The Millennial Monk


Dan Horan has certainly had an interesting life story.  He started out as a photographer and is now a Franciscan Friar of the Order of Friars Minor.  That’s right, we’ve got a monk on our show today!

Dan now writes extensively about Franciscan theology, philosophy and spirituality.  Though he’s deeply immersed in a rich tradition, he believes that it contains a great deal that is relevant and which can speak to us today.  As such, he is passionate about engaging the millennial generation on this topic.  He’s written books(Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis, Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith: Exploring Franciscan Spirituality and Theology in the Modern World, Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Franciscan Priesthood: The Possibility of Franciscan Presbyters According to the Rule and Tradition), delivers lectures and workshops, and portrays the contemporary application for these ancient truths.

The energy he emits for his faith and beliefs help us understand the accessibility and importance they truly embody.  Thanks for joining us today – we hope you’ll enjoy meeting The Millennial Monk!

 

 

Discipleship #009: Missionaries There & Here

When we hear the word “missionary” we tend to think of a ministry that is distant from us, or foreign to us.  But in the broader sense of the word, missionary is simply a disciple sent by Christ to preach in his name and make new disciples, someone who takes into heart the command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Missionary is not only the person who leaves her comfortable home for a third-world country forever, but also the African Christians reaching out to Muslims in America. Missionary is also an ordinary boy inviting his lonely pal to go to Sunday school together. Therefore, although technically a Christian missionary refers to a specific calling, a life-time occupation supported by the church, there is no doubt that all of us, as Disciples of Christ, have the same mission to make more disciples.

A Story of a Missionary

This is the story of Lee. Lee was born in Chun ju, South Korea, in 1963. He was not Christian by birth, and no one in his family was either. When he was a kid, he would show up for Sunday school when he was bored and just for the holiday events when the pastors would give away free candy. It was not until he went to the city of Pusan for college that he found a good church and started believing in God.

After studying mechanical engineering for three years, Lee decided that he was going to be a missionary. Nothing really dramatic had happened to him to prompt his decision, nothing close to the calling of Samuel or Paul’s dream of the Macedonian. Every weekend he had helped his pastor evangelize to foreigners who arrived to the port, and he had found that he simply wanted to do this kind of work for the rest of his life. The missionary work abroad he envisioned for his future was to be an extension of the missionary work he was been practicing at home.

Lee graduated in 1987. He applied to a seminary in Pusan in 1989 and after three years, he moved to Seoul to obtain his masters degree. He enjoyed studying at the seminary a lot more than when he had studied engineering.

Then the rest worked out like a puzzle. Though in the beginning, Lee’s intention had been to go to Japan and work there as a missionary, his church thought that Japan was too close and well-off for missions work and rejected his proposition. So Lee did some research and learned that the countries with the least number of missionaries were Peru and Mexico. After a couple of months, a message from Peru came saying that they needed a missionary.

Eventually the time came for Lee and his wife to leave their homes, families, and culture. Carrying a three year old, a baby of ten months, and two large immigration bags, they set foot on the arid city of Trujillo in the month of June, 1995. When asked about what he had felt when he arrived to the opposite side of the globe, Lee answered, “In that situation, there is no space for thought; there is no space for feeling. You just find yourself focusing every minute on adapting to the new environment.”

Among the hardships Lee and his family had to go through were homesickness, the inability to digest the local food, and the lack of knowledge of Spanish.

For one year, they stayed with another missionary in Trujillo to learn about the language and the culture of the country. In their second year, they moved to a town of red clay roads called Pucallpa in the Amazon jungle to help a colleague build a school. In 1998, they returned to Trujillo, and from that time on they remained in that city as the only Korean family in the area.

Lee specialized in planting churches and helping them grow until they were able to become independent. In the course of 17 years he had planted three small churches, which in turn built two other churches by themselves. Each of them had its own set of problems of economy, leadership, and fellowship. But sometimes they met for a picnic at the beach or a volleyball tournament.

He was the happiest when he saw people change for good. He found it the hardest to see people who had been Christians for a long time refusing to change. He never regretted coming to Peru. He knew what his role was in God’s plans. He had not worried much about how his decision would affect his children. He had been sure that God would take their futures into His hands.

According to Lee, his job had always been to “evangelize and serve others while sharing his life with them.” Like Lee said, a missionary’s job is not to simply go and make as many converts as possible, it is to share one’s own life with others. Just like Jesus shared his.

“Local” Missionaries

Mother Teresa once said, “It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”

Being a missionary abroad has its own list of hardships, but being a missionary at home is just as hard. We humans are creatures of compartmentalization that many times like to have our jobs separate from our hobbies, our church friends separate from our school friends. But when being a “local” missionary, our identities as disciples are not nametags we use when we go to church or volunteer at another town— they are lifestyles.

John Eldredge is President of Ransomed Heart Ministry. He furthers the spiritual lives those around the U.S. through his work and books of counseling. Jenny Simmons’ music reaches out to those that are heartbroken in their homes. Adam Sterenberg, as the principal of Tree of Life School in Kalamazoo, shows his love and passion for the Lord through education and the renewing of minds.

These are only a few of the “local” missionaries around us. Let us be inspired by them and ask ourselves how we are being “local” missionaries ourselves. There is just so much to do right here.

Criticism

Missionary work comes with its own set of controversies. For instance there are concerns that missionaries lack respect for other cultures as they put their goals of evangelization first. For example the Akha people of South East Asia complained the missionaries prioritized the building a church than building a clinic. Also, because Christianity often requires change within the culture and could potentially destroy traditional social structures and values, sometimes mission work is perceived as a threat to cultural diversity.

On the opposite spectrum, there is the concern that the original mission of evangelization will be overshadowed by the needs of the people. As Oswald Chambers points out in My Utmost for the Highest, “to the point that human sympathy for those needs will absolutely overwhelm the meaning of being sent by Jesus.”

As imperfect people, missionaries always tend to lean to one side more than the other. This is why we need the greater wisdom from God to balance both sides, to not neglect the needs of the people while bringing the gospel to the culture to add to it rather than to take the pieces that are precious and beautiful away from it. God calls us to be disciples and missionaries outside the country, in the streets, our churches, and our homes. After all, love and the Gospel are not things that can be limited by space and time.

Discipleship #008: Together in Small Groups

The idea of small groups is not necessarily a novel one. It has been around since creation, conceived from the trinity, which is a triune community in itself, and it can be spotted throughout the Bible. For instance, Daniel and his three friends—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—who were exiled to Babylon were a small group, just as Jesus and his 12 disciples were.

The perpetual presence of small groups throughout time proves its necessity in the process of discipleship. They provide (or should provide) disciples with theological knowledge, practical guidance, and meet the human need for companionship.

However, there are several elements that must be brought together in order to have a successful small group. Structure and size, leadership roles, and strategies in addressing new and mature believers must be considered carefully.

Structure and size

Small groups are generally, as its name implies, small. But what counts for “small”? Starting from the smallest number, a pair may be considered a small group. Its advantage lies in its one-on-one approach that allows intimacy and depth in knowing each other. In addition, when in a pair, it is easier to keep accountable of each other and be vulnerable. However, it can also easily become a hierarchical relationship as one can become a mentor to the other, exerting pressure on the discipler, who finds him/herself alone in the position of guidance.

Triads and quads are what we call groups of three and four. These small groups are, according to Greg Oden in his book Discipleship Essentials, the ideal number for a small group. It allows depth in the relationship and a variety of perspectives in discussion.

Anything bigger than a quad is considered a large group. Even though it is formed for the sake of inclusiveness, it often ends up excluding people, as it allows less time for each member to participate and share. The number also makes keeping an account of each other harder.

Leadership

In simple terms, the goal of the small group leader would be to “pass on” the faith to others. For this, the leader must be 5 things.

  • A Model: The model inspires behavior. People look up to and follow those who are faithful and genuine in their actions to what they teach. The leader becomes a bridge between the theological knowledge it is sharing and the practical guidance it is offering.Titus 1:7-14 admonishes, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.”
  • A Mentor: The leader must fulfill a personal role. It must be ready to commit itself to a relationship where it must support, give counsel, and share its own experiences. According to Working Wisdom: Timeless Skills and Vanguard Strategies for Learning Organizations byBob Aubrey and Paul Cohen, five most commonly used techniques among mentors were: Accompanying (committing oneself), Sowing (being patient and offering guidance that may prove valuable in the mentee’s future), Catalyzing (urging change), showing (making something understandable), and Harvesting (creating awareness of what was learned).
  • A Facilitator: This is a group setting role. The leader provides direction and context by directing the small group like a watercourse. It helps the members to understand their goals and assists them in achieving them by spurring discussion. Some characteristics and skills required to be a good facilitator is the ability to make good usage of time, to plan beforehand and follow the plan, and yet know how to adapt and be flexible depending on the flow of conversation. It requires an awareness of individuals and group dynamics.
  • A Servant: the leader is selfless and humble. It knows that the small group does not exist for its own gain, to feed its pride, sense of accomplishment, or hunger for popularity. It knows the group exists for others and that God takes the high seat in it. The leader also does not control the group or puts the members down but persuades and values differences in opinions, without becoming itself lesser in value than those it serves.
  • Friend: This is the most important role a leader must know to take.Mahatma Gandhi once commented, “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” A leader loves and because of that love is able to become honest, open, and caring.

Strategies

Generally speaking, there will be two kinds of disciples present in any small group. New believers and mature believers. Naturally, both are subject to the Bible study, the discussions, and the fellowship the small group offers, but because of their differences in the level of their beliefs, they must be attended in different ways.

For new believers, to start, we should really break the image of pushy, condescending Christians that some of them have of us. We must respect and trust them, hold conversations with them and not lectures. Instead of thinking of them as science projects, it is better to be simply a genuine friend to them and invite them for lunch or coffee. According to Swimming Lessons: One-on-one Discipleship by Pastor Grant Edwards, “When people connect in discipling relationships, each new believer has a friend at church—one who’s actively investing in that new believer’s life. Those relationships are like glue; they cause new believers to stick. A Gallup study demonstrated that when someone has a best friend at church, that person is very likely to report high levels of satisfaction with their church. In fact, 87% of church members with a best friend at church gave their church two thumbs up—way up (as reported in the Group/Gallup resource, Creating a Culture of Connectivity In Your Church, 2005).”

For mature believers the focus lies on consistency and challenge. Mature believers are like Olympic athletes who have won a medal once but are looking forward to win more the coming years and better themselves. For this they need from their small group people who can keep them accountable on living as faithful Christians and who can encourage them to question what they already know, go deeper and further the “Jesus” answer to reach a more wholesome one. Finally, mature believers are those who are one step behind from becoming leaders themselves. They must be prepped to answer their callings in the world and to make new disciples by sharing their faith, joy, and love to others.

We have talked about different aspects of a small group, but what unites all of them is the idea of fellowship found in the small group, the idea of sharing beliefs and propping each other up like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). For many reasons God made more than one of us. He delights in the act of love which requires at least two people and lets us know even in our loneliness, we have each other and Him. Acts 2:44-47 paints us a blessed picture of what a small group should be like: “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

 

 

 

Discipleship #006: Parent & Disciple

Confucius once said, “From the loving example of one family a whole State may become loving, and from its courtesies, courteous…Such is the nature of influence.” But what is true about a loving and courteous state coming from a loving and courteous family is true as well in the individual, church, nation, and world. The family is, after all, a foundational institution in every culture and society. It is important to properly plant the seeds of discipleship there first in order to reach out to yet other disciples. Unfortunately, the family is a ground that is often overlooked despite its potential. This is why in this post we are going to focus on the role of parents in discipleship and offer a few practical suggestions. A parent’s duty of making disciples out of sons and daughters should be prioritized; it is a God-entrusted responsibility. According to Tad Thompsonin his book Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship By Design,God intends for a beautiful partnership to exist between the home and the local church. As a matter of fact, God intends for the Christian home to become the body of Christ in microcosm.” It is essential then for parents to take on their roles as teachers. Being close to them physically and often emotionally, parents have the ability to exercise great influence on their children’s lives. From the time they are born, children are constantly, consciously or unconsciously, picking up things regarding how to behave in society and the world from the context of their families, from their parents. Proper parenting would provide a glimpse of God’s nature. In other words, a good parent would serve as a picture of the relationship God had with Israel and Christ with the Church. However, the opposite can cause children to completely steer away from Christianity. Jeff Klick writes in his blog “Christian Discipleship Ministries,” “[There exists] dismal statists regarding the destruction of the family via divorce and the tragedy regarding the high percentage of young people rejecting Christ shortly after they leave the home.” Therefore, parents should strive to serve as good models of Christianity in order to help their children grow as good Christians themselves. The goal is to provide children with a constructive relationship of instruction, care, and love at home that will aid them in developing their identities as disciples.

Some Things You Can Do

God urges Israeli parents in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to teach their children like this: Hear, O Israel: TheLordour God, theLordis one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. We have been given a limited amount of time to use. However, we can choose where and how to use it. Children should be our priority. Sending them to a youth group or Sunday School class is not merely enough. Parents must take on to themselves to use their time for the children in order to instill in their hearts the ways of the Lord. As Pastor Craig F. Caster, Founder and Director of Family Discipleship Ministries and writer of Parenting Is a Ministry, says, “parenting according to God’s Word does not come naturally.”  And it is true. We intentionally set time apart for the children every moment we can.

  • Praying Together: For every instance there is a moment of gratitude or blessing, like at mealtime or graduation, a need for guidance or help, we encourage you to gather as a family and pray. Family prayer meetings can teach children early not fear to converse with God, bringing them a sense of comfort and closeness with God, and make them grasp the importance and meaning of prayer. Some suggest that even recording the answer to the prayers afterward can also teach patience and help solidify the reality of Christ in the children. We can teach our children to pray by praying for them and with them.
  • Reading the Bible together: If you do not know where to begin with, the Book of Proverbs is a good starting point. It is filled with practical and righteous wisdom usable in daily life. Reading one chapter a day, or even a couple of verses a day, and sharing devotions and insights of what has been read can make a difference if you do it together every day. Through this, not only are you teaching your children to develop their own spiritual disciplines, but you are learning to be disciples together.
  •  Reading Other Books Together: Be it shortened versions of Bible stories or classics such as Pride and Prejudice, by a bed lamp or on a cozy couch, read to your children. When you do, you will have the chance to lead them with questions that will let them reflect on the lessons or the morality and values of the characters, measured against Christian values. Reading in general encourages the practice of critical thinking and discernment, things necessary to become knowledgeable disciples in Christ.
  •  Discuss: Children will have all sorts of questions, ranging from about the Bible to the ways of the world— do not avoid them or find an easy way out of them. Even if you cannot offer a satisfactory answer, share your own opinions and ask for theirs, always using the Word of God as your ultimate resource. Like this, Scripture can become a part of their way of thinking.
  • Worship Together: Set apart a time for singing and praising God together. You can use chorus books, hymnals, printed lyrics of your favorite Hillsong songs, instruments, or even your bare hands to clap—anything! Teach your children that worship is supposed to be a part of daily life and not only a Sunday thing. Teach them to find joy in genuine praise.
  • Spend Time Together: We have used the word together unsparingly in this post, and this is to emphasize the importance of togetherness in family. All discipleship relationships work through intimacy, honesty, supportiveness, and intentionality. The mere act of spending time together, no matter if it is the “usual family activities,” shows caring, and nothing else is more expressive of God’s loving nature than that.

A Christian parent’s mission should not be merely to be a good parent. It should be to be a great parent and disciple. The goal is to provide the children with an atmosphere where Christ is central and the Word of God is valued, where the right habits may be created. As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” If you are afraid that their Christianity might become just a mere product of their social or family context, do not be. Unknowing obedience may seem to come first in this process, but sincere love will come with maturity and calling. After all, it is not really us who make disciples out of people, but Christ.

Discipleship #005: Challenges and Potholes

Even before Jesus chose his 12 disciples, he said to them “Enter through the narrow gate… For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” He wanted to let them know that the journey of discipleship was not an easy one. Salvation was for those who wished to find truth above all and was not for those who followed Jesus just for the sake of avoiding hell, and therefore, anyone who was not prepared to face and surpass the difficulties along the road would not be able to complete the journey.

Two authors, John Bunyan and C.S. Lewis were well aware of the fact that discipleship was a road full of all kinds and sizes of potholes, and produced 2 books revolving around them: Pilgrim’s Progress and TheScrewtape Letters respectively, which we will mainly use as references to study some of the challenges found in being a disciple of Christ.

A Series of Potholes

  • The Burden of Sin:  Christian, the protagonist of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, is described to be weighed down by a great burden: the knowledge of his sin. With this burden, he sets on a journey seeking for deliverance. However, right off the bat, Christian falls into the “Slough of Despond,” a miry swamp, and he sinks and sinks under the weight of his sins and his sense of guilt. This is not an uncommon story between disciples. Acute consciousness of our sin and imperfectness comes with a sense of guilt, and as guilt turns into shame, and shame into reluctance to face truth, we become separated from God—just like a shadow that cannot bear to be in the presence of light. But let us not forget the existence of grace. A loving God would not want his sons and daughters to fall into sloughs of desponds, He would rather take on the burden for Himself to free them, which is exactly what He did through Jesus. The least we can do is remember that important fact and pull ourselves up.
  • Fake Glory:  Glory is interpreted in the human way as fame and luminosity, but such things are transient. After all, the human fame is something given by fellow passionate humans; and human passions always die away. True glory is something much grander and humbler. According to Lewis in his essay The Weight of Glory, Glory is in reality “fame with God, approval, or (I might say) ‘appreciation’ by God.” The long and painful longing that could never be satisfied by human praise, can only cease the moment God smiles and says “you have done well.” As disciples, we must become children once again. We must recall those younger days when being praised by someone we loved and admired brought feelings of supreme bliss. Only a dependent child of God can enter paradise.
  • All Talk, No Action:  In his journey, Christian also meets Talkative, a fellow who is better looking from a distance than close up. Talkative is very enthusiastic in talking about his faith, but the more he talks, the more it is discovered that he possesses a shallow mentality. Talkative’s question, “Why, what difference is there between crying out against, and abhorring of, sin?” says much about him. Even though he denounces sin by mouth, he does not do so by spirit and action. He is like a carrot with large leaves and petite root. Like Talkative, sometimes we say and think we do not love sin, but we do not act like it. However, that is not faith. “…Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
  • All Action, No Faith:  On the other hand, acting all the time but not keeping proper faith can be a stumbling block as well. Thinking that good deeds can get one to heaven ignores the grace factor and instigates pride. Surprisingly, mature disciples who know this are more susceptible to this kind of mentality, though perhaps in a smaller scale. Many times we forget that it is for God why we do everything good and that it is thanks to Him that we have anything good, and instead we focus on our holy actions and think ourselves righteous when that is far from the truth. In Bunyan’s allegory, the name of such person is Ignorance. Ignorance thinks of Jesus Christ only as an example and not as a Savior. However, when he gets to the Celestial City, he finds he does not have the “certificate” needed to enter.
  • The Slippery Slope:  Temptations are not always extravagant. The little things, such as small distractions and a fake sense of peace found in routine, can get us just as well. In The Screwtape Letters, a series of letters from a senior Demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter, Lewis writes, “the safest road to hell is the gradual one— the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” We have to be careful, be constantly concerned about the things we are doing and why we are doing them, and do them wholeheartedly. Letting our spiritual disciplines become a joyless, superficial, empty habits makes the heart numb and devoid of meaning, devoid of God. To avoid slipping further, we must not wait until we end up in the worst possible situation before turning away. The moment we catch ourselves nodding off, we must wake up.
  • Triple Fear:  Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, fear of death. We all experience those. But in perspective, fear can be good. It can reminds us of our mortality and keeps us careful and humble. However, the problem lies in succumbing to fear and taking no action at all and hiding. It is essential to believe that Jesus triumphed over pain and death through the cross and his resurrection. When Bunyan’s Christian tries to cross The River of Death, the dreadful river that separates mankind from Paradise, he soon realizes that it is deeper or shallower depending on the faith of the one traversing it. Because there is doubt and fear in his heart, Christian has a rough time crossing the river, but with the help of his friend Hopeful he succeeds in crossing over. It is human to fear, but courage can be found in our hope and trust in God.
  • Right to happiness:  When we feel grief, there are times when we feel resentful towards God, because we think that we have the right to happiness. But it is not about having the “right.” Happiness is not something we can demand because we have no real ownership of it (the owner is God). However, we are permitted to it because of God’s grace. Small pieces of temporary happiness are gifts to be enjoyed while our lives last. As it is written in Ecclesiastes 5:18, “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them– for this is their lot.” The point is to, above all, love the giver and not just the gift.

We can fall into holes, but we can get out from them just as well. The journey is hard. It requires an immeasurable amount of effort to keep going. There will be times we will think we will feel too tired to continue.

But we are not alone.

Indeed, the road of discipleship is full of potholes. It is long and twisty, and many times treacherous. Yet there will be times of pleasure, rejoicing, peace, and strength. It’s important to remember that it’s not just about waiting for the end or some reward far off in the future.  Discipleship has it’s rewards in the here and now and God is with us already and in the not yet.

 

 

Discipleship #004: Imitating Love

Bottlenose dolphins imitate each other in order to learn to hunt, and it is said that Japanese monkeys began washing potatoes after seeing humans washing them. We too imitate each other, be it to acquire language, traditions, skills or any other kind of behavior. But as Disciples of Christ we are called to do a special kind of imitating. One that does not only involves observing and replicating behavior of a perfect being, but one that requires a departure of self and being born anew to restore God’s image in us. C.S. Lewis puts it like this in Mere Christianity, “the son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” In today’s post, we will talk about the characteristic of love and the several behaviors it entails, behaviors which we should strive to imitate, or better said, adopt into our lives. We will be looking at Biblical models and our everyday, modern day people who are fellow Christian disciples not only by name but by action.

Love as a Behavior

The mark that distinguishes a disciple of Jesus from others is the mark of love. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). However, the love Jesus speaks about and shows us through his life is not merely a quiet, secret abstract feeling—it is a behavior. No matter how much our hearts and intentions are “filled” with love, if there is no visible action, if there is no fruit, then it cannot be called love. Like any other behavior then, love is imitable.

1.  Receiving

There are 4 forms of behavior we can consider as love. The first one is receiving. Often times we think love is all about giving, but the first step to love is knowing how to receive. Receiving asks for humility; it is an acknowledgement of need and weakness. Without knowing how to receive, it is easy to become condescending and prideful when giving. Usefulness becomes mistaken with honor and worth, when true worth is supposed to be found in Christ and not in one’s own deeds or other men’s words. From the Bible: When Nicodemus, an important Pharisee, approached Jesus with questions, he left his social status and pride aside and went with a listening heart to receive Jesus’ teaching (John 3:1-21) From our world: When deacon Young went to Peru in a mission team, he went with the intention of teaching basic engineering and helping out the hope zones. When he arrived there, he experienced the difficulties of not knowing the language. He received the aid of translators, he received the patient smiles of the natives, and he received the blessings and prayers of everyone there.

2.  Serving

The second behavior, is one we are familiar more with: serving. A servant focuses more on the needs of others than his own. We are to serve not only the poor and needy but the people right next to us, and not once in a while for a volunteering program, but every day. Can you imagine? If everyone served each other every day instead of their own selves, there would be no lack, no hate. From the Bible: Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is the iconic image of servitude. Note that it was not only those who were poor, blind, lame, and sick whom he served but also the people who were close to him and followed him. He washed their feet to give them a clearer idea and example of what servitude entails, but he also cared for their everyday need of food and water (John 13:1-17; Matt.14.13-21). From our world: Esther was only a twelve year old when she met a rowdy boy with a broken home at her school. One day, everyone was tasked with washing their own indoor slippers. The boy refused to do them, but Esther took on to herself to wash it for him.

3.  Forgiving

Thirdly, love is forgiving. Jesus commanded us to love your enemies and forgive them. There is nothing remarkable about loving back those who love you already or forgiving someone once or twice; anyone can do that. But loving those who do not love you, those who might even hate you, and forgiving them again and again, perhaps for the same things, is a sign of holiness. As the saying goes, to err is human; to forgive, divine. From the Bible: Jesus died on the cross for sinners who could not stop sinning. The words “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) are words of a superior being, who could love despite the hate that surrounded him. From our world: Ruth was bullied during the beginning of her middle school years. At the end of it, however, one of the bullies, fell apart from her group. Worried that she might be lonely, instead of being resentful of the past, Ruth befriended her, and even now they are good friends.

4.  Sharing

Finally, love is sharing. By sharing, we mainly mean the proclaiming of the gospel of salvation. This is not a treasure that diminishes as we give out, but one that increases and expands the more we share. When we truly love, we begin to naturally wish to share anything good we possess. When we share, however, it is essential to let the joy of the good news take over while being considerate about other people’s feelings. It usually happens that we become either too self-conscious or overly imposing when evangelizing. From the Bible: The moment Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds sharing the good news. After seeing the baby with their own eyes, the shepherds rushed to the city and spread the word and glorified God. (Luke 2:8-20) From our world: There is a mother in Congo, who every time she gets on a taxi, brings up the subject of Jesus. She is not afraid of the driver’s reaction, and she does not judge nor force her opinion on them; she simply asks intelligent questions and listens to theirs. There are no insignificant actions when it comes to love. Maybe compared to Bible characters, the loves of the people of our world seem smaller, less impactful, but they are in no way less meaningful than them. We may be weak, afraid of being taken advantage of, confused, but with the guidance of the Jesus and the Spirit, and the power of God, love can be enacted, no matter in what scale or time. Thomas A Kempis, a man who wrote a whole book regarding the imitation of Christ, said, “Without love, the outward work is of no value; but whatever is done out of love, be it never so little, is wholly fruitful. For God regards the greatness of the love that prompts a man, rather than the greatness of his achievement.” They say that married couples start to not only act but look alike over the years, because they live every day watching over each other and picking up behaviors and expressions. Just like this, let us love Christ and become more like him, loving God and loving others in heart and action.

Discipleship #003: The Church

As educated Christians, we have often heard that a church is not merely a building. However, when we refer to a “church,” we still point at an ensemble of solid, concrete walls and elevated ceilings with a cross on top. For practical purposes, it is not wrong to do so. But this image is so ingrained into our minds that the practical definition of “church” as a building is more prevalent than the original definition of “church” as a gathering of Disciples.

Consider this: in the past, some churches were but houses of Christians, who offered their place up for worship and prayer. Even now, in different third-world countries, some churches start out as small, plain buildings made out of adobe bricks and bare grounds where Disciples of Christ meet. So what is a church?

A church is neither a building nor us. It is us in Christ. As A.W. Tozer puts it in Man: The Dwelling Place of God, “One hundred religious persons knit into unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.” And that Life we know as God.

The purpose of the church is then the purpose of the disciples that conform it: to be a place of discipleship, that is, to be disciples and make disciples together. This is how through the church, Jesus continues to live and give out the good news to the world.

Structure

One of the widely used Bible verses to describe how the structure of a church should look like is Corinthians 12:12-13.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[a] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

Paul used the image of a living body instead of an inanimate machine for a reason. It was to show that a church should function organically, not mechanically. And indeed, in the passage of One Body with Many Member, Paul’s image of the church as the body of Christ deals with living, unique disciples working united in Christ.

But Paul was not the only one who used the image of the human body to show the value of an individual and the strength of togetherness. One of Aesop’s fables tells the story of the belly and the members. And this is how it goes:

One fine day it occurred to the Members of the Body that they were doing all the work and the Belly was having all the food. So they held a meeting, and after a long discussion, decided to strike work till the Belly consented to take its proper share of the work. So for a day or two, the Hands refused to take the food, the Mouth refused to receive it, and the Teeth had no work to do. But after a day or two the Members began to find that they themselves were not in a very active condition: the Hands could hardly move, and the Mouth was all parched and dry, while the Legs were unable to support the rest. So thus they found that even the Belly in its dull quiet way was doing necessary work for the Body, and that all must work together or the Body will go to pieces.

In both Paul’s letter and Aesop’s fable, each part of the human body has a different function in contributing to the health of the whole. They are interdependent and definitely not self-sufficient. The church and its members are no different. As members of the church, we have different gifts we can use for the church, and we need each other to help each other in our brokenness and loneliness.

But in Aesop’s fable, there is no mention of the head. And perhaps it is the exact absence of this character in the story that the strike of the members happens. In the church, every member’s movement is able to become functional and work in harmony thanks to the coordination and guidance of the head, Jesus Christ. Without the head or without obeying the head, we would be as lost as the members of Aesop’s fable before they found out they had to work together.

3 Ways a Church Should Treat Its Disciples

We have said that the church is a place of discipleship. It is up to the church to foment discipleship and maintain a loving community of disciples. But how do we do that? How should we treat our disciples? Here are three great ways to consider:

  • Like Sons and Daughters: Paul was a great example of intimate involvement, and tender and disciplined love. In 1 Thessalonians 2 he writes that he did not only share the gospel but his life (v8), and in a similar fashion, missionaries dedicate themselves in sharing a life with the people of their new home shoulder to shoulder. Like both of them, we are not to act like distant supervisors to each other, but like a gentle “nursing mother caring for her little children” (v7) and “as a father deals with his children” (v11) by constantly encouraging, disciplining, and teaching each other our trades as disciples right next to them.
  • Like Siblings: When Paul writes to the church of Philippi, he addresses them as if they were family, calling them brothers and sisters. He urges them to think the same, love each other, and be united and humble (Philippians 2.1-4). In his commentary Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, N.T. Wright writes that even in the midst of theological differences, resentments, variations in worship style, leadership style, and different personalities, Paul promoted a sense of belonging that should be found in the love for Christ and the gospel. Like a family united by blood ties, Paul shows that church members are united by Christ ties.
  • Like Individuals: This is a tricky one. In order to encourage discipleship, churches often engage in different practices such as bible studies, small groups, conferences, retreats, and out-reach programs. However, at one point we have started to rely on them to make disciples, as we would rely on a paper machine to mass produce sheets of papers out of living trees. It becomes all about making people complete tasks rather than the people themselves. It is essential to create programs tailored for intelligent, feeling individuals.  The nail clipper was made for the hand, not the other way around. So Bible studies? Instead of simply selecting a random book to study, let us discuss our spiritual needs and find something matching. Small groups? Let us not end them in answering prescribed questions but get to know each other’s lives through genuine interest. Retreats? Let us focus less on being on schedule and remember to build unity and community more than anything. Outreach? Let us see it less as a program but as an act of love for people.

There many other things to consider when it comes to the church. It is, after all, a complex, living thing. But what we need to remember is this: Without Christ there would be no disciples, and without those disciples there would be no church. In the very beginning and at the very end of it, the church is not really about the church. It is about Christ.

 

Michigan Area Discipleship Survey Results: 7 Things You Need To Know!

Thanks again to all who participated in Michigan Area UMC Discipleship Survey!  The results are in and we’re excited to share them with you.

So, here’s what we found …

1.  Keep it small and manageable.

The average size of small groups is 10 people and each church has an average of 7 small groups it conducts.

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2.  Innovation and Training aren’t just suggestions.

Only 13% of Bible Studies are viewed as being excellent.  Most of us are only moderately satisfied.  Resources used and group leader quality can make or break an experience.  It’s worth it to put in the time to find the best resources for your group and to train leaders to effectively develop discipleship.

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3.  Book studies are the way to go.

Studying a book of the Bible or a certain topic are great, but having a guide book and supplemental resources can heighten the learning and community experience.  Often the accompanying narrative allows readers to find themselves in the story and identify with the discipleship process.

preferred-study-methods

4.  Keep it regular.

Groups tend to meet weekly for about an hour or hour and a half.  This usually happens in the middle of the week in the evening.  This consistency provides accountability, a chance for in-depth learning and fellowship, and a respect for the hectic schedules we all tend to have.

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5.  Remember to be multi-modal!

The best learning engages multiple senses and is tailored to different learning styles.  The studies that are most preferred are those that come with DVDs and guidebooks.  There’s something here for everyone!

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6.  It’s good to know.

Collaboration with other churches, curriculum experts, and small group leaders allows you to stay up to date and to make educated decisions about which resources to use.

7.  We want you to be in the loop.

We compiled a list of the top resources being used by Michigan area UMC churches right now:

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soulshift-measure-life-transformed-steve-deneff-hardcover-cover-artCrazylove_bookcover

the-life-youve-always-wanteddaniel plan

Beth-Moore-6NTWright 250w09Lucado_414006455

572_200Nooma

Thanks for helping us help you.  We’ll be conducting similar surveys for other states and denominations soon!
If you need anything along this journey of discipleship, we’re here for you.  Reach out to us with questions/comments/feedback at  contact@goodberry.net.

 

Discipleship #002: Discipline

Ever wondered why the words disciple and discipline sound similar? This is because while “discipline” comes from the latin disciplina, which means “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge,” the word “disciple” comes from discipulus, which means “object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline.” Thus, a disciple refers to someone who is disciplined.

If Michael Phelps, as an Olympic swimmer, swam an average of 6 hours per day, 6 days per week despite having been diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) as a child, we ought to consider what discipline should look like for us.  As disciples of Christ, we must also have a dedicated approach to growing our spirituality.

Discipline is an extremely important element in every Christian’s spiritual growth. For one, it provides direction, as it allows you to focus on Christ and be like him. Stephen Eyre writes in his book Spiritual Disciplines, “More lies behind the beauty and swiftness of a sailboat than the wind that fills its sails. Discipline is required to keep it on course. The same is true of your spiritual life.”

Secondly, the different activities are mediums that can nurture you. They are essential, just like your three daily meals. You may not remember exactly what you ate a week ago and that food may be long gone by now, but what matters is that it has been digested. It is that food and the food you have kept eating until now that has nourished you, strengthened you, and pushed you forward.

In today’s post we will talk about one of the spiritual disciplines that goes by the name of Quiet Time (QT). QT is a time shared between a disciple and Jesus, and it traditionally involves two other spiritual disciplines: Scripture reading and praying.

Scripture Reading

As Christians we believe that every word in the Bible had been inspired by God, and we take it as our standard of truth. If we had to compare it to any other book it would be to a textbook, a holy textbook of sorts that has everything important you need to know in order to lead a righteous life filled of servitude.

Following the idea of the Bible as a textbook, the Bible should be read in alertness and be studied, not simply skimmed through. The Psalmist writes that our delight should be in the law of the Lord and we should meditate on it day and night like a tree which yields fruit in season (Psalm 1:2-3). In other words, we must love the word, for delight is found in love. When studying, we must ponder on the message it is trying to convey and its meaning while opening our hearts and mind to the Holy Spirit. And we must apply it to our lives, that is, produce fruits. Ask ourselves how does the message relates to us? What is similar? What is different? How should we act from now on?

There are different methods of reading and studying the Bible, amongst them the inductive method. However, for now we will leave it to examine it in more detail another time.

Praying

Brother Lawrence once said in The Practice Of The Presence Of God, “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God.” It is true, because prayer is but an honest conversation with God, a two-way street in which God meets us halfway through Jesus. Us praying is a way of showing our faith.

You may have heard the four types of prayer that match the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. However, there are also different forms of praying. Sometimes prayer consists of speaking in tongues or of fragmented and incomplete sentences. Sometimes it is wordless and is a humble laying down of emotions, like Hannah’s (Samuel 1). Other times, it is a song or a poem, a psalm, a holy sonnet.

Practical Tips

Being disciplined is not easy. To build a good habit takes time, a committed mind and heart, and, well, help. So here we have some practical tips that may aid you in making out of QT or any other spiritual discipline into a daily habit.

  • Put it into your schedule: Treat your QTs as an appointment you have with a friend, the kind you would write down in your agenda or to-do list. Set time aside in advance instead of making out of it a when-I-feel-like-it kind of thing. If a friend gets happy when you are intentional about meeting him, think of how it would please the Lord if you pull away from the busyness of your life to rendezvous with him.

  • Start Small: Psychologists say that if you get a person to agree to a modest request first, there is a higher chance of getting them to agree to a larger request later. They call this the Foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique, and if it works on others, it can applied to yourself as well. Start with 5 to 10 minutes of daily QT. The time will increase naturally and gradually, maybe even without you noticing it, as you mature in your faith and your love grows fonder. The important thing is to start and put that foot in the door. One day, that door will open wide. (For more psychological jinxes on how to create or break habits watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CojSlsMwDOg)

  • Pray: It might be strange to say to pray so you may pray in your QTs, but as we said previously, prayer is but an honest conversation with God. If you do not feel the desire to do your QT a certain morning, you may pray about it— tell God all about it. King David’s psalms were not only songs of praise and joy, but some of them were also full of calling, questioning, grief, and sometimes even anger.

  • Be Persistent: There will be days you will miss doing your QT. Things happen. However, not letting that one day snowball on you and discourage you from re-picking the activity up is important.  Do not succumb to guilt or embarrassment and simply quit. God knows about the frailty of human will and sent Jesus Christ in love. You must have courage and faith to accept grace. So if you missed QT once, twice, or even more, simply move on and do your QT that day.

  • Make It Your Own: Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that our QTs must be like the QTs of the people we look up to (Saint Augustine! My pastor! Jesus!) or our peers. However, just as we do not walk the same way or pace, just as some hop, others swag, some run, and others drag their feet, we must individualize our QTs in a way we will find them, not bothersome or chore-like, but enjoyable. QTs are after all a personal time with God, someone who loves you and understands the way you are.

  • Start today!

Spiritual disciplines are definitely a core part of discipleship, QT being only one of them. Even Jesus had QTs with God as specified in Mark 1:35. And if Jesus found it necessary, how much more necessary must it be for us?

But even when they are necessary, no one can force you into them. It is up to you. Writer Annie Dillard puts it like this in Teaching a Stone to Talk: “You do not have to do these things—unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on Him. You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary.”

Spiritual disciplines. Let us then practice them not only out of necessity but out of our love for the stars.

 

Discipleship #001: To Be & Make Disciples

Goodberry’s mission is to help brothers and sisters be disciples and make disciples.  We’re excited to introduce to you a brand new blog post series that will explore the concept of discipleship. To say we intend to make out of this a comprehensive guide to discipleship might be a stretch, but we present this project in the hope that it may be a starting spark or a handy lamp in your spiritual growth.

To kick-off, a good understanding about the concept of discipleship is due. What is discipleship? A state of being? A mentality? An identity? Let’s take a look at the definition.  “Discipleship” is “the position of a disciple” and a “disciple” is

1. a. One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.

b. An active adherent, as of a movement or philosophy.

2. often Disciple One of the original followers of Jesus.

3. Disciple A member of the Disciples of Christ.

In general terms then discipleship seems to consist of a dual role: being a disciple and discipling.

Being a disciple

Taking this idea into a Christian context, being a disciple means to be a follower of Christ. The twelve disciples of Jesus immediately come into mind, and not without good reason. But what was it that which made them be called disciples?

When Jesus was teaching at the lake of Gennesaret and asked Simon to let down his nets into deep water, there were other fishermen aside from Simon, James, and John. However, what distinguished these three from the others was that when they saw the miracle they responded to Jesus’ call. Luke 5:11 reads that “They pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” They left everything.  Everything meaning their jobs, their houses, their families, and their identities as fishermen of fish, husbands, and fathers, for the new identity of “disciple.”

This denial of self and the taking up of the cross is a foundational characteristic in a disciple. Greg Ogden explains in his book Discipleship Essentials that the denial of self does not imply a denial of self-worth, individuality, or one’s right to happiness, but a denial of “self-lordship.” In other words, the disciple freely abandons his current way of life in obedience to Christ, all in the wish to be molded into the person God wants him to be. The giving up of oneself to find oneself and true life has always been a complicated theological paradox to explain, but in a sense, it is just like the miracle Peter, James, and John experienced; it is extraordinary but very real.

Being a disciple does not end here. Responding to the call is just the first step. After Jesus chose his twelve disciples, he entrusted them with numerous activities. He wanted them to learn, and he gave them authority so they would drive out demons and cure illnesses. Above all, he entrusted them with the task of proclaiming the kingdom of God. As with the disciples in the Bible, discipleship proves to be more than a static identity but a way of life, which takes us to the second and yet more active part of discipleship: discipling.

Discipling

Discipling, the act of making disciples, is born out of the desire to share one’s faith to others. Like a child with a treasure map who is driven to share it with his loved ones and friends, when one truly understands the joy enclosed in the good news of salvation, it is hard to contain. It must be shared or it will burst.

Experienced people will tell you that discipling is a tactful art. The good news must not be thrown onto people like stones but carefully seeded and cared for. An intimate, intentional, and constant relationship with one’s disciples is needed in order to encourage and challenge them to grow toward maturity in Christ.

In the children’s book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a boy realizes that what distinguishes his rose from the other roses in earth is the time and care he poured onto it. He also realizes that because of this bond, he was responsible for it. Jesus chose twelve disciples and poured himself into them; he did not mass produced them only to touch the surface of their hearts. The apostle Paul did not take in Timothy as his pupil nor did he plant churches to forget about them later; he constantly sent them letters, so many in fact that there are thirteen books of them in the New Testament.

Speaking of those who practiced discipling, the best example we have is indeed Jesus. Jesus was the expert. He was an impeccable model, who inspired his disciples to imitate him. He taught about God using his perfect knowledge of the Bible and parables, he trusted his disciples with many activities (which we mentioned before), and he prayed for them and listened when they reported their experiences. And finally, he sent them forth saying, “19 go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Discipleship is not easy. Jesus never promised his disciples a rosy journey full only of sunshine and smiles. Therefore, in order to keep growing spiritually and practice discipleship one must be disciplined and intentional about it. There are practices that will help you to grow. Practices that sometimes may seem small and insignificant, but which with time prove their importance and meaning in life. Let us then keep reading the Bible, persist on our devotionals, seek out for quiet times with God, pray ceaselessly, question constantly not for the sake of cynicism but discernment and wisdom, imitate Christ, and above all, love God, the selves God has given us, and our neighbors.

None of this must be done alone. Company is a blessing in the journey of discipleship. Churches can help you engage in different services and practices. They can connect you to Bible studies and small groups (triads/quads, one-on-ones, larger groups), conferences, retreats, opportunities to volunteer and evangelize, and a loving community.

We’re prepared to equip you.

We, Goodberry, want to support you as much as we can in this journey. We can provide you with array of tools and resources that could serve as a springboard or help create context in the process of discipleship.  Discipleship is a big subject— more intricate and complex than what we often imagine. We have but grazed upon its definition; there are still many more caverns left to explore. As we go on with this series of discipleship, however, we want to cover as many related topics we can. We want to further explore with you how churches view discipleship, strategies and models of how to be a good disciple and how to disciple, pitfalls to watch out for, and more.

There are many things to learn and to do in this adventure called “discipleship.” So, Let us set off!