This week for our Beardcast we talk about the cost of discipleship.
What is discipleship? It seems that this should be a simple concept, but it’s my experience that we continually get it all wrong.
Is discipleship being a believer? Well, yes, but it’s more than that. I often hear people say that they believe, but too often times the question that eventually needs to be answered is, “In what? In Jesus?” Scripture (Luke 4:41) says that even the demons believe in Jesus… So by my count, discipleship has to be more.
Is discipleship being a member of the local church? For some, yes! And for others, the church seems to be like a free country club… I get the benefits when I go or when I die but I’m too busy to participate with my prayers, presence, gifts, service or witness. That doesn’t seem much like a disciple either, does it?
Oh, I know what it is… One day my former District Superintendent (DS) and I were sitting at a coffee shop in Portales, New Mexico when we saw this young man who appeared as if he was staring down the barrel of a gun talking to another man who may have been two years older. The older of the two young adults had listed all the “do-not’s” to the younger man. When the older of the two left, the younger one gathered his things, with a look of defeat. My DS and I asked him if he was alright and he said, “Yes, I just got out of a meeting with my discipleship coach.” Apparently being a disciple should leave you with a sense of defeat, and if that is what discipleship is… I want no part of it.
Here is what I believe discipleship is about:
Discipleship at its core is following the teachings of a teacher, and in the case of the Christian Church, our prime example and teacher is Jesus Christ. Discipleship is more than being a believer; it is taking the teachings of Jesus seriously. It is more than being a member of a local church but sharing in the life of the local congregation in partnering with one another and the Divine to make the world a better place. Discipleship is responding to the very grace of God in real and tangible ways, doing everything you can to make a difference in one’s personal and communal life. It is about breaking free of laundry lists of do’s and do-not’s and seeking to bring forth the incarnation of Christ in our actions.
We must recognize that:
-Being a believer isn’t enough.
-Being a church member isn’t enough.
-Being a Christian isn’t enough.
Discipleship is active and requires sself-sacrifice The gospel of Mark (8:34) says that Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses to follow. I use to feel it meant to place my emotions, talents, the person who God created me to be aside and to conform. But discipleship is where we take every bit of who we are along with the teachings of Jesus to make a difference because God only created one you, God created only one me. And I believe it is for one purpose: to partner with God in creation bringing forth life abundant in divine grace, proclaiming it from the very depths of our souls, that God’s hope abounds even in the hopeless, that there is reconciliation for our sins through Christ. There is promise in not going at it alone, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Is discipleship easy? Absolutely not, I figure I fail at it daily. But it doesn’t mean that I stop trying. It doesn’t mean that I give up.
The questions we must ask ourselves when we decide to follow Christ are these: Am willing to follow where ever He leads? Am I willing to give my all for my neighbor? Am I willing to proclaim the grace of God in my actions?
Because if so, then we’ll have what it takes to be a disciple.
Rev. Dustin S. Burrow is the lead Pastor of Highland United Methodist Church in Odessa TX. Rev. Burrow was commissioned as a provisional elder in The New Mexico Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church in 2014. He is a Masters of Divinity graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary. Before serving as pastor Rev. Burrow served multiple congregations as youth director in New Mexico, Texas, and Maryland.
l’ St. It is that time of the year again. We gather together with friends and family, we sing Christmas songs, we make Starbucks employees write Merry Christmas on our cups, we max out our credit card, and we slap heretics in the face! Yes, today is the day we celebrate good ol face slapping St Nick. I know what you’re thinking, “Santa is such a jolly man with a bowl full of jelly. He wouldn’t slap anyone!”
Well, before we got the lovable, fat man that breaks into your home and leaves you gifts in exchange for cookies, we had the real man St Nicolas of Myra. Nicolas grew up in Lycia. Unfortunately, early on in his life his parents died and left him quit the inheritance. His uncle who was the Bishop of Parata took him in and raised him. He mentored Nick in reading and later ordained his as a priest.
Here is the legend of Santa, this is why we give presents at Christmas. Nick devoted his life and inheritance to helping the poor and needy. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. Nicholas became informed of this, and thus took a bag of gold and threw it into an open window of the man’s house in the night. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals, Nicholas did the same for the second and the third; at the last time the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed Nicholas with his gratitude. Because of Nick’s generosity and compassion to make sure these girls weren’t sold into prostitution, we have the legend of St Nicholas that has evolved of the years into Santa Claus.
Nick became Bishop at a time when the Christians in Myra (which is in modern-day turkey)were under persecution. Nick and many other Christians were seized, chained and thrown into jail. Soon after Constintine was appointed by God, took over and released the Christians. Nicholas returned to Myra and continued to fight against persecution and heresy.
In AD 325 Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, the very first ecumenical council. More than 300 bishops came from all over the Christian world to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity. It was one of the early church’s most intense theological questions. Arius, from Egypt, was teaching that Jesus the Son was not equal to God the Father. Arius forcefully argued his position at length. The bishops listened respectfully.
As Arius vigorously continued, Nicholas became more and more agitated. Finally, he could no longer bear what he believed was essential being attacked. The outraged Nicholas got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face! The bishops were shocked. It was unbelievable that a bishop would lose control and be so hotheaded in such a solemn assembly. They brought Nicholas to Constantine. Constantine said even though it was illegal for anyone to strike another in his presence, in this case, the bishops themselves must determine the punishment.
The bishops stripped Nicholas of his bishop’s garments, chained him, and threw him into jail. That would keep Nicholas away from the meeting. When the Council ended a final decision would be made about his future.
Nicholas was ashamed and prayed for forgiveness, though he did not waver in his belief. During the night, Jesus and Mary his Mother, appeared, asking, “Why are you in jail?” “Because of my love for you,” Nicholas replied. Jesus then gave the Book of the Gospels to Nicholas. Mary gave him an omophorion, so Nicholas would again be dressed as a bishop. Now at peace, Nicholas studied the Scriptures for the rest of the night.
When the jailer came in the morning, he found the chains loose on the floor and Nicholas dressed in bishop’s robes, quietly reading the Scriptures. When Constantine was told of this, the emperor asked that Nicholas be freed. Nicholas was then fully reinstated as the Bishop of Myra.
Today is traditionally St Nicholas day. Celebrate the miracles and examples this Saint has given us. You might think twice about being naughty or nice. St Nick is making a list. He’s checking it twice and if you’re like Arius you might not like the gift coming your way!
Zach is the Co-Creator of Bearded Theologians. On this journey I call life, my wife Mikel and our 3 kids, join me. We enjoy traveling, eating, baseball, and adventures. Currently, I serve as the Co- Pastor at Grace/Tularosa United Methodist Church Merger.
*Part 3 of 4 in a new blog series by Matt Bridges
Okay, So What?
I believe limiting church to a location or an event in time ultimately allows people to hold their church and their relationship with Christ at arm’s length. It allows people to fall into any number of unhealthy categories of how to approach a faithful life of following of Christ: episodically (unhealthy) versus continually (healthy). Any definition of “church” which has limited the word to a geographic location (or locations) or an event in time like worship will weave in too much identity with a location or event rather than in a healthy relationship with Christ, and thus turn it into a faith lived out episodically. In terms of sharing this faith and identifying as a believer, these assumptions of and this mixing of meanings has become unhealthy evangelism if our goal is to tell others of the good news of Jesus Christ. Our evangelism then becomes episodic and very limited as well. It is limited to an invitation to a place or event.
But What About the Children?
If we raise our children up in the mentality of “going to church” as though their ecclesial identity is linked directly to a location or a worship service, well, no wonder they feel lost and don’t connect as they progress in their lives of faith. No wonder they grow more distant and don’t relate until feeling like this identity with Christ is simply irrelevant? I am reminded of the phrase I used above making a distinction about “Big Church” and “Children’s Church.” It is little surprise when I encounter people who feel lost when they can’t find an exact replica of the identity they were taught was “church” because their church identity is too entwined with a place or event. Also, their identity is any number of models of children’s church and being told explicitly and implicitly for years that they weren’t relevant to the “big” worship space. If all of this is woven together and called church, then it is right to feel disillusioned with the church. If we send our children out into this world and expect them to have a healthy idea of faith and a healthy idea of their relationship with Christ; and if that idea is based on the identity of a very narrow view of how that faith and life are expressed, they will fall away and their views of faith as relevant will degrade as well.
When I reflect on my own experience and how I am seated in multiple generations of Christianity in the 20th and 21st century (I’m 35), I grew up “going to church” with varying degrees of willingness. I didn’t realize that until my late teens that I had grown up identifying my faith almost solely with a building or events in time like “worship,” “youth group,” or “choir.” If I identified myself as “the church” or “part of the church” and it was a reference strictly to a people or my relationship with fellow believers, it was only implicit, or an afterthought (or that catchy hymn at the beginning of this post). In many conversations over the years, I know that I do not write this as an isolated and self-serving case study.
Upon this revelation for me (it was a revelation for me) of the word “church,” I am much more intentional in my usage with my congregation, with my child, with my family, with everyone. My faith has been changed, and I’ve had powerful conversations with parishioners, unchurched, de-churched, and atheists with this change in, and approach to, the word. I no longer go to the church to work.
I go to my office, at the church building, to work. I don’t go to church on Sunday nor do I prepare throughout my week for church on Sunday. I prepare sermons, music, prayers, orders of worship, all for the sake of sharing the gospel and doing my part to be the church. I sit with the church next to hospital beds and offer prayers, encouragement, and communion. I cry with the church in loss, and I shout with joy with the church in success.
My faith and work simply cannot be episodic now that I embrace this shift in meaning. I try to show distinction inside and outside of worship. I have a running joke and “test” with the youth group and they have fun correcting me, and being corrected. “Me: Hey __________, are you going to church tomorrow?” “Youth: Haha, no Brother Matt, I am the church….and I am going to the worship service tomorrow.”
*Stay Tuned for
Part 4 Nov 22 “So What Do We Do?”
Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled1001 Times (and counting) I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It ThatWay Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.
When I was a kid, my brother and I played baseball everyday in our backyard—aluminum bat with a tennis ball, so the home runs would fly. The backyard was tiered with three levels, which made a pretty novel field.
Most days out, we imagined ourselves as our favorite teams. He was the San Francisco Giants of Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, and Matt Williams. I was the Kansas City Royals of George Brett, Bo Jackson, and, my favorite player, Kevin Seitzer.
And one of the best parts was mimicking the batting stances of our hitters. Seitzer would angle his knees in together, hold his hands in close to his face. And then I’d slap a double over our first wall.
Baseball is a game of rhythms. Be patient and pay attention. Watch a batter. He doesn’t just stroll into the batter’s box and swing. Everything’s timing. Everything’s ritual. Redo the velcro on the batting gloves. Tap the dirt off the cleats with the end of the bat. A practice swing or two. Digging in with the back foot. A slight bounce with the knees.
And then there’s the pitcher. Every pitcher has their own unique windup. Feet on the rubber. Bring the ball to the glove. Stare in for catcher’s sign.
It has a way of wiping the slate clean. If you missed the spot on your pitch, or swung at a pitch out of the strike zone, or the ump made a bad call, you start the calming routine again to reboot. It puts the past in the past so the focus is one this one singular present moment.
Eugene Peterson writes in his book The Contemplative Pastor:
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great, white whale, Moby Dick. The sailors are laboring fiercely, every muscle taut, all attention and energy concentrated on the task. The cosmic conflict between good and evil joined; chaotic sea and demonic sea monster versus the morally outraged man, Captain Ahab. In this boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He doesn’t hold an oar; he doesn’t perspire; he doesn’t shout. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then this sentence: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”
Feet out of idleness. Such a great image. I wonder if hitters and pitchers think of it that way. How do you go about your life in the world coming from a place like that?
The spiritual life is a little bit like that.
There’s a story about Jesus where he gets into a boat on the lake and tells his disciples to go to the other side. Then he lies down and takes a nap. Seriously. Before long a storm surprises them all. The disciples are freaking out. Jesus is snoring. They wake him up. He tells the storm to stop it. And it stops.
Now, the text doesn’t say this, but I imagine Jesus groggily fluffs his pillow, curls back up, and immediately goes back to sleep. I’ve often heard sermons from this story with this lesson, since we can be like Jesus, we can tell the storms of life to settle down. But I wonder if that misses a bigger point. I wonder if the lesson of the story is that we can sleep during storms.
Jesus with feet out of idleness.
How do we do that?
Practicing a variety of spiritual disciples can contribute. One way is regular meetings with a spiritual director. A spiritual director listens with you as you listen to God. Meeting with a spiritual director often looks like a one-on-one monthly checkup to reflect on what God is up to in your life.
A good spiritual director asks lots of questions. How are you experiencing God? What is God speaking to you? How are you cooperating with God? What does prayer look like for you? What does Sabbath look like? What does your spiritual life actually look like compared to what you wish it looked like? Is that idealized version even a healthy and realistic vision of the spiritual life?
Personally, I meet with my spiritual director twice a month. I know it’s a safe, confidential place to vent my frustrations, celebrate my victories, and express my doubts. I know for that hour, I’m paid attention to and I’m listened to. Sometimes what my director reflects back to me stings a little bit, but I know it’s true. And it’s not unusual for my director to tell me, “Everything’s going to be okay. You’re normal.”
It’s almost like finding that settled place to set my spiritual feet. It’s almost like mimicking the batting stance of Jesus. It’s where I’m teaching my feet some idleness.
If you’d like to find a spiritual director in your area, visit Spiritual Directors International (http://www.sdiworld.org/find-a-spiritual-director).
Peter is married to Jackie. They have two toddlers and reside in Tulsa, OK. He’s a spiritual director and ordained deacon in the Oklahoma conference of the United Methodist Church.
He lived in Seattle during the Mariners’ historic 2001 season of 116 wins. He’s still waiting for them to win the American League pennant. He writes at The Sabbath Life, where you can subscribe to his newsletter, and he can be followed on Twitter @thatpeterwhite.