Discipleship

Becoming a disciple of the living Christ is the adventure of grace.Through the rigors of the Disciplines, we put ourselves in a place where God�s grace can flow.His grace flows with intimacy, it flows with his Presence.To be sure his grace changes us, but more importantly by his grace we know him.Discipleship is a journey into the depths of God.

Foundation: Change

Discipleship is the heart of man drawing intimately near to the heart of God. Discipleship is not primarily a program for learning ministry skills or doctrine, nor even primarily is it for holiness.Truly knowing the Transcendent as a friend is discipleship at its utmost.

In divine whisperings, the Kol Yahweh speaks.God reveals himself to us by his grace. God speaks from his depths. It can only be truly said of him that he could talk forever and never stop. What would God speak to us of? Surely he would ask us about our day and the weather just for the joy of hearing us talk to him.God does not prattle on nervously as we are prone to do. No, the Kol Yahweh speaks depth to us; words who are life; words that change. Scripture reveals that all it took was a word from the lips of God to birth the universe. Oh, Lord, may we feel the hot sweet breath of your voice in our ears as you whisper into our lives! What new life do you wish to create in our very hearts?The foundation of our discipleship pilgrimage begins here in the determined self-revelation of God.�This universal Voice of God was by the ancient Hebrews often called Wisdom, and was said to be everywhere sounding and searching throughout the earth, seeking some response from the sons of men.�[i]

The soul when confronted with the Kol Yahweh must simply obey.The speaking voice of God shows us his resolve that we know him.The process we call discipleship is in reality a celestial song.It is a melodic call and response duet. The Holy Spirit prompts in one movement to a certain Discipline and in the next movement we try to vocalize the beautiful phrase.�By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.�[ii] Each Discipline we practice in response to God�s grace is met with more grace.As we live in simple obedience, God is making us the kind of people he wants us to be, not so much by what it is we are doing, but by the grace he gives us in doing it. Likewise, while we, learning simple obedience, are becoming perfect, we are also growing in intimacy with God.It is natural to become like the one you love.

Time kisses the disciple. Time is change and exists for the benefit of man.God has no need of time.He, in his nature, is immutable.

Since He is perfectly holy He has never been less holy than He is now and can never be holier than He is and has always been. Neither can God change for the worse. Any deterioration within the unspeakably holy nature of God is impossible. Indeed I believe it impossible to even think of such a thing, for the moment we attempt to do so, the object about which we are thinking is no longer God but something else and someone less than He.[iii]

 

For there to be a God, he must be immutable, changeless, and eternal. God is not bound by time but in his grace he has given us time.

�The immutability of God appears in its most perfect beauty when viewed against the mutability of men.�[iv]The tragic reality of human existence is change. Without change we would not know loss. The uncertainty brought by change, torments the soul.Time is like a stream; it flows unstopping, forever changing the landscape through which it runs.Time can change us for good or for bad, but change us it must. God cannot change; man cannot escape change.[v]Grace has given us time for our perfection, it allows us to grow in intimacy with God and experience a measure of heaven on earth.

Jesus, being the exact representation of God�s being, made disciples.Jesus� activity on earth is characterized by a calling of people under his Lordship. He commands, �Follow me.� His message centered on the enigmatic phrase �The Kingdom of God is at hand.�He was calling people to come under the kingship of God. His reign was being established in the hearts of his people and we look forward to a time when that kingship will tangibly encompass the earth. In teachings, like the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls for people to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect.His call was radical. It was a call to leave everything and live with him.It was a call to learn from him.When confronted with sinners, we don�t see him asking them to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness, rather in response to his lordship, they gladly renounce their past life, and like Zacchaeus make restitution. It is clear Jesus was not calling people to a salvation experience, though it certainly was that; he was not calling people to a set of beliefs, though believe they did; he was calling them to himself.�Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls� (Matthew 11:29 NIV).

For Jesus, being a disciple was salvation.The plan never was to call people to salvation and at some later time call them to discipleship.It is impossible to be saved and not be a disciple of the living Christ.

So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional . . . . Churches are filled with �undiscipled disciples,� as Jess Moody has called them. Most Problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have not yet decided to follow Christ.[vi]

 

It is the desire of Christ that we are his apprentices. Under his lordship he will show us the father. In intimacy, be made one.

Philosophy: Discipling Community

Jesus was sufficient to the task of discipling his followers.Being both fully God and fully man, he could heal hurts, speak directly to hearts and meet every need.[vii]Since Pentecost, God has given gifts to diverse members of the community to meet these needs. Today we need to rely on the whole community to make disciples.�No individual can fully disciple another, because no one has the full arsenal of spiritual gifts and wisdom to adequately bring another to maturity in Christ.�[viii]The idea of mentoring does not change but it becomes a mutual action.Each member of the body is impacted on an intimate level by the rest of the body. To be certain there will be a handful who stand out as dear friends and mentors, but where there is intimate spiritual openness between all the members great growth takes place.

The great, untapped mystery of discipleship is community.The Holy Spirit is comforter and guide not to only one heart but all hearts.He brings the diversity of the community to bear, drawing each individual closer to the Father.The community shares the same divine Heart.

The community shares; that is the core. �Leadership, authority, God�s guidance and the training of the people are all shared.�[ix]Experiences and intimacy are shared.Food and home life are shared as well.This is the way it has been since the beginning of the church. �Members of this new thing called the church shared everything, including spiritual oneness. Like children on the first day of school, together they experienced excitement, fear, and a passion to know everything.�[x] Only when sharing is taking place, at its deepest level, can the community come to bear on an individual or family. These relationships are the beginning stages that allow us to integrate our devotion into our daily lives.

There is power in community.It catches us off guard.Fellowship brings with it an authentic revelation of the living Christ. Authentic fellowship, healthy fellowship is simultaneous fellowship with man and God.In the mid-fifties a Methodist minister, Robert Raines, was surprised that his people were being truly converted.Church people who had never truly decided to follow Christ were now being awakened to him. In his book, �New Life in the Church� he gives moving examples of awakening, decisions and growth that arose from authentic fellowship.

The first time a small group of Christian friends shared Holy Communion in a particular woman�s home, she was moved to write: �The circle of my life was complete when my friends, my dearest friends prayed and shared Communion in our home.Myself, my family and home, and my friends are now intertwined in God�s love. I�ve known heaven on earth and am slowly becoming aware of what lies ahead.I feel this is just a beginning, a step toward growth.�[xi]

 

In search of authentic community experience a new focus has arisen on small group discussion.A recent program aired on �Talk of the Nation,� discussed salons that were popping up around the nation. Especially after September 11, the groups were finding in the context of community and openness they were aroused to action.One caller described her group that simply told personal stories, �by the end of the evening, there's sort of a whole group mind that develops around these certain themes that have emerged, and people just go home, you know, floating through the air.�[xii]

How much more should this community experience be found in the church? In the church there is an added mystical reality.Authentic community in any context has a spiritual context and that much more when the object of the fellowship is the living God.Great awakenings happen, personal spiritual discoveries and corporate adoration.All these find their home in the communion of believers.This is the ground for discipleship. This is the place where we bring our experiences in the disciplines as individuals and experience the grace of God�s presence as a community.Corporate reality is the key to authentic personal discipleship.

Family Model: Incarnational Living

The natural small group community for a child is the family.The church must embrace this God given structure to effectively disciple them.Discipleship need not happen within the walls of the church. All that is needed is authentic Christian community. Still, the majority of our programs have discipleship as their purpose. Many of these programs focus on training, either in the Bible or skills for ministry.Programs such as Sunday School, club programs or discipleship classes attempt to create an artificial matrix for discipleship to occur; they force a community.�The problem is that even good training done in artificial networks does not translate into normal life.�[xiii]

By recognizing the special incarnational quality of family life, the church can build relevant disciples.With creativity, programs can be reconstructed in such a way that the entire family can be lead into the depths of Christ together.By bringing the family together and combining theological depth with simplicity of speech and illustrative methods, we can create a multilevel ministry.Such ministry must be built on the premise that children and adults, alike, face the same intrinsic spiritual needs, and both hunger for intimacy with God.�� It also requires a belief that children are capable of spiritual maturity beyond the Ten Commandments.Discipleship is not a mere ethics course or primarily a way to build Christian character. If we cannot offer intimacy with Christ to children then we cannot make disciples of them and salvation is not available to them. The church can make the Disciplines accessible even through their existing programs as they reintegrate the family into them.

In one important sense, the Spiritual Disciplines are not hard.We need not be well advanced in matters of theology to practice the Disciplines. Recent converts�for that matter people who have yet to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ�can and should practice them. The primary requirement is a longing after God.[xiv]

 

Let us truly be about the task of making the Disciplines accessible to the least of these.

Sunday School need not be age-graded.A class for parents and children can be developed. Some materials are available already to address this need. Sunday School can be a good platform for Disciplines such as study and meditation. Creative, fun ways to study the Bible on Sunday can be balanced with time of silent reflection. Here adults can lead their children in the Discipline of corporate prayer as they practice it themselves.

Another way some churches have attempted to bridge the gap between age-graded Sunday Schools is in adopting a program in which every class studies the same material on the same day. Take home sheets then allow the family to discuss and implement what they have learned, bringing the Disciplines back to the sacrament of daily life.

Sunday School began as a mission of social justice. Robert Raikes started a parish school on Sundays to teach poor children who were working the rest of the week.He �paid teachers to teach reading, writing and the principles of Christian faith�.�[xv] Today Sunday School is mainly for dissemination of doctrine, but perhaps creative teachers can integrate the Discipline of service into the class again. Here, the family mission intersects with evangelism and the greater community, as whole families are engaged in the cause of social justice.

Many churches have some form of club for children.Whether a community scouting program or a church reproduction, such meetings can easily become parent-child endeavors.Eric Wallace describes the �Fathers and Sons� club that he implemented, �Every Sunday night that Fathers and Sons meets, a father-and-son team will present an activity they have worked on together.The father and son will explain how they met the seven criteria�.�[xvi] Questions that they had to answer included, �How did you apply areas of discipline such as math, English, science?� and what did that �teach you about God?�[xvii]The criteria that he used were designed to incarnate the Spiritual Disciplines into the children�s schoolwork and daily life.

Some clubs are centered on a camping program like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.Not only do these programs allow for connection to the incarnational life best experienced with family, but they also have the capacity to address the Spiritual Discipline of simplicity.Parents can use a wilderness experience to teach about stewardship of our resources, both natural and personal.Seeing how many creature comforts and luxuries can be done with out for a time is a good reminder of our blessings and how we can live more simply.The wilderness also provides a profound place for the Discipline of solitude. Parents can take time with their children to hear the Kol Yahweh through the beauty around them. When placed squarely in the context of the intimacy of family and the Disciplines, clubs can be profound.

Small groups or cell ministry have made resurgence of late.Ministries often meet in homes; it would be natural to include the family as a whole into this time.As adults demonstrate, children can learn what it is to be open and spiritually intimate with a group of people.Corporate disciplines of confession, guidance, worship and celebration are all at home in such meetings. Including children in these experiences gives them awesome access to God.

We have many programs in the church.Many of these do not need to meet in the church building on a regular night. The objectives of the ministries can be carried out in a less formal way, through the caring community. The church should use its programs to model an incarnational discipleship that makes its way to daily family life.Families have lives outside the church.Too often those lives are disconnected spiritually. Families can engage in discipleship in many ways.Family devotions and worship, on a regular basis in the home, were for many generations a great blessing.

Then there are distinct acts of worship in which the household is daily led. As often as bread is broken, the solemn blessing of God is invoked . . . and the pious father leads his offspring in daily prayer at the throne of grace, the Family is seen in its true character as the church of God.When bereavement clothes the house in mourning; at each recurring anniversary of birth and death; and upon those occasions of reunion . . . . O! How various and how solemn are the acts of worship in which the Family appears as the Church in miniature.[xviii]

 

The family has the daily reminder of spiritual life in their midst. The celebrations of life and routines of the day can be the �doorposts� and the �symbols� we tie to our hands.[1] Let us talk to our children about the spiritual connection to these routines always.

Families, as they develop friendships with other families, create the basis for informal community. The most authentic of communities is experienced around the table. Here, the intimate interactions between the family members, when focused openly and honestly on spiritual realities, breed mutual discipleship.The family has the power to extend itself to encompass friends, neighbors, and visitors into itself.The intimacy of a healthy family can be extended to all those they care for.In this way, a single adult, or an aged relative, can even share the space, possessions and intimacy of a family. The intergenerational diversity of others keeps us real, honest, and continually growing in our own walk down the path of the Disciplines.

The family has a powerful design for spiritual formation. May the church embrace that power and reengineer itself to minister to them.May the family take its divine mandate seriously, embracing the development of their children�s spirituality. May we learn to be open and honest in community, even to the point of extending the boundaries of our homes to include those with no other family.

O Lord, fill our hearts with love, by your Holy Spirit, bind our hearts together: children, parents and community. Draw us to your depths and intimacy. Amen.

 



[1] Deuteronomy 6:8-9



[i] A. W. Tozer. The Pursuit of God.(Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications. 1993.) 70.

[ii] Foster. Celebration of Discipline. 7.

[iii] Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. 55.���������

[iv] Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. 56.

[v] Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. 56.

[vi] Dallas Willard. Excerpts from The Spirit of the Disciplines. Devotional Classics. (ed. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith. New York: Harper Collins. 1993.) 14.

[vii] Bill Hull. The Disciple Making Church. (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell. 1990.) 30.

[viii] Hull. The Disciple Making Church. 35.

[ix] Hull. The Disciple Making Church. 45.

[x] Hull. The Disciple Making Church. 66.

[xi] Robert A. Raines. New Life in the Church. (New York: Harper & Row Publishers. 1961.) 68.

[xii] Talk of the Nation. (National Public Radio. Aired 2/14/02.)

[xiii] Hull. The Disciple Making Church. 46.

[xiv] Foster. Celebration of Discipline. 2.

[xv] Foster. Streams of Living Water. 357.

[xvi] Wallace. Uniting Church and Home. 239.

[xvii] Wallace. Uniting Church and Home. 239-40.

[xviii] Palmer. The Family in its Civil and Churchly Aspects. 290.

 

 


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