by Caleb Borchers
After weeks and weeks of preparation, it was finally over. Several of the people in our launch team got together on the afternoon of our launch, back in 2015, and we had a little party. We were an exhausted bunch. In the lead up to launch, not only did we have the struggle of getting our systems in place, having our worship team ready, and writing the sermon, but we also had the blessing and challenge of getting a church building space ready that would be our home. For many weeks my wife and I got up, took our oldest to school, worked like crazy, picked up the kid from school, worked until bed, and threw some food down our throats somewhere in between. We simply went nonstop for weeks.
I had this thought during the party that night years ago: “Now we just have to do it again, six days and 18 hours from now. On repeat. Forever.”
I guess all jobs have a certain relentless cycle to them. Payroll has to get done each week. Bills never stop coming in. Quarterly and annual reviews happen like clockwork. But it feels like ministry has a special hamster wheel factor to it. Every Sunday 10AM comes and the church expects to have songs to sing and a sermon to ingest. As a church planter, I have been more involved in making that happen then someone in a larger established church may be. For much of our church’s existence I have had to keep tabs on not just my lesson but many other pieces as well. While at Easter we loudly proclaim, “It’s Friday…but Sunday is coming!” the preacher more sheepishly, ominously says each week, “It may be Monday morning, but Sunday is coming!”
We just celebrated our seventh anniversary as a church. 365 Sundays! (Yes there is a 53 Sunday year in there, as weird as that sounds it is how calendars work.) That is so many weeks in a row. We had COVID and sometimes we had online church only. But there was some sort of content for our members every week 365 weeks in a row! I do not believe that a single one of those has come and gone without me having some role in preparations, somewhere along the line.
Looking at it that way can make you a little bleary eyed. How do you discern an ongoing story through all of that? Early on, church plants have a clear, distinct story. The shape is pretty obvious. After a dreaming phase a team is put together, momentum builds, and the church launches! And even past that, there are celebrations of milestones like certain attendance numbers or staying alive after so many years or getting a new facility or financial independence. But like a person, those years start to fade in significance. What’s the difference between 43 and 44, for a person? Not much. I’m suspicious an 8 year old church isn’t that different from a 7 year old church. How do we continue to have a sense of direction and purpose?
Church planters, when they are honest, will admit they have a bad little habit of patronizing established churches. It is usually subtle and not malicious. But we say things like, “We’re planting a church because we want to be mission driven. Instead of merely existing week in and week out, we are trying to inspire people to own their faith and be active in their community.” This, put more bluntly, might be something like, “Church plants are active and alive, unlike the old tired churches that just exist on life support week in and week out.” Now there is some reality to that all. It is much easier to get people excited to volunteer in Year 1 than Year 7. I’m experiencing that now. I cannot imagine year 78!
Necessarily we give a lot of energy and attention to something in its neonatal stage, but that fades. Parents are not bad parents because they check in on their 52 year-old child a little less than a newborn. Churches transition into a stage where they just function without as much constant attention. If they don’t, they usually shutter because it is simply too much stress on whoever is keeping the plates spinning.
All of this has me thinking about the “law of undulation.” This is a phrase C.S. Lewis discusses some in The Screwtape Letters. The idea, simply put, is that human beings go spiritually through natural cycles of growth and vitality, as well as natural cycles of drought and dryness. It is ingrained in the fact that we are subject to time. Lewis suggests that these phases are at least used by God, if not explicitly part of his design. After all, this is true of the seasons and weather. Undulation is a natural rhythm that helps us to find meaning. Undulation is a necessary part of our biology and psychology.
As Americans, we are allergic to undulation. I think that it is somewhat due to our economic/capitalistic values creeping into everything. Corporate America believes that everything should always be up and to the right. Growth, growth, growth. No company announces, “Our profits are exactly where they were last year, but that is plenty.” A culture that is never satiated will necessarily shudder at contraction. Instead we always want to see growth year over year. This is true of our spiritual life too. We think we should grow beyond last quarter in attendance, giving, maturity, and everything else!
Lewis suggests that there are two different ways Satan might discourage us in undulation. Both are about rejecting the reality of ups and downs. On the one hand, some are tempted to think that high moments are the totality of faith. Such people cannot tolerate moments that are less than mountain top experiences. They feel they are slipping and in a foolish surge of energy try to force such ecstatic experiences. On the other hand, some will see their current state of low spiritual intensity as not a phase but the norm. They then look back on moments of intense spiritual experience and discount it as the folly of youth or false emotionalism. Lewis suggests that neither is helpful. We instead welcome these phases as necessary parts of our spiritual journey which God will, in the least, use to his purposes if not create in the first place.
Any person or church that walks a journey of faith for some length of time will know this reality of undulation. Faithfulness over the long haul is challenging. Our faith can be a bit like a marriage where the passion of the early days can mellow into the depth of a quiet, confident connection. Allowing that season to be a maturing of our love and not negligence of it will always be an important balance to strike. Part of the work of maturing, as a believer and a community, is learning to accept and welcome the undulation God sends our way.
“It seems like there are already so many churches in America.
Why do we need to plant new ones?”
Good question! Attendance at most existing churches is on the decline. Why wouldn’t we just encourage them to be more active in reaching out to the unchurched?
Fortunately, it’s not an either/or answer. It’s both/and.
Established churches absolutely should continue to make every effort to make disciples of Jesus among all peoples. We at Kairos are dedicated to equipping churches to do this more effectively (more on that soon in an upcoming email).
But making every effort also means that established churches should plant new churches for new people.
1. New churches are most effective at reaching younger generations.
Typically, the older a congregation is, the more ingrained their traditions are in critical areas like worship styles, preaching, leadership, emotional responsiveness, and receptivity to outsiders. This can present a daunting barrier to those who aren’t used to the way things are done.
Planting new churches allows for the possibility of developing new church cultures that are just as Biblical as the older ones, but feel more accessible to younger unchurched people.
2. New residents are almost always drawn more to new congregations.
About 13% of Americans move annually. That means that all of these people are “new” to their location. Research consistently indicates that the most effective way to reach these people for Christ is by planting new churches.
Older churches gain 80–90% of their new members in the form of transfers from other congregations. New churches, on the other hand, gain 60–80% of their new members among people with no church affiliation.
3. New ethnic and cultural groups in a community are much more likely to seek out newer churches.
The United States has the largest immigrant population in the world. Over a million people come into the US through this process each year.
If we wait for these new people groups to become assimilated into the local culture and then try to bring them in through the door of established churches, it will take several years to begin to reach them.
New congregations can be initiated with the view of being intentionally multiethnic from the very start.
First century believers recognized that we should never put barriers in the way of people coming to Christ. Their approach was that “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19).
If our passion is truly for the kingdom of God and not just our part of it, we must develop a culture of continually planting new churches for new people.
Will you join us?
by Patty Slack
You can feel the change in the air–not just the crisp autumn wind, but the smell of burning leaves and cinnamon pinecones, the sight of neighbors on tall ladders stringing lights in bold outlines around windows and across roofs.
It is a season of giving. This week, we give thanks, honoring our creator for the blessings of the year. We recognize that no matter our circumstances, we have reason to be grateful.
It’s also a season of giving gifts. Despite my best efforts to push Christmas off until after Thanksgiving, the stores have already been decked with evergreen sprays and Christmas music for weeks. The next few weeks, I’ll enjoy considering the important people in my life and how I can express my love for each of them through a gift or a note or a personal visit.
Thirdly, for all the people who work with ministries and nonprofits, including all of us on the Kairos staff and many of our church planters, it is fundraising season. With the end of the tax year and our fiscal years coming soon, we are all aware of the fact that we really cannot do this work on our own.
When I moved overseas as a missionary (more years ago than I can believe), I carried with me a healthy dose of shame to be asking for the money to help me go do the thing I wanted to do. As if to be worthy of support, I needed to be miserable. Or desperate. People and churches were generous and, though funds were often tight, God always provided one way or another for all we needed.
After returning to the States, I had several years of working traditional jobs that paid an hourly wage. But last year I found myself in a position where obedience to God’s call and excitement about how we at Kairos are witnessing the movement of his Spirit meant asking people to support me. Let me tell you, it’s a terrifying place to be.
Time and time again in Scripture and in experience, I see that if God calls, he also provides. There are more scriptures than I can list that point to the importance of those who work for God’s purposes to be supported in their work.
And here’s what else I’ve learned. God calls certain people to go. It might be missionaries or church planters or medical workers or apprentices or whatever. But these are not the only people God calls. He also asks people to send. Like the women who supported Jesus as he traveled or the churches that supported Paul on his missionary journeys, those who send are in partnership with Jesus just as much as those who are sent.
So, if one of us approaches you this season to talk about the amazing things we see God doing through Kairos, know these three things:
There’s no pressure. Just invitation. And then we’ll leave it between you and God to discuss if this is the work he’s calling you to support or he has something else in mind for you. Either way, we’re giving thanks for you.
By Caleb Borchers
Here at The Feast Church we recently celebrated our 7th anniversary as a church. That number surprises me a little. The nebulous nature of time around the pandemic certainly has not helped things. Getting ready for the big day I sifted through old photos trying to find some that tell the story of our church well. I was surprised by the number of people who I immediately recognized with fondness, but also somehow allowed to drift far from my consciousness. “I haven’t thought about that person in forever!”
The reality of church planting is that the very best part of it, and the very worst part of it, is the coming and the going of people. I do not think that many outside observers, or even naive young planters, realize the emotional toll that comes simply from the revolving door of members that happens in a young church. It is easy to think of starting a church a bit like building a house. You lay a foundation, then frame the walls, then finish it out. While that metaphor may work in some ways, it has a very wrong assumption at its core. Once the concrete of a home’s foundation is laid, it doesn’t go anywhere. But planting a church means building a house in which, from time to time, the foundational blocks at the core of the home suddenly disappear. The builder must find a way to re-purpose another part of the house or bring in new materials all together, at the same time they try to work on a much later stage of the project. Each time this happens the house gets terribly unstable for a while.
Church plants somewhat naturally churn through people. Sometimes this is due to the nature of a plant. There are always members of a core team who are simply excited by new things. They joined because you were starting a new church and they will leave once it starts to no longer feel like a new church. It would be easy to be hurt by their departure, but you shouldn’t be. That entrepreneurial spirit is a God-given gift. You have to be thankful it will be used to help others like it helped you. Others leave for more painful reasons. They do not like something you do. They start behaving in ways that you have to engage and challenge, so they choose to leave rather than address the problem. Sometimes people just slowly drift from faith. Then there are the happier partings. Maybe some older parents want to be nearer to their grandchildren. Many church plants start with young families, and young families today make several major shifts in their career that often includes moving. Sometimes a family even feels called to do ministry elsewhere. If someone had a heart for ministry enough to join your plant, they are going to be more likely to have another call in their life.
Necessarily church planters are people who see potential. In order to build a community that does not exist, one has to have an ability to intuit things that have not happened. So the people who are part of our churches we see both as they are and who they might be. If a church planter doesn’t look at a new member and dream about how they might be a leader down the road, they likely aren’t doing enough to develop leadership. As such, when someone leaves, it is always a heartbreak. Not only is that relationship changed and lessened, at least in terms of time together and shared life, but there is also a death. The things you imagined happening in the future die. That young mom will never be able to mentor other moms a decade from now, at least not here. That young man that was ready to lead a ministry a year down the road will not do so in this church. Those people aren’t lost to the Kingdom, but there is still a pain in not seeing how their story would have joined your own.
Church planters have a somewhat unusual relationship with their church. When I talk to minister friends at established churches they share (lament?) that they are to some degree always outsiders. I hear a sentiment like, “I can not push too hard for this change, because this church has a history before me and will have a future after me.” In those settings, the preacher is often the one with the least history and future in the church, with frequent pulpit changes being relatively normal. Plants aren’t quite like that. At the very least, the planter has been around longer than anyone else! They also did not come to a church with a salary and benefits. Often they worked like crazy to fundraise enough to scrape by to pursue a dream. So in a plant there is often a feeling, accurate or not, that the planter is more invested in the church than anyone else. This also makes people leaving hard. You are so prone to take it personally. “They left because they didn’t believe in me or my vision as much as I do.” And that thought hurts because on some level it is true! It wouldn’t be fair or sensible to expect every person in the pew to have the same level of commitment as a planter who uprooted their family, moved to a strange place, and gave their lives to starting a church. But that reality still can feel lonely.
Obviously new people coming are the flip side of the equation. They are the drug that planters get hooked on. The thrill of someone showing interest in your church is amazing. It is affirming to feel like your work to create a community with a certain set of values is actually meeting the needs of real people. You can see all the ways that these new people’s skills and passions can benefit other people. Seeing two people who do not know each other create a friendship, and then seeing that friendship blossom into caring for each other in hardship, creates a sort of pride that makes the journey feel worth it. Church planters in a way are obsessed with connecting those who are disconnected. Of course they love seeing that actually happen. More personally, many people by their thirties complain about how hard it is to form new friendships. In ministry there are so many opportunities to connect with someone new through your work.
I have a bad habit I am trying to break. There are times when I daydream about what our church would look like if everyone stayed. If every family that had journeyed with us over seven years were still here today, what would this place be like? The attendance numbers alone makes me so happy! In those moments I can become a bit overcome with sadness. The work done to help people in their faith feels wasted. That’s obviously foolish. That image should actually reinforce just how many souls have been strengthened. How many hours of teaching and worship have built up the body of Christ? Who is in a much better place in their faith today because of the trajectory that started in the church we planted? How many communities of faith around the country and world are benefiting from the work we put in? That should inspire us.
“Caleb, I cannot remember many of the names of people I worked intensely with in Africa,” a missionary once told me when talking about these things. It was not that he didn’t love those people. It was more like a defense mechanism. “It is like my heart clears space out so that I have capacity for the people I’m serving now.” To some degree forgetfulness is necessary. It would be too much to bear otherwise. I still remember one of our daughters crying when a family said they were moving away. “Dad, why do my friends always leave?” The work of church planting is essentially giving your all to form relationships that are liable to end far earlier than you would like. There is a necessary revolving door of people. Our kids have also benefited from having so many people play some role in their childhood. The most thrilling and heartbreaking part of church planting is learning how to give your all to those folks when they are here and then say goodbye in as beautiful a way as possible.
Discipleship, Part 5
by Jared & Laura King
In the previous blog we mentioned how listening is the starting place of discipleship. Listening is critical in having a successful discipling relationship in a post-Christian world. However, listening is only half of discipleship. The other half of discipleship is sharing.
While I am a huge advocate for better listening in our world, and particularly in our churches and discipleship relationships, without sharing the truth of Jesus we will only ever have a group of people who feel very well heard but still have no framework for a life of faith. Sharing is discipleship when it builds off the listening you have already done and begins to answer the “Why, What, and How” questions of being a disciple of Jesus.
When I was in college I read a lot of books, listened to a lot of lectures, went to a lot of conferences and classes that taught the idea of evangelism or sharing our faith. In nearly all of them, I felt inspired to share my faith, yet I walked away still asking the question, “So what am I supposed to do again?”
There are times within theological education where we get deeply specific about the theory and wildly generic about the practice. I don’t think this is necessarily a fault of higher education, but rather, more a window into the reality that theory can be easier to describe than practicing that theory in real life. Church growth books will detail out a broad understanding of why churches are not growing and how our churches can begin to reverse the trends of decline. And they do all this in maybe 200 pages or less. Reading the book takes a few days, but implementing the theories of growth in churches that exist within ever changing cultures, peoples, seasons of excitement or pain, can take years. This in no way implies we shouldn’t read or educate ourselves on new principles or methods. It simply means that a healthy understanding of timeline and pace concerning things like people’s faith journeys is deeply important as we begin a conversation about sharing our faith with others.
Sharing our faith can feel oddly generic. What do we do to share our faith? What do we say? To answer these, and the myriad of other questions you may have regarding sharing faith, I am going to give a framework for shaping your life so that everything about you begins to share the truth of Jesus in you. Which is a big task. And while what I want to share will feel like “theory,” my hope is that you will be able to take the theory and slowly make it a natural part of the way you live your life.
Aristotle believed that the key to a persuasive argument stemmed from 3 arenas at play with each other. These three arenas are “Ethos,” or the character, credibility, and ethics of the speaker, “Pathos,” or the emotions and passions of the audience, and “Logos,” or the logic, creative language, and evidence used in the message itself. These three arenas are constantly working either together because of the intentionality of the person trying to persuade, or they are working against each other because of the lack of understanding on the part of the speaker.
I don’t want you to get tripped up by my use of words like “persuade” or “argumentation.” These words carry a lot of negative connotations in our world today. However, everything you do in life has some elements of persuasion or argumentation. When I am training people in fitness, part of my role is to convince them that they are out of shape and that what I am doing is going to help them get into shape. It’s the same with discipleship and sharing our faith. Part of sharing faith demands that we believe that following Jesus is the best life for all people and then we must step out into the world to convince people of that truth. Aristotle believed that the three arenas, Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, are constantly at work to either persuade for or against the thing being argued, or discussed.
Let’s start with Ethos. Aristotle believed this was the most important part of persuasion because it lays before people the power of your life. You’ve probably heard the cliché, “Preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words.” They are talking about allowing our Ethos to speak the truth of our faith to those around us. Ethos involves things like your character, your ethics, integrity, and credibility. Aristotle said that there are three principals at work in a person’s Ethos: Intelligence, character, and good will. His argument was that to be a persuasive person, your life needed to reflect that you know what you are talking about. Which seems important in discipleship. If we expect other people to live the Way of Jesus then we'd better know what that way actually is. But it’s not enough to simply know about Jesus. Our lives need to reflect that we are living the way of Jesus. Our character and integrity need to match what we say is true of Jesus. And finally “Good will” is perceived when people actually know that we are for them. Most of the time we will never convince people of the beauty of a life with Jesus if they get the sense that we are not actually for them as human beings. These three principles--intelligence, character, and good will-- determine our Ethos. And our Ethos speaks volumes to the people we are sharing our faith with.
The second arena, Pathos, generally refers to the emotions and passions of the people you are discipling. This arena takes into consideration how a person hears, responds to, and feels about you, the speaker or leader or discipler, and the message you are sharing. We sometimes view this arena as pandering to people’s emotive responses. However, understanding the pathos of the person you are discipling means deeply understanding how the message of hope and love, joy, and peace will connect to their story.
Pathos assumes that the simple transfer of information is not enough to help people hear, accept, and respond to your sharing of faith with them. We have to do the hard work of understanding how our faith story will inspire them to see the hope of a better, more perfect, future. We have to become aware of the things that will spark their imagination to see and believe that life with Jesus not only can change things but will change them.
Understanding the Pathos of the person you are discipling will help inform the final arena, the Logos. Logos simply means “word” and has traditionally been the thing we have focused on most--perfecting the sermon, teaching, elevator pitch of faith--and rightfully so. The words we use to communicate our story of faith have the power to engage the imagination of the people around you. The saying I learned as a kid, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” has been debunked on numerous levels. Words carry immense transformative power, for better or worse. Sticks and stones will break your bones. Words will too. At least your metaphorical bones. Words have the ability to start fights, even wars, but also to inspire movements, and to heal unseen wounds deep within people’s hearts. And if this is true of the power of words, maybe it is something we should pay more attention to in church and with sharing our faith. Logos, then, can’t simply be about apologetics.
Apologetics, which is the systematic argumentation of a perspective or belief, certainly engages the left side of the brain, the part that is analytical, likes logic and concepts, and is rational. But it ignores the right side which is where our emotions, imagination, art, music, poetry, and more come from. This is where your understanding of a person or group of people will aid in your ability to craft the Logos in such a way that will connect to who they are and how they perceive information. Understanding who people are and what will break through the rough exteriors of their doubt or fear will help us then as we think about sharing our faith.
Sometimes we assume that as long as I share my faith in the way I am most comfortable doing, then I have done my job. Speak it, let it land on people, and if they accept it then great. But if they deny what I say, it's on them, not me. This posture ignores the understanding that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it, and whether or not your life actually lines up with what you are saying, that people tend to hear best. We have too often assumed that our words are enough in sharing our faith. But the truth is that your words are only a portion of what people hear when you are near them. The way you live your life will oftentimes affirm or negate the words you say to a person regarding your faith.
Sharing faith is much more than a formula of words that speak to a certain point or two. Sharing faith IS words, but it is ALSO your life, your character, your good will toward the people around you. Sharing faith is understanding what the people around you will hear. When you speak about your faith, you do so in a manner and with the LOGOS that will land in the hearts of people. Sharing faith is about inspiring people to imagine the potential of their life with Jesus. We do this by speaking, but also by living the goodness of our faith in front of people.
Listening is the starting place of discipleship. But sharing is the other half that helps create an image of Jesus’ transformation in people’s lives. The Ethos, Pathos, and Logos of sharing can help create a framework for how to shape our lives around sharing our faith with people around us.
Discipleship, Part 4
by Jared & Laura King
“Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.” This is the title of John Maxwell’s popular book on leadership. It’s also the foundation for many framed statements hanging in offices around the nation reminding people to try to speak less and listen more. That is, afterall, what asking “great questions” is trying to get us to understand, isn’t it? That often in leadership we speak too much and listen very little.
Growing up, I thought discipleship was being attentive in Sunday School Class as the teacher spoke for an hour about all the things they knew about the Bible. The more I listened the better I would absorb the information of the teacher who was helping us become more like Jesus. As if sitting in a classroom where I listened and the expert taught was turning me into a disciple.
But that’s Bible class…not discipleship. There is a fundamental difference between sitting in a lecture and discipleship. Lectures tend to be one sided transfers of information from an expert to a learner. Discipleship is two people together growing closer to Jesus. Lecture requires the expert to do most of the talking while discipleship requires the one discipling to do most of the listening.
Listening is not just critical, it will often be the difference between success and failure in discipleship. Questions require thoughtfulness followed by prolonged moments of listening. Asking great questions mandates that we then listen as people provide us with their answers. In other words, questions lead to listening. And discipleship is all about meeting another person in the midst of their story to then connect them to Jesus’ story. This requires knowing people’ stories and discovering who they are as people. Asking great questions and listening to people creates deep connections that will often lead to unlocking and opening doors that were previously closed.
Think about the way evangelism has traditionally been discussed. Most of the time when people talk about why they don’t participate in evangelistic moments as much as they know they should, they will often express fears of not knowing enough, of not being equipped, of feeling afraid or unsure about how to get people to talk about God. While these feelings are certainly valid for a lot of us, they reveal a misunderstanding of the starting place of evangelism.
We have often been trained to hone in our elevator pitches for sharing the reasons for our faith. We are asked, “if you only have 3 minutes with a person how will you share the gospel with them and share your testimony?” Now, I am not opposed to people knowing what they would do if asked the reason for their faith. However, this fear and hesitancy with sharing faith and engaging in conversation with people who do not yet have faith stems from a place of feeling obligated to share our perspectives and our positions before we ever give the other person a chance to speak.
What if we reversed the script and instead of feeling an obligation to get our 60 second pitch dialed in, we started with great questions that lead to great listening. I believe discipleship is less about me getting other people to see my journey of faith with Jesus and more about me helping them discover where God has been in their story all along. But we can’t do this without learning to become the best listeners on the planet.
Now, that may sound like an over inflated expectation of the power of listening. But in our post-Christian world, where people are less and less likely to be convinced of the truth of Jesus through argumentation, we have to develop the skills of listening and seeing within their story the fingerprints of God. And after having spent lots of time listening to their doubts, their fears, hesitations, questions, joys, adventures, their heart, their life, we can begin to piece together the activity of God in their life for them to begin to see. This piecing together takes a great deal of highly intentional listening to create.
Over the past year and half I have been a part of a group that my friend Drew Dixon invited me into based around developing the skill of listening. Every month we come together to simply invite one another to share something specific, around a predetermined topic, to simply listen to the other person share and to listen to God as he speaks to all of us. This listening group has been an unbelievable place to learn the power and necessity of listening. We live in a world where the value of listening is rarely utilized. We are trained to speak into the void in hopes that people will hear. Which is a bit ironic to me. The world of social media has taught us that we all live in a deep constant longing to be heard in a world where no one is listening. Which makes groups like the one I have been a part of with Drew so important as it reminds us that listening empowers change and life-giving inspiration in understanding one another.
This past month in our Listening Group, Drew mentioned that he has started a new group online with people who have had a negative experience with church and faith. This new group is built around the idea that most of the time there are no spaces for people with this kind of story to process their experience, ask questions, and be heard. Drew, a trained Spiritual Director, asked the question, how do I carve out space for people to simply have the opportunity to have their stories heard in order to process their past?
The need for creative spaces like this for people to be heard is only going to become more and more important in our post-Christian world. No longer will people be satisfied with TED Talk Sundays where information is passed along with no means to engage and dialogue with it. People want to be listened to and they want the opportunity to share. Which means our church and personal spaces will require a shift to meet this ever increasing demand in Post-Christianity.
So how do we listen better? One of the strangest things about living in our modern world is this constant feeling like we have forgotten how to have human relationships. We have forgotten how to have meaningful conversations with the people around us. We have forgotten how to take a genuine interest in the things other people are interested in. I am sure there is a blog or two to be written concerning the cause of this phenomenon. But It seems like a lot of the work we do is to remind people simply how to form relationships with the people around them. The things we are teaching our children is what we are trying to teach an ever increasingly disconnected adult world. Here are three simple ways to become a better listener in our discipleship of others.
First, ask 3 categories of questions. Stan Granberg did a lot of work developing these 3 questions for his “Sharing Faith” workbook.
The first question is the polite question that is targeted at the surface level information. “How are you today?” “Are you having a good day?” These Polite Questions are to break the barrier to get to the second category of questions called the Interest Questions. These are questions that are relevant to the context or situation you find yourself in with another person. If you are attending your kids soccer game you can ask another parent which kid is theirs. This helps establish an interest in what is happening beyond the neutral polite question. Then finally you can begin asking Caring Questions. These questions signal to the other person that not only are you interested in what is happening but that you care about them as people. These questions often get to how the other person feels about certain things. You could ask, how does your child enjoy being in soccer? It takes the conversation one step deeper and establishes a foundation for further meaningful dialogue. So first, ask good questions from the 3 categories above.
Second, “be quick to listen and slow to speak….” as James 1:19 tells us. It seems like the more common life posture is the opposite of this verse. We tend to be people who are quick to speak and slow to listen. But in discipleship we have to be willing to sit in the midst of people’s stories with them. Which requires that we be quick to listen and slow to speak.
Finally, take a genuine interest in the interests of others. It frustrates me that this is on this list. But it seems like more and more we are quick to ridicule people for their interests rather than taking an interest in what they are interested in. If you are not into musicals that is completely ok. You don’t like sports? Totally fine. Not into history, math, or science…I get it. But what if we decided that we would become interested in the things we may not be interested in for the sake of connecting with the people around us?
Several weeks ago I stood in front of my church and admitted that I am the least artistic person that I know…and I am pretty sure the least artistic person you know as well. I don't have that ability to see what artists see. But we have numerous incredibly gifted artists at our church and I have learned to fall deeply in love with art because I deeply love the artists in my church. I was never super interested in Crossfit until Laura became super interested in it first. And now we both are passionate about it. The quickest way to kill a discipleship relationship is to be actively uninterested in the things the person you are discipling is interested in. Learning why they love what they love, asking questions about that interest, and engaging in the interest with them is often one of the greatest ways to create trust and connection that will unlock vulnerability and dialogue.
Listening is critical in discipleship. If we can’t listen we can’t disciple. I am convinced that discipleship in a post-Christian world will require that we become some of the best listeners on the planet as we then, through our listening, find ways to connect people’s story to the story of Jesus.
Discipleship Part 3
By Jared & Laura King
Discipleship is one of the most important parts of the Christian life. Remember, discipleship is an intentional relationship where two or more people are working together to be WITH Jesus, to BECOME LIKE Jesus, and to DO what Jesus did. This is inherently the point of our churches, our relationships, our service, and all the things we choose to be a part of as communities of faith. If what we do is not leading people to look more like, act more like, and sound more like Jesus, then we need to really ask the question, is this about Jesus or is it about something else?
I really don’t like talking about or writing about the failings of kingdom work, particularly the failings of discipleship. I love sharing the inspirational, the parts of walking with Jesus that will change us and shape us for good. Those are fun things to discuss and share about. But there is a part of Church work and discipleship that we have to draw attention to if we want to be the best disciplers we can be who help people genuinely grow closer to Jesus. And that is the failings that can happen in our discipleship work, or more generically, our kingdom work.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this that the church world has had some pretty egregious failings over the past couple decades and, specifically, the last few years. Things like sexual abuse, sexism, racism, toxic leadership environments, and so much more have been called to light. Some of what has been discovered has been called “rumor” or “divisive” by people who believe bringing these types of things into the open will damage the church.
I believe this urging to “unity” by refusing to draw attention to detrimental systems and structures has often caused us to ignore or explain away things that should be addressed in the Christian world. If being WITH Jesus, becoming LIKE Jesus and DOING what Jesus did is what we are striving toward, then we should not ignore or cover up the things that cause us to do the opposite.
The 2 Most Common Failings of Discipleship
In the past 7 years living and working in Seattle I have seen both failings first hand. They are Narcissism and Burnout.
Narcissism often leads to abuse, toxic leadership, sexism, and personal fundamentalism that, when challenged, is met by anger and vitriol. Burnout is most often seen in people wanting to give up.
In March of this year, the Barna Group reported that 42% of pastors had considered quitting ministry in the past year. There are many culprits of this alarming statistic, however, one of them is undoubtedly an unhealthy view of needing to be the one who disciples and leads everyone on their journey with Jesus. “Going it alone” is often seen as a value of Christian virtue that allows the pastor or leader to be on a moral high ground above his lay-people. However, it is killing people’s ability to remain in places of leadership long term.
I want to start by discussing the most egregious and difficult failing…narcissism.
Some of you may have listened to the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast put out by Christianity today this time last year. This particular podcast chronicles the story of Marc Driscoll and his church in my backyard, Seattle, WA. This was a painful podcast for me to listen to. I have sat with and listened to countless people who walked away from faith because of a man who saw his brand as more important than the kingdom. I also found it disturbing to read Facebook posts or comments on other platforms from people, a lot of them pastors or leaders in churches, from around the country, who called the podcast out as divisive, speaking poorly about the church, or only out to gain some kind of moral high ground.
The problem with these is that the people who said those things didn't live in Seattle or know anyone personally who had experienced the atrocity of Driscoll’s legacy. When we hear from people in this city, we feel the weight and the pain of narcissist leadership in the kingdom.
When the Kingdom of God and the discipling of others becomes about “my brand” over helping form people into the image of Jesus, we have shifted the purpose and intent of discipleship off of Jesus and on to ourselves. This is what most often leads to narcissism.
In the top/down model of discipleship, narcissism, or wanting people to be with YOU, become like YOU, do what YOU do, can become very tempting. As I have lived and worked in Seattle, I have seen first hand the desire of narcissistic pastors to shape their churches to look more like themselves. It can be difficult to recognize because these same pastors and leaders will say they are living like Jesus, but define living like Jesus in a way that there is no space to live or act in a way that contradicts the person in power.
If you are unfamiliar with Marc Driscol or others like him, let me shed a bit of light on his story for you. Driscol imposed a way of living faithfully that mirrored his personal brand and harsh style. He sought to build churches that were highly aggressive toward non-masculine Christianity. As soon as someone questioned his leadership, they were fired, excommunicated, and cut off from the entire church. Forever.
This is obviously an extreme narcissistic tendency in leadership. However it rings true in smaller ways as well. In smaller examples, narcissism creeps its head up by making leadership and discipleship about the personality, brand, prestige and popularity of the one in charge. It becomes about power and control. Longing to see people loyal and subservient to you as the leader rather than to Jesus as savior. It almost always is masked by drawing people to “Jesus.” If you were to head north on I-5, the closer you get to Snohomish (a suburb of Seattle) you would see a giant billboard with the words “Sin Bad, Jesus Good, Come to Church” on the far right side of the billboard. The rest of the billboard is a giant image of the lead pastor holding a microphone as if speaking to a crowd.
When our image replaces the image of Jesus we have fallen into narcissism. (The photo above was pulled from that church's Facebook Page)
How can discipleship minimize narcissism?
The most obvious solution is to demand that people in leadership or discipleship roles actually be disciples themselves. One of Marc Driscol’s famous statements, which was also in the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast, was of him saying that he couldn’t be subservient or discipled by certain national Christian leaders because those leaders had smaller churches than he did. The moment we determine our own ability to be discipled based on the human and earthly success of our ministries is the moment we will fall deep into our own savior complex, believing that we are Jesus’ gift to the nations for their benefit and spiritual formation.
Second, we must constantly hold the truth and intent of discipleship before ourselves. Which is an intentional relationship where BOTH parties learn to BE With Jesus, BECOME LIKE Jesus, and DO what Jesus Did. The more we keep this intention in front of us, the more we will realize that WE are not the goal of another person’s discipleship. Jesus is the goal.
Finally, discipleship has to be paired with a deep sense of humility. None of us has completed our growth and discipleship with Jesus. We all have areas of our lives where we look less like Jesus than we should. As leaders, we must enter into discipleship relationships with a great sense of humility, believing that we have something to learn on the journey that will further shape our own hearts.
The second failing of discipleship is burnout. Probably a more common problem than narcissism is the feeling that “we can’t do this anymore.” It’s the feeling of being stretched so thin by caring and leading others that you throw your hands in the air and declare, “I’m Done.” Burnout is a very real problem created by a culture of top-down discipleship where the pastor or leaders are the only ones pouring themselves out and who never receive back from the people they are discipling.
If you remember the blog on discipleship as a web of relationships, we mentioned that discipleship is a horizontal line with Jesus in the middle pulling both people closer to himself. This model demands that we create vulnerability in our discipleship so that we are also, at moments, being filled and led by the people we are discipling. The web of relationships also sets you up to visually see who you can go to in order to be filled and cared for when things are difficult in your own life. You cannot and should not feel responsible for every person’s spiritual walk with Jesus. You are a guide who is going to train others to be people who disciple as well and help carry the burden. Paul talks about carrying one another’s burdens in Galatians 6. You cannot disciple every person you see or know. So teach other people to become disciplers as well.
I recently heard a pastor say that he and his wife have had no friends for 14 years. He was telling this to a church who was supporting him, as if it was a badge of honor to show how sacrificial they had been. When we see ourselves as “above” our people who can’t be discipled or cared for or friends with our people, we will almost always look around at a room of our friends and find ourselves standing alone. This should not be a place of joy for us, rather a place of deep failing. Friendship in ministry and life is critical. Discipleship can and should lead to deep friendships.
When both you and the person you are discipling are growing closer to Jesus, learning how to be WITH Jesus, BECOME LIKE Jesus, and Do what Jesus did, then friendship will be a natural outcome. And burnout will be far less frequent.
Guarding against burnout means that you will constantly be looking to hand off discipleship of others to the people around you. This can sound like you are skipping out on people’s discipleship. Isn’t it your responsibility to disciple them? No. It is your responsibility to help people get into discipling relationships, which often means passing the baton of their discipleship to someone else. The Church should be a place where we work to develop a culture of discipleship, a culture that trusts the people around you to help the people around them grow toward Jesus. This is certainly a place of vulnerability and great trust because it releases our control and empowers others to lead. This is exactly what we want for people, though: discipleship that intentionally creates opportunities for people to disciple and lead other people. It is the greatest way to create a culture where everyone is carrying the burdens of everyone else. This will help to minimize the burnout we experience from feeling like we are the only ones discipling the people in our church.
Discipleship is the key to forming deeply connected churches of people all growing toward Jesus together. But if we are not intentional, it can lead to these two common failings of narcissism and burnout.
Let’s be people who are intentionally working to grow closer to Jesus alongside the people we are discipling and who are actively working to minimize the pitfalls of narcissism and burnout in ourselves.
Discipleship, Part 2
By Jared & Laura King
Have you ever heard the song “Jesus is the Answer”? It goes something like this.
“Jesus is the answer for the world today, without him there’s no other, Jesus is the way.” If you grew up in church or have had any long term experience in churches that sing hymns then you know this song quite well. I love the simplicity of what it communicates. That our guide for life and faith is found in the person of Jesus.
When looking at what it means to “disciple” and to “be a disciple” there have been numerous methods and strategies developed for explaining what we are envisioning. Most of these strategies assume we are trying to look more like Jesus, which is the wrong order to start the discipleship process.
In the previous blog we mentioned John Mark Comer’s “Be WITH Jesus, become LIKE Jesus, DO what Jesus did” method for discipleship. We love this framework because it puts things in their proper order. A lot of discipleship strategies start with what we are supposed to DO and hope that will lead us to be WITH Jesus and become LIKE him. However, Jesus’ model begins with who we are as God’s children, being invited into God’s presence, and then as a result of that closeness with Jesus we are moved into the activity of Jesus.
When Jesus was baptized by John, he came out of the water and immediately heaven opened up and God declared that Jesus is his son, whom he loves, and in whom he is well pleased. Then the next section begins in Matthew 4:1 saying, “Then Jesus was led up by the spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil.” After Jesus’ testing, he began his ministry to humanity.
This sequence is important. God’s declaration of Jesus as his son whom he loves shows a deeply connected Father WITH his son. The season in the desert helped further form Jesus as the savior of the world. And as a result of who Jesus is WITH God and his forming as savior, he then stepped into the activity of God for the good of the world.
This WITH, BECOME LIKE, DO sequence is Jesus’ method for discipleship. He invited Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the others into closeness with him. He taught them, forming them into people who could carry the mission of Jesus, and then gave them moments to step into that mission before fully handing it over to them in Acts 1.
The sequence is critical because it seeks to form our character before our capacity. Too often we have leaders in the Christian world whose capacity far outpaces their character. In the next blog we will talk about the damage that takes place when this is the order.
But in this blog we want to show what it looks like to be WITH Jesus first in our discipleship and how that forms us into his image.
First, being WITH Jesus will cause us to be deeply shaped and motivated by love.
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Paul honed in on the simplicity of Jesus’ love. In 1 Cor. 13 he wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Without love as a starting block for discipleship we will miss everything else along the way. Discipleship begins by being shaped by the love of Jesus which then begins to cause us to look more and more like Jesus.
Second, being WITH Jesus will cause us to obediently follow his commands.
2 John 1:6 says “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”
It can sometimes feel too simple to say “obeying Jesus’ commands means we will love others.” But look at what Jesus himself says in John 15:9-17. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”
Jesus himself says his command is to love one another. The simplicity of Jesus is astounding. He says, if you want to remain WITH me then learn to love the people around you. Discipleship begins on the foundation of love. The love Jesus has for his people and the love we then have toward him and toward the people around us. If we miss this deeply critical truth about our discipleship then we will never BECOME LIKE Jesus and we will certainly not be able to effectively step into DOING the work of Jesus.
Be WITH Jesus. BECOME LIKE Jesus. DO what Jesus did. When we allow Jesus to be our guide this will be the method of our discipleship.
Discipleship As a Web of Relationship and Why This Is Important In Leading People in the 21st Century
Discipleship, Part 1
By Jared King
Discipleship…discipleship….discipleship. A word every church talks about and yet it seems like one of those elusive ideas that we all struggle to put our finger on. Every few years the church world hangs onto a new buzz word or idea. Books are written about this idea. Conferences title their big events after it. And churches seek to make themselves more focused on it. It’s not uncommon for “discipleship” to be one of these buzz words or ideas that pops up in christian and church culture every few years. Yet for all the ink that has been used writing about it and all the classes taught on discipleship, it seems, at least to me, that we still wrestle with what discipleship is, how our churches participate in it, how we as individuals make it a part of our lives.
Why is this?
We all know discipleship is important. Then why do we struggle to be disciple makers or to be disciples ourselves?
Laura and I had the opportunity this summer to build a “1 to 1 Discipleship” course for Lipscomb’s Hazelip School of Theology. It was a great experience. To build it we looked back at the seven years we have lived in Seattle working to start a new church. We are now several years into the life of our church and are discovering what we feel like is a useful, healthy, and effective understanding of discipleship. In the next few blogs we will share a bit of this discovery and, hopefully, it will serve you as you seek to be both a disciple of Jesus and to be a discipler of others.
How Do We Define Discipleship?
At its most basic understanding discipleship is an intentional relationship that encourages both parties to be WITH Jesus, BECOME like Jesus, and DO what Jesus did. John Mark Comer has been instrumental in helping us better understand some of the simple language of discipleship. At his church in Portland, Bridgetown Church, he taught a series with this framework of being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing what Jesus did. I’d encourage you to go listen to those teachings as they are excellent.
With this simple definition in mind we can begin to piece together some of the major elements of discipleship that are important for our 21st Century world. Namely, that discipleship is an intentional relationship with another person where both you and the person you are discipling are growing toward Jesus.
One of the greatest flaws we have committed in churches is teaching that discipleship is a top/down relationship where you sit on top and you are imparting your wisdom and knowledge of Jesus onto another person. This top/down kind of discipleship relationship has 2 main failings, that we will discuss in a couple weeks, which are narcissism and burnout. But beyond those two failings, the top/down model does not accurately describe the nature of two people walking together toward Jesus. But if it’s not a top/down model that is the best for discipleship, then what is the best model?
Discipleship As A Web of Relationships
The model we have used to describe discipleship is, what we have been calling, the “Web of Relationships.” If you draw a straight line and on one end write your name and the other write the name of a person you have a relationship with. The line between your two names is Jesus. What happens in discipleship is not that you pull someone else up to where you are in your relationship with Jesus. But rather it is Jesus pulling the two of you closer to him. As Jesus pulls the two of you closer to himself then the two of you actually grow in your relationship with one another as well.
This is the beauty of discipleship. Discipleship will bring you and another person closer together because Jesus is standing between each of you pulling each of you closer to himself. This means that each of you have something to bring to the discipleship relationship that Jesus will use to teach, develop, and grow you. In the top/down discipleship model discussed above, often the person who is the discipler is taught that there is either nothing for him/her to learn from the disciple, or, there may be regular everyday life things you can learn, just not spiritual things.
However, a discipleship relationship with you and another person on an even plane, with Jesus in the middle pulling each of you closer to himself, will naturally assume that, while one person may have been a Jesus follower for longer, both have something to learn about being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing what Jesus did. Fundamentally discipleship is about you, another person, and Jesus working to be WITH Jesus, BECOME like Jesus, and DO what Jesus did.
What Does a Relationship Web Look Like?
With this focus on the 3 relationships that make up discipleship (you, another person and Jesus as the connector between you both), we can begin picturing what a web of our relationships can look like. If this discipling line is one relationship, let’s begin to draw out all of our relationships in this way.
If you were to draw out a web of your relationships, you would start with your name in the middle. Then think of mentors and people who have discipled you in your life. Draw lines out from your name and at the end of the line write their names. They may or may not be currently discipling you. But somewhere along the way they served in that role for you. Then think of peers you have. Draw lines out from your name and write their names at the end. These peer relationships will have a lot of give and take in them. Some seasons you will more actively disciple them. While in others they will disciple you. Finally, think of people who see you as their mentor. Draw lines for them and write their names down. Hopefully what you begin to see is your web of relationships. And each line on this web, connecting you to some other person, represents Jesus as he is pulling both of you closer to himself.
How This Helps in the 21st Century
There are two really important points to consider about this Web of Relationships. First, this web should not overwhelm you and cause you to stress about all the people you have to disciple and make plans for their formal discipleship. There will always be people you are formally discipling with a greater sense of intentionality, planning, and teaching. However, with practice, what I hope you will find is that all your relationships will naturally become these mutually beneficial discipling relationships. The web of relationships should not cause you to feel overwhelmed but rather feel empowered.
The second important aspect of this web is to begin to see beyond your own web and realize that each person who is connected to you on your web has a web of relationships of their own. The more interconnectedness we have the more evenly the burden of discipleship is spread out. This is what discipleship is supposed to look like. Unfortunately, our church and Christian culture has created an unhealthy structure where the pressure to solve the problems of both the church and the individuals in the church rest primarily on the shoulders of the pastor. The pastor then not only has to carry all of his own struggles but all the struggles of the people in the church. But as you model your relationships in this discipling web you’ll begin to see people learn to do the same. And when you’re called away from your dinner table to help someone in crisis you’ll find that someone from your church has already invited them to dinner to listen, and someone else sent them an encouraging text, and so on. And there is nothing like the joy in seeing your people disciple one another.
Why This Matters
Changing our understanding of discipleship from a top/down model to a Web of Relationships matters a great deal. It means that we will accurately see ourselves as people who can learn from the person or people we are discipling. There has been a deeply troubling trend of narcissistic pastors and leaders in our nation. Again, we will talk about the major failings in a future blog. But this Web of Relationships will help us create less narcissistic pastors and leaders. It also helps eliminate burnout by sharing the burden of discipleship with more people. We have seen how effective this is numerous times in our ministry. When we allow people to be discipled by a plethora and diversity of individuals, we are setting them up for a lifetime of following Jesus. Churches, at times, have forgotten that discipleship is not a short term endeavor. Nor is it something you will be able to stick with for the entirety of a person’s life. Which makes helping people see their relationship web so valuable as you teach people to rely on a host of discipling relationships rather than one.
This also matters as it helps weed out the types of things that cause Christians to NOT look like Jesus. If we are to truly become like Jesus then we need a plurality of voices who help us see more than just a single (American, male, white, etc.) way of relating to Jesus.
Next time we will look at Jesus as our Guide to Discipleship.
By Caleb Borchers
Recently I’ve found myself more and more drawn to learning more about space exploration and various things that humanity is doing to understand the cosmos. The Webb Telescope’s images have caused me to wonder at the size of the universe. I am excited for the Artemis I to finally lift off, if it ever does! More recently, I was intrigued by the DART program. Essentially, NASA is learning how to aim unmanned space crafts at meteors to push them off course. While this may seem an enormous waste of time and money for many, it will be an imminently helpful program if we ever face a giant hunk of rock hurtling right for Earth!
The DART program has an incredible task in front of them. I struggle to hit the trash can with a balled up piece of paper. Calculating how to hit a football stadium sized piece of rock with a rocket golf cart at a distance of 7 million miles in the immense emptiness of space blows my mind. As I watched the video of the spacecraft approaching for impact it was aesthetically pleasing, like watching a golfer hit a tiny ball 300 yards directly into a hole just large enough to hold it. I can only imagine how much of that project was sitting with a calculator and doing the math, then checking it, then rechecking it . . .
Then my cynicism started to creep in. If we can knock meteors out of orbit 7 million miles away, why can’t people parallel park? Why is the grocery store parking lot full of people that can’t fit their SUV into the lines? More seriously, why do millions of pounds of food go bad while people starve? How hard is it to make sure every kid in our community gets a good education? My complaint isn’t a political one. I am not fussing that funding for NASA should go to other things. It is more a question of care and focus. Why do human beings aspire to greatness yet can hardly bring themselves to empty a clearly full trash can? Why are we drawn to the flashy stuff but struggle to bother with the mundane?
Our sermon series right now at The Feast Church is about following Jesus and the process of discipleship. One thing that we have been investigating is how we actually become more like Christ. Surely that transformation happens by the work of God’s Spirit, but we are also called to participate in the work. Our habits and routines make a difference in how quickly we grow. It has struck me that we all want to do the lofty thing (be like Jesus) but most of us avoid the detailed work that will actually help us to get there.
If we really want to care for people like Jesus, it requires us to spend time with people who need help! Learning compassion necessarily requires time with people who drain us because they feel so needy. We marvel at Jesus' forgiveness on the cross, but we get offended whenever someone hurts our feelings. How do you learn grace if no one does anything to you that requires forgiveness? We want to share our faith, but also never want to be in a conversation that gets awkward or risks someone misunderstanding our motivations. I sometimes tire of aphorisms, but you truly cannot make omelets without breaking eggs.
As I have explored this disconnection between our high aspirations and failed experience, I realize how much our pride is wrapped up in it all. Peter is the example disciple of the Synoptic Gospels, the POV character for the reader. He is chronically mocked or patronized in modern sermons and classes. “That old impetuous Peter, always sticking his foot in his mouth!” Increasingly I think that Peter gets a bad reputation. Early adopters, those who step out in faith, inherently will make mistakes. Was he impetuous or courageous? How much did he learn on the Sea of Galilee? How much did Bartholomew or James the Less learn? Trying things, messing up, and trying them again is how you learn. That is the grind of being a disciple. Many of us fail to grow because we chronically avoid experiences where we might fail, and thus avoid experiences where we might learn.
We never learn without grinding away at the mundane tasks. It is much easier to preach a sermon that finishes with some grand, obscure idea, like “Go be Christ in the world!” or “Let us transform our minds this week!” then it is to state the harsh reality of how that happens. Those goals are good and true. The reality of getting there, however, sounds more like, “Go change those diapers!” or “This week, eat lunch with that co-worker no one likes!” or “Finally have that conversation you are dreading!” People leave church much less enthused when you talk that way! But that kind of thing is what is required to succeed at the big tasks. They are the hours of math that helps you meet a goal 7 million miles away.