Saturday, September 29, 2018

Catalyzing Discipleship

Found this image on

We do make mature disciples in our churches, but the process is slow and inefficient. It does happen, just not very often or very quickly. 

(That's a premise we can challenge in another blog post. For this post, let's just accept it for the sake of discussion. If you'd like to be invited to weigh in on the premise at a later date, just put #Premise in your comment below and I'll get back to you!)

In chemistry, reactions are facilitated using a catalyst. There are several distinct ways that catalysts work. For example, a catalyst may hold the reactants near each other which makes it more likely that they will interact.

Question: how many distinct modes of catalysis are there, and for each mode, what might it correspond to in an analogy for how people become mature disciples?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: FLOW - The Shape of Life

Here's the brief introduction to the first tool in my Toolbox, which I often refer to as "The L-Shaped Pipe." This is the core metaphor I draw upon to talk about what it means to be human, what meaning, purpose and joy look like, and the host of things that can (and do!) go wrong with our "spiritual plumbing." For additional blog posts on The Pipe, click here

You can find the whole Toolbox here.


Relationships are central to what it means to be human. We are designed to be connected to other humans, and we can’t enjoy our full humanity if we’re alone. We are also designed to be connected to God, and that relationship is just as necessary for us to experience our humanity if not more so. These two relationships are not independent. Our relationship with God affects how we relate to each other, and our relationships with others affect our relationship with God. A simple and powerful way to envision this is the metaphor of an L-shaped pipe. We receive love from God and release love to others. The inflow and the outflow are connected, two parts of one thing. We are conduits for God, and “flow” is what we experience as joy, meaning and purpose in our lives.

In the Pipe metaphor, flow is driven by pressure not suction. As it says in 1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.” When Jesus says in John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches” it’s clear that branches don’t get fed because they first bear fruit; they are fed by the vine and fruit grows as a result. Life in God has a “because/therefore” movement rather than an “if/then” requirement. This is at the heart of what the word “grace” means.

Unrestricted flow is God’s design and intention for our life together. But life as we live it now is full of “plumbing problems” that disrupt the flow of love, both to us and through us to others. Problems at either end effect the flow both in and out.

People can be wounded by others spiritually, emotionally and physically. Things that happen to you can put “dents” in your pipe that make it harder for you to receive and to give love. We can also impede our own flow. “Clogs” of bitterness, anger jealousy and such can form inside us, often in response to the dents inflicted by others. The results may look the same (reduced flow) but the causes are very different and they need very different kinds of repair work. People with dents need healing, while those of us with spiritual clogs need… Drano or Roto-Rooter!

Other spiritual plumbing problems can also be recognized with the Pipe. A person who is caring for others but neglecting their own family might be said to have “leaks” in their pipe. Someone who is deeply alienated from God could have a “break” that disconnects them from the source. People who are profoundly self-centered are like Pipes bent from the L-shape into a closed circle: they want to depend only on themselves, and direct all their outflow back to their own desires and hungers.

In the Pipe metaphor, Jesus is an example for us of what unhindered flow and full connection to God looks like. But more importantly, we believe that Jesus is not merely an example from the past but also a resurrected, living, active and healing presence in our lives now. He is the Master Plumber who is at work to repair us in every way, restore our flow and make our “joy complete.” (John 15:11)

John 7:37-39 (Rivers of Living Water);
John 15:1-11 (Vine and Branches);
Matthew 6:12 (forgive us AS);
Luke 10:38-42 (Martha and Mary);
Luke 15:11-32 (Prodigal)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tim's Toolbox - Introduction

Hello friends!

It's been a long time coming but I have finally written up a brief introduction to what I call my discipleship "Toolbox" - a collection of ten themes and practices for followers of Jesus. These are the things that have been the most helpful to me and that I have gone back to over and over again in conversation with others.

In the coming weeks I'll be featuring the Tools one at a time in blog posts here. As I go, the links will all be collected onto one page that I'm calling "Toolbox Central." You can always find that on the main page of this blog at the tab labeled "Toolbox" under the main banner. There is also a link there to the entire set of tools as a pdf in case you're eager to have a look right away. I do encourage you to subscribe to this blog so you'll get updates by email as they come out.

Here is a copy of the Introduction that I wrote for the Toolbox booklet, just to get things rolling.

As always, I'm eager to be in conversation and hear your questions, comments and suggestions from improving my material!


Imagine that I wrote a book for you, telling you all about the ideas and practices that have been the most meaningful to me in my life as a follower of Jesus. It would be my own personal toolkit so to speak. Now imagine that each chapter in the book had a brief summary at the end, recapping the most important points for you. Well, that book doesn’t exist, but the chapter summaries do and that’s what you’re holding now!

Truthfully, I’m sure that an actual book would be more helpful for you to be reading first! These summaries can be pretty dense as they try to say a lot in just a few words. But better a summary you can have now than a book that may – or may not! – get written later on! 

I am hugely indebted to Mike Breen for much of the good stuff you will find in here. Four of my Tools (Rhythm, Follow, Balance and Prayer) are taken directly from his own collection of Life Shapes. Two others – Diversity and Multiplication – are based on his shapes. So if you do want a book to read, please get Mike’s Building a Discipling Culture and you’ll have an excellent introduction to the Life Shapes and much more! It’s a tribute to Mike and his colleagues at that they encourage people like me to share and build on their work without concerns over copyrights and such.

Finally, although I love to teach the tools, the Toolbox is not a curriculum. A curriculum is about content one is trying to learn, rather than skills and practices one is being trained in. With a curriculum, once you have achieved understanding there’s a sense that the work is done. But in the Toolbox, once you have learned how to use the tools, that is when the work begins.

I pray that these tools will be as helpful for you as they have been for me! Blessings as you build a Kingdom life.