Un*discipled (by Tyler Johnston)
Scale is the enemy of discipleship just as efficiency is the enemy of relationship. The larger we become, we are diminished in our relational capacity because by necessity we are forced to rely on efficiency to sustain the larger scale models we serve. These efficiency models are necessary to manoeuvre the hundreds and thousands of people that our “best show for under two bucks” attractional models of church gather each Sunday. This raises an interesting question. What have we sacrificed in our commitment to the “bigger is better” cultural philosophy at work in our local and global reality? One answer is simple: discipleship. We presently are the church of the un*discipled.
The one primary task that Jesus left his followers with was to make disciples and to be disciples. Discipleship isn’t a ten week course or a ten step program; it is best understood as a life long journey. It can include a ten week course; that may be necessary but certainly isn’t sufficient in this life long journey of becoming a devoted follower of Jesus. The challenge in the church today is that our best attempts at discipleship don’t move beyond the ten step approach.
But why is this the case? First, we are the products of a time conscious, assembly line culture. Our modern fixation on efficiency and process is the by-product of the invention of the clock. The clock broke up the day into manageable, sequential, measurable units and ultimately gave rise to the period in modern human history known as the industrial revolution. Centuries later, productivity, efficiency, and process still dominate our way of life; in fact, they define our way of life. Humanity domesticated the day and in return has become a slave of the second. Today, we approach most everything in life from a time conscious, assembly line default setting. The problem is that discipleship isn’t time conditioned or an assembly line reality. More of discipleship is caught rather than taught.
Another way of saying this is that discipleship is more a fluid reality than a fixed one. This is why community is so important to discipleship and generational sharing is a necessary reality in the discipleship making process. Older generations possess wisdom that is necessary for younger generations to see lived out, for it is in this modeling that much of what it means to be a follower of Jesus is caught and passed on from one generation to the next. Many of us would not be followers of Jesus today if it wasn’t for a parent, grandparent, teacher, or friend living and actively pursuing Jesus in the day to day. This active, inter-relational commitment to each other cannot be replaced by a ten week course; yet we continue to commit the spiritual health of our congregants to production line “spirituality.”
Secondly, in placating the masses, we have lost our ability to effectively disciple the individuals comprising the masses. Is big ever too big? It would seem in our present economic reality that the answer to this question is a resounding, “yes.” Whether we are talking lifestyle or GDP, we may have already reached the limits of a growth intoxicated culture, both outside and inside the church. So why is it that we continue to bang away on the drum that “more is better” within the local church context? The answer may reveal our commitments are aligned more with our present culture than the ONE we say we follow. The challenge is as our churches get bigger; we become more incapable of accomplishing the very thing that Jesus commanded us to do… make disciples. Scale is the enemy. We may have thousands of people attending our services on any given Sunday or experiencing the next great celebrity pastor ten week Bible study; but this doesn’t mean they are being effectively equipped to follow Jesus. Big crowds can boil down to nothing more than cultural savvy, effective marketing, good entertainment, and celebrity promotion. Getting someone to attend a Sunday Service week in and week out is not discipleship, and we know from simple surveys that the majority of Sunday attendees are not actively engaged in kingdom living outside the Sunday experience. Scale simply permits many of us to hide for years and in many cases, for a lifetime. And let’s not forget Jesus drove the entire crowd away at the end of his ministry.
We need a new vision for discipleship, one that is devoid of church growth conversations, business structures, and silver bullet programs. Personal and community discipleship is so much more than what we can facilitate in a weekly Bible study or a weekend service. Personal and community discipleship begins with the intersection of lives. It is the overlapping and intertwining of personal stories. It is the sacred breathe shared with each other as we journey through life together. It is the inter-generational exchange that happens whether intentionally or non-intentionally through the “forsaking not the assembling of ourselves together.”
Life on life is the key to discipleship. Discipleship begins and ends in community. It begins with being a disciple and making disciples. It is a conscious decision to live as a learner and teacher, to be a disciple and to be a disciple-maker. It is being connected in a “great chain of being” with others, linked soul to soul as we travel this earthen sod. It is a commitment to being in process or in flux throughout life. It is the admission of never fully arriving while attempting to show other beggars where the water and the food are. It’s not settling for anything less than Jesus. It starts with the rejection of the pursuit of scale and numbers in favor of entering a deep seated relationship with God and with others through others.
Tyler Johnston has recently resigned from his lead pastor role at the The Meeting House in Ontario, Canada to pursue his doctorate and love of writing. He writes about the church, culture and spirituality on his blog, www.saptapper.com.