Ruth Young (formerly Smith), Livability’s Community Engagement Advisor in the North East, reflects on true discipleship.
This headline in my local newspaper caught my eye and spectacularly achieved what it was written to do – it compelled me to read the (fortunately very interesting) article. It was about politics, but it set me thinking – well, focusing my thoughts, really, as they had already been triggered a couple of days before by an email from a local vicar.
Like so many church leaders and congregations, he and his church council have set as one of their core priorities working with people on the fringes of their church – the ‘seekers and drifters’ as he put it – as a way of getting people in and keeping them there. This approach is often called ‘Growing Disciples’ and seems to be a standard church growth policy. Lots of time and energy are spent in planning and working on ‘the fringes’ where supposedly potential is at its greatest. So why are our churches so slow to grow?
My theory is that such concentration of energy and resources on the fringe is a distraction and ‘the nonsense’ which we need to look past. As the headline says, the answer is in the mainstream. Growing Disciples is what should be happening, not on the edge or beyond, but within the core of our churches. That’s where the disciples – those who are already following Jesus – are. That’s where the growth needs to be, and we should leave Jesus to build his church, as he said he would. (Matt 16:18)
I am not attracted to the fringe… This is where the chaos grows and gains the capacity to wreak havoc…
Graham Robb, businessman
Of course growth here does not mean numerical growth, though hopefully that will be a side effect of strong discipleship, as it has been down the ages. It means a life long deepening into spiritual maturity, strength and good character that comes out of being strongly rooted in Christ and grounded in love (Eph 3:17) This growth is often hard, challenging, exhausting, dis-spiriting.
It should carry a clear and unmistakable warning label: Not for the faint-hearted.
Disciples are those who in some amazing way have met Jesus and decided that to follow him is worth all the pain and aggravation. Through our encounter with him, and through him the embrace of the Creator and the strength of his Spirit, we grow into understanding that life is born out of death, wholeness emerges from brokenness, miracles do happen and we can be made new. Happiness is fleeting – it’s joy without end and peace beyond understanding that count; and, greater than all, love beyond measure.
…what counts is persuading people to stay Mainstream (loving)in their outlook….. and to connect effectively with people’s aspirations (hopes)
Graham Robb, businessman
Love is The Mainstream: the spring and the ocean and everything in between. Love is where discipleship begins and how it is sustained.
It flows from the heart of God into the whole of his creation which he loved so much he sent Jesus, who in turn sends us. And to do what? To love God with everything we’ve got, to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, to love one another as he has loved us… and it’s only then, as we grow in loving, that we can hope to grow more followers of Jesus.
They may come from the fringe, but they may also come from places beyond where we haven’t looked yet. We may be surprised that they come from way beyond the margins, in places where few others go, if we go and find them as Jesus did, bringing with us a love they find when they aren’t even looking, which gives them a hope and a future they didn’t expect.
Ruth Young, January 2015