Tim Brister

Tim Brister

Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. Tim's passion is to demonstrate a life that trusts God, treasures Christ, and triumphs the gospel. Tim is the Director of PLNTD, a church planting network in association with Founders Ministries. He's also the director of The Haiti Collective, organizer for Band of Bloggers, and creator of P2R (Partnering to Remember) and the Memory Moleskine.

You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.

The Startling Truth about Our Identity in Christ

Today was the start of baseball season in Southwest Florida. After opening ceremonies, my two boys played a double header as part of the festivities. It was the first time for my 5-year-old son to go head-to-head with the pitching machine. At his first at-bat, he surprised himself with a line drive past the third baseman, and I was super excited and proud of him. The following three at-bats did not fare too well, as he struck out all three times.

As someone who has always been highly competitive, I always want my boys to do excel in whatever they do, including playing baseball. The downside to that, and the temptation I have struggled to avoid, is responding to them based on their performance. If they perform well, they see the pleasure of their dad. If they make mistakes and struggle, they hear the disappointment of their dad (“C’mon son!”).

As a Christian who believes the gospel should permeate every area of my life, there are more and more blind spots that I’m learning to see more clearly. When it comes to baseball, I realized that my sincere attempts to make them better players was not honoring the gospel. My response to them was based on their performance (good works), and their identity as a baseball player was more dominant in their thinking than being my sons.

Today, I started to make a change and repent of this legalistic approach to coaching my boys. I want my boys to know, more than anything else, that they are my sons, and I love them. And that love is not based on what they do or do not do, but because of who they are. They are mine. So every time they get ready to play the game, I pull them aside and have a talk with them. Before when I stressed a litany of techniques, I am learning to look them eye-to-eye and tell them, “Son, I am so proud of you. No matter what happens, how well you play today does not change how much I love you and delight in being your dad. I just want you to have fun and enjoy the game.” After a kiss on the forehead, I sent them off to do their best, and the smile that began on my face transferred to a shy grin on theirs.

I reflected more this evening on how this relates to the Christian life in general. Paul is not afraid to tell Christians to fight the good fight, to run the race so as to win, and use other similar illustrations of going hard and excelling to your very best. But the performance of the Christian was not the source of Paul’s understanding of the Christian life. Rather, it was the fruit of an identify firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Salvation is not won by your good performance or lost by your bad performance; therefore, God’s approval and acceptance is not determined by what you do or do not do. Rather, salvation is based on Jesus’ righteousness and His good works that speaks on your behalf. Because of Jesus you are unconditionally accepted and loved with an everlasting love. God has given you His Spirit to remind you with every breath that you are a son (or daughter) of God, and He delights in you because of Jesus. And this is precisely what I want my kids to have mirrored before them in how I coach them in playing baseball.

Imagine how difficult growth in the Christian life would be if the foundation of our spirituality was based on our performance? When we think we do well, we feel loved; when we fail, we feel shamed. This kind of spiritual instability is not only debilitating; it is deadly.

But imagine if your Christian growth is grounded in your identity as a son of God, unconditionally loved and accepted because of Jesus? The pressures off to hit the home run everyday. Jesus did that for you. It’s okay to strike out, because God is not basing your relationship with Him on your batting average. You can grow as a Christian and excel in spiritual maturity, not out of fear that God may look down on you in shame and embarrassment, but because God looks on you with sheer delight and unconditional love. What I need every morning I wake is to know that I am a son of God, and my identity is forever secured because of who Jesus is and what Jesus did for me.

I believe my boys will enjoy the game more and play better, not because of increased pressure, fear of failure, or letting their dad down. No. They will play better because they know they are not merely baseball players; they are my sons, and I love them. They can run, play, strike out, and win the game, but the good performances and bad performances are not going to dictate how I treat them. How much differently would they treat the game of baseball if that was drilled into their thoughts and consciences?

The free grace and unconditional love of God is not a license to sin so that they may increase. Rather, they are the fuel and motivation to strive for holiness and godliness with all that is within me. True sanctification springs from the depths of gospel realities. And it is those gospel realities that should give form and function to every aspect of the Christian life, including when we say, “Play ball.”

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

Christians without a Tribe

“Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah”

As I came across Joshua 7 in my devotional studies, there was something particular that stuck out to me in how God dealt with His people. The story has to do with the sin of Achan who took the items devotion for destruction and made them his own. God made it known to Joshua that there was sin in the camp, but the way it was discovered says something about how God’s people lived in community.

According to Joshua 7:16–18, the people of Israel was addressed on a tribal basis. From within the tribe, the various clans were evaluated. From within the clans, the families were accounted for. And from within the family, the individual (Achan) was discovered to be the one who had sinned.

According to Joshua 7:11, God says “Israel had sinned,” and all the references were in third person plural (they/them). But it was the sin of Achan alone, right? But God saw Achan in the context of His covenant people, Israel. And the way God was going to deal with the individual was through the fabric of Old Testament community. In the Old Testament, it was impossible to be a person without a family, without a clan, without a tribe, and without a nation. People knew you in reference to who you belonged to. You were known by your heritage and tradition, by your roots. Your past was a vivid remembrance and present reality every time they mentioned your name “Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi (family), son of Zerah (clan), of the tribe of Judah (tribe).”

I have reflected on that in the context of Christianity today in the West. It appears that we are living in a culture where that identity in community is just the opposite. Today, you can be a Christian without a family, without a clan, and without a tribe while still claiming to be a part of the nation. Identity is related to the individual alone to the point that little to nothing transcends a unique blend of a la carte spirituality. When someone covets or lies or steals, that individual Christian has no accountability or authority for their lives. Whether they live worthy of the gospel or completely out of step, who knows? It’s their life, and it is lived without mutual submission or any degree of nearness so that blind spots, patterns of disobedience, or idols of the heart can be exposed. And somehow this has not only become acceptable, but the norm today. There is sin in the camp, but the Achan’s are without a tribe.

Your Tribe, Clan, and Family

It is my conviction that a gospel-centered Christian cannot function without their own tribe, clan, and family. It is not enough that you belong to the Christian “nation” (the body of Christ universal). Christians grounded in the gospel will have their roots nourished in the life-giving community God intends for them to flourish in grace. If you were to be identified today, could it be said that your existence as a Christian is defined by who you belong to? Who’s your family? Who’s your clan? Who’s your tribe?

I contend that a contemporary expression of this kind of Christian-in-community could be expressed in the following way:

  • Family – your immediate circle of accountability (or life-transformation group)
  • Clan – your gospel community (or alternative form of “small group” life)
  • Tribe – your local church (where your covenant commitments reside)
  • Nation – your life in the body of Christ at large

This may sound like cumbersome Christianity, but I would push back by saying that we have allowed for compartmentalizing of the Christian faith to the extent that we don’t expect it to have a present reality in the context of everyday relationships where repentance and faith should most naturally be expressed. For example, do my children and my wife see me live out my faith in our family? When I sin against my children, do I humble myself, acknowledge my sin, and ask for their forgiveness? Does my wife see me growing in grace? Am I loving her as my sister in Christ and pursuing her joy in Jesus?

Expand that to my gospel community. We are committed to each other in prayer, and committed to our neighbors in mission. Do they see me as a disciple who is making disciples of Jesus? Is the gospel being shared in everyday conversations? Are we engaging each other, speaking the truth in love, so that we might be a community of light and love?

And then life in the local church. Is my church commitment summed up in a few Sunday morning services a month? Research shows that churchgoers used to attend 3 times a week. Now the average is 3 times a month. This is entirely unacceptable. Maybe for maverick professions, but not biblical Christians. We must orient our lives with the church at the center—not the building or even the programs, but rather the people and the mission we mutually share together to represent Christ to the world as His called-out covenant people.

Does our Christian faith find a home in our family, clan, and tribe? Do these venues of community shape our personhood so that our being “in Christ” (gospel) also mean being “in one another” (community)? That’s what I want for me.

My name is Tim, of the Brister family, of the NWCC gospel community, of Grace Baptist Church, of the people of God in SWFL desiring the invisible kingdom to become visible in word and deed so that our world would come to taste and see the beauty of knowing Jesus Christ.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

Revisiting Discipleship (Fruit That Remains)

With the missional emphasis in the past decade, there has been a renewed emphasis in defining the mission of the church. The Great Commission is all about making disciples, but how do we do that? Within the missional genre of literature, there’s a growing stream of resources revisiting the practice of disciple-making, and I’m encouraged to see this take place.

Growing up, I only understood discipleship in one sense: discipleship training. That is the 5:00 PM time slot where the really dedicated church members attended church (that is, after Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, then discipleship training). During that time, I participated in things like Bible drill and youth choir. For all I knew, it was another period and program provided by the church that dedicated Christians should participate.

Going off to college, I did not understand the relationship of evangelism to discipleship, and I was making converts, not disciples. I would make it my goal to lead X number of people to Christ and was determined to do whatever it took to see that happen. When the goal was reached, I thought I was really getting somewhere as a Christian. But then I began to look back and realize that hardly, if any, of the people I led to Christ were discipled, growing, and flourishing in their relationship with God. There was little to to no “fruit that remains.”

It was “fruit that remains” that was a central concern to the ministry of the apostle Paul.

To the church in Corinth, he warned them not to believe in vain (1 Corinthians 15:2) and not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1).

To the church in Galatia, he was deeply concerned that he may have labored over them in vain due to their waffling on the gospel (Galatians 4:11).

To the church in Philippi, he pleaded with them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling so that “in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Philippians 2:16).

To the church in Thessalonica, he sent Timothy to this church facing persecution out of fear that their labor would be in vain (1 Thessalonians 3:5).

It is clear that one of Paul’s overarching concerns and fears is that his life and labor among the people of God would be found useless and bear no fruit in the end. If we were to embrace this kind of concern for the souls of men and women, how would this affect our evangelism and disciple-making? What measurables would need to change?

Whatever might be said on this topic, we are dealing with souls that will never die. We must hear the words of Jesus who said that we have been appointed to go and bear fruit and that fruit should remain (John 15:16). The Great Commission is not just about sinners being made Christians, but sinners made saints and ushered into the presence of God.

Perhaps one of the most glaring failures in evangelical life today is the absence of Paul’s concern that Christians remain faithful and finish strong to the end so that no one would “receive the grace of God in vain.” His concern was not so much how many were being converted in, but that not a single “child” in the faith would fail to make it to maturity. Like a father, he could not envision a single child orphaned and departing from the faith. Perhaps this is what Paul was talking about when he said “there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

Fathers don’t bring children into the world and leave them once they are born. Shepherds don’t ignore the one sheep leaving the ninety-nine. Soldiers don’t abandon the trenches when fellow comrades are in battle. Athletes don’t beat the air or run aimlessly when training others to win the prize. These are all illustration of discipleship from Scripture intended to remind us of the Great Commission. Make disciples. Run. Labor. Fight. Shepherd. Because all of them are people for Jesus shed his blood and appointed to bear fruit that remains.

6 Steps to Create a Disciple-Making Culture

Last week, I gave a talk on discipleship at the “Building Biblical Churches Conference” hosted by the Spurgeon Fellowship of Florida. One of the points I argued had to with the responsibility of the leadership to create a culture for disciple-making. It just doesn’t happen by accident, and it should not happen by exception. In order for disciple-making to become normative in the life of a church, I argue that one of the most fundamental steps to take is to create a culture through robust means spearheaded by intentional leadership.

Here are six means I believe church leaders should be intentional with implementing in order to create a disciple-making culture:

On Creating a Disciple-Making Culture

1.  A Philosophy That Focuses on Disciple-Making [PURPOSE]

From the very beginning, church leaders should have a clear understanding of the mission of the church. The church does not exist to satisfy the preferences of members or cater to the demands of religious consumers. The church exists to make disciples, and a philosophy that undergirds that mission focuses the life of the church toward that end. The practical benefit of purposeful thinking encourages a straightforward and simple approach to ministry rather than a busy calendar and complex, compartmentalized approach.

2.  Leadership Who Model Disciple-Making [PRAXIS]

Like priests, like people. Those most influential in creating culture are the leaders and the example they set. If church leaders are not the lead disciple-makers, then it is disingenuous to pursue a culture of disciple-making when the leadership undermine it. The Apostle Paul was such a discipler that he could send one of his disciple-making disciples in his stead to teach, serve, and live in a manner consistent with the life he modeled for churches. This did not come about on a platform or in an office. It happened because Paul was on mission in all of life to make disciples of Jesus. A model either magnifies or marginalizes the making of disciples.

3.  Structures to Facilitate Disciple-Making [PERMISSION-GIVING]

Churches can be structured in a way that communicates to the people only the gifted, paid professionals should do the work. The structures of the church which facilitate disciple-making are permission-giving in that aspiring disciples and emerging leaders find opportunity to meaningfully participate in the life of leading disciplers as well as the work they are doing. Do your structures provide latitude for amateurs or leverage for professionals? Permission-giving structures exist for the former and demystify the latter.

4.  Systems to Foster Disciple-Making [PATHWAYS/PROCESSES]

A professionalized culture cuts off pathways and processes, and internal systems are not necessarily since the work is reserved for the uniquely qualified. However, a disciple-making culture necessarily must have systems in place to foster the relational work of growth in the gospel, community, and mission. What systems are in place to make disciples? Mature disciples? Mobilize disciples? Multiply disciples? What pathways and processes exist for not-yet believers to hear and respond to the gospel? For new believers to become covenant members? For members to be integrated into the mission and vision of the church? For disciples to own the mission to make more disciples and lead others in the process? When there is a disciple-making culture, you will find a farming system composed of pathways and processes that foster disciple-making in a comprehensive manner.

5.  Assessments to Measure Disciple-Making [PROGNOSIS]

In the past, there have been various kinds of assessments, including the notorious B’s (building, budgets, baptisms) and N’s (nickels and noses). These are not entirely wrong, but they are also not necessarily helpful either. They don’t tell the whole story. In the same way, a busy church with a lot of activities does not mean it is a disciple-making church. In fact, such busyness could be a substitute for a failure of real discipleship. I would suggest that a better assessment would be the R’s, namely (1) Renewal based on the gospel, (2) Relationships built on the gospel, (3) Rhythms established for gospel mission, and (4) Reproduction born from faithfulness in making disciple-making disciples. Assessments are like scorecards. It helps you evaluate successes and failures. In that way, assessments provide a prognosis for church health and vitality.

6.  Values to Filter Out Distractions to Disciple-Making [PRIORITIES]

Aiming to please everybody and attempting to do everything that appears to work is a quick way to lead the church to failure. The church should not be a laboratory to try out the latest trends. It should be viewed as the people who stubbornly value the things of God because He knows what is best for us. To have a disciple-making culture, you need to know (1) your pre-commitments to govern how you invest your time and energy, (2) your pre-determined parameters to guide where you should spend your time and energy, and (3) pre-scripted emphasis to steer your time and energies to the appropriate goal.

I believe the implementation of these robust means through the intentionality of church leaders will serve them well in creating a disciple-making culture. There is a danger that we all face: we can become committed to doing things that don’t matter and good in the things that don’t register in the kingdom of God. When a disciple-making culture exists, a church will more easily detect the distractions to the heart of the mission and diseases to the health of the body.

Let me ask you: are there other aspects of a disciple-making culture that I have not mentioned? What else would you add or suggest for creating a disciple-making culture?

Evidences You Are Living in Gospel Community

You know you are living in gospel community when...

  • believers practice confession instead of trying to make an impression
  • people are defined by a lifestyle of repenting rather than pretending
  • you embrace truth at all costs, not agreeing for each others approval
  • light exposes & wounds and love covers & heals–both/and not either/or
  • people are happy to be holy, not content to be comfortable
  • you own your mess because of His mercy, instead of hiding them because of your shame
  • functional saviors & heart idolatry are lovingly confronted & challenged by Christ’s reign & rule
  • unbelieving sinners & believing sinners together look away from themselves & look to Jesus
  • the pleasure of God in Christ to save you liberates you to passionately serve others
  • hospitality is given to those on the margins, & those not like you are welcome in your world
  • individual preferences take a back seat to community purposes of loving God and neighbor

[These were some personal reflections posted on Twitter last week.]

Where Jesus Lived on Mission

Jesus came to save His people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). From heaven, His mission was declared before He was born. The accomplishment of that mission came through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Granted, there is a big emphasis here in the Gospel accounts, especially in Mark where the last week of Jesus’ life seemed to be in slow motion in a book that repeatedly says “and immediately…”.

Having said that, I believe there is much to be studied from the life of Jesus. Jesus did not only accomplish His mission, but He entrusted the mission to His disciples and sent them out to live as He lived–as those who have been sent. The fact that we have four Gospel narratives about Jesus life tells us that there is much to be studied and learned about Jesus. Indeed, His life and message is inexhaustible in nature!

In recent years, there is a section in the gospel accounts that have impacted me significantly, both as a disciple of Jesus and as a disciple-maker. This portion Scripture has the bookends of His temptation in the wilderness (the beginning) and the commissioning of His disciples (the end). In the book of Matthew, it is Matthew 4:17-9:38. In the book of Luke, it is Luke 4:14-8:56. I believe this passage is worthy of serious and sustained reflection and meditation as a disciple of Jesus because it reveals the life of Jesus on mission from the inauguration of His ministry to the commissioning of His disciples. I am convinced that every step was intentional, every story was purposeful, every aspect providential for the purpose of not only accomplishing His mission but also modeling and training His apprentices to become like Him in every way.

Where Jesus Lived on Mission

One of the many aspects we can learn from Jesus is where He lived on mission. Isn’t it remarkable that the man who had the most important mission in the world did not come to set up a palace or compound or even headquarters at the capital of the known world? Even in his notoriously known hometown (“can anything good come out of Nazareth?”), Jesus was highly unremarkable (“isn’t this the son of the carpenter?”). Truly amazing when you consider that His life has now changed hundreds of millions people throughout the world. From the borrow manger to the borrowed donkey to the borrowed tomb, Jesus’ life on mission left a mark that architectural diggers cannot find, but men in every age cannot deny.

Taking the section in Luke that I mentioned earlier, I took some time to mindmap the places where Jesus lived on mission. As you will see, the color codes represent common threads in His journey.

Based on this breakdown, I discovered 5 different kinds of places where Jesus lived on mission: (1) in the synagogues, (2) in people’s homes, (3) in the cities, (4) in the rural/countryside, and (5) the desolate place/mountain. From these observations, what can disciples of Jesus learn from how He lived on mission?

Takeaways from the Where

The first thing we should consider is that Jesus came on mission for all (kinds of) people. He went to the culturally elite and influential (synagogues) and to the blue-collar citizens (farmers and fishermen). He went to where they were, whether it was a grain field or a ruler’s house. You did not find a location on the earth on which Jesus did not claim absolutely sovereignty.

The second thing we can take away is that Jesus could not be boxed in any tribe or group in that day. He had no problem going from the house of a Pharisee to a tax collectors house to a ruler’s house. All three people are from different in just about every way, and yet Jesus was relevant to them. He was approachable and accessible to them in the same way–in their homes. Can you imagine what His disciples must have felt like when Simon the zealot was eating with Jesus in the home of a tax collector? Talk about an identity crisis!

The third takeaway from where Jesus lived on mission can be seen in its personal yet public nature. Jesus addressed large groups of people at times (synagogues and cities) but also in small gatherings (homes) and one-on-one (ruler, demon-possessed man in Gennesaret).

The fourth takeaway from where Jesus lived on mission the critique of geo-centric emphasis that we often see today. Was Jesus on mission in the city? Yes. Was Jesus on mission in the countryside? Yes. Was any one any less significant in His mission? No. Jesus was about establishing His kingdom on earth, whether that was at a tax collectors booth or a grain field, whether a ruler’s house or on a boat in the middle of a lake, whether in a synagogue or simply “along the way.”

A final takeaway is that Jesus lived on mission where people lived, worked, and played. Jesus came to people in their homes. Jesus came to people in their workplace (fishermen at the lake, tax collectors at their booths, religious leaders in their synagogues). Jesus came to people where they played and connected in the city (synagogues, lakes, along the way, etc.). Whether first, second, or third places in culture, you could find Jesus on mission bringing the good news that the King is here.

As a disciple of Jesus, I have so much to learn from Him. As a disciple-maker of disciples of Jesus, I have so much to teach and train others. Certainly where Jesus lived on mission and the implications for us today ought to be fundamental instruction for a “sent people.” How was Jesus sent? What did it look like? Those are important questions, and in the kindness of God, we get to see that in the gospel accounts so we can learn to “walk in His steps.”

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

The Disciple’s Napkin: 4 Ways to Serve

In the Disciple’s Napkin, I have explained a little about the 5 minutes of Bible intake. Today, I want to share about the four ways to serve.

A disciple of Jesus should have movement in four directions: upward, inward, outward, and forward. These four dynamics shape the four ways and rhythms by which a disciple is to flesh out a life of servanthood. They dynamics should be practiced on a weekly basis as “macro rhythms” in following Jesus.

Upward – Corporate Worship

Every disciple should be regularly and faithfully participating in corporate worship in a local church. The gathering of the saints to sing God’s praises and hear God’s Word is a non-negotiable means of grace, as well as a weekly reminder of our identity as persons-in-community. While this may be something easily assumed, the research shows today that more and more professing Christians and church members find faithful participation in weekly corporate worship as optional. The more secular and post-Christian our society becomes, the more it will pressure and push Christians to conform to its mold, especially with its attitude toward the Lord’s Day. We must be careful and intentional to develop godly rhythms that give sacred preeminence to the gathering of the saints above all institutions of human origin (including sports, concerts, hobbies, etc.).

Inward – Gospel Community

Christians gather in corporate worship and scatter in gospel communities of light in the world. Whether you call them small groups, life groups, growth groups, or gospel communities, the structure of shared living within a context of deepening relationships are critical to the health of a disciple. Gospel communities are places where we discover the gospel depths, discover our own identity in Christ, and discover others as we press into knowing God and one another. It is an inward movement because God works in us through gospel communities to enable us to love Him and love one another as disciples committed to God and one another.

Outward – Spirit-Led Service

The Spirit of God has sovereignty given to each disciple gifts and abilities for the purpose of edifying the church and evangelizing the world. Therefore, it is a matter of stewardship for each disciple to discover, develop, and deploy these gifts and abilities for those very purposes as Spirit-led, Spirit-equipped, and Spirit-empowered followers of Jesus. When each disciple is actively involved in service to others, the ministry of the saints brilliantly displays the beauty of Christ as we function as His hands and feet to one another and to the world.

Forward – Generous Mission

Jesus taught us to pray for His kingdom to come, for His name to be hallowed on earth as it is in heaven. We are commissioned to seek first the kingdom of God, and seeking for that to be reflected in every area of our lives, especially in giving ourselves first wholeheartedly and unreservedly to God Himself. Christians are to be generous, but not generous for the sake of being generous, but generous for the sake of mission. God was generous by sending His own Son. What more could He give? What greater cost could have been paid? What greater sacrifice has there been known? As disciples of Jesus, we should joyfully embrace lives of sacrifice. Giving our money should not be a sore spot. Giving our time should not be questioned by our “comfort zones.” Giving our lives to go to hard places and do hard things should not be marginalized but magnified because that is exactly what our Savior did in leaving an example for us.

If disciples are not generous in giving financially for the cause of ministry and mission, then we are not seeking first the kingdom of God. If disciples are not generous with their time and energy for the advancement of the gospel, we are not seeking first the kingdom of God, If disciples are not generous with our lives, holding them out to God with an open hand and blank check, then we are not seeking first the kingdom of God.

Healthy Christians weekly are seeing movement happen upward in worship, inward in gospel community, outward in serve toward others, and forward in generous mission for the sake of kingdom come. These weekly rhythms provide robust dynamics to represent God and put His grace on display in and through our lives.

Disciples Napkin

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

The Disciple’s Napkin: 5 Minutes of Bible Intake

When I first kicked around the idea for the The Disciple’s Napkin, the most amount of feedback I received had to do with the 5 minutes of Bible intake that I had proposed. Am I saying 5 minutes just to fit with the template of 5…4…3…2…1? Perhaps.

I chose a short amount of time for the following three reasons.

  1. This may be a starting point for several people.
  2. Bible intake is intended not merely for information but for transformation. There is enough truth to transform your life in five minutes of meaningful Bible intake. The problem is that we take in God’s Word, and sometimes so much, that we forget it and fail to apply it to our lives. I have heard men like John Piper say that often times it is a word or phrase alone in God’s Word that changes a person’s life. I have found that to be true in my own life as well.
  3. Bible intake is not only for our transformation but also transfer. You take what you receive from God’s Word, and as a faithful steward, look for ways to share that with others. Five minutes provides you opportunity to look for one simple truth from God’s Word to share with others in your life.

Of course, you may want to spend 10, 15, 30, or 60 minutes of Bible intake on a daily basis. That is great! I hope the DMN (disciple-making napkin) leads to that and more. But as I expressed in my original post, my goal is to present a vision for disciple-making that is accessible to every single Christian, and I think this approach suits that purpose.

So, what do I mean by Bible intake? Here are some examples of 5 minute Bible intakes.

  1. Read one chapter in the Gospels (and make it your goal to read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John over the course of 6 months).
  2. Read one Psalm and day and make it the substance of your prayers.
  3. Find one verse that ministers to your soul and seek to put it to memory. Make a memory moleskine of daily verses that you take with you to meditate on throughout the day.
  4. Read one paragraph from the letters of the Apostle Paul.

Do you have other suggestions for Bible intake? I would love to hear them!

Disciples Napkin

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

The Disciple’s Napkin

The heart of the Christian mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Every Christian is a disciple called to make disciples. The making and maturing of disciples should be the centerpiece of our lives. However, it seems that, while we adhere to these truths in principle, so often disciple-making eludes us.

As I have talked with my fellow elders at Grace and other pastors among whom I share fellowship, the struggle to see the call of being a disciple-making disciple continually comes up on our conversation. Have we made it too difficult? Have we misunderstood the identity and rhythms of the Christian life in the world? Are we communicating a version of the Christian life where we can identify with Jesus but never identify with His mission?

Over the past couple months, I sought to evaluate disciple-making in my own life and church community. In particular, I wanted to focus on the biblically prescribed means of grace as the foundational disciplines for laying a framework of discipleship that cuts across every sphere of our lives. I don’t want it to be said by anyone, “I cannot make disciples because it is too complicated, too difficult, too demanding, etc.” No matter where you are in the journey as a follower of Jesus, I want it to be said by anyone, “I can do that. I can be a disciple who makes disciples of Jesus.”

During that time, I sought to incorporate these basic principles in the formative process:

  • Simple – I want to break down the essence of following Jesus. Keeping it simple it key to the other principles outlined here.
  • Rhythmic – I want to help Christians have healthy rhythms in their lives both on a daily and weekly basis. We don’t need busy Christians. We need intentional Christians redeeming everyday life for gospel advance.
  • Transferable – I want the practice of making disciples to be something that can be easily transferred to another person through informal conversation and shared living.
  • Memorable – I want to summarize the practice in such a way that it can be easily memorized for recall with relative ease.
  • Reproducible – I want the practice to so accessible that anyone at any level of spiritual growth can take part. Reproducibility presupposes the possibility of owning the practice by people without prerequisites (graduated Christianity).
  • Practical – I want the practice to incorporate the the spiritual disciples for application in accountable community. These practices are intended to be the transformative means to grow Christians by grace through faith in Jesus.

After considering these principles, the key for me was to find a way to consolidate and communicate them in the most effective way possible. I have heard it say that if you cannot cast vision or explain mission on a napkin, it is too complicated or unclear. So one afternoon, I sat down at a Subway and came up with what I call “The Disciple’s Napkin.”

Disciples Napkin

In the coming days, I will walk through The Disciple’s Napkin with brief explanations. My hope is that by sharing this with you, perhaps others will want to take call to make disciples who make disciples. If you are a leader in a church and want to have a simple process to the practice, please join me for the journey. I pray the discussion and development of The Disciple’s Napkin will result in many Christians and churches embracing a passion for making, maturing, and multiplying disciples of Jesus.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

Create a Disciple-Making Plan for the New Year

One of the joys I have experienced through blogging is seeing a community of people embrace a challenge. In 2008, it was the Puritan Reading Challenge. In 2011, it was the Philippians Memory Moleskine. 2013 has been a year of reorientation around the mission of making disciples. I’ve always emphasized it in my teaching and preaching. It’s always been something I’ve enjoyed reading about and speaking on. But I came to the sobering realization that I wasn’t doing much as a disciple-making practitioner. Things had to change.

Making Disciples Is Hard

Making disciples is the call of every believer in Jesus Christ. Yet, I dare say for most of us, it has been permitted to accept a version of Christianity both personally and corporately where disciple-making is virtually non-existent. Disciple-making Christians should not be considered the “hard core” version of Christians or the “elite forces” of the church militant. The fact that such attributions exist reveal how non-normative disciple-making has become.

For many of us, it could be that we are simply not well taught or well trained in the words and ways of Jesus. No doubt, that is an issue. But for all of us, disciple-making is just plain hard. It’s hard because we have years of non-disciple-making habits in us like inertia that need to be moved by Christ’s call of living on mission. It’s hard because we have rarely seen it modeled well before us and therefore disciple-making is turned into a program or function rather than a way of life. It’s hard because we have to evaluate our lives in light of the mission and make disciple-making a priority, and that can be a very painful and challenging process.

That is why I believe you and I need to have a disciple-making plan for our lives. Yes, we need to pray. Yes, we need to study and learn. But we also need a personal plan and process that we embrace in order to orient our lives around making, maturing, mobilizing, and multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ. It simply cannot be tangential or accidental or on the periphery of your life. It cannot be relegated to a small compartment of your life or canned program. To make disciples, you need to be “all in.”

Putting Together a Plan

Before we can begin to put together a plan, there are questions we must set before us throughout the process, questions like:

  • What needs to change in my daily/weekly priorities?
  • What needs to change in my thinking/perspective?
  • What needs to change in my lifestyle/rhythms of life?
  • What do I need to say no to in order to say yes to making disciples?

In putting together a plan, the easiest way to begin is by asking and answering the who-what-when-where–so what questions…

WHO – who are the people you are personally going to invest your life in? How many relationships do you have in your life that have disciple-making built into them? How many non-Christians do you know and are building a relationship with?

WHAT – what will be your objectives or goals? What are you seeking to impart to others? What will it take to see someone develop into a disciple-making disciple?

WHEN – when will you find time to make disciples? What kind of margin to you have in your time management efforts? When will you schedule time to meet regularly with the people you are investing in?

WHERE – where will you make disciples? In your neighborhood (first place)? In your school or workplace (second place)? In the rhythms of community life and culture centers (third places)?

HOW – how are you going to work this out on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis? What is your strategy for making disciples? Maturing disciples? How are you being trained to do this? How are you going to train others through your life, example, influence, and instruction?

SO WHAT – so what if I don’t make disciples? What kind of accountability and encouragement do I have in this process? What kind of measurements of progress and growth? What kind of accessibility do others have to my life to help me keep my motivations and attitudes Christ-centered and kingdom-focused?

These are the kinds of questions we must be asking ourselves if we are going to take serious the call to make disciples. If you are thinking about putting a plan together, please do let me know. I’m working on mine now and hope to share it soon. As I’ve said earlier, it is tempting to shoot for targets that are much easier to hit, but it does not matter if the targets are nowhere near the heart of God. Making disciples has great kingdom consequence! Let’s stumble forward together in the hard, messy, and glorious work of making disciples of Jesus!

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

The Inverted Nature of Christ’s Invitation

Have you ever considered the scandalous grounds of Christ’s invitation?

We are raised in a world where invitations are given to those who successfully reach a standard or excel in accomplishment. If you are a student and your GPA and ACT/SAT scores meet a certain standard, you are given an invitation to attend a college or university. If you are an athlete and your excellence performance on the field or court qualifies you for an athletic scholarship, you are invited to play for the team. If you apply for a job, and your resume indicates from your previous experience you are qualified for the job, you are invited to join the company or business. That’s the way it works in the world no matter what arena you find yourself in life.

But not so with Jesus.

Jesus undermined the world’s way of thinking with the first words of his first sermon. Talking to a culture dominated by those seeking to be rich in spirit, Jesus declared that the kingdom of God belonged to those who were poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). By inverting the standard, he was showing the kingdom of God is upside-down and inside-out. Those who are qualified to inherit the kingdom of God are those who know they are unqualified in and of themselves spiritually to do anything to earn their acceptance with God. The riches of heaven are given to the spiritually bankrupt, not the religious elite.

Jesus confirmed the inverted nature of his invitation at a dinner party with a bunch of tax collectors. The spiritually “healthy” had major problems that Jesus would be spending time in an intimate setting with such spiritually “sick” people. And yet, Jesus made it clear that he is not interested in the sacrifices of hard-working religious people, flexing their legalistic muscles. Rather, he came as a physician to heal those who were sin sick and had nothing to vouch for except sovereign mercy. As a subversive insult, he told the religious intellectuals to “go and learn what this means.” Apparently with all their learning, they had not learned the ways of God with men.

Finally, leading up to his invitation, Jesus expresses himself in prayer to the Father, thanking him that he has hidden “these things” from the wise and understanding but revealed them to “little children” (or babes). These things–the kingdom of God and the saving purposes of Christ–are a gracious revelation granted by the Father’s will to save those who are “child-like.” They are those who understand themselves to be needy, helpless, dependent, and with no accomplishments or successes to bring to the table. The only thing they can do is cling wholeheartedly with confidence and trust in the Father who loves them.

It is at this point Jesus makes the remarkable invitation, “Come to Me.”

Come those who are poor in spirit.
Come you who are sin sick and need a merciful great physician.
Come all who are helpless and needy, looking alone for the heavenly embrace in the arms of Jesus.

The invitation of Jesus inverts the invitation of the world. He invites us not because we meet a certain qualification or level of deservedness, but because we don’t. The scandalous grounds of Christ’s invitation is the sheer grace of God. Grace says to the poor in the Spirit, Jesus is rich in righteousness and will clothe you with his royal garments. Grace says to the spiritually sick, there is more mercy in the bloody wounds of Christ than there is sin in your wicked heart. Grace says to the helpless children, you will not be left as orphans in the world but have the right to be called “children of God” and adopted into His family. The grace of God alone is the hope of sinners, for when sin abounded, grace abounded all the more!

The great hymn “Come Ye Sinners” concludes with this marvelous truth:

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

The fitness, the qualification for Christ’s invitation is simply to feel your need of Him. It is to look away from yourself as though you had anything to warrant His invitation and to look toward the cross. Look to the cross, for that is where the gracious invitation is extended with arms open wide for sinners to know there is abundant pardon and full redemption in the life and death of our great Savior.

4 Steps to Sharing the Gospel with Your Family During Christmas

I’ve been browsing through Randy Newman’s book, Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Your Family Members, Your Close Friends, and Others You Know Well. This is an incredibly important topic as I have come to find it harder to share the gospel with family members as it is with an unknown person in my community. I imagine this is true for most if not all Christians.

In the conclusion of his introductory chapter, Newman provides four steps for sharing the gospel with your family. I thought they were very thoughtful and practical. Check them out.

1.  If you don’t already have one, develop a system for prayer for your family. Perhaps you can set aside a section in a prayer journal.

2.  Begin your prayers for your family with thanksgiving. This may be more difficult for some people than others. Regardless of your family’s well-being, thank God for the family you have and all the accompanying benefits you can identify.

3.  You may need to include prayers of confession as well–confession of your lack of love for your family, your idolatry of control in trying to change them, your reliance on your ability to convict them of their sin instead of trusting the Holy Spirit to do that, your coldheartedness, haughtiness, and self-righteousness, etc. Ask the Holy Spirit to shine his light of truth on your darkness of sin.

4.  If you haven’t already done so, “come out of the closet” as a Christian to your family. Pray for gentle words and a gracious demeanor mixed with bold confidence. . . . Aim for your announcement to be informational rather than evangelistic. You can trust God to open evangelistic doors later.

#3 nailed me.

One thing I might add, especially if you have a large family: look for opportunities in the course of the day when it is not so hectic where you might be able to enjoy a sustained conversation with a family member who is not a Christian. In a large group setting, conversations tend to stay on a superficial level, but if you can get alone with one or two family members for 10-15 minutes or longer, you will have a greater opportunity of magnetizing the conversation to the gospel and how Jesus has changed, and is changing your life.