What is a disciple and why are churches talking about them today? (part 3)

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Tuesday I defined a disciple as: a student or apprentice who follows, learns from, and imitates a master or teacher.

I also pointed out that there are two points of being a disciple (and doing any other kind of work): Philosophy and Praxis.

Why are so many churches talking about disciples today?

The Short Answer:

Because, across the board, we have not done a good enough job of making them.

The Longer Answer:

So much of this question is tied into several dozen other questions about dealing with change, getting with the times, being relevent… as well as remaining faithful, saving the next generation, honoring our heritage, and all that “gimme my Old Time Religion” perspectives as well. All of that mess and clamor really comes down to one singular concept: Passing on values.

What?

How can all those people from all those different places and perspectives… people who often cannot stand in the same room with one another, all be dealing with the same problem? Like a great many things in life, we overcomplicate things with our own opinions and motivations. So lets oversimplify things to make the point.

If there (hypothetically) were only one church in the world, and every few years that church raised up new leaders who were trained in both the Philosophy and Praxis of that church (so they would not only do all the same things, but understand why they were doing them that way), you would see no change in the church other than names and faces of people over the years. The worship would be the same, the potlucks would all have the exact same foods every time, every week they would teach the same lesson that they did last year at that time, and everyone would understand why they were doing it that way. There would be no need for change as long as they could keep teaching new leaders the Philisophy and Praxis of the church. Change would not be necessary as long as those values continued to be passed down from old to new.

However, this is not the reality. Because we are creative and individualistic people, we take the values we are given and we mix them with our own values – sometimes creating new values that are not part of our heritage. Someone brings porkchops to a cookout that had been exclusively hamburgers and hotdogs, and it is a big hit with the community… suddenly things have changed and we have to raise extra money to afford more pork chops next year, and while we spend time worrying about food costs, we take our attention away from the guest speaker who always comes to present at this event and we cut the band out altogether to save money for extra food. Soon, something that may have started out as a informal outreach to preach the gospel to a community becomes a new tradition focused on bringing extravagent food. A few years later, the leaders realize it would be easier to have this inside the church rather than outside. In five years what began as preaching to those outside the church becomes a party the church people throw for themselves.

No one intends for this to happen. It happens because we are not aware of the original values – they do not get passed down. We replay our traditions of last year over and over and don’t even know why they were made traditions in the first place. It is not a question of good or bad, right or wrong… it is a question of understanding and intentionality. Change is good and Faithfulness is good as well, but each can only be good when you understand the values (the Philosophy and Praxis) beneath those tasks.

Somewhere down the road, many of our churches forgot how to make disciples. It was, and is, simply easier to just go through the motions and keep doing things, helping people, teaching bible studies, and let God do the work of actually mentoring people and walking with them as they make decisions each day that change their lives. It is easier to say that is God’s job, not ours.

Yet, we find ourselves surprised when these people do not share the same values as us, and we are frustrated when they want to be in leadership, but they want to change everything that we spent so many years trying to fix ourselves. After all, you cannot get rid of the previous generation’s traditions overnight – it took us hard work to do that to our forefathers and foremothers and we want to enjoy those changes ourselves for just a little bit before someone comes and changes things on us.

It feels easier to control the church than it is to actually pass on our values and raise up new leaders. Sadly, the opposite is true. We are never truly in control, and our best means of keeping our values safe is to pass them on intentionally to new leaders we raise up ourselves.

– What values have been passed on to you?

– Who are you passing your values on to?

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