway. We re-read the gospels looking for clues in how Jesus trained the Twelve. What we learned astonished us.
We learned that Jesus and the early church had a clear target in mind of how to train new disciples, along with a relational process to do it. They had a curriculum of sorts in mind that they used, and they were sensitive to the spiritual maturity level of the ones they were discipling. But no matter their spiritual age, Jesus and the early church started involving new believers right away in service and ministry.
We ended up with a very different discipleship process from what I had ever practiced before, which provided a way to help make the first year of faith transformative for new Christians, and then promote lifelong growth for older ones.
Decide for yourself. Would you be happy if a new believer in your church at the end of their first 9-12 months of faith were learning how the Bible for themselves (and would have read Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Genesis, Exodus, Proverbs, Psalms, James, and Galatians through Colossians?) Would you be happy if they were learning how to have a time of daily devotions, how to pray, how to serve their church and community, how to share their faith with others, and were practicing a form of accountable community that was helping them overcome their sin habits and grow in real holiness?
If any of these things sound appealing to you, we want you to know that we’ve written down this pathway in a short, user-friendly book called Communion With Christ that’s just been released through Amazon, and we invite you to take Communion With Christ for a test drive.
What’s Unique About The Journey?
Its 3-Fold Target. Most discipleship plans focus almost entirely on teaching knowledge, which is certainly necessary for growth, but incomplete if it doesn’t lead to growth in serving, sharing, and holiness also. The Journey is not just another Bible study. We’ve identified three growth targets that must always remain in our line of sight – Knowledge, Fruitfulness, and Christlikeness – then designed hands-on exercises to promote growth in these areas (Colossians 1:9-10).
Its targeted curriculum. The first thing we did in our churchwide study project was write out all the things we believed a new convert should learn in their first year or two of faith. The first thing we said a new believer ought to know is who this Jesus is they’ve started a relationship with, then next how to grow in that relationship. These essentials make up the nine lessons found in Communication With Christ. After three sessions which explain the supremacy of Christ, the centrality of the Gospel, and the role of the Holy Spirit, the remaining six session focus on teaching the new believer the basics of how to read the Bible for themselves, and how to pray. But Communion With Christ is not just another Bible study or book to read. Each session comes with a section of training exercises dedicated to helping the disciple achieve real growth in the three targets of Knowledge, Fruitfulness, and Christlikeness.
Its relational process. Discipleship in most churches takes place in a classroom. Jesus taught the masses in large group settings for sure, but he trained the Twelve by pulling them away from the large group. Then he discipled Peter, James, and John by pulling them aside from the Twelve. Both the large group and the small group are necessary for healthy fellowship, but deep-level discipleship can only take place in smaller small groups of 2 to 4 people of the same gender, because it allows for an honest sharing and accountability not possible in the other settings.
Its promotion of lifelong growth. Once the training books in the Journey series are completed, the journey of growth shouldn’t stop. Journey meetings are built around heart-level sharing of the disciple’s growth in Knowledge, Fruitfulness, and Christlikeness. There is never a time in a person’s life when he or she should stop growing in these areas, so there is never a time when they don’t need the prayer and support of other brothers and sisters.
Though the topics and skills taught in Communion With Christ are on one level “basic”, Christianity 101 we might call them, I can’t count the people I’ve met who’ve been in the faith for years whose eyes light up when they hear of the Journey pathway because it provides something they’ve been hungering for since they came to Christ.
So…How’d You And Jesus Do This Year?
If you’re feeling stuck in your faith right now, then you’re missing out on an adventure of faith that the Lord Jesus promised you.
“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” – John 15:5
Growth is your spiritual birthright.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 3:18
If your church has a discipleship program, then dive in with both feet and learn everything you can. If your church doesn’t have a specific process in place yet, then ask around for something like it. In the meantime, that’s where Communion With Christ might be helpful.
Our hope and prayer is to help nurture lifelong spiritual growth for every disciple, old and young. I promise you, Communion With Christ will set you firmly on that pathway. So don’t waste another day. On your mark, get set, grow.
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His latest book, “Communion With Christ” is now available through Amazon. His blogs and scripts can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.