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Never Let Go - Freeing Discipleship from Formulas

“You want to be a missionary? Got that missionary zeal? Let a stranger change your life How does it make you feel?”

Paul Simon

“Hurricane Eye”

I was brought up in a tradition that looked at discipleship as a repeatable formula. There are an endless number of books, most useless, on how to deploy the right methodology.

As a layman I’ve learned these models were obstructive to creating a true connection with another human being. Discipleship models attempt to force a relationship into a flow chart and have created more harm than good. These formulas create frustration, burn-out and do not consider human psychology. When certain perceived goals are reached there is division, segmenting and a wrong idea of what it means to “send Forth”. These models fail incredibly at providing content.

Our church is ailing from these models. As with advertising, people now have better B.S. detectors and can identify the difference between someone’s genuine interest in their lives and a church program to create more attendees.

We need not create a graph of how to replicate, we may simply read the words from Jesus Christ, His first disciples, the early church fathers, and the ancients. If we will listen to them and emulate elements of their actions, we may be fortunate to have a life of genuine relationships.

If we go at people with a formulaic model and a goal of carbon copy culture making, we will continue to fail miserably.

In this essay I want to share with you the thoughts of wise men and the simple application of their words to provide a starting point of reflection on discipleship, and as an encouragement to dig deeper into the lives of those before us, so you may, develop their faith in a way that does not generate people for pews, but experience the wonderfulness of serving someone out of love and not duty.

Discipleship is simply serving another with a sincere desire to see them grow; to see them grow in their thought life, actions, faith, and relationships. This is serving your spouse, children, friends, and coworkers. It is meeting people where they are and beginning a lifelong conversation and commitment to an individual.

Discipleship is a commitment you make to, ‘living life’ with another person for the entirety of your life.

You’ve heard it said that discipleship is replicating. I think the word replication can become dangerous in its modern religious interpretation. It would now seem to insinuate making someone just like me. It would be much better to look at discipleship as imparting, as there will never be another person just like you in space in time. Yes, there are truths we want those we serve to know, but this comes through a permission-based relationship that imparts wisdom.

Replication implies a cookie-cutter process; a one size fits all. This in never the case in human relationships. It is a disrespect and disregard of the great gift of God: individuality and uniqueness. Contemplate the last few words in this observation of Marcus Tullius Cicero, “Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century: Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others; Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected; Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it; Refusing to set aside trivial preferences; Neglecting development and refinement of the mind; Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.”

There is no timeline to follow. You must not view your service to others as having to meet specific goals in a set amount of time. Again, everyone is different and this goes as well for their pace.

Discipleship is a life-long commitment. No matter the circumstances, progress, life changes, you should commit yourself to someone for life. How you serve them, how often you see and interact with them may change, but the obligation of service should never leave you until your last breath. The person in whom you invest may reject your service, but this will simply change your service to one of prayer and a push for reconciliation.

Yes, there are some relationships that may end up caustic or stale and create separation. These will be the exception and not the rule. Again, the service will change to intercession and hope and effort for reconciliation.

People are not projects. Projects are tasks that are completed, people are reflections of the master of creation and deserve the greatest care and attention.

Much of modern discipleship is project and program driven, where those encouraged into ministry soon find themselves disconnected from the care of others into the wheel of production.

Never let go. Out of love and care chase individuals all the way to the gates of hell and push them upward toward the floor of heaven while your back gets burned.

You do not go into the service of others with the idea of “winning”. You go into discipleship with gratitude. If someone is willing to walk through life with you, the only way to look at this is as a gift. The gift of relationship.

We have in the New Testament Jesus telling his disciples to “Shake the dust off their feet” if they were not welcomed or rejected. Do not misunderstand this statement. Evangelism has gone awry with a heretic approach using this quote. There may be people who do not welcome a relationship with you for many reasons. This is human nature as people are different and at different stages of life. There is no need to force yourself into someone’s life. But the statement ‘Shake the dust” which is the same as to ‘wash your hands of it” is not a tell once, move on permission.

There may be a time in a relationship to make a proclamation. This should be done with extreme caution and used sparingly. Jesus was teaching a few men with a limited amount of time before his earthly ministry would be completed.

I said earlier, this is not about winning. Again, you are fortunate to have the opportunity to invest in another, their decisions are theirs, not yours. The results of their choices belong to them. Imparting may bring growth or judgment, but you do not get to claim victory in their lives, nor declare a final judgement on them; this is God’s business. Investment, imparting and interaction are the business you are called too.