Tuesday, November 29, 2011

simpler disciple-making

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:9

This is a pattern for discipleship. And it isn't program driven. It is built around personal observation and engagement. Paul was confident that the Philippian church was the kind of body of believers that could be close enough to him to get close enough to Christ. For Paul, discipleship was all about the relationship. And making disciples meant living an exemplary life -- a life that could be followed.

I have been officially a "discipleship pastor" for nearly a decade and a half now. And in that period of time I have had a lot of "programs" pushed at me. They have been varied and almost always they have been built around curriculum, culture, or Christian celebrity. Here is what I mean... Christian publishing houses spend tons of money developing curriculum and then they market the stuffings out of it. Really. We are talking mailings, phone campaigns, personal representatives visiting churches... you name it. They make incessant dazzling claims and special offers. They tie it to endorsements and bulk rate pricing. It is a product, and I am not completely sure that curriculum alone makes followers of Jesus.

A second contemporary trend is to piggyback on Christian culture. This is the most superficial problem to hit the church in my lifetime. We have our own Christian sub-culture these days that apes secular culture, complete with special T-shirts and hip rock bands. And I have seen these things upheld as the answer for building believers, particularly teenagers. I think that this is a HUGE mistake. I think it results in superficial excitement and not legitimate and thoughtful faith. What happens when the bands leave town, and your family is still a mess when you get home? This is why we now have "Christian" vampire novels copying the "Twilight" series. Somebody should just stop the insanity! It is embarrassing Jesus!

A third disturbing distraction to true discipleship is the cult of celebrity in the American church. Evangelicals are masters of this. We have always been so, right from the Great Awakening. Today it looks like this: a big name pastor or a parachurch leader launches a new 40 day program for churches. It has to be 40 days, because God did that a lot in the Bible. It does not matter what the 40 days is about. It could be 40 days of dental hygiene. The evangelical church will buy the stuff. It gets packaged and marketed. And when I dig into it, I find it is nothing like the simple discipleship strategy of Paul. But because it comes from the monolithic Christian culture, many of my parishioners expect me as a pastor to get behind it. I usually do not. And that creates a conflict that should not have to be there.

Paul could say what he said to the Philippian church because he had invested substantial time and personal ministry with the people there. They knew him. He had nothing to sell. He had simply foolishly given away his life to them. Not a great marketing strategy. And they could do as he did and be following Jesus. That is the disciple-making philosophy, curriculum, culture, and practice that I subscribe to. And I don't need much else beyond the Word of God, the Spirit of God, working in the people of God to see God use that to reach the world for His glory!

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