I recently had a pastor ask what my plan for discipleship was at our church. It’s always hard to answer that question because the expected paradigm is often a program that takes people spiritually from point A to point B within a framed amount of time. I‘m convinced there is a bit of smoke and mirrors when it comes to what discipleship programs like Alpha course, Theology classes, Sunday School, Men’s Fraternity, Cross Current, Starting Point, Prayer Groups etc actually accomplish in the way of transformation. Sure the previous options present people with potentially the right information in a conducive, arranged environment. People may even have an ah-ha moment in a programed setting but often character change is still elusive. With programs, participants have a strong sense of completion or accomplishment but what really needs to be measured goes unaddressed. I understand the supposed need for programs to funnel people through essentials in an organized and efficient fashion. Still, after 10+ years in organized churches I’m just not convinced it creates a conducive space for authentic transformation.
When it comes to discipleship the bottom line should be transformation of our character. But character ducks and dodges coming into the light. Character has a way of posing and posturing behind information we know, status we have, programs we completed and positions we hold. Very few things can get at character; who we really are. So what is the secret?
Actually I think the answer is no secret at all it’s just something we avoid and don’t have patience for. Are you ready for the secret it’s, it’s, it’s … community. Throughout the New Testament this is the background mechanism that leverages the true self to the surface. This mechanism is shared-life or tethered community. Being entrenched with a core of people, who become family, is a force to be reckoned with in the school of discipleship. When you reorient your life around Kingdom community not preaching, not worship services, not programs, not social clubs and not events you put your heart in a bit of a squeeze. There is nothing more powerful than a Jesus-community to squeeze the cancer spots on our soul to the surface. When the New Testament church was formed and forming they huddled together and had little else but life together to glut up their existence. It was the close proximity with people they would culturally not choose to be friends with that was the consistent catalyst for spiritual formation. Community flushes to the light those parts of us that need the grace of Jesus. But community challenges our patience and our comfort.
Programs offer an immediate sense of accomplishment and meanwhile transformation in community is messy and incremental. Programs are a lot easier to slide into the calendar of our life but community is inconvenient and doesn’t have a clean beginning and an end. Programs don’t demand a long term faithfulness to get a return on investment. Community calls for a long, steady, reorientation around people to tap into its God-infused potential.
Community is our churches mode for discipleship. My pastoral responsibility is to clear as much space on the dance floor for the movement of relationships to occur and then give as much coaching as I can on how to dance with other people. When it begins to happen it really is transformative.