Monday, September 20, 2010

Renewing Discipleship in the Church

TITLE: Renewing Discipleship in the Church
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 20 Sep 2010

'Discipleship' is something many talk about, but few people have any idea what this means. Some will scratch their head to define discipleship. Others will be clueless when it comes to leading others toward deeper discipleship. Discipleship is simply put, growing deep in Christ, following Christ. Some likes to call it as knowing Christ, and making Christ known. I think one of the first steps in any discipleship program is simple: Friendship. When Jesus calls his disciples friends, he is showing a clue in discipling one another.

"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. " (John 15:15)
Too often, we approach discipleship like a program. That is wrong. We need to approach discipleship on the basis of relationships, in particular friendship.

Yesterday, I stood with a small group of men as we start to publicize the upcoming Men's Fellowship programs to be conducted every 1st and 3rd Thursdays each month beginning next October. Each of the leaders take turn to share poignant parts of the program. The first talk about what we will be doing. The second share about the people will be facilitating the course. I share about the schedule. There is nothing very theological or intellectual about the sharing. It is pure and simple an invitation to meet. We want to provide an opportunity for men in the Church to come together, to meet as they are and to learn together as a band of brothers. More than that, I think it is a chance to foster a brand of friendship that men can identify with. I think in any discipleship within the Church, building networks of friendship is one of the most unintrusive ways. We may not be comfortable with programming per se. We may not see eye to eye with regards to what kinds of topics we will be discussing. However, the moment we are able to see each other not as objects to be worked on, but as people to share our lives together with, we are well on our way to developing spiritual friendship.

Spiritual friends are important. I learn it first-hand as I mourn the loss of my father. Friends and family members alike walk with me. They talk and they pray with me. They eat with me. These are simple ordinary tasks that anybody can do. The only requirement is time. I suppose time is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to each other. Sometimes I feel the phrase "we are all very busy people," has become overused. It is becoming to me an irritating cliche that I prefer to avoid using. Thus I share Marva Dawn's response to busyness with the following retort.

"The practices by which we might become more thoroughly engaged in our focal concerns of loving God and the neighbors instead of coveting persons and what or who attends them again include gratitude, contentment, rejoicing, and weeping. With people, we might extend those with the additional practices of friendship, hospitality, and solidarity." (Marva Dawn, Unfettered Hope, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003, p178)

Coveting vs Focal Concerns
 I think Dawn helpfully makes a clear distinction between 'focal concerns' and 'coveting.' In fact, our modern brand of busyness appears more to be another form of 'coveting' rather than 'focal concerns' about loving God and neighbour. For instance, we say we have no time to meet up. What are we actually doing with that time? Are we piling up chores upon chores, activities upon activities that are simply another race to the finish with our neighbours? Are we rat-racing with our neighbours or are we loving our neighbour? Are we running circles around our selfish tracks or are we allowing ourselves to walk with friends through their ups and downs of life?

I have heard far too many stories of people who regret spending too much time in their office instead of their home. One example is author and speaker John O'Neil. In "The Paradox of Success," O'Neil shares how he was rocked into reality about the way he has managed his high flying career over his family matters. After his first marriage collapsed, he realized that he is living the paradox of success. He might have been a successful executive flying and living a life of high influence and affluence. Unfortunately, the cost of such success is painful. Fortunately, he recovered well to salvage whatever remains in his family relationships.

I think the biblical commandment against coveting is so applicable in our busy lives that we need to ask ourselves the question again.

ARE WE COVETING or are we living our focal concerns as Christians? The clue is in terms of how we are giving more than we are receiving. Ever wonder how Jesus is able to do more despite having only 3 years of ministry? One reason is because he observes people. He notices how people are needy and he carefully makes himself available to those who needs him, and stays away from the people of influence and power. He spends his time with the poor, the lame and the marginalized in society. Ever wonder who were the people who mistreated and persecuted him? They are the people in power. The religious leaders, the political rulers and the military regime, whose soldiers hurt him.

When we say that we are busy, be careful. Ask ourselves first: Are we coveting or are we putting our resources toward our focal concerns of life? May I suggest that when we are in doubt, come together. When we are not sure whether we are coveting or doing the will of God, gather with fellow believers to pray, to study and to discern together our life goals. After all, meeting up once or twice a month may not be a lot. Unless of course, we are coveting our own time to pursue our goals for the benefit of self and self alone.

Renewing Discipleship Via Friendship
Come and renew our commitment to discipleship. Come and refresh one another's friendships. Meet together. Pray together and let us enjoy the remaining years of our lives, to sharpen one another's focal concerns. When this happens, our desire to covet will grow strangely less and our ability to focus on the important will grow brighter and clearer each day. Thanks to the simple availability of open friendship. This is the first step to renewing discipleship in the Church.

Remember. True discipleship is not a program. It is the cultivation of relationships. Let us take a leaf from the wisdom of Robert Coleman.
"Better to give a year or so to one or two men who learn what it means to conquer for Christ than to spend a lifetime with a congregation just keeping the program going."



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