discipleship

From Albania and Back

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When we first wrote this our suitcases were half packed, and we are nearly ready to leave our home here in Albania for a few months. We’ve enjoyed the holiday season here in New Zealand and have now turned our attention to a couple of months of speaking engagements around the country.

Outreach to Poliçan

The highlight for Murray at the end of 2016 was supporting a men’s outreach from our church to the men in a town called Poliçan nearly three hours drive away. In our last newsletter we wrote: The men (in Tirana) have had a growing concern for the church in the hometown where many of them first became Christians. Murray is supporting their plans to visit Poliçan every few weeks, to encourage the men that still live there. The first visit will be on the 15th October. 

Most of these men became Christians many years ago, but for a variety of reasons they stopped meeting together. Since we last wrote, Murray and his team have visited Poliçan five times, and in total they are having contact with 12 different men. Each time they go they contact as many of the men as possible, and then meet with them over two days. They usually drive down on Friday afternoon, stay overnight and then come back on Saturday afternoon. On the most recent visit the men began a new Bible study series which they plan to continue while we are gone.

Tirana Bible Studies

In our church in Tirana we have continued our small Bible study groups. Murray has been discipling and studying the Bible with five men, however for a variety of reasons, he has particularly focused on the two in particular that are leading the outreach to Poliçan.

Féy has continued with a group of three women, and has seen them growing in their faith, and in their understanding of the Scriptures. She is encouraged that they are not dependent on her, but continued to meet and study together each week even when she has been away. Her other group of two women were finding it more difficult to meet regularly as one of them is was working long hours leading up to the New Year celebrations.

A number of other small groups began at the beginning of last year are struggling to keep traction. The biggest challenge has been from employer pressure to work long hours, which is hard not to do, when you know that there are 100 other people ready to take your job.

At the end of last year in church we acknowledged eleven church members who had finished Bible study courses over this past year.

Greek Short-term Team update

In November Féy planned to take a team of nine Albanians on a short-term mission trip to Athens to work alongside a Greek church that has a significant ministry to immigrants. As often happens here in Albania, the make up of the team changed by the day leading up to their departure, with a 75% turnover in team members. She ended up with a group of four (instead of nine) Albanian guys on the team, aged 21, 26 and two who are 52. Féy was a bit concerned as to how it would go leading a group of guys (especially two being in their 50’s), but it was a great team.

After the uncertain start (changing team members and having to leave on a bus 12 hrs later than planned), everyone had a really positive experience. It was good watching the team as they were challenged by different discussions, and the things they saw and experienced.

Over the week we experienced three different styles of church services and took part in two feeding ministries (giving meals to people hit by the financial crisis). The guys also got to hang out with homeless men who came to the church centre for showers or just to have a coffee and game of dominoes. The poor community in Athens are very international, and came from all walks of life. We also had some quality discussions with a local Greek pastor, an Albanian church leader, and an Albanian missionary (his wife is American) about the situation here in Athens.

As a result of their experiences and discussions, all the team members were inspired and challenged, and we have heard that there has already been an immediate impact and change in their ministries here in Albania. However, a lasting impression the team did not expect to experience was the lack of hope they saw in many of the people they met with in Greece.

One of the reason’s Féy took a team to Greece was because ECM is looking for ways to support the evangelical churches in Greece. She was able to follow up on some important contacts in Athens, and the plan now is for the ECM International Leadership Team to hold one of their meetings in 2017 in Athens. So from many perspectives it was a very successful trip.

A busy few months

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Time has flown these last few months and so much has happened. Here’s a month by month account of what’s we’ve been up to.

June overview

At the beginning of June, Féy attended her first International Leadership Team (ILT) meeting for ECMI. The ILT gathers twice a year to assist and support the International Director in providing the essential direction for and coordination of the various spheres of operation of ECMI. Féy appreciated being part of this group, and having the opportunity to grapple with a variety of issues ranging from opening new Fields (Greece & Malta), developing new partnerships, and candidate & member issues.

During the last week of June we both went to Macedonia to facilitate ‘Prayer Days’ for the ECM missionaries in Albania, Kosovo and this year the Bulgaria team joined us. 16 adults and 13 children gathered together for three days. The kids had a ball in their programme, and the adults really appreciated the opportunities they had together to learn, pray and get to know one another better.

July Overview

In July Murray and I visited the ECM missionaries in Bulgaria that we have been caring for over the past year. The drive to Sofia is about nine hours, but we were able to break the journey to explore Skopje (Macedonia), which we really enjoyed.

After our return we enjoyed some visits from a number of New Zealanders who were travelling through Albania. In between our travel and visitors we both continued to meet regularly with church members, and especially our small Bible study groups. We also enjoyed meeting up with our ECM team members at the swimming pool when the temperature rose to around 40°.

August Overview

During the first week of August Féy flew off to Portugal to teach at the ‘Foundations’ Course, which is designed to help missionaries after they have been on the Field for around a year. This time we had 11 adults and 11 children, and they were from Australia, The Netherlands, and Brazil, and were working in Spain, Germany, Portugal, Croatia and Bulgaria, which made for an interesting group.

Shortly after that a team of eight young Americans arrived to serve in our church for a few months. Murray has had a role with their orientation, and setting them on their way to build relationships in our neighbourhood, with the goal to run an English speaking ‘Christianity Explained’ course towards the end of their time. They have made some  contacts, and the course will began a few weeks ago.

September Overview

September was a busy month of travel, especially for Féy. It began with another trip to Bulgaria for both of us. Féy then went to Ukraine to teach at another Foundations Course for 17 Ukrainians who joined ECM at the beginning of the year after another organisation merged with ECM. One of the main ministries the Ukrainian folk are involved in is supporting Christian families who have adopted children out of the orphanages. Over the past 12 years they have had a part in over 500 children being adopted.

After just two days at home, Féy took to the air again to visit the missionaries in Romania. She facilitated Prayer Days in Sibiu for all the missionaries, and then took part in discussions about new ministry partnerships the missionaries are developing.

 

Church Ministry update

Over the summer we continued to be encouraged with our discipleship groups, and the growth we see in a number of people. Some of the men that Murray has been working are showing real leadership potential. One of them, along with his wife recently join the (re-structured) church leaders meeting.

The men have had a growing concern for the church in the hometown where many of them first became Christians. Murray is supporting their plans to visit every few months, to encourage the men that still live there.

 

Greek Short-term Team

From 12 – 20 November Féy is taking a team of nine Albanians on a short-term mission trip to Athens to serve alongside the 2nd Evangelical Greek Church, which has a significant ministry to refugees and to many Albanians. It is hoped that through this project, not only will the ministries of the Greek church be supported (many of their ministries function because of short-term teams), but that the team members will experience God at work in other people’s lives, and in their own lives.The weekly ministry will include about 20 hours a week of scheduled activities, as well as more hours of building relationships by visiting people in their homes, tutoring kids, and doing bible studies.

ECMI recently approved ‘opening’ a field in Greece, and they are currently seeking personnel to work in Greece at the invitation of the Greek church. After Féy was appointed as the contact person for ECMI in Greece, and hearing of the opportunity for short term ministry, the idea of taking a team from Albania took shape.

Coming months

We will be in New Zealand from the middle of December, initially taking our annual leave with our family. Then we will be spending two months catching up with as many people as we can, and will be speaking in churches in Nelson, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.

Before we head to NZ, Féy has a trip to Croatia, another ILT meeting in the UK, the short-term team visit to Greece and then will go to Germany for annual leaders meeting as well as a week of training in Cognitive Coaching. Murray will visit the team in Bulgaria, and both of us will visit the team in Kosovo a couple of times.

Your Real Christian Life

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Have you ever found yourself thinking like this: that after the next big step you’re real Christian life will start? You’ve had some great one-off experiences, say a short-term mission trip or some amazing conferences. You know there’s so much more to be living for, that there’s a life available in God that is truly amazing. But you just have to get through the next stage – finish your degree, build up capital to buy a house, get married… It’s easy to keep pushing that ‘real Christian life’ into the future as we wait for a time where we’re suddenly change into the people we dream we could be, but that’s just not how following Jesus works! This is it! The life we’re living now will determine how we’re living in 5, 10, 20 years.

In the video above, Bishop Justin Duckworth challenges us to learn to live for God now, rather than waiting for some mystical time when things suddenly fall into place for us.

#NZCMS will be on pause this month while Jon and Kirstin are travelling overseas.

 

#NZCMS is all about exploring what it means to be God’s missional people in today’s world. Sign up for the emailer by filling in your email at the top of the page or join the discussion at the #NZCMS Facebook Group (and turn on ‘all notifications’ to stay in the loop!) 

Disciples who make Disciples

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When we started working with the ‘Church of God’ here in Tirana, there were no small discipleship groups within the church. In December I started one with the young couple leading the church plant (training the trainers), then soon after Féy started discipling a solo mum. Because Féy travels a lot, she asked two other women to join her so they could lead when she is away. In February I started a men’s group (with men my age!), and just last month Féy was asked to lead another two women in a Bible study. In January the young couple, with whom I began with, started doing a Bible study with another couple in the church, and the pastor also started doing a Bible study with two small groups.

I know it sounds like a competition but we are so encouraged at seeing our ‘influence’ catch and ignite something so basic and simple, yet so life giving for a church. Groups have continued to form, and there  are now 10 small groups, with a total of 28 people studying the Bible most weeks. Some of those people are now beginning to serve in other areas of the church.

The leadership team don’t have the time to begin more groups (they all work full time outside the church), so the next challenge is to develop the next level of leaders and to help them to understand that they can do what we are doing; making disciples. This is happening ‘within’ the church. What will happen when we all take this ‘message’ outside the church.  Please pray for this to happen.

Liminal Spaces: Freaking out about transition

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Transition is difficult. It’s hard to know how to feel in the midst of coming, and going, leaving the old, and starting the new, even when we know what we’re going to is something good.

What about when we don’t know what comes next? There are times when a season comes to an end, but God hasn’t yet opened the door into something new.

We find ourselves in the ‘grey space,’ evading questions about the future, and desperately hoping that something concrete comes our way soon.

There’s a phrase I find really useful to describe this space – ‘liminal space.’ It describes being in transition, standing on a threshold, but being unsure of which way you should aim, or which direction God is pointing you in. Richard Rohr suggests that this space is sometimes referred to as a ‘luminous darkness,’ the space of ‘not-knowing’:

“It is when you have left the ‘tried and true’ but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are in between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. It is no fun.” (p22 – Grieving as Sacred Space)

As someone who likes control and to plan, I find ‘liminality’ very uncomfortable… plus it’s a challenge to my pride and my sense of having it all together. I find myself worrying about the future – questions about calling, jobs, location and community are all strongly interwoven.

In this space, I want something firm to hang on to, a goal to aim at. But I don’t have one. Rarely am I comfortable with saying ‘I don’t know what’s next.’ Rather than be present to the uncomfortable fact that I do not have the answer and I am not in control, my own way of dealing with this space is to come up with all sorts of crazy options for the future, preferring the abstract, absurd and impossible over the unknown.

I can hide from the gift of liminal space, evading the ‘blessing of unknowing’ with busyness, tasks, excuses, and explanations. But it would be a waste. This space is actually an invitation to learn to live with ambiguity and anxiety, to trust and to wait. It’s a space in which I need to avoid the temptation to ‘explain away’ my unknowing, or to justify why I don’t have a five-year plan.

In this place, where the light has not been thrown upon what happens next, I’m being invited to trust, to lean into the God who has proved himself to be faithful time and time again. This ‘leaning in’ frees me from the burden of being in control, and of knowing exactly what to plan for. Instead, I’m invited into relationship, to embrace the vulnerability of not having all the answers, and instead to trust in the goodness, provision, and kindness of God.

 

THE MUSE

Are you in a space where you aren’t quite sure what the future holds, or you sense that a change may be coming? How can this idea of ‘liminal space’ help you to embrace the ‘not knowing’ as you wait for God to speak clearly?

THE MOVE

Ask God to place the right people around you as you journey through transition – whether now, or in the future. Be intentional about meeting with friends for prayer and conversation – you may not get all the answers you need, but having people who will support you in this space is invaluable.

 

#NZCMS is all about exploring what it means to be God’s missional people in today’s world. Sign up for the emailer by filling in your email at the top of the page or join the discussion at the #NZCMS Facebook Group (and turn on ‘all notifications’ to stay in the loop!) 

 

Crossing the Line (Issue 25)

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By Sam Harvey

There are those moments when you’re ‘all in.’ Palms sweaty, heart racing, trying to look cool on the outside but feeling the nervous excitement that comes when you’re taking a risk for God. There’s something about the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom that seems to centre around these sort of moments… but what do we mean by ‘Kingdom of God’ and how does it relate to evangelism?

As a fan of theologian NT Wright (particularly his outstanding book Surprised by Hope), my worldview as a Christian has been centred around the belief that Scripture is a unified story of God putting back together a world marred by sin, and of Jesus as the climax of that great narrative. Through his death and resurrection the future reality of God’s redemptive plan burst into the present, and we don’t just wait for the return of the King but we partner with God to see his Kingdom come now.

This shapes our ‘good works,’ our serving the poor, the sick, the lonely, those that society has left behind. This shapes our expectation around the supernatural, as we pray for the sick and the broken. And this shapes our evangelistic passion – we can confidently, wisely and humbly invite people to embrace love, wholeness, life and healing in a relationship with Jesus, the humble King.

What kind of pants do you wear?

Two quite distinct camps have emerged over the years that have caused us to lose something of our effectiveness. Scot McKnight has captured something of this in his recent book Kingdom Conspiracy. He talks about ’Skinny Jeans Christians’ who love Kingdom work – helping the poor, drawing alongside those society has left behind, and sometimes living in ‘intentional community’ to outwork this. Yet there is reluctance to invite people to give their lives to Jesus. But Scot doesn’t stop there. He critiques ‘Pleated Pants Christians,’ saying they’ve reduced the Kingdom to ‘redemptive moments’ where people come to faith, neglecting things like caring for the poor as a waste of time since mission is all about getting people into heaven.

I am convinced we’re called to it all! We’re called to serve the poor, care for God’s creation, care for the refugee, draw alongside the lonely, roll up our sleeves and serve our communities. And we’re called to invite everyone to the banqueting table of God’s love, challenging them to give their lives to follow Jesus, to pursue and be pursued by him, and to partner with him to see his Kingdom come.

So the skinny jeans and the pleated pants crowds need each other. I wonder whether we’ve lost something of a humble spirit that would learn from those who have a different focus or passion (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). There’s great power in a passion for both servant hearted Kingdom works and helping people journey towards Jesus. If I’m honest, I don’t think we’re weak in doing ‘good works’ here in NZ. I’m proud of all the initiatives just about every church I come across is doing to serve their wider community. But I wonder whether we’ve lost some confidence in God’s power to break into the world and move supernaturally.

For example, a whole article could be written about Power Evangelism. A friend of mine was recently talking to someone who was very resistant to the topic of Jesus! But my friend asked to pray for the man’s back which had been causing him pain for many years. He said yes, even though he didn’t believe in God and had never been to church. His back was instantly healed, his eyes just about popped out in surprise and a conversation ensued that ultimately led to the person asking Jesus into his life! What a reminder that God’s Kingdom is not just of words but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20).

The Awesome in the Awkward

The area I’ve felt particularly challenged in is the lack of ‘redemptive moments’ I’ve offered people. I felt the Lord gently challenge me earlier this year: “Sam, in your church services, when is there an opportunity for people to cross the line to come to faith?”

I realised I was afraid nothing would happen, that people would reject me, that I’d look like a fool. So I began to step out, giving people an opportunity at the end of our services to become a Christian… and I was excited to see people actually respond! I realised I needed a ’Kingdom expectation’ around people coming to faith in our gatherings. Often God’s awesome power and Kingdom are found in awkward moments where people step out in faith. Sometimes the awesome is in the awkward!

We’re called to make disciples not converts, but conversion is a vital step in the journey. It requires someone asking a question: “Do you want to give your life to Jesus? Can I pray for you? Do you want to come to our Alpha course? Do you want to come and visit my church?”

The most thrilling part of seeing God’s Kingdom break in is when we see one of his precious children return to him. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the indescribable privilege of watching people who are a part of our latest Alpha course take real steps towards faith. Every Alpha night people from our community who wouldn’t call themselves Christians come in to our building. Some are going to Alpha, some to a parenting course, some to community youth programmes, some have engaged with our free budgeting service throughout the week. Through all of this we’ve created an ‘on ramp’ for people to journey towards faith in Christ.

My prayer is that there would be a fresh passion for God’s Kingdom in all its expressions and a fresh confidence in the power of the Gospel to change lives. May there be a ‘new normal’ in our expectation of the supernatural, the expectation that people will come to faith, and a great passion to pour out our lives to see God’s Kingdom bless all who encounter us.

Sam is the pastor of Grace Vineyard’s Beach Campus in Christchurch.

For discussion

Are you in the ‘Skinny Jeans’ or ‘Pleated Pants’ brigade? How can you find a better balance between these two extremes?

What’s needed for your church to become a place where people can cross the line and come to faith regularly? What role will you play?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

Reclaiming the Discipleship Roots of CMS (Issue 24)

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Two thousand years ago the world’s true ruler came declaring that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He explained – and demonstrated – what that Kingdom looks like. He died for our sins and rose to inaugurate that Kingdom. But rather than continuing to gather followers and spread the Kingdom himself, he did something peculiar. He told his followers that they were the ones to continue his mission, and central to their mission was this thing called discipleship (Matthew 28:19).

Discipleship is central to mission. As Dallas Willard said, “The church is for discipleship, and discipleship is for the world.” But where does this group called CMS, the Church Missionary Society, fit into the picture?

To be honest, we’ve wondered that ourselves. We’ve wondered where we fit in and alongside the Kiwi Church. And we’ve been wondering how we can make discipleship central to who we are and how we operate.

Back to our roots

As it turns out, when CMS was launched over two hundred years ago, discipleship was already central to our vision, values, models and methods. So when we say we’re making discipleship central, we’re actually talking about reclaiming something of our original DNA. We’re reclaiming this same focus for a changing world and a new generation.

The early CMS didn’t just send people overseas. Joining CMS meant being committed to mission everywhere, whether in deepest Africa or the streets of London. And ‘local’ and ‘global’ weren’t seen as opposed, but two sides of a single coin. After all, can you really say you value God’s mission if you only care about your own neighbourhood or focus only on the other side of the world? That’s why the early CMS sent people from within the community to the farthest reaches, and why they fought the slave trade in England – Wilberforce was one of CMS’ founders you know.

To join CMS meant to be part of a missional community who were together learning what it meant to follow a missional God. And that’s what emerged in New Zealand in the 1940s. Young evangelicals from various churches, calling themselves the NZCMS League of Youth, started gathering to explore all things mission. A movement was born. Passion for mission and the Gospel resulted in many people coming to Christ or going deeper in their faith. And from among the community people were sent into the nations. The League eventually waned, but we hope to see a new movement with that same passion raised up, one that suits our post-modern, post-Christian context.

From Agency to Community

Today NZCMS is typically seen as being a mission agency. We may send people to other countries, but ‘agency’ isn’t the right word to describe us. We’re the Church Missionary Society. First and foremost, we’re supposed to be a society, a community centred on God and his mission. We’re not an organisation you support or a list of missionaries for the church wall, but a community you belong to – a community made up of people across different churches, united by a passion for local and global mission.

How should this look in the 21st century? To be perfectly honest, we don’t fully know yet. Yet we sense God is moving us from functioning like an agency to being a nation-wide missional community once again.

So maybe the question isn’t so much where we fit, but where you fit.

The answer is to become CMS, not just support CMS. Because CMS isn’t, at its core, an office or an agency. CMS is you. It’s you aligning yourself to God’s missional Kingdom purposes and joining others who are on that same journey. It’s about becoming part of a movement that reaches beyond your local efforts to the farthest corners of the earth – because mission here should inspire mission there, and vice versa.

We’re exploring what the Society across the nation could become, seeking to develop and nurture purposeful missional communities. How are we to pass on the rich missional heritage to the emerging generations? How can we invite those God leads us to journey with us in our missional engagement? Can we be a community from which people are sent? All across the country I meet young adults seeking missional-direction. The challenge is finding mentors and coaches willing to journey with and open their lives to these people. We desperately need ‘discipleship incubation centres,’ missional hubs and communities: homes, café groups, small gatherings and churches seeking to shape the next generation of mission workers.

We’ve already started reclaiming this emphasis on discipleship. We’ve launched an online ‘community’ that hopes to engage young adults in an on-going missional conversation (nzcms.org.nz/hashtag). We’ve re-invented our Haerenga Mission Internship as an apprenticeship, reclaiming discipleship through imitation by placing people serious about cross-cultural mission under an active missionary (nzcms.org.nz/haerenga). We’re developing resources to equip you in your local efforts (nzcms.org.nz/intermission). We’re finding ways to expand our regional efforts. And we’re preparing to launch a new initiative for anyone seeking intentional missional discipleship that integrates into their daily lives.

Friends, we’re enthused by the journey God has us on of re-discovering our discipleship roots. Rather than say ‘will you join us’, I want to say:  ‘How can we join you?’ That is, how can we partner with you to deepen and further your missional efforts? We want to resource you, encourage you, challenge and equip you to participate in mission-focused communities wherever you are, and in doing so see you flourish as the Community of Mission Service. I’m looking for key people who want to be equipped to support and network local groups that are seeking to be intentional about living missionally. You may be a NZCMS faithful, you might be discovering who NZCMS is for the first time. No matter your journey, we look forward to where God is leading us together.

To find out how we can partner in mission, email me at steve@nzcms.org.nz

 

For discussion

What would it mean for your group to belong to this ‘community of mission service’?

What do you think CMS could look like in 21st century New Zealand?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

The Jesus Model

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Now that I’m officially old, I’m coming to discover that this journey called faith really is all about Jesus. It may sound like a bit of a non-realisation, but I think it’s easy to forget that Jesus didn’t just do something for us. He showed us what a true human being could be, which is another way of saying he showed me how I can and should live. And, as it turns out, Jesus knew what he was doing when he made discipleship central to his strategy to transform the world and to expand his Kingdom. At it’s core, mission is all about discipleship.

The topic of discipleship is the focus of the latest edition of Intermission. We’ve got articles by Spanky, Bishop Justin Duckworth, some missionaries, ministry leaders in England (from 3dm), plus a couple from the CMS team – and we’re use a number of them as recent #NZCMS posts because they were just so good! If you don’t have a copy of the magazine, email me and I’ll send you as many as you need for your group, but for now I thought we’d start of exploration of the topic of discipleship with this brilliant video.

The video makes a pretty simple point: Jesus orientated his life around three simple principles or modes. He had time to spend with his Father, he had time to spend with his spiritual family, and he had time to spend engaging the world. If being a disciple is about becoming more like Jesus, then I’m supposed to be growing in these three areas – not just my favourite one or two. Imagine what would happen if we learned to find a balance between these three modes. Those we’re discipling – something we’re all involved in one way or another – would come to imitate us as we live out this balance. And those they disciple would do the same. And so on. We’d have masses of people who know how to connect with God, fellowship with and support one another, and reach out to the world.

 

THE MUSE

What stands out to you in the video?

 

THE MOVE

Which of the three areas are you weakest in? What steps can you make to grow in that area? And who are your going to grow with?

#NZCMS is all about exploring what it means to be God’s missional people in today’s world. Sign up for the emailer by filling in your email at the top of the page or join the discussion at the #NZCMS Facebook Group (and turn on ‘all notifications’ to stay in the loop!) 

Discipleship in Relationship, Discipleship in Community (Issue 24)

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By a partner working in Asia.

In South Asia, relationship and community are central to discipleship. So often I’ve seen that this is what really grows people in their faith. Take the example of Shan.

Shan is a new believer. Hungry to find a worldview that was consistent with the reality he experienced, Shan made the costly decision to become a Christian, the only one in his family. He lived in a Christian hostel, where discipleship for him became a daily learning journey. Without the hostel Shan would have been dependent on occasional Sunday worship and any gatherings he was invited to. In the hostel he was exposed to, participated in and embraced daily rhythms of Christian life: praying before meals, worship and devotion times, learning to express himself to God in his own language. Shan was surrounded by a community intent on living out Christian values, with leadership praying for him by name. The hostel modelled a Christ-like life of outreach and service to others, and he joined teams that visited villages, singing, praying and sharing messages. Shan, like many other hostel students, found routines and patterns which he’s carried beyond his student years into his young adult life.

Shan has matured in his faith, but is hungry to continue growing. He doesn’t always feel fully accepted by the Christian community and doesn’t feel free to ask many of the questions which he has. He thrives on informal mentoring relationships where there’s a freedom to come and talk openly. Acceptance, a safe environment, genuine listening, mutual sharing of the joys and struggles of following Jesus, digging into the Bible… all of these have been critical parts of his discipleship journey.

Shan stands strong in his new faith, despite facing opposition from his family. He’s spontaneous and has made some unexpected life choices, but has also learnt that when he makes mistakes he has community who care for him, who will forgive him and encourage him to keep finding God in all he does.

Shan is a young leader in both church and community and his example is encouraging other young people to follow in his footsteps. He’s avoided the trap of becoming narrowly inward looking and continues to make efforts to reach out to his family and the wider community with God’s love.

Investing in discipleship is costly. Hours are spent in prayer, listening and waiting. People sometimes let you down, and the outcomes are not guaranteed. But through nurture, scaffolded support, relationships and intentional community, people such as Shan emerge as confident disciples. They may still be learning, growing, making mistakes and moving on, but praise God that they are on the journey of discipleship. And praise God for all those who have invested in their lives!

 

For discussion

Who had a role in your Christian formation? What made them influential?

What can you and your group do to encourage discipleship in relationship and community?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

Information & Imitation: It’s both-and! (Issue 24)

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A couple years back I was in the UK on study leave, looking at Fresh Expressions and other forms of missional church. It didn’t take long to notice that the same word come up again and again and again in theological colleges, in bishops offices, and in new church plants. Discipleship.

But it came up less as a theological buzz word and more as a slow realisation that for all the mission theory and big talk about contextualising the Gospel, something seemed to be seriously holding us back in the Western world. It wasn’t until a meeting with the leader of a significant theological college that I heard the conundrum finally named: “You know what? I think our church has just forgotten how to disciple people.”

“Golly” I thought to myself. It certainly sounded pretty bad when he put it like that. Especially since the mission statement Jesus gave us seemed pretty hot on the D word. If Discipleship is a buzzword, it’s good to remember it was Jesus’ buzzword too. I mean, how could we forget how to do the main thing Jesus commissioned us to do? I left that meeting feeling more than a little disturbed. But at the same time it was like a light bulb had just gone off.

Over the past 50 years or so the Church has gotten really really good at running things. We love programmes! And what’s not to love? They’re measurable. When they succeed they give us that “feel good” factor. They deliver great bang for our buck. They have fancy glossy brochures… When they first came onto the scene these programmes were intended to support discipleship: education, social action, outreach. Programmes and courses were only ever supposed to play a supporting role in forming followers of Jesus and in assisting discipling relationships to flourish.

Perhaps we’ve gotten a little too good at running things? Many of us have unintentionally started treating discipleship and evangelism as being primarily about the programmes: Discipleship equals attending a Bible study, while evangelism equals inviting someone to an Alpha course. These are great things, but are they producing the kinds of Kingdom hearted, mission minded disciples our world so desperately needs right now? Increasingly the consensus amongst many Christian leaders is “No.”

Inform & Imitate

What is a disciple? It sounds like a silly question. But it’s one that people are wrestling with right now. So for the sake of starting somewhere, let’s go with something suitably simple: “Someone living in the way of Jesus Christ.”

Discipleship is fundamentally about forming someone to follow in Jesus’ way faithfully and obediently. And if we look at Jesus’ life with the twelve we can see two major aspects of how he discipled people: Information and Imitation.

Part of forming disciples involves giving people the information they need. And boy, we’ve become incredibly good at giving people lots and lots and lots of information. Sermons, Bible studies, lectures, books, courses on how to share your faith, courses on how to pray for people, courses on how to run courses. Most churches have a smorgasbord of info-treats on offer every week.

But the other ingredient required to form disciples is for them to have someone to imitate… and this is the bit we’re not so good at. Despite all the words and theories and principles we tell people to believe, learning the way of Jesus involves more than information. It’s vital for us to see people putting it into action. And rarely do we allow those we’re discipling close enough to imitate us: How do we spend our money? How do we fight (and reconcile) with our spouse? How do we make decisions? How do we pray? How do we read our Bible? How do we share our faith? This is an area we all need to work on. People don’t need a perfect example, they just need a living one.

I truly believe that for the Church to flourish and for our mission organisations to be fruitful, all of us will have to rediscover our passion for dirty, gritty, heart-breaking, life-giving relational discipleship. Disciples of Jesus have always been the most basic unit when it comes to sharing and embodying the Good News. Not flashy brands, or fancy bands, or Facebook pages. People.

So it’s simple really. Intentionally form people to follow Jesus, and then allow God’s mission to flourish. I know it sounds mad! But it’s not my idea. Jesus poured half of his three years of ministry into just twelve people. Teaching them, doing life with them and imitating God’s Kingdom to them. 2000 years later his gamble seems to have paid off.

Maybe it’s time we took that same gamble again?

 

For discussion

What might balance between Information and Imitation look like in your group?

Would you be comfortable telling others to imitate the life you’re living (as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 4:14-17)? Why / why not?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.