the one where i’m thinking about discipleship

i’ll just warn you … it’s monday, and my pastor preached a good one yesterday. which got me thinking some thinks (which we all know is dangerous and leads to another rambling blog post). between getting my non-so-inner nerd fired up in the sermon, a really great time of catching up and planning with my co-small group leader, and a thought provoking work meeting last night, my brain is about to spill over.

first, that catching up/planning: C and i work hard to meet up every week (or as often as possible if weekly doesn’t work out)- to catch up, reconnect, talk about how her relationship with her boyfriend is going, drink coffee, dream dreams for the ladies in our small group, and plan group for the next couple of weeks. we try to make sure that one of us is aware of what’s happening on the church calendar, in the lives of our ladies, etc. this weekend, our conversation centered on kicking off the new year. we’re switching the day the group meets, nailing down the things we know about that will disrupt our regular group meetings, working on the calendar, and planning for the study we’re doing as a group (spoiler alert: we’re doing the sermon based curriculum because thewholebibleinayear). we also talked about a problem we’ve been experiencing (and that we hear from many other small group leaders)- people who just won’t commit … or say they do, but rarely show up and rarely communicate. let me go ahead and say that we have a fantastic small group! but like any other group of single, young professionals, life has a way of getting really full, really fast. i realized that we talk about commitment to group, encourage communication, etc, but something is still apparently missing. we all love each other, yes; but we are not all constructing our lives around our community. yes, i know that the idea i just said sounds super cultish and controlling; no, i didn’t say it wrong. hear me out:

i read several articles on discipleship that have been simmering in the back of my mind for a couple of months now. some were written as part of a series, the others happened to be along a similar vein … but like i said, i’ve been ruminating. there are two main ideas here: imitation (not just being a copycat- think paul’s numerous exhortations to ‘imitate me as i imitate christ), and doctrine. imitation is a concept that i think goes against the grain for many of us – we are indoctrinated with ‘you do you’ and radical individualism, not to mention the idea that our version of morality is the one that counts, and that we should follow our hearts. we are willing to accept the theory that following christ is counter-cultural – and even to act on it, to a degree- but we balk at the idea of taking it as far as patterning every aspect of our lives around looking like jesus. one article talked about it this way:

3 Strands of Disciple-Making

1. Informing – What We Believe

Part of disciple-making is helping people understand what they believe. It includes the inculcation of information, the teaching of biblical facts and Christian doctrines.

2. Instructing – What We Do

Another part of disciple-making is helping people adopt the practices that make up the Christian life. We walk alongside others, modeling for them what it looks like to live the way of Christ.

3. Imitating – How We Reason

But there’s a third part of disciple-making that is necessary, something a full-orbed vision of “imitation” gives us. This strand refers to helping people reason like Christians who have been formed by “what we believe” and “what we do.” The imitation of reasoning is especially needed on issues where clear instructions are not present in Scripture.

If you only focus on the first two elements (informing and instructing), then you wind up with people who are not fully equipped to respond to the conundrums they encounter in life.

What does your disciple do when he or she confronts an issue that isn’t resolved by the checklist of doctrines to believe, or the common practices of the Christian life?

another article (same author) uses ‘apprenticeship’ language:

Teaching and the Modeling of the Christian Life

The biblical vision of teaching, particularly with its emphasis on apprenticeship, opens up new windows as to how “teaching” needs to include both the delivery of Christian truth and the modeling of a Christian lifestyle. Belief and action go together. Schaeffer again: “It seems to me that the real question is what we really believe. It seems to me that we do tend to have two creeds—the one which we believe in our intellectual assent, and then the one which we believe to the extent of acting upon it in faith. More and more it seems to me that the true level of our orthodoxy is measured by this latter standard rather than the former. And more and more it seems to me that there is no such thing as an abstract Christian dogma—that each Christian dogma can be experienced on some level.” So dogma and experience go together. How does that shape our vision of “teaching”? In particular, what does “teaching them” in the Great Commission refer to? Sermons? Bible studies? Lectures? Maybe. But there’s a clue there in the text itself. Teaching them to obey all that Christ has commandedThis necessarily involves both modeling and verbal teaching.

one of the other articles rolling around in my head is one i’ve already posted about a couple of times- this author uses ‘improvisation’ & ‘development’ language: Why Theology Matters

Developing doctrine in the church is one more in a series of improvisations: the disciples’ story is an improvisation on the history of Israel. Jesus Christ is himself an improvisation on a covenant theme: God’s steadfast love and righteousness. In each case, there is both creativity (newness) and fidelity to what preceded (sameness). Improvisation accents the importance of both speaking and acting out faith’s understanding. The development of doctrine belongs not to speculative but to pastoral theology. In each case, doctrine helps the church to know what to say, think, and do in the face of new challenges. // The development of doctrine is a matter of thinking biblically in new situations.Scripture shapes our vision of the whole, instills mental habits, forms the desire of our hearts, and trains us in the way of discipleship. Doctrine is essential for training in discipleship, and that includes missiological improvisation—knowing how to go on in the same gospel way in different situations. // Doctrinal development is ultimately a matter of the church’s faith improvisation in accordance with the Scriptures and with earlier faithful improvisations (e.g., creedal formulations). The development of doctrine is part and parcel of the mission of the church. Doctrine helps disciples individually and corporately to make right decisions about what to say and do in order to participate rightly in and continue the same drama of redemption in which Israel, Jesus Christ, and the apostles played leading parts. The purpose of theology is to make disciples, players in God’s drama of redemption who are able to play their parts with faithful and creative understanding.

i think my church does a great job with the doctrine end of the equation … and i’d like to think i do the same in regards to my small group. but maybe i’m not as strong on the imitation end as i’d like to be. some of that could come from a distinct lack of available female mentors- there are terribly few women who are both worth imitating and available enough relationaly to imitate. there is indeed a need for titus 2 relationship (older women teaching younger women), and i’ll confess to having a hard time finding that in my life. but even that doesn’t give me a pass- i have the scriptures at my disposal and the holy spirit indwelling me.

i also think my church has a good sense of ‘community’ (which can be kind of ambiguously defined sometimes), but i think there is a distinction to be made between community and the kind of discipleship that includes imitation/apprenticeship/development. too often we equate those things with mere proximity, and leave out the intensity of relationship that brings about change. the way i hear community defined most often is ‘doing life together’ … i don’t disagree with that definition- i have a community (friends, small group ladies, family) that i ‘do life with’. we eat meals together, some of us ever grocery shop together!, we spend hours talking about nothing at all and everything at the same time, we worship together, we confess sin to one another, we learn about the word together … but those are not the kind of relationships i’m talking about here. i am a big fan of this kind of relational discipleship, but i can’t help but feel there is something lacking.

am i the only one who thinks this? i know this has gotten convoluted and is now allthethoughts. hopefully, it’s no secret that i love theology and discipleship. it is a credit to those who discipled me first (shout out to my peeps at word of life!) that i don’t consciously separate what i know from how i (try to) live. the more i disciple others, the more i am realizing that this isn’t normal … and that it is a major difficulty in most discipleship relationships. i also didn’t realize until now that i didn’t have a way to articulate this (since i was taught not to separate the two). i’m finding it troubling and helpful all at the same time.

this has gotten lengthy, so i’ll get to the sermon thoughts and work stuff another time … be warned 😉

a couple of other posts that influenced this one: is it arrogant to tell other christians to imitate your example? and recovering the role of imitation in discipleship today.

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One response to “the one where i’m thinking about discipleship

  1. Lindsey Dunn

    Hi Samantha, thank you for writing this. I was just talking to my pastor about this last week and your post helped me better understand why I feel what I do. I was saying the church didn’t have discipleship and he said they did because they they have a Bible plan they have asked everyone to do. But i think of discipleship as a direct relationship/ accountability partner/mentoring. One on one. Without that, there can be no imitation. But I have had people turn me down as a partner because I am not “old enough”. I don’t know if one person has to be ahead but both people have to be dedicated. It helps us have a direction to meet with others. Always happy to read your thoughts.

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