Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Following Jesus - Adam McLane

This is part of a blog series on discipleship. I asked a number of youth ministry and church voices to share their answers to these two questions: 1) What is discipleship? and 2) What is the greatest barrier to discipleship we're facing in youth ministry?

From Adam McLane:

What is discipleship?

I’d like to start off with two push backs on your question itself.

First off, discipleship is a made up word. Let’s acknowledge that for what it is. Every time I type it in Microsoft Word or on my blog it always pops up as a misspelled word. Because it isn’t a word. More to the point, it’s a made up word because we don’t really even have a word to describe what discipleship is.

We are trying to smash the relationship that Jesus had with his disciples into a modern construct of a ministry model. The very problem of a lack of discipleship comes from trying to make it a quantifiable process that is replicable so that we can point to a person as church leadership and say, “This is how I know people are growing in their relationship with Jesus.” It’s a McDonald’s-style phrase that just falls flat in the face of what Jesus and the early church actually did, as documented in the New Testament. So I want to start off by pushing back on the very word, discipleship. Jesus told us to make disciples, (Matthew 28:19) not create a process whereby all people can follow 6 easy steps or run the bases or complete a wheel of discipleship. Those are modern simplifications which have proven to have horrible impact on the life of our churches.

Second, a lot of my youth ministry is deeply rooted in the Sonlife model. I remember in college writing a paper called, “A description of a discipled person.” The tense of that word, "discipled," is deeply flawed. A person can never be discipled. Jesus didn’t look at his disciples and say, “OK boys-- I’m headed off to heaven now, you’ve been discipled.” His last words, as recorded by Luke in Acts 1:8 were “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

In both cases, Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8, a completable process is not described by Jesus. This is a problem for the church today. We like to view things are projects, to have measurables, and to have policies/programs so we can check things off as completed.

So what does it mean to be Jesus’ disciple? A disciple is someone who lives out Romans 12:1-2 in their day-to-day life. They put Jesus’ priorities over their own. Paul describes this life in Ephesians 5 as a fragrant offering to God. Their lives are shaped and smell of Jesus.

What’s the greatest barrier to this in youth ministry?

I have three answers for that. First, we are afraid to ask people to submit to the authority God has given us as leaders. Second, we are hamstrung by the flaws of our predecessors. Third, we have created artificial deadlines. Let’s unpack all that:

1. I believe being a disciple of Jesus is shaped differently for everyone. 1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that a healthy community of believers has all sorts of people. I’ve walked with some people who are clearly gifted as teachers. And I’ve walked with others who are clearly evangelists or their gift is hospitality. My role as a leader is first to help them discover how God has shaped them and then help them discover what that means. It’s a messy process. It has to allow for experimentation, failure, trying on different selves, and a healthy amount of submission to the will of the people trying to help you discover that.

Ultimately, I know I am not an evangelist because I submitted myself to a school which forced me onto a college campus to do street style evangelism. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. And it’s not that I couldn’t learn those skills. But it was abundantly clear that this wasn’t for me. As painful and frustrating as that process was, I never would have been able to confidently say that evangelism isn’t my giftedness if I hadn’t submitted to that process.

But if I were to look at a young man in my small group and say, “Look, if you want to be Jesus’ disciple you’re going to need to take this seriously. You’re going to need to make this process the only thing important to you for a while. And you’re going to have to do exactly what I say.” We all know what would happen.

2. As I opened this with, we are living in a day where we’ve tried to create a process called discipleship as a replacement for how Jesus and the early church actually did it. So when we talk about making disciples we think of programs when Jesus never had that in mind. The disciple-making process is a lifestyle, not a program. So a major roadblock we hit as leaders is that our adult volunteers think they’ve been “discipled!” Moreover, we have a culture which is so “easy” focused that very few have the stomach to get involved. Decades of crappy “discipleship models” have created undiscipled, undisciplinable followishers of Jesus.

3. The last core flaws of “discipleship” in youth ministry is that it’s time sensitive. Living for Jesus is a lifelong, uncompletable process. Yes, there are waypoints and things you can point to in acknowledgement that someone is on the right path. Our goal cannot focus on discipleship, we have to focus on creating lifelong disciples of Christ.

A lifelong youth worker, Adam McLane is a Partner at The Youth Cartel and Principal at McLane Creative. He is a purveyor, connoisseur, trader, and collector of ideas. Follow his blog and his Twitter.

What do you think about Adam's definitions and ideas about the barriers to discipleship? Share in the comments!

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