Sunday, August 24, 2008

Life-On-Life Discipleship

This is the last in my series of posts examining our church's strategy, answering the question: "Why do we do what we do?" Specifically, we've been answering the question: "Why do we do things this way?" In addition to service that is love-motivated, outreach that is relational, worship that is accessible, and community that connects, we want discipleship that is life-on-life.

What do I mean by that?

Many churches utilize an approach to discipleship that is primarily informational or educational. They seem to believe that if a person simply has the right information, then they will know how to apply it and live it out in their own lives. They focus on doctrine and data, and figure the rest will follow. I believe this model is outdated.

In a former time in American culture, the structures, values, and institutions of society all worked together to encourage people to live a life consistent with biblical principles. In the worlds of business, politics, academics, and every other area of life, there were pressures and expectations for people to act honestly, to honor their word, to work diligently, to treat others respectfully, and to exercise self-discipline.

In this kind of a world, perhaps information was the great need--people simply needed to know how to place their beliefs and values in the context of living a life that glorifies God. They always knew that working hard was the right thing to do, but with more information they could understand why it was right, and how that related to God.

Today, these values have all but evaporated, and in every area of life, there is an expectation that people will probably lie if they can get away with it, will break their word unless there is a potential for a lawsuit, will do as little work as possible, will treat others as tools to be used, and will exercise self-indulgence.

In this kind of a world, the discipleship process starts with a disadvantage--the world is openly hostile to a life that's devoted to following Jesus. So there are actually three tasks for the disciple, instead of one:

  • A disciple needs to learn the definition of right living. There is no societal pressure that encourages me to abstain from sex before marriage--in fact, there is great societal pressure to dive right in. So, in the 1950s the question would have been, "Why is sex before marriage wrong?" Today the question is, "What? You mean this is an issue?"
  • A disciple need to learn how to demonstrate right living. There are many logistical questions that face a person who wants to change their life choices. How do I explain to my girlfriend I don't think we should be having sex anymore? How do I tell my kids that the cable we've been stealing is going to get cut off? How do I handle my boss who pays me under the table? What about the weekly lottery pool I participate in at work? You see, all of these choices involve relationships, not just the life of the Christ-follower. In a world that doesn't support Christian choices, many of these choices become tricky.
  • A disciple needs to learn how to defend right living. We have to learn how to develop not only the courage to make the right choices, but the ability to explain those choices to others who don't understand, and be ready to become the object of ridicule. Because the truth is that without a defense, people will naturally just "go with the flow."

A world that is hostile to the Christian life makes the process of discipleship much more complicated and difficult. Simply giving people information doesn't cut it anymore. We need help. We need people to come along side us and encourage us, support us, lead us, challenge us, stretch us, and hold us accountable. This is where discipleship often falls apart today--we don't surround people and equip them to make and defend the right choices in their lives. We simply tell them a bunch of information.

At our church, discipleship happens most often in small group Bible studies and in ministry teams. These are the places that we rub shoulders with one another. These are the contexts in which relationships are developed, where it becomes natural to share our lives with one another. We see what other people have done and continue to do. We learn about how they have made decisions in their lives--both good and bad, and what the outcomes of those were. We can ask questions about things we don't yet understand. We can ask for prayer. We can find a place where we feel safe to be who we are, which is essential for growing into somebody else.

Relationships are essental for growth. The Christian life is more caught than taught. We have to see it lived out in the people around us. That's why we have a strategy of Life-On-Life Discipleship.

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