Well, it is officially 2014. A new year has arrived and while that comes with hopeful expectations for the days ahead. I pray that our days are filled with great joy, love, and laughter. As the prayer of serenity goes, let’s change what we can, accept what we can’t change, and have the wisdom to know the difference.
The Big Issue
With that being said, I am still convinced that the biggest pressing issue facing the Christian church here in America is the question of discipleship. Last year I wrote an article for Wineskins titled Living the Way of Jesus in which I defined discipleship as “learning to live in the way of Jesus.” In simplest terms, it involves following Jesus and learning from him so that we can learn to think and act as Jesus does. In our own day and age this involves reading about the life Jesus lives within scripture, learning among the company of others who are following and learning from Jesus, learning to connect this with all of scripture (Old and New Testament), and practicing what we learn as we go along, even as we fail some along the way, so that our life is continuously formed as a disciple.
I stand by that definition as a simple explanation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. While other nuances might be better suited to help people understand better what we mean when we talk about discipleship, I believe the definition itself is consistent — according to the scriptures — with Jesus’ call “Come, follow me!”
In Our Own Communities
Having said all that, we must remember not to spiritualize discipleship. Learning to live in the way of Jesus is not about pursuing a life that is so extra-ordinary that it cannot be lived within the every-day mundaneness of life. We all know the stories of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Mother Theresa. Likewise, we all know someone who has moved to serve as missionaries in some country that is very far away from all family and friends. All such people are commendable and should Christ call us to be a martyr, to serve the poor in a third-world country, or evangelize the lost as a foreign missionary, then we should go and do just that. Yet the reality is that many of us are called to such a life. Instead, we are called to be disciples right where we live in our own urban to suburban to rural communities.
So how do we continue learning to live in the way of Jesus right in our own neighborhoods as carpenters, school teachers, nurses, lawyers, truck-drivers, engineers, pastors, stay-at-home parents, volunteers, and whatever else we may be? I use the language of up, in, & out which I learned from Mission Alive who learned it from 3DM who probably learned it from… Any ways, living relationally up towards God, in towards our church, and out towards those in our neighborhoods is a good rhythmic guide to get started with.
Practically speaking, there are several things we can do to practice this rhythm of up, in, and out.
- Commit a part of every day as time spent praying and reading scripture (Up). It’s only the second day of the new year, so it’s not too late to begin a daily bible reading plan. This is also a time to pray about what we are reading, praying that we can understand God’s will and live it out in our lives.
- Be a regular engaged participant in the gatherings of the local church we are members of (Up, In). Plan on being fully present in the worship celebrations, the partaking of the Lord’s Supper, small group fellowships, etc… Pray about the gatherings before hand and be an intentional participant during the gatherings. Not only does this please God as we give him praise and thanksgiving but we also encourage the other Christians among us (even some who maybe a nominal Christian only, having lost sight of discipleship).
- Commit ourselves to becoming better acquainted with others in our neighborhoods (Out). For many, this is the most difficult task and it’s not getting any easier. No longer are our neighbors just Christians attending a different church than our own, our neighbors now may be Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics and Secularists, and even former Christians who are skeptical of Christians (sometimes for good reasons). So take a batch of cookies to them, invite them to a cookout, or attend their cookout (if invited) and be respectful. That is, go as a learner and let God provide the occasion for us to be his witness, as it will happen if we pray about it and are patient enough to allow God to redemptively work ahead of us.
Just remember that when it comes to discipleship, it seems that Jesus is more interested in teaching us how to live the heavenly life here on earth than to muse about the heavenly life to come. Hence, part of the Lord’s Prayer we are taught to pray is for the will of God to be done here on earth as it is done in heaven.