Developing a culture of discipleship
An excerpt from “Letters to an Apprentice”
My closet is a unique environment. If left unattended the environment (darkness and dampness) of my closet has a major effect on its inhabitants (my clothes, shoes & hats). Mold grows everywhere! big fuzzy blue/green mold & black mold grows on everything in a matter of days. It is a natural process, dictated by a specific environment. But the good news is that I can control that environment myself to get the results I desire. It is the same way with our Christian environments. If left unattended they often create things that are undesirable. But if we make holistic adjustments in the environment we can nurture a healthy place where God can produce something beautiful in us, both individually and communally.
So how do we create a culture of mentorship/discipleship as a church, small group, team or organization? Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as reading a book or a blog and following those instructions. I think of my closet here in Africa, if I leave my boots or hat in the dark closet for a week, when I return everything has a layer of mold growing on it. Why? Because the closet is the perfect environment or culture for the mold to grow. So it really isn’t about specific actions that we do but the culture we create. If we create a culture conducive to discipleship/mentorship those things will happen naturally or organicly. We often try to artificially create them when actually it is an organic process. Programs and plans usually only have a limited affect on the environment. Imagine if I put a moisture packet in my closet, it will work for a while but eventually it will go back to its natural state. So we have to open the door, let light in, change the environment completely so that we can get our desired outcome.
So how do we create the proper environment? It is a lot of hard work and it requires humility and willingness to change yourself, first. Here are a few things that I have seen deeply impact a Christian environment to the point that it becomes a “culture of mentorship and disciple making.”
Vulnerability: This starts with the leaders, be honest about your struggles, sins and frustrations. Ask for help. Christian leaders should not be invulnerable, this is dark and proud, it creates the opposite of what a Christian community should exemplify.
Confession: Learn to confess your sins to one another. I have found that this actually exalts Christ in your midst. It reminds us that we are completely dependent on Him and we never really arrive. We NEED Him and we NEED our church in order to continue our growth. If you or others are not willing to admit when you are wrong, spiritual growth is sabotaged and the community will reflect that.
Intense Love of Jesus: If we ever get sidetracked with anything else the environment changes. If we start focusing our discussions on other unworthy topics the environment changes. But when we talk of Jesus, his teachings, Gods word, etc. we maintain our focus on the source of our transformation and growth.
Sacrificial love of the church: This does not come naturally but if you can nurture a selflessness in the church where you serve one another sacrificially and put your brothers and sisters and their needs above your own, God will teach you and teach the whole church through your example. Another result of this is that outsiders will notice. It is not in our nature to put others first. The First Century Church did it and their contemporaries said “Look at how they love one another and they are willing to die for one another!” (Tertullian)
Community: Eat meals together, study Gods word & pray together, live life together as the church, not just when you are assembled, but always. It doesn’t have to be some strange commune setting. just be intentional about being the church with one another all throughout your week. Demonstrate a genuine love to be with God’s people and he will reveal himself through those in your community.
Presence of elder Christians: The elders are our guides. They have walked this narrow road for longer than the rest of us and have a desire to see you succeed and grow in Christ. Listen to their counsel as they point out the traps of false doctrine and unhealthy pursuits. The presence of elders will greatly affect the environments health and speed of reproduction. Naturally as we grow we desire to be mature and more elders/mentors are produced.
Confrontation: This is a difficult but necessary part of developing a culture where Mentorship and Disciple making is normal. If you avoid confronting issues spiritual growth will be impeded and you will stagnate, giving sin a place to thrive. If mold grows on my boots and I just leave it alone, it will grow even more. The mold has to be confronted in order to move forward. However it has to be done in a loving and Christlike way. Because as Paul said, you might be the one needing Grace next time.
So what happens when that environment is tampered with? I recently observed a formerly healthy and growing community go down a very destructive path. I wondered what happened. I know these people did not willingly go down this path. There were some new elements introduced into the community and previous healthy elements that were removed that changed the culture and thus the environment began developing new less desirable outcomes. Previously they were unified, growing, confessing and loving. But suspicion, unconfessed sin, jealousy, doubt and deception were introduced. The enemy had the foothold that he wanted and much damage was done. We must be diligent and on guard for our enemy takes great delight in the destruction of our unity and he will do whatever he can to destroy us.
Paul says it much more succinctly to Timothy in 2 Tim 2:22.
“FLEE FROM lustly passions &
PURSUE righteousness, faith, love & peace
along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart. (community)”