Differentiated Discipleship


I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately. I’ve read a ton over the years, studied, gotten counsel, input, coaching, modeling. I’ve taken classes, been a part of ongoing conversations, I’ve led and been a part of networks. I’ve got great leaders around me locally, and great leaders consistently providing input and counsel through our Central Indiana Presbytery. And, as I’ve reflected, I think that the greatest need for leaders is to know the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding. This is true at whatever level or context you’re called to be a servant-leader in. Christ’s peace, received through faith in an ongoing way, lived out by the grace of the Holy Spirit, encouraged and nourished through the life of the Church, is what establishes his disciples as faithful and courageous servant-leaders who will not be moved, no matter the strains, oppositions, setbacks, victories, tangent opportunities, or the banalities of daily life.

If we don’t know this peace of Christ which allows us to find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in God, we will be moved away from God alone as our refuge by every wave of doctrine, every attractive desire, every sad circumstance or trial, or every tendency to hold up others as our ultimate savior or ultimate enemy. When we are moved in these ways it’s a sign that we have allowed our or others’ emotional storms to drag us in, shape our perception of what is true, and lead us to harmful or unfaithful actions. Through our panic to create our own peace, we buy into a distorted view of God, our selves, and others. Our internal panic can lead us to seek counterfeit peace. And, this counterfeit peace, while it can look attractive from the outside because it gives us the feelings we might want, can actually lead us to pull others in or be pulled in to a toxic environment because it is not true peace through the grace of Christ.

This is precisely what we see happening with the disciples throughout the gospel accounts in all of their blunders of competition with one another, alienating outsiders, and even abandoning Jesus. The true peace that Jesus was bringing through his person and work for them, was not what they expected nor wanted because it challenged their sinfully distorted view of God’s truth, and required them to trust in Christ for their peace, rather than their own efforts to manufacture peace.

As we all enter into the new Fall season of roles in work, school, service, relationships, athletics, family, neighborhood, and church, consider how the presence and peace Christ invites you into through faith in the gospel of grace can affect your own personal sense and presence of peace for others. It’s living into and out of this peace secured by Christ and given to us as a gift, that God’s people can function as true servant-leaders within each area of influence God has placed us– even when the areas (and, people, big and small) we are serving can be challenging or even toxic.

(Borrowing from common grace observations of Edwin Friedman from his book “Failure of Nerve) God’s grace shapes us into people who can be compassionate, yet not enmeshed in anxious emotional processes of others, separate yet remaining connected. And, this allows us to maintain a loving, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. A leader is “someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.”

Jesus’ call for his disciples to servant-leadership for the sake of others is clear (Mark 10:43-45)– this is for all of us whether we’re servant-leading in the home or the office, the classroom or the fraternity, the church or the job site, our circle of friends or our families. For disciples of Jesus, we have no choice, we’ve been enlisted in his mission in the “toxic” realm of this fallen world. And the only way for us to proceed forward in obedience is to abide in Jesus, receive and live out of his peace, and trust in the Holy Spirit to form us into people of peace so that we can be a loving and sometimes challenging presence to a world swirling in the storms of anxious emotional processes.

Here’s a short video summarizing Friedman’s theory of Differentiated Leadership in order to help you understand what practical application of Christ’s peace might look like in your areas of servant-leadership:



Training our children for reality

We just concluded our Summer Bible Camp today, and one of the things I asked as I briefly addressed our guests was why we are dealing with such serious themes with children? Why are we not just having a saccarine sweet, nostalgic, feel good time? Isn’t this why we line the kids up and have them sing, isn’t this the point of church— make our kids as happy and clappy as possible?

Our curriculum had plenty of happiness woven in, but it was a happiness that sprang from the continual reminder of Christ’s deliverance of his people from our sin through the suffering of the cross and the victory of the resurrection. The great allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress” was published in 1678, and John Bunyan accurately creates a story that mirrors that of the Christian’s real journey through life. One that is not categorized by nostalgic feelings, sentimentality, or a series of entertainments; but, a real life that includes darkness, attacks by the enemy, doubts, despair, temptation— true evil. Yet, also a true hope in Christ that has overcome this evil on our behalf. And, we were explaining these things to our children! Why? Because this is exactly what the Bible itself does, and is exactly what characterizes the real life that our children and ourselves live and are called to grow within. To deny this reality is to shut off true truth to ourselves and our kids— how can we possibly survive and how can our children’s faith survive if we hide our heads away from real sin before a holy God and burrow in to the comfort of the American suburban dream? I believe this is one of the greatest temptations facing the American church today.

Which brings me to the tragic massacre that occurred in Charleston 2 nights ago. Certainly, depending on the age of a child, they should only be exposed to a certain amount of detail when it comes to such brutality— we should be shields and censors on behalf of our children. Yet, we should also seek to thoughtfully engage our kids with the truth of the broken world within which we live. Our kids must know what evil is and what good is, what sin is (anything that breaks the Law of God by commission or ommission), and what righteousness is. They MUST know this! And, if we don’t sit down with them, communicate, ask and answer questions, clarify, define, point them to the true truth of God revealed in the Bible, if we don’t do this as the church and as fathers and mothers and teachers and adult examples, then someone else will. The culture will be very happy to define and teach and parent and indoctrinate our children for us according to the world’s values and the whims of the current feelings on race, sex, gender, violence, love, relationship, truth, identity, freedom, shame, origins, and ultimate destinations. This does not mean we withdraw from the culture, or fortify ourselves in a family friendly ghetto; but, it does mean that we must be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves in order to live in and engage the world with the truth of the gospel and all its implications without being ensnared or drawn in or lulled into blindness by the values and vision of a world that is vandalized by sin in every human capacity, and expects all other worldviews to come under the lordship of our culture.

With all of this as a preface I encourage you to speak with your children, and speak to one another about the reality of evil that we saw explode in Charleston recently. I did this last night with my own kids.

How do we do this?

Here are some ideas and words to consider:

  1. Return to THE STORY— Remember that months-long series last year on the Mission of God? One fundamental point to that entire series is that the Bible tells a true story of God’s mission to bring glory to himself. He does this first through the: Creation— “God made all things good, humans after his own image and this was very good. This is the basic framework we must begin with when thinking about racial sin and sin in general. God created race. He gave skin its different tones, and this is good. Its very good. Our kids need to know that race and skin colors and different languages and diversity of cultures is a good thing.” Rebellion— “yet, humanity refused to obey the Lord, we worshiped the created things rather than the creator (Rom 1). And, so the things that were created good became the objects of our worship, and so became distorted. This includes race, but also can include our human sexual desire as well. We worshiped race. Race became the core of our identity, our defining feature, one race better than another, skin and body features defining the “goodness” or “badness” of people, the trustworthyness of people, the “humanness” or “inhumanness” of people who were created in God’s image. This is a tragedy.”
  2. Return to the Story— There is another story to return to. And, this is the story of the African-American experience in America. You need to know this, or at least be familiar with broad brush strokes, and we need to help our kids be familiar with the context of the injustice that still exists today. “Because of the worship and distortion of race, darker skinned people in Africa were forced into slavery, sold, families broken apart to enter into forced labor and a fear and shame-based culture in the Americas. This was also done to the native peoples of this place as well. Centuries of slavery, fear, hatred, shame, and being crushed down by the power of others has attached itself to the way our culture works— even though slavery is ended, hate and fear and restriction has continued for darker skinned people because of their race. There have been long periods of time when people with darker skin were killed, terrorized, beaten, their things stolen or burned because they wanted to be able to vote, or say hello to a white person, or swim in a public pool, or even eat lunch in a restaurant. And, even though the law says this isn’t allowed to happen any more, the law can’t change people’s hearts. The law can’t stop people from worshiping the wrong thing. And, so people continue to worship race, and they continue to hate people who have a different skin color. And, people with darker skin in our country still feel a lot of this hate, distrust, and restrictions even today.”
  3. Return to THE story— Share the broad story of what has happened in SC, sparing gory details, being sensitive when answering questions, and being careful to identify evil as evil, sin as sin; yet, also making sure that this is not connected to the whiteness or any other easily identifiable outward feature of the killer, but is connected to the heart of sin— and that is the worship of something other than the true Triune God which makes our hearts sin and makes us blind to sin. “There are still people that worship race so much that they keep hating anyone else that is a of different race, even though God made all different races to be a very good thing. These people, even some who say they know Jesus, are worshipping the wrong thing, they’re sinning against God, they’re idolaters and they don’t even know it. The other night one of these people, far from here, in Charleston SC, because of how he made his whiteness into his god had so much hate in his heart for darker skinned people, that he went to a church while our brothers and sisters were praying to the one true God, and he shot and killed some of them because of his hate. He killed 9 people because of the color of their skin. This is how horrible the worship of things other than the true God can become. Not only does sin hurt ourselves but it hurts other people also.”
  4. RETURN TO THE STORY— Our kids need to be reminded of what God has done to redeem his people through the incarnation, life and ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. When I say “redeem,” this means to “buy back,” and thus the truth of real sin- both systemic but also personal- and its enslaving consequences must be included in any conversation about “redemption.” Many popular pastors like to say “redemption” these days, yet leave out what people are actually redeemed FROM. Redemption— Kids need to know what sin looks like, and they need to know that they themselves sin, and they need to know what Jesus has done to redeem, cleanse, and restore them through the gift of his body and blood. They need to know that this is open to any who respond to the calling of God’s grace. That this grace is even available to the worst of people, even Dylann Roof. Restoration— They need to know that Jesus is King, that one day he will return to set all things right, to judge and punish the evil in this world, to restore and renew the bodies of his people and the physical creation he delights in. And, as a result of this we pray “thy Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven…” We can pray for God’s kingdom renewal to break into this world into and through our lives right now. That means that we can lead and help our kids to pray for the families of those who were killed. For the congregation of Emmanuel AME. For the African-American community. For the repentance and conversion of Dylann Roof. For the comfort and encouragement of the darker skinned people who are in our own lives, for our own repentance in neglecting to love and be loved by these brothers and sisters, and for our church to be used by God to both receive the gospel and live out the implications of the gospel through our genuine sacrificial and generous love for others.

We must walk our kids through this based on the categories provided us through the Scriptures, the theology that comes through them, the worldview shaped by this Word, and the grand story within which we find ourselves. If we don’t do this with true truth, then the culture will with its own distorted version of reality, and this injustice, hate, idolatry, and pain will continue to inflict its wounds upon people and overtake us with complacency, numbness, and blindness in the process.

We must face this and help one another and our children face this in the power and hope of Christ together.

Holy Week and a Worship-Formed Life

This Sunday, Palm Sunday, we begin a time in the church calendar referred to as “Holy Week.” Now, this week is really not any “holier” than any other week of the year. Jesus is Lord over all days and weeks, and through his kingship every day bears a weight of glory that will see fulfillment in holiness with the life to come.

At the same time, we also acknowledge the necessity for people to have rhythms to life and worship— this is one of the very reasons why the Scriptures give us a patterned flow to our worship which we seek to emulate in our own Sunday liturgies.

This worship rhythm also extends to our daily and weekly routines as well as our seasonal and annual routines. A lifestyle of worship is really a lifestyle shaped by the relational and doxological flow we see in the liturgy of the church. Seeing our lives conformed to the heart of God as he’s revealed through the Word applied by the Spirit, means seeing our very lives shaped according to our pattern of worship:

  1. God seeks us, we respond to him in praise and adoration
  2. He reveals our struggles and sin and reminds us of the accomplished work of the Son in the gospel
  3. We respond through confession and thanksgiving, experiencing the Father’s embrace through this regular act of reconciliation
  4. He shapes our minds, hearts, and wills through Jesus present with us in his Word
  5. He nourishes us in grace through Jesus present with us in the sacrament and through the Spirit’s ministry through one another
  6. He sends us out in mission and lifestyles of worship in our vocations under the kingship of Jesus and in the power of his Spirit to continue God’s redemption in the world

This pattern of worship ought not to simply mark our Sunday worship services, this is a pattern which our entire lives conform to and are shaped by through a liturgical lifestyle. We are fundamentally worshiping creatures, and so at the very core of who we are, we are formed by some sort of pattern of worship and the object of our worship. We follow the liturgical narrative above because it is the very narrative that is presented to us in the Scriptures, and is the true meta-narrative that makes sense of the way things actually are in God’s creation, and the way things ought to be under the kingship of Jesus.

This rhythm of worship-in-life also challenges our natural tendency toward narcissism: “my life is about me.” The Redemptive-Historical story of the Bible, and the liturgy shaped by it, repeatedly insist that our life is not about us, life is about the Triune God— his glory, his rescue, his renewal, his presence with his people; all accomplished through his redemption of me as a member of his people, the church.

Worship is a continuing recapitulation and re-participation of these truths and of this drama. We are continually drawn back into God’s story, shaped by God’s hand, and made more aware of God’s presence in Christ through his indwelling Spirit.

Why do I write all of this?

Because we need to think about worship. What it is. What the purpose of it is. Where it points us. How this is a delight and a discipline God calls his people to enact regularly as the core of our life together. Especially as the church I serve approaches our 1-year birthday as a worshiping congregation, and as we all approach the week of remembrance of the Passion of Jesus, we must keep God’s pattern and intent for worship as a priority in our personal and communal life.

So, a week such as this coming week is an important place-marker in lives customarily marked by busyness, frenetic pace, activities, demands, a lack of silence and space for contemplation of our God. What would it mean for you to seek to make intentional space in your life this week to move through the rhythms of liturgy personally, with a small group, with your family, with your congregation?

Let’s contemplate the cross and resurrection of Jesus this week— the reason for this (the brokenness, sin, and rebellion of the world and our selves), the historic actions taken through these, God’s disclosure of his heart and fulfillment of his plan through this, the rescue and establishment of not just “me,” but of “me in the community of Christ’s church.”

Let’s worship the Redeemer this week, and celebrate our union with him through his work in the body he has redeemed- his church.