My email is stuffed with invitations to an assortment of events. This one caught my attention recently: Understanding Honor and Shame in Outreach. Today’s emphasis in evangelism and discipleship often focuses on the inner life of the person, the place of deep hurts, shame, or broken pasts.
While I appreciate the need to understand the hurts of people, I sometimes wonder if we’ve complicated the discipling ministry. The believer who wants to come alongside and help another grow in Christ can feel woefully inadequate. He or she is left wondering if they need to do more than help people read the Bible or pray.
Some would advocate that discipleship for today’s audience is too demanding, too regulated, too “external” in its emphasis on the spiritual disciplines. “Traditional discipleship doesn’t address the true hurts and needs of the heart,” we’re told. “How can you expect people to read the Bible when they’re hurting inside?” I’m not going to advocate a return to the “good old days” when people were supposedly tougher but there is a place for a life built upon the basics or spiritual disciplines.
A disciplemaking analogy used by the Apostle Paul was the “master builder.“ He writes that his ministry is “like a skilled master builder [who] laid a foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10).” From this Greek word master builder, we get our word “architect.” I picture disciplemaking as building the spiritual infrastructure of a person’s life. This infrastructure represents the supporting walls, floor joists, and rafters. If these foundational elements are not done well, we’ll suffer a crooked foundation, out-of-plumb walls, or a sagging roof. So it is with disciplemaking.
Disciplemaking focuses on building the foundations for spiritual maturity in people’s lives. This includes the spiritual disciplines of Bible meditation, study, prayer, and practical obedience. It also includes such character foundations as love, service, and generosity. The final foundation is the missional one — helping people impact their relational networks for Christ. These represent the foundations of one’s life.
Pastor Derrick is an example of someone who survived because of good foundations. Here’s his brief story.
This past year as a pastor was miserable. My board was intransigent. Our church’s children’s director resigned. The church’s finances fell behind and my wife and I struggled with our oldest son. If I hadn’t maintained the disciplines of my time with God and regular physical exercise, I know I would be stressed-out and angry.
A healthy infrastructure of spiritual and physical habits helped Derrick survive a tumultuous year.
In the course of our alongsider ministries, we will encounter people who are dealing with marital or divorce issues, the hurt of a prodigal child, or the need to heal a raw past. Counseling is often necessary to deal with the deep hurts of these life events. However, I’ve found that if the spiritual foundations of the disciplines are laid, God uses these foundations, with skilled counseling, to facilitate growth. We learn how the Bible brings truthful thinking, prayer restores the soul, and service turns us from self to others.
If I view disciplemaking as foundation building, what difference will that make?
- God can use me. I don’t need a degree in counseling to establish someone in Christ. If I’m laying foundations then I’m speaking from my life experience and biblical convictions. God can use a ministry “amateur” to do this.
- I can keep it simple. We don’t have to be a counselor or therapist to disciple others. While these services are often necessary, we can do our part in helping people meditate on the Bible or cultivate a prayer life.
- I can wisely place boundaries around myself. Since alongsiders focus on the foundations, we can discern when an issue is beyond our area of expertise and refer our friend to someone more qualified to address a deep issue.
- I’m helping grow another’s inner life to meet tomorrow’s challenges and yesterday’s hurts. Alongsiders help people go to the Bible for answers. They teach people to seek God through prayer. They help people choose to live for others and not themselves. They practically instruct on how to build quality relationships. These basics are foundational for deep life change.
A friend of mine describes disciplemaking as “helping people process life in biblical and healthy ways.” When we disciple others, we lay the foundations that help people process life, a life that includes the dark issues of hurts and anger. We don’t need a counseling degree to make a difference. We simply lead an intentional life of an alongsider, a spiritual architect wisely laying foundations in people’s lives.