Archives For Discipleship

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My wife and I have a standing date on Friday nights. We usually go out to a restaurant and enjoy a relaxed meal while spending time together, catching up on things we haven’t had a chance to talk about throughout our busy week. I tend to get in a rut and go to the same places to eat, ordering the same meal. However, from time to time a friend or family member will recommend a new restaurant for us to try. That’s what restaurants count on to build business–satisfied customers telling their friends.  

When we discover a new product that works well, we share that information with others. When we get a promotion or have something else good happen in our lives, we want to share it with our friends and family. Our youngest daughter recently found out she is pregnant. She and her husband could hardly wait to tell us and you can bet I’ve been spreading the exciting news. 

Jesus told a parable about a shepherd who lost a sheep. “Suppose someone among you had a hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep'” (Luke 15:4-6 CEB). 

Then Jesus explained the point of his parable. “In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.” 

Over the years I served as a pastor I was criticized many times by church members for caring more about the unchurched than I cared for church members. Of course, this wasn’t true, but I did understand why it sometimes felt that way to them. My behavior was based on this parable about the lost sheep and other similar teachings in scripture. I never cared more about the lost, but I did spend more time and effort trying to minister to them than many pastors do. I do this because they need what I have to offer and that’s what God has called me to do.  

Jesus didn’t say God loves the lost person more than He loves active church members. However, He was suggesting God rejoices more when a heart is transformed. God is more excited when a broken life is mended. There’s more joy in heaven when hurts are healed and demons are cast out.   

There is a great deal of discussion today about the decline in our churches.  Every week I receive information about some conference I should attend that will teach me how to grow my church, fill my pews. I have suggestions as well; I write here on my blog about how to make disciples that will build the church.  

However, I think the greatest issue is a matter of the heart. I’m afraid the church has a heart problem. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Bob Hope. “If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”  

Maybe we have “hardening of our spiritual arteries.” Jesus once met a man at the synagogue who had a withered hand. The Pharisees watched to see if Jesus would heal this man on the sabbath. Jesus looked with anger at these deeply religious men who put traditions before the needs of people and “grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5 NRSV). 

The Christian church will start reaching a lot more people when we members start getting as excited about what God is doing in our lives as we are about the new restaurant in town. The church will grow when we get more interested in serving the least and the last in our community than in increasing our own comfort. The church will grow when we let God do a heart transplant on us so that we love the lost sheep–just like the shepherd in Jesus’ parable.  

QUESTION: Are you ready for God’s heart transplant? Please respond in the Comments section below.

How To Change America

May 10, 2013 — 2 Comments

Second Mile Logo without nameA woman bought a piece of needlework at a craft fair. The piece read, “Prayer Changes Things.” Proud of the handiwork she hung it above the fireplace in their living room. A few days later she discovered the prized piece missing. When questioned, her husband admitted taking the needlework down. “Don’t you believe in prayer? she inquired. “Yes, I do,” the husband responded. “I believe in prayer. I believe it changes things. But I don’t like change so I took it down.” 

A lot of people don’t like change. I suppose it really is human nature to be uncomfortable with change, especially when it is not in our control. People don’t like change and the change to which we tend to be most resistant is change in us. As a pastor and observer of people I’ve seen people choose to lose their job, destroy their marriage, or go to jail rather than change themselves.  

Change is often extremely difficult. Some people are more resistant to change than others. I’ve even known people who would rather die than change. You probably know someone who has been told by their doctor they need to change their diet are they will die prematurely, and yet they fail to change. Change is difficult but there is good news. 

Change is possible. Do you recall the story of the Apostle Paul? He had been a ferocious persecutor of the early church. However, after his encounter with the risen Christ he became the greatest human influence on Christianity. Most of us have known someone who has experienced radical change in their life. What happens to bring about  truly transformational change in our lives. 

You have to want to change. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous insists that people don’t change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. The first of the twelve steps is “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction–that our lives had become unmanageable.” 

We can change if we have a vision of something better. There is a wonderful scene in the Karate Kid movie where Daniel is visiting Mr. Miyagi who is trimming a bonsai tree. Miyagi encourages Daniel to work on the delicate little tree. Daniel, however, is reluctant. He doesn’t have a clue about how to even start trimming the tree. Mr. Miyagi encourages Daniel to close his eyes and envision what he wants the tree to look like. After Daniel has a picture of the trimmed tree in his mind, Mr. Miyagi instructs him to open his eyes and go to work. But then, Daniel asked, “How do I know my vision is correct?” Mr. Miyagi replies, “If the picture comes from your heart, then it must be right. Just trust your picture.” 

If we need to make some changes in our lives we should start with a clear vision of those needed changes. But how do we know the vision is right? How about this? Picture in your mind what Jesus looks like. Of course, I don’t mean his physical appearance. I’m talking about his compassion, his patience, his humility, his gentleness, his empathy and understanding. I’m talking about his willingness to serve and even to die for others. We can change if we really want to, if we have a clear vision of who we want to become. But one more thing. 

God can change us if we are willing to surrender our will to God. The Apostle Paul had a life-changing encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. From that day on Jesus was the Lord and Master of Paul’s life. He went where Jesus called him to go and did whatever he was called to do, often at great personal sacrifice.  

I read once that when Earl Weaver was manager of the Baltimore Orioles he would charge at umpires shouting, “Are you gonna get any better, or is this it?” Perhaps God is asking you the same question. Are you gonna allow God to transform your life, or is this it? You can change if you really want to. If you are willing to focus your vision on Jesus. If you are willing to allow Him to become the Lord and Master of  your life. 

So, what’s all of this got to do with changing America. I suppose you are probably on to me by now. It’s really quite simple. America won’t be changed by electing a different president or members of Congress or having newly appointed judges on the Supreme Court. America will be changed when you and I change. It will be changed, not when political parties change, but when hearts are transformed and men and women across this great land put on the mind of Christ, learning to love our neighbor, like the example set by the man from Galilee.  

QUESTION: What changes do you need to make in your life? Are you willing to trust God enough to surrender your will to His in order to be transformed?   

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsMost Christians would agree that faith is an essential aspect of Christianity. But what do we mean when we use this word?

I certainly do not always agree with Marcus Borg. However, in his book The Heart of Christianity he offers some real insight into the way Christians have understood faith. Borg begins by suggesting the word has four historical meanings. One these is a “matter of the head” while the other three are more “matters of the heart.”  

Faith as Assensus (Assent/Belief)                                                                                                     The closest English word to the Latin assensus is “assent.” Faith is assensus when we give our assent to a proposition. This suggests faith as belief, that is believing certain religious propositions or doctrines to be true. After all, when the Philippian  jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved/rescued?” Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  

I would argue, however, that even this word “believe” (Greek pisteuō) means a lot more than mental assent. The word was used by the Greeks to mean “to believe in something” not just to believe facts about something. It meant to trust in; to have confidence in.

Faith as Fiducia (Trust)                                                                                                                  The Latin word fiducia is usually translated faith, trust, or confidence. Borg uses an example to illustrate faith as trust. He reminds us that teaching a small child to swim requires getting the child to relax so they he or she will learn that their natural buoyancy will keep them afloat. He then concludes, “Faith as trust is trusting in the buoyancy of God.” I like the fact that he insists “the opposite of trust is not doubt or disbelief, but mistrust. He goes on to press his point, explaining that the opposite of trust is anxiety and worry.    

Faith as Fidelitas (Loyalty/Commitment)                                                                                         The English word is “fidelity.” Faith as fidelitas means faith as “faithfulness” to God. Borg states, “Faith as fidelity means loyalty, allegiance, the commitment of the self at its deepest level, the commitment of the “heart.” He goes on to explain, “Faith as fidelitas does not mean faithfulness to statements about God, whether biblical, credal, or doctrinal. Rather, it means faithfulness to the God to whom the bible and creeds and doctrines point.” 

The opposite of faith as faithfulness is not doubt or disbelief, but rather infidelity or unfaithfulness. We use this language when a man has been “unfaithful” to his wife or a woman has engaged in infidelity. They have broken their covenant relationship and been disloyal to one another.  

Faith as Visio (Vision)                                                                                                                    Here Borg introduces me to a new way of expressing the idea of faith. He indicates that he got the idea from the mid-twentieth-century theologian Richard Niebuhr. The English word is, of course, “vision” which suggests faith as “a way of seeing.” 

To have faith in God as visio means we share God’s worldview. I suspect many readers would differ with Borg’s ideas about specific content of God’s worldview.  But surely, most of us will agree that it is important for us to share God’s view of reality. We should at least agree that when Jesus looked out over the world set before him, he felt compassion for a broken world. He saw with the eyes of agape love. 

Borg concludes by explaining that originally the word believing (pisteuō) covered all four of the meanings of faith. “But in the modern period, we have suffered an extraordinary reduction in the meaning of “believing.” We have reduced it and turned it into “propositional believing”–believing a particular set of statements or claims to be true.”  Finally, he states. “The premodern meanings of “faith generate a relational understanding of the Christian life.” 

If Borg is right, and I have no doubt he is, we can conclude that disciples are made by developing relationships, not by simply convincing others that our Christian doctrines are true. The same way Jesus did it.  

QUESTION: How would define faith? Does your faith in Christ include each of the four meanings as describes by Marcus Borg? Please respond in the Comments section below.

 

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“The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened.”

David Brooks is a columnist for The New York Times. Sometime back he wrote an article he entitled “Paying the Consequences of the Great Seduction.” He began the article:

The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self-indulgence. Benjamin Franklin spread a practical gospel that emphasized hard work, temperance and frugality. Millions of parents, preachers, newspaper editors and teachers expounded the message. The result was quite remarkable.”

Brooks went on to suggest that while the United States has always had many affluent people, we were not corrupted by our wealth. For most of our history our people continued to be “industrious, ambitious and frugal.” However, Brooks believes this has changed over the past 30 years. Again he writes:

“The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.”

I couldn’t agree more. And the amazing thing is that it is all there in the Bible. We’ve been warned since the days of Genesis. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality but he talked constantly about how we use our money.

Brooks points out that “The loosening of financial inhibition has meant more options for the well-educated but more temptation and chaos for the most vulnerable.” He also reminds us that the sociology of our culture has changed. Research I did for my doctoral dissertation helped me realize we simply do not have the kind of social connections people had in the past that acted as controls on our economic passions. Brooks insists, “Social norms, the invisible threads that guide behavior, have deteriorated.”

Brooks identifies gambling as an example, especially the lottery. He reports that twenty percent of Americans regularly play the lottery. Called by some “a tax on stupidity,” some studies have suggested as much as ten percent of the income in relatively low income households is spent on the lottery. Government sponsored gambling is teaching people the way to get ahead is to win the lottery rather than hard, honest work.

For Jesus, few decisions in life are more important than how we use the resources given to us by God. Our attitudes toward the material things of this world are destroying us.

We will all one day stand before God and be accountable for what we did with what He gave us! Brooks concludes his article suggesting some ways we might deal with the increasing debt problem in America. He suggests the most important is to shift values. I agree. But not just about debt. We, especially Christians, need to seriously examine our values in every area of our lives.

QUESTION: What is most important in your life? The things of God’s Kingdom or the things of this material world?

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There is tremendous power in the act of forgiveness. Of course, forgiving is not always an easy thing to do.

 

 

In the days of the Revolutionary War, there lived at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, a Baptist pastor by the name of Peter Miller who enjoyed the friendship of General Washington. There also dwelt in that town a man named Michael Wittman, an evil-minded man who did all in his power to abuse and oppose this pastor. One day Wittman was arrested and charged with treason. He was tried and sentenced to death.  

The old preacher walked seventy miles to Philadelphia to plead for his enemy’s life. Rev. Miller approached Washington and implored the general to save the life of this traitor. Washington refused the request saying, “No, Peter, I cannot grant you the life of your friend.” Miller responded, “He is not my friend; he is the bitterest enemy I have.” 

Washington was flabbergasted. He exclaimed, “What? You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I will grant the pardon.”  

Peter Miller and Michael Wittman went back home to Ephrata, no longer enemies but as friends. The reader probably recalls the famous quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend.”

 There is tremendous power in the act of forgiveness. Recent studies have confirmed that those who learn to forgive experience less anger, depression, anxiety, and stress. They live with greater hope. Isn’t this one of the core principles of the Christian faith? In the Sermon On the Mount as reported by Matthew, Jesus said, “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” (CEB) Pretty strong stuff! God really won’t forgive me if I don’t forgive others? Wow! 

So, forgiveness can bring liberation to those we forgive. It can unlock the key to our own forgiveness. But there is more. It can also liberate us from the burdens of resentment, anger, and enmity. 

My old classmate Gordon MacDonald relates how this happened in his life years ago. In his book Restoring Your Spiritual Passion he tells about a plane flight he took to an extremely important meeting that could lead to a major change in his ministry. He was desperately seeking God’s direction for his life. Unfortunately, his life was mired at that time in resentment toward a colleague. Gordon wrote: 

 “For days I had tried everything to rid myself of vindictive thoughts toward that person. But, try as I might, I would even wake in the night, thinking of ways to subtly get back at him. I wanted to embarrass him for what he had done, to damage his credibility before his peers. My resentment was beginning to dominate me, and on that plane trip I came to a realization of how bad things really were. . . 

As the plane neared its destination, Gordon cried out to God from the depths of his soul, asking for the power to forgive this colleague and to find the peace and liberation from his “poisoned spirit.” He wrote:

 Suddenly it was as if an invisible knife cut a hole in my chest, and I literally felt a thick substance oozing from within. Moments later I felt as if I’d been flushed out. I’d lost negative spiritual weight, the kind I needed to lose: I was free.” 

Gordon MacDonald went on to the meeting, renewed with spiritual strength, where his life did in fact take a major change in direction.  

Of course, forgiving is not always an easy thing to do. We should remember, however, that it’s easier to act your way into a new way of feeling, than feel your way into a new way of acting. You can make a decision to act in positive ways toward someone you may still have negative feelings about. I can’t always control my feelings; I can control my actions. If I keep acting in a loving way toward a person I still resent, and I keep asking God to transform my heart, in all likelihood my feelings will eventually change.  

QUESTION: Have you had any experiences with forgiveness that you are willing to share that might be helpful to the rest of us. Please respond in the Comments section below.

 

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsCONNECT, COACH, COMMISSION

 

Let’s talk. I need to share with you today from my heart. I’ve been a pastor for many years. Can I confess something very important to you? Much of that time I’ve felt I was playing church. There is such a profound disconnect from what I see in most modern churches from what I read in scripture. In the early church the Christians were willing to follow Jesus anywhere he led. Some of them even followed Jesus to the Roman coliseum where they were eaten by the lions. We’ve all read about martyrs who have given their lives for God. But somehow we see these as special heroes who really have nothing to do with ME.

Why is it that we think that Jesus really didn’t mean it when he required his followers to follow him–to take up our cross? Why is it we think we can count ourselves followers of Jesus when we fail to follow him? Is it because we are surrounded by others who call themselves followers of Christ who aren’t really following the example of Jesus? Hello!

I have decided I’m too old and have too little time left to play church. I want to be a true follower of Jesus.

I’ve been talking with God a lot lately about what this means for me as a pastor. His answer has been—can you guess?— “Follow Me.” Surprise! “But, God,” I’ve said, “What does that mean?” God keeps responding, “How did Jesus spend most of his time?” “Hummmmmmm. I guess he spent most of his time coaching the twelve disciples. Then sent them out with the great commission.” “Bingo!—- and they went out coaching others who coached still others until the lives of millions have been touched.” Connect, Coach, Commission.” 

So, shouldn’t that be the church’s strategy, Connect with friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors, especially those who are hurting? Coach them in Christian discipleship. Then Commission them to go out serve as obedient disciples, reproducing the process. Here goes. I believe God is showing me that nothing is more important than to spend time coaching individuals and very small groups of people who are seekers. People who are willing to be coached/mentored and who will, in turn, coach/mentor others. Nothing I could do with my time is more important. This is God’s strategy .

This means I’m looking to CONNECT with a few good men or women. We’re COACH one another and GROW together, becoming Christian servants, doing whatever God calls us to do. Only the serious should apply. As we live together in covenant community  and grow spiritually  we will all be COMMISSIONED to go out and connect with others. It all starts with COMMITMENT.

Are you ready to let God really transform your life? Are you ready to make a serious commitment to follow Christ? Are you ready to discover God’s purpose for your life? Are you ready to find the amazing joy of making an eternal difference in the world? Find a coach and become a coach. Partner with one or two others and let’s build a movement.

QUESTION: Are you ready to stop playing church? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsOne of the greatest obstacles to Christian discipleship is our materialistic culture and what David Riesman called an age of consumption.

 

As society has moved through the different periods of history, we see the interrelatedness of the religious, social, and economic realities. David Riesman wrote as early as 1950 in his book, The Lonely Crowd, about the movement to what he called an age of consumption. 

In this influential book he traced the changes in the “social character” of Western humanity since the Middle Ages, including the changes of family life. However, he expressed greatest concern in a second “revolution” he described as “a whole range of social developments associated with a shift from an age of production to an age of consumption.” 

Over a hundred years earlier Alexis de Tocqueville warned that American democracy could erode into a selfish materialism. Tocqueville believed this collapse of the public sphere would come from our success. 

Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow surveyed 2,000 people and found that 89% agreed “our society is much too materialistic.” Seventy percent believed American society would be “better off” with less emphasis on money.  

Materialism affects how we think and the way we see our world. It not only shapes our tastes, desires, and preferences, but as Wuthnow suggests, “alters our capacity to pray, the nature of our prayers,” and the way our religion “instructs our values.” Remember, this is a sociologist, not a preacher, making these statements based on his research. He goes on to suggest that when we sell our souls for “stuff” it is difficult to hear any prophetic message regarding “the suffering of the poor, the need for economic justice, and the desirability of seeing God’s handiwork in simple things or in nature.” 

There’s a wonderful story about an old fisherman sitting on a pier beside his catch of fish. A rich businessman came by and asked the old man why he wasn’t out catching more fish. The fisherman responded, “Why?”

“Well,” the rich man opined, “So you can make more money, of course.”

Again, the old fisherman asked, “Why?”

“So you can buy more boats, more nets.”

“Why?”

“To make more money,” the rich man responded with increasing frustration.

“Why? “Well, man,” the businessman practically shouted, “so you can sit back and take it easy.”

“So, what do you think I’m doing now?” the old man asked, with a twinkle in his eyes. 

I’m not recommending laziness or sloth. But I do wonder if many of us have lost a sense of balance in our lives between work and play. Are we choosing the material over the spiritual? Are we choosing the good over the best? Are we choosing our work over our families, Mammon over God? 

There is literally a world of difference between the values of a mature Christian disciple who follows Jesus and the values of our materialistic culture. Augustine called these two worlds the City of God and the City of Man.  

Jesus put it this way, as reported by Matthew in chapter 6, verse 24. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

QUESTION: To which kingdom are you loyal, the spiritual kingdom of God or the material kingdom of this world? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Living Up To Our Label

April 24, 2013 — 1 Comment

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsThe greatest obstacle to making disciples may be the discrepancy people see between the Christian label we wear and how we live our lives.

 

Soon after we were married my wife Robin decided she would rather do the grocery shopping by herself rather than have me accompany her. Oh, she never stated this explicitly, but volunteered to do it alone. I realized I slowed her down too much. I spent much too much time comparing prices and reading labels. Robin simply pulled what she wanted off the shelf and placed it in the shopping cart.

Reading labels can be educational and entertaining. What about orange juice labeled “Fresh” but which in truth is made from concentrate? What about that purse labeled “GENUINE Manmade LEATHER?” It seems to me that genuine should mean the “real” thing, authentic, natural.

So, what does all this have to do with our Christian faith? Sometimes I wonder if we mislabel ourselves. From time to time I see people who call themselves Christians acting terribly unlike Christ. (Sometimes I see that individual in the mirror.) Jesus Christ loved his enemies, had compassion for the least, the lost, and the last. Many people who label themselves Christians express hatred for their enemies and show little compassion for anyone, especially those who are different in some way.

Perhaps we should all ask ourselves if we are living up to our label. We are called Christians because we are supposed to be followers of Jesus who was killed for his radical call to love others. As Christians we are called by God to share our time, our talent, and our treasure with others, especially those less fortunate.

Years ago I read something that might be a little test of how well we might be living up to our label: If your car starts one out of three times, do you consider it “faithful?” If your paper doesn’t arrive Monday and Thursday, would they be missed?’ If you fail to come to work two or three days a month, would your boss call you “faithful?” If your air conditioner quits for a day now and then, do you excuse it and say, “Oh well, it works most of the time.” If you missed a couple of car payments in a year’s time, would the bank say, “Ten out of twelve isn’t bad?” If you miss worship one third of the time, are you faithful?” Here’s the point: Do you give the same commitment to God and His church that you do to the rest of life?

And what about our call to make Christian disciples? The greatest obstacle to our success in this endeavor may be the discrepancy people see between our label (Christian) and our lives. It doesn’t matter much about our methods if those we seek to disciple don’t see the transforming power of God at work in us. It will be impossible to convince others to commit themselves to radical discipleship if the product they see before them is no better than all the other people they know. The first step to discipling others is working on our own holiness, learning to live up to our Christian label.

QUESTION: When others look at your life do they see something that would make them want to be like you? If not, what do you need to change? Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsDionne Warwick sang, “That’s What Friends Are For.” Stevie Wonder sang, “I just called to say I love you.” Many of the popular shows on television are based on close friendships.

 

Some experts are saying that  friendship was the “sociological signature” of the 80’s, but I would argue this has always been the sociological signature of humankind. In recent years, as the American family has become more mobile there has been a blurring of lines between family and friends. Traditionally, the family has been our primary support group. Unfortunately, the traditional family is almost the exception. Dr. Froma Walsh, at the University of Chicago, has said, “The increasing need for friendship is closely associated with the increasing divorce rate.”

What does all of this say to the church? It means Continue Reading…

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsGod is doing a new thing with Christians around the world and it’s finally coming to the United States. Of course, it’s not really a new thing, its actually an old thing. It’s called “making disciples.”

 

The 2013 Verge Conference was held this year in Austin Texas, the first two days in March. The theme was “Disciple Making.” The Exponential Conference is coming up April 22-25 in Orlando; the theme is “DiscipleShift.” This conference will be discussing Jesus’ Great Commission to His followers. Speakers will include Francis Chan, Ed Stetzer, Rober Coleman, Alan Hirsch, Craig Groeschel, Rick Warren, Wayne Cordeiro, Mike Breen, Randy Frazee, Neil Cole, and many others.  

This Exponential Conference will stress five shifts that churches need to make in order to effectively develop growing disciples of Jesus Christ. The following is copied from the conference web site: 

Shift 1 – From Reaching to Making DiscipleShift occurs when Continue Reading…