levels and dimensions

 Last month at our county ministerial alliance gathering, we got to chatting about the books we were reading.  One pastor mentioned a book – and of course the title escapes me – but it had something to do with how we invite people into deeper discipleship. I actually think that it was “Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples” but I’m not 100% positive.

Our conversation from this point talked about the process for making these deep disciples.  We talked about Saddleback Church’s Baseball Diamond metaphor… which probably comes from somewhere else first.  We talked about the process at one local pastor’s church of moving from an attender to a participator to a server… well, that’s not exactly how he phrased it, but it’s moving from simply being there to going deeper in your involvement and then giving back in some way. 

It was all about process and movement and how to move people, how to encourage people to not just stay at one level in their spiritual growth, but to… grow!

I left the conversation thinking about the fact our congregation hasn’t had a discussion about our discipleship process.  People come to church and we try to get them to join and then… well, pray they get active. It’s kind of sad to type that out, but it’s probably the truth.
I left the meeting and picked back up the book that I had been reading, “This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God” by Rick McKinley.  And the very chapter I was beginning had this to say: 

When I first became a Christ follower, I was invited to a Bible study… Bring it on, I thought.  I was all for it.  I devoured that one and soon moved on to the next, and then the next one after that, and the next one after that… But there was no end to it.  All I ever arrived at was a new level that needed reaching.  Now you might recognize yourself in my spiritual striving, or you might not.  But I see that kind of striving and competitiveness everywhere… churches especially. Pastors and lay leaders love to talk about advancing the kingdom, about building the kingdom.  It is as if Jesus said, “My kingdom is a pile of lumber on the truck in heave, and I need you boys and girls to get a hammer and help Me nail this thing together.  Could ya?”

But he didn’t… He said, “The Kingdom is…”

… What if I told you that the the world is broken and that WE are God’s answer to the world’s problems?… You yourself – and all that you can do – are crucial to the future of the planet.  Just like you secretly, humbly, all along expected.

Of course, it’s not true. The kingdom is. That’s it. Jesus does not need you or me to nail it together.

Kind of throws me off.  I like thinking in terms of levels of achievement… if I work hard and do the right things, I can move to the next level… Levels of spirituality are perfect for a culture that deifies the individual.  Our world is focused on self; the kingdom is about the other.  It demands that I notice others, love others, pray for them and serve them. “Levels spirituality” does not.  It allows me to do it myself, by myself.

Jesus hates levels spirutuality. All it does is reinforce the lie that started way back in the beginning – the one that says I can be like God. (pgs 56-58)

So, I spent the morning talking about and embracing this idea of levels and growth through a process and then Rick McKinley turns the whole thing upside down and on its head and says – no.

Of course, it’s not necessarily an either/or.  It’s a both/and.  We are called both to just be in Christ’s kingdom and we are called to take up our cross and follow. 

In spite of my Wesleyan roots, I think I tend to really hold fast to the being of discipleship.  Wesley had a fanatical desire to grow in his spirituality and had all sorts of “methods” for doing so.  Fasting, prayer, visiting the prisoners were all steps in the process of becoming more like Christ. There was the whole idea of sanctification… that we actually COULD by God’s grace become more and more like Christ. 

But what I think that in spite of all the doing of discipleship, the early Wesleyans were also putting themselves in situations and among people where they could BE in the Kingdom.  They was seeking out the poor – or they were the poor, the sick, the imprisoned. They sat with the people Jesus loved.  They loved them.  They did what they could for them, but the relationships were important.  When they asked, “how is it with your soul?” they meant it.

Again from Rick McKinley:

…God isn’t measuring anything.  He only wants us to live in a dimension that is already there.  He is simply inviting us to be a part of what He is already doing… What I am realizing after a few years of leaving the levels is that our eyes begin to see differently.  We notice the kingdom dimension of life, but slowly… seeing the kingdom may take a few seconds.

My hope as a pastor is not that I get someone to achieve higher levels of discipleship, but that I can love them.  My hope is that I can love them and offer them the opportunity to see the world with new eyes.  To see the world as Christ sees it.  To see the broken and hurting things and to love them.  Yes, there is a goal to be reached  – a time when that hurting and suffering and pain is no more… but that is not for me to determine.  I can simply be in the kingdom and let Christ’s love flow through me.

1 Comment

  • Jessica Miller Kelley

    April 5, 2010 at 2:16 pm Reply

    Very nice. I heard Adam Hamilton talk about reversing the baseball diamond metaphor, because some people will happily come box up canned goods for the poor but might not be interested in worship. So, you invite them to come serve. There, they build relationships and maybe join a small group or Bible study. There, they begin to grow as disciples and want to express that through public worship and affirmation of faith. I like that model a lot.

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