Posts Tagged ‘discipleship’

Another great resource from 9Marks as Mark Dever delivers a sermon on the requirements for pastoral office. Download it here.


I came across this site recently and wondered if it may be helpful for those of us who work with people who have little or no reading ability. Worth checking out here.

Benefit claimants have been in the news again this week and it prompted me to dig out an old post and somewhat adapt it. I definitely want to blog more on this topic and I am hoping to include a chapter in my upcoming book. For now, here is an old article on the BBC website. Please take the time to read before you continue because it will better help you understand the context.

What is interesting about working in Niddrie is that we are dealing with practically every person categorised on their list of Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants. I am unsure what they mean by the term ‘unknown causes’. It is a little troubling given that 130,000 (ish) are claiming IB on this basis. This post is not intended to get into the rights and wrongs of this issue but to merely comment on our situation here and my experience (as an ex long-term IB claimant) and now as a pastor working in a predominantly ‘benefit culture’. It is hard to make comments that don’t generate deep felt emotions and/or negative reactions but somebody needs to grab the nettle and admit that, in large part, on estates like ours the benefits system is one big blag (con).

I know so many people making claims and making them for every little thing possible. Some people probably know the system better than the civil servants who run the show! There are many people here who have been on benefits almost all their adult lives and, after housing support, council tax support and other add ons, they are sometimes left with more disposable income than my wife and I who both work! This is one of the reasons why I am uncomfortable with the Western derivation of ‘deprived’. According to government statistics we are the number one most deprived estate in Edinburgh and yet there are many in ‘low income households’ who take more holidays abroad than I do!

Now I am not saying that there are no needy people and that it is not a worthwhile system – on the contrary – but I am stating a FACT that I work in an area where this whole thing is being abused by many. It is ironic that some people around here are livid because their benefits are being cut due to their new classification of being ‘fit to work’. People are (incredibly and unashamedly) appealing decisions (and often winning) arguing against their ‘unfit to work’ status whilst enjoying a life of swimming, running and going to the gym! In my experience lots of the people I work with are not incapable, they just don’t want to work (many people here do have jobs and work hard as well!). They are either lazy, greedy or so trapped in the system that they can’t escape. I recently worked out with one young man in receipt of various benefits that he would have to clear in excess of £1000 per month in order to match what he gets from the state now (including his partner who also claims)!

Now, the Bible has a lot to say on this subject, particularly the book of Proverbs. “As a door turns on its hinges so a fool turns in his bed” (Prov. 26:16)! Of course, when it comes to salvation we are glad that it does not turn on human effort or even a lack of it. It is all of grace and we do well to remind ourselves of that often (Ephesians 2:8-9). As Christians we are not saved by works but to works and one of the discipleship issues for us right now is educating new believers and counselling seekers about this whole issue and what the Bible has to say. When people are saved in our community we put them to work almost immediately and ensure that their lives and minds are filled with something useful and productive.  It is very much integral to our discipleship process.

The problem we find is that the Bible is often a big, fat slap in the face for many of our people here in Niddrie. A group of us were considering this verse recently. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Eph. 4v28). Needless to say it went down like a lead balloon in our culture of ‘the world owes me a living’!

Obviously, our job here is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fullness. We are not here to moralise to them about their so-called life choices. We hold forth Christ and we work hard as a church to hold out a real life, counter cultural model right bang in the middle of this estate. It is hard and it is slow but it has to be done. I only ask that people are realistic about the nature of a large proportion (Niddrie is changing as young professionals move in – that is a whole other challenge!) of the people we are trying to reach. There is a lot of liberal hand wringing by people who don’t live here, there is a lot of misrepresentation of those who do genuinely qualify for state assistance (and there are many of these also) and there is a lot of silly romanticising in Christian circles about ‘the poor’ like they’re some naive and helpless people group we’ve got to save. We do have to reach out to them but we have to do it with our eyes open, with a good deal of realism and a with great belief in the gospel to transform lives and worldviews. I believe that only genuine spiritual transformation can bring about any real and lasting social change.

If a man will not work, he will not eat (2 Th. 3:10) is a biblical truism no longer functioning in our society. Still, we employ the principle here at NCC. If you want our help you have to be prepared to work for it as well. The only truly ‘free’ thing we have to offer is the gospel. The issue, once converted, for many in our culture is discipleship and Lordship issues. The gospel is all of grace but it also requires a life of discipline and hard work. These things are a shock to the system in a culture where people will gladly take the benefits (if you pardon the pun) of Christ but find the ‘walking in obedience’ part goes against the grain. We often find that people who come sniffing around to see what they can get from us soon get bored and wander off once we set them even the most menial tasks to complete. Others, find salvation, and are slowly but surely beginning to rebuild their lives in a community that loves them, disciples them, cares for them but requires them to play their part and to be givers instead of takers.

I recently spent a couple of days away with our Ministry Team in order to discuss polices, have some concentrated teaching and enjoy a bit of fun and fellowship. We try to do it every year in order to welcome any new faces into the fold. This year there were 13 people and their families present. This is our largest year to date and includes people across all levels of our current structure. Present were:

  1. Ministry Team Members (5). These are senior people who have been with the team 4 years or more and are committed to us long-term.
  2. Ministry Apprentices (3). These are people who receive a small stipend to pay for their ongoing training and development.
  3. Intensive Disciples (4). These are four men who are newly converted and live at JRH. They must give me 1-2 years clean living and follow a discipleship programme before they can progress onto our MA programme.
  4. Church Planting Apprentice (1). This is a young man who has moved to one of our local housing schemes as part of our ’20schemes’ initiative.

As many of you know, one of the chief rationales behind our 20schemes initiative is to draw in church planters, women’s workers and ministry apprentices either from the UK or the USA (in fact from anywhere!) with the long-term objective of training and developing local leaders in these areas. It is our 10-15 year plan to see this happening. The question of whether this approach will work remains to be seen but we feel that our attempt is better than no attempt at all. This means, of course, that cultural outsiders (those born outside of housing schemes) will dominate the early years of 20schemes. However, I remain largely untroubled after sitting back and observing events at our NCC weekend away trip.

For the first time in our history we observed that the number of cultural insiders (those raised in a scheme or council estate) and indigenous converts (those from Niddrie itself) has surpassed the original team of cultural outsiders. So, we currently have 5 cultural outsiders, 1 international (raised in a poor part of Brasil), 4 cultural insiders and 3 indigenous Niddrons. We are 5 years into our experiment to grow more local leaders and I hope that in 5 years time that will translate into positions of real leadership in our church and others connected to 20 schemes. It gives me real hope that the Lord can and will raise a generation of leaders from the most unlikeliest place in this country – the schemes – to bring the gospel to this land and to build healthy Christ centred churches. We are praising the Lord that He would choose weak and foolish people like ourselves to shame the wise and strong in our nation. Please continue to pray for us. Please continue to pray for the growth, strengthening and development of gospel centred churches in Scotland’s poorest areas.

“Faith Comes By Hearing”  is a good resource site for those of us who work with people who find it difficult to read. One of the things we are currently considering at NCC is filming more Bible studies and building a contextualised, oral resource library for our ministry. If anybody knows of any similar resources or is interested in helping us develop material for scheme ministry then please let me know.

Our current church membership stands at about 55, with another 15 or so waiting in the wings to be baptised. We have a Sunday attendance of anywhere between 70 and 100 (I suspect that’s roughly the same number of urinals found at any Mars Hill Church). By any description we are a small church. Yet, as of October 2012, we will have, at varying levels, 13 people being trained and/or discipled full-time in various capacities.

  • We have 4 young men being intensely discipled for a year in ‘James Ramsay House’ our discipleship home for new believers. All of these men will study with Porterbrook Scotland as part of other responsibilities. They will serve in our local cafe, at local clubs, in the church and begin to play a positive role in their local community.
  • We will have 3 paid interns who receive a stipend in order to train and develop skills, either for a future in full-time Christian ministry, or for roles as full-time Christians in the workplace.They, too will be doing theological training.
  • We have a full-time Ministry Team, including myself, of 5 people: Pastor, Youth Worker, Cafe Manager & Pastoral Worker, Assistant Pastor and Women’s Worker & Administrator. This team, too, receive on-going training every Friday morning on a variety of topics and books.
  • Finally, we have recently employed our first church planting trainee who will also be studying the Porterbrook material as well as a specialised reading list (focusing particularly on ecclesiology in the early months).

Now, many of these people were gambles when we took them on. Some have not even completed High School, some have been addicts and criminals their whole adult lives, some have suspect temperaments and some, in the early days, had no clue as to the inner workings of a housing scheme. I have no doubt that the majority of them would not be considered as training material in most churches I know. The leadership here at NCC, without doubt, are taking many risks. Now, to be fair, some of these risks have come back to bite us. We’ve seen our fair share of failures. In fact, I would put the failure rate at around the 50% mark. But, we have seen spectacular successes too. Therefore, we believe that our risky policy is worthwhile and will, ultimately, reap enduring benefits for the church and the gospel witness here in Niddrie and our surrounding schemes.

If we are really going to raise indigenous leaders in these areas then we are going to have to take giant, faith filled risks with local converts. Textbooks and theoretical debates are all well and good but we have to begin putting principles into practice if we want to pass the baton on to faithful men and women. For example, in Niddrie one of our newest interns has been saved less than 6 months and yet has shown an incredible theological aptitude to go alongside their youthful evangelistic zeal. (I can already hear the sharp intake of breath as some people read this). How can we justify this? What about character? What about maturity? Great questions. In fact, the right questions. But let me ask you a question: How can we teach and even gauge these things in our area of ministry without a practical context into which character and maturity can develop? The next generation of leaders are not going to ‘catch’ Godliness and maturity from the pulpit and a midweek Bible study alone. They’re going to do it by being thrown into the deep end of Christian service very early on in their Christian walk. Brilliant. So, how have we come to this stage in our ministry here at Niddrie? Is it because I am such a genius and wonderful forward thinker? Sadly, no. Let me tell you how we have arrived at this point in our ministry.

This year I went away to think and pray for a day and I began to wonder why so many of our new converts weren’t reaching out to their friends and family with the gospel of the Lord Jesus. They loved Jesus and God was certainly at work in their lives. They came to all the Bible studies, sometimes up to 4 a week. They attended the Sunday services. They were excited about their faith, they were being discipled and mentored and yet there was a lack of dynamism, taking responsibility for new ministry ideas and a lack of active, participation in community outreach. They just seem to come and take. Don’t get me wrong, they were growing at remarkable rates in terms of biblical knowledge but we weren’t seeing leaders rise to the fore. It was all one way traffic. Obviously, the reasons behind this are long and complex but one thing, particularly, began to trouble me. What if we were over discipling (in the wrong information giving sense) our new believers? What if we were encouraging this passive, consumerist Christianity? Upon further reflection I came to a stark conclusion.

We were guilty of paternalistic discipleship. Much of conservative evangelical church culture operates with a 1 Timothy 3 type mantra that goes something like this: ‘We shouldn’t spiritually promote people too soon.’ Now, of course, there is great wisdom in that. That particular brand of conservatism, though, is even more manifest if the new believer in question comes from a criminal background or has an ‘interesting’ testimony or is a ‘trophy of grace’. The reaction in middle class churches, in my experience,  to these converts is to leave them on the sidelines and wheel them out for the odd testimony events. I am not saying they’re not cared for or discipled but I have met very few men currently in ministry from my background in the UK. There are some but we are very few. Now I know this, and so the response in Niddrie has been to ensure that we quickly team up our new believers with a mentor and ensure they quickly get hooked up with a regular Bible study and become a part of community life. Because of the high level of unemployment here it is not unusual to have people at 2 or 3 Bible studies a week outside of Sunday services.

The problem was, as I saw it, that we had begun to molly coddle them to such an extent that they had, inadvertently, learned to become consumers like many Sunday attenders (across the church as a whole – I am not referring just to NCC here). I began to fear that we were over discipling our new people. We over studied with them. We over protected them. Instead of letting them fly we bought, quite innocently, into the lie that they were too weak, too ill educated or too young to be let loose on their own. Worse yet, because of the victim mentality in housing schemes, this in turn played into their sense of entitlement and crippling over dependence. Therefore, instead of serving, evangelising and contributing they were taking their treasure, digging a deep hole, locking it up in a box and keeping that beautiful gift to themselves. The truly terrible thing about this was that we who were trying so hard to help them, were actually providing the shovel, the box  and guarding the key for them as well! I decided that we needed to prayerfully and wisely give our new believers opportunities to fly if we were going to see them really grow, blossom and mature into future leaders. It was a painful thing to reflect that our feted, thought out, missional, intentional, gospel centred approach to discipleship was actually contributing to the stunted growth and leadership development of our community. It wasn’t that too much discipleship was hurting our people, it was too much of the wrong type discipleship. As a result of this reflection, we have made some slight tweaks this year. One of them is to push people out more quickly into levels of responsibility and service no matter how insignificant it may seem. More than that, we are teaching our new believers more quickly not just the facts of the faith but how to actually share it, conduct a simple Bible study and lead a person to the Lord. We are, in effect, taking the training wheels off more quickly and trusting that God, by His Spirit, will help them to grow and mature in a more rounded way.

I will let you know how it goes.

His holiness coloured for our sin…powerful!

By Andy Constable

Last week we started by looking at some of the things we need to know when we are discipling drug addicts who have come to Christ and are rebuilding their lives. We looked at some of the things that you the discipler will need to look out for. This week I want to look at some of the things we need to teach our new converts. What do they need to know from God’s Word? What do they need to learn quickly? This is key in our discipleship because what we teach can really give them a foundation to walk with the Lord.

The first thing we need to teach former drug addicts are the tools to say ‘no’ to temptation and the reminder to run to God’s forgiveness when they mess up. Every Christian is faced with temptation and a drug addict’s temptation is very prevalent with drug friends and dealers all over the place. We need to be teaching that they can say ‘no’ to these temptations because the Holy Spirit is now living in them. The good news for a drug addict is that Jesus Christ liberates them from bondage to sin. He gives them a new heart and desire to love God more than anything else. This is a great encouragement to someone who has come to Christ and has been heavily addicted to drugs for a long time. Jesus Christ sets us free and gives us the tools to keep us free from slavery to sin.

Alongside this, we need to teach our disciples a deep thankfulness for the grace of God when they do mess up. This is inevitable because we all fall, but the problem is that we often don’t teach people how to come back to God after a slip up.  We teach our new Christians that the bar is high for every Christian as God calls for total devotion and obedience to him. He says ‘be perfect as I am perfect’. But, we also teach that when we mess up to run to the grace of God. We teach them not to hide sin with religious works and language but to flee to the forgiveness that is found in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, we need to give our disciples the doctrines that lead to godliness. One of the things that we find in housing scheme ministry is that people working in these areas often ignore teaching people the doctrines of God’s Word. They say: “just give them Jesus not all that dusty theology stuff.”  When Paul is leaving his church in Ephesus he says this to the Elders that: “he did not shrink from declaring to them the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27) Paul didn’t just teach them the bits of the Bible he enjoyed or thought they could grasp but he taught them the whole counsel of God. Sometimes there can be a presumption that people in housing schemes are not bright enough to learn the doctrines of God, but that is not the case at all. I find that it’s often the s0-called ‘mature’ Christians who don’t really understand the doctrines very well and so can’t explain them properly to new believers. We should not shrink back from teaching the whole counsel of God to people. New Christians are thirsty for the truth.

The main reason for teaching doctrine is that Paul says in his letter to Timothy that it leads to godliness. The knowledge of the truth of the Bible empowered by the Spirit helps us to grow. For example, if we are teaching about the need to be selfless then we can teach them about the Trinity. We can show our new Christians how that selflessness is rooted in the very being of God. We can teach them how Father, Son and Holy Spirit selflessly serve each other and bring glory to one another. It’s a doctrine that leads to godliness. We want to give them as good a foundation from God’s Word as we can!

Thirdly, we need to teach our disciples that we are there for them. One of the things that new Christians find in schemes is the lack of community. Many churches meet on a Sunday and then on a Wednesday. This is not enough community for a person who has a lot of time on his/her hands. Many former addicts find it difficult leaving their drug addict pals behind because they were constantly there for them. The drug community often do community better than Christians. They look after each other, they listen to each other, they are eager to help and spend much of their lives together. When we are discipling former drug addicts it’s going to be important to give them care, support, and friendship. Not once a week, but regularly. In Niddrie we try to have regular meet ups and have lots of community events centred on food. This gives a natural arena for new people to come into and get to know their new Christian family.

Let me end with a challenge from Paul. He says this in Acts 20:24: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me- the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Pray for us as we continue to minister amongst drug addicts on the scheme. It is a joy to see them saved and leave their lives of addictions behind. But, remember in your ministry, to teach them the tools to say no to temptation and run back to Jesus when they get in trouble, to teach them the doctrine’s that lead to godliness and to be there for them in constant loving community.

There is a great little article here on this very common problem in the church.

By Andy Constable

We live in a community that has been heavily damaged by drugs. Most of the people that we work with have a steady diet of prescribed as well as street (unprescribed) drugs running through their system everyday. We have seen a handful of addicts over the last few years saved by the gospel and wonderfully changed by God. Is there anything that we need to watch out for as we disciple them? Is there anything that is particularly important? I want to spend the next few weeks blogging about the things that I’ve learned about discipling drug addicts who have come to Christ.

One of the first things that we have to watch out for in discipling addicts is that we don’t come in with a ‘saviour complex’. We need to watch our attitude and know that we are not going to sort people’s problems out with some sort of magic wand. A saviour complex is dangerous for both the wannabe savior and those they impact. The wannabe savior will collapse under the weight of the world’s problems because there are so many. And their ‘disciples’ will end up followers of the wannabe savior instead of the actual savior – Jesus Christ.

It is of utmost importance in any discipleship of fellow Christians that we continually point people to the gospel. The gospel alone has the power to transform people’s lives and is the only way that people will produce long-term fruit. This doesn’t feel as good because people won’t depend on you as much but it, ultimately, brings glory to God. When people walk with the Lord Jesus we don’t end up burned out thinking that we have to solve everybody’s problems. The people that we are discipling will tend to want cling to us but its important to keep pointing them to Christ! It’s like raising a child. We don’t want them clinging us for the rest of their lives. We raise a child so that they will be independent and make good choices because we have given them a good foundation. This is what we must give people when they come to Christ from an addictive background. If we have a saviour mentality then we must repent and teach people the Bible properly!

Secondly,  know in discipleship that its one step forward and then three back! This is something that you will have to learn quickly. New Christians will slip up. They will seem like they are doing really well and then out of nowhere (or so it appears) they royally screw things up! This is part of discipleship. The key is to show people how to get back on to the horse after they have messed up. We teach our new believers that they will mess up (we all do) and when they do they need to run immediately to the grace found in Jesus Christ. We teach them not to hide their sin under religious works and language, but to admit sin regularly and appreciate God’s grace all the more. Our job is to pick them up, dust them off and then point them towards Christ again. We have to do this again and again and again. This can be discouraging at times but the key to remember is that we are not the one who is changing them but Jesus through His Spirit as we minister to them through His Word. We can easily slip into the mindset that we are sorting them out and get downhearted when they do. Remember its one step forward and three back (sometimes)!

Thirdly, we have to watch closely for lies. Those who have been addicted to drugs for a long time will be in a pattern of lying, deceiving and manipulating. They will look you straight in the face and tell you something and yet it will be a complete and utter lie. They are masters at it. One of the most painful forms of deceit is emotional manipulation. Most particularly, we need to watch out for false waterworks and the, “I haven’t got any money line.” We must, of course, help where help is needed but a lot of the time they have wasted their money on drugs and just not bothered to save enough for their food!

When we are disciplining a constant liar we need to be constantly on our guard. We need to be watching and challenging where we see lies. We also need to be teaching them that lies (even small ones) are from the devil because he is the father of lies. This is difficult sometimes because the person who is lying to you seems charming but, still, we need to see through the charm and challenge them when they are being deceitful. They will blag you over anything and we need to be firm, gracious and honest with new believers. We need to point them towards Christ and pray that God would root out their lies.

Its amazing seeing someone from a drug addicted background saved by the grace of God. But someone who has abused drugs for a long time will have a lot of baggage. We need to make sure that we point people to the amazing saving grace of Jesus at all times. We need to be patient with those we are discipling and remember that it is a long-term process. Finally, we need to watch closely for deceit and challenge our new converts to love the truth in Jesus Christ! Pray for us as we continue to disciple our newer converts that they would be transformed inside out by the grace of God!