Last week I put together a short article encouraging clergy to think about discipleship.

I was wrong.

Wrong by a long way.

Because, what I should have said was that everything the church does, and sometimes the non church too, is about Discipleship. Its not just the clergy. Its everything, and everyone.

Indulge me for a moment, but think about every activity that you do for the church; church services, youth club, luncheon club, wedding visits, detached work, meetings, food bank, volunteering, events, conferences, worship times.

Now think about Jesus and the disciples and what he asked of them:

He asked them to follow his lead

He told them stuff, they listened.

He Showed them stuff, they watched and learned

They copied some stuff, he watched

Then he left, they acted it out.

It was a process. It was counter cultural but in the culture. It helped them grow.

The church is only tasked with one thing ; go and make disciples.

However, if we think about not only the lists of all the activities that go on, but also the way in which various successes of them are celebrated,

Discipleship hardly gets a mention.

Well thats because its hard to measure…. Yes it is, but i’m not thinking about how its measured per se. I am thinking about how we might view the activities in a lens of discipleship, with these questions:

  1. In what way does/has/will the ____________ activity help to disciple people?
  2. What might we need to change about the activity/event/service to enable discipleship to be the purpose of it?

but what about worship, or mission, or service, arent they important?  Yes they are but from worship – where is discipleship? , out of discipleship comes worship mightn’t it? Worship in whole terms is discipleship, acting as though our whole lives depended on God, not just the sung parts..?

Hans urs Von Balthasar describes the relationship between God and Humanity as a play, a drama, of which the play that we play in freedom is part of the larger play of Gods redemption for the world. Without trying to discuss the metaphor in full ( Thats elsewhere on this blog – search ‘Vanhoozer’) , what play means is activity, is movement, is reorientation, is also childlike wonder and dependency, if play is learned, then it isnt play, play is to be acted.

Trying to measure discipleship might be like trying to juggle with rain water, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider that everything we do as christians is not to help people become participants in the same play, or realising that they’re taking more and more cues in their life from Jesus. Disciples inside the church, to form disciples with people of whom the church doesnt know yet.

Do we have the bottle to make difficult decisions about the activities that occur – to even suggest that they might not be helpful for discipleship?

Its not about their economic viability or attendance- but actually – for the task of playing in the drama of world redemption, is this activity helpful for  maintaining longevity, inspiring the action, or creating space for action to occur by and of the followers?

If what we aim for, and measure is what we get then.

If we focus on attendance – we’ll only get numbers

If we focus on conversions- we’ll try and get conversions

If we focus on discipleship….

In the world of adopting business strategies for the growth problem of the church, there has been the drive to produce growth plans, vision statements, mission descriptors for the church, usually about planning the organisation for 5 years ahead.

Lets ask an even more difficult question, not- what is the vision statement for the organisation of the church/event/activity for the next 5 years, but – what is the 5 year plan to help/aid and grow disciples in and outside of the current faith community? And thats the challenge for all the activity – so from Soul survivor, to parish church, to detached work on the streets – what is the 5 year discipleship plan?

What if this was the orientation – Personal, and community discipleship. What if making disciples, the making of disciples was the challenging aim all along?

People do learn in different ways, as long as they are helped to realise they are part of the play, and play parts, and are encouraged to play within the scenes that they are confronted with (in the stage of the world).

A challenging gauntlet that takes us beyond attendance at events, clubs or groups.

Or that sees that all of these things are places to practice discipleship – to rehearse away from performing. if real discipleship is only tested away from the church in the ‘non-church world’ (Healy, 2000, p69)  Practice discipleship is what is to be encouraged in the activities of the church.

So, does it matter how many young people turn up at a club? or people at church? or conversions at an event? or how long the church, or youth ministry has been going?  however important these might feel, they’re relatively insignificant to the significance all of these things have on helping create and be the making of, the growing of, the health of disciples – ready to play parts in the world of an ongoing drama of redemption.

Yesterday was a milestone in our family, my son used his cashcard at the ATM for the first time, he’s 12. So we trundled up to the machine, he put his card in, pressed the digits, selected cash. Then I said to him, “Wait for your card to come back first, then the money”, to which he replied, like any good 12 year old boy would do “Yes i know Dad, Ive watched you and mum do this many times”.

The 12 year olds are watching us. Everyone is watching. If people are only watching how do we encouraging, and tutoring them to copy and then play.

Today is Pentecost. The day that Discipleship really did become a collective task, aided and abetted by the Spirit that acts in the scenes and prompts towards faithfulness.  Everything we do should orient itself around enabling long term discipleship.

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