Discipleship Experience

Discipleship Experience can help you go deeper – to Take the Next Step in your relationship with God.


Part 1 (DX-1) is a 40+ Day Challenge that you and a partner work through, to get into the habit of spending daily time with God.

No partner? We can help pair you up with someone else.

Student Video

Read the Student Video Transcript

I want to talk about two things Jesus never said. First thing Jesus never said to his followers: “Just believe in me.”

Now, it’s true – to the crowds he often said to believe, like in John 5 – Jesus says, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

And even to his own disciples, he said, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” … but then he said…”whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.” So Jesus’ followers were expected to be DOERS…not just BELIEVERS.

And that’s important, because you can BELIEVE lots of things, but not BELONG to that thing. I believe Teslas are cool cars. I will never own one. I believe watching a good college football game is excited. I don’t follow any team. I believe firefighting is a fascinating profession. I have no plans to ever become a firefighter. I believe it would be cool to know how to cook. I have done NOTHING to act on that belief – I cook in a microwave.

See, there are tons of things we can say we BELIEVE, but we don’t believe it so strongly that we BELONG to it so that it changes our behavior. Some people own Teslas. Some are die-hard college football fans. Some people work as firefighters. Some are expert cooks at home. I am none of those things. What’s the difference between them & me? They belong to those truths they believe, enough that they act on it.

So…what about you? If you consider yourself a Christian, and say, “I believe in Jesus Christ” – well, what does that mean? Do you BELIEVE strongly enough that you BELONG to him? And Jesus had a word for the people who belonged to him: It was “disciple.”

Disciples followed him around. They spent lots and lots of time with him. They believed his teachings, but it didn’t stop there…..at the end of his time on earth, before Jesus went to heaven, do you know what he said to his disciples? He told them to “go into the world and make other disciples…baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

See, Jesus doesn’t want just believers. He wants followers.

And here’s the second thing Jesus never said: “Go build church buildings.”

Nope. Whenever Jesus talked about “church,” he wasn’t talking about buildings, he was talking about people….groups of followers. So many times when we think of “church,” we think of “Going to church” and we picture the building, or the room, or the Caffe, and I love being on our campus, but it’s all meant for a purpose, and that purpose is: that the church we build and strengthen is you.

The church was never meant to be an amusement park, or a restaurant, or a concert venue. A church isn’t a skate park, or a room with foosball tables & video games. Church is not a summer camp– those are just places that we use to actually build the real church – which is a group of people – you – who then go out and be Jesus’ disciples, and hopefully make other disciples.

We don’t need a building to do what Jesus commanded. It sure helps, but the real church is the building up of me & you, and it’s not like that can only happen at church buildings.

And that’s why today, I want to invite you into something called “Discipleship Experience” – “DX” for short. Discipleship Experience is all about helping you become a disciple of Jesus, which is what he wants, and discipleship can and should happen no matter where you live, no matter who you are, no matter where you’re allowed to go. In Elevate we talk about helping you “take the next step”…well, this is the next step.

If you’ve grown up in church, and since you were a kid you’ve said, “I believe in Jesus” – DX is all about putting your money where your mouth is. It’s about moving beyond, “Oh, hey, Jesus – you’re a cool dude.” to, “No, Jesus – I am in as your follower.”

In part one of the Discipleship Experience – DX-1 – it’s all about training you to get good at spending time with God.

So I want to challenge you – with a partner – to spend 40 days going through this devotional called Awesome God. This book is out of print, meaning you cannot buy a new copy anywhere, but I like it so much I wrote to the authors and said hey, are you ok with me scanning the pages and sending them out for free to Jr High students who might want to do this? They said: absolutely, you can do that. Go for it. So because Rich Miller and Neil Anderson are generous guys, you don’t have to spend anything, you don’t have to order anything. It’s all being given free to you online to help you grow & spend time with God.

I mentioned having a partner. DX is something you do TOGETHER. Because on your own, you lose motivation. You don’t keep up. But also, as you go through Awesome God, we want you to be talking with someone about what you’re experiencing as you spend time with God.

So now – let me address some questions & excuses that are probably in your mind:

#1 – Is this school?

This is not school. With school, you read & do assignments and the focus is usually projects and tests. That’s not what this is. This is about how to use a devotional for its intended purpose, which is to help you spend time with God. If you can just get in a quiet place and be with God, and you already have a habit of doing that regularly, and you feel close to him in that time and away from that time – then you don’t need DX-1. You’re already doing it. The rest of us – we probably need this.

Excuse #2: I’m Zoomed out.

The amount of Zoom involved with DX-1 is actually pretty low. You’ll be checking in with your partner every day to make sure you both stay on track. But you’ll be doing a video call with a discipleship coach once a week, and those calls are easy – they’re not quizzes, you just answer questions about yourself, and you’ll work that out with your partner and your coach.

Excuse #3: I’ll just do something like this when I’m older. Right now I want to enjoy life.

Look – you probably won’t do something like this when you’re older. There’s a reason most adults aren’t Super-Christians. There’s a reason most adults don’t spend a lot of time with God, and it’s because older people are busier. They have jobs.

Did you know it’s likely that most of Jesus’ original disciples were young – maybe even teenagers? You are not too young to start living as a disciple.

Now, DX is not for everybody. Maybe it’s not for you. But let me ask you a question: What kind of person do you want to become. What kind of person? Who do want to become?

My kids have started playing with Play-Do…playing with it, not just eating it – and the cool thing is that, with a little imagination, Play-Do can become anything. You just have to press it into a mold.

Of course, once it’s out of the mold, it’s in danger of being shaped and influenced by other things and becoming other things.

And that’s kind of like you & me. If your Christian life revolves around programs at church, or yearly camp – well, what happens when you leave that mold? Because you’re getting shaped by something else. So being a disciple is putting yourself into God’s mold – day after day after day after day. If you don’t do that…something else will shape you. What are you going to choose?

Excuse #4: It might be boring.

Look – I’m not asking you to be a monk. This will take some of your time. Time away from YouTube, time away from Instagram, time away from video games. But boring? I mean, do you really believe God – the eternal God – if you dig into what’s there…it will be BORING? “Yeah, I’m a Christian…and I believe the God I worship is basically boring and not worth much attention”? Why wouldn’t you give this a chance?

I’m so excited about Awesome God that I believe if you give it 40 days and put your heart into it – you’re going to see your own life change.

Jesus wants disciples. Jesus talks to and leads his disciples. Reach out to a friend – because following Jesus isn’t something we do in private, in a lonely way – and say to them, “Come on – do DX with me.”

If you absolutely can’t find someone to pair up with on it, we can help you with that. But now is the time. Become a disciple. Let us help you do that.

Read the Parent Video Transcript

I want to share with you a piece of drone footage that James Walton, who leads our 4th-6th graders, shot and shared with the whole staff recently, because it gave me a little clarity on ministry during this COVID shutdown time. And then I want to share about summer plans and talk about a new initiative called Discipleship Experience.

It was a cloudy day in Carlsbad, so he decided to raise the drone up above the cloud layer. And I was so struck about the way this related to my own feelings about the Coronavirus shutdown time. Down below, it’s cloudy. It’s busy. It’s gloomy. Up above – there’s a whole new something going on.

There’s times in this pandemic I’ve felt bummed, angry, depressed, and lost. How are we supposed to do ministry when we can’t gather kids? But other times when I’ve been refreshed with a new, above-the-clouds perspective…and even optimism.

There’s plenty of things we’ve tried during shutdown that haven’t worked well. I’ll admit – I was kind of naïve going into the shutdown, thinking it would be for a couple of weeks. Of course, now we know this wasn’t and isn’t a short-term thing. Now we know that even when they allow church gatherings of any size, it will probably still require social distancing.

So – we can get hung up on what we can’t do or what isn’t exactly the same. Daily video devotionals? It was meant to fill a short-term gap, giving kids a little teaching every day. Viewership has gone down! Not to say we won’t continue with them, but in a world of well-produced, slick, funny online videos, it’s hard to sustain an audience.

Zoom groups? Anything new is fun, but the novelty wears off. Some kids are Zoom-ed out, and Zoom doesn’t easily accommodate the way kids talk with each other, which is that they talk over each other! One of my leaders made this fascinating observation: When you speak on Zoom, the spotlight is on you. It’s pressure. It’s awkward. So kids’ answers tend to be really short. Again, not saying we won’t keep doing them – but it’s not the same.

I’m sad to say we will not be doing summer camp. I’m a big camp fan. But this year, it’s just too risky. Can you imagine how terrible it would be for us to be up in Big Bear and have an outbreak in our group? Or to have to go to camp and enforce social distancing and wear masks the whole time? No way.

So – those are the things that make me gloomy. But then I consider that footage.

God is limitless, and he is, of course, still at work in ways we don’t realize. Down the road of your kids’ life – the shutdown will be a blip on the radar screen of their lives. Don’t be discouraged.

And then on the ministry side: We need to focus on eternal purposes, not the stuff below the clouds.

It’s driven me to reconsider the ultimate purpose, the ultimate goal. So often in youth ministry, we get hung up on the form: the setting, the vibe, the gathering. But our purpose is not gathering. The gathering itself has a purpose, and that purpose is ultimately discipleship. That’s the function.

When we try to make the form “the same” online as it is in person, and then we fail, we hit a roadblock. Because it will never be the same – in form. But we also need to be careful about giving kids a faith that is dependent on context. “Can’t grow unless youth group meets. Can’t grow unless we go away to summer camp.” Youth ministries are so guilty of this. Hooked on form, not function. We engage kids in Christian activities, but never challenge them to a lifestyle of discipleship. We give kids “mountaintop experiences,” one after another, but never really teach kids how to climb the mountain themselves.

What we need to do during this time, when we can’t gather, is to show them how to have a faith that is not context-dependent.

The form of digital ministry can fall short; the function – the mission – remains the same. So during this time, I want to double-down on online discipleship. Because if the heart of someone’s Christian life is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the son of God, and the way to nurture is a relationship is through time spent together, then wouldn’t it make sense that during this period, when kids have nothing but time that we should challenge them to learn how to spend meaningful time with God?

That’s where Discipleship Experience comes in. Whatever else we’ll dream up for the summer – and we’re going to hold summer calendar very loosely – I mean the guidelines change so often, I can’t confidently say that what we’re not allowed to do now will still be the same by summer’s end. I just don’t know. For move up, to new grades and new ministry groups, we’re simply waiting. End of summer at the latest. If we can safely gather in smaller groups sooner, maybe sooner. We’re waiting.

But alongside any of this, we’re launching something that’s been on the back burner for a while, and it is simply a way of teaching your son or your daughter how to meaningfully spend time with God. It’s called DX, short for Discipleship Experience, and it’s a 40+ day challenge they enter with a partner to learn how to spend time with God.

There’s a devotional involved, which is out of print and the authors have generously allowed us to distribute digitally free of charge. But DX is not just putting a book in the hands of kids and saying, “Here – read it,” because that almost never works. It’s coming alongside kids and teaching them how to use a devotional for the purpose of spending time with God.

The reason they do it with a partner is the same reason you & I exercise with a partner, or diet with a partner, because we as humans are not good at adopting habits that take discipline! So we need something outside ourselves to keep going. The other element to this is kids will meet once a week with a coach who encourages them and helps them get the most out of their God times. Every day your son or daughter will fill out an online form, and then the coach reviews those for the pair and helps push them forward in this new habit.

Now, there’s a catch! And the catch is, if you push this too hard, they may not want to do it. And that’s normal! That’s a growing-up process called “differentiation” – it’s a kid saying, “I am different from you…we’re not the same person.” So – you know your kid best. For some of you, all you can do is drop a mention. You might be able to pass along the video I recorded for students – it’s on our YouTube and all our social media channels. You might be able to push it a little bit. But I will say, we can’t really expect something we ourselves aren’t willing to practice, can we? So maybe you could watch the video I put out for students, and if that jump-starts your devotional life, too – hey, what a win!

How cool if we opened our doors again and your kids understood the purpose of church buildings in a new way? As I said in the video I made for them, what we usually call “church” is really just a place where the work of church – the “building up” of you & me into disciples – is supposed to happen. A lot of us are sad right now because “church isn’t happening”, meaning the doors of the church aren’t open. But I think what makes God sad is when the doors are open, and church – the “building up” of you & me – still isn’t happening.

DX launches soon. Encourage them in the best way that you can. Stay tuned. Do your best to enjoy summer, in whatever form that will take! I hope you and your family are doing well.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What Is This?

DX-1 is a self-paced, partner-based discipleship plan, meant to train you at getting REALLY good at spending time with God.

What Do We Do?

In the first stage, you and a partner work your way through some introductory units: Heart, Influences, Relationships, God, the Cross, Time, and Will. In the second stage, you and your partner will work through the challenge of spending time with God for 40 days, using readings from a resource called Awesome God. Once a week you will meet together with a discipleship coach (you can pick this person when you sign up, or we can assign someone to you) to talk about how it’s going.

This sounds like school.

It’s not! While you will learn things about God, the Bible, etc.,remember that the readings, the units, and the discussions with your partner are all ways of getting near and being with God. If you approach it like a school assignment [I guess I just have to get this done…], you’ll miss the real benefit.

Can I just work through it alone?

Doing the online program with another person (or two other people) is better, because it helps keep you on track. It gives you someone to talk with about what you each are learning and experiencing. It keeps you honest (more on that below).

Can I do it with a bigger group?

DX-1 is meant either for pairs or groups of three. Too many people = meetings take too long & people don’t get to share as much.

What if four of us want to do it together?

Do it as two groups of two.

How about five?

Form one group of three, one group of two.


Come on now. 2+2+2=6, or 3+3=6. You get the picture.

What if my partner and I don’t keep up?

That’s normal! Expect it…that’s one reason we have you do this with someone else. There will be certain days you’re up for spending time with God, and other days not so much. You and your partner will be expected to be honest with each other about how motivated you are, and help each other push past this. “Finishing” is not so much the goal – it’s the way you work through it and what you learn about your own motivation.

Do I get graded on this?

Nope. Again, the point isn’t to finish or to get the right answer – the point is to go through the process and be close to God.


5 weeks of study and 5 group conversations led by a coach about:

  • Being a disciple
  • Being with Jesus
  • Learning from Jesus
  • Praying like Jesus
  • Relying on Jesus


5 studies + group conversations about:

  • Counting the cost of following Jesus
  • Battling spiritual enemies
  • Strengthening Christian friendships
  • Finding God’s will for your life
  • Being a servant


5 studies + group conversations about:

  • Becoming a world-changer
  • Living as a witness for Christ
  • Understanding the “good news” of the gospel
  • Sharing the good news with others