One of the things I get to do as part of my responsibilities at New Denver Church is teaching in our Sunday services. One of the things I love about teaching is the process of learning it forces me to go through. I believe that you should not stand before people to teach something unless it is something God has shown or taught you first. Before I ever give a message to others I must first give it to myself. So it occurred to me this week that this site is a great place to share what I learn during the weeks that I teach. And I can’t think of a better place to start than the series I’m currently teaching through.
A little over two years ago I was introduced to a book called Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen (hard copy book available from 3DM’s website) which introduces an approach to discipling known as Life Shapes. As someone who has led small groups ministries for over a decade, I’ve seen my share of group models and curricula. But after hearing friends who are pastors in Ecclesia (the church network we’re part of) rave about this book and its intentional approach to making disciples – teaching people to learn to follow Jesus more closely in their everyday lives – I was definitely intrigued. After reading the book, my first thought was, “Is that it?” It seemed too simple. I didn’t see how this approach would be any more effective than any other small group material I had ever seen. I struggled for a year, talking to the most ardent supporters of this approach, trying to understand what was so different about it. They all said the same thing, “You just have to be in a group and experience it to get it.”
Finally in March of last year, thanks to my friend Ben Sternke who is a pastor from our church network, I got the chance to experience a group. That experience more than lived up to the hype. In the four months we spent together as a group, learning this intentional approach to discipleship, I experienced personal growth in my relationship with God and instantly saw the potential inherent in this approach. I have personally adopted the Life Shapes paradigm of spiritual growth and applied it to my own life and spiritual journey. It has also influenced how I lead and guide others that I lead or mentor do the same.
So what made this so different from other groups? First and foremost is the paradigm with which you approach the process: God is already directing and discipling you. The question is, “Are you listening?” In the past I have looked to systems or curriculum to figure out how to help myself and others engage the felt and unfelt spiritual needs of people’s lives. But what if God is already in the process of doing that? What if God is already trying to get our attention and direct our growth through the events, the people, and the circumstances of our lives? What if what we need isn’t more information or talking through curriculum that may or may not address the issues God wants us to address? What if all we had to do was to begin paying attention to what God is already trying to do and responding to him? That is the simplicity and the power behind the Life Shapes approach to discipleship.
Since I finished my group with Ben last summer, I’ve started three different groups based on this approach at New Denver Church. Each one has proven more effective at helping people take real steps of growth in their life and faith in a shorter period of time than any other group approach I’ve ever seen. As a result, the language of Life Shapes has begun to take root at New Denver and become our way of understanding discipleship and spiritual formation. In order to begin disseminating some of that language into New Denver I decided to share the principles behind the core of the Life Shapes approach – the circle.
Last Sunday I taught through the first of a two-part series called Walking in Circles. In this first part we explored Jesus’ call in Mark 1:15 to “repent and believe” by looking at what it means to “repent” or to change your mind about what we experience in life. The process of repenting involves three steps:
Observe – Pay attention to the events of your life and be attuned to possible “kairos” moments that God may be trying to guide or direct you. Here are some questions to help you discern kairos moments in your life:
- What were the high points or the low points (of my day, my week, my month, etc)?
- Where did you experience stress or peace?
- Were there any relational conflicts or tension?
- What do I want the most in life right now?
- Is there something I’m thinking a lot about?
Reflect – Once you have identified the significant “kairos” moments it is important to reflect on those and to seek to understand what God may be trying to teach or tell you through those moments. Here are some questions that may help you:
- Why did I react to that situation in that way?
- What emotion was I feeling in that moment? What does that emotion tell me?
- What is it God may be trying to teach or tell me by bringing this moment to mind?
Discuss – We all need the objectivity of others to help us discern how God may be leading us. Sharing the significant events of your life with others and talking about how you feel God is leading you may help to clarify what your next step should be.
If you’d like to listen to the audio of this message it is available online at our website or through our iTunes Podcast. In my next post I’ll share the second half of the circle and talk about the steps we take to believe that the kingdom of God is present and available to us.
**Thanks to JR Briggs for the circle diagram we used during the series.