From Non-Discipleship to Discipler

Phil Miglioratti interviewed Carl Simmons,

featured member of Discipleship.Network

PHIL ~ Carl, please take us on the journey that caused to you write on disciplemaking

CARL ~ The problem of non-discipleship has troubled me my entire Christian life. Maybe it was more obvious because I didn’t come to Christ in the “normal” way. In fact, I didn’t get involved with a church until after I’d come to know Jesus. In those days it was what would have passed for a megachurch... charismatic pastor, strong worship focus, dozens of people coming up for altar calls every week... everything’s great, right?

Not so much. It was obvious that there were as many people going out the back door as coming in the front. People got excited, got “saved,” and then... nothing. Or worse, stumbled and got abandoned by a church that had so visibly “loved” them months earlier. It was by more than a little of God’s mercy that we later stumbled into a C&MA (Christian & Missionary Alliance) church plant, and eventually found ways both to become self-feeding and to help feed others.

PHIL ~ "From Disciples to Disciplers" is the series title for each of the 6 small-group studies you have produced. Why that recurring title?

CARL ~ It's the missing link in the church. We have programs, services, events, and other “opportunities to connect,” none of which are bad in and of themselves. But actual discipleship is rare, and almost always behind the scenes where people can only hope to stumble into it. And we haven’t made finding it any easier by burying it under all those programs, services, and events—and then calling that “church life.” 

Even when we think of discipleship, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking, “I can’t do this” for whatever reason—“I need to learn more”; “I need to accomplish more”; “I need to have more credibility with that person before I open my mouth.” And sure, those might be things we need to work on. But very often, it’s mostly just fear of the unknown that holds us back. I wanted to remove some of that fear.

PHIL ~ Season (book) 1 is about "Growing in Jesus." Why is that the first focus and what does it mean to “grow in” Jesus?

CARL ~ The first people we need to disciple is ourselves. More to the point, we need to learn to let Jesus disciple us. We follow Him. But ultimately, if we're following Jesus, a deeper relationship with Him is going to lead us to reach out to others; otherwise, we've missed the point. And once we see others the way Jesus sees them, it's much easier to share Jesus with them—and help them to discover the Jesus we already know.

PHIL ~ Talk about your core insights about how each of these “seasons” uniquely help disciples become disciplers:


Growing in Character ~

Once we're grounded in our relationship with Jesus, we need to learn how to invite Him into our other relationships—family, friends, coworkers of all shapes, sizes, and beliefs. Probably the first thing we need to recognize is that God has already placed us where He wants us. Therefore, what do we do where He’s already placed us? How do we let Jesus shine into every other facet of our lives?

Growing in Your Gifts ~

A lot of spiritual-gifts studies focus on “filling slots” in the church. I’ve sincerely tried to push past that, and maintain an outward focus. We not only need to celebrate what God’s given us with our fellow Christians, but be equipped to know how God’s built us to take His word to the rest of the world—and hopefully discover who might be able to help us do that—in fact, that’s probably going to be the person with the gifts that make you say, “That’s so not me.”

Growing in Leadership ~

God matures us to the point where we’re ready to lead, whether we want to or not. But that’s OK. Still, it’s inevitable that we’re going to run into any number of foibles of leadership—for example, not only getting people on board but engaged, conflict resolution, communication, and learning how to adjust our ministry to God’s calling and the actual needs in front of us (versus “this is how we’ve always done it”). All of this requires us to keep learning how to stay focused on Jesus and others, instead of “my ministry.”

Growing in Your Mission ~  

God may give us a specific vision for ministry either inside or outside the church—maybe even planting a new church—and now we literally need to make the dream real. Again, there's any number of questions we need to address: How do we know it really is God, and not just us? What holds us back from getting started, and how do we get past that? How will we share the vision in a way others can hear and embrace it, and continue to grow as a team? How will we deal with people leaving, even when it’s not personal (although sometimes, it is)? And finally, how will we keep growing ourselves and others, as the vision continues to grow and take shape? I don’t know a single small-group study that helps people process this—and not a whole lot of books in general, for that matter. 

PHIL ~ How does the book Growing Others answer the question: “How do you take what God's shown you, and help others walk through the same process?”

CARL ~ Think about the people who’ve influenced you the most. Chances are, they're the people we've stuck it out with you over the long haul. Because we've experienced each other’s highs and lows together, both we and our friends are changed.

Now, put Jesus in the center of those relationships. When that happens, our relationships take on a character greater than anything we could ever have imagined. It’s something we’ll want to see happen in every relationship. To do this, we need to acknowledge what God's done in our lives—where we can say “be imitators of me” and mean it, because we know we’re not the ones responsible. It also means learning how to listen—to pay attention to how God’s working in the people we care about—and point it out when we see it, because often the last person to see God working in us... is us. We’re here to guide others into what God’s telling them, not steer them into what we think they need.

Again, this is the missing link in the church. Older Christians get plateaued or stuck, and younger Christians are left to flounder and fail—and in both instances, at some point just get up and leave—because one simple but critical point has been overlooked: The people coming in the door and/or just coming to Christ? They need you. And you need them, too, more than you know. That’s what Growing Others is all about—and why I had to write it (and the whole series, for that matter).

PHIL ~  Agree/Disagree . . .Books, groups, classes, training, sermons are all vital resources in the disciplemaking process but produce weak Jesus followers if not integrated into ongoing, coaching/mentoring relationships.

CARL ~ Totally agree. All of those things are potentially good tools, but ultimately that's all they are. If they sit in the tool chest and never get used, they're more things that make us feel good and "spiritual" about ourselves than they are tools that might help advance the Kingdom and grow others in Christ. Even when we use those tools, they need to be used as the Spirit guides us. Hammering everything we see just because we've got a hammer now really isn't all that helpful, and in fact can be quite destructive.  

PHIL ~ One more thing ... you’d want to challenge us to think about . . .

CARL ~ Let's go with a brief quiz, taken from Growing in Your Mission:

• Think about where you think God's leading you right now. As you pursue this vision, are you sensing God revealing more about the things He truly cares about?
• Will this vision, once it’s realized, reveal more about God to others, or just more about you?
• Which parts of this vision were clearly not your idea (even if you're excited about the idea now)?
• Have you tried letting go of this idea, only to find God bringing it up again?
• Would you still want it to happen even if someone else did it—or even if you did it and someone else got the credit? 

PHIL ~ Carl, please write a prayer we can pray together toward building new disciplemaking cultures in our congregations and ministries . . .

CARL ~ Lord, we thank You for the people You've put in our lives—whose examples, whose challenges, whose friendships help keep us growing out further, and yet closer to you. May we reveal Your Spirit to everyone who sees our lives, and spread the love of Jesus to everyone we know—and beyond. May You use us to transform and renew our world, as You have transformed and renewed us. May our joy in Jesus be so great that nothing can contain it, so that it flows over to everyone you put in our paths—and ultimately to the world. In Jesus' name, amen.

PURCHASE: Books by Carl Simmons ( the From Disciples to Disciplers series and his latest, Lay It Down: A Journey into Trust)

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