Spiritual Formation (SF)
Spiritual formation is the dimension most associated with discipleship, and rightly so. It is the critical starting point and energizes all other dimensions. In the Discipleship Dynamics model we have identified eight outcomes that are indicative of the disciple’s level of spiritual formation.
SF 1. Love the Word of God
Disciples are absorbed with the Bible (2 Tim. 3:15-17) and have a good working knowledge of its contents. They are able to find answers to their questions in the Bible.
SF 2. Pray Without Ceasing
Mature disciples have developed the capacity to communicate with God continually, regardless of the context that they find themselves in. They have developed the capacity that Paul speaks about in I Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing”.
SF 3. Worship in Spirit and Truth
Disciples are called to worship God under all circumstances. It is easy to worship when we are in the company of others who are singing God’s praises, but it is quite another challenge to be worshipping him when I am working at my job, or when I am not feeling well (John 4:24; 1 Th. 5:16-22).
SF 4. Listen to the Voice of God
Jesus taught His disciples that His sheep are able to hear His voice and to follow Him (John 10:27). This is a skill that is developed over time. As disciples grow in maturity they are able to discern the voice of God and differentiate it from all the other voices that demand their attention (Ps. 5:7-8; 32:8-9).
SF 5. Pursue Biblical Principles for Living
Another characteristic of discipleship is a passion to understand how the Bible applies to contemporary issues in the world today. Disciples display passion for biblical applications to life. Deut. 6, Psalms 19 and 119, Proverbs 2-4 and many other passages tell us that disciples want to know the “ways of God” – the biblical principles for living in all dimensions of life.
SF 6. Share the Gospel Wisely with Others
Disciples desire to share the Gospel with others in a way that draws people closer to the Christ rather than pushing them further away (I Pet. 3:15-16). Sharing wisely means we can convey the Gospel story and out testimony with clarity and humility.
SF 7. Enjoy Fellowship in the Local Church
Christian discipleship is a community experience wherein we allow our brothers and sisters in the faith to speak into our lives (I Co. 12; Rom. 12:1-8; Phil. 2:1-4). Seeking out this fellowship with others is critical. This is more than weekly attendance in a worship meeting.
SF 8. Cultivate Solitude
In today’s fast-paced world, sitting quietly and pondering the character and works of our God can be challenging. We have come to associate worship with music and demonstrative praise. But learning to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) is something that Jesus practiced when He withdrew from His disciples to be alone (Lk. 6:12). Moses urged God’s people to think deeply about the Law and God told Joshua to ponder the Law day and night as he led the people of Israel (Deut. 6; Josh.1). Being able to sit alone and consider the magnificence of the God of the universe is a powerful discipline.
Personal Wholeness (PW)
The second dimension of discipleship places attention on the realities in our own hearts, issues that reveal the level of emotional health. When the Bible says to “love our neighbors as ourselves”…and “no one ever hated his own body, but feeds and cares for it…” (Mt. 22:37-40; Eph. 5:28-29) we see that that reasonable self-care is part of being whole. We have identified eight discipleship outcomes that deal with the issue of personal wholeness from the Scriptures.
PW 1. Physical Health
Our bodies are referred to in Scriptures as “the temple of the Holy Spirit” and we are responsible to “glorify God in our body” (I Corinthians 6:19). Our bodies have replaced the Tabernacle in the Wilderness of the Old Testament as the place where God resides through the New Covenant. It therefore makes sense that we are admonished to take care of our bodies: this is the place where God resides!
There are several areas that we can monitor to promote this aspect of discipleship. This includes our Body Mass Index (BMI), our sleep habits, our exercise disciplines, our eating disciplines, etc.
PW 2. Positive Self-Image
Christian humility includes developing a healthy image of who you are in Christ (Ro. 8:28-39; Eph. 2:10; Col. 3:1-4). Many cultural and social values are in conflict with biblical values and make people feel less important than others. There are values about what color your skin or your hair should be, how tall or good-looking you should be, or how smart or talented you are. Disciples understand that they are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28; 2 Co. 3:17-18). Disciples need to be able to look into the mirror each day and rejoice in what they see.
PW 3. Gratitude
When Jesus healed a group of ten lepers (Luke 17) only one of them came back to express his gratitude for this amazing miracle of grace! Jesus was clearly perplexed that only one came back and asked him, “where are the other nine”? Disciples are grateful people rejoicing in the profound blessings they enjoy every day (I Th. 5:18).
PW 4. Manage Negative Emotions
Daily we experience happiness, anger, frustration, fear, embarrassment, and amusement. These emotions typically trigger responses that are either normal or sinful. Learning to manage our negative emotions is one of the tasks that the Holy Spirit helps us with. He fosters affections of joy, peace and patience when negative emotions flood in (Gal. 5:22-23; Phil. 4:4-13) to make us gloomy and sad.
PW 5. Hope for the Future
The Resurrection of Jesus is the source of our eternal hope, as we see in our Lord a preview of our future! We are confident not only in our eternal destiny, but are the work of the Holy Spirit in our life today (I John 3:1-2; I Pet. 1:3-4). Learning to live in faith when we don’t know what the future might bring or what could happen to us as everything changes is a sign of a mature disciple of Christ (Heb. 11-12). It is easy to forget that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28) and to begin to doubt that the future is, indeed, secure in his hands.
PW 6. Clean Conscience
Spirit-filled disciples have to war against various spiritual attacks against their inner well being (2 Co. 10:1-6). In this discipleship outcome we are faced with spiritual attacks from our past that attempt to rob us of our peace. Spirit-filled disciples have learned to live with a clean conscience. There is no one alive who can accuse them of wrongs that they have not tried to make right (Ro. 12:9-19). Disciples have peace in their hearts about their past (I John 3:21-23).
PW 7. Self-discipline
Paul and Peter tell us that self-discipline is one of the fruit that the Holy Spirit is actively cultivating in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23; 2 Pet. 1:6). Research provides us with insights into the benefits of delayed gratification. Being able to postpone immediate gratification in order to enjoy a greater reward later has been associated with a wide variety of, mental and physical benefits.
PW 8. Manage Personal Resources
The way that we manage our income, expenditures and debt commitments is an excellent barometer of maturity. When money becomes so important that it enslaves us to work too many hours a week, or when we live beyond our means we are in a zone of spiritual danger (Mt. 6:24-34). When Paul says that we shouldn’t owe anyone anything, except to love one another (Romans 13:8-10) he was giving us sound spiritual advice!
Healthy Relationships (HR)
The third dimension of discipleship focuses our attention on our relationships with others, the practical expressions of “love your neighbor as yourself.” We have identified eight discipleship outcomes from the Scriptures that deal with issues of healthy relationships.
HR 1. Love Intimately and Unselfishly
People who have experienced hurts in their relationships tend to resist close relationships with others. It becomes difficult for them to allow people to come close to them because in their experience, people who come close tend to cause pain and bring disappointment. The typical response for such people is to keep others at a distance. But this is not healthy. In the kingdom of God we need the fellowship and support from the family of God. Learning to love intimately, even when we have been wounded is a sign of emotional health and maturity (I Co 13).
HR 2. Forgiveness
Jesus calls disciples to forgive others, as God has forgiven them (Mt. 6:7-15; Lk. 7:41-50). Forgiveness has received a lot of interest from researchers in the past few years. It is now widely understood as a healthy personal response to hurt, as well as a fundamentally important spiritual-theological concept. The capacity to forgive requires that someone have strong inner strength and a willingness to be humble in a relationship that has been scarred by painful interactions.
HR 3. Marital Intimacy and Unity
The marital bond is the closest human relationship that any of us could enter into (Gen. 2:23-25; Mt. 19:1-6). The development of intimacy and unity in marriage requires a maturing set of skills that include outcomes from all dimensions in this assessment. One could say that the level of marital intimacy is a good barometer of progress in all of the other dimensions.
HR 4. Manage Sexuality
This is an obvious interpersonal challenge facing every person. The ancient Israelites faced pagan idolatry that expressed itself in sexual immorality. New Testament believers needed to learn stewardship of their bodies as they came to faith (Hosea 10-12; 1 Co. 6; 2 Co. 6). From adolescence to the point where we finally settle with our life partner, we typically face many struggles.
HR 5. Sensitive to the Marginalized
Another dimension that one does not often see in the discipleship literature is the example of Jesus relating to those who are rejected by society (Matt. 25; Luke 7). It is easier to associate with those who fit into our concept of “normality”. But Jesus typically associated with the abnormal, the poor, the outcasts and those who lived on the fringes (Luke 19). The marginalized include these groups and can extend to any group we place “outside.”
HR 6. Hospitable
One of the signs of spiritual maturity (and a qualification for spiritual leadership in the church) is the ability to extend hospitality to others, especially those who would not be able to reciprocate the kindness (I Tim. 3). In a world where it is much easier to live in your own private cocoon so no one will disturb you, the Christian virtue of hospitality offers an alternative. The New Testament church was known for their hospitality where people built friendships around mealtimes (Acts 2:42-47). Using your home to welcome others is a valuable ministry.
Vocational Clarity (VC)
The fourth dimension of discipleship reminds us that the Holy Spirit is poured out on all believers and that it is not only the clergy who are called of God (Acts 2:4ff; Eph. 4:1-16). The word vocation means “calling.” The believer has heard from God about their specific purpose in the kingdom. Every person who is a follower of Jesus Christ has been entrusted with a unique set of gifts and talents that they must invest in service to God and others (Rom. 12:1-8; Eph. 2:10). These callings include our daily work, but often are broader and deeper than how we earn our daily bread. Believers each have a specific vocation in which they offer unique contributions to God’s world. We have grouped eight outcomes under this dimension.
VC 1. Know the Dignity of Our Labor
Work is not the result of the curse in Eden (Gen. 3). God invited Adam and Eve to work with Him to create value, to produce crops, and to manage the earth – before they sinned (Gen. 1-2). Eden was full of grains, fruits, and metals for creative humans to develop and enjoy. God cares about our work because it gives us a purpose in life and contributes to God’s glory, the good of others and the expansion of His kingdom (Matt. 25).
VC 2. Sense of Calling
Allied to the importance of work is a real sense of calling, an understanding that whatever I do, I am engaged in Kingdom work (Co. 3:17-24). It is an acknowledgement that God has called me for a particular purpose.
VC 3. Insights into Gifts and Talents
One component of Vocational Clarity is developing understanding of your gifts and talents, your strengths and weaknesses. In order to fully understand my calling and my work it is important to recognize the spiritual gifts and skill sets that God has invested in my life, the skills that He expects me to invest in His kingdom (Ro. 12:1-8; I Co. 12:18-19).
VC.4. Mission with Spouse
My calling is integrally tied to the person with whom God has joined me (Eph. 5:22-33; I Pet. 3:1-7). Our ministries complement one another as we learn to minister in harmony even if we possess different callings.
VC 5. Teamwork
An important part of my vocational clarity is the realization that there are others that have gifts and talents that are meant to augment my ministry. I cannot function and thrive alone. I have to learn that my calling can only be effective when it is done as part of a team (I Cor. 12, 14).
VC 6. Seek the Common Good
The Bible commands believers to love their enemies, pray for those in authority and do all they can to live at peace with all, as they witness for the Lord (Rom. 12-13; I Tim. 2). Communities need social capital in order to function well. Social capital is the benefits that a community receives when individuals and groups cooperate together and serve one another. In the absence of social capital people demand more services from government, and if that is not possible, the community suffers. When we look at the life of Jesus we see how many times he went about “doing good” (Acts 10:38). He provided food for thousands who were hungry, he augmented the wine supply at a wedding, and he even healed people who didn’t even come back to say thank you. Disciples seek the common good because this is what Jesus would have done.
VC 7. Mentoring Others
As disciples grow in maturity, the time comes for them to mentor those who are young in the faith in the development of their callings and skills. This reflects Paul’s teaching to Timothy when he encouraged him to commit the Good News to faithful followers who in turn would be able to teach others (II Timothy 2:2). We asked you to evaluate your capacity and readiness to enter into such a mentorship role.
Economics and Work (EW)
The last of the five discipleship dimensions is the one that most people find surprising. Earlier we already indicated that God is vitally interested in our work and that we need to become aware of our calling in Christ. In this dimension we assert that the workplace and participation in the economy (where goods and services are exchanged to supply the needs of our communities) is the context where we live out The Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), the Great Commandment (Mt. 22:37-40) and our personal mission (Eph. 2:10). This is where we impact society, contribute to the common good and where we work to create a better world. This is our mission field where we are salt and light to the world. We define work as all meaningful and moral activity apart from leisure or rest. Paid or volunteer, leadership or labor, home or office, factory or field, we are all called to work. The economy is the moral and social exchange of value, locally and globally.
Some disciples may not be working in the traditional sense of the word. They may be students, or persons who volunteer their time for a community service, or are household managers who care for the next generation (or even their parents’ generation). All of these activities need to be understood as “work”; it is meaningful activity that adds value to the household economy. Although the outcomes in this section may appear to be aimed at paid employment, they must also be applied to these categories of work.
We have identified six discipleship outcomes in this dimension.
EW 1. Workplace ethics
Jesus declared that even unbelievers should praise the good works of his followers (Mt. 5:13-16). This begins with our work ethics. Businesses, factories, organizations, government offices, police departments, and restaurant chains all have the same challenge: to provide the best services in cost-effective and honest ways. The pressure to “bend the rules” or to use questionable methods to perform our jobs is always present and we have to wage spiritual warfare against those temptations.
EW 2. Mission at Work
The second outcome reflects your sense of mission at work. Your workplace is the spiritual field into which you have been sent to labor (Mt. 9:37-10:1). This is the context to which God has called you and where you can bring a sense of God’s presence to the people with whom you work. We asked you about your sense of calling to your workplace.
EW 3. Understand Your Contribution to the Economy
In order to be a channel of God’s wisdom and grace to your workplace you have to have a good understanding of the industry that you are functioning in. You should become knowledgeable about the changes taking place, the challenges that the industry faces and how to increase the competitive advantage of your company. You should also know how your work creates value in people’s lives, whether increasing efficiency, encouraging creative thinking, or simply bringing delight through wholesome expressions of creativity. This is as true for the person making pizzas as it is for the computer programmer.
EW 4. Creativity and Innovation
When I know how my industry (my workplace) works, I am in a position to become a channel of God’s grace in that context. The Holy Spirit can give me insights (Eph. 3:14-21; Phil. 1:9-10) into a better way of doing the work, a quicker way of processing materials, a more efficient way of completing a process, or better way to organize the work environment. There are numerous ways that I can be a blessing to my organization. God wants to use the creative insights that he has invested in me to improve my workplace.
EW 5. Asset to My Work Colleagues
As I do my work unto the Lord (Eph. 6:5-9; Co. 3:23-24), God wants me to be an asset to my colleagues at work. The way I do my work, the way I interact with my colleagues and my commitment to excellence are important elements in my discipleship process. My presence should bring a sense of God’s peace to the workplace.
EW 6. Stewards of the Environment
When God created the earth in all its magnificent beauty he gave Adam and Eve the task of managing its diversity and caring for its beauty (Gen. 1-2; Ps. 8). David made sure that we understood that the earth belongs to the Lord, including everything that is in it (Psalm 24:1). This was such an important verse that Paul decided to quote David to reinforce its importance (I Corinthians 10:26). Spirit-empowered disciples take care of the environment because it is the handiwork of our God. It is also a sign of the coming Kingdom, when the earth and the heavens will be renewed completely and we will worship and work in perfect harmony. The Holy Spirit in us is the “down payment” (Eph. 1:14) of our future; therefore, when we care for creation, it is a sign of the future to all around us.