|Emma Frances Logan|
Let’s see. It’s 2020. This means that I have known about, know and still continue to know Jesus … for more than forty years. Nearly all those years I have been a leader of sorts. I started standing in front of the rest of the children to lead songs, tell stories…then I was in committees, task force teams, ministry teams.
All this time, one word never ever went away, out of fashion, or became redundant.
We took it apart, looked at its nuts and bolts, studied, argued, wrote papers, tried programs, saw some ‘success’ and almost an equal amounts (it feels*) of ‘failure’.
We got frustrated, distracted, impatient, and reached impasse at times. We then set it aside…but soon, the word invariably found it way to lips, conversations, pulpit and meeting minutes.
In all of this, our human tendency to seek a silver bullet did not serve us well.
Such marvelous fare we tried (and so important we did) -
TNet | NewLife | SonLife | 2:7 | Roots and Wings | Willow | Saddleback
We Navigated, Crusaded, Rallied, 'Seminared' ad nauseam.
Age Groups (kidschurch, youthchurch etc.)
And still, the haze persists.
So I hid myself indoors more, and hope to offer something to clear the air.
Here are 2 thoughts to help us forward.
1. Forget Trying To Be Successful At Discipleship, Instead Urge The Next Right Step
(a) the uniqueness of each life
Each person is a story, journey and unfolding. Each life is layered, complexed, nuanced.
This means that discipleship will be hard and hardly successful, if we take a cookie-cutter approach.
When I look back at my own development, and as I hear stories of others, there is never a simple, straight trajectory. I started out Presbyterian. We had an Pentecostal preacher who filled the pulpit frequently. Then I encountered the Charismatics, as well as the Bible-Presbyterian. In Bible college, I met Catholic theologians, went to retreats led by Catholic sisters…and the story continues to unfold..
The Gospel is deep. The church is wide. God is finally, incomprehensible.
Our hearts have alleyways and backroads that cannot be educated, inspired, equipped into Christlike fullness. All our best efforts to fill up with Bible, sharing, service are like set-ups for the real deal.
Discipleship is each unique human life being yielded, one day and one moment at a time, so that the life becomes Cruciform. It is shepherding heartaches, distilling values, training willpower, championing obedience.
And -we have to learn to do this in our own lives first.
Then, as Jesus said to Peter, “turn around and strengthen your brothers”.
It is a lifelong journey of ongoing ‘yes’ to God being God, who knows better and cares more intimately then we dare dream.
This also means that –
Children can be discipled
Youths can be discipled
Adults, married, single, old, aging, ill, dying - we can all be discipled, for what we are is not yet clear to us, but it exists, and is real, and God wants to lead us homeward (1 Cor 1312)
I think God is really serious about diversity.
So, leaders, by all means use all means. Dream. Design. Deliberate. Definitely model it. But don’t fret overly over the outcomes. Chill and Christ both start with the letter ‘C’, see?
(b) the reality of social context
I let out a small moan even as my mind veered in my exasperation and let slip the words “when I was your age…”. Sharing our life story is one thing, but this stupid diatribe is totally futile.
The generation after us did not ask to be raised in their context. My daughter insightfully pointed out that my generation may well be the most privileged. We did not experience the war and we are not inheriting a time bomb. We have to stop wishful thinking and put our brains to better use.
At the heart of human existence and flourishing is our similar need to feel secure, have an identity and derive satisfaction from our contribution.
Think: what is trying to give our kids a sense of security, identity and satisfaction?
If we believe that God is the true and only lasting answer to the three primal needs of our lives, then how do we model and communicate that? What is garbling the signals, causing static, confusing them?
For as long as I can remember, we work really hard at ‘adapting to our culture’ - and we over-adapted, losing our bearings over time…. such as when we did age-group services and were left with a huge issue of transiting people from youth service to adult service.
We should wake up and realise that by focusing on the ‘spiritual’ and becoming ‘experts’ isn’t the best way. God designed life around truth and we have to learn to find God in all of life.
We have to ask tough questions such as: how do people learn, encounter truth, experience change? We ought to hear from educators, sociologists and counsellors.
there will always be fundamentals that we never ought to neglect.
The spiritual life is life - thus there must be Input, Interaction and Output.
(i) What Inputs do we have available today?
Netflix is so ahead in its game that its CEO recently said that it’s only real competitor is sleep (yes, people sacrifice sleep to catch the stuff they purvey).
We need to create and convey good content.
(ii) What sorts of interaction is happening?
In homes and in churches? Is there safety for real exchange? Is there support for stragglers? The threat of death (not just bodily) lurks close by in the forms of distraction and distress today. Relationships are becoming strained and many feel unsafe.
We need to teach life skills that are being quickly lost today: listening, manners, disagreeing or questioning with respect.
What ways are there for people to exercise and express their faith? We need to crucify our culture’s absorption with ‘success’ so that the fear of failure is disempowered and in doing so, unleash all that time and resource (a billion dollars in the tuition industry!).
At the centre of it is the Cross, and Jesus.
My own prayer is that Jesus would be so dazzling, attractive, powerful, engaging, complete in my estimate and experience - so that those around me can catch a glimpse of it and desire it too.
-if the gospel becomes too familiar, tired and lack lustre, revisit it until it becomes the pearl of great price for you. Or you will sell short.
-make friends with a broad range of people who can provide insight into the human condition and the social contexts of our flock
-watch that you are not capitulating to popular culture.
-go deep and gather a few for life-on-life, the way Jesus did. Trust me, you cannot do better than Jesus.
2. Focus On The Irreducible Minimum
Some churches have a lot of moolah and can do fancy parties. Most are rather basic. If God said we can make disciples of all nations, the approach has to something that can be transplanted into all cultural contexts. This is called the Irreducible Minimum.
The following will not make the list:
Music that is branded
Certain versions of the Bible
And whole barrels of programs we have tried in the first world, middle class church.
But here is what will work:
Scripture - taught, discussed, meditated, memorised, applied
The Sacraments of Baptism and Communion
Sacrificial Familial love
Just look at this amazing list that isn’t exclusive to the rich, educated or even seminary-trained!
So maybe, just maybe, we ought to start growing in these things and see where the marvelous Holy Spirit takes us!
Finally, a confession is in order, one I prayed many times:
O God, you offer humanity goodwill and Good News of Great Joy.
I am so sorry I lose sight of it, prefer to get sated on other lesser pleasures, and often busy myself with things that are far removed from Your Holy Will.
Forgive the way I preach, teach, counsel, lead and on and on… often more marked by an anxiety to live up to expectations or worse, ambition - than out of a fear of You and a love for the ones You entrusted to me.
If there is any way, undo the damage where your shepherds and leaders have cause more hurt, confusion and been an overall bad witness.
Do a work in my life that cannot be explained except for the mighty Grace and Mercy of God, and in turn, let me lead others to this same stream to drink fully of it.
Whether I lead a few or a few thousand, let me never get beyond the adventure, excitement and dream that is your Kingdom - of lives touched, transforming and true.
For Christ’s sake, Amen.
*the brain remembers this stuff more readily, possibly a preservation instinct - an instinct I posit is post-Fall.