Category: Discipleship

Age, Humility, and Discipleship

Discipleship, in the words of Mark Dever, is helping another person follow Jesus. Said another way (by Dever): Discipleship is doing deliberate spiritual good to another Christian.

Jesus commands Christians to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20), and Christians should count it a privilege to come alongside others to aid them in their walk with the Savior. We should also receive discipleship from others with gratefulness and a desire to learn. In light of Christ’s command in Matt 28:18-20 and, for that matter, the entire structure of the New Testament where believing relationships are an indispensable means of spiritual growth (e.g., Rom 15:14; Heb 3:12-15), discipleship should be central to our individual Christian lives and our corporate church life.

It’s likely, however, that when we consider the task of discipleship we think in terms of age. That is, in any given discipleship relationship, it should be the older teaching the younger. There is certainly biblical precedent for this model: Paul instructed Titus to have the older men teaching the younger men and the older women teaching the younger women (Titus 2:1-5). Wisdom typically attends and grows with age, so an older Christian will often have something of spiritual value to share with those who are younger.

But this is not always the case, nor would the Scripture have us conclude that age guarantees wisdom. We should not determine, based on mere age, that we cannot disciple or be discipled by another person. In his book, DisciplingMark Dever offers helpful counsel on this issue of age and discipleship.

Normally you would disciple someone younger than yourself. Having said that, Scripture is full of exceptional examples of the younger teaching the older. And surely, as we advance in age, we also want to advance in the humility of learning from those of our own age, and even those younger than us. Otherwise, we will have no teachers left! Personally, I find I learn much from friends in their twenties and thirties, even as I do from folks in their seventies and eighties (77).

In any discipleship senario, there will be, by definition, some asymmetry in the relationship. That is, there will be a teacher who has knowledge and a student who needs to glean and grow in that knowledge. In order to disciple someone, you must be able to teach them in some measure what the Scripture says and how they can apply it to their lives. You might be older than your disciple, or you may be younger. What matters is that you have something of spiritual value to offer them.

But also implied in Dever’s counsel is the truth that all of God’s people are called to be teachable and be ready to receive the truth of his Word, even when that truth comes from a younger disciple. The wise man is the one who listens to advice (Prov 12:15). Left out of this brief proverbial gem (and others like it) is any indication that we should first consider the age of the one who offered the advice before listening to it.

Indeed, as we grow in Christ, we should be cultivating the ability to receive wisdom from those who are younger without feeling threatened or fearful that our disciple might surpass us in godliness and theological acumen. Actually, we should pray that they would progress well past our level of spiritual maturity! We don’t hope for this because we are negligent, but because we want to see our brothers flourish in the grace of God.

The best disciplers, therefore, will be those who not only teach others well, but those who are ready to learn from the people they are disciping. Again, this doesn’t imply that the roles of discipler and disciple are equal–there is a teacher and there is a student. Nevertheless, that younger brother to whom you are ministering has the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, and it is likely he will have a few things to say to bless you in your walk with Christ.

[For more on humility and discipleship, please see my article 8 Signs You Are a Discipleship Bully at The Gospel Coalition.]

With Christ in the Cambodian Killing Fields

In the spring of 1975, the Communist Party of Kampuchea–more popularly known as the Khmer Rouge–took official control of Cambodia. Pol Pot, a Marxist driven by intended-for-evilvisions of a pure socialist state and his desire to rebuild his country, led a revolutionary army into unlikely power and immediately began to implement his plans for a better Cambodia. For the next four years, Pol Pot would pursue his socialist utopia by establishing a strictly agrarian economy and removing any possible signs of capitalist influence from the country.

That’s putting it lightly.

Pol Pot’s aim to create a “New Socialist Man” who was “dedicated only to the collective,” required that he eliminate any trace of the old society. Les Sillars explains,

Pol Pot’s goal was to create a new society that was purely socialist and purely Khmer. First, the regime had to crush the old society and everything connected to it: religion, free markets, private property, schools, political and economic institutions, as well as traditional ideas of morality, sexuality, and family (67). Continue reading “With Christ in the Cambodian Killing Fields”

Better than "Outdoorsy": Jesus, Hobbies, and Your Identity

Growing up in Montana afforded me many good days in the great outdoors. Whether it was skiing the Beartooths, camping in West Rosebud, hiking the Absaroka wilderness, kayaking the Stillwater, rafting the Gallatin, or mountain biking and running through the Rims (a 600-1400 ft. sandstone shelf that spans west to east through Billings), there was never any shortage of adventure to be had in Big Sky country.

But it wasn’t until trusted Christ at age nineteen that my eyes were opened to the glory of God in the beauty of his creation. The pursuit of outdoor pleasure took on a whole new meaning as I beheld God’s power in jagged granite peaks or his creativity in a lake-mirrored sunset. The quiet seclusion of a forest trail was a welcome respite from the busyness of life, and a full day of dropping the tips of my skis into narrow, tree-flanked chutes offered not only exercise to refresh the body but matchless glimpses of snow, sky, and mountain to invigorate the soul. Continue reading “Better than "Outdoorsy": Jesus, Hobbies, and Your Identity”

Spiritual Maturity and Doctrinal Debate

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of GodA few years ago I made my way through John Frame’s excellent book on theological method, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.  It was helpful in many ways. In particular is Frame’s section on “cognitive rest” and how genuine growth in our knowledge of God comes by way of spiritual maturity and growth in sanctification.  Here is an important excerpt:

Many doctrinal misunderstandings in the church are doubtless due to this spiritual-ethical immaturity. We need to pay more attention to this fact when we get into “theological disputes.”  Sometimes, we throw arguments back and forth, over and over again, desperately trying to convince one another. But often there is in one of the disputers—or both!—the kind of spiritual immaturity that prevents clear perception. We all know how it works in practice. Lacking sufficient love for one another, we seek to interpret the other person’s views in the worst possible sense (We forget the tremendous importance of love—even as an epistemological concept; cf. I Cor. 8:1-3; I Tim 1:5ff; I John 2:4; 3:18; 4:7ff). Lacking sufficient humility, too, we over estimate the extent of our own knowledge (155). Continue reading “Spiritual Maturity and Doctrinal Debate”

Post and Pray: Social Media and Our Need for Grace

If there was ever a time to get an accurate read on the best and worst of social media, late last June would have been it. After the SCOTUS decision on gay “marriage” went public, people took to Twitter and Facebook en masse to voice their opinion on the news and, in some cases, confront vigorously those who opposed. Some voices were louder than others; several were downright nasty. There were comments from both sides of the debate that were thoughtful, polite, and open to reason. But many were just the opposite: visceral, snarly, and fiercely close-minded.

It’s times like these that you just want to delete your Facebook and Twitter accounts and take a long walk in the woods.

Or maybe not. (Well, a long walk in the woods is almost always a good idea.) Continue reading “Post and Pray: Social Media and Our Need for Grace”

A Little Friendly Advice for College Graduates

This past Sunday Stanford University celebrated the graduating class of 2015. Over the past year I have had the privilege of working with a few of these students through our church’s campus ministry. At our group meeting two weeks ago I took a moment to offer a little advice to our graduates. Here’s what I said.

(1) Find a Good Church
(2) Understand that Your Work is Good
(3) Remain a Student
(4) Pursue Competence, Not Self-Promotion
(5) Read Your Bible Every Day

(1) Find a Good Church
At the risk of becoming an object of ridicule by those who think only in categories of earthly success or personal fulfillment, let me say that even more important than your new job is your new church. As you make plans to leave college and take a job in an unfamiliar place, make the goal of finding a solid local church your top priority. Continue reading “A Little Friendly Advice for College Graduates”

8 Signs You Are A Discipleship Bully

No one likes a bully. Most of us recoil when we encounter a person who preys on the weak and uses verbal and physical abuse to display their superiority. But bullies aren’t only found on grade school or high school playgrounds; they can be found in churches as well, particularly in discipleship relationships.

This kind of bullying, however, does not need to express itself in verbal or physical abuse. It can manifest itself in a subtle form of spiritual tyranny where the teacher, by virtue of his position and self-perceived knowledge, tends to overwhelm and micro-manage his disciple. Sadly, when these kinds of discipleship scenarios are allowed to progress unchecked, both parties–the discipler and the one being discipled–will find their spiritual life stunted and their relationship with one another in serious jeopardy. Continue reading “8 Signs You Are A Discipleship Bully”