Chuck Lawless on Discipleship

There are two points that I want to make in this little post. First, for those of our readers who are not yet acquainted with Chuck Lawless (VP for Global Theological Advance at the International Mission Board), I’d like to introduce him by saying that if he preaches it you want to hear it, and if he writes it you want to read it. This man has been saying the right things, all along, about theological education, discipleship, church growth, and spiritual warfare. He’s been ahead of the curve, as if he were somehow mugged by reality in the cradle. Second, I want to say that his recent book, Mentor, is particularly significant. It is a brief, theologically sound, and accessible little book on making disciples. This is a seriously neglected topic, and Dr. Lawless’ book is a welcome contribution.

In the book, which bears the full title, Mentor: How Along-the-Way Discipleship Will Change Your Life (LifeWay, 2011). Lawless sees mentoring in the pattern established by Jesus with his disciples:

“Jesus mentored the men who followed Him. . . . He journeyed through life with them and taught as He went, both by what He said to them and what He did with them. Mentor is about this very process Jesus showed us. It’s about hanging out with somebody whose life shows God’s power; it’s about following Jesus’ example and mentoring others so they can carry on Jesus’ work too. It’s about mentoring and being mentored, discipling and being discipled” (pp. 8-9).

With this foundation Lawless defines mentoring and examines its roots in Jesus and the Early Church. He then provides some guidance on how to go about mentoring and being mentored. The study is organized by six easy-to-read but thought-provoking sessions.

Session One: Understanding Along-the-Way Discipleship

Session Two: Learning from the Master: Jesus & His Disciples

Session Three: Mentoring in Action: Paul & Timothy

Session Four: Taking the First Steps

Session Five: Developing a Plan of Action

Session Six: Preparing for Potholes and Possibilities

In session one, for instance, Lawless provides his answers to the questions, “what is mentoring?” and “why mentor?” According to Lawless, mentoring: is about relationships, builds on divine intersections, requires a growing Christian, is a balance of equipping and encouraging, is about transformation, crosses generations, is done by the spiritually mature, requires self-control, is biblical, reinforces the truth of the Word, requires the mentor to guard his/her life against the Enemy’s attacks, offers a safe place to deal with failure, produces the next generation of Christian leaders. All this provides plenty of reason to mentor and be mentored.

Lawless has written the book for conversation. That is, numerous questions give each session an intentional “how do I do this?” feel. Such a feel is important for a book on how to not only understand mentoring but to actually do it. Session Six: Preparing for Potholes and Possibilities is especially helpful in bringing one’s expectations, misconceptions, and underestimations in line with reality. Hitting at practicalities is important in a book such as this one and Lawless does a good job on this score.

Mentor is a fine introduction to the biblical pattern for and basis of “along-the-way discipleship.” It is designed for college students but would make an excellent foundation study for many adult small groups or Sunday School classes.

Time Magazine Speaks to Evangelicals

Note: Chuck Lawless is Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and President of the Lawless Group, a church consulting firm. The article below was originally published earlier today at his personal blog. Dr. Lawless has graciously given us permission to republish his excellent article at Between the Times.

I don’t recall fearing writing a blog, but this one scares me.

This week, Time magazine published its annual special issue, “10 Ideas for the Next 10 Years.”[i] Trend number 9-“The Twilight of the Elites”-caught my attention not because of its title, but because of its subtitle: “Why we have entered the post-trust era.”

The article starts ominously enough:

In the past decade, nearly every pillar institution in American society-whether it’s General Motors, Congress, Wall Street, Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church or the mainstream media-has revealed itself to be corrupt, incompetent, or both. And at the root of these failures are the people who run these institutions, the bright and industrious minds who occupy the commanding heights of our meritocratic order. In exchange for their power, status and remuneration, they are supposed to make sure everything operates smoothly. But after a cascade of scandals and catastrophes, that implicit social contract lies in ruins, replaced by mass skepticism, contempt and disillusionment.

From there, author Christopher Hayes, the Washington editor of the Nation, critically evaluates why it is that “so much of the country’s leadership in so many different walks of life performed so terribly over this decade.” While recognizing that no single theory can explain this failure, he nevertheless finds these themes to be recurrent in the failures: the concentration of power in a single person and the erosion of transparency and accountability in the system.

Hayes finds this problem evident in various walks of life, including the Catholic Church. Citing the work of Terry McKiernan, who founded Bishop Accountability in the wake of sexual abuse allegations in the Church, he concludes that obsessive secrecy and the hierarchical nature of the Church contributed to the crisis. McKiernan is even more direct: “I’m not surprised that people doing unexamined things do bad things.”

The problem is larger, though, than distrust of leaders, says Hayes. We live in a complicated society that rightly demands expertise and leadership and elites at times – but if a culture cannot trust its leaders, the result is a loss of authority even when that authority is desperately needed. That is, all leaders pay a price when other leaders fall.

There is so much here for the evangelical church. First, we ignore this trend only to our peril. How many agonizing stories do we know-the evangelist whose immorality cost him his ministry, the pastor whose financial dealings cast a web that entangled him, the church leader whose unchecked arrogance led to corrupt living-that were marked by secrecy and no accountability?

Perhaps more alarming, how many stories do we not know yet? How many leaders, invested in building their own kingdoms, believe that their success has inoculated them against failure? The evil one who tempted Jesus still offers us a kingdom if we bow to the altar of self.

Second, the accountability inherent in the Body of Christ is non-negotiable, even for leaders-in fact, especially for leaders. The qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 not only assume examination and accountability; they demand it. Moreover, those qualifications are not simply a checklist to examine a pastoral candidate. They are stated expectations for the leader as he lives today, tomorrow, and the future.

I am not one who believes that the Scriptures require a plurality of elders as the single model of a NT church, but the wisdom of shared leadership is clear here. Power centered in a single person breeds demonized independence that is nothing short of idolatry of the self. There are good reasons that the Body of Christ is “not one part, but many” (1 Cor. 12:14) – one of which is accountability. Or, as Hayes concludes in his article about trend #9, “The elites’ failures of the past decade should teach us that institutions of all kinds need input from below.”

Third, the attitude of “we trust him just because he’s our leader” no longer works. Indeed, if Hayes is right, the more common attitude today is, “We cannot trust him just because he’s our leader.” From a secular perspective, unearned “trust” has fostered the failures that are the source of Hayes’ article. From a Christian perspective, the issue is even more basic. “Trust” separated from open vulnerability and intentional accountability is hardly Christian at all; rather, it is an open door for an enemy who himself sought to dethrone the One to whom we are all accountable (Isa. 14:13-14). Sin crouches at the door (Gen. 4:7) when leaders are permitted to live unexamined lives.

So, what frightens me about writing this blog? Fear that I have misread the Time article? No. Fear that a reader will not like what I’ve said? Absolutely not. Fear that I will be perceived as attacking a person? Not at all, as I know my motives. Fear that leaders who need to see themselves in this mirror will mess the needed reflection? Perhaps, but that’s not my primary fear.

What I fear is that I will not see my own tendencies to lead without accountability and responsibility. I fear that I will see the speck in others’ eyes but not see the log of elitism in my own (Matt. 7:1-5). God help me.


[i] Christopher Hayes, “The Twilight of the Elite,” Time (22 March 2010), 56-58.

An Open Letter to Young Southern Baptists

Today we are publishing a guest post by Dr. Chuck Lawless, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Lawless has pastored Southern Baptist churches in Ohio and is the author of several books, including Membership Matters and Discipled Warriors. In addition to his duties at Southern, he also serves as president of The Lawless Group, a church consulting firm. You can read his blog at Biblical Church Growth, where this material was originally published earlier today. We are grateful to Dr. Lawless for granting us permission to reprint his encouraging “open letter” at Between the Times.

An Open Letter to Young Southern Baptists

I have always used my blog to address issues related to biblical church growth, and I have intentionally spoken to evangelicals in general rather than my own Southern Baptist denomination. For this post, though, I am changing my pattern.

Over twenty-five years ago, I began serving as pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Ohio. I was young and energetic – ready to take on the world, but knowing far too little about the denomination in which I served. I am grateful for a few older Southern Baptists who encouraged me to get involved, including inviting me to attend my first Southern Baptist Convention (1985-the largest and perhaps most controversial Convention ever).

I find it hard to admit, but I am now becoming one of the older Southern Baptists. In that role, I offer these encouragements to younger Southern Baptists.

Know that many of us realize that we have much room for improvement.
We grieve when we see our baptismal numbers, and we know that our record of making disciples is not good. Many of us are praying for a Great Commission resurgence. We are also concerned that too few of you believe that attending the SBC is important. We fear that many of you will simply drop out of denominational life. Please know that we are not ignorant of the issues that concern you in a denomination that you believe is increasingly irrelevant.

Do review the history of this denomination.
We have much work to do as a denomination, but we have also experienced God’s blessing. More missionaries are serving on the mission field. More students are attending seminaries affiliated with the SBC. Your generation has the potential to be a great blessing. Remember, though, that others sacrificed much to lead this denomination to a renewed commitment to the Word. These leaders deserve respect, and we ignore their passion for continued doctrinal integrity only at our peril. To be Southern Baptist is still a commitment to the Word, to biblical doctrine, and to a unique way to support North American and international missions.

Do not give up on the SBC.
Despite our denominational malaise, what we do together remains stronger than what most of our churches can do alone. We need you as part of this team. We need your churches to be involved. We need your creativity and your passion. We need your honest input when meetings are boring and discussions seem irrelevant to the task of the gospel. We need your unique commitment to reaching the world for Christ. You, your church, and the SBC lose if you simply walk away without patiently trying to make a difference.

Continue to support the Cooperative Program even while you seek your role in the denomination.
Tell us your concerns, but do not pull away from the Cooperative Program that supports more than 10,000 missionaries in North America and around the world. Help us to address issues that all of us recognize as significant, but continue CP giving that reduces the seminary tuition of thousands of students. Talk to us when you see current structures and processes as outdated, but remember that many good people and programs are still dependent on your Cooperative Program giving. Be kingdom-minded enough to give even when the immediate benefits for you and your church are not always obvious.

Stay focused on the entirety of the Great Commission.
I am grateful for young pastors who want to strengthen churches that are weak, and I applaud efforts to make membership meaningful again in SBC churches. My concern is that we will focus so much on fixing troubled churches that evangelism remains neglected. Do refocus our churches on strong discipleship, but never allow evangelism to be a “back burner” task. When God begins to change lives through our ministries, some of our other concerns may not seem so important.

Pray humbly for Southern Baptist Convention leaders.
From pastoring a local church to leading a denominational agency, the tasks involved in SBC life are not easy. No one can please all sixteen million Southern Baptists, each one with an opinion to express and a willingness to articulate it (whether or not he has actually been involved in his local church). The Internet has provided a means to critique others, even without first speaking with the brother involved. I confess that I have spent too much time reading posts and too little time praying for those who lead us. That omission will be corrected beginning today.

Young Southern Baptist, I believe in you. I want you involved in SBC life, trusting that you affirm our clear stand on the Word of God, choose to live a God-honoring life, and are committed to the Great Commission. Be both patient and persistent with us, modeling humility for us in all that you do. All of us want to see God do a mighty work through this denomination.game angry racer