Growing Deep and Wide

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By John Braland, President of IMF's Board of Directors

When I was growing up my dad used to drive me to my hockey practices and games. My dad didn’t grow up playing competitive hockey so he couldn’t teach me about the game, but he made sure I learned from coaches who understood the game. Over the years my dad grew in his hockey knowledge and decided to be an assistant coach. Then he managed a couple of the teams I played on and eventually became the hockey commissioner in Burnsville.  But at the end of every day, he was still my father and I was still his son.
When Kathi and I first learned that we were expecting our first child, we were in the process of remodeling our bathroom. The trash was full so I took it outside to throw away. When I walked back in Kathi pointed to the wall which read; “I’m pregnant!”  I was totally surprised and now not only did I have a father, I was going to be a father. I had never been a father and had no idea what to do. I was a son and a brother, but never a father. I had watched my dad and learned from him, but I had never been a father myself. I never really understood what it meant to be a father until I had a child.  But when Josh came crying into this world, I felt the burden of being a father.  I have continued to be a father to him as well as to my daughters Sara and Katie. My father didn’t quit being a dad when my three children were born either.  He continues to this day to be my dad, but he has added the title of "Grandfather".  In fact, I will continue to be a father for the rest of my life, just like my dad will continue to be a father for the rest of his life. As my kids grow, I will grow with them.  We will learn together, explore together, and cry together. No matter what happens, I will always have a father and be a father, and my children will always be my children even when they have children of their own.    
When I gave my life to Jesus, I became a Christ child and began growing in my faith. My friend Tim coached me along with Pastor Buford. I grew and matured as a disciple, and have led others to Christ along the way and became their spiritual coach. As a pastor, I now coach many people challenging them to grow deeper in their faith and encouraging them to coach others. I am still a disciple and learn from others and at the same time I coach others who coach others. 
Like being a father, discipleship is a life-long journey. When I became a father, I became a father for life just like my father. When I became a disciple, I became a disciple for life just like Jesus teachers. I’m responsible for both being a disciple and being a spiritual mentor to others. Jesus says: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  John 15:7-8
This passage describes four characteristics of a disciple. First, a disciple remains in Christ. The New Testament does not teach perfection.  It teaches process.  We grow as we immerse ourselves in God’s message to us, for Scripture is the very heartbeat of God. Second, a disciple is obedient to Jesus.  There is no discipling without training and there is no training without accountability.  God wants our love, and we demonstrate that love through our obedience to him. Third, a disciple bears spiritual fruit. What is spiritual fruit? Spiritual fruit is applied love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness. When a person remains in Christ and is obedient to his teachings with their lifestyle, spiritual fruit will be produced. You can recognize a disciple by the results he or she produces in their life and in the lives of others. Spiritual fruit is the outcome of biblical principles when they are applied. Fourth, a disciple glorifies God.  We glorify God by living out his teachings in our day to day lives and in the way we influence others around us. These characteristics should be evident in the lives of every disciple and spiritual mentor who is educating, equipping, encouraging, and empowering others to do the same.
I want to nudge you to go deep and wide in your faith. Be intentional about connecting with others who can challenge you to grow deeper by being discipled, and go wider by discipling to others. The American church as a whole needs more people who are willing to do both. Paul wrote the Colossians instructing them to “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness”(Colossians 2:7).

It’s time to raise the bar in our churches and communities and God needs you to do it. This is what discipleship is all about.  

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