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Episode 45 - 3 Jun 2019

How We Grow

Nathan Wagnon (Director of Equipping & Apologetics) joins Adam and John in the studio to talk about how we grow as disciples. Together, they discuss the journey of faith and point out where people tend to get stuck. Show notes -->

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Episode Summary


Nathan Wagnon (Director of Equipping & Apologetics) joins Adam and John in the studio to talk about how we grow as disciples. Together, they discuss the journey of faith and point out where people tend to get stuck. We must not be reductionistic with our understanding of discipleship. Our view of discipleship will become too narrow when it is only equated with activism or programmatic solutions. Alternatively, the picture the Bible gives for discipleship is that of a journey. Our individual lives, in many ways, mirror the biblical story of God and his people. Nathan pulls his framework for understanding discipleship from The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich:

Six Stages in the Life of Faith

  1. The Converted Life
  2. The Learning Life
  3. The Productive Life The Wall
  4. The Inward Life
  5. The Outward Life
  6. The Life of Love

Stage 1: The Converted Life (10:54)

The first stage is the Converted Life. It is characterized by pure excitement. Because they've recently come to faith, they are seeing everything for the first time. This stage can come with feelings of both invincibility and insecurity. For believers in this stage to avoid getting stuck, they must become incorporated with a local church body. Similar to an infant, young believers will not be able to thrive without getting connected to and fed by others. This is when believers are often most vulnerable and needy.

Leaders should be asking themselves what on-ramps they are providing for believers in the Converted Life. Leaders also need to be patient with those in this stage. The zeal and enthusiasm of disciples in the Converted Life should not be quenched or extinguished, but rather encouraged and directed.

Stage 2: The Learning Life (15:40)

When a believer first realizes how little they know about faith and the Bible, they often become lost. The pressure felt by disciples in this stage means they will be a sponge for new information. This means leaders must be ready to teach them the basic building blocks for biblical literacy and the Christian Life.

It is important to note that this is a very personalized process. The Holy Spirit can't be systematized. These stages and this journey are not going to look the same for all disciples. Rather, consider this to be a general framework for that journey.

Often, when disciples in your equipping programs experience a period of accelerated growth, they will incorrectly assume that the program itself is discipleship. They may then assume that people in other programs or systems are "doing discipleship wrong." An "us vs. them" mentality can arise, and unless they grow past this, they may stay stuck in this stage. Leaders need to be asking "Is this program becoming more important than Jesus?"

Stage 3: The Productive Life (23:25)

The Productive Life is when a disciple first becomes deployed in using their gifts. Disciples will more clearly realize their purpose. This is when the training come off, but also when pride can start to creep in.

However, this is also when believers are most tempted to believe their productivity and life change are up to them. It is important to remember that this journey is never supposed to be about us. Rather, the Productive Life, and all other stages, need to be focused on Jesus. This stage is when we start to fully understand that we are not God. What we value will often be stripped away to expose our ego.

Measuring success by ministry activism, by productivity, by the size of a budget, number of converts, impact, etc. are all signs of being stuck in the Productive Life. Disciples in this stuck in this stage will wrongly believe that the Christian life is about getting or achieving something on their own merit.

Interlude: The Wall (30:03)

"The spiritual life is not primarily about activity. Rather, activity flows out of the spiritual life." - Nathan Wagnon

In this wall between stages, the Holy Spirit very intentionally moves people into a period of disillusionment and questioning. This often looks like our ego and idols being stripped away. This can be a painful process and may be the result of crisis, trauma, transition, besetting sin. Unfortunately, up until this point disciples see productivity as the highest priority in the Christian life. Thus, when they hit the wall, they think they must have gone wrong somewhere. Disciples will often revert back to the Learning Life and assume they "missed something in class."

This process of hitting the wall and then going back, all while focused on being productive, can becoming a repeating cycle. Many believers never progress past the wall. They either give up, or believe that their circumstance must be all their is. Disciples who do not progress past the wall either tend toward legalism or licentiousness. Burnout is also common.

The answer? What allows a believer to progress past the wall? They must simply sit. They must realize that the spiritual life is not primarily about activity. Rather, activity flows out of the spiritual life. We can be so busy doing things for God, that we miss God himself.

Note that the process of getting past the wall is a very formative process. Leaders should not try to get people out of that transition too quickly.

Stage 4: The Inward Life (36:08)

The Inward Life is characterized by a deliberate journey inward. As a leader, you will often hear questions like, "Where did God go?" This is because people's understanding of God is being reoriented. Disciples in this stage need a mature friend to walk with them. People can easily get lost in their introspection.

God is stripping away ego. No longer is the the highest end of the spiritual life about doing things for God. Instead, it is God himself. This isn't to say that the Inward Life is less productive than it was previously. However, it will be less busy and less frantic. Ministry becomes less about you, what you are achieving, and more about God and what he is doing.

Stage 5: The Outward Life (40:55)

In the Outward Life, ministry is done for the sake of Christ. The results are in his hands rather than ours. The weight of living for other people is laid aside. We begin to participate with Jesus in his mission. The Outward life is characterized by rest and enjoyment of Jesus.

Stage 6: The Life of Love (42:32)

People who are fully mature in Christ will be saturated in the love of God. A disciple in this stage has learned to get out of the way and be a conduit for the Holy Spirit to do work in other people.


"Discipleship is not about working harder, it's about surrender." - Nathan Wagnon

Leaders need to think through if disciples in their church are progressing through all of these 6 stages. Discipleship is not about working harder, it's about surrender.

Mentioned Resources

Hosted By
John mcgee 20200223 wcc headhshots 001447
John McGee

Sr. Director of Watermark Resources

A tarnow
Adam Tarnow

Cohost of Church Leadership Podcast