Missing the Point 01: Discipleship


discipleshipThis post has been republished by the Exponential Network

Over the past couple of years discipleship has become all the rage within the Christian, pastoral realm. Everywhere you look pastors are talking about exciting new programs being released, books being published, conferences are being themed around discipleship as a new initiative that will enliven the body of Christ, and pastors are reintroducing the importance of discipleship through sermons and series. Have we really rediscovered the missing piece of the Great Commission? (“Therefore, go and make disciples…”) Are we finally beginning to understand that “evangelism” is really about making disciples?

Not to burst your bubble, but no.
At least not yet.

This emphasis around discipleship and disciple-making still has one fatal flaw: It is still about dispensing information as the means of transformation.

Over the years we have done a really good job of perfecting discipleship as a streamlined, packaged content system. We have retread old systems of discipleship into shiny new packages with slick new logos. But this slick delivery system still doesn’t speak to the whole of human existence. It focuses solely on the intellect, about dispensing information as a means of transformation. You see, we have continually bought into the Enlightenment principle that if you can change someone’s mind you can change someone’s life. Time and again this has proven to be a faulty principle that misses the point.

Is it any wonder we’re not seeing more radical transformation occurring in the lives of people?

Discipleship cannot discipleship unless the whole of the human self is involved, unless it takes into account the mind, the heart, the soul, and the body: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Now, I’m sure some would say, “Well this is an unfair argument. You’re simplifying what we do with discipleship.” And sure, there is an argument to be made there because there are all sorts of ways outside the Sunday expression that contribute to discipleship. But are they “creating” the types of disciples you expect? Are your programs focused in on changing people’s minds leading to a high success rate of transformation?

I’m going to guess “no” based upon nation-wide church statistics.

So what’s the answer?
In my experiences and through many conversations, the common consensus is no greater transformation of the disciple occurs than in those who return home from a short-term missions trip. Now, while it is completely impractical and perhaps not very beneficial to send hundreds of people each year from your congregation on short-term missions trips, it does say something about the total immersion into discipleship that occurs. It is an active engagement of the mind, the heart, the body, the soul. Sure, some of the transformation wears off once the person returns home and some time has elapsed, but is there not something important to take away from this experience?

The core of a short-term missions experience from a discipleship standpoint is that of the active-reflective environment in which the person is immersed. We have become really good at creating environments where one or the other are present–action without reflection or reflection without action. Active-reflective discipleship is the key to unlocking not only discipleship, but the true heart of missional discipleship: a discipleship that takes an active role in the Missio Dei (Mission of God).

Active-reflective discipleship resides outside the confines of what we already know about “how to do church”. It will require a great deal of imagination and creativity that will push us outside of our contexts and beyond the limits of our comfortability. However, it will create the types of disciples we long for, the types of disciples the church needs, and the types of disciples Jesus expected.

The question is how do we create these active-reflective environments?
It all depends on your context. Not your church context, but your city context. What are ways in which you can engage with your city, with the place you live, with your neighbors, co-workers, or strangers? Again, this requires creativity and imagination, not a retread of old systems packaged in shiny new boxes. I wonder, if you had a “Research and Development” wing in your church, what kinds of active-reflective discipleship environments would you experiment with creating?

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Reading | Christopher Heuertz’s book Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Communiyt has been an amazing and very difficult book to read. It has been difficult simply because it is challenging me every step of the way, pushing me to think differently about some of my own failures in attempting to create sustainable community while. In fact, this has been a very emotional read. This is a book I wish I would have read years ago, however I’m not quite sure I would have listened in the same way. Perspective changes everything.

Loving | Two days in South Lake Tahoe are providing us with some much needed rest from the stress of packing and buying a house, the emotional goodbyes and final days in the city we love. I love the scenery, the fresh air, the cold breezes, and the fireplace in our hotel room. This is one of those moments you know you need, to refresh your soul, for your heart to recoup, and your mind to slow down.

Looking Forward To | Driving across the country with my wife as we shift from mourning our move from San Francisco to emotionally preparing for our new adventure in Springfield, Illinois. We have been looking forward to this drive as a sacred moment in our journey, a marker for what has been and the beginning of something new.

Challenged By | Grieving well the loss of something you can’t quite put into words. This has been a very hard and emotionally exhausting season of transition as we leave the city of San Francisco. I have been heartened by this quote from A.A. Milne (author of Winnie the Pooh):
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

“I Married Up” : Can We Stop With This Backhanded Compliment?


Married Up

Tracy and I celebrated 11 years of marriage earlier this year (2013). It has been an unbelievable journey marked with highs and lows, challenging moments, beautiful stories, and fun. Lots and lots of fun. I cannot imagine walking through this life and sharing the moments we have shared with anyone else. I am tremendously thankful for my wife. BUT, and let me be really clear here, I did NOT marry up.

I know, I know, how unromantic and even mean spirited of me to say. What a horrible thing to say after a decade-plus-one anniversary. You’re all wondering if I somehow missed the “man memo”, right? The memo that explicitly reads: “To pay the highest compliment to your wife in public, you must say with gusto: ‘I married up!’ This will garner you the love and affection of a blushing bride, and cover a multitude of sins.”

This “compliment” (I married up) comes straight out of the standard-issue husband-manual you receive on your wedding day. It is a required sentiment to describe your wife to others. It’s an updated phrase from the last edition when we used, “my better half” in the same situations. And this phrase is well meaning, but it is anything but a compliment. In fact, I’d argue it’s more of a backhanded compliment.

Let me explain, because you simply have to take the inverse of the phrase to get what I’m saying.
When someone says, “I married up,” what exactly does that say about their spouse?
It sounds like their spouse is better than they are, right? Like the husband is being romantic, discarding his own pride and ego as a means to elevate his wife. And therein lies the compliment. However, there’s a backhanded side to this phrase as well. If you think about the sentiment for just a moment you’d have to then wonder, how did you get someone like that? Did you catch her on a bad day or a bad year? Did she settle? Poor girl. Maybe you simply conned her? She must be pretty gullible, eh? The implications of this phrase don’t speak very highly of your wife, does it? Doesn’t really speak volumes about her judgement of character, does it? But then again, wives are just supposed to be pretty, shiny trophies right? I mean, that’s how we often times treat them, isn’t it?

You may think I’m being ridiculous or that I’m too caught up in my own hyperbole. You may think I’m over thinking this whole thing and trying to make a point where one doesn’t really exist. But I do wonder, and I think we all should wonder, why has it become necessary to degrade ourselves in order to give a proper compliment? Think about it… I’ll wait.

When this becomes our approach, we not only degrade ourselves, but we unintentionally diminish the other person robbing both them and ourselves of our humanity.

So, I did NOT marry up and I hope that Tracy would say the same thing. We both made a wise decision and have worked hard to not only sustain our love but to sacrifice for and submit to one another. My wife is a brilliant and talented woman who tirelessly gives of herself to others. She exemplifies the kingdom of God, challenging and pushing me to be a better version of myself. And she is an amazing mother… an absolutely amazing mother.

Isn’t it more honoring to actually compliment our wives instead of saying, “I married up”? So, men, can we please stop using this phrase and work at using real compliments?

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Reading | Parker Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life has been a good read lately as he describes and lays out how a “Circle of Trust” or “Discernment Circle” functions. I have really enjoyed the conversation in the book surrounding the posture of listening and how, pastorally, to create a space safe enough for the soul to speak.

Loving | Terrence Malick (Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line) has written and directed a new movie called To the Wonder that I simply can’t watch enough. I have now watched this movie three times and each time I have been moved to tears at the end. There’s something about the prayer of St. Patrick at the end of the movie that, after being engulfed in the story, moves me in ways I cannot describe nor express:
(Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ all around me…)

Looking Forward To | A couple of days in Lake Tahoe to relax and dream about what is possible in this next section of life. Lake Tahoe is a two-day stop in our week long drive across the country to our new home in Springfield, Illinois.

Challenged By | In this season of exit and this season of preparation, I have been challenged to embrace what has been and turn towards what is next. It is a difficult thing to say goodbye and grieve while also preparing your heart for the amazing journey that lies ahead.

Keep Calm, I’m Making Changes

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This blog has been in existence since 2004, however you wouldn’t know it by looking around. Why? Because at the moment (May, 2013) there is no content left.

I have written over 2,000 posts ranging from the intersection of faith and politics to my own personal struggles and journey as a pastor to a church planter; music to silly videos I’ve stumbled across to pointless drivel that all these years later make no sense in or out of context. Blogging has been an outlet of frustration with myself, with the Church, with a state of affairs that is no longer current, and a painful, albeit too public display of my own immaturity. Nine years ago I stepped into the world of blogging without any real sense of purpose or understanding of this world of instant publishing. Today, I would like to believe, I have gained a better sense of perspective.

There are times in our lives when we all wish we could start fresh, times we wish we could erase the unseemly bits of our past and let only the good moments remain on display. In some respects that’s what I’m doing with my little slice of the internet–I’m cleaning it up a bit, I’m making changes*. However, this time around I am reentering into this realm with eyes wide open, understanding that there is a great responsibility to what is published on the internet.

I want to use this space deliberately to communicate a Christian faith that is beautifully complex, unimaginably just, and excruciatingly gracious. I will still write about theology and politics and how they intersect, I will still write about the things that I am currently chewing on, I will still write about what I believe matters and what I think will help move the conversation down the road, and I will republish the posts from the past nine years that contribute to this focus.

I hope someday I will be as deliberate with my Facebook and Twitter streams as I am attempting to be with this space, however because of the ease of micro-blogging and my impulsive nature I cannot make any guarantees. Perhaps someday that will be a discipline I will be able to corral. In the meantime I would like to invite you to interact with me here in this fresh space and, if you so choose, help guide me toward this endeavor on Twitter and Facebook.

* Please know that this isn’t an attempt to hide anything away… I just want to clean up the vomit so that when guests walk into my little sphere they’re not stepping into a mess that should’ve been cleaned up years ago.