Philip Nation, Michael Kelley and I recently sat down for an interview about our new book Transformational Discipleship. You can read part one here. Part two continues below.
Tell us a bit about the research that’s outlined in the book.
(Philip) In 2010, LifeWay Research embarked on an ambitious research project. We surveyed believers about their spiritual lives and level of maturity. We wanted to look into the major arenas of life where spiritual maturity takes place.
The research was done in three phases. First, we did a qualitative survey of experts in the field of discipleship. Members of our research team did interviews with recognized experts from multiple countries including pastors, professors, and church leaders from a variety of evangelical backgrounds.
From these experts in the field of discipleship, our research team gained a better understanding of what is taking place in the church both domestically and in other countries (specifically within the Hispanic context).
After the expert interview phase, the research team also conducted survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors in North America. The survey delved into the type of discipleship ministries being used in churches and the satisfaction level that they have with them. The survey revealed a great deal of paradoxes occurring between pastors’ hope that people are maturing and the level of satisfaction they have that believers truly are maturing.
Finally, the team at LifeWay Research did a survey of 4,000 Protestant Christians in North America. Of that number, approximately 1,100 were in Canada and the survey was done in three languages: English, Spanish, and French.
It was a really extensive project, and we’re excited to frame the results in this book.
Is this a research driven project?
(Eric) Yes and no. It’s certainly a project that’s supported by research, but we didn’t want it to read like a pure research book. We wanted it to be accessible for pastors and church leaders of all kinds. So while you’ll clearly see the research in the book, it’s driven more by biblical truth.
What role does the church play in transformational discipleship?
(Michael) If you look at the transformational sweet spot, you’ll see there are three major components: truth, posture, and leaders. Truth comes from God and is brought out in His word. The posture piece relates to the individual disciple. But the leader is the one who brings those two things together. Take out any of those three pieces, and you get a deficiency in discipleship.
Transformational discipleship most effectively happens in the context of the local church. The church shouldn’t be an “add on” to someone growing in Christ, but instead the relationships between members of the church are the context in which this transformation happens.
(Philip) While it’s certainly not happening everywhere, the research that led to Transformational Discipleship gave us a lot of hope. Leaders in the church understand that their chief role is to involve themselves deeply in this process. The church can’t be a place where intellectual knowledge is transferred; neither can it be a place where behaviors are merely modified. Neither of those things is transformation. Real transformation is not just doing or knowing something different; it’s being something different. It’s an incredible privilege to be a church leader and be deeply involved in this work of the Holy Spirit.
You emphasize early on in the book that this statement of the transformational sweet spot isn’t a formula or a model but a framework. Why is that?
(Eric) When I co-authored Simple Church, it was meant to challenge leaders to have a process for discipleship, but it was never intended to be a model (the first paragraph of the book read, “this is not a model”). But for the last five years many church leaders treated the book as a “new model” for church ministry.
We love prescription. But you can’t “prescribe” the work of the Holy Spirit. You can describe His work, based on the biblical evidence and the stories we’ve heard, but you can’t simply put in a model and expect the Holy Spirit to just fall in line.
(Michael) We don’t want anyone to treat the transformational framework in the book as a new mission statement; we want it to help people understand to a greater degree how people mature in the church. When we start to see how leaders, truth, and posture intersect, it changes the way we teach, program, develop leaders, and even do pastoral care. But it doesn’t eliminate the need to listen to the voice of the Spirit to see how those things will change in one particular local church.
Again, that’s the divine/human partnership at work.
What are you hoping is accomplished through Transformational Discipleship?
(Philip) I’m praying that Transformational Discipleship will fill the church with hope. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is most definitely at work transforming the hearts of Christians. What we want to do in the book is reaffirm His work and try to give leaders some very helpful footholds – some ways of thinking that can inform and shape their ministries for the years to come.
(Michael) Discipleship is a big word to a lot of people. It’s intimidating, and while there is something mysterious about the way the Spirit works in the hearts of God’s people, discipleship isn’t reserved for some special class of Christians. So my hope is that through the book, the way people really grow in Christ might be de-mystified a bit. Not in the sense that we lessen the emphasis on the work of the Spirit, but in the sense that the way this happens becomes simplified in our minds.
(Eric) I want the church to enter into a day of playing offense rather than defense. The human heart isn’t something pure that needs to be protected; it’s something wicked that needs to be transformed. Jesus wants us to be on the move – to play offense. To take ground for the kingdom in confidence because of who He is. So my prayer is that the book helps us to see how we can be active partners with God to see people truly grow deep in Jesus.