Follow Up vs. Discipleship

“I am so frustrated!!!”  My friend exclaimed, “Sometimes she does what I ask her and other times not!  I never know what to expect!”

One thing that can help eliminate this frustration is understanding the difference between follow up and discipleship.

When someone first becomes a Christian, Jesus uses the analogy of a baby to describe them.  What do babies need?  To be fed, cared for, protected, given lots and lots of love… and to have their diapers changed!

In Ephesians Paul describes young Christians like infants tossed on the waves, not very stable and steady.  But in Hebrews 4:12 the believers are admonished, “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God.  You need milk, not solid food.”  Unlike physical babes, maturing isn’t guaranteed for believers!

This is why we are encouraged to grow (Ephesians 4:15, 2 Peter 3:18)  and 1 Peter 2:2 points out how critical God’s Word is for helping us do this.  A basic fact for both physical as well as spiritual growth – you need to eat for this to happen!  But babies often won’t eat on their own.  What a difference it makes when they have someone help them eat and then learn to feed themselves.

When Billy Graham’s crusades started taking off and thousands upon thousands were coming to know Christ, he became concerned.  What was happening to all these people afterwards?  Dawson Trotman also encountered this same dilemma after picking up a hitchhiker.  When he shared the gospel, the guy prayed to receive Christ!  A year later while sharing the gospel again Daws realized this was the same hitchhiker from the year before – his life hadn’t changed one bit.  That’s what got Dawson on the track of seeing the need for follow up.  What a difference it made when someone came alongside a new believer helping him!  Hearing of this, Billy Graham came to Dawson and asked for help developing a plan for “following up” those who became Christians at his crusades.

So follow up is helping a young believer grow.  But what’s the goal?  What are you shooting for as you do this?  And how will you know when you’ve accomplished this goal?

You want to see them become a disciple of Jesus!  The Greek word for disciple, μαθητης literally means a follower and a learner.  Not just one who acquires head knowledge, but one who takes what is being learned and makes it the conduct for her life!  We want her to follow Jesus so she can learn from Him and increasingly become like Him, joining in with what He’s doing, bearing fruit for the Father’s glory!

Now in countries where there is extreme persecution of believers, when someone becomes a Christian, they have to be a disciple because to openly declare they are following the Lord, they have to be ready to die for Him.  But here in cushy, materialistic America that’s a bit more difficult.  Usually there is a process people go through before they are ready to die to themselves and commit to follow Jesus wherever He goes, doing whatever He wants them to do, whenever He wants them doing it.

Also, before someone is ready to say to the Lord, “Not my will, but yours be done” she needs to be able to trust His way really is better!  And that He is able to do a better job guiding her life than she is!  In our broken and fallen world, where people’s trust has been violated and hearts have been wounded this can be hard to do!

So here’s the kicker – you have to be a disciple before you are ready to be discipled!  A disciple is a follower and learner.  To follow someone you have to go where he goes and do what he does – and not just when he happens to be going the way you want to go!  But you won’t come to the point of surrender, where you’re ready to follow Jesus even when your heart is screaming to go the other way, until you learn to trust Him.  So follow up is not only helping someone lay a solid foundation for a lifetime of relating with Jesus, it’s helping her grow in trusting Jesus so she will become His disciple!

This takes us back to our analogy of a baby.  All babies need to eat.  But not all food is equally nutritious!  This is also true spiritually!

Think of devotionals as watered down food. They are akin to someone sharing what God’s been teaching them.  You can learn a lot from listening to others share, but don’t let this take the place of feasting on the pure milk of the Word!  Even brand new baby Christians can do this!  The key is how it’s served!

I don’t think I ever bought a single jar of baby food.  When my son was ready for solid food, I took some of what we were eating, pulverized it with a food processor and fed that to him.  The same food in small bits can be so nourishing to a child!

This is why I love having shared quiet times with new believers.  We’ll start with a sweet psalm of adoration (as opposed to the psalms of lament – which are wonderful!  but harder to digest!) and just select one verse to camp out in.  After they’ve done this for a while, and started incorporating it as a daily part of their life, then they are ready for some meat!

How do you grow in trusting someone?  By experiencing them doing what they say they’ll do.

This is where we realize how very great and precious God’s promises truly are!  God never had to promise us anything!  But he does.  And a key reason why is so we will have opportunity to experience Him being faithful to do what He said He’ll do ~ and grow in trusting Him.  One of the best things you can ever do with someone is help her learn one promise each time you meet, discuss it so she truly understands what God has and hasn’t promised and then encourage her, how will she take God up on this offer so she can experience Him?  Then the next time you meet ask how it went as she did this.

I am telling you folks, this is like miracle grow!!!

(for more specifics on how to do this, see the article in the Helps section entitled “Promise based Follow up”)

Now as she grows at times she may look like she’s following Jesus, but where the rubber meets the road is what does she do when God leads in a different direction than where she really wants to go?  This almost always involves a crisis, where she reaches a fork in the road and a key decision has to be made – will she go Jesus’ way or her own way?  It’s a crisis because it usually involves something very dear to her.

For me, it happened when the Lord asked me to give up my major in college and follow Him studying whatever He wanted me to (and He didn’t tell me at first what that would be!).  Now I’d always been one of those people with a ten year plan.  I was studying broadcast journalism and already hosted a television show for two years and had just been appointed the Assistant Programming Director for a radio station.  How I wrestled as the Lord made it so clear He wanted me to walk away from all this.  Then one day, in July of 1983, I came to the point of surrender, left that job and became “undeclared” in my major.  At that moment I became Jesus’ disciple.  I didn’t know where we were going, but I was committed to following Him each step of the way.

That was one big, “Yes!” that every day needs to be followed by smaller yeses!  And it doesn’t mean I always get it right. But it’s a direction I’m heading and by the grace of God I pray I keep heading throughout the rest of my days!

So you follow up someone until she is ready to follow Jesus wholeheartedly!  And then the adventure of discipling begins, of helping her learn what it means to follow someone she can’t see and helping her persevere even when all hell breaks loose because Satan is so not happy about this!

But oh the joy it brings Jesus!!!  :0)

Processing Poop!

Um, yes.  This can be a messy, stinky, nasty subject.  But it is a reality of life!

From the moment of birth until the day of death, it’s something you have to deal with daily!  Physically as well as spiritually.

Think about it – there are waste products that daily impact our lives and the lives around us that come from living in a broken, fallen world – and from being broken and sinful ourselves.

Thankfully the Lord has given us three precious gifts to help us deal with this.  But if you don’t know about them, if you don’t take advantage of them actively applying them in your life – it won’t take long until things get really crappy!

So processing poop is a key area that needs to be addressed when you are following someone up.  And in truth, if someone hasn’t learned how to do this or isn’t regularly doing this, even in discipleship you have to make it a priority!

GIFT #1:  Jesus!

Because of Jesus, once someone has entered into a relationship with Him and put their trust in Him they are clean – even on their worst day!  Because of Jesus God never sees us as a poopy mess!  We are told in 1 John 1:7, that “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s son, cleanses us from all sin.”  Did you catch that?  ALL sin!  And just in case that’s not enough, He stresses this again in 1 Peter 3:18, Hebrews 9:28, and Romans 6:10!  Jesus didn’t just die for the sins we committed before entering into a relationship with Him, but for ALL of them!

But because we don’t see the way He sees, He also gives us…

GIFT #2:  Confession

Confession is simply agreeing with the Lord that we were wrong!  He promises us in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just, to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Now God gives us His very great and precious promises so we’ll take Him up on them!  If you don’t, it’s like getting a bunch of checks for your birthday you never cash!  Do you ever miss out!

I don’t know about you – but I sin every single day! Even without trying to!  But it’s so easy to just move on, as if it didn’t happen and not deal with it.  That, my friends, is like dropping a load every day and never flushing the toilet!  Even though the Lord sees me as clean and Jesus has paid the penalty for all I’ve done, it won’t take long until that stench starts impacting me!

But what’s worse, in Luke 7:47 Jesus makes it clear that those who are forgiven little, love little.  Now it’s not that there are people out there who just don’t sin much – it’s that without confession, without actively experiencing the Lord forgiving you, it’s so easy to not realize how much you’ve been forgiven – and miss out on appreciating Jesus even more and growing in loving Him more because of this!

You see, when I take the time daily to confess my sins, agreeing with Jesus I’ve blown it, that I am wrong, not only do I have the satisfaction of experiencing Him cleansing my conscience, but I have the opportunity to grow in loving Him even more as I become increasingly aware of how desperately I need Him every single day!

Bet you never knew processing poop could yield such beauty?!  :0)

But this doesn’t just happen!

We have to first understand how vital confession is – I need it for my conscience sake – or I am really a sitting duck for the enemy.  But I also need to understand how it can help me grow in appreciating and loving the Lord more.  This provides the necessary motivation for me to take the time to do this!

Then I need to know how to do it and come up with a plan for doing it.  For myself,  each night before I go to bed I take time to reflect on the day, asking the Lord to bring to mind ways I’ve blown it.  As I write these down I agree with God I was wrong, and thank Jesus for paying the penalty for each sin I committed.  I cannot begin to tell you how much better I feel and how much better I sleep after processing through this with Him.

(In the Heal section there is a story “The Princess and The Pig” illustrating the beauty of confession)

GIFT #3:  Forgiveness

I’ll never forget when my son was an infant, I was sitting in the back of church when he had a total blow out!  We were using cloth diapers at the time and let me just say, they weren’t too great at containing things.  Yep!  I ended up drenched!

Is that not a perfect picture of what sin can do – it doesn’t just impact the one sinning, but it sure can leak out and mess those around you.  When that happens, when we are soiled by the sin of others, God’s gift of forgiveness is so vital for us to get clean.

Now in our culture forgiveness is treated way too lightly and inefficiently.  When you have been negatively impacted by someone else’s sin you need to not just forgive them for what they did, but also for how it made you feel.  If  you look under the helps section you will find some great resources for how to help someone truly learn how to forgive.  This is a KEY area that people have to learn about to survive in this broken world.  Honestly, this is something you want to excel in – daily!  Please note this is a key thing Jesus teaches His disciples when they ask Him how to pray!

And you know, each time I have to forgive someone, I’m reminded how costly it was for Jesus to forgive me.  So here too, processing poop yields beauty!

Don’t let it pile and defile!

Oh Baby!

What’s the difference between follow up and discipleship?

In truth, many people lump them both under discipleship, but I find it really helps to maintain the distinction.

When someone first becomes a Christian there is a need to follow them up.  The Bible uses the metaphor of being born again, and when someone’s just been born we call them a baby.  That’s where we get the term “baby Christian.”   Whereas in discipleship the focus is on helping people grow and become more like Christ as they follow Him, when you do follow up – you are following them, just like babies aren’t expected to follow their moms and dads, their moms and dads have to follow them!!!

So there are totally different expectations going into this, as well as needs to be met!

Think about what a baby needs – to be fed, cleaned, protected, with lots of love lavished on them… Seriously, that last part is THE most important.  When babies fail to receive adequate attention and care many simply give up and die.  Those that don’t are often impacted for the rest of their lives.

But they also aren’t going to last very long if they aren’t fed.  In the very beginning you are providing the sustenance for them, and sometimes you need to be creative in helping them eat!!!

I love to have shared quiet times with baby believers – frequently!!!  In truth, in the very beginning they often get more out of what I share from my quiet time than from their own.  But before you know it they’ve grown to the place where they can start feeding themselves.  That’s why a key goal when you first start following up someone is to help them learn how to feed themselves.  Having a shared quiet time will usually be all we do together until I see them start doing this on their own (granted, I often select specific passages for us to focus on related to what’s going on in their lives!).  But after loving them, their next greatest need is to learn how to feed themselves – adequately and regularly!  (you can read more about this in the article “How to have a shared quiet time” located in the Helps! section).

The second key goal in following someone up is helping them grow in trusting God.  Of course they have to trust God to become a Christian in the first place!   But it can often be one thing to trust Him for your eternal destiny and quite another to trust Him with the details of your life today ~ especially when His ways aren’t your ways!

Helping them get to know who God is and experience Him is so very key for this occurring.  One key gift He’s given to facilitate this are His very great and precious promises!  I have found time spent helping them learn God’s promises and how to apply them in their life is a HUGE help, spurring them on in trusting Him.  (I’ve just placed a second article in the helps section entitled, “Promise Based Follow Up” which explains in more depth how you can help someone with this!)  

Discipleship begins when someone becomes a disciple – as soon as they’ve reached a key point in their walk with God where they are willing to say, “Not my will, but yours be done.”  Usually there is one issue that the Lord will highlight, a fork in the road where they have to decide, “Am I going to go my way or the Lord’s way?” followed by a time of intense wrestling (like Jacob with the angel of the Lord!) that finally ends in surrender.   It can really be helpful when first meeting with someone to share what that looked like for you and then ask if they’ve experienced anything like this.

For me that happened the summer after I became a Christian.  I’d always been incredibly ambitious, with a ten year plan already set in motion!  I was studying Broadcast Journalism and by the end of my freshman year was already the Assistant Programming Director for a local radio station.  In high school I’d hosted a television program for two years, so I was making certain I had extensive experience both in front and behind the camera.  But then the Lord called me to give up my plans and follow Him – to follow Him without knowing where or how He was going to lead.  You’d better believe I wrestled!  By mid-July I finally reached the point of surrender, writing in my Bible, “Tonight I said “Yes” to giving up my plans and following Jesus wherever He leads.”  When I got back to campus that next month I quit my job at the radio station and dropped my major, just taking general ed classes, waiting for the Lord to show me what He wanted me to do.  That was when I had a friend ask Barb if she’d disciple me!  And you better believe after making that sacrifice I was ready to do whatever the Lord (and Barb!) asked me!

In all honesty, I would not have been ready to give up my major, let alone say no to everything for a month the way Barb asked me to (see “The Challenge!” posted August 8th if you’re wondering about this story!) right after becoming a Christian!  God has a timing for all of this!  It’s like a flower blooming – you can’t try to force it without doing damage.  Your expectations for a flower just starting to form has to be different than once it’s fully opened!

I run into people all the time who get so frustrated because they are trying to disciple someone who still needs to be followed up.  “She never does what I ask her to do!” is a common complaint!  Or “I’m just not sure how serious she is.  Sometimes she’ll do exactly what she believes the Lord wants her to but other times that’s not even on her radar screen!”  That’s a key symptom of someone who is still struggling to trust God.  She trusts Him when His way is her way and it makes sense to her, but when that fork in the road comes, she’s not yet sure about giving up what she thinks is best to follow Him.

All too often, people think discipleship is about helping someone become a disciple of Jesus!  But that is the goal of follow up!  Discipleship begins once someone has become a disciple, once they are ready to follow Jesus and learn from Him – not just in a soak-things-into-your-head way, but to make his teachings “the rule of conduct for their life” – not to earn His favor, but to be with Him and increasingly become like Him.  And you don’t have to take my word for it!  The online dictionary defines discipleship as “The state of attempting to follow the example of Jesus or another leader.”  It’s not about making the decision to follow as much as once you’ve decided to follow learning how to do this!

So follow up is helping people come to the point where they are ready to head in Jesus’ direction.  Discipleship is coming alongside someone as they are heading in Jesus’ direction to help them persevere and learn what He wants them to, so they are increasingly transformed into His image for His glory!  And then able to help others in this way too!

If you can understand the goals of follow up and how they differ from the goals of discipleship can that ever help you! And them!  And save you both from a ton of frustration!

So here’s my big suggestion for the day  – Don’t expect a baby to follow you up a 14er!  And don’t get upset if she’s easily sidetracked!  Love her!  Feed her!  Help her get to know and experience Her daddy!  If you do, it shouldn’t be too long till she’s ready to start following Him – even when it involves jumping off cliffs!

Where Are You?

The very first question the Lord asks Adam and Eve after they sin is, “Where are you?”

He isn’t asking because He needs to know the answer.  1 John 3:20 makes it clear that God knows everything!  Psalm 139 reveals He knows us even better than we know ourselves!

So why did God ask this?  Because Adam and Eve need to know!  It’s so important to understand where you are so you can see your need and be ready for help.  And ever since the Fall we all need help!  The problem is we aren’t always aware of this.

So that’s also the first thing I ask the first time I meet with someone.  If someone has come up to me and requested, “Would you disciple me?”  a key way I “ask” this is by giving them a copy of a simple Bible study to complete called “What is a disciple?”  (you’ll find a copy posted under the “Hello!” section on this blog).  This study helps people discover what Jesus says about being a disciple and then asks them to consider in light of what they’ve learned from this study, whether they truly are one or not.

Just because someone is a Christian, doesn’t necessarily mean they are a disciple or are ready to be discipled.  If you do the study you’ll see that a disciple is a learner and a follower.  To truly follow someone you have to go where he goes and be where he is – even when that’s not where you want to be.

It’s easy to follow Jesus when he’s going the way I naturally want to go.  But a disciple follows God just like Jesus did – even when she has to say, “Not my will, but yours be done”  regardless of cost.

This doesn’t mean someone has to be super mature and have it all together!  Remember being a disciple is a direction, not a designation or a position attained.  I’ve seen brand new believers who are ready to follow Jesus wherever He leads. You especially see this in countries where Christians face severe persecution.  Under those circumstances, no one becomes a Christian unless they are ready to die.

But if you try to disciple someone and they haven’t yet truly surrendered their will, their hopes, their dreams to the Lord, you can really be setting yourself up for frustration.  What that person needs is to be followed up, to have someone come alongside and help them get to know God, understand what He’s promised and start actively taking Him up on those promises so they can grow in trusting Him until they are ready to commit themselves to following Him wholeheartedly.

I’ve found it’s incredibly telling how long it takes a person to complete this study, that’s why I always say, “Let me know when you finish it and we’ll plan to get together then!”  If they are ready to be discipled I usually hear back from them quickly.  Sometimes I never hear back.  Other times I don’t hear back until they are ready to move forward!  I will not commit to meeting one on one weekly with someone to disciple them until they’ve finished this.  I’ve found it really does help us get off to a good start!

This study is also an excellent starting place for those with a heart to disciple others.  Remember, you have to be a disciple to help someone become a disciple because when you meet one on one with them, it’s not “let me tell you what you need to do,” but rather, as Paul says, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.”

Every time I give this study to someone to do,  I complete it again myself.  Because being a disciple is a direction, I find it so helpful to keep asking myself this question.  It’s easy to get side tracked, to shift focus and not realize it.  Does this ever spur me on to keep persevering myself!  And every time I complete it there’s always new treasure, always something the Lord wants to say to my heart through it.

So where are You?  Consider yourself invited to do this Bible study.  And if you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts!