Equipping Your Reimagine Journey
This blog is first published at Yapdates here.
I am constantly intrigued by a weirdness in churches. Many people I have met are quick to tell me about the importance of discipleship. Pastors say it. Leaders trumpet it. Church members mention it from time to time. Unfortunately, more often than not, we are tempted to see discipleship as something that means more for OTHER people. We make ourselves an exception. Instead of offering up ourselves, we are happy to agree with one another that the 'Church ought to do it.' Some say that LEADERS ought to be doing it. Still some other people claim that because they are not trained to do discipleship, maybe some other organizations that specialize in discipleship can perhaps do it. The fact is this: We may talk a lot about discipleship. The sad thing is that many of us are without a clue of what discipleship is all about. In this reflection, I will identify three erroneous paradigms that do not reflect what true discipleship is about, followed by a suggestion for a HOO-paradigm with regards to discipleship. Discipleship begins not with others but ourselves.
A) Production Line Follow-Up Paradigm
Maybe discipleship is about follow-up after initial conversion. After an evangelistic outreach, discipleship can sometimes be seen as the second stage of Christian living. Some organizations behave like a production line. First, the outreach group shares the gospel. When there is a confession of faith, the new convert is then sent to the next group: Discipleship group. In this group, there will be articles, materials, and all kinds of Bible programs to help the newbie sink in roots to the faith. Once the course is completed, the convert is certified: "Discipled." The third stage is usually serving in some capacity in church. The fourth stage is serving in some kind of a leadership role, and so on. This follow-up paradigm is strong in the beginning, but fizzles out toward the end. This way of doing discipleship treats new converts like a raw ingredient, and the rest of us like machines cutting and sizing the dough up. This method is impersonal and turns people into projects.
This is definitely not the way to do discipleship. It can be a spark in the short-term, but the fire needs to come from the Holy Spirit and willing hearts.
B) As-Needed Paradigm
A busy society breeds busy people with busy lifestyles. Everything seems to be dictated by the clock. Whether it is the alarm clock to wake us up in the morning, or the beeping of our digital calendars to remind us of our next appointment, or the email sounds coming from our computers, we react on a need-to-know basis. Time is far too precious to linger in activities that do not fit into our busy schedules. One of the biggest alarm clocks for churches is a slowing growth rate. When members start to get bored, or contemplating going to other churches, leaders become anxious. Some fit in more programs to make the church 'relevant' for these restless individuals. The need has arrived, so the church throws in a few programs to tantalize and perhaps persuade the flagging congregation to stay. Give the church another chance.
Such a 'as-needed' paradigm is basically crisis-driven. You mean, when there is no crisis, we do not do discipleship? This model must be rejected too.
C) Just a Program
The third erroneous paradigms of discipleship in the church is to turn discipleship into a program. Just like a popular TV program that comes on during prime time, 'discipleship-programming' turns discipleship into a time slot in which 'real' discipleship is said to take place. It can be an hour of teaching before the church service. It can be a seminar in which a top-notch speaker or teacher from some famous organization gets invited into the church to transfer his discipleship knowledge to ravenous church members. Such transference of knowledge is expected to make disciples of all church members.
This way of discipling has its merits, for it provides the Church with some basic understanding of the elements of discipleship. It gives knowledge necessary for some affirmative action. It is good to have zeal but zeal without knowledge is not good. Unfortunately, if we treat discipleship just as a program, we will have unwittingly reduced the personal responsibility of discipleship into an impersonal measly program.
Clue: If you find that you are not being discipled enough simply because there are no programs in Church about discipleship, you've probably bought into this erroneous paradigm, that discipleship is just a program.
D) 'HOO' me? Yes You!
One of the most influential figures in discipleship is Johann Heinrich Arnold (1913-1982) who lives through the horror years of Nazi Germany during World War II. He is said to be one blessed with the privilege of being surrounded by disciples of Christ. In other words, his discipling process is not a program, a phased approach, or a crisis method. His discipleship happens in a very personal manner. It is in a community living of people dedicated to follow Jesus. He becomes a member of the community by basically living with them, emulating them, and to be changed by one another. According to Arnold, there are three elements of discipleship making. Firstly, one needs to live humbly like Christ. Secondly, one needs to be in a consistent stance of obedience, like Christ. Thirdly, one needs to be open to the Holy Spirit, like Christ.
I call it the HOO-paradigm.
Instead of a Christian calling himself a disciple only on Sundays, HOO basically opens up the timeline to ALL seven days of the week. One can live humbly, obediently, and with open hearts at all times. There is no need for programs, for crises, or for production lines to do just that.
HUMILITY: In humility, Arnold says that:
"Discipleship demands that we drop everything, including everything we count as positive in ourselves." (Johann Heinrich Arnold, Disciple, Rifton, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2011, 19)
Indeed, when we are humble, we acknowledge that we by ourselves can do nothing. This reminds us about Jesus's teaching to abide in Him.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
We cannot be humble by ourselves. We need to constantly practice humility through interactions with God in prayer, and through patience and understanding in speaking the truth in love with one another. In humility, we personalize God through us.
OBEDIENCE: A disciple will also learn to obey God according to the Scriptures. Any program if organized by the church needs to be grounded in the Bible teachings. Obedience can only come about when we know 'what' to obey. Without an adequate grasp of the Word of God, how then can disciples obey? Psalms 119
"How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. " (Ps 119:9-11)
Obviously, how can one keep one's way pure when one does not know the Word? How can anyone obey without knowing what to obey? In obedience, we reach forward toward God with purpose.
OPENNESS: In order to live for God, Arnold recommends a regular Bible reading of at least 2-3 chapters per day. He says:
"The main thing for you should be to recognize the greatness of God and to live for him. Try to read the Bible –at least two or three chapters every day. This will open your eyes to the greatness of Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts. Then you will see how very small the search for personal happiness is." (7)
He adds that if we are open to God's work and shut our own self-will down, we will be ready to receive God's faith and love. In other words, openness to God needs to come with a willingness to deny ourselves. Jesus reminds us:
"Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)
Discipleship is not a production line that hems people into spiritual products. It is a lifestyle of humility that frees people to live in Christ and in love. Discipleship is not a crisis-driven word that rescues people when the church or community is shrinking. It is a lifestyle of obedience to God, guided by the Word, to be sure and steadfast to the truth in love. Discipleship is also not a program to fit into people's busy schedule in life. Instead, it is an attitude of openness that fits our schedules into God's time table.
Remember. When you see the word discipleship, instead of saying, "Who? Me?" say HOO-Yes-Me. Practice humility in God. Practice obedience to the Word. Practice openness to the Spirit.
Let me close with one metaphor. Discipleship in a sense is like an archer, a bow and an arrow. God is the Archer. The Church is the bow. We are the arrows.
"Happy are they who know that discipleship springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York, NY: Touchstone Press, 1995, 56)