Reflections about Discipleship after Attending the Exponential Conference

Reflections about Discipleship after Attending the Exponential Conference

By Rev. John Comstock, CLT Coordinator | 10 May 2024

Reflections about Discipleship

A large gathering at a large church campus with large production value has the potential to leave some attendees with feelings of inadequacy. The temptation to begin the comparison game is real. Thoughts such as, "My worth is less than the pastors on staff at the large church," can clutter our minds. Yet, here is the good news. The theological paradigm that informs our discipleship practice begins at ground zero as we acknowledge imago Dei – our value is imprinted deep in our being because of the character and nature of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Acknowledging each person's value flows directly from our understanding of God.


This year’s Exponential Conference, held March 4-7, 2024, emphasized the importance of discipleship, undergirded by the affirmation of imago Dei. Although the phrase imago Dei was not explicitly repeated, it was implicitly present. The plenary speakers were authentic and vulnerable. For example, Will Chung spoke about the season of pain he went through with mental health and how he moved through that season. He said, "Pretending works for a season until it doesn't because pretending may feed our egos, but eventually, it will deplete our souls." He then said, "We need to create intimate spaces where we don't have to pretend."


My takeaway from the conference was the importance of understanding that we will not create vulnerable and safe spaces where people do not need to pretend until we have acknowledged the worth of each person. If we model Jesus, we show up with people where they are, as they are, without a requirement to present a false self that is bent toward performing to prove our worth to others.


A possible misconception may emerge that creating a vulnerable and safe space where pretending is unnecessary means condoning sinful behavior; quite the contrary! However, if that misconception takes root and becomes the fear that motivates us, we will find it nearly impossible to create those spaces. Performance-based spirituality will "leak out" as we work hard not to be vulnerable, further availing sinful behavior.


Starting with an uncompromising commitment to all wrapped up in imago Dei means no sinful behavior can undermine the other person's worth. Nor can any high-performing spiritual behavior add to our worth as persons created in the image of God.


Discipleship has a trajectory and purpose—to become image bearers who are Christlike. The movement from prevenient grace to saving grace to sanctifying grace is never lost upon us as we disciple others. We walk with people where they are on the journey knowing well that God is always actively present in their lives.


Do you have an open and vulnerable space where you do not need to pretend? In discipleship ministries, are you practicing openness and accountability? If not, ask God to show you who that person can be for you. Share some of your thoughts with me at