“In whose hand is my life and whose are all my ways,
“Keep me from fluttering about religion;”
“fix me firm in it, for I am irresolute:”
“my decisions are but smoke and vapour,”
Puritan Prayer, The Valley of Vision
Recently I was asked the question “Who was the key person in my journey of being a disciple of Jesus Christ?” I didn’t have an answer. I remember Sunday School, VBS, youth group, and even some sermons. I remember my baptism, and I remember a couple of very good pastors. I remember some professors from both college and seminary, but I could not identify a particular individual. My formation has occurred within a very visible, traditional, church world. I remember my mother taking me to Sunday School with flannel graphs and take-home papers, which I would read on Sunday afternoons.
The context that formed my journey occurs less and less. As many ABC churches age in place and potentially cease to exist, there are simply fewer young people present to be formed as disciples. It is a longer reach to persons outside the church. Increasingly, I meet persons of younger generations with no Christian memory, “church experience,” or positive interaction with Christians. I know we have contributed to the chasm between Christian community and secular America by our “fluttering about religion” at the expense of the Great Commission. What occurs in our “fluttering” and “vapor” is a message of the trivial and anachronistic, of anxiety, and of sometimes anger. Yet the words of Jesus are hanging in the background: “go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus commands us to invite others into a saving, transforming relationship with Him, and enter a lifetime of growing and changing in this relationship with Christ and others while living out our faith and witness in a broken world. Can you imagine if every church meeting began with the question of “How will the decisions we make here help us make disciples?” In the “fluttering” of our preoccupations and best intentions, we miss the point of who we are: disciples of Christ, commissioned to make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit to join in the work of God.
This fall I read and re-read a report on “Thriving Churches in New England.” The report was not preoccupied with metrics, but with what healthy, sometimes growing churches, looked like. Interestingly, worship style, place of worship, church governance, and demographics had no bearing on discipleship making. What was very apparent was how much could a Christian community love those who had not yet joined them? From such love, with clarity and confidence, the Gospel can be shared and lived, that others come know Christ and want to be His followers. And others, on the same journey, a humble bit further down the path, are there to teach, help, and exemplify. Discipleship making is about relationships where both heart and head speaks of Jesus Christ. In some ways, I am re-learning what it is to make disciples in a changed world. In the interactions I have with secular persons, I find curiosity, openness, and contemplation when I share my faith. Has my confidence in Jesus Christ become a novel idea to so many? Do I talk about “church” or do I talk about Jesus? Does the Great Commission motivate me outward in the name of Jesus, or do I find too much meaning in the “fluttering” and the “vapor?”
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