This helpful guide uses Scripture and real-life stories to illustrate the essential elements of Christian discipleship by looking at image, worship, community, and mission.
About the Author
Bill Clem serves as pastor of leadership formation at Imago Die Community Church in Portland, Oregon.
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THE STORY OF GOD
If you were God, how would you tell a human who you are? How would you make it plain to people? How would you reveal yourself to your own creation? Would you skywrite bullet points such as:
Would you create a cause-and-effect universe in which you insert yourself with interruptions called "miracles"? Would you sign your name on everything and stamp it with "good"? When you think about it, you realize it would not be so easy to disclose yourself to your creation, but God has done so masterfully in a very engaging way.
The Story of God Is Inviting
God has chosen to reveal himself to us through story. We come to know his story in two ways. First, God allows us to see his faithfulness and his patient and providential guidance of the nations. In Exodus 15:11–13, we read about God's people rejoicing over his faithfulness in the drama of Israel's deliverance. Take also, for example, the prophetic oracles of judgment in Isaiah 14–21 against Assyria and Philistia, against Moab, against Damascus, against Egypt, and against Babylon.
Second, he gives us listening privileges into (1) intimate conversations with men such as Moses (in Exodus 32–33 Moses intercedes for the nation as a type of Christ interceding for his people); (2) the promises he makes to Abraham (Genesis 12; 15; and 17 form the basis of the Abrahamic covenant establishing hope throughout the story of God); and (3) the prayers of David (the Psalms are full of emotional laments and humble confessions in David's struggle and that of others to embrace a story line that they, at times, do not enjoy or understand). It doesn't take long to realize that we're not simply hearing a story full of flat characters but one of complexity and dynamic encounters between real persons. This story is fully engaging and involved. One doesn't hear this story without walking away feeling somehow very connected. God's story strikes to our very core because it is a story of persons in relationship to each other.
The God of the Bible does not seem as interested in us knowing about him as he desires for us to actually know him — to have experiential knowledge of him. (Paul prays that the Ephesians would "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge," Eph. 3:19). This experience of coming to know him happens to every person, but in many different ways. One of the primary ways we can come to know him is through the Bible. It contains the story of God's revelation to us. When we read it with this in mind, we are "concerned with God's saving acts and his word as these occur within the history of the people of God." The descriptions and discoveries in the story about God through the lives of those who both know him and oppose him reveal to us a profoundly personal God, one who seeks to be in relationship with his creation.
God tells us his story in engaging and inviting ways so that we will be compelled to become a part of his story. However, throughout history people have tried to make sense of our unique relationship to God in less helpful ways and sometimes in altogether unbiblical ways. Some common analogies of God's relationship to people include copilot, teacher and classroom, primary cause and secondary cause, commander and troops, and hand in glove. Most of us would agree that we don't view our relationship to God in these ways, but it is how some function moment by moment in their relation to God.
Another more helpful and biblical analogy is that of author and characters in a story. God's story is mind-blowing because it is a compellingly real story in which we are all playing a part.
After hearing my presentation in a workshop about the story of God, a man asked if he could talk with me. He disclosed to me his tragic story of abuse and how his brutal stepfather inflicted pain and brokenness into his life and the lives of his siblings. Recently he had been summoned to testify against his abuser in court, which was disturbing, because he thought it was all behind him. All the pain and suppressed memories burst through the dam of emotional containment he had built out of coping skills. In the midst of his pain he had concluded that God hadn't shown up, so he'd check out on God, hermetically sealing within his soul yet another set of unresolved hurts. As I spoke, he sensed his fortress walls giving way, and he began again asking questions such as, "How could God be so uncaring as to script a story line like this for me?" Many people ask similar questions, if not the very same one, every day.
Embracing the servant role of experiencing redemption in God's story rather than abandoning the God of the story because we don't like the way the story is going is perhaps the biggest hurdle to our faith. To place oneself as the character in a story written by another flies in the face of the society and culture in which we live today. The slogan "I am my own master" bellows loudly from both newsstand and blog post. Our world is saturated with the autonomy of the individual, and we simply don't like to think that we are not in complete control of our own destiny.
The man I spoke with was quick to admit that his own parenting style had been shaped for the better by the pain he had experienced and that his quest for a loving God who gives meaning to all that he has made had been heightened through his situation. He just couldn't get to the place of trusting God, because doing so meant that he had no guarantee that God would shield him from further pain. The sad truth is, there is no pain-free life insurance. Whether this man saw himself as the author of his own story or as a cast member in God's story, he still suffered and wanted desperately to know why.
As long as we think we are writing our own story, we will keep adding adventures or characters, thinking that more is the pathway to meaning and happiness. Here's the problem: we just don't have enough resources to get the meaning we crave. Consider the following two scenarios.
Scenario 1. Three drama students have one year left to complete their degrees at private colleges. They estimate their expenses for this final year to be between $125,000 and $175,000. One night they're out shooting pool, and they come up with the idea of creating a play. It seems brilliant, even career savvy. As they start to frame their ideas — script, staging, cast, and venues — they realize that just renting a theater could cost their entire tuition. Undaunted, they scale back and strategize a three-man play they can pull off in a parent's RV storage unit. As they continue to prune back their dream, everyone they talk to — parents, peers, and professors — responds skeptically. All warn the three aspiring actors that starring in a play performed in a garage doesn't have the same potential as did three guys in a garage developing a computer in the 70s. It just can't produce the impact or give the meaning they are hoping for. They will at least need to hire a well-known actor as a draw, which of course is out of the question with their very limited resources.
Scenario 2. A drama student with only a year left to complete her degree auditions for a small part in a Broadway play in New York. She gets a callback and is eventually offered the part. It's not a lead role or anything close to it. But she would be working with some of the best actors, coaches, and producers in the industry — not to mention it's Broadway in New York and a premiere playwriter's script. When this student asks her friends, family, and faculty what they think, they all encourage her to take this once-in-a-lifetime plunge.
What's the difference in the two scenarios? The Broadway play places our student in a world way bigger than herself that involves staging, famous people, promotion — even with a walk-on bit part, she belongs to something huge. The garage players, on the other hand, are on the other side of reality, believing their vision of the way things could be is the way things actually are.
These illustrations are meant to parallel the difference between inviting God into our story (which gives a big-guest appearance to God in a small-time show called "My Life") and being offered whatever role God gives us in his epic drama. Our personal story is actually a distortion of reality and a desire for significance. God's story is reality, and significance can be ours with even a walk-on bit part, because pleasing and glorifying the Creator is the most significant experience offered to created beings.
God reveals himself through the lives of people, and when people realize they are a part of God's story, they become one of the most profound means of revealing God to others. This is the most meaningful role a created being can have in relation to his Creator. So how did we get this so backwards? How is it that so many people are asked to invite Jesus into their lives, encouraged to envision how he might make their lives better? Could it be that well-meaning Christians, zealous to see people encounter Jesus, actually reworked God's story to make it "user friendly," and in so doing, have actually so distorted the gospel that it has become another gospel altogether (Gal. 1:6–8)?
The Story of God Is Not at Risk
God begins his story with the creation of the stage and production. Lighting is built. An environment resembling a forest preserve, including pristine water, vegetation, and animals, completes the set as God writes the first man into his story. God creates an entire ecosystem and puts man at its center. Yet man is set apart in this creation with no peer. Humans are set apart — created, yet unique from all creation by function and value. This distinction given to both male and female in Genesis 1:26–27 is called "the image of God." Being an image bearer is exactly what sets apart humanity from the rest of creation: "The human being is both a creature and a person; he or she is a created person. ... To be a creature means that I cannot move a finger or utter a word apart from God; to be a person means that when my fingers are moved, I move them, and that when words are uttered by my lips, I utter them." In order to recognize this reality about ourselves, we must first acknowledge our creatureliness in that we are utterly dependent on God and, second, take responsibility for our personhood in which we carry out physical and moral decisions every moment. The balance and combination of these two elements express how we are made in his image as created persons, which is essentially what it means to be human.
Imaging God is the most humanizing act or function a person can perform or experience. The best way to understand what it means to image God is to learn more about God and his story. As gods go, the God of the Bible reveals himself as distinct. He shows himself to be transcendent (bigger and outside of his creation) and immanent (engaged in his creation). As God engages his creation we find him sharing the governance of his creation with the humans he created (in Genesis 2:15 the man is instructed to work and keep the garden; in 2:19–20 the man names the animals God created.) We see that participating with God in his work is one way humans image God.
At this point, God declares the first "not good" of his creation, and it has to do with man being alone, so God creates a partner for the man. This gift of woman to man has many wonderful advantages. One good of this gift to Adam is that he now has another human (image bearer) with whom to image the Creator. The "not good" has a double edge to it. If the man is alone, he does not have the relational opportunity to image God to another, nor does he have the relational opportunity to experience God's being imaged from another.
As we read of Adam's response to his God-given partner (Gen. 2:23–24), we learn something significant about the image of God: it is designed to work within loving relationships. We see this later in God's story as he reveals more of his plan in the Ten Commandments. We see his commands calling for the embodiment of loving God and others. Everything God asks and expects of us is summed up in Matthew 22:37–40: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
This text demonstrates that God created man both to image God and to be in relationship with others (with both God and humans). There are two more clues within this first scene of God's story that inform our understanding of the image of God. They both come from observing God's interaction with the man (Gen. 2:15–17).
First, God gives the man a boundary. In a world without sin, competition, or paranoia-inducing marketing, boundaries can be good things. This boundary is an opportunity for the man to obey God, in essence, to declare God as the one he will worship through living according to God's desire or will. This helps us understand that we image God by worshiping him, and we worship him by bending our wills to his and living lives reflecting his supremacy. If something as simple as an eating habit can be a means of worship, we're compelled to take worship out of the realm of music and into venues of action, attitude, relationship — essentially all of life.
The second clue is seen in God's warning man against disobedience: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17). The penalty for disobedience is death, the destruction of or at least the radical distortion to the image bearer. Adam had no reference point for this warning; nothing on earth had died. He was left with the implication that death must be a terrible thing. We can conclude that imaging God as he intends requires life. A person who is spiritually dead, separated by sin from oneness with God, is a distorted image bearer, and though there may be ways in which God is seen, the image portrayed will be seriously impaired and distorted.
With that said, let's catapult forward to a time in God's story when there will be no death and God's transforming work will be complete. Here we find something fascinating: neither God's design nor his purpose was ever at risk. In Revelation 21 we have a re-creation scene that forms the bookend to God's story. In Revelation 21:1 God creates a new heaven and a new earth (notice God is still creator and designer). In verse 3 God dwells among his people (similar to God's walking with man in the garden ). The people of God are called God's "bride" (vv. 2, 9), suggesting that we will continue to partner with God in his activity and experience a profound love relationship with him. The temple or worship center mentioned in Revelation 21 is God himself, so there can be little doubt as to our design as worshipers in the new creation. Finally, in this new creation death has died (v. 4), and we will live as image-bearing sons of God (v. 7). These bookends form an arc of unified purpose.
Within this grand arc of the story, we learn of God's love, character, holiness, and heart to redeem people from hopeless lives of small-scale performances.
Because God has invited us by design to participate with him, we see God revealing himself both through his story as told in the Bible and through the transformed lives that intersect with his story. Seeing how we reappear in his grand finale, we soon realize there are no meaningless parts in his script.
God's Story Includes Risk
If the ending is real and certain, what makes this story a story? In other words, if the outcome is secure, where's the drama? If God wins, and we're all perfected images of God living in a 1,400-cubic-mile city, why bother? The answer lies somewhere between mystery (the aspects and truths about God that are not clearly or completely revealed within his story) and authenticity (giving us roles with real experiences of love and expressions of alignment or will). As mentioned above, being human means being utterly dependent on God and yet possessing a relative ability to make significant decisions. We are real people with real choices, which is why God's story includes risk (even if the story line is not at risk). It requires faith (even when the ending is secure within his revealed framework) and shows him to be a God of grace and truth, love and holiness, power and mercy.
God's Story Is Told through His Creation
In Romans 1:20 we read, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." Just as we learn from God's creative acts, God also leaves evidences of his existence, as though there were divine fingerprints throughout his creation for us to discover who he is and what he is like. One theologian puts it this way: "His essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on each of his works his glory is engraved in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse." So it is that all of creation bears his authorship. Going a little further, if we take into account that every person bears the image of God, then we can understand every person to have some sense of God within his soul. People can visibly know the evidence of God's story in the world, and they consciously know the evidence of God's story in their own being. Having this sense of God, however, is not enough to actually know his story. We have direct access to the story in physical form, the Bible.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Disciple"
Copyright © 2011 Bill Clem.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Mark Driscoll, 9,
1 The Story of God, 11,
2 The Hero of the Story, 37,
3 Image, 59,
4 Identity Distortions, 75,
5 Worship, 91,
6 Worship Distortions, 107,
7 Community, 123,
8 Community Distortions, 141,
9 Mission, 153,
10 Mission Distortions, 171,
11 Plan, 185,
12 Multiplication, 205,
General Index, 227,
Scripture Index, 231,
What People are Saying About This
“Listen to the wise words of a seasoned pastor who knows that being a disciple of Jesus is much more than developing biblical literacy and theological knowledge. Learn how grace embeds your little story in the larger story of redemption and transforms your heart in the process.”
Paul David Tripp, President, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, New Morning Mercies and Suffering
“Bill Clem uses his powerful storytelling ability, theological insights, and personal journey to speak straight to the heart of discipleship. Reading this book was like having a cup of coffee with one of the most influential thinkers and ministry leaders of our day.”
David Livermore, President, Cultural Intelligence Center; author, Serving with Eyes Wide Open
“In all my ministry years I have never met anyone who is more adept and passionate about the subject and lifestyle of discipleship. This book will not be one you half read and then set aside for the next garage sale; it will be part of your permanent library, used to equip yourself and others for years to come. In fact, I wager you will read and reread this. It’s that good! Disciple challenges us all to dig deeper so that we might learn what it means to be a true follower of Jesus and to help others to do the same.”
Mike Love, Founder, Director, Extreme Dream Ministries
“Bill Clem shattered all of my preconceptions of discipleship, but in so doing he masterfully painted a beautiful portrait of what a disciple is and what discipleship looks like. A must-read for anyone serious about making gospel-centered disciples.”
Carlos Montoya,Lead Pastor, Blaze Christian Fellowship, Santa Fe, New Mexico
“Through both his writing and his life, Bill Clem has given us an inspiring vision of what it looks like to live out our identity as disciples of Jesus.”
Pete Kelley,Lead Pastor, Doxology, Corvallis, Oregon
“Disciple connects the relational community of the triune God to his image bearers in the greatest nonfiction story of allthe story of God. The privilege of playing our part in his story is masterfully told by Clem. Not only is Disciple a ‘great read’; it is a ‘must-study.’"
Mark A. Hoeffner,Executive Director, CB Northwest; Lead Elder, Grace Baptist Church, White Salmon, Washington
“Bill has been one the most influential pastors shaping my thinking on discipleship. He brings a holistic, gospel-centered, Jesus-exalting approach to the ongoing formation of the redeemed people of God. I thank God for Bill’s impact on my life and I trust that you will as well after reading this book.”
Jeff Vanderstelt, Visionary Leader, Soma; Pastor, Doxa Church, Bellevue, Washington; author, Saturate
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Although the basics of discipleship are covered in this book, they are basics that even the seasoned believer needs to be reminded of. I appreciated the 'assignments' at the end of each chapter because they do what many books about discipleship fail to do, namely, take us back to God's Word as our source for authority pertaining to discipleship.
This was a fabulous book that seeks to encourage the Christian to find their identity in Christ as His disciple. Clem studies how a disciple made in the image of God should see themselves in God's story in areas such as image, worship, community, and mission. He also talks about many ways in which each of these four things can be distorted in a fallen world. I found each of these categories helpful as Clem gave a solid biblical framework through which to view the Christian life. Then the chapters on distortions were especially helpful as he was clear about what he meant and deconstructed the folly of the distortions.Clem finishes with a call toward a discipleship plan. This plan involves the reader surrounding him or herself with the proper shepherd-coach or even multiple shepherd-coaches that can help them mature in accordance with a self-designed plan. He also includes a final chapter on multiplication which takes the process and lays it out in the lives of others. I especially liked Clem's hesitancy to be overly formulaic in the discipling process. Much of what we find in Christian literature about discipleship focuses on a "reproducible process" that is really just code for a formulaic process that is not unique to the struggles and needs of the individual. If you are looking for a packaged way to "make disciples" by putting them through a list of generalized assignments, this book is not what you are looking for. However, it might be helpful for you in seeing a different perspective that focuses more on imaging Christ and the individual's needs than the reproducible process.This is a great book. Get it! Read it, and use it to help you be a valuable shepherd-coach in the life of another disciple.
There were some passages that were profound in this book. This is one that struck me: "The God of the Bible does not seem as interested in us knowing ABOUT him as he desires for us to actually KNOW him - to have experiential knowledge of him. (Paul prays that the Ephesians would 'know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.' Eph 3:19"Here is another one: "'[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.'"Another pearl: "The most common assignment I find myself giving to those I counsel is to journal what's right with the world every day for a week."I enjoyed the profound thoughts but felt I had to wade through a lot of less compelling reading to get to them. The first part of the book held my interest better than the later parts.
This book became better as I moved further into it. Int he earlier chapters I found the notes for further study very useful, it was nice to have a list of references dealing with a certain topic like the Trinity. As I progressed through the book I found it applying more to me, helping me think through things like community, fellowship, and my interactions with the church. I really benefited from considering the intimacy level that really should occur within the body of Christ.
This book is a good book about how the gospel changes a person's identity and how Christ-like identity everything else. I like this book. Read it.