Thinking Out Loud

March 14, 2017

Salvation is Instantaneous, Spiritual Formation Takes Time

img 032915I am frequently reminded that people new to the journey of following Christ often need time in various outward areas. Their inward growth may be great: A love for Jesus, a desire to tell others, and a cultivation of personal discipline in Bible study and devotions. But becoming a follower of Christ isn’t about outward conformity, and some things may need more time, such as:

  • Language – If you are directly involved in mentoring the person, then it’s appropriate for you to try to help them shape their speech along higher standards. But if you’re not the one doing discipleship with them, you have to let this go, most times. You’ll be surprised how more is caught than taught on this one.
  • Spending Priorities – A person may have begun a process of percentage giving to their local church, but still has spending patterns about which you may not approve. This may just be a matter of time and spiritual maturity. On this, I keep thinking about the little diagram in the Four Spiritual Laws booklet, wherein the various aspects of life have come under Christ’s control. (See second of two images below.)
  • Dress – This is usually a discussion about women, though it doesn’t have to be limited to them. In a church setting, sometimes someone needs to be pulled aside on this one, but it has to be done very lovingly so as to not drive the person away. Admittedly, in many of our local churches, this one is awkward.
  • Addictions – The Twelve Step Program meetings, in various forms under various names, are proof that once addicted, battling this can be a lifelong fight. One program which confronts this from a Christian perspective is Celebrate Recovery. Some things however, like smoking, should be considered superficial.
  • Attitudes – Everything from racial prejudice to arrogance could get tossed into this basket. Remember, they’ve not arrived yet, and neither have you. Rather than have an agenda here, it’s far more beneficial to you to watch the Holy Spirit work in their lives.

Did I leave some out?

None of us started this walk fully formed, fully arrived; but solid 1:1 discipleship, the influence of a small group, sermons which deal with the lifestyle application of various scriptures, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit will make a difference in what people see.

With people who manifest outward traits that you or others find problematic, remember that God looks on the heart.

 

May 22, 2012

Discipleship Is Not Mentoring

In a world with a glut of business and leadership books available, we hear a lot about mentoring. And in a spiritual environment where some fear the pejoration of the term “Christian,” at the same as others are uncomfortable with the proponents of “spiritual formation,” we hear a lot about discipleship. And if you’re involved in men’s ministry, you hear a whole lot about both, actually.

England’s Andrew Dowsett says the two terms are not coterminous. I had to look it up, too. But the rest of this is really clear, and it’s a clarification that’s badly needed if we are to understand our role in discipling others.  If you prefer, here is the direct link to his blog, for the legion of non-clickers among you, it’s also reprinted below.

At the end is a link to a post where he continues to develop discipleship, but since this would involve “borrowing” both text and several graphics, you’ll have to click through for that one, and click through to the full blog in order to locate a second part to that one.  (Andrew has done a fair bit of thinking on this, so if discipleship is something you feel especially called to, read all three parts.)

The other day a younger friend asked me a really good question: what is the difference between discipleship and mentoring?  In fact, this is a great question, and one that arises from my insistence that discipleship is not primarily about the Christian’s personal and largely unmediated relationship with Jesus but about interpersonal human relationships, the participation in the missio dei (God’s mission) Jesus has delegated to us.  If my understanding of discipleship is that it is relational and directive and handed on, is what I mean by ‘discipleship’ mentoring?  An older acquaintance who asked me my views on discipleship recently thought so.

There is certainly a degree of overlap, but in my view discipleship and mentoring are not coterminous.  While I am aware that there is a (growing) range of nuance to how the term ‘mentoring’ is applied, my understanding of mentoring is that it is vocational and that, while the mentor may certainly address character issues and facilitate networking, the relationship is primarily concerned with passing on specific skills to their protégée.

Another related-but-different field is that of life-coaching, which, unlike mentoring, is not vocational.  The aim of the life-coach is to help someone identify changes they want to see in their life and to put in place changes towards that life.  They are more concerned with values than particular skills: with helping their client to align their actions more closely to their ‘ideal world’ lifestyle.  Life-coaches tend not to be directive: the impetus for change comes from the person who has engaged them; they act as a sounding-board to help that person articulate what they seek.  As such, life-coaches – in contrast to mentors – do not necessarily model something they have learnt and are now handing on.

Discipleship is concerned with becoming Christ-like (“imitate me as I imitate Christ”) in every part of life.  It is concerned with vocation – that is, our kingdom roles – as inextricably linked to personhood – that is, our covenant relationships.  Therefore, discipleship involves a distinctively Jesus-centred form of life-coaching and mentoring, while adapting and exceeding both.

Discipleship as mentoring (as when a Christian businessperson mentors younger businesspeople in engaging in business according to kingdom values) puts one person between me and the place I want to go to – a person who will help me take that step.  It may relate to a specific job or employment, or unfamiliar location; or more generally to the unchanging, developing vocation that is expressed through a series of jobs and in a series of locations.  While discipleship must always take into account both Christ-like competence and Christ-like character, here competence takes the ‘leading beat.’

Discipleship as life-coaching puts one person between me and the person of Jesus – someone who will bring me to Jesus, just as I am called to bring others to Jesus.  While discipleship must always take into account both Christ-like character and Christ-like competence, here character takes the ‘leading beat.’ It may be significantly removed from mentoring – a key observation for church leaders in inherited traditions: we are not primarily called to raise up the next generation of clergy or licensed lay ministers, but to create a culture of discipleship by making disciples – regardless of their vocation – who make disciples.

Both are counter-cultural to the extreme individualism of our age.  Both are necessary, as the life of discipleship is a shared life of being called to come to the person of Jesus and be sent ahead of him into every place.

I shall develop these ideas in my next post, The Field Of Discipleship

~Andrew Dowsett

Want more?  Another consideration of this is found at the blog of Dr. Alex Tang; clicking the image will take you to the article.

May 6, 2012

A Word Fitly Spoken in the Right Time

This morning during the coffee time between services, I wandered into the auditorium, which I discovered was mostly empty except for a young guy sitting in the back row. We know each other, but I doubt we’ve ever really conversed before. I told him I’d heard he had moved away, but had noticed him back at church for the last few months.

He told me that things hadn’t been going well where he moved, and the environment wasn’t conducive to maintaining healthy habits.  After some general conversation, I came right out and asked him, “How’s it going spiritually?”

He then told me he was really seeking some kind of spark to re-energize his faith; and little did I know that in the ten minutes that followed, I would — hopefully as the seed of our conversation has time to sprout — be that spark. (Yes, I know I’m mixing metaphors in the same sentences, seeds and sparks.)

He told me he was going to go home and get back into his Bible with fresh enthusiasm and understanding. I hope that happens. Pray for “M.”

At any rate, I really felt good about our brief time together, and I truly believe there was a real connection made.  Here’s why I think it worked:

  1. He was willing to be upfront about his situation, admitting his vulnerabilities, and revealing that his life was at a turning point.
  2. I was willing to take a risk by moving the conversation past the superficial and toward asking him as to his spiritual health.
  3. He seemed generally receptive, spiritually hungry and open.
  4. I was hopefully able to offer some solid information and not just general encouragement.

We could have easily talked about a number of subjects, but I really felt a nudge to move the conversation deeper.

The title of today’s post is from Proverbs 25:11 in the KJV. In The Message it reads:

The right word at the right time
   is like a custom-made piece of jewelry.

The NLT says:

Timely advice is lovely,
    like golden apples in a silver basket.

October 2, 2011

Serve God When You are Young…and Ready

I’ve written before, including just four months ago, how increasingly, so much of what goes on in the modern church is a young man’s game.  We often tell teens and twenty-somethings that they need to “maximize their impact for God” while they are young.  And certainly, when it comes to serving in tropical rainforests, helping out in the high arctic, or ministering in communities located at high elevation, you want to have youth or fitness on your side.

But I’m also reminded of the number of times those opportunities were afforded to me — especially those where a church turned their worship time or pulpit time over to me — where I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have anything close to resembling the wisdom of age, and I’m still not sure I do.  But I do know that I wish I had known then what I know now.

So here we have a dichotomy between offering ministry experience to the young and inexperienced, and then denying the older and wiser those same opportunities because all the time-slots are full. 

However, I also have to ask myself if I would be that older, wiser person if those early opportunities to fall flat on my face had not been offered to me.  So…

To the young:

  1. Take the opportunities as they present themselves.  Paul told Timothy not to allow anyone to look down on him because of his youth; but
  2. Get all the training and preparation you can get for each individual assignment.
  3. Know what ministry roles not to accept because of lack of spiritual fitness in that particular area, or lack of Biblical understanding.
  4. Get connected with an older — the older the better — person in your faith community who can mentor you in specialized ministry positions, as well as a general mentor for your overall spiritual journey.

To the old(er):

  1. Yes, you have more experience and can do a better job.  Now get over it.  The chain of grace isn’t constructed that way.  In some institutions, maybe, but not a fully functioning organic church.
  2. Find young people who are teachable and are willing to be mentored.  Meet them halfway by learning about and connecting with their culture, their technology, their family situations.
  3. Mold and shape them through encouragement, not criticism.  Avoid the “in my day this is how we did it” type of stories, and instead, use non-directive responses, i.e. questions.
  4. Become a translator.  Not a Bible translator, but someone who takes solid spiritual concepts from past devotional writers and Bible commentators, and asks, “How would the next generation communicate that same idea?”

Those are my suggestions for today, and you should listen to them, because I am older and wiser, and if you don’t, I’m calling the pastor and telling him that everybody’s doing it wrong and instead, they should all listen to me.

Seriously, I do think there’s something here worth considering. Does your faith family give equal weight to encouraging the next generation and appreciate the wisdom and experience of older participants?

The graphic above is from a book on inter-generational ministry, the other side of the coin, how churches can reach a wide variety of ages. Read more on this topic from Zondervan author Dr. Jeff Baxter

December 6, 2010

Be That Person!

I was in my early 20’s and really struggling with college and relationships and everything in between.   Then a couple from my church asked me over for lunch one day.   They were older than I was, with kids in junior high.   They could see that I was hurting and offered friendship and listened to my story, and then offered some good advice that only a fresh perspective could bring.   They also introduced me to one of the seniors in the church who was this incredible storehouse of the kind of wisdom I really needed.   I am so thankful that both the couple and the older person reached outside their social circle to help me at a point in life where I was feeling very lost.

So many times you hear stories of people coming along side and helping out someone they hardly know or don’t know.   That’s the appeal of books like So You Don’t Want To Go Church Anymore or The Noticer. Here’s the deal:  Each and every person reading this has the potential to be a mentor to someone else.   Not just “an encourager,” but someone who truly invests in someone else’s life.  I can guarantee that there’s somebody out there who you’re older than, who you’ve had more life experiences than.   Your story can intersect with their story.

Everyone reading this has the potential to be a life-changer to someone else, to be the person in the story who makes a difference in someone else’s life.

Someone — three people, actually — in the above story stepped up to meet the need.  Be that person!   Find someone about whom God strongly indicates that because of the nature of your personal story, you have something constructive to speak into that person’s life.

The next time you hear a story about someone who reached into someone else’s life to make a lasting contribution, be the person in the story.

October 8, 2010

Checking Primary Sources

Are you easily intimidated spiritually?  It’s easy to do.  The other person seems more passionate about his or her faith.  (“A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do!”)  Or they are more versed on the nuances of Greek or church history or some finer point of doctrine.  (The present Evangelical culture places a premium on education.)   Or they have lived through some life experience which gives them church cred.  (This is essentially a modern incarnation of what in the previous generation called “testimony oneupsmanship.”)

Despite working in vocational Christian service for a couple of decades, I still know the feeling of spiritual intimidation.   Furthermore, because I try to render my own comments in an offhand or less threatening manner, I am probably more often intimidated than intimidating.

But this week something happened which made me wonder if I haven’t been underestimating myself.

I was in a discussion with an older man who was reiterating some party-line doctrine about a particular topic, and I was mentioning to him a couple of authors who are refuting that position.    I haven’t actually read their books, but I’ve been in discussions both in-person and online with people who suggest an alternative reading of the texts.    I think their view is at least worthy of serious consideration.

And he shared with me what he has always believed, which is what his church believes.   And then he had to leave.

About 30 seconds later, it hit me that while I had quoted or alluded to several scripture verses and mentioned a few chapters, he hadn’t mentioned a single one.     While I’m not strong on chapter and verse numbers — another way to be spiritually intimidated (or intimidating)  — I did toss in a few, while he provided none.

There are two takeaways from this.

The first recalls the line, “Of all the major faith groups in the world, Christians are least acquainted with their own scriptures.”   Quoting verse numbers is intimidating sometimes, and often needlessly so; but we will speak most authoritatively when we speak with the backing of God’s word, especially when we can reference books and chapters.   The force of our arguments is not the force of our own words, but the force of scripture.

The second is, we need to be able to say, “This is what the Bible says;” instead of “This is what I’ve always believed;” or “This is what our church teaches.” We need to check primary sources, in this case the one primary source as the source for what we have come to understand on any given issue.    (“Study to show yourself…rightly dividing the Word…;” “…sharper than a double-edged sword…;” “All scripture is inspired…and powerful for…rebuking…correcting…;” etc.) Too many people are living a second-hand faith quoting second-hand doctrines.

Let me take it further and suggest that any discussion that person most likely to appear victorious in any theological discussion will be the one who, proof-texting aside, has an argument backed by scripture.

We need to, as did the Bereans, search the scriptures.   And if we’re deficient in the area of remembering numeric references — despite being able to recite credit card, PIN, or computer passwords effortlessly — we need to work harder at developing this area of Biblical knowledge; chapters at the very least.

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