We are the Church, and, sadly, sometimes we are a mess. But this is not about bashing Christians or the church. I love both! And so does God! But God has been renewing my mind about what being the Church means and what "doing church" should look like. And it comes back to the people and all our messy relationships as we live life together.
God has been challenging me about where our focus should be. I love producing choir programs/dramas and special events in general for the church family. I love fellowship and Bible study. I love Sunday worship services full of prayer, music, and teaching/preaching. But none of that is really discipleship.
I've talked about this often, and I believe I've even blogged about it in the past, but it is becoming extremely obvious that we have to do something now to change the way most of us have done church. We are losing a whole generation of believers.
When I think of what Jesus did to train His disciples, I see several things that I think we should be focusing on in our groups.
1. He shared his experiences. We should share our testimonies, and experiences...the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly. When we are afraid to share, we put up a wall between us and others. Our experiences from the past can help encourage someone who's struggling through the same thing now (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), and having others watch us as we walk through life's ups and downs helps them to learn how to navigate life as well. Hopefully we do it right, but even when we don't, we still get back up and keep going. We continue to follow God even if we need to repent in the process.
2. He told stories. Stories are powerful. Whether we are sharing with our children or with another adult, sometimes spiritual truth is grasped more easily through analogy and metaphor. We need to let God's wonderful creativity flow through us so that others can gain true understanding.
3. He spent time with them. Jesus spent nearly all of His time with His disciples. I know it's hard to spend extended periods of time with people in our current culture, but we must try. We need to text, call, email, and meet face-to-face as much as our schedules will allow. The more consistent time we can spend with someone, the more we grow. I have shared before about the year that I discipled two young women who would come to our home every evening after work. It was the most wonderful experience I've ever had as a believer. If you can do it, don't hesitate. One word of caution: I know that disciples can become too reliant on us for their spiritual understanding. The year I had with these two women was so wonderful because they were daily devouring the Word of God. They came equipped with questions and wanting understanding of what they had read. We used no other books except the Bible.
4. He taught them directly. Many times Jesus sat with His disciples and taught them directly. He knew what they needed to learn because He knew everything. When we spend time with people we can discern what God wants us to teach. We can use teachable moments and planned teaching times to help our disciples grow.
5. He answered their questions. I love it when disciples ask questions. Often they ask really hard questions! But what a joy to wrestle with those questions and help them find the answers. It's one of my favorite parts of discipleship.
6. He challenged them. Jesus lovingly challenged His disciples when they were making wrong choices or were lacking in faith. We have to challenge our disciples too in a loving and supportive way. We want to see them succeed and grow. To ignore problems is not loving or supportive.
7. He let God's miraculous power show. Jesus calmed the storm, walked on water, fed people, raised the dead, and healed. He showed His disciples that God's power was real and that God is real. He is concerned about His children and is active in our world. Letting God's work in our lives show is hard if we don't acknowledge it ourselves. I recommend making a prayer list and keeping track of answered prayer. It helps us become more aware of what God is doing around us.
Jesus had an unbroken relationship with God, of course, because He did not sin. However, He also spent time in prayer with God each day. We need to follow His example. As leaders, teachers, and most importantly, as disciplers, we must spend time with God in prayer and in His Word. We should daily lift up our disciples in prayer. When our hearts are right with God, we can be effective in obeying His command to make disciples because we can hear His voice and follow His leading in how best to lead others. This is real church.
***As parents, we are the first disciplers our children have. We need to take that responsibility seriously. We must be comfortable with spiritual discussions. Kids are curious, and we should enjoy that curiosity. Their faith is so beautiful, and we should encourage it. I love what Jennifer Grant said in a recent blog post,
"I'm not inspired to write books that explain God to kids or preach at them. (They get enough of that sort of thing already, don't you think?) Rather, I'm inspired to wonder, with them, about the nature of God. Why must we listen to them and become like them to know God? Do they, more than jaded grownups, reflect God's image in their openness and curiosity? Their enthusiasm? Their lack of pretense? What can we learn from the way children see the world about how God sees it?" --Jennifer Grant, author of Maybe I Can Love My Neighbor Too and other books worth buying.
I think one of the best books we can share with our kids to open up discussions about discipleship is C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The whole series is wonderful, but I recommend you take some time to re-read the book and then share it with your children when they are in elementary school. There are so many open doors for discussion in those pages.***