“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
Here’s what strikes me about this passage: Jesus grew spiritually but that was not the only way Jesus matured as He grew into adulthood.
This has taken a long time for me to grasp. I used to operate on the assumption that if I continued to pray, read the Bible, and take steps of faith, I would naturally become a mature godly man. It has not happened that way. No matter how well I know my Bible, I still don’t know how to cook, I’m always late, I oversleep and I have no idea what’s going on in my checkbook.
(Please note that it is not that the Bible does not discuss these things either directly or by implication. The problem is not knowing how to search the scriptures with a grid to see principles of life wisdom.)
By extension I assumed the same about those I disciple: If I gave them enough spiritual content I would, on the other side of the process, churn a godly widget out of the discipleship factory. I don’t assume that any more; I have too many dysfunctional spiritual children running around.
This raises the question, what else could we or should we teach those we disciple besides the typical theological lessons and content that might contribute to them growing into godly men or women, or to put it another way, growing “in wisdom and stature and favor with God and men.” I will stay away from the question “what else should we teach?” and opt for the easier “What else could we teach?” allowing me to suggest anything I want with plausible deniability—“I never said you should teach that.” But guaranteed, somewhere within here are probably some “shoulds,” like this first topic.
EMOTIONAL AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
One critical area of development that I had never considered was emotional and social maturity. Consider this question: Could you be knowledgeable of the Bible, have a heart for God, and yet be socially immature? Second question: Would not your lack of social development (let’s say you had the behavior of a 10-year-old) affect your spirituality? And how would that affect the degree of community you were able to both contribute to and receive? Do you see the point?
Besides God’s Spirit and His Word, community is unequivocally the most essential ingredient of spiritual development. But what happens if people are relationally stunted or can’t make significant emotional connections with others? Now you have a context for understanding the book Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud. In the book, Cloud discusses four issues of emotional and social maturity that are important growth components of maturation. For the most part they have foundations in the scriptures, if you had known where to look or had been thinking in the category of “emotional maturity.” But of course most people do not. You’ll also find ideas in the book based on observation. There is always wisdom to be gained from someone who sat for years with a clipboard observing the behavior of sociopaths. And the book of Proverbs gives a solid biblical foundation for wisdom acquired from ontological (the way things are) observation — what are those darn ants doing now?
So, if you are at least reasonably satisfied with that rationale, here are the four issues that Cloud sites that need development if a person is going to move on to relational adulthood.
“Bonding is the ability to establish an emotional attachment to another person,” says Cloud. “It is the ability to relate to another on the deepest level.” Bonding needs to take place on both a personal level and a professional level. We all need concentric circles of people with which we have relationships that go below the surface. Are you doing things to build attachments and understanding? How committed are you to others? Can you build attachments but also maintain healthy limits? The answers to these questions give clues to a person’s ability to bond. There are a lot of gifted people who have consistent morning devotions who have not developed the ability to bond and connect with others.
Henry Cloud makes the following statement: “Boundaries, in a broad sense, are lines or things that mark a limit, bound, or border. In another sense boundaries are the realization of our own person apart from others. This sense of separation forms the basis of personal identity. It says what we are and what we are not, what we will choose and what we will not choose, what we will endure and what we will not, what we feel and what we will not feel, what we like and what we do not like, and what we want and what we do not want.” Boundaries define us. Do you have the ability to say “no” to others? Do you take personal responsibility for the poor choices and actions of others? Do you manage your time and money boundaries well or do you spend more than you have? These are boundary issues.
SORTING OUT GOOD AND BAD
This developmental task is the ability to tolerate and deal with the simultaneous existence of good and bad in this world, in others, and in ourselves. In other words, emotional immaturity causes us to continually define and label people and things as either “all good” or “all bad.” Can you articulate both your strengths and weaknesses? Can you see the good and the bad of organizations? The good and bad of your parents? Can you manage the gap between the ideal and the real? These are issues that relate to managing the split between good and bad.
Think about the genre of some of the Proverbs. Have you ever noticed how one thing is stated and then, almost immediately, the exact opposite is said? The Proverbs, even in form, are structured to develop wisdom. Wisdom is not always black and white, sometimes it is found in antithesis: holding two opposite truths in dynamic tension like the strings on a tennis racket. The point is, while not overt, the concept can be found in scripture. But even if it couldn’t, it would still be a true observation that the emotionally infantile put a black or white hat on everything, and therefore valuable wisdom on emotional growth.
“Becoming an adult is the process of moving out of a ‘one-up/one-down’ relationship and into a peer relationship to other adults,” Dr. Cloud says. Becoming an adult is as- suming the authority position of life, which is an important part of the image of God. Can you be peers where it is appropriate? Are you able to submit to those you see as under you? What is your ability to take criticism as reality and not as a comment as to whether you are good or bad?
In all four of these areas (bonding, boundaries, sorting out good/bad, adulthood), you may want to refer to Dr. Cloud’s book and look at the skill sections under each task. It may give you some ideas on what you might want to share with a disciple. Reading the Cloud library doesn’t make a person competent to counsel; even when I can identify an issue, I’m not really sure what I need to do to change it. But my awareness helps me seek sanctification and discernment from the Spirit as to how I might progress, and causes me to embrace opportunities to grow rather than avoid them. So, as a mentor, simply making your disciple aware of an issue, and pointing them toward a resource like a book, is a valuable and sufficient service.
Here is where you want to answer the question of whether Jesus is a Republican or Democrat and encourage them to “Rock the vote.” Well, almost.
The events in the Bible take place within the context of a dominant political motif. Many issues of church history have risen and fallen on differing views of how the kingdom of God interacts with the body politic. We might not be a nation without, whether right or wrong, some politically weighted Puritan preaching. And then there’s this whole church and state wall of separation issue. All that to say, in the course of a long-term discipleship relationship, it’s probably not a bad idea to discuss political issues. Not convert. Discuss.
Personally I never thought about politics until my first campus director discussed it with me. In my interactions with him, I learned what moral issues eclipsed the political arena, and why people felt strongly about those issues. I developed a better understanding of the relationship of church and state in this country and how that issue was being played out on our campus. I became informed on what my rights were as a Christian and to recognize when they were being violated, as well as a godly way to protest. I learned how to become more informed on issues and candidates, and from his example, I have felt a sense of duty to this day to cast my vote on Election Day. I am grateful he chose to tread into these waters with me, and grateful for how he did it.
The role this country plays in spreading the gospel to the world, and the role that politics plays on the issue of religious freedom, speak loudly to the peril of avoiding the topic. However, there are cautions to be observed.
Because parties and politics can be a stumbling block for the gospel, this is an issue for much later on in the discipleship process, and even then you need to be wise, as your opinions can end up being broadcast along the ministry back-channel frequencies. You can be informative without being partisan. You can address an issue without getting deeply into your own personal beliefs. If your ministry were to be seen as politically partisan, for some this would be a hindrance and such a thought should make you fearfully careful of who, when, and how you talk about politics.
If you find it difficult to discuss these issues without planting seeds of animosity, bitterness, or malice, you should take it off the table for discussion. On the other hand, issues that divide can provide a wonderful stage to demonstrate charity and grace, not witnessed in the world. How you speak about those with whom you disagree is the one thing your disciple will commit to memory.
ART, MUSIC, AND CULTURE
Non-Christians tend to take music and art at face value, but both deeply manifest the soul, ideas, and beliefs of man and society. Consider Michelangelo’s great sculpture David: he is depicted by Michelangelo as uncircumcised, looking off into distance (the future?), bold, powerful (oversized hands), confident, and enormous in stature. Michelangelo is making a statement about the new autonomy of man birthed in the Renaissance, no longer in need of God.
And then there is the work of Jackson Pollock: random paint thrown on a canvass, creating art. After all, doesn’t this represent the randomness of who we are? A product of brute random forces.
Or what do The Matrix movies have to say about the true nature of spiritual reality?
Music, movies, art, and literature are an enormous part of our culture, and shape the beliefs of the world around us. At some point our disciples must turn a Christian eye of discernment to these issues, especially as they consume iPods full it.
We need to give our disciples a template, or introduction to these issues so they begin to develop the muscles of discernment in regards to popular and artistic culture (which really are separate cultures but have been recently layered together by Photoshop).
A Bible study structured around the discussion of a movie is a good way to begin awakening students to the philosophical roots of pop culture. Francis Schaeffer’s book How Shall We Then Live is a more in-depth look at the history of thought expressed through art. On issues of popular culture I would also suggest getting them an issue of Risen or Relevant magazine, which deal with the music, movies, and stars of popular culture but from a Christian framework.
For years Cru has made time management a standard part of our discipleship, realizing that few college students do it well, and if we didn’t teach something on the topic no one would ever show up on time to our Bible studies. Time management is a life skill, and to be a poor manager of time jeopardizes the full impact we could have for the kingdom of God. Our life, every minute of it, is a stewardship.
Money and how to manage it is also a critical life skill. I usually teach this as students are ready to graduate so they will remember to support me, or the ministry. Actually, the real reason is that money is a hypothetical concept until students graduate and so I make discipleship in this area a part of a package of equipping them for graduation.
How people control their money, time, and eating is evidence of their self-control, and the exercise of control in these areas usually has a positive influence on spiritual growth. So, any life issue that requires stewardship and self-control is a worthy topic for discipleship. Perhaps a whole semester could be dedicated to the topic: How to Use a Credit Card!
It should also be noted that some of the greatest barriers to going into the ministry, or reasons for leaving, relate to a failure in handling basic life skills, such as How to Use a Credit Card!
Increasingly students are lacking a host of basic skills that keep them living like children, though they may be maturing in Christ. A simple, “Dude, you need to learn how to tie a tie,” may be sufficient, but I see nothing wrong with discussing life skills for a week or two with an advanced small group, perhaps beginning in Daniel 1, where Daniel is distinguished for his social proficiency. To address the issue without devoting copious time, get them a copy of Things You Should Know by Now by Jason Boyett. Just go to relevantbooks.com
“Just picture an outboard motor on a boat and you get a pretty good picture of how the bacterial flagellum functions, only the flagellum is far more incredible. The flagellum’s propeller is long and whip-like, made out of a protein called flagellin . This is attached to a drive shaft by hook protein, which acts as a universal joint, allowing the propeller and drive shaft to rotate freely. Several types of protein act as bushing material (like a washer /donut) to allow the drive shaft to penetrate the bacterial wall (like the side of a boat) and attach to a rotary motor... Not only that, but the propeller can stop spinning within a quarter turn and instantly start spinning the other direction at 10,000 rpms.
The flagellum’s molecular motor requires 50 proteins, all working in synchrony, to function. Like a partially constructed mousetrap, the flagellum would be worthless and perish unless all 50 proteins were fully developed.”
This is from Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box . The irrefutable point is that cells contain complexity that could not have evolved incrementally. Who knew? Or here is something interesting from astronomy. Stephen Hawking states, “If the rate of expansion, one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million, million, the universe would have recollapsed before it ever reached its present size.” Add to that this conversational gem: if the gravitational force were altered by 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent, neither Earth nor our Sun would exist—and you would not be here reading this.
Science is often seen as antithetical to faith, but recently science that affirms the presence of intelligent design in the universe is getting more attention. In a country where any product or experience is only valid if a Ph.D. says so, this is of great spiritual encouragement for students. It also protects and arms them with information to handle the spiritually adverse climate of the campus.
To this end it can be helpful to give your disciples something to read that contains some synthesis of faith and science. Lee Stroebel’s book A Case for a Creator is excel- lent as are any Hugh Ross books (reasons.org). You can also find shorter articles at leaderu.com. and more laymen friendly articles at probe.org. In most cases you don’t have to be a lab rat to understand what they are talking about. In an academic environment, you should expose your students to some academic information that points in the direction of God, as most of what they hear points in the other direction.
Another important reason for discussing academic issues, is the need to teach your disciple how to integrate their faith with their field of study. To keep academics quarantined from issues of faith produces an unhealthy duality.
THEOLOGY AND READING
In one sense all that we learn about God in discipleship comes under the category of theology. But beyond the basics that equip believers, are deeper waters and streams branching off into a variety of disciplines. What I’ve found is that most Christians read and study more deeply if they can connect to the right topic. Find out what they want to read. Once they’re hooked, it will invariably lead to more reading, which will lead to great progress in their faith.
For example, every now and then you find a student who actually likes systematic theology, meaning studying subjects such as sin, angels, Satan, etc. Such interest is rare, so after you have performed a battery of psychological tests, you might pass along a book on basic theology.
Some students like literature so getting them a book such as Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller can give them a taste for this type of writing. Or, there are always students who can’t get enough apologetics, so I drop a little C.S. Lewis, Lee Stroebel, or Josh McDowell into their beckoning baby beaks. Then there are the men’s and women’s books and studies (anthropology) which surface a felt need in many young Christians. And, while not a discipline of theology, finding a good biography can also get them reading. For example there are a dozen biographies of Christian athletes that are ideal material for any disciple into sports.
Evangelism, worship, music, social issues, art, even Christian rock stars: odds are good you can make some match between your disciple’s interests and excellent Christian books. Peruse one of those Christian Mustard Seed bookstores and, heck, show that your love has no bounds and get them a “Jesus Loves You” eraser while you’re there.
What interested me most about the guy who led me to Christ was seeing how he related to his wife and kids. Any time our disciples observe us in different relational dynamics they are deeply influenced, or as the apostle Paul puts it:
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
Be intentional and thoughtful as to what relational contexts you can bring your disciple into.
There is a whole field of study dedicated to helping people lead well. In light of both the importance of our mission, reaching lost people with the gospel, and the complex- ity of it, Cru has mined this field of study for principles that can increase one’s capacity to lead. For example here are four critical responsibilities that leaders must grow in their ability to perform:
The full list and explanation of these principles can be found on any of the 2.3 billion Cru websites floating around in cyberspace, or in the chapter on leadership. Teaching your disciple principles of leadership may not seem that spiritual, but it provides them tools that can be applied to leading in a spiritual setting. The reality is that many churches and ministries have failed because they were managed (led) poorly.
Cru has never claimed or purposed to teach everything that a disciple should know. It is purposely selective and sensitive to our distinct calling and mission: “Turning lost students into Christ centered laborers.” Because of this calling we must always be careful that our discipleship doesn’t veer far off course, or chase too many rabbit trails (even worthy ones). But within a long lasting discipleship relationship, there is ample latitude to visit these topics, and others I’ve failed to mention, as each makes a contribution to our disciples growing in “wisdom and stature and favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
Individual Bible study and prayer have their place in spiritual growth. However, learning through a community can lead to deeper, more widespread life change.
How do you have a difficult conversation with others? Watch this talk from author and speaker Timothy Muehlhoff of Biola University.
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