Virtual Learning for Discipling Staff and Pastors

“My personal goal right now is to be all in with going through the materials that are sent. Because it keeps it in front of me, because this is what I do for a living. Also, it’s valuable being able to hear everyone else’s comments. I write phrases and notes and go back and look at them. It helps me in ongoing conversations as I go about the week, using more of the language and more of the concepts, while talking to other leaders; and reading other books, it connects to what I’ve been learning in DiscipleOn.”

Are you all in for discipleship? Season 4 is Feb.-June, 2018

Register for the next Informational Webinar and discover if you’re ready for DiscipleOn!

December 06 at 2:00-2:45 p.m. CST

The Discipleship Podcast for Church Leaders

In the weeks and months leading up to Harvey, we were working behind the scenes preparing a new resource for discipleship leaders that is easily accessible, relevant and convenient. We’re always looking for ways to share the information and tools we know will make a real impact on discipleship in churches, and podcasts are a rapidly growing means of communication. Nearly a quarter of internet users in the United States listen to podcasts at least once a week. Our recent audience survey showed that over 53% regularly listen to podcasts. Despite the effects of Harvey, Ascending Leaders released the first two episodes of our new podcast on September 4. In its first five weeks, people downloaded almost 200 episodes!

We’re convinced that a podcast can serve our audience—can serve you—by encouraging and educating in a way that integrates easily into existing daily routines. In Episode 00, you can hear Mike talk about what “discipleship” is. In subsequent episodes, hear conversations with different church leaders who are actively applying a stages of faith approach in their churches.

To further enhance the value the podcast provides church leaders, each episode transcript is available on our website, along with a free downloadable tool or resource related to that episode’s topic. For example, Episode 02: “Defining Discipleship” has a list of ten example definitions from churches of varying contexts and sizes.

God’s perfect timing for me. I listened to the first podcast episode on discipleship. It was what I needed to hear at this time. Thanks for your work!








  • Episode 06: Remain in Me—Moving Toward Mission
    With Joel and Patty Hogan, Spiritual Directors from Madison Square Church, Grand Rapids, MI


  • Episode 07: Naming the Stages for YOUR Church
    With Ken Schripsema, Executive Director of Ministry, Madison Square Church, Grand Rapids, MI

DiscipleshipDare: Inviting Relationship

Hospitality, fellowship and community are inseparably linked and permeate Scripture. Their basis is our common worth as being created in the image of God, beings for whom God Himself died. In fellowship, both parties are giving and receiving in relationship; the over-arching goal is to become more like Christ and in doing so, long for more fellowship with the Father.

The Christ habit of “community” is the habit of opening one’s life and offering friendship and acts of kindness to others, even to strangers and those whom you find most difficult to love. It is precisely in the latter situation, that we need to be most intentional to practice the habit of hospitality and extend the hand of friendship.

A “church of friends” is a church with a culture that expects people to freely open their lives to each other. Members share more than superficial greetings. They share their greatest joys and deepest sorrows; they know their church family will be there for them through thick and thin. They experience community— an honest, selfless sense of caring for one another.

Our challenge to you, disciple, is this:

Grow at actively inviting relationship.

Think of an upcoming lunch, breakfast or other meeting you are having with one other person. Picture yourself being totally present for that other person. What do you expect to potentially distract you? How can you help yourself remain attentive?

Ask God: “Show me how to treat this other person with dignity. Show me how to offer a sense that this person is honored and loved. Show me how to take seriously whatever he or she is struggling with, even if the person doesn’t feel free to talk about it.”

*Adapted from Community: Inviting Relationship from our Christ Habits collection of studies for targeted discipleship.

Harvey: Aftermath of a Monumental Crisis

On Thursday Aug. 24, 2017, the Ascending Leaders board concluded our annual meeting with a lunch-and-learn event at Houston Baptist University, listening to 30 area discipleship practitioners. The Houston-area attendees were checking the weather updates on their phones; the out-of-town board members wondered if their flights would be affected by Harvey’s imminent landfall. Board member Dr. Robert Sloan, President of HBU, checked in on the college’s emergency planning. Everyone agreed that the meeting was over just in time. On the drive home, Mike waited in a gas line to get enough gas to last a week, not realizing floods would keep his car in the garage for the next seven days.

No one expected the hurricane would stall west of Houston as a record-breaking tropical storm, sitting there for days picking up water from the Gulf of Mexico and dropping it over the area surrounding the United States’ fourth largest city. By Thursday morning, a week later, the rain gauge total at Mike’s home measured 44+ inches of rain. Harvey had officially broken the continental U.S. record for rainfall from one storm.

Like everyone else in the region, Ascending Leaders’ plans for the fall drastically shifted. Three staff members evacuated, family and friends endured flooding of their homes, and it was a month before the whole team was back together at our offices in Sugar Land. One church in a coaching partnership had over 200 members flooded. And yet, the storm provided opportunities for disciples to love their neighbors more selflessly, and to surrender to God during scary unknowns. In the aftermath of a community crisis, the real impact of doing discipleship well becomes clear. It shows up in the people sacrificing their best interests for the sake of the displaced. It’s seen in churches with open doors and lines of volunteers. When you get discipleship right in your church, you have an abundant outpouring of faithful service when crisis hits.

Here are some personal accounts of “God things” that happened during Harvey:

  • “I’ll never forget Gina stepping in to help a neighbor while the rest of the neighborhood was standing around gawking. It gave us the opportunity to minister to this Mandarin-speaking family. An unexpected benefit was the great dumplings they brought over the next day!”
    – Mike Johnson, AL Founder/President


  • “The reporter from Detroit spoke of his surprise over people coming together and sacrificing to help each other in the middle of this devastation. I was impressed that he said he had never seen this before.”
    – Teri Watson, Accounts Assistant


  • “A neighboring church invited our Chinese church members to a training session on how to help following a flood—mold remediation, and things like that. Despite little notice and difficult roads, a hundred people from our church showed up for that. That was a gift from God, because it helped equip us.”
    – Ellie Tow, Executive Assistant


  • “After Harvey hit, our church members called for help first to others in their community groups. And I witnessed that with my own community group, with everyone texting and calling each other with offers of shelter or help as the flooding got worse. It was beautiful to see everyone living out our goal of doing life together as a church.”
    – Megan LaFollett, Communications/Resourcing Lead

Mike and other staff members received calls, e-mails and texts from people out of town who wanted to help and needed advice on where to give aid that would effectively help people. Thanks to Ascending Leaders’ national connections, we were able to link people across the country who wanted to send resources to the front lines in the very early hours and days of recovery.

Episode 05: Moving Toward Sacrifice

Our Guest for this Episode – Greg Hawkins:

Greg Hawkins was on staff at Willow Creek for 22 years, and is the co-founder of REVEAL research. He’s the author of five books, including Move and More. He’s currently on staff at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, TX, working with Senior Minister Max Lucado.

His latest book, More, is the first book written from REVEAL research targeted to church attenders, not church leaders. It primarily details the journey from “Stage 3 to Stage 4,” using your language”.

Our most important Match2Multiply campaign yet


One foundation we applied to for support in 2017 wrote us this response:

“Thanks for your request of to our foundation to support your work in the ministry. I am sorry to report to you that our foundation has recently donated all of its funds, and has been dissolved. Nevertheless, I congratulate you on your work, because the average Christian and church member today is void of any knowledge regarding God’s purpose and plan for the ages. Actually, they are unable to even articulate the milk of the Word, much less the meat. I therefore encourage you to continue your efforts, and in particular to concentrate on educating pastors and parishioners in Paul’s second ministry regarding the church of the one body in Christ, and it’s heavenly calling. Without that understanding the average Christian will never grow in the grace and knowledge of Him, because they only have half of the story.”

We couldn’t agree more, and this past year we’ve been able to help more churches and leaders than ever before. Because of our expanding programs and the setback Harvey caused (see the lead article in our latest Highpoint for more information), in the remaining weeks of this year we need to raise double the donations we raised in the last eight weeks of last year.

That’s quite a challenge, but there’s good news:

  • Our Matching2Multiply Multiplying Pledgers will quadruple any donations mailed or received online on National Giving Day (Nov. 28).
  • After National Giving Day, our Matching2Multiply Multiplying Pledgers will double donations through the end of the year.

How can you help?

  • Set a reminder to send in your donation next Tuesday.
  • Share with friends and colleagues the reasons you believe discipleship is a worthy cause, and how donating to Ascending Leaders can further discipleship in churches today.
  • Pray for God to surprise us with an overflowing abundance to continue our work and expand to help more churches in the coming year.

Episode 04: Moving Toward Intimacy

Our Guests for this Episode – Julia Johnson and Richard Blackaby:

Julia Johnson has been Small Groups Director for over eight years at Grace Fellowship United Methodist Church at Katy, TX. Her goal is building Christ-centered communities to spur on spiritual growth. She has participated for two years in Ascending Leaders’ DiscipleOn! communities and is currently participating in the Catalytic Gathering hosted by Ascending Leaders. Her husband, Dan, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Katy and they have four adult children.



Richard Blackaby is an author and international speaker on leadership and the Christian life. He is co-author of the revised edition of Experiencing GodHe has authored over 31 books, including Hearing God’s Voice, Unlimited God, Spiritual Leadership, and Living Out of the Overflow.

Episode 03: Moving Toward Belief

Our Guest for this Episode – Blair Lerner:

Blair has been committed to Christ’s mandate to make disciples throughout 33 years of ministry. He has served in the local church and as a missionary. He has devoted himself to becoming more effective in making disciples. Blair believes that “Ascending Leader training has helped our discipleship staff incorporate and plan a multiplying disciple making movement at our church.”


Episode 02: Stages of Faith

Our Guest for this Episode – Bob Johnson:

Bob Johnson has served as the executive pastor at Chapelwood United Methodist church in Houston, TX, for 14 years, where he has led lay and staff teams related to discipleship. He recently shifted focus to bring more attention to the church’s discipleship-related strategic goals. He has recently joined Ascending Leaders as an adjunct consultant/coach.

Bob and I have been acquaintances for years, but in the past probably six months, Bob and I have gotten to know each other very well. He has been part of one of Ascending Leaders’ DiscipleOn communities – which are virtual communities of people in churches of a variety of denominations around the United States who are working on discipleship.

We’re going to focus in on four stages of a disciple’s growth. You know, Jesus’ last words to his eleven disciples were, “Make disciples.” (Matthew 8:18-19) In other words, make more people like themselves. People who are growing more deeply in love with Jesus.

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