I don’t usually talk about discipleship much. That tends to be Hai-in Nelson’s shtick.
However, some recent events have gotten me thinking: What is discipleship, and how does it not get weird?
What do I mean by “weird”?
There are movements in the Church that have embraced discipleship as a form of control and micro-management of other people’s lives. Before you buy a house or a car, some groups expect you to go to your spiritual leaders or “disciplers” to get permission before making these and other important life decisions.
And the consequences if don’t seek your handlers’ permission?
It varies. Sometimes, it involves a certain amount of shunning by the “in-group.” Other times, you get publicly shamed. At worst, you might even get kicked out of the church or organization entirely.
At Hill City, we’d like to think we have a number principles and safeguards to keep the discipleship process from getting weird.
For instance, we believe in having an equal amount of invitation and challenge in our discipleship process. To be invitational means that a person is fully accepted into our spiritual family or “framily” (friends and family) as they are. It is from place of full acceptance that we then “challenge” a person to become an imitator of Christ, but that person doesn’t have to “earn back” their acceptance if they make a mistake or don’t initially accept a challenge warmly. They are even welcome to push back on the challenge.
Another principle we adhere to is that of low control and high accountability.
This is the principle that prevents us from saying weird stuff like “if you don’t listen to us, God will hate you” or some such nonsense.
That being said, I do want to highlight that last part: “high accountability.”
If a person is being discipled at Hill City, especially if they are in a position of leadership, it is assumed that they are there to learn the “Hill City way,” by which I mean simply that process of learning to become the living community of Jesus in our neighborhoods. It means having an openness to hearing and learning things that one might not pursue on one’s own. In a consumerist society, we get to accept and reject what we like or don’t like. In discipleship, we have listen and wrestle with what we don’t like if we are really serious about the discipleship process.
We see this in the lives of the disciples as they followed Jesus.
Jesus said a lot of hard things, things that sometimes sounded heretical.
Interestingly, you never read about the Twelve rejecting anything that Jesus said although they certainly asked questions and struggled with Jesus’ answers, and in many ways, they didn’t really “get” a lot of what Jesus said until after the resurrection. But they faithfully followed Jesus and at least tried to “hear” what he said.
Others, however, couldn’t wrestle with him, so they rejected him.
We find such an occasion in John 6, right after Jesus had told a crowd of people that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to inherit eternal life:
Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?”
Jesus knew that the disciples were grumbling about this and he said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you were to see the Human One going up where he was before? The Spirit is the one who gives life and the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.” At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him. (John 6:60-66)
To commit to the process of discipleship is a commitment to listening. To hearing. To learning. To wrestling in community with ideas that don’t sit comfortably with us and to perceive how God might be confronting us with those ideas.
The Way of Jesus is not to reject a person. It isn’t to shun them. I don’t believe it is to shame them.
If the process gets hard. If we get offended by what we are told. If the words we hear are too harsh, then the question comes to us, full of invitation but also challenge, with the option to discontinue the process:
“Do you also want to leave?” (John 6:67)
Like what you see here? Join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30 at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington for the conversation and our Q&A.