Eliminate Barriers with this Simple 5-Point Discipleship Plan

Discipleship relationships can feel structured and demanding, which, I believe, is why so many men avoid them.

We didn’t care much for homework when we were students, and now we’re overwhelmed with overdue to-do lists from work. Some of those to-do’s feel burdensome, and others we enjoy, but they all take time and energy. Marriage, family, and church bring additional commitments, including, perhaps, a group Bible study or two. It’s all good stuff. But sometimes the last thing we want is one more “thing” that requires preparation and the burning of intellectual and emotional energy.

There are times when we want or need an in-depth study as a part of a discipleship relationship. The accompanying commitment and hard work are the only way to produce meaningful results. But there are stages in life when the best discipleship relationship is simple and has very few barriers to entry. So how do you make that type of relationship meaningful? After all, if it’s not producing spiritual growth, it’s not discipleship.

One option that’s worked for me is to provide a few basic talking-point options that can guide a discussion. For instance, here’s a five-point plan I’ve used:

  • A problem (some specific challenge you’re facing)
  • A promise (a verse of Scripture to which you’re clinging for hope)
  • A praise (something for which you’re thankful)
  • An action (something you are committing to do)
  • An insight (something you’ve learned that you’d like to share)

The group or individual commits to thinking through these and comes to our meetings ready to discuss at least two of them. Most guys can read over that list and come up with responses to all of them on the spot. It’s also an easy list to review throughout the week. Discussing these topics almost always leads to some deep and fruitful conversations, which, in turn, leads to spiritual growth.

If you’re looking for a simple structure that’s not a barrier to a discipleship commitment, perhaps this approach will help. Feel free to jot these down. Maybe take a photo and save it on your phone. Then, find someone you can discuss them with each week. And, if you use them, let me know how it turns out.

Beyond Symptoms: Getting to the root of our problems

What’s the root of your problem?

I ask because we’ve become a symptoms-focused culture. Maybe it’s always been this way, but it certainly is now. We look at a problem and gravitate toward addressing the most obvious symptoms while doing little for the disease.

I don’t have to look any further than a mirror to find a guilty party.

For instance, my wife and I adopted a couple of kittens about 14 months ago. They lived inside through their first winter, which spoiled them more than a little. They’ve been mostly outside cats since the spring and full-time outside cats since we got a new couch this summer.

Here’s the problem: Because we live in a wooded hillside area, our property is visited by any number of wild critters, including raccoons. These black-eyed bandits are fond of cat food, so they regularly make themselves at home on our back deck. One of my solutions has been to trap them (cat food makes great bait) and then release them several miles from our home. But God has provided a seemingly endless supply of raccoons in our woods, and I’m getting a bit tired of hauling them off.

The root of the problem is that raccoons will always find their way to this free and easy food source. The best solution, of course, is to limit their food supply by not leaving cat food outside after dark. It’s a hassle to remember, but much less of a hassle than becoming a taxi service for the area’s raccoon population.

Maybe we treat the symptoms because we don’t know of a cure for the disease. I can’t eradicate all raccoons or change their desire for cat food. Despite advances in modern medicine, doctors often can’t do much more than address the symptoms of our ailments. Or, maybe we know the cure — which is sometimes true in medicine — but we find it easier or more convenient to treat the symptoms and just live with the disease. That’s why we wear clothes that make us look a little thinner rather than eating healthy food and exercising. Or, maybe we focus on the symptom because it gives the appearance of progress. Perception is better than reality.

For the world to really get better, however, each of us needs to do the hard work of addressing the true root of our problems: We’re sinners.

We can mask that reality and find all sorts of ways to justify it or explain it away, but the truth of it will always gnaw at us and prevent us from living as we’re called to live.

How do we treat this disease? We call on the Great Physician and then follow His prescriptions. Only God can take away our sins. He’ll do it if we ask, but we still have to live as fallen creatures until He brings us home. In the meantime, we can treat our disease through obedience to Him. That includes disciplines like prayer, the study of His Word, fellowship and worship with other believers, and submission to His authority over every aspect of our lives.

Those things aren’t easy, but they are essential to our spiritual health.

Treating the symptoms of our spiritual illness isn’t a bad thing, it’s just incomplete. We don’t have to do one or the other; we can address both at the same time. But if we never address the root of the problem, we’ll spend the rest of our lives treating symptoms that only get worse over time.

A one-sentence response to a jacked-up world

We live in a world that’s a bit … well … jacked up. Perhaps you’ve noticed. The recent massacre in Las Vegas just adds to the evidence. There are many things we can and should do in response to the evil in our world, but the results are out of our control. It’s frustrating and, at times, depressing. Rather than letting it get you down, however, you might try repeating the words of Habakkuk.

You remember Habakkuk, right? He’s one of those Old Testament guys who knew all too much about God’s displeasure with a jacked-up world. Habakkuk 3 records a song by the prophet, and near the end he lists all sorts of legitimate reasons for being worried about the condition of the world. Then, he provides something we need just as much today as he did thousands of years ago: perspective.

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,” he says, “I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:18)

No matter what was going on or would happen, Habakkuk was choosing to rejoice and be joyful – not in the circumstances, but in the Lord who was his savior. The world was out of Habakkuk’s control, but not God’s. Jesus told us something similar in John 16:33 – “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

That doesn’t mean we don’t actively fight against evil. It means we fight with a God-focused perspective on the outcome. It hit me recently that my first response to our jacked-up world should be to have the wisdom-soaked attitude of Habakkuk. Think about whatever irritates you about this world – large things or small – and give it a try …

A madman has fired bullets into a crowd?

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Hurricanes are bashing Texas, Florida and the Caribbean islands …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Earthquakes are crippling regions of Mexico …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

North Korea is going nuclear …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Your favorite team lost again …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

You can’t figure out this feud between President Trump and the NFL …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

You have troubles at work …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

You have troubles at home …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Crime … abortion … racism … politics … protests …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

No matter what might cause you to worry, hand-wring or feel tempted to rant on social media or in person with your friends, there’s something powerful about saying that verse out loud. It’s re-orienting. Calming. Reassuring. Refreshing. It’s a reminder that despite your weakness, nothing is ever out of God’s control. And that’s a great perspective.