We believe that Jesus’ plan for changing the world was discipleship. It can be argued that the way he trained his disciples has had greater impact than his preaching, teaching, or miracles, because he led them to impact the world in the same way he was impacting it. He multiplied himself through discipleship. One of the tools that helps us stay on track as disciples is the triangle. Explanations found here are drawn largely from Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen available through 3DM. We offer a short teaching on it on this short desktop video.
Key Scripture: I Corinthians 4:16-17 Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.
See also Luke 6:12-19.
Discipleship is a hot topic in many churches today. But it’s been a part of the language of the church from the very beginning. But like many common words, we forget what it means.
A disciple imitates the master. The pattern we observe for making disciples in the New Testament is rooted in imitation. Dallas Willard defined discipleship this way: “Discipleship is learning from Jesus how to live like Jesus.” This is exactly what we see the twelve disciples doing in the gospels. By being with Jesus, they learned from Jesus how to think, act, and live like he did. The twelve disciples watched Jesus, imitated Jesus, and invited others to imitate Jesus by imitating them. That started a movement that spread around the world.
The triangle is a tool that helps us imitate Jesus. It helps us recognize and remember three key dimensions of Jesus life-style. We call these dimensions “Up-In-Out”. To help us remember, we use a triangle.
Dimension 1: Up – Jesus spent time with the Father. Many times, we read about Jesus praying. He spoke with the Father. He listened to the Father. And Jesus engaged regularly in worship and praise on his own and in formal gatherings at the synagogue and temple. In Acts, we see the apostles and the early church doing the same things wherever they went.
Dimension 2: In— Jesus spent time very intentionally with a small group. He invested in a limited number of people in order that they would have a greater impact and at the same time, showed them a model for impacting others. He let them in and took them with him. They knew one another, served one another, and loved one another. They did life together like family. We see this implied in the life of the Jerusalem church and very clearly in the Apostle Paul’s journeys and letters.
Dimension 3: Out- Jesus also met the needs he saw in the world around him with the God’s love, grace, and power, often taking his disciples with him as he did. He healed the sick, touched the lepers, fed the hungry, and opened blind eyes and deaf ears. And, he proclaimed the Kingdom of God, inviting people to turn from their old ways toward new life. In the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus did the very same things Jesus had been doing. They had learned from Jesus how to live, minister, and serve like Jesus. And they passed it on.
Up-In–and-Out was the way Jesus lived with his disciples and as followers of Jesus, we are called to have those same dimensions in our lives. This not just an individual discipline. While we are called to follow Jesus individually, we are also called to follow him in community. We are called to sustain an Up-In-Out lifestyle in fellowship with others. This requires some intentionality. It is easy for a group to do one or two of the dimensions together and neglect the others. We need all three.
The Up-In-Out triangle helps us be intentional—as Jesus was—to live a full and balanced life. We can use it to evaluate our own walks with Jesus. How is each dimension in your own life? Are all three dimensions evident and in balance across the board? What is going well? What needs attention? It is also a helpful tool for developing a rhythm for families, small groups, missional communities, and even churches.
It is a helpful tool for evaluating groups, ministries, and even churches. When it comes to finding a church in which to affiliate, people often use the standards that fall in line with cultural values: if a ministry has plenty of money and a lot of people are coming, we might think it’s the place to be. But if we want to follow Jesus, we would be wiser to look for ministries and churches that help us or challenge us to live a balanced in terms of Up, In, and Out. That will lead us to live more like Jesus – which is really the ultimate purpose of our lives and the church.
And this is a key point. When we embrace an up-in-out lifestyle for our small groups and missional communities, we naturally help one another follow Jesus. Thus, we have a bigger impact in the world, and we naturally disciple those we bring into our communities as they do life with us.
Questions for reflection:
1) Most people are better and one or two of the dimensions rather than at all three. What about you? Where are your strengths? What about weaknesses? Why do you think that is?
2) Ministries can be or become unbalanced. What about the churches or Christian groups with which you are familiar? What are their strengths and weaknesses in terms of Up, In, and Out?
3) What steps can you take to be more intentional about incorporating each dimension into your life? If you are in a micro-church, missional community, or small group, what ways do you need to be intentional in order to have a more balance in your lifestyle of discipleship?
4) Luke 6:12-19 shows us a day in the life of Jesus. The short passage contains all three dimensions. Read through it and try to identify Up, In, and Out in Jesus’ day. What do you observe and what can you observe from the way Jesus does Up-In-Out? Is God calling you to do anything about it?
5) Is God saying anything to you in this teaching? What will you do about it?