Like Being Thirsty

I’m tweaking some three year old Ecclesiastes sermons. What follows is an illustration that needs cut from it’s current position, but seems worthy of a home somewhere. So where to put it? The void is perfect.

Searching for satisfaction under the sun is like being thirsty and:

  • picking up an empty glass and trying to drink from it.
  • picking up a glass full of water and then realizing it was only a dream.
  • paying a fortune for a glass full of water then taking a drink only to realize that it’s salt water.
  • picking up a glass full of water when the glass shatters in your hand.
  • picking up a glass full of water when someone runs by and knocks it right out of your hand.
  • picking up a glass full of water, drinking the cool, clear, clean, crisp refreshing water, then immediately having a fatal heart attack.

Pay Close Attention

While pounding out seven miles on my treadmill yesterday I listened to C.J. Mahaney’s message from the recent T4G conference, Sustaining a Pastor’s Soul. It was the least dramatic message I’ve listened to by Mahaney (albeit out of only a dozen or so from Resolved, Shepherds’ Conference, and various mp3 downloads) but it had/is having appreciable effect on me.

The central point of his message was that God is best served by glad pastors. He asserted that it is simply not sufficient for a pastor to serve faithfully, he must also serve joyfully. I’ve heard that before, but God graciously opened the eyes of my heart anew. The entire sermon challenged the soul by considering the apostle Paul’s joyful ministry in the midst of demanding responsibilities, hard sufferings, and even imprisonment for sake of the gospel as seen in Philippians 1:3-8.

As I’ve heard him do previously, Mahaney urged each pastor to ask those closest to him–wife, ministry team, personal assistant–a series of simple questions about whether he lives and serves joyfully or irritably, with happiness or moodiness, gladness or discouragement. This time I took his advice.

I didn’t have to ask Mo for her answers. I just went ahead and asked her forgiveness immediately after I finished my run yesterday. But earlier today I arranged for some of the guys who work with me on a daily basis to listen to Mahaney’s message with me and then invited them share their observations about my life and ministry. I warned them in advance that a quiz would follow and when it was over I printed the questions and even initialed the disclaimer at the bottom so they could hold me to it.

Here’s the quiz. Click on it to see it full size.

SKH joy quiz

I won’t go into specific successes or failures, but suffice it to say the process was less painful than it would have been three or four years ago. One thing they all agreed on is that my attitude is “ridiculously influential” for better or worse and that I should wield that influence with great care.

Since the door’s already open I suppose you are welcome to participate as well. The condition, however, is that you’ll need to email me so that the comments don’t get carried away in either direction. I’m not looking for praise or pettifogging criticism, but for signs of grace and areas needing growth. Of course God is the ultimate and only inerrant judge as well as the only One who can see my heart. Even so, my progress is supposed to be evident to all. Some very important things depend on my paying close attention and maybe you can help.

I Don’t Believe It

I love Dr. John MacArthur. Much of my spiritual and pastoral growth can be attributed directly to him as the human instrument. When I packed my Ford Probe and moved to Los Angeles in 1997 for seminary it was because I wanted to be a student fully trained with him as the teacher. There is no one else I would rather listen to preach. And thanks to Phil Johnson and other editors his body of published material is without modern day equal. He is one of God’s strongest and clearest messengers and I sit up straight when he speaks.

More than likely, most of the people who read this blog know and love Dr. MacArthur as well. So it’s no new revelation to say he’s the preacher who never met a passage that wasn’t his favorite. Each week, every next verse he unleashes is the most “rich” one. I really do admire his endless positivity, especially in light of everything I imagine he’s seen and heard. His sanguine perspective also spills over into a proclivity for hyping whatever he’s thinking/talking about in the now. I’m amazed how excited he is, or at least sounds, about anything he’s announcing.1 It’s more than admirable, it’s endearing.

That said, I don’t always believe everything he says. Sometimes sweet things are too good to be true and you get to a point where you can’t handle any more honey.

A good case in point would be the introduction of his recent chapel message, The Responsibility of a Christian College, in which he claimed that being at a Christian college is the most intense spiritual experience a believer could have.2 As president of The Master’s College I understand he’s obligated, and I think in his case genuinely excited, to promote the school. But this characterization of life at a Christian college is more like a caricature, and the exaggeration gives a dangerous and unhelpful impression.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with Christian colleges, or The Master’s College in particular. Just the opposite is true. For the last seven years I’ve promoted, organized, and driven students thousands of miles for Preview Weekends at TMC. Some of my favorite people are TMC students or graduates and I wish I could have gone there myself. Furthermore, I attended three different Christian colleges before finally graduating from one of them.

So I agree, as MacArthur opened his message, that Christian colleges should produce “distinctive Christians,” defined by him as those “who’s sanctification is evident.” That’s good if not self-evident. But I couldn’t believe what he said just a little under two minutes in:

Being a Christian in a Christian college should be the most formidable, the most aggressive, the most progressive, the most intense time of sanctification that a believer could ever know. …to be a true Christian, and to be put in this setting, with its level of spiritual intensity, biblical understanding, biblical literacy, theological clarity, ministry opportunity, is a level of intensity in spiritual experience that has no parallel. No youth pastor can produce this level of discipleship. No family can produce the breadth, height, length and depth of this level of discipleship coming from so many different directions, all singularly focused, all founded on the same convictions, all pursuing the same objective.3

For sake of full disclosure, it’s true that Pastor of Student Ministries is the title on my business card. Maybe I’m howling because one of the rocks he threw hit my head, but I don’t think that’s the only reason.

If he would have said something like, “Sadly it’s true for many Christians that the most intense time of spiritual growth is in college” I’d have no complaint. Certainly that is possible. My objection is that his statement makes it sound ideal.

But if Christian college is truly the ultimate place for spiritual growth and sanctification and discipleship then that’s awful for the majority of past and present believers who never went to a Christian college for whatever reason. We should make everyone enroll immediately for every semester and attend classes at some Christian college as long as they’re alive.4 Every family, and church, should organize themselves around the college schedule. Apparently the rest of us are really missing out.

Obviously that’s not biblical. God ordained the church and the family as His institutions for instruction, discipleship, worship, ministry, and personal obedience. Christian college may be a small brick in the wall, but to say it is “a level of intensity in spiritual experience that has no parallel” discourages almost everyone but donors and undermines MacArthur’s message and ministry for over 40 years.

Professors cannot take the place of preachers/pastors and parents. They’re not supposed to. College is also patently NOT discipleship, unless discipleship is defined in terms of classes and chapels, which I’ve argued against elsewhere. In addition, roommates and RAs cannot provide what older, and younger, and otherwise different parts of the Body can.

When I look back on my own Christian college experience, sanctification was indeed formidable. But I always attributed that more to the fact of living in close quarters of a thousand other selfish sinners. And we certainly had some spiritually intense discussions, but most of the intensity was due to our youthful arrogance, not our theological acumen. I’m very thankful for everything I learned and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m even more thankful that it’s done. In fact, trying to be a loving husband, a diligent dad, and a faithful shepherd has no parallel in terms of intensity.

My point is that no Christian college can provide the breadth, height, length and depth of spiritual experience. I don’t believe it. Dr. MacArthur himself has preached and published otherwise for a long time. I don’t think he believes it either.


  1. For instance, though he’s greeted new visitors thousands of times I’ve never heard his welcome sound stale, rote, or disinterested.
  2. He certainly meant being at a “good” Christian college, and presumably he would consider a “good” one to be like The Master’s College where Scripture is the authority and personal holiness is prized.
  3. I transcribed this quote from the podcast of Chapel @ TMC. At the moment there is no other way to access the message than by subscribing to the entire podcast. Note to the media department at TMC: if you’re going to make the audio available at all (for which we are very thankful), why not create a more inviting way to access the chapel messages than only through iTunes? Anyway, I suspect this quote is exactly the kind of material that might be published in a future edition of The Master’s Current, though I hope it gets buried or lost on the editor’s desk.
  4. We’re also going to have to do something about the hefty $120,000 price tag for this level of sanctification.

Comments (copied)

Chuck Weinberg said April 30, 2008 at 5:44 am:

Hey Hig, Thanks for your leadership and truth declaring on our behalf. Thanks for your willingness to disagree, when necessary, with someone you love. Our family has been through some “intense sanctification training” lately, and you’re exactly right, it’s the Body that brings all those things so sweetly together. Thanks again for your work at TMC and seminary to move you along in the process, but thank you even more for your continued growth in sanctification over the past years you have been involved in our ministry. You, and Mo, have growth significantly and so has our 128 staff and students. God is Good. Chuck

Clyde said April 30, 2008 at 8:58 am:

i agree with your disagreement. Jesus established the church. He never established LABC.

$ talks. This is a good example.

Jesse Martin said April 30, 2008 at 9:43 am:

Hmmm, I don’t think I care for his dogmatic declaration either. When I first considered colleges, there was almost nothing I wouldn’t have given to be able to attend that college as well – a few years removed from that decision and looking at the growth and intense discipleship I have received through the ministry here in One28 – I KNOW I have received more ministry opportunity and personalized exhortation from the Godly men in this church than I would ever have received from a teacher that is forced into the formality of the academic arena. My deepest gratitude to your “second best” efforts Sean!

bean said April 30, 2008 at 10:05 am:

@clyde – i agree with the disagreement too. and i agree that money talks. but i did want to jump in with a tiny (maybe weak) defense of the book you linked to. from what i understand, many of the “spin off” books are handled by the publisher and macarthur (or phil) has very little, if anything, to do with them. he obviously has very much to do with his message at chapel, though, so there is no getting out of that.

and yes, the next question is why you would let your publisher have that much control and influence…i did say it might be a weak defense.

Mijah said April 30, 2008 at 11:16 am:

Although I am about to graduate from said college in a little over a week and I did sit through that very chapel message, I do agree that he definitely exaggerated the point of the Christian college experience being unique. Honestly, as I listened to him, although what he was saying was superlative and declarative, it didn’t surprise me. The day he gave that message, it was a view weekend, so there were over a hundred prospective students and their parents visiting. We (TMC students) all know that view weekends is when the visitors see the full face of the college. It isn’t that they see anything fake or false, but all Master’s is and represents and stands for is showcased for the visitors. With that said, MacArthur is stepping into the pulpit in front of prospective customers and with enrollment down, it didn’t surprise any of us that he was saying the things that he was.

But that is no excuse for undermining the authority and priority of the local church. I could give plenty of testimony to how God has shaped my life here, but there is no chapter and verse on the necessity to attend Christ’s college.

When I have heard leaders around here say that the college has something that the church wishes it had, I have understood that to mean we live alongside the very people who are discipling us and who we are discipling. We don’t just meet two times a week, but day in and day out we see each other live and confront sin and forgive and love and encourage. Although I see those benefits, living around people that are primarily your own age is not exactly what Titus 2 speaks of.

By the way, you can access the podcast by just visiting the feed through the web browser, where then you can download individual files without subscribing. So, just plug this feed into a browser: http://www.masters.edu/podcast/chapel/chapel.xml

GP said April 30, 2008 at 3:10 pm:

This makes me embarrassed to say where I went to school. I agree with footnote # 4. What you said about husband, dad and shepherd was right.

Dave Crawford said May 1, 2008 at 5:11 pm:

“In fact, trying to be a loving husband, a diligent dad, and a faithful shepherd has no parallel in terms of intensity.”

No kidding.

I truly don’t understand, however, how the book The Extraordinary Mother, which was linked above in the comments, typifies the expression “money talks.” The phrase means a compromise on essential principles for the sake of money. Since the content is biblical, I don’t see how a spin-off book does this, regardless of whether it was initiated by the author or the publisher.

SKH said May 2, 2008 at 11:02 am:

Alright, first of all and to all who have commented thus far, thanks for the feedback and encouragement.

Second, I don’t want to jump into The Extraordinary Mother discussion too deep except to say, Dave, it’s okay, we promise not to tell Jen what’s coming for her Mother’s Day gift.

Leila Bowers said May 5, 2008 at 9:03 am:

Looking back on my schooling experience, I wish I could have mixed private and public university. I certainly would have loved the depth of Biblical insight and knowledge provided by a school like TMC, but the fight to be “in the world and not of it,” the opportunity to meet many diverse Non-Christians, what it means to battle for truth in a hostile environment, refining critical thinking with Biblical truth – that ‘training’ through the UW and UVa was also excellent.

However, Andy and I have often discussed that, if I (or he) had grown up at a church like Grace, we would have been far more equipped for a place like the UW. I didn’t fully understand discipleship, God’s sovereignty – so many things! And I know a good church would have been a more effective equipper than time at a private college.

Biblically, is the ideal mode of sanctification through something like a Church environment or a School environment? I agree with others, and SKH, that this is more a charge to bolster the depth and life-on-life elements of the Church than start investing in the Stock Market in the hopes of being able to send all our kids to TMC…

From Disciple to Discipler

Series | Making Disciples

The Practical Discipleship Plan of Attack aims to take in a disciple and produce a discipler. The following chart gives an overview of the whole process.

the kit and caboodle

To recap: the discipler instructs his disciple in doctrine, illustrates truth in daily practice, involves the disciple in the work of the ministry, helps the disciple improve his effectiveness, and inspires the disciple when he’s discouraged. These five stages of development span the Biblical Discipleship Bulls-eye from evangelism to edification to equipping. Disciplers labor to help new coverts grow in Christ and train them to make disciples in fulfillment of the Great Commission. Maturity and multiplication are beautiful things.

As we wrap up this series, here are some final thoughts on disciple-making.

We learn about discipleship from Jesus!

Jesus already walked the road ahead of us and all we need to do is follow Him. As I mentioned before, The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman traces Jesus’ steps and is must read material. Jesus called disciples, lived and associated with them, taught them, modeled for them, partnered with them, delegated assignments, did follow-up, and then He left. We are here, not because Jesus filled stadiums with hundreds of thousands of people and preached great messages, but because He focused on twelve ordinary men1. Apparently making disciples like Jesus it is effective (not to mention biblical).

Though not complex, discipleship is not easy.

In fact, discipleship may be the toughest thing we’ll ever do. It’s so easy to focus on other things. It isn’t always pleasant having other people look into our lives and it’s often messy when we get involved in theirs. But no matter how difficult, making disciples is our Lord’s commission.

Discipleship is all about the people and not about the program.

The best curriculum cannot guarantee growth. There are no checklists to complete or shortcuts to maturity. Some structure (like organized small groups) may be helpful, but the best program with the wrong people won’t make disciples. On the other hand, the right people with the worst program–or even no program at all–will move forward.

You are missing out if you just partake and don’t participate.

I changed the person of the pronoun on purpose. If you come and soak and don’t give you won’t grow like you should. Your joy will be half of what it could be if you’re not using your spiritual giftedness and pouring back out into someone else’s life.2 There is always someone who knows less than you. You can encourage someone. You’re ready. Every believer has a responsibility to reach out to someone else and make a disciple.

What stage are you in? What will it take to get you to the next level? My prayer is that God would give us all a passion for discipleship, that not just the pastor or the youth staff or parents, but that all of the saints would take ownership. May He give us a vision and burden for others and keep us from sitting on the sidelines. Let us commit to make disciples of all the nations until everyone is complete in Christ.


  1. Yes, this is a shameless reference to John MacArthur’s book by the same name.
  2. Besides, it would probably help you stop whining about your own life.

Stage Five – Inspire

Series | Making Disciples

This is the final stage in the practical discipleship plan of attack. In Stage Five the disciple exits the process as a discipler.

The disciple has been taught. He’s watched how it’s done. He’s rolled up his sleeves in the work of the ministry alongside his discipler. He’s received constructive criticism to help him get better. By now the bulk of his training is complete and he’s ready to be on his own. So the fifth TASK of the disciple-maker is to inspire. This is probably my least favorite word, but it fits (for more than just alliteration). The PURPOSE is encouragement. Making disciples is hard work. Difficulties and heart heaviness are regular occurrences. Sometimes disciples need a shot in the arm.

The ROLE of the discipler becomes that of a resource. The need for constant interaction diminishes, but the disciple turned discipler may run into something he hasn’t encountered before. Maybe an unusual circumstance or knotty theological question surfaces. Maybe he needs seasoned counsel, wisdom from experience, or just someone to pray for him. But he has access to advice whenever he asks. Therefore the discipler utilizes the MOTTO of “Keep it up.” and is always available for assistance.

The PRINCIPLE is spiritual reproduction, much like the proper goal of parenting. Good parenting isn’t about providing or doing everything for the children. It aims to train kids how to be adults; how to accept and fulfill responsibilities. That doesn’t happen if dad always builds the Soap Box Derby car or never lets his son make a decision. Mom hinders growth by always being the one to braid her daughter’s hair or by constantly defending her. Yes, kids need more care at the beginning and it may be a slow train to maturity. But parents find out whether they were successful when their young person leaves the house, not by them living at home forever. Even then, however, they provide a different kind of attention when the kids are grown and have families of their own. So a discipler knows he’s succeeded when he sees and serves spiritual grandchildren.

Jesus was gone when the disciples took the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth. He could do that because everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Of course, Jesus didn’t leave His disciples without a Helper). When we entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also the process continues even when we’re absent.

Our goal is to see every person complete in Christ. Another way to say it is, we work to see each person independently dependent on Christ. An independent person is one who looks for things that need doing and does them without someone else constantly looking over their shoulder. A mature disciple doesn’t need constant supervision though every disciple remains dependent on Christ. So a discipleship purpose statement might look something like this:

We labor to help every person establish godly habits, motivated by love for Christ, that will cause them to be independently dependent on Christ for the rest of their lives, while helping others do the same.1

The relationship between a disciple and his discipler purposefully changes over time if discipleship is effective. But whether disciples move on to minister near or far, disciplers are always ready resources.


  1. We don’t expect to complete this objective in student ministries, even by the time a senior graduates. But we do aim to equip students as much as possible in the six years we have them and hope they enter the next stage of life more like Christ in character and service than when we got them.

Stage Four – Improve

Series | Making Disciples

There are always more ways for a disciple to grow no matter how well instructed they are or how many examples they’ve observed or even if they’re heavily involved the process. That’s what Stage Four is for.

stage four: improve

By this point in the process the disciple should be busy reaching out to others. He’s been pushed out of the comfort of the nest and is learning to fly on his own. If he’s normal he will suffer through at least a few crashes. So the fourth TASK of a disciple-maker is to help the disciple improve, not only in personal obedience but in ministry. The PURPOSE is to increase their effectiveness. Though no technique exists that guarantees spiritual success, the discipler can give guidance and encouragement even when it appears the disciple flopped.

As the disciple ventures out on his own the discipler takes the ROLE of a constructive critic. This evaluation isn’t for the sake of discouragement but for betterment. Maybe an evangelism exchange could have been more accurate or a counseling conversation could have been more gentle. But mistakes and failures are not the doom of discipleship, instead they provide platforms for development. In this stage the MOTTO is “I watch you.” and then help make it better.

Again, the Master lived with His disciples, taught them, trained them, modeled for them, sent them out, and then debriefed them. For example, in Mark 6 He sent them out with partners and gave them all the instruction they needed for their short term assignment. Later they returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. This retreat was for rest and no doubt they also discussed their successes, setbacks, and what they could do better next time.

The PRINCIPLE is supervision; follow up for the sake of adjustment, correction, and encouragement. In order to make progress disciples need to make decisions and do the work without always having their hand held. But diligent and regular review will realign and reinforce where necessary.

Maturing disciples don’t always need their discipler present. But they do need faithful follow up in order to move forward with only one more stage to go.

Stage Three – Involve

Series | Making Disciples

The practical plan of discipleship starts with instruction and includes living illustration. In Stage Three the disciple develops even further toward becoming a discipler.

stage three: involve

Teaching biblical doctrine and demonstrating how to follow Christ is fundamental to making disciples. But that’s not all we can do. Since we also want our disciple to make disciples of his or her own we must bring them in to the process. So the third TASK of a disciple-maker is to involve the disciple in service and ministry for the PURPOSE of giving them experience.

Explaining Scripture and being a Christian example isn’t necessarily the same thing as discipling. It is possible (though not as valuable) to watch someone from a distance and listen to good teaching on the radio. I assume there are probably people watching me who have little to no relationship with me. That’s okay because I can still model obedience for people I don’t know. And I can certainly instruct people without ever talking to them individually.

But disciplers get involved. They open the hood, take the engine apart (or put it back together), and get four hands dirty, not just two. The ROLE is more than teacher or example, it is partner. The MOTTO is “We do together.” The discipler says, “I’ve told you about it, you’ve seen me do it, now we’re both going to do it.”

Jesus lived with His disciples for three years. As they matured He increased their responsibilities. Jesus wanted His disciples to work side by side with Him. He assigned them to pass out the loaves and fishes. They listened to Him, watched Him, and worked alongside of Him. The Master’s plan followed the PRINCIPLE of delegation. No doubt there were discipleship purposes, not just logistical advantages, when Paul took young men along on his missionary journeys.1

Practically speaking, Stage Three requires a focus on the few to reach the many. No one has enough time to be involved and be partners with everyone. Jesus Himself didn’t do that. He had 12 key disciples and three of them were even closer than the rest.

We cannot experience growth and ministry with everyone. Besides, will we have greater influence by spending 60 minutes with one person or one minute with 60 people? How will we maximize our investment? By pouring much time and energy into a small number of disciples (maybe only one at the beginning) the earlier they’ll be ready to pour into others, multiplying our ministry.

Working shoulder to shoulder exposes not only the disciples’ weaknesses and shortcomings, but ours too. Sometimes we can hide certain elements of our example. But we can’t work together very long before our partner realizes what we’re good at and what we’re not good at. It takes humility to involve someone else in our lives and in our ministry, but it is a necessary part of the development process. And it’s good for them to see our deficiencies because it isn’t about our perfection, it’s about participation.


  1. Discipleship Evangelism utilizes the same procedure. At the start, verses and the evangelism outline must be memorized. Then there are visits where the trainer does all the talking as an example. At a certain stage, the trainer involves the trainee in the discussion. Eventually the trainee is expected to do all the talking and the trainer is just a resource. But that’s an upcoming stage.