The church needs men and women who make growing old look good.
The more I pastor and the older I grow, the more I am convinced that we need men and women who grow old well. Ones who grow old hopefully and joyfully, and model adulthood to our younger generations.
Aging well is essential in the church and in ministry. Hebrews 5:12-14 illustrates this concept of moving from milk to meat as an analogy for the kind of maturation expected of those belonging to the church:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
According to this text, aging well means becoming a treasure of maturity, experience, and wisdom for your church.
But how do we get there? What habits or disciplines do we need to invest in to become models of adulthood in the faith?
Here are eight habits of discipleship that help Christians grow into spiritual adulthood.
1. DEVOTE YOURSELF TO BEING A DISCIPLE
A disciple is one who follows Christ and is a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19). We see in the final words of Christ that he calls them to, “go make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20).
“Well, I make disciples! I have Christian friends.” Not all relationships where spiritual conversations take place are discipling kinds of relationships.
2. DECLARE YOUR IDENTITY IN CHRIST
The gospel calls us to abandon our lives and live and walk in Christ-likeness as our identity. There must be a willingness to die to self and live for Christ. It is not about you – It is about Him working in and through you.
If you are not living in this way, you are believing a false gospel. Believing true, biblical Christianity rooted in the true gospel will shape you as a disciple.
3. DEVELOP SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
D.L. Moody said, “The scriptures are given not to increase our knowledge, but to transform our lives.” The goal of a spiritual discipline is not the transmission of information but the transformation of lives.
God’s work of changing believers into the likeness of Jesus comes through the exercise of spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, fasting, silence, and solitude. These practices focus the power of the Spirit in our lives in a particular area of weakness so we can be built up into Christ. No one grows in their faith without engaging the disciplines, regardless of what name they assign them.
Throughout my ministry I’ve heard (and said) things like, “I just don’t have enough time to,” or, “I’m just not a disciplined person.” I sympathize with those who feel this way. I know what it’s like to be busy and unexcited about disciplining myself.
Ultimately, building the disciplines into our lives is about priorities. If we are not able to do what God has commanded, then we have too much to do. We should compare our calendars to God’s commands and see where our lives are out of alignment, then make adjustments where necessary.
4. DISPLAY CHRIST-LIKE CHARACTER
If you had to be honest with me, a lot of stuff that we see in our behavior sometimes doesn’t match up with our belief system. How is this possible? It is easy for one to say they believe something simply because they think of it from time to time.
“Well, I’ve always just been this way.” If you always been the same, then you may need to ask if you’ve ever really met Jesus. Meeting Jesus changes everything.
5. DEFEND YOUR FAITH
As our culture becomes increasingly post-Christian, the need to defend our faith through apologetics grows.
But what if you’re not an “apologetics” guy or girl? While you may not have much interest in logical claims or building arguments, defending the faith is about far more than semantics. It is not enough for the church to love people; she must also love truth and stand for truth (Eph. 4:15). In the first letter of Peter, the Bible says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet. 3:15-16)
Love makes truth palatable, while truth makes love practical. Truth without love could destroy a person by its brutality, while love without truth could destroy a person by its insincerity. Love without truth is sentimentality, feeling without responsibility. Truth without love is powerless to change lives, while love without truth could send people in the wrong direction.
6. DEPLOY YOUR GIFTS IN MISSIONAL MINISTRY
Discipleship is often misunderstood as a program that takes place in a classroom. Discipleship is not a program we launch, but a lifestyle we embrace. It’s defined more by obedience than knowledge.
I recently purchased a gym membership just so I can be with our people. I was at one of our discipleship group member's house having a meal celebrating his birthday and conversing about making disciples. Κοινωνία (fellowship) by definition is missional living and sharing life together (Acts 2:42).
Christianity detached from mission leads to either lifeless moralism or joyless legalism.
So what is holding you back? Refusing to embrace a biblical mandate of making disciples through the mission is a heart issue, not a head issue – a lack of passion, not a lack of knowledge.
7. DEPEND ON THE HOLY SPIRIT
God works in various ways to bring people to salvation in Jesus Christ. It all begins when God calls us by his Holy Spirit and regenerates our hearts. It is only by the Holy Spirit that calls a person by awakening their heart, mind, and soul to their personal need of salvation.
As the Westminster Confession describes it, “This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.” It is only then that a person can truly accept and respond to the grace of God through faith.
Martin Luther said, “I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith.”
8. DISCIPLE OTHERS BY MAKING DISCIPLES
We must be careful of teaching the right kind of discipleship. When we teach a form of discipleship that does not result in reproduction, we miss the mark. People cannot grow up in their faith when they’re not in an environment where they can be discipled.
“Well, I’m not good enough!” Yeah, the disciples weren’t the greatest and the brightest either! Robert Coleman from his book, Master Plan of Discipleship, said it well, “Jesus' followers were not required to be smart, but they had to be loyal.”
RADICAL DISCIPLESHIP: COSTLY COMMITMENT, A CALL FOR ALL
In this fallen world, even people coming from a very complex, postmodern world are hungry to hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Older men, younger men need you (2 Tim. 2:2). Older women, younger women need you (Tit. 2:2-12).
Robby Gallaty says we are doing one of two things when it comes to discipleship in our churches: we are either fumbling the ball, or we’re running with a passion to pass on to the next generation.
I know a young man in his mid-twenties, an ordinary man uneducated man (Acts 4:13), in our church who gets this. He opened up his house and is pouring into other younger couples who are seeking answers. The result is that it’s attractive and people are drawn to this group. He is running with a passion. He is faithfully running the race. He is modeling great trust.
It doesn’t matter what age or stage of life you are in, we need to respond in obedience to Christ and run after this great call. More of us need to reject the status-quo in our lives, for Christ-centered trust and obedience
Discipleship involves cultivating, embracing, and exercising leadership initiative, especially spiritual leadership initiative from older generations to younger ones (1 Cor. 16:13). If we don’t do it, who will? If older generations are going to age well, we need to share what God – through our age – has taught us.