Friedens' Discipleship Process

In Colossians 1:28-29, the apostle Paul said: "[Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.  To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me."  Paul was passionately dedicated to developing spiritual maturity in the people to whom he ministered, and Friedens strives to apply this same level of dedication.

Friedens' mission is "making disciples of Jesus through UP-IN-OUT relationships." The latter part of this statement highlights the fact that our ministry is highly relational (click here to learn about UP-IN-OUT relationships).  But if we're seeking to "make disciples," it's important to clarify what a mature disciple looks like and how we can most effectively help people grow as disciples of Jesus.  Thus, we developed a "Discipleship Process" to clarify: 1) what we're aiming for ("Core Characteristics" of Christian maturity) and 2) how we're structuring our ministries to develop these characteristics in people's lives (our "Discipleship Pathway," which applies the Core Characteristics in age- and developmentally-appropriate ways).  The Core Characteristics and Discipleship Pathway deeply influence the direction, content, and goals of Friedens' ministries.

Core Characteristics of Christian Maturity

Below are the 15 Core Characteristics that Friedens' ministry seeks to develop in the people to whom we minister.  The characteristics are organized in three color-coded categories, which are based on the church's guiding principles, which say: "The foundation of Friedens Church is the Gospel: the good news that through Jesus, God made a way for us to be fully redeemed. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we humbly receive this Gospel by faith, joyfully submit to God’s transforming work in our lives, and generously invest in others’ spiritual growth, so that God’s glorious work of redemption will be experienced within our church family, throughout our communities, and beyond."

  • The red characteristics are based on "humbly receiving the Gospel by faith." 
  • The blue characteristics are based on "joyfully submitting to God's transforming work in our lives."
  • The green characteristics are based on "generously investing in others' spiritual growth."
  • Understand the Gospel message

    The main parts of the Gospel message are: 1) God created us to live in a loving relationship with Him; 2) sin separates us from God and earns us the spiritual death penalty; 3) Jesus’ death paid the penalty for sin, and His resurrection secures the victory over sin, evil, and death; and 4) the God-ordained way of being reconciled with Him is by trusting in what Jesus has done for us through His life, death, and resurrection. 

  • Trust in Christ alone for salvation

    Since the only way to have a restored relationship with God is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), spiritual maturity is impossible without trusting in Christ alone for salvation.  No amount of intrinsic goodness, behavior modification, religious activity, moral lifestyle, good deeds, or positive thinking can reconcile us with God.  Trusting in Christ alone for salvation means that we: confess that we are sinful, repent by turning to God, and trust Christ to come into our lives to forgive us of our sins and make us who He wants us to be.  This is a decision that each person must consciously make. 

  • Embrace the cost of discipleship

    Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  Grace is a free and joyous gift, yet that doesn’t mean that following Jesus is an easy path; it requires surrender and submission to His will.  The apostle Paul said: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus advises that anyone who wants to follow Him weighs the cost so they will be ready to surrender to Him in increasing measure.

  • Live a lifestyle of repentance

    The EFCA’s Statement of Faith says, “We believe that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Repentance is the result of true faith in Christ, which leads us to turn away from sin and toward God in willing obedience. Although repentance takes place through concrete actions, including baptism, repentance is not a one-time or occasional event.  As Martin Luther declared in his 95 Theses, “our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  In this sense, we are called to continually and consciously turn to God – away from our selfish and sinful nature – so we can experience the joy of knowing Christ and experience the transformation He desires for us.  This lifestyle of repentance is not a way to merit more grace; rather, it is a grateful response to the grace that is already ours through Christ, and it reflects the desire to know Him more fully.

  • Depend on Jesus daily

    In John 15:5, Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  “Remaining in Christ” refers to a continuous, life-giving connection with Him.  There are a variety of ways to develop and maintain this connection, including: 

    • Praying consistently (1 Thessalonians 5:17). 
    • Reading and meditating on Scripture (Psalm 1). 
    • Intentionally living by faith rather than depending only on human wisdom (2 Corinthians 5:7). 
    • Being filled with the Spirit by submitting to His work in and through us (Ephesians 5:18). 
    • Resting in our “identity in Christ” rather than pursuing our ultimate identity, significance, and security in sources other than God. 
    • Allowing the Gospel to shape and empower each aspect of our lives, including: our relationships, work, identity, purpose, dreams, and concerns.  
  • Pursue healthy, edifying relationships

    Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Christians have a responsibility to “make every effort” to relate to others in a way that honors Christ (Ephesians 4:3).  This attitude of grace, respect, and compassion applies to all interpersonal relationships, including marriage and family.  The pursuit of healthy, edifying relationships also requires Christians to be consistently involved with a church family (Hebrews 10:24-25) in which we experience “iron sharpens iron” relationships (Proverbs 27:17).  When there is conflict or disagreement, we are to handle it in a biblical manner by being a “peacemaker” (Matthew 5:9), going to the source (Matthew 18:15), and avoiding gossip and slander (Ephesians 4:31).  Pursuing healthy, edifying relationships also requires that we seek emotional health by striving to heal from past wounds and align our “inner life” with the truths of the Gospel. 

  • Internalize God's truth

    In John 17:17, Jesus prayed for His followers: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”  As we internalize the truth that God has revealed in the Bible, we are “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Romans 12:2).  There are three main categories that can help us internalize God’s truth:  
    • Biblical literacy & application - It's important to be comfortable and proficient in knowing and using the Bible, in addition to putting it into practice (James 1:22).
    • Theological soundness – Theology synthesizes the teachings of Scripture into cohesive units of thought.  Solid theology also helps us interpret Scripture and interpret our experiences accurately.  Friedens’ basis of sound theology is the EFCA Statement of Faith and seeks to “major on the majors."  
    • Explain and defend Christianity – It is inevitable that we will encounter questions and doubts about Christianity, whether in our own minds or from those around us.  Therefore, it is important to pursue competence in explaining and defending Christianity, which is known as “apologetics” (1 Peter 3:15).
  • Embody Christ-like character

    Christians have the privilege of being “new creations in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Practically speaking, this leads to a transformation of our character as we “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).  Key aspects of this Christ-like character include: 
    • The Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) 
    • Humility (Philippians 2:3-4) 
    • Gratitude (1 Thessalonians 5:18) 
    • Integrity (Proverbs 11:3)
    • Sexual purity (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)
  • Steward our resources

    Every good thing we have comes from God (1 Corinthians 4:7; James 1:17).  Therefore, everything ultimately belongs to God and is entrusted to us to be used faithfully in a way that honors God (Matthew 25:14-30).  Three primary categories of resources that we are called to steward are: 
    • Time
    • Talents (gifts and skills) 
    • Treasure (money and possessions) 
    As King David said in 1 Chronicles 29:14, “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand."
  • Worship God as a lifestyle

    Like repentance, worship is more than an event; it is a day-in-day-out lifestyle based on: 1) standing in awe of God’s greatness and glory, and 2) gratefully surrendering everything to Him because He is worthy.  As Paul says in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”  This shows that “submitting to God’s transforming work in our lives” is not an act of obligation or drudgery, but is fueled by joy in the greatness of knowing Jesus, for nothing compares to Him (Philippians 3:8).

  • Represent Christ with grace and wisdom

    Christians are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) who are called to represent Him well to everyone with whom we have contact.  Representing Him well includes: abstaining from quarrelsome attitudes (2 Timothy 2:24-25), relating “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), and “living such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).  Colossians 4:5-6 summarizes it well: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  Among the many practical applications of these principles are the value of “majoring on the majors” and considering how our words, actions, and attitudes impact others’ view of Jesus.

  • Verbalize the Gospel with confidence, competence, and respect

    The reason we are called “Christ’s ambassadors” is because “he has committed to us the message of reconciliation,” that is, the Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:19).  Truly loving others means that we will share with them the most important news they can ever receive, which is the news of how they can be reconciled with God through faith in Christ.  We strive to follow Jesus’ example of asking questions in evangelism and the apostle Paul’s example of “contextualizing” the Gospel by beginning where the other person is at spiritually and patiently helping them understand the Gospel.

  • Serve others selflessly

    While our culture trains us to be self-centered, Christians follow the example of Jesus, who said: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  After serving His disciples by washing their feet, He declared: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).

  • Prioritize intentional relationships

    The Gospel flows best over the bridge of relationships, so it is important to intentionally invest in our relationships, especially with those we most desire to see grow as followers of Jesus.  This includes family and friends, and it applies to our relationships within the body of Christ and with those who aren’t yet followers of Jesus.  It is also important to prioritize “passing the baton” to the next generation.

  • Support global missions

    Jesus calls Christians to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  Although involvement in global missions varies, all Christians should pray for “the gospel [to be] bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world” (Colossians 1:6), along with considering other ways to be involved in making disciples of all nations.

Discipleship Pathway

Friedens' Discipleship Pathway applies the 15 Core Characteristics of Christian maturity in age- and developmentally-appropriate ways.  For instance, we have identified what is appropriate for children in 4K-5K to be learning and experiencing to help them mature spiritually.  We've done the same for other age groups - both younger and into adulthood.  There are also celebratory "milestones" along the pathway, including Parent/Child Dedication, children receiving Bibles that correspond with their Sunday school curriculum, and baptism.  This Discipleship Pathway shapes the content and goals of Friedens' ministries, and it invests meaning and intentional purpose in everything we do.

Although Friedens' Discipleship Pathway is arranged sequentially, we recognize that spiritual growth is generally not predictable or linear.  Flexibility is required to maintain an environment of grace rather than legalism. 

We also recognize that only God can change people's hearts.  As the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:6, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow."  We are prayerfully seeking to create an environment that facilitates and encourages spiritual growth, but we can't change people's hearts.  We trust the results to God.