Rhythms of Life Semi-Circle

By Paul Wilkinson


Mike Breen writes, “We cannot bear fruit if we do not spend time abiding. But we cannot simply stay put in the abide mode, for a branch that does not eventually bear fruit will be cut off and cast into the fire.”[i] He then unpacks a powerful image of how grapes were grown (perhaps are still grown?) in the first-century:

            At the time of Jesus’ incarnation, a vine would be cultivated, planted,
and left to grow for three years before being allowed to bear fruit. Every
time it tried to bring forth a bunch of grapes, it would be cut back. After
the third year, the grapes would be allowed to grow on their own. By
then the branches were strong enough to support the weight of the
grapes without breaking. After the harvest, the branches were pruned
back for a time of nourishment and rest before the fruit-growing season
began again.[ii]

Likewise with our faith: Let’s get after kingdom building by sharing our faith with those in our spheres of influence and by teaching our groups for transformation toward deeper worship and bolder evangelism. But do not forget to abide in the presence of your Savior: REST. The most effective teachers are those who simply share with their groups what the Lord is teaching them through their lives and study, so be sure to allow sufficient time in your daily life for the Lord to teach you.

Imagine a pendulum swinging back and forth from “Abiding” to “Fruitfulness” which makes the semi-circle shape; thus, we have a visual of the rhythms in kingdom living. We have to find the proper balance between our work and our rest, and perhaps more importantly, our kingdom work and our kingdom rest. This truth goes double for those in local fellowship leadership positions.

We were designed to work (Genesis 2:15), so that it is right and good to work. Remember that the toil of work was a result of the Fall rather than God’s good design (Genesis 3:17-19). But, like every other good gift of God, we pervert the gift to make it an idol as a function of our sinfulness. Christ offers a corrective in John 15:1-8. Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.” So, in order to do the work to which Christ has called us, we MUST abide (see rest) in His presence (see person and work). In so doing, we will be convicted of sin in our lives, convicted of our various idolatries, become more sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings, and discern our call better. Then we put all of that into action through the work we’re called to do.

[i]Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture, 2nd Ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: 3DM Publishing, 2011), 92.

[ii]Ibid., 92.

Balance Triangle

By Paul Wilkinson

In Luke 6, we see Jesus participate in three phases of holistic discipleship expression: UP, IN, and OUT.

  • The UP phase is represented by divine space, where the individual and the Spirit engage in the disciplines to continually mature one’s faith through personal worship, study, and practice. In this phase we are focused on enjoying the presence of God through our indwelt communion with Him. We see Jesus engage this phase by retreating and praying (Luke 6:12).
  • The IN phase focuses upon the transparent space and the personal space. In biblical community, believers encourage and provoke one another to grow in knowledge, understanding, and good works. We see Jesus engage this phase by calling the 12 (Luke 6:13-16). Then, we further see it as His relationship with Peter, James, and John continues to develop throughout the Gospels.
  • The OUT phase is represented by the expression of the people of God engaging the community and world in service and evangelism. Our formation in the UP and IN dimensions are lived out in front of those who witness us where we live, work, and play. We explicitly serve them in the name of Christ and we explicitly evangelize them with the person and work of Christ. We see Jesus engage this phase by ministering to the masses with the disciples (Luke 6:17-19).

To be balanced leaders, we must implement each of these phases in our own lives: devotional time with the Lord, time in our biblical community, and time spent with lost people to demonstrate the person and work of Christ. And to lead balanced groups, we must teach each phase, emphasizing a particular one as needed, through our words during group time, modeling of our lives with those we invite along from our groups, and stories of these phases from our lives.

The Invitation-Challenge Matrix

By Paul Wilkinson

How do these quadrants play out in group life?

  • A Bored Culture full of apathetic people would be a group with no challenge from the Word, little concern for reaching the lost, and no intuitive to carry one another’s burdens. These groups would not exhibit L or I or F or E.
  • A Stressed Culture full of overworked people usually takes the shape of a group leader doing everything himself or herself. As group leaders, we must empower our members to fulfill their gifts and calling within the body. Thus, we need to be perpetually handing leadership away: allow someone to teach for you once every eight weeks, empower someone to champion hospitality (inreach and outreach, welcoming and follow-up), empower someone to champion a service cause in the community, etc. From the non-group leader side, this sort of group simply shows now grace when people “screw up.” We certainly want to offer correctives, but we want to do so with compassion.
  • A Cozy Culture full of consumers would be a group that focuses only upon L and I. A group like this would meet one another’s needs, as we should, but they would not challenge group members to embrace the kingdom through deep Bible study and evangelistic outreach. It would lack conviction.
  • A Discipling Culture full of empowered group members would be one in which L, I, F, and E are exhibited and championed by the group membership. This group would be reproducing itself by launching new groups, passionate about reaching the lost and serving the community, and desperate to deploy group members to instances of transparent space discipleship.

I’ve been working through a book called Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen, and I wanted to share some of the content with you over the next few weeks. The book presents numerous models to aid the discipler and disciple to progress toward Christlikeness and to see more readily biblical principles played out in one’s life. This first shape is called the Invitation-Challenge Matrix, pulling from Matthew 16:15-23 with John 1:17 as a supplement used by some who teach this.

In Matthew 16:15-17, we see a marvelous invitation given to Peter based on his confession that Jesus is Messiah. Jesus paints a vision for Peter of being the rock on which the church will be built, so strong that Hades cannot defeat it. And, Peter will be given the keys to the kingdom . . . how wonderful! Three sentences later, Jesus says to this same Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.” So we go from a high invitation setting to a high challenge setting in only a few lines of Scripture. What can we make of this?

First, we must paint a vision for our group members of what it means to live in the kingdom of God. The kingdom has been inaugurated, so how should kingdom people look? Answer that question for your group through unpacking the Scripture and modeling the kingdom life. That’s our invitation, same as Jesus: be children of God, be co-heirs of the kingdom, be perfect as your Father is perfect, mock death with Christ, and take that news to people who don’t know it yet! Invite them to that life.

Second, when they fall short of that vision after agreeing that it is, in fact, how we are designed and called to live, challenge them to face up to it. We don’t revel, as leaders, in pointing out flaws for the sake of matching a system, rather we faithfully point out shortcomings in the kingdom life of our members because God wants so much more for them. We challenge them to embrace that potential and live the kingdom life boldly.

How did it work with Peter? He was invited to be the rock of the church because he was willing to stand behind the claim of Jesus’ messiahship. However, when he said that Jesus would not suffer, die, and be raised, he was focused on what he thought Messiah should be like as opposed to the kingdom that Jesus was inaugurating. He immediately fell short of the invitation by focusing upon what was significant to him rather than what Jesus told him should be significant to him. As group leaders, we must keep our minds on the things that Jesus tells us are significant. May we continue to point our group members toward the kingdom life.