This is a long post. It is not the typical blog post, but it is me spilling my innermost thoughts on a matter close to my heart. I hope you will read it none the less and that you will allow it to challenge you.
Studying course material on “Exploring Biblical Discipleship”, I have started on a journey of re-determining what discipleship is to me; what the functions of the church are with regards to the topic; where I stand in all of this and what the biblical demands are and what possibilities with regards to enhancing His kingdom are contained therein.
My frame of reference to churches exercising ‘discipleship’ is relatively small, regarding the fact that I have merely been a member of the Lutheran Church, the Pentecostal church movement and the Charismatic church movement, having visited merely one of each throughout my life. However the picture seems somewhat too similar to miss.
If the topic of discipleship even arose it mostly consisted of measures to make people better members, help them understand the doctrines at hand more easily, gain a life filled to a greater deal with freedom God has for us, and propagating conformity to ‘our style’ of church through and by the use of courses, participation in programs, short (often not more an one hour per week, sometimes a day) impact moments that in turn were supposed to transform lives.
If I am honest, I find all these approaches have failed in most of all instances. Looking at my own life, I admit I have often gained knowledge and have achieved becoming a better member, co-worker and participant in the specific denomination I was in. I have learned how to pray, worship, preach, socialize and talk the lingo of the community of that church. I have even acquired disciplines related to that. But I have not necessarily become a better follower of Christ. I have experienced conformity to church rather than to Christ. I have adopted pride for my church, believing I was more holy and godly than before and in that pride hindered myself from becoming more Christ-like.
If I think of discipleship as an apprenticeship however, I notice how momentary events, programs and courses fail to fulfill this task. Watching my mother bake bread, or even helping her mix the dough, will as a standalone event that might happens once in a while, not make me a baker. Following a recipe of Jamie Oliver, to the point, will not allow me to be a cook as good as he is, even if I cook one of his recipes once a week and soon might get the gist of the procedures.
Apprenticeship is just so much more.
I have been involved in and participated in so called discipleship programs, courses or events for the past 18 years (the first nine years on and off, the latter on a continuous basis). I have gained much knowledge, attained some disciplines (some of which were only applicable in a certain type of church) and learned to speak the lingo, be a profitable member to any church and yes, I got to know God more;
It recently dawned on me, that although I have been involved in disciple-making and being discipled the past nine years, my life and walk with God has changed the most when I spent three years teaching at a small private school in Swakopmund. I learned more about the fruit of the spirit in the first year of teaching a grade 5 class, than I have in seven years of being involved in a church. And while spending numerous hours together with my learners in various subject classes, they soon became a thermometer to my walk with Christ by reflecting my attitudes, my moods, my passions, my abilities and disabilities that I unknowingly imparted into them.
If you would ask me today, when I have most likely succeeded in ever making true disciples, it was in those three years, spending my time, my energy, my heart, dedicating and directing my prayers and fasting, my visions and ideas, and investing it into the lives of primary school students.
Why would I say such a thing, when I was taught that true discipleship happens in a church program?
I see the effects, the after-math of my time there. The contact I still have with some of my students; the fact that they confide in me; that their parents contact me when needing advice on their child’s dating; that they ask for prayer – even over a facebook chat and are overjoyed when I take the time to answer some of the difficult questions in life or just listen to them; when they honour me by mentioning me in the best possible contexts without me ever knowing beforehand that that is how they see the impact that I had in their lives and that it pointed them to Jesus, then I am truly humbled, then I stand fearing God, knowing I didn’t pray enough for them, that I have failed giving them my best in so many instances and yet Gods grace was sufficient to allow a divine impartation to their lives through mine.
These facts let me question how we do discipleship. They urge me to reconsider my stand point.
I have read much about discipleship be it in articles, books or the Bible. I have listened to teachings, participated in courses and am even now again participating in a course that seems to revolutionize my view completely. However most of the material, out on the market, seems to propagate a discipleship I have also encountered and described above. Some of the material has challenged me to stop, think and critically review my own take on the matter, which leads me to my current philosophy of discipleship. I say current, because I acknowledge finding myself in a process of conversion and reviewing this topic as one of many on my journey with Christ and becoming more Christ-like. I deem it necessary to remain teachable in all this, but at the same time stand firmly rooted on the revelational truth I have thus far.
I carry an ever expanding dream within me. A dream that shouts ‘discipleship’ at the top of its lungs. A dream that seems impossible to realize by humanly power, yet seems so much more like a possibility to redeem our culture, our humanity and enhance His kingdom.
I dream of a church that is the center of connecting ministries that we wouldn’t even call such in our current churches:
Imagine all teachers that are part of the church come together regularly to pray; over their challenges, for their students, for colleagues, for curriculums, for families, etc. no matter which school they teach at. Imagine their teaching to be fully acknowledged a ministry of the church, even though it might not be a ministry in the church. Imagine that ministry being backed up by intercessors, feedback, and treated as a branch of the church where discipleship happens without the condition of constantly speaking of Christ and people coming to church first. Yet living Christ and allowing through work appropriate transparency to make one’s own faith tangibly visible.
Now imagine doing that with many other professions also. Imagine the impact we could have!
I dream of a church where family becomes an intentional ministry within itself and also to replenish where our community lacks. Imagine, men of all trades in church, rising not only as priests of their own households, but even rising to replenish something where our society is broken, becoming fathers to the fatherless and considering that a full ministry with all it needs.
Imagine young university students, pitching at the netball and rugby matches of school going learners, supporting them, cheering them on, and celebrating their lives through that. Imagine the lasting relationships that would be build and the spiritual impact that could and would happen at the side of such a field, when suddenly teachers, friends, parents and even enemies would notice the impact in that sportsman’s life.
Imagine the church instead of protesting in front of abortion clinics offering a home for the next 12 months to these women (no matter whether they abort or not) to live with families or couples (of course with a certain reasonable and appropriate contract) in the time of finding their feet in life (whether healing emotionally after an abortion, or learning to be a parent). Either way it would be offering a solution, rather than condemning them and leaving them alone in a stigmatized society trying to find their feet and survive.
Imagine a church that connects people to real life experiences like these and many more – for ideas in this respect seem endless. I dream of a church where discipleship is not a word, a course or project or seminar, but where it becomes a way of life. A church where the Sunday sermons and the time of fellowship before and after are merely a mean to rejoice, receive some teaching and instruction, but likewise to make connections that enable true life relationship, apprenticeship, yes discipleship to happen. A church that is church more outside of the Sunday services, than it is now.
Only such a church enables apprenticeship that leads to a transformation to our master, Jesus Christ. We would find ourselves outside of our comfort zones, living closer together than we deem socially the norm, being more transparent than we feel comfortable with and constantly challenged by the reflection in the lives of those around us that reflect the impact we make, and give constant live-feedback on our own discipleship progress through conversion on all levels.
I do not have a plan how to change our lives and church experiences to match such a philosophy of discipleship.
I know that one step I am taking myself, is returning to teaching in the upcoming year. Considering the impact this changed view will have on the kingdom of God right there where I will be, fills my heart with anticipation and fear of God recognizing my own depravity in the light of who I am and who He is.
As I continue to journey, a mere disciple of Christ, helping and facilitating others to become disciples also, I find I have much yet to learn. But I trust, that by His grace, we will be able to redeem ‘discipleship’ for His kingdom in a way, that is worthy of our Lord and God, our master, our King.
Dare to dream bigger, dare to trust God and go, LIVE discipleship with all you are and have!