This month: 181 - Online Church
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

Remember Me    Register ›

Matt Dabbs

Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

Homepage: http://mattdabbs.com

Many of us feel a longing in our bones for something fresh. Something alive. A movement.

We can (and must) start new churches.

But what is God doing with existing churches? Not all of them are struggling. Some are growing. Growing churches are not the majority. Studies have been done that out growing churches around a quarter to a third of churches are growing (mostly growing through programs).

What will it take to turn churches in decline? Some will need to die, that’s natural not morbid. Some have life left in them, they just need vision and direction. They need healthy governance. They need the release of members’ gifts for kingdom work.

What is God doing to renew legacy churches and how can we get in board?

For many years even saying the word “discipleship” raised suspicion. It is tempting to feel stuck today where we were stuck in the past. We aren’t stuck there anymore and we don’t need to act like we are. We can openly talk about discipleship, not because we “got over it” but because it is in the Bible and it is perfectly biblical.

And we are talking about it. Lots of people are talking about it. Movement is happening. Traction is being gained. From the New Day conference to Renew.org and the Renew gathering to the work of discipleship.org and the National Disciple Making Forum…the discipleship movement is gaining steam. In an article two articles back, Scott Sager outlined how Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration (their lectureship) will focus on discipleship and making disciples this Summer. I don’t believe they will be the last. Other gatherings associate with Churches of Christ will eventually do the same because what God is doing is becoming so much in our faces it cannot be denied!

This is only just a start but it demonstrates that God is getting our attention. If you want to dwell on the past when it comes to discipleship don’t dwell on 30 years ago or 40 years ago (Crossroads)…dwell on 2000 years ago when making disciples was the norm. Dwell on 40 minutes ago when people all over the world were (and are) in Bible studies with non-believers. Movements are happening. The Spirit is working. The mantle of ministry is being passed from professionals to lay people. That is, by the way, the only way for a movement to be viral – you can’t have bottlenecks if you want to see viral.

It is all so refreshing and so hopeful. I am as hopeful about the future of Christianity as I have ever been in my life.

At a time when we point to so many things unhealthy in the way we “do church” here is something that is healthy. This is something Jesus told us he wants and somehow we turned discipleship into a teachings and attendance thing – we mapped his teaching onto our practice, rather than the other way around.

In the next 10 years we are going to see our people get healthier by engaging in this work. People are being trained right now and sent to make disciples, right in their own neighborhoods.

I asked God a year and a half ago to show me how to make disciples. I promised Him if he would show me, I would do it. People came out of the woodwork, unsolicited, to show me how. He will show you too. The resources exist. God put people to show us the way in our path decades ago – it is just now bearing fruit in our backyard.

So buckle up. Please be in prayer. Be in study. Read Jerry Trousdale. Read Kingdom Unleashed. Read Miraculous Movements. God is moving and His people are moving. I couldn’t be more excited! This is real. Watch and see.

Why is it that when it comes to the Bible, the scandalous label always seems to apply to the women but the men often get a pass? It is as if we remember the best moments of the men and the worst moments of the women. I know it isn’t all of us but it is prevalent enough to bring it up and shine a light on it.

When it comes to the genealogy of Jesus, many find the female tie in to be women of questionable sexual ethics. We gawk at Rahab making it in (but she may have been an innkeeper). The same with Tamar. Again with Bathsheba. Both of them were sinned against with the power dynamics severely not directed in their favor. Do we stop and pause for a moment of judgment on the women without recalling what Judah did? Go back and read Genesis 38…check out verse 25 where Judah wants to burn Tamar to death when he was propositioning and sleeping with Tamar, thinking she was a prostitute.

Ruth seducing Boaz? We aren’t really sure about that either. It is murky. Should we be stigmatizing people for situations that are confusing at best? Should we be stigmatizing people at all?

Again, what about the men?

Matt 1:2 – We think of Abraham in his best moments (Gen 12, 15, 17 and 22). Abraham passed his wife off as his sister to save his own bacon, putting her in jeopardy on multiple occasions.

Matt 1:2 – Jacob wasn’t the most straightforward person…a swindler at times. A trickster and deceiver. His name even means he trips people up.

Matt 1:3 – Judah took advantage of Tamar in a very scandalous way in Gen 38.

Matt 1:6 – David had Uriah killed after having an affair with Bathsheba.

Matt 1:7 – Solomon went after false gods after marrying many women and having concubines (mistresses).

Matt 1:7 – Rehoboam – rejected the council of the elders and put heavy burdens on the people.

Matt 1:9 – Ahaz – worshiped idols, sacrificed one of his sons to the “gods”, and did detestable things. His son, not the one he sacrificed to false gods, was Hezekiah (2 Kings 16:20).

Matt 1:10 – Hezekiah’s son was Manasseh. He was horrible and did terrible things, including sacrificing his kids to the false gods (2 Kings 21).

Matt 1:10 – Amon – just as bad as his father, Manasseh.

The women get the stigma and yet not one of them was a murderer. Not one of them led nations into immorality (imagine the ripple effect of that and the responsibility). Not one of the women had the power dynamics in their favor. Nor did any of them lead the nation of Israel into idol worship and even sacrificed their own children to the “gods”.

This is not to say the men are especially worse, necessarily (although a case could be made that some were definitely worse). This info about them teaches us something about us. The way we read the stories and the conclusions we read display our inner filters and presuppositions and even values.

What this does is cause us to introspect a bit and ask ourselves about the way we read scriptures and our how our conclusions about people may well reveal some of our own inner workings and meta-cognition about how we label people based on criteria like race and gender. It might be safe to assume if we do that with Bible people we may well do that with the people right in front of us. And that’s a BIG problem!

This problem of perception, value (or lack thereof) and meta-cognition is not just a gender issue – it crops up any time our team is on the field. It happens in our politics – when we can only find praise for our side and flaws for the other (even when the truth clearly points the opposite direction). It happens in our marriages – when we justify our own behavior while condemning our spouse for their faults. We see this in our view of other religious groups, particularly those who are most like us – we give the flaws in our view a pass while nit picking someone else’s view for lesser problems.

Maybe deep down inside it is an insecurity issue – that we worry to pick at one thread might make the whole knit sweater come undone. So we defend to the bitter end things and people who shouldn’t be defended while condemning those who least deserve it.

We never know what someone is going through. Let us be inclined, as God is inclined, toward grace and mercy. This takes heart training. It takes a growing awareness of our inner workings and thinkings…this is soul work, hard work…necessary work. May God have mercy on the men and women in the Bible…and on us today because Lord knows we need it more than ever before!

God has a way of asking us to do things that are part of our transformation process. Behavior is not always for behavior’s sake. Behavior is often for being’s sake. Read Leviticus sometime and try to find a rule or two. Obedience was not just to see if people could remember and follow the rules. Obedience was about holiness and distinctiveness as God’s people – it was formative more so than just punitive.

In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 we are told that a disciple is someone who is baptized and who is taught to obey the teachings of Jesus.

To what end do we obey the teachings of Jesus? Because he said so? Well, that would be a start but it wouldn’t be a good end.

God wants us to obey what Jesus taught because our obedience impacts and influences something deeper – our being.

We aren’t “doings.” We are “Beings.”

That is a very important difference. Too often we get caught up on labeling and assessing the value of our doings over the value of our being. Would we rather be a highly successful scoundrel or a person of low position but impeccable character? In today’s influencer, social media culture, many would opt for the first.

Who we are matters a great deal. Character matters. Character is formed over the course of time and is influenced by our behavior.

Yes we want to obey Jesus, that is what disciples do. Why? Because he is King and he said so…takes us a little ways down the road. But ultimately it is for our inner formation. To live a life obedient to the teachings of Jesus opens up new vistas for us. It is living life to the full. It is a life engaged in the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.

Too often we are focused so much on our being perfected “in heaven” that we neglect the very biblical idea that God has already started that transformation process NOW!

As we make disciples and we find workable processes that are simple and repeatable, let’s keep the end goal in mind. Disciples are little versions of the one they follow, growing into big versions – not just in actions but in thought, mind, attitude, image, and being.

Jesus is not after box checkers to be box checkers. He is looking for those who will follow him into a new way of living and being.

As we disciple people let us keep in mind what we are really doing so that we can help others in their formation. Part of that formation will come as we walk and act and live and obey – the obedience opens us up and makes us pliable for the work of the Spirit to continue to shape us more and more into the likeness of Christ.

This is important work. Let us know in the comments what you are doing to make disciples where you live!

While God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our own, God often uses simple things for maximum impact.

Jesus called mostly uneducated men to be his disciples and apostles (See Acts 4:13). This doesn’t mean we devalue education. Education is a wonderful thing (my wife and I have 500+ hours of college under our belts!). It does mean we often have to fight our propensity toward complexity and exclusivity if we want to participate in a movement.

The Gospel itself is both simple and complicated. It has layers. The core of the gospel contains simple truths that just about anyone can wrap their mind around. But you can dig deeper to more complex components of the message.

The more we study, often, the more complex things to get and if we are not careful we can very easily create the idea (inadvertently) that it takes a trained professional to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.

Our current paradigm for church is not movement prone or movement friendly. It is far too complex for that both in our operations and our doctrine. Again, our argumentation has become so complex that the uneducated might think there is no seat at the table for them.

Here is my main point – Complex things don’t spread quickly. That is why there are few astrophysicists and surgeons who do full face transplants than we have professionals of various other occupations.

Many of us are looking for, praying for, and dreaming of a movement of God’s people by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. If history has anything to say about it, any movement is usually characterized by simplicity. If it requires a seminary degree to pull off, it can’t be easily or quickly replicated and movements have to self-replicate to move.

We won’t find movements if the requirements for replication are complicated, require years of advanced training, and are expensive.

The last I checked the Holy Spirit doesn’t charge an admission fee!

Again, I am not discounting education or budgets or buildings. I am saying that what is often our default, go to, may not lend itself to the outcome we desire, but rather the outcomes we are used to and comfortable with.

Pray with me for fresh movements among the people of God. Pray for God to use the simple, the foolish, and the organic to show the corporate institutional structures our churches are mired in, a new (old) way forward where disciples make disciples.

More soon!

While God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our own, God often uses simple things for maximum impact.

Jesus called mostly uneducated men to be his disciples and apostles. This doesn’t mean we devalue education. Education is a wonderful thing (my wife and I have 500+ hours of college under our belts!). It does mean we often have to fight our propensity toward complexity and exclusivity if we want to participate in a movement.

Our current paradigm is not movement prone or movement friendly.

Complex things don’t spread quickly. That is why there are few astrophysicists and surgeons who do full face transplants than we have professionals of various other occupations.

Many of us are looking for, praying for, and dreaming of a movement of God’s people by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. If history has anything to say about it, any movement is usually characterized by simplicity. If it requires a seminary degree to pull off, it can’t be easily or quickly replicated and movements have to self-replicate to move.

We won’t find movements if the requirements for replication are complicated, require years of advanced training, and are expensive.

The last I checked the Holy Spirit doesn’t charge an admission fee!

Again, I am not discounting education or budgets or buildings. I am saying that what is often our default, go to, may not lend itself to the outcome we desire, but rather the outcomes we are used to and comfortable with.

Pray with me for fresh movements among the people of God. Pray for God to use the simple, the foolish, and the organic to show the corporate institutional structures our churches are mired in, a new (old) way forward where disciples make disciples.

More soon!

Discipleship and making disciples has had a bad wrap in many of our circles. The abuses of Crossroads are hard to forget, especially for those who went through the worst parts of those movements (extreme, non-mutual accountability; hierarchy, etc).

Some get suspicious just hearing the word discipleship.

For others, all they hear is another program like children’s ministry, or Bible class ministry.

Neither of these responses really align with what we see in the New Testament. Jesus made disciples who made disciples. This was part of the DNA of the early church. We hear that built into the great commission in Matthew 28 – we heard “Go and baptize.” Jesus said “Go and make disciples.” How do you make a disciple, Jesus? By baptizing them and teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded. Well, he instructed them to go and make disciples so that is part of what is taught to be obeyed as they make disciples. It makes a circle that shouldn’t have ever been broken.

We do many things but too few churches are actively, intentionally discipling people, much less training people to be disciple-makers. There is a big difference between the two (thanks to Bobby Harrington and others for making this point over and over again…the difference between making disciples and making disciple makers is huge). One replicates the other probably doesn’t.

And this instruction wasn’t just for the 11 there in Matthew 28. We see in Acts that disciples made disciples apart from the 11. This is specifically stated in Acts 8:1-4,

“That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.

Who was it that were scattered? “all except the apostles” and what did those who were scattered do? “went from place to place proclaiming the word.” I have heard people say the great commission was just for the 11. I don’t know how to arrive at that conclusion from the text itself. Going back to Acts 8, I wonder what they proclaimed and what their aims were? We aren’t told so I know I am operating on assumption here. I can imagine it had something to do with what the apostles taught and that what they taught had something to do with what Jesus taught going back to the great commission and the gospels.

Here is my point – I believe we need to allow the negative stigma on discipleship and making disciples to make sure we don’t embrace unhealthy practices once again…but instead of rejecting it all together, we will go back to the Bible and look to see how Jesus did it so we can imitate him.

In circles like Wineskins we have finally made a turn from a myopic focus on church out to a renewed focus on Jesus and imitating Him…if we did that we would get back to discipleship and making disciples as normative. Imitating Jesus is not just about morality. It is also about mission. The mission is more than evangelism/proclaiming to the lost. It is about making disciples. At least that is what Jesus said!


If you have been in church any length of time and/or enjoy reading books by Christian authors, you have benefited from the fruit of private Christian Universities. Many of us take for granted that the preparation for the sermon on Sunday, the class on Wednesday and even the pastoral work during the week came out of years that the minister spent in graduate education.

If you have been in church any length of time and/or enjoy reading books by Christian authors, you have benefited from the fruit of private Christian Universities. Many of us take for granted that the preparation for the sermon on Sunday, the class on Wednesday and even the pastoral work during the week came out of years that the minister spent in graduate education.

I am not sure where we would be without it. It is the air we breathe and the water we drink. We cannot envision what our churches would be like without the selfless people who commit themselves to instructing in our Universities.

My own story passes through Harding School of Theology. When I decided to go into ministry, they were ready to receive me. My life has never been the same ever since. I use the tools they taught me on a daily basis.

There are fingerprints of influence on my ministry from ACU, Pepperdine, Oklahoma Christian, and others…The influence is both directly from the Universities and their professors and from their graduates.

None of this happens without resources: people and money. I hope you will consider how you might help our universities advance the cause of the kingdom either through giving to them or encouraging people who are capable to go into ministry.

This month our two advertisers were chosen for the reasons above. I approached them about advertising with us because I believe in what they are doing and I want you to know more about their work. If you want to know about their work check out their websites or, better yet, check out their graduates. The fruit is all around us. Wineskins’ authors are a lot of that fruit! We just often take that preparation for granted. Those two universities are Harding School of Theology and Oklahoma Christian University.

Harding School of Theology is still doing great work. They have online programs so you can learn from distance. Check out HST at our Wineskins affiliate link so they know we sent you. Harding School of Theology.

Oklahoma Christian is also doing great work. They recently started a new degree – a Masters in Christianity and Culture. I hope you will check that out as well. We need well prepared, well rounded ministers, thinkers, workers for the expansion of the kingdom. You can check out what is going on a OC here. They are offering a free class toward that degree. See the link for more info.

The vision of the future of our churches need visionaries to help us see a better and brighter future that is rooted in the word of God, connected with culture, and faithful to the ministry and mission of Jesus. These Universities are turning out people and are looking for people who are going to impact the world for years to come. Some of those people are people you know who will need your encouragement and affirmation of their gifts to understand their calling to ministry.

These are programs I believe in and are very important to my life and ministry. I am also thankful that they have chosen to support our work through advertising. Check them out!

I am not sure where we would be without it. It is the air we breathe and the water we drink. We cannot envision what our churches would be like without the selfless people who commit themselves to instructing in our Universities.

My own story passes through Harding School of Theology. There are fingerprints of influence on my ministry from ACU, Pepperdine, Oklahoma Christian, and others…

Anytime we attempt to blend Spirit and flesh the result is all flesh and no Spirit. What that combo produces is theological pornography. Theological pornography is when we put things in the guise of religiousity, righteousness, and biblicality but in reality it is base, crude, and appeals to our worst instincts.

We see people in debate mode, pressing for biblical truth while ripping people’s faces off in the process. Theological pornography.

We see people demean others…put their boot on their neck and have no mercy. Theological pornography.

We see others who objectify their opponents and in doing so feel empowered and entitled to treat them like objects instead of people. Theological pornography.

Still others dominate those around them. They dominate and subdue…all while maintaining their own aloofness and disconnection from real relationships. Just more theological pornography at work.

Some use fear to instill control in those under them, in their own personal hierarchy. Theological pornography.

Some enjoy watching the carnage. They enjoy watching two brothers or sisters in Christ duke it out in verbally or hyptertextually abusive ways – a guilty pleasure. More of the same.

Still others have zero commitment to those around them. Those around them are to be used for their own pleasure and position – just more theoporn.

We have a real problem with this. And it can affect anyone. You can check a few things to see if you are prone to this addiction:

1 – How deep are your relationships? Do they cost you something or are you just receiving while others give?

2 – Do you objectify people? One way to tell…do you consider their needs ahead of your own?

3 – Does submission only go in one direction rather than mutual (Eph 5:21).

4 – Do you lack accountability in the body of Christ? Or are there people who can and will call you on the carpet if you are out of line?

This is a real problem. If you don’t think it is, check numbers 1-4 above. This is a deep heart issue and I am afraid moving forward will be difficult until we work on this.

We need to restore our sensitivity. Like addition to sexual porn, we become desensitized to the destructive nature of these things. Things we once thought harsh now seem tame – systematic desensitization of the heart. God needs to put a new hear in us. We need to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in each other. Only then we can we break down the objectification and replace it with humanizing people again.

Lord have mercy.

There must be a lot of churches trying to determine if they met the 2020 vision goals they set however many years back.

Vision is difficult because it is hard to know how to find it and how to be sure you found the right one. How do we know God has directed us in the direction we choose vs other directions? How do we know God is calling us to some things and not other things?

Vision is hard.

Vision is also exclusionary.

Once you have your vision, other things get excluded and it is far easier to be “yes” people. You let fewer people down that way. But who ever said ministry was about letting down the fewest people?

We have to be people of vision. This is hard for us because we are people of the past – the ancient paths and ancient order of things. For those of us who are of a restoration persuasion, vision is backwards-informed forward thinking. That is a hard combination!

We need our vision restored!

We need this in our churches and we have needed this at Wineskins. I believe those two can and do go together…that there are things we need to be about here at Wineskins that can help our churches with their vision.

The vision for Wineskins has been a real wrestling match for me over the last few years. There are so many things I want it to be but you can’t do or have everything. You have to get focused.

We will have a variety of articles this month on various topics from various writers but my intention is to lay out a more specific and focused vision for Wineskins during the month of January.

This more focused vision has come through a season of asking God what He truly wants and doing my best to discern where I believe He might be pointing this ministry.

So stay tuned! I am excited about what is ahead and I believe you will be as well.