Building a Culture of Discipleship

I presented this for the Potomac District Assemblies of God ministers @ District Council this week.  Due to the nature of the content I thought it would be good to provide an opportunity to give it a second hearing.  You can read the entire content below.  Be sure to leave a comment–I’d love to get your feedback.

Most of you know I’m a Chi Alpha guy. One of the things that attracted me to Chi Alpha was the way they approached discipleship.  It was so simple, but @ the same time it was revolutionary. “How did Jesus do it? He lived life with his disciples, poured truth into them, released them into life-changing ministry, and encouraged them to do the same for others.” As Chi Alpha intern, I saw that lived out on the university campus and my view of the kingdom was transformed! Even though I had been involved in a great A/G youth group and graduated from one of our Bible schools, @ that moment I felt like I had never been discipled before. On one hand, I was thrilled to be a part of this movement reconciling students to Christ. On the other, I was disappointed that it took being a believer for 9 years before I was exposed to it.

Fast forward to 2008. I took a my 3rd Chi Alpha spring break team to work with my twin brother in the Yucatan. The one thing my students kept talking about was how often people went to church. To say the Yucatecos were always in church was not an exaggeration. There were church services every night except for Thursdays and on Thursday they practiced for the weekend services. As I was trying to explain to my students some of the rationale behind this, I came to a realization–this was their culture of discipleship. The other thing I realized was that this was the culture of discipleship that I was raised in too.

I don’t remember anyone ever teaching me how to pray, but on Sunday nights around the altars and in a gym kitchen before Wednesday night youth group, I learned to pray by watching and doing. I can’t recall anyone ever teaching me how to study the Bible, but in Sunday School, the stories came alive and hearing others quote Scripture in conversations after service made me want to hide the Word in my heart. I never attended a seminar on being baptized with the Spirit, but as I saw my friends operate in His power I found myself wanting whatever they had and I was filled. By connecting with the community of God in Sunday School, Sunday morning service, Sunday evening, Wednesday night and many times in between I was discipled and I grew to be more like Jesus.

Part of me wants to reproduce that culture of discipleship for the students I minister to. Part of me longs to see every church restart Sunday night services so we could spend that extended time @ the altar again, but in many places it’s difficult if not impossible to do. Our church members lives have become so crowded they show up late on Sunday morning, catch up on texts and emails during the service and hurry out the door @ the final amen. It’s hard for the way of Jesus to be caught in just 65 minutes on a weekend.

You’ve heard this already this week, but I think we need to recapture the intentionality of relationship in our discipleship culture.

Because of the class schedule @ AU there is never a time when I can get all of our group members in the same place @ the same time, but as I’m intentional in relationship I can meet with them in small groups and one-on-one. And it’s in those small meetings where the kingdom life starts to take hold in their lives.

Several years ago Shawn Galyen, who’s now a Students for Christ missionary to Spain and I, tried to boil down discipleship into it’s basic elements. We came across Dallas Willard’s Golden Triangle of Spiritual Growth and this, in a slightly modified form, became the structure for my conversations with students. I want them to process life in the kingdom in three categories.

The first is Encounter. The call to discipleship is initiated by the Holy Spirit. As we facilitate opportunities for disciples to hear His voice and experience his presence through things like worship, listening prayer, and seeking after the spiritual gifts, God’s glory becomes evident. Standing in awe of a God who calls our name inspires obedience.

The second is Life Experience. We all agree that God works all things together for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, but because of the pace of life most of us can’t remember the things we’ve been through, much less try to figure out how God’s using them for our good. Part of my time together with students is helping them process what’s going on in their lives. It’s amazing how talking through a disagreement with a roommate can open someone’s mind to how compelling the way of Jesus really is.

The third element is Holy Exercise or the spiritual disciplines. These are simply tools for our training in Christlikeness. They’re exercises I can do now that open the door for the Spirit to bring about transformation. There are some core disciplines like prayer, worship, and studying the Word, but as we coach disciples we can use other exercises to bring freedom from specific sin. Someone struggling with pride can practice the discipline of confession or secret service. Someone dealing with lust can put effort into fasting. A gossip can try the discipline of silence and as they continue to use these holy exercises their spiritual muscles grow. Little by little they begin to walk after Jesus in ways they never thought possible.

I know I talked about these as separate elements, but they don’t operate independently. The exercises can facilitate an encounter with God. Processing life experiences can show us which exercises we need to practice.

Another thing is also true: intentional relationship is required. We all need individual attention to understand or facilitate our Encounters with God, to process our Life Experience, and to train with Holy Exercise. As we prioritize relationship and teach others to do the same I believe we will see Christ formed in the members of our congregations and our communities changed for his glory.

11 thoughts on “Building a Culture of Discipleship

  1. Mike- great stuff! Not sure what to comment on . . . it’s all right on!

    I’m most excited that I got to know you when your eyes were being opened during your internship at EMU! Good times, there! You and Jen remain special in my heart :).

    So, HOW do you encourage STUDENTS to do “intentional relationship”? Or, do you think they build relationship very naturally on their own. It does seem a redemptive facet of the current culture, although I’m not sure that it always ends up being discipling in its nature. . .

    • Jessie, great to hear from you. God did some amazing things @ EMU. I share about that first small group you led with all of my student leaders–it was powerful!

      I think how is best explained by another Dallas Willard nugget–the VIM model. He uses it as a way to draw people into spiritual formation, but I think it works well in this case too. The first aspect is vision. We need to help students develop an understanding of the power of intentional discipleship relationships. We can do it this by diving into the gospels, sharing stories of our transformation and modeling these relationships ourselves. The second part is intention. We need to provide an opportunity for our leaders to make a commitment to this type of relationship. It won’t happen unless their hearts are into it. The last part is means. We need to continually resource our leaders to enable them to provide those they disciples with the tools to be come more like Jesus.

  2. “I felt like I had never been discipled before”

    I’m struggling to understand this,how could you spend all of that time in church and still feel as if you weren’t discipled?

    Perhaps you have a different definition of what that means than I do…

    I think that we all experience a measure of discipleship through the elements you mentioned,encounter/life experience some more,some less! I experienced a general revelation of God long before I did a special revelation of Him that I found in His word.

    Interesting post! God Bless!

    • Alton, thanks for commenting. What I experienced as a new believer was a more indirect discipleship through continual community with those in my church. Chi Alpha stressed a level of intentionality that I had never seen before and I grew tremendously as a result. It’s that kind of intentionality that we need to provide space for the Spirit to work in the lives of over-scheduled disciples.

      • Thanks Mike!

        I understand better what you meant.

        Perhaps what’s most important isn’t our abilities or knowledge as much as it is our willingness to serve God. For us to take whatever He’s taught us, whatever gifts He’s given us, and put them/it to use in the place we find ourselves. The gospel is a simple thing,we share it with others as a response to the love that God personally conveyed to us, which is what I think ministry is.

        May God continue to bless your ministry and your family!

  3. I enjoyed reading your post. Another way to deal with the issue of sin is to “put on the armor of God,” which is certainly a discipline. There is a relatively new ministry called “Core 300″ which supports local churches and denominations as a men’s ministry organization dedicated to training, freeing and calling Christian men as disciples “out of the stands and into the Arena” as active Warrior-redeemers…to bring healing to the fatherless, freedom to those who are bound, and comfort to those in distress. (

    Why men? According to a Focus on the Family Survey, men are the key fulcrum for the expansion of the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, men have been responsible for the great majority of pain, death, rejection and waste the world has had to endure since the garden…and that is why this ministry is focused on men.

    There is a new book out on this subject entitled “Called to War: Out of the Stands…Into the Arena. The author is Art Hobba. ( It is a “field manual for winning the spiritual war.” And, we ARE in a spiritual war!

  4. I appreciate the intentionality in Chi Alpha! However, I’m still trying to figure out how to make it work outside of that framework–in terms of both being discipled and discipling others. Thoughts?

    • Great to hear from you Rachelle! From “outside the framework,” I’m guessing you mean the college framework–I think the answer is finding a way to stay concurrent with those you’re discipling/being discipled by. College life provdes lots of opportunities to “run into” your discipling community–it comes naturally. I think we need to make decisions on housing, employment, places we hang out, etc. that will continue to prioritize these kinds of relationships.

  5. Pingback: · Discipleship in Progress

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