My latest book, Transformational Discipleship, has been released. I coauthored the book with my friends Michael Kelley and Philip Nation. We are prayerful and hopeful that the Lord will use the book to help ministry leaders think through discipleship in their unique settings. Below is part one of an interview we did for the book. Part two will run next week.
Why do you feel strongly about this particular discipleship message?
(Eric) First and foremost, because “making disciples” is the calling laid on the life of the Christian. It’s what a Christian is supposed to be about, both as a disciple and as one participating in the process of discipling others. Of all the things Jesus might have said when He ascended into heaven, His marching orders to the church involved making disciples. But many of us choose to settle for behavioral modification or the transfer of intellectual knowledge rather than seeking and trusting the Holy Spirit to change people at their core.
(Philip) The charge of making disciples isn’t a passive one. God has called us in the church to take an active role in both our own discipleship and in the discipleship of those around us. It’s a process that we’re all on – as Billie Hanks has said, “I’ve never met a mature Christian, only maturing Christians.” We want to help people move into that journey for their own sake and for the sake of those around them.
(Michael) This particular message about discipleship is helpful, I think, because we are attempting to articulate the balance between doing and believing. We want to embrace that ultimately only the Holy Spirit can transform an individual. It’s His work, and yet we are to play an active role in that work. While we don’t transform ourselves or anyone else, we can try and create an environment, in our lives and our churches, that is ready to embrace the work of the Spirit.
Let’s address the title of the book. Why is the book called Transformational Discipleship?
(Eric) Both of the words in the title are significant. Every person in the world is a disciple because everyone follows someone or something. That’s what a disciple is – a follower. But while every person is a disciple, not every person is transformed.
What we are really after as followers of Christ is transformation. That’s the process in which something actually becomes something else. So growing in Christ isn’t just putting on a new set of habits or behaving differently; it’s deeper than that.
Being a disciple is simply following Jesus to a greater and greater degree. And if we are following Him, then we are throughout our lives becoming something different. The Holy Spirit and He alone does this transforming work in the hearts of people. What our job is, as church leaders, isn’t to transform; it’s to set the conditions that are most conducive for real transformation to occur.
(Michael) In the book, we liken this kind of partnership to water skiing. The person behind the boat isn’t the one who lifts himself of the water or pulls him across the lake. The boat has all of the power. But the one with the skies on does play a part. He or she must place themselves in the right posture behind the boat, giving the one driving the boat a “thumbs up” sign, and prepare for the ride. Spiritual transformation is the same. God is the one enabling His people to mature and grow while His people are invited to place themselves in the right posture.
The subtitle is How People Really Grow. So in a nutshell, how does that growth happen?
(Eric) We frame the process of spiritual growth in the book through three circles: Truth, Posture, and Leaders. The place where those three circles converge is what we call the transformational sweet spot.
The sweet spot on a bat or a tennis racket is the place that has the most potential impact when you hit the ball. In the same way, when these three factors come together a church is set up to experience transformational discipleship.
Here’s how we articulate those three factors coming together: The transformational sweet spot is the intersection of truth given by healthy leaders when someone is in a vulnerable posture.
Unpack that definition a bit. Each of those words (truth, leaders, posture) are broad terms. What specifically do you mean by them?
(Philip) In each of the three areas, we highlight specific ideas that aid transformation to occur. We call them lenses. So for truth, there are three specific lenses that contribute to transformation: the gospel, identity, and the spiritual disciplines.
It’s especially important for leaders to understand these lenses because they influence the way they present God’s truth to the people entrusted to their care. For a leader, then, to present the truth, they focus on the gospel, understand that in the gospel a person’s identity is made new and different in Christ, and equip their people to participate in the spiritual disciplines.
You say that truth should be applied by healthy leaders to people in a vulnerable posture. What makes a person have a vulnerable posture?
(Michael) All kinds of things. It could be a significant life change or a period of loss. It could be a conscious choice on someone’s part to orient life around learning and obedience. In the book, we describe three characteristics of someone in this kind of vulnerable, or teachable, posture: Such a person is aware of their weakness, interdependent on others, and has an outward focus.
This section was really personal for each of us because we all looked back and knew that there were certain parts of our lives when we were most receptive to the truth of God. Most of those times coincided with some tough life event that pushed us into that posture. That’s one of the reasons why healthy leaders are so important; they are able to be a stabilizing influence in the lives of their people, helping them see how God’s truth meets them in their time of need.