Episode 0: What is Discipleship?

Our Guest for this Episode – Mike Johnson:

Mike Johnson is about the intentional formation of people. Over the last fifteen years he has focused on the formation of people through innovating, creating, writing, coaching and teaching. Ten years ago he planted the ministry Ascending Leaders. In 2004 Mike received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary. Prior to this Mike worked as a CR church planter and pastor in Missouri City, Texas. Mike and his wife make their home in Sugar Land, Texas. Their two children are married and live in the area. They are all employed in the field of education.

Holiday coffee with Mike Johnson

Christmas marks God in all his glorious divinity, making himself nothing, setting aside all the perks of divinity, to be made in human likeliness, and to suffer on this fractured globe for 30+ years for the purpose of redeeming humans for a relationship with Him. God gave up so much to bridge the gap and live in proximity to people like you and me.

Maybe it is that relational aspect of Christmas that every year this season gives me an urge to sit down for coffee with friends of Ascending Leaders like you, to hear more of what God has done in your life and family of late and to share what he has done in my life and in my ministry through Ascending Leaders. Of course that is not possible this holiday season because the year is almost over!

In place of a holiday coffee time together, please allow me to share briefly by email.

What a year God has given us at Ascending Leaders. We have grown our staff into the strongest and most positive team yet. Together we have helped more people experience more deeply the presence of Christ and grow deeper as His people. God has expanded the scope of the ministry of Ascending Leaders in ways I had not expected. We would never have gotten here if it had not been for your past support.

Our last trip this year and last event was to facilitate a new weekend “Stages of Faith” conference for 50 members of a church we are helping build a clear and simple disciple path to help people move forward. It was a wonderful weekend of God moving people to yearn to step forward as disciples and seeing ways they can each do that. One of their staff shared her gratitude:

“Mike, you have done an excellent job with us as a team at our church. We deeply appreciate your work and you. You keep us moving forward. You refresh and encourage us. You serve us well”.

These are compelling times of greater interest in discipleship in congregations. There is ample evidence for the role God has for us to play. If you have already donated this season, I hope this “holiday coffee” has given you a glimpse of what your support means for churches, and seeing the momentum of God’s work through Ascending Leaders encourages you.

If you have not yet supported our work this year-end, I do not want you now to miss out on the excitement and the joy of participating in this fruitful mission. In just ONE day, the opportunity to have your gift doubled by our Matching2Multiply crew will be coming to a close.

We need to receive any donations to:

Ascending Leaders
3927 Field Crossing
Sugar Land, TX  77498

postmarked Dec. 30 or 31 to be doubled and to count as a 2016 tax deduction.

Or by credit card by clicking here before midnight Dec. 31 (your time zone) to be doubled and to count for a 2016 tax deduction.

We are so very close to surpassing our goal to be able to launch at full tilt into 2017. Please help us get there!

Peace and grace to you and yours,

Mike’s Note – 2016 Winter Highpoint

Dear friend,

Life for me, and for Ascending Leaders, has been full this fall. It is very good to not only see the need for discipleship in churches and the growing recognition of churches to address that need, but also the focus and resolve of the churches we work with to intentionally build paths for that. God continues to faithfully and wonderfully equip us to respond to that desire.

The executive director of another nonprofit recently told me she was frustrated that some of her board would not financially support the ministry. I am grateful that is not the situation with us—once again 100% of our board, many of our board emeritus and also some friends of Ascending Leaders whom together we call our Matching 2 Multiply 2016 Crew have pooled together this year to double all your year-end donations (a $200 donation becomes $400) and quadruple all National Giving Day donations (a $200 donation becomes $800). The opportunity to join in God’s purpose for us to help churches better make disciples is abundant.

In early October, I was presenting at a pastors’ conference in Tucson. One discipleship pastor there shared, “Lately people have been approaching me saying we need to do something to improve discipleship. I wasn’t sure where to turn. The last thing we need is another hyped program that provides limited results. Now this is something that makes sense and that we can apply in a way that fits our setting.” Thirty hours after the first words of teaching came out of my mouth, he registered for the last open slot of the DiscipleOn! community and thirty hours after registering was in his first Catalytic Gathering of DiscipleOn!

You can join in making moments like this possible as we head into a new year:

  • Ask God to bless our coaching, teaching and resourcing with a large harvest of disciples, leaders and churches flourishing.


  • Support us with a National Giving Day or year-end donation which our Matching 2 Multiply Crew will quadruple or double (up to a total of $40,000 in matching funds).


  • Invite us in 2017 to present to your church leaders or whole church on stages of discipleship.


Read the Winter Highpoint and be inspired by the DiscipleshipDifference God is allowing the Ascending Leaders team to make.

In His service,






Dr. Mike Johnson, Founder and Executive Director



Telling YOUR Faith Story by the Stages (with an example by Mike Johnson)

Before you start, keep in mind:

  1. Each person’s story is unique to their relationship with God. There is no one “right” story.
  2. People come to love God and grow in Him at different rates and in different ways.
  3. There is no need for embarrassment. There’s no stage that’s better or worse than any other stage – what matters is that your faith isn’t stagnant, and you are moving closer to a deep relationship with Christ.
  4. While your complete story might be quite long, for most purposes, your testimony should be quite short – 3-5 minutes.

Developing your faith story:

Now you can begin to create a testimony of your past and current journey through stages of faith. Use the thoughts and questions below to help you.

  1. Brainstorm what experiences have shaped your story and specific events or revelations that moved you into a new stage. Use stories as much as possible.

  2. Determine where you are today in terms of your stage of faith.
  3. Write or type your story. This will help you stay focused.
  4. Use your own creative gifts to develop a word picture, an image, a drawing, or write out the words of a song that symbolizes your unique experience up to this point on your journey of faith.

Helpful Questions for Each Stage

 The list below is meant to assist you in writing your testimony. They are suggested ideas or questions that are meant to prompt you.  Only select one to three prompts from each stage. One option to prevent overwhelm is to use a highlighter to quickly mark the questions that jump out at you.

Stage 1:  Exploring Christ

  1. Describe your life prior to your relationship with Jesus Christ as your Savior.
  2. What word or adjective would best describe your relationship with God during this stage of your life?
  3. If you have not yet made a commitment to Christ, what are the questions you are wrestling with?
  4. How did God move in your life to warm you up to the Gospel?
  5. What events in your life caused you to come to faith in Jesus Christ?
  6. What were the circumstances around your coming to faith in Jesus?
  7. When and why did you make a commitment to follow Jesus?

Stage 2:  Growing and Serving in Christ

  1. Describe the most influential practices and people who have influenced growth in knowledge about Christ and your relationship with him.
  2. What word or adjective would best describe your relationship with God during this stage of your life?
  3. Who and what have you confidently relied on for answers to faith questions?
  4. Who makes up your significant circle for friendship, encouragement and what impact have they had on your faith journey?
  5. What are your spiritual gifts and how are they in play in your life and faith community?
  6. Who are the spiritual heroes and heroines that you follow?
  7. Where do you experience a sense of accomplishment in your spiritual life?
  8. When have you accepted a spiritual responsibility in a community?
  9. Are you working on any particular spiritual goals?


Stage 3:  Journeying deeper in Christ

  1. Have you experienced a significant faith or life crisis that has shaken your sense of spiritual well-being?
  2. Describe how your image of God changed from earlier times?
  3. If you felt like your faith was falling apart, describe how or what was causing it.
  4. Have you experienced a nagging search of personal meaning? How? When?
  5. Have you lived with a deep sense that there has to be something “more than this” in your spiritual life, or experience of God?
  6. Can you describe a “dark night of the soul” experience?


Stage 4:  Abiding in Christ

  1. Describe how you are experiencing God’s presence and guidance in all aspects of life.
  2. Have you sensed a new, more focused sense of calling or ministry?
  3. What word or adjective would best describe your relationship with God during this stage of your life?
  4. When have you been given more energy or stamina than you’d had previously to survive a crisis, illness, growth time (and not experienced burnout)?
  5. Do you have a glimpse of God’s purpose (vocation, call, ministry) for your life?
  6. How are you detached from self and the world and attached to God?

Congratulations! You’ve completed a very important step towards sharing your faith story to honor God and encourage others.

We encourage you to prayerfully consider sharing your story in a safe, intimate group of friends. Doing so will help you understand your own journey more richly and your shared vulnerability will open you to deeper, spiritual friendships.

If you are feeling bold, we’d love to see your faith stories online! Share a video or written story with the hashtag #MyFaithStory and tag us @ascendingleader (Twitter) or @ascendingleaders (Facebook) so we can celebrate your story with you!

DiscipleshipDare: John 21 Imaginative Entry

North American evangelical Christians live in a culture that doesn’t encourage the use of imagination in our spiritual lives. This is changing as more churches begin using drama, dance and an array of music and other art forms which all engage the imagination. But the current “intellectual” approach has deprived us of a powerful tool that God has placed in us for knowing and worshipping Him. Using imagination to experience a Biblical story is a method first developed by Ignatius of Loyola. He encouraged his friends to imagine what they would see, hear, smell, touch or taste if they had been present in the Biblical scene.

The title “Imaginative Entry into Scripture” gives away the heart of this approach to meditation. We use our imagination to insert ourselves into the story. An easy way is to imagine that we are one of the characters in the story. Then follow Ignatius’ suggestions to “see, hear . . .” the story as that character. It is possible to be even more creative. For example, one might imagine what it is to be the storyteller or the recipient listening to the story in the ancient context, or a bystander observing the scene. It should be noted that this approach is most effective when the passage is a narrative with characters and interaction.

Mike: When I am introducing groups of people to “imaginative entry”, I often use the passage John 21:1-14. At times I have imagined myself as Peter and other times as John, Jesus, one of the other disciples or someone on the shore witnessing this all. Each time, God has seemed to have something a little different that He wants to say to me. One participant shared with me that God was calling her to make a change in her actions—to fish on the other side of the boat. Another heard God saying it was time he jumped into the water of life. The possibilities for the way God can use this passage to speak to your situation are endless.


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