Discipleship


Is the Christian life boring?  Dull?  Like watching paint peel?  Blah?

Are you kidding?

Following Jesus is anything but ‘tame’ or ‘predictable.’  It’s like what Mr. Beaver tells the Pevensie children about Aslan, the great lion of Narnia, when asked if Aslan is ‘safe’:

“’Course he’s not safe.  But he’s good.”

Following the Lord Jesus Christ is an adventure, a life journey filled with risk, reward, beauty,  surprise and delight.  If we let Him,  Jesus leaves no part of our lives untouched.  No part of our hearts untransformed.  He is the foundation upon which everything else rests.


Jesus came to set us free.  Free to live a fully human life.  Free to love.  Free to forgive.  Free to be healthy emotionally, mentally, physically, relationally, and spiritually.

Jesus came to reconcile us to God and one another, breaking down the walls that divide.    As his followers, it’s our calling to continue his ministry of reconciliation.

Following Jesus means serving others.  We aren’t saved by our good works; we’re saved for good works.

Church happens whenever and wherever two or three are gathered in his name.

The Bible is the story of God’s interaction with humanity.  It is the “living word,” through which God continues to speak truth to us.  God Himself longs for us, wants to draw close to us, if we are but willing…

***

John 14:6, Romans 12:1-2, John 8:32, 36; John 15:1-17; Ephesians 2:4-10; II Corinthians 2:15-21, II Timothy 3:16, 17.

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Over the past few weeks we’ve been searching the Scriptures and discussing what it means to:

– Be a Christian

– Follow Christ

– Be a disciple of Christ

– Reproduce spiritually

Starting from John 6:60-68, we’ve had some great input about what or who a “follower of Jesus” is or does.  How do they act?  What do they say?  How, when, and where do they relate to those who don’t yet know the Lord Jesus?  Why?  What’s their worldview?  What are their core beliefs, values, perspectives, priorities?  Is being a “follower” of Christ different from being a “disciple”?  How?

Here’s an interesting perspective  from Haggai and Matthew 28:18-20 posted by Don Davis.  It’s titled Simple Discipleship – Where to Start.

The author of this intriguing post asserts that what most Christians consider “discipleship” or “disciple training” = “ministry training” = developing a set of skills and abilities.  He writes:

The problem with skill based discipleship is that the Church is filled with people whose value is determined by what they do rather than who they are. Their identity is determined by a position in ministry rather than their position in Christ. Therefore you have a highly skilled church that has very little interaction with God and are susceptible to moral failure, chronic disappointment, and an inflated ego that serves self (“my ministry”) rather than others.

Something to think about, huh?  He continues:

The solution is to make disciples through relationships rather than academics; using their life experiences, tragedies, and victories of life. Life itself would serve as the lessons and the curriculum would be provided by searching the scriptures and determining what the Lord says regarding what is happening from day to day. By teaching the disciple to relate their situations to the Word of God and in the context of the gospel of the Kingdom, the disciple’s relationship to the Lord grows deeper and they are able to withstand life in this fallen world in victory and be an example of a disciple of Jesus. …

Training and preparing disciples in ministry skills is important and should not be neglected, but it should never be considered the goal of discipleship. Discipleship’s goal is to transform our lives so that we are like Jesus, imitators of Him, obedient to Him. This must be in the area of how we live, our character and how we respond to life and apply the truth of His Word to those situations. Therefore we must be able to hear the voice of our Lord.


Fellowship.  It’s one of the most oft-repeated words in the lexicon of “church speak.”  It appears frequently as an interrogatory: “Where do you fellowship?” or, “Wasn’t the fellowship sweet?”  Ditto the well-worn, “Food. Fun. Fellowship” we’ve all seen on postcards, bulletin inserts and other mailers.

Interesting word, “fellowship.”  The basic connotation includes companionship, friendly association, the mutual sharing of experience, activity and interest.   Think Dorothy Gale and her trio of stalwart companions from Oz.  Robin Hood and his Merry Men.  Frodo and Samwise Gamgee.  Jesus and his disciples.

What was the title of the first book in Tolkien’s LOTR trilogy?  If you recall, it’s The Fellowship of the Ring.  Do you think that was by accident? Or was Tolkien trying to tell us something, trying to show us a bit of what true fellowship means, what it looks like and how it works?  How it is opposed.

“Come now,” I want to ask my IC friends.  Is the sort of “I’ve-got-your-back, you-ve-got-mine, together-till-death” sort of fellowship characterized by Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas the sort of thing you see on your average Sunday morning?  Bible study or “fellowship” group?  Sunday school class?

I would say, maybe.  But it is rare.

Ever wonder why?

“Fellowship” comes up frequently in my interactions with folks who are puzzled, perhaps mystified by the concept of “fellowship” without paid staff, programming, a formal liturgy or a building with a steeple on top.  “Where do you fellowship?” they ask.

Lord love ’em, I could ask my IC friends the same thing: “When and where do you “fellowship” in an institutional church setting?”  Does this “fellowship” occur during the 90-second “Hi, how are you? Fine” interaction between services?  During the all-eyes-forward, sitting-all-in-a-row Sunday monologue?   When most of the morning is spent “interacting/fellowshipping” with the back of someone else’s head?  Does it occur in the parking lot as people wave hello or goodbye, in Sunday school classrooms where parents drop off or pick up kids?  Around the coffee urn during the Sunday “fellowship hour”?

I doubt it.  True biblical fellowship in the “Lord of the kings” type of model doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes time.  Authenticity.  Vulnerability.  Flexibility.  Lots of it.  Authentic, soul-deep, genuine “fellowship” of the Frodo and Samwise Gamgee kind doesn’t take place with hundreds of others on a once or twice a week basis. “Oh, that’s why we have small groups” some say, “that’s where the rubber meets the road in personal relationships.”

If this is so, why not just cut to the chase?  Why the buildings, budgets and big shots?  Why the hierarchies, top-down pecking orders?  We were in one church where the only people who were deemed “qualified” to lead a small group – which typically lasted six to ten weeks – were Board members.  What’s with that?

And while we’re at it: what’s more conducive to cultivating real relationships: a big building, high ceilings, face-forward seating, and a proscribed program conducted within a flinty time frame, or a living room with comfortable seating, pillows and sofas, family pictures on the wall, shared meals, leadership, service, a kitchen table, an open Bible and unlimited time?

Ironic, isn’t it, that what many believers offer as a primary reason for their involvement in a traditional church is the very thing that the traditional church so often mitigates against?  Doesn’t your heart long for something… more?

Stay tuned!

Overlooking the obvious, Every Member A Minister (EMAM) organizers couldn’t figure out the root causes behind the Hindenburg-ish crash of the six-week campaign.  From all reports, it was more than likely due to one key factor: locked doors.

Do Not Enter

Picking up from last time, Do Not Enter signs on certain areas of ministry and service may not have blinked neon at Boulder Creek Community, but they were certainly posted in living Technicolor.  Said one observer, “Certain people regarded certain ministries as their personal property.  As in, “This is mine, so butt out, buster!”

Some roles were also restricted by age and gender.  For example, women with strong gifting in leadership, preaching and teaching were restricted to expression/use within a few “approved” categories (another discussion for another time).

The result?  Because the “rank and file” weren’t free to pursue their calling or gifting unless it fit into a preconceived ministry “box” approved by the pastor and board, no perceptible shift in the corporate culture was made.  Nada.  No one new “got into” ministry because there was either no “appropriate” venue available, or because people who were “in the way” stayed there, “like road blocks.”

Paid vs. Passion?

How often have you seen this sort of scenario played out in the IC?  The institutional structure that conditions people to be passive spectators seems surprised when people do exactly what they’ve been trained to do: warm a pew every Sunday and leave “ministry” to the paid professionals.

Is this why so many churches keep adding new “programming” to the ala carte menu?  This didn’t work, so let’s try that.  That didn’t work, so let’s try this.  (Our friend Shawn describes this as “Baskin Robbins church” – as in, “what’s this month’s flavor?”)  Could it be that the “main culprit” behind bored, listless, unengaged believers isn’t a lack of motivation or commitment, but the model within which they’re expected to “perform,” the instructional hoops through which they’re expected to jump?

Splat

“They didn’t get it,” said Myles (pseudonym by request), a veteran Sunday school teacher.  “They overlooked the obvious.  It was almost like an Us vs. Them mentality.  The pastor and board needed to get out of the way for EMAM to take off and soar.  They didn’t, and it didn’t.  Splat!”

“Why do those guys think that God only works through them?” Jamie commented.  “The Holy Spirit can’t speak to us peons directly, move through us, too?”

“It’s kind of a myopic view of ‘church,’ isn’t it?” Klaus asked rhetorically.

Other observations ran the gamut of, “I wonder what might’ve happened if that exclusive, elitism stuff was replaced by flexibility, creativity and Spirit-led openness?” to “What if the Boulder Creek Old Boys Network got of the way and let God work?” Kyle added that “Boulder Creek is cliquey because leadership is cliquey.  They don’t see it because they’re part of it!”  Jill asked, “What if ministry “ownership” came from the grass roots up, rather than filtering through a top-down hierarchy?”

What if, indeed?

Continuing from Part 1:

Possible reasons for what could charitably be dubbed an “abysmal failure” of the Every Member A Minister (EMAM) campaign range from A to Z.  The most obvious was the most overlooked: building codes.

No building can stand on a weak or faulty foundation.  In the case of the “all-church” EMAM campaign, the real foundation wasn’t “all” or “every” anything.  It was based on a top-down, totem-pole model of “church” in which a small, insulated  group of autocrats imposed their vision and plan on everyone else.

Thud

There was no discussion.  No congregational consensus.  “Feet on the ground” folks – the “grassroots backbone” of the church – were never consulted.  Their opinions, frustrations, issues, and input weren’t solicited.  “Regular folks” weren’t part of the planning process, strategizing or implementation.  In a nutshell, Boulder Creek Community’s “building code” was: “This is what we, the leadership, think should go on here, and this is how you’re going to do it.”  In short, “regular folks” were expected to take ownership of a campaign that wasn’t theirs.

Thud.

Is it any wonder so few responded?  That EMAM failed to connect with passion, gifting, calling?

‘Filled’ and Fall Out

Additionally, several people expressed frustration with the “already filled” mentality that effectively prevented them from exercising their gifts or pursuing their passion within the institutional context in any meaningful way (some left the church as a result).  Those gifted in teaching, preaching, and leadership were told, explicitly or implicitly, that they need not apply.  Those spots were already filled by the pastor and board members, thank you very much (none were willing to step aside so others could step up).

The fall-out was predictable.  Those with demonstrable expertise in “already filled” areas felt stifled and stymied within a structure where control and hierarchy ruled the day. One person who wished to remain anonymous commented, “The biggest obstacle to making EMAM work wasn’t a lack of information or motivation.  It was a pastor and board that wouldn’t or couldn’t get out of the way and let people serve and minister the way God called them to.”

Stay tuned for Part 3:  Locked Doors, Baskin Robbins and What Ifs?

Seeing that “10% of the people do 90% of the work,” the pastor and board of a local church came up with a “ministry emphasis” campaign in an attempt to reverse the trend.  The stated objective of the six-week “Every Member a Minister” (EMAM) campaign was to “equip and encourage everyone in Boulder Creek Community Church to take an active role in the life of this church and to fully engage in ministry.”

Sermons were preached.  Curricula-coordinated Sunday school classes were taught.  Small groups formed, prayer groups prayed.  Telephone trees were activated.  Spiritual gift inventories were distributed.  Logos were designed.  EMAM T-shirts, fridge magnets, pens, erasers, postcards and bookmarks were passed out like jelly beans on Easter Sunday.  Special events were planned.  A massive publicity/promotional blitz swung into motion.  Ministry leaders were urged to come up with written job descriptions for each role or responsibility in their area.    Thousands of volunteer hours were poured into the effort, culminating in a three-day Ministry Faire.

The goal of the fair was to offer ministry opportunities and information to the waiting throngs so that they, now properly preached, Sunday-schooled, small-grouped, educated, publicized and promoted, would surge forward, engage, and ratchet the life of Boulder Creek Community up by a factor of a zillion.  Or more.

EMAM sank like the Titanic.

Not only did EMAM organizers, planners and promoters wind up exhausted and burnt-out to a crispy crunch, they were also disillusioned when the campaign made no perceptible impact or difference in the life of the church.  Zero. Zip. Nada.

A month after the EMAM campaign folded, all that remained of the gusto and glitz was an empty echo.   Why?

Stay tuned for some possible answers in Part 2: Building Codes.

Love. Liberate.  Lead.  Launch.

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