After a lifetime of church, six years of theological study, and a lot of “Church Shopping” angst, I’ve looked for one simple thing that distinguishes a church from a social service organization, or a fraternity, or a rock concert, or an AA meeting, or a Life Success seminar, or the group of people that meets up every day at my neighborhood dog park.
And the best I’ve come up with is that a church is a community that helps each other worship and follow Jesus.
Now I’ve fallen in with this band of pilgrims at Two Rivers Church and just as I’ve gotten my bearings back in church-land, I’m thrilled to be the Director of Discipleship as we ramp up to weekly worship. I get to spend fifteen hours a week coordinating vision, planning, people, and logistics for the children’s, youth, and small group ministries.
Still, the part of me that asks too many questions and cusses too much wants to cut to the chase: that’s a job description. But what does discipleship even mean? Is it completing fill-in-the-blank Bible studies? Going to church more times every week? Asking each other what sins we’ve committed lately? Teaching our children to do what we say?
I suppose it is sometimes all of those things. But before it became an intimidating, hyper-spiritual word, discipleship was doing whatever those twelve followers of Jesus did: bumbling around behind our Savior, taking care of each other, trying to learn together, tying string around our fingers to try and remember the Great Commandment of love, whispering and shouting the Good News wherever we find the courage to share. You don’t have to know how to use a Bible concordance, attend twelve kinds of programming, or check off a list of Holy Activities to be a disciple.
You just have to seek to follow Jesus in community.
Jesus does say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The word “disciple” shares a root with “discipline.” Discipleship is more than Sunday morning attendance and even more than gathering in a friend’s living room to eat cookies and share prayer requests.
Of course, Jesus had disciples at all levels of commitment. Some were totally unsure of what they thought about him, but they all shared one thing: they were actively following him. So whether we’re cautiously on the fringe, or we’re leaping into the deep end, all of Jesus’ disciples can press in to see him together.
We encourage, teach, and challenge each other. We let each other meet our needs and we give when it’s not convenient. We work together to serve and love others. We keep our daily spiritual practices and secret prayers.
And through these habits, these relationships, these moments of joy and discomfort and empathy and learning, we find that we meet with Spirit more and more, and we’re led one more step down the path God has for us.
Sometimes that happens through events and programs. But let’s be honest—most people have enough events and programs in their lives. I think sometimes we use events and programs to keep other people, or personal disciplines, or actual sharing at a distance. And by “we,” I don’t just mean individuals. I mean churches.
Churches get so focused on getting more people to attend, or getting kids to memorize more Bible verses, that we forget about who these people actually are and what we actually need. We don’t even want to think about the weight of everything they bring in the doors with them: family tragedy. Poverty and lack. Mental illness. Crushing loneliness. Looming emptiness.
But Jesus hasn’t forgotten. Jesus is walking with us through those things, and fostering discipleship means helping people recognize him in all the places he is found.
So very often, my own following after Jesus simply means putting one more foot in front of the other, praying I’ll listen for Spirit’s voice, practicing gratitude for one more day and reminding myself to err on the side of generosity.
Most all I need from church is the people to do those things with, and guidance when I don’t know the way.
At Two Rivers, we’re not here to guilt people into signing up for more programs. We’re here to follow Jesus together. So when we talk about discipleship, we simply mean helping each other take the next step along that journey.
I can’t imagine a greater privilege, and I’m honored to be on the journey with you.