Monday, May 5, 2008

Discipleship Emerging, pt. 2 - Redux

Let's be a little less conceptual and a little more concrete this time.

I've often told folks that I wasn't really discipled well. I think this is pretty common in my Baptist heritage. Baptists (when I was growing up, and at many other times) were really concerned about professions of faith - conversions - and less so about discipling those making the professions. To be fair, Baptists had developed educational systems that had that end in mind. Church training (which was fading throughout my childhood, but still clung to the church schedule), Sunday School, education through choir and missions organizations like RAs/GAs, ACTeens, and other programs were intended to produce disciples.

Perhaps those programs worked well at one time. I know that in many of my undergraduate religion classes, and in my seminary classes, a lot of non-Baptist students didn't have the same degree of familiarity with Bible stories (Samson and Delilah, Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel in the Lion's Den, David and Goliath, etc.) that most of us Baptists had, and didn't seem to have "memory verses" they'd memorized. They didn't show evidence of, ahem, "sword drills" - they were slower to find passages in the Bible than those of us who'd engaged in races trying to beat our opponents with how quickly we could find a particular book...

There have been times in my life when I've been grateful for those Bible stories and working knowledge of how to look something up. Doing summer missions in the Philippines as a college student, I got thrown without preparation time into teaching high schoolers "values education" using the Bible. I'd have been lost that first day without some good Bible stories to pull from.

So a lot of the Baptist educational programs had their good points. Overall, I doubt they really worked on a deep level. There's a couple of reasons for this.

1) They mistook education for discipleship. Bible study and education, any kind of education, are unquestionably very important. But education does not, in the long run, produce transformation. People do all sorts of dangerous or bad things even though they "know better." Education is important, but the key isn't what we know, but Who we know, not what we know, but who we become. Obviously, if we're to be transformed into imitators of Christ, then we have to know things about Jesus so we know what to imitate; but knowing about Jesus in and of itself doesn't require imitation. "Knowing about" is not the same thing as "having a relationship with".

2) Low quality. Not always and not at all times - sometimes I'm sure the material was very good. Sometimes gifted and/or dedicated teachers could do a lot with a little, too. (My best Sunday School class, growing up, was the one taught by my parents. They did a great job.) But looking overall at Vacation Bible School and Sunday School, much of the education that we did remained on a very basic level (so as to be open to newcomers?) - about a 3rd grade level, it seems to me. I wonder if there are any studies on that? That's good up until 3rd grade - but over time, discipleship ministries need to grow up.

Lots of times, and at multiple churches, Sunday School revolved around asking obvious questions with yes or no answers, while acting as if the questions were difficult. Results: boredom, contempt, frustration, people leaving church.

Who had this discussion (multiple times) as a kid growing up in church? (You can substitute lots of things for "cocaine" - drunkeness, going to movies, slow dancing, fast dancing, any dancing...)
Teacher: "Do you think Jesus used cocaine?"
Students: "Um...No. It didn't even exist yet."
Teacher: "Do you think Jesus would've used cocaine if it had?"
Students: "...No. Why are we talking about this?"
Teacher: "Be quiet and answer my questions. Do you think Jesus would've used cocaine?"
Students: "..."
Teacher: "Why won't any of you answer my question?"
Students: "..."
Teacher: "Didn't any of you study your lesson? Why aren't you participating?"
Student 1 (thinks this is stupid): "...You said to be quiet. And we already answered your question."
Student 2 (asleep): "...zzz..."
Teacher (floundering - why isn't this going well?): "Please pay attention. Answer my question. Would Jeus have used cocaine?"
Student 1 (frustrated): "No!!!"
Student 2 (drooling): "...zzz..."
Teacher (good, they answered - we're back on track): "And would Jesus want you to use cocaine?"
Student 1: "ARGH!!!!"
Student 2: "...zzz..huh?"

Real discipleship needs depth - and the freedom to ask questions, not just answer them - questions that don't necessarily have yes or no (or any) answers.

Real discipleship requires community. Not just people we hang out with, but relationships with those who know us well, who see - or don't see - transformation, and helps us to see (or not see) that as well. Spiritual Directors do something similar when they help a directee to "attend to the work/presence/voice/etc. of the Spirit" in their own lives.

Real discipleship also, it seems to me, has to include challenges to *do*, not just to *hear* or *repeat* or *memorize.* Referring back to part 1 - we are to act. We are on mission. Discipleship involves us in the mission, helps us to understand that the mission is central to who we are, if we're disciples of Jesus.

I want...

No, yearn...feel be part of a community where real discipleship - with depth, transformative relationships, and missional action - can take place.

My hope, dream, and prayer, is that as I look for places to serve in church, I will be brought to that kind of place. Not necessarily that they've arrrived at that place...but at least that they're willing to go looking for it.

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