Nurturing Spirituality: Part 5
A Philosophy of Discipleship (cont.)
When I launched my monthly teaching letter in November, 1983 I decided to call it "Reflections" because of the dual meaning of this word. The first meaning of reflect is "to think carefully, ponder; to fix the mind or contemplate." I relate this to the biblical process of renewing the mind and aligning it with God’s revealed truth. The second meaning of reflect is "to mirror or reproduce; to give back an image or likeness." I relate this sense of the word to the spiritual process of growing conformity to the likeness of Christ.
In this way, "Reflections" refers both to the mind and the heart, and it is our desire at Reflections Ministries to nurture a clear mind and a warm heart.
The purpose statement of Reflections Ministries is to provide safe places for people to consider the claims of Christ and to help them mature and bear fruit in their relationship with Him.
"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE
On May 10-11, Reflections Ministries and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries co-sponsored "For Heaven’s Sake," a seminar that focused on the question, "What will life after death be like?" In view of the uncertainties of this world and the brevity of our earthly sojourn, we do well to reflect more deeply on what the Scriptures tell us about our destiny and our true home. Can we know if there is an afterlife? Is there a place called heaven and will everyone go there? Will we recognize our loved ones there? What is unique about the Christian vision of the afterlife? What difference should a belief in heaven make for the way we live now? Stuart McAllister, Barry Morrow, Bill Smith, and I presented lectures and interactive workshops on these and other themes, and an audio album will be available.
THE MEANING OF "IMAGO DEI"
Chuck Colson invited me to participate in a one-day BreakPoint Worldview Conference in Dallas on June 15. The purpose of the conference was to explore the meaning of "Imago Dei," and to gain an understanding of how to be God’s image-bearers in the marketplace, in society, in government, in the family, and in the church. I spoke on the upward, the inward, and the outward—how the ongoing process of conformity to the image of Christ finds expression in the way we live out our calling in this world. As C. S. Lewis put it, "If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this."
The other speakers included Chuck Colson, Nigel Cameron, William Dembski, Marvin Olasky, and J. Kerby Anderson.
AN EROSION OF TRUTH AND VIRTUE
Mahatma Ghandi observed that human violence stems from the following eight causes:
- Wealth without work
- Pleasure without conscience
- Knowledge without character
- Commerce without morality
- Science without humanity
- Worship without sacrifice
- Politics without principle
- Rights without responsibility
Even a cursory examination of our postmodern culture would reveal a frightening degeneration in all eight of these areas since Ghandi’s time. More than ever, we need a Christian vision that nurtures both the mind and the heart in corporate contexts. Only a worldview based on the lordship of Christ can inspire creative and redemptive alternatives to the current cultural erosion of truth and virtue.
We keep making improvements to our Reflections Ministries website, and in the months ahead we will be adding more features and resources. There is already a reflection, a meditation, a Scripture, a prayer, and a renewal text that changes with each new day.
Nurturing Spirituality: Part 5
In the last four issues of Reflections, we have been looking at nurturing spirituality as a lifestyle of discipleship and evangelism. We presented a spectrum of spiritual formation that ranges from unwillingness even to consider the claims of Christ to the spiritual maturity of a reproducing disciple. Discipleship is concerned with the postconversion half of the spectrum of spirituality, and we have already considered six biblically based principles that can guide and enrich the practice of discipleship:
- We must be disciples to make disciples
- Discipleship is a dependent process
- Concentration is crucial to multiplication
- People are not our disciples
- Reproduction is a mark of discipleship
- There is no maturity without ministry
To round out this biblical philosophy of discipleship, here are five additional principles.
We Cannot Measure Our Ministries
Although people often try, the real essence of nurturing ministry cannot be appraised in this life. Human attempts to count converts and quantify discipleship miss the point that the bulk of our impact in this world is hidden, and that only God knows the true nature of our ministries. Many who appear to make a "big splash" in this world may be far less effective from heaven’s viewpoint than many obscure but faithful saints. We can participate in the work of God, but we cannot measure or control what He is doing in us and through us. Thus, it is always unwise to determine effectiveness by comparing one person with another or one ministry with another.
From a human vantage point, evangelism and discipleship ministries are less visible and quantifiable than social service ministries and therefore harder to fund. But even with nurturing ministries, people often make the unbiblical assumption that bigger is better. This is why people are more impressed by ministries that adapt top-down corporate models from the business world than by ministries that are more relationally oriented. This is not to say that one is better than another, since the Lord can use both models. But on this side of eternity, we cannot measure the ultimate impact of a person or ministry. Instead, we are called to live with an ambiguity that drives us to walk by faith and not by sight. Every so often, God in His kindness may give us a glimpse that we are moving in the right direction through a word of encouragement or an expression of gratitude, but if we get too much feedback, we will be in danger of living for the results and using our impact on people to justify our existence. When we redefine our view of success in light of what will count for eternity, we are more motivated by what is pleasing to the heart of God than by what is impressive in the eyes of people.
Discipleship Is More than a Program
Programmatic and curriculum-based approaches to discipleship have their place, but a biblical vision of nurturing ministry involves the whole person. Discipleship is more than a cognitive dump; teaching and training are important components, but they should be imparted in a context of personal association and community. What we are often speaks louder than what we say. Thus, there is no substitute for the relational dimension of inviting people to be with us (Mark 3:14) in a variety of settings so that nurturing becomes incarnational and multidimensional. This requires a greater commitment of time and effort, but spiritual reproduction through personal transformation is the most effective and full-orbed way.
Alluding to his relational ministry of discipleship, Paul used the metaphor of formative growth: "My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19). Biblical discipleship cannot be reduced to a program or even to a process; it is also the growing presence of a Person.
Discipleship Requires a Servant Attitude
"He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:29-30). When disciplers slip into an authoritarian role or see themselves as spiritual gurus, they miss the whole spirit of being a friend of the bridegroom. John the Baptist did not call attention to himself but to Jesus, the bridegroom. Because he stood and heard Jesus and rejoiced in His voice, he could delight in being His attendant and in his calling as a servant of those who were invited to the wedding. Jesus told His disciples, "when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’" (Luke 17:10). When we cultivate the attitude of a servant, we discern that Jesus attributes our sacrificial service for the benefit of others as service to Him ("to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me"; Matthew 25:40).
Spiritual Friendship Is a Component of Discipleship
Just as Paul and Silas imparted their own lives to the people they served in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12), we must make ourselves personally available and transparent to the people we disciple. Spiritual friendship is founded on a mutuality that exists for the purpose of helping each other grow in grace and character. (This is not the same as spiritual direction or mentoring; we will look at these in the section on corporate spirituality.) While our Lord commands us to love all, we can befriend only a few. This dimension of holy friendship makes discipleship a two-way street where the discipler and the disciple both give and receive. Spiritual friendship moves beyond the level of personal gratification to the cultivation of Christlike virtue (2 Peter 1:5-9) and requires a deliberate intention to be open to one another and to God’s formative purposes. Praying for one another and with one another is an essential part of this mutual relationship.
Effective Discipleship Requires More than One Method
When it comes to spiritual nurturing, one size does not fit all. There is a tendency in discipleship ministries to turn models and methods into masters. The assumption here is that if a method works well for some, it must be appropriate for all. As a result, people whose temperaments do not resonate with the proffered method may conclude that there is something deficient in their spiritual commitment.
This misguided tendency toward homogeneity can reduce discipleship to a cloning process: "When you’ve completed our program, you’ll look like this." When the rich diversity of personal temperaments and cultural factors is not taken into account (see appendix A, "The Need for Diversity"), discipleship becomes program-driven rather than person-specific. A teaching or training method that inspires one person may be unrealistic and inappropriate for another. Disciplers who fail to grasp this can create expectations that inevitably lead some people to a sense of inadequacy and frustration. A variety of tools are needed, and this is why there is a multiplicity of discipleship ministries and approaches. Some are more programmatic, and others are more relational; some stress the cognitive, and others stress the affective or the volitional. Just as God created the cosmos as a unity out of profound diversity, so the body of Christ is a unity-in-diversity.
A LASTING DIFFERENCE
Sir William Osler, visiting one of London’s leading children’s hospitals, noticed that in a convalescent ward all the children were clustered at one end of the room dressing their dolls, playing games, and playing in the sandbox—all except for one little girl, who sat forlornly on the edge of her high, narrow bed, clutching a cheap doll.
The great physician looked at the lonely little figure, then at the ward nurse. "We’ve tried to get Susan to play," the nurse whispered, "but the other children just won’t have anything to do with her. You see, no one comes to see her. Her mother is dead, and her father has been here just once—he brought her that doll. The children have a strange code. Visitors mean so much. If you don’t have any visitors, you are ignored."
Sir William walked over to the child’s bed and asked in a voice loud enough for the others to hear, "May I sit down, please?" The little girl’s eyes lit up. "I can’t stay very long this visit," Osler went on, "but I have wanted to see you so badly."
For five minutes he sat talking with her, even inquiring about her doll’s health and solemnly pulling out his stethoscope to listen to the doll’s chest. And as he left, he turned to the youngster and said in a carrying voice, "You won’t forget our secret, will you? And mind, don’t tell anyone."
At the door he looked back. His new friend was now the center of a curious and admiring throng.
A small act of kindness, a word of encouragement, a deed of grace in the life of another can make a lasting difference.