Discipleship: Going Deeper with God during COVID-19
By Christmas Beeler
Photos by Warren McIvor
Pastor Steve Feden looked around his beloved congregation at Calvary Chapel Fluvanna in central Virginia, near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Though his flock was full of committed, kind, God-fearing people, he felt something was missing. What is it, Lord? he thought.
Members of CCF listen intently as Pastor Steve delivers a special message during outdoor service.
Then it came to him: Joy. He recalled several counseling sessions over the past year and wondered again why, even though they knew God’s Word, many believers still made decisions based on the way they grew up, or habits of the past, or the influence of their culture or family.
They were missing out on joy because they weren’t living according to the Bible and didn’t understand the love of God. He began to seek the Lord about how to help his flock find the freedom that Christ offers and live by God’s Word instead of other influences. The answer finally surfaced: small-group discipleship that would help them understand more deeply the love of God. Steve found a focused Bible study to address root issues and not just a behavior change.
And, as it turned out, these small groups came just in time to help the flock navigate through a global pandemic that has left many believers worldwide feeling isolated and adrift. “It’s so easy for people to hide in church; that’s why we need small groups that are effective—where people can talk about the deep things of life, not just have another Bible study and collect more information,” Pastor Steve clarified. “We want to help them apply what they know to their lives, to experience God’s love for them on a deeper level.”
One key to deep discipleship is asking questions, said Steve: “The Bible has all the answers, but often we don’t know what questions to ask.” He recounted a conversation that revealed a believer’s shaky grasp of God’s love. “I asked, ‘Does God love you?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ Then I asked, ‘Does God like you?’ And they answered, ‘I’m not really sure.’ I thought, where have I gone wrong as a pastor?”
Members of CCF enjoy a spot in the shade during outdoor service.
Pastor Steve explained, “The influence of our culture is so powerful that people can hear about a God who loves them, but if they grew up in an abusive or dysfunctional family, they have no idea what that means.” The discipleship program explains that often people view life through three lenses: a person’s own fallen nature, their culture, and their family background.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2
CCF family listens to an outdoor service.
“The most influential thing in a person’s life is family. When you grow up in that culture, you think it’s normal,” Pastor Steve reflected. “God has been showing me the tremendous influence of family backgrounds and our American culture—even in the life of a believer.”
“Spiritual strongholds—people don’t even realize it. Instead of doing what the Bible says, they still live in guilt and shame, or they are an emotional mess. They may look ‘churchy’ on the outside, but inside, they don’t really understand or trust God. That’s why we have so much depression and anxiety among the family of God even though we have the Holy Spirit who can give us love, joy, and peace.”
Small groups are key to drilling down to one’s misconceptions about God and one’s position as a believer, said Steve. “So we are taking the opportunity of the coronavirus to really emphasize the smaller discipleship groups. First, we had to develop leaders who are comfortable talking about who they are. Talking about joy, love, and peace, and where they are at.” Leaders went through the 6-month program before they began to lead the small groups.
CCF girls enjoy some face-to-face fellowship after service.
Performance vs. Grace
Youth Pastor Dave Blaha, who ministers to middle- and high-schoolers at CC Fluvanna, realized he had a wrong concept of God’s grace—that it was limited, or performance-based. Now he has changed not only his approach to working with teens, but also with his two young-adult sons.
Working with teens has opened his eyes to how a young person in church may put on a mask of religion but may be in great pain—even in danger. Because of this, he said, “There is a responsibility on us as leaders to speak to the hearts of people, not just to teach them to follow the external routines of Christianity.”
Pastor Steve Feden (right) his son Jacob Feden (left) fellowship with children arriving for outdoor service.
“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD” (Jeremiah 29:13-14a).
Dave related, “Even good Christian homes can be legalistic, performance-based. There may be good works on the outside, but in their hearts the kids are a mess—lost, hurting, feeling unloved.” Instead of showing grace to his sons, he would often use their mistakes as “teaching moments,” calling attention to their wrongs and trying to change them. “But that would leave them feeling like failures, and made our love seem conditional.” Now he shows grace first, and gently corrects with encouragement.
For example, he looks for opportunities to show his sons unconditional love and grace with no strings attached, as the father of the prodigal son did in Jesus’ parable: “And [the prodigal son] arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20).
“He knew that his son was up to no good, and that he would likely squander his inheritance; but still he gave it to him anyway. Then, when his son returned, he welcomed him back home with open arms. Showing such extravagant grace may be seen as risky to some,” Dave said, “but that is how you form a connection of trust. Then they know they can be themselves and open up to you.” He added, “I had to stop dispensing grace and start living in grace.”
Harold and Cindy South (front) arrive for outdoor service while James Winsett (back) assists with parking.
Seeing God Rightly
Mandy Claytor became close with the six other women in her small group, and they still connect online once a week to check in and offer encouragement. She said, “Walking through the study together as a group was very personal and built really strong relationships.”
One concept that stood out to her: “The things we learned from our past impact the way that we see God, and that impacts the way we live.” To see God rightly, she explained, “We are challenged to confront the false pictures that we have of God. When you write them down, it’s hard to ignore them; you have to face them. That in itself is scary. I had to have serious conversations with God about what I really believed about Him.” Two areas where her concept of God was skewed: “I thought there was a limit to God’s forgiveness, and that I had to do what is right all the time in order for God to love me. If you had asked me before, I would have given you the correct answers—but in reality, my words and my actions didn’t match up.” She added, “Instead of stuffing [my sins]down, I confessed them and allowed God to work through them with me.”
A lady holds her daughter while worshipping at CCF outdoor service.
How did she discover these two deeply buried misconceptions? “In a way, you almost work backwards. You realize: I am worrying about this thing—so what does that say about what I believe about God? Do I really trust Him? And what is that saying about my relationship with God?”
To correct her errant thinking, “God was using everything to speak to me: the sermons I was listening to, Christian radio, Scriptures in my quiet times, and the discipleship program. The biggest difference overall is my thought life. I learned to stop going down the rabbit hole of ‘what if,’ and choose to trust God. For me, that was huge.” That concept was based on the verse: “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Michael and Becki Moore worship together during outdoor service at CCF.
Power of the Word
Before coming to CC Fluvanna, Mandy recounted, “I had never been part of a church where we did not skip around in the Bible—topical teaching. At CC Fluvanna, Pastor Steve teaches us verse by verse with nothing left out. It’s life-changing to sit with your Bible open and hear the things that God has to say to you that you’ve never read before. I realized this was what I had been missing; I had never heard the Bible taught as a whole. I finally could see the big picture, and how all the pieces fit together as a whole. I immediately thought, ‘This is how it should be taught.’”
“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13
Pastor Steve Feden delivers a message to his congregation in front of CCF church building.
CCF ladies pray together in parking lot at outdoor service.
Koky Hodges chats with the Basinger family before outdoor service.
A man reclines against a tree while reading his Bible at outdoor service.
Nathaniel Kidd worships alongside a friend during outdoor service.
Pastor Steve shares a special message during outdoor service at CCF.
The CCF Praise Team leads worship at outdoor service.
A man rests against a parking rail during outdoor service at CCF.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.