Thursday, September 24, 2009

Making Disciples Experientially

This is Post #4 of the Sacred Roads: Tools for the Tour Guides blog series. Sacred Roads is a new curriculum published by Threads that helps participants explore and experiment with Biblical and historical expressions of discipleship. The Sacred Roads small group curriculum and leader kits are available at

This blog series provides tips and ideas for discipleship pastors and small group leaders who are charged with facilitating the discipleship process for others.

In 313 AD, history launched the church into a new dimension of cultural influence. Some argue that the political affirmation of Christianity was a good thing for the Kingdom of God and others argue to the contrary. As the church transitioned from a movement to an institution in the late fourth century, the Relational mode of discipleship gave way to a more Experiential mode of discipleship. Buildings for worship were constructed, incense was burned, music was composed, and the mass, or the re-creation of the passion narrative, was celebrated every week.

In experiential discipleship, people were taught about Christ and grew in their relationship to him through a full immersion into a medieval multimedia experience. I think there are some expressions of discipleship from this time period that can be especially helpful to us today as we once again seek to transform people who are image-driven and are fluent in visual language. Today, we will explore some ways that we can make disciples experientially.

Experience God
When was the last time you truly experienced God? The book of Acts tells us that the early church was in awe at the work of the Holy Spirit in their midst. When was the last time we found ourselves in awestruck wonder at the work of God? If it's been a while, I would submit that it's not a lack of God's activity; rather, it's the busy-ness of our own lives that has eclipsed our view of him. We cannot facilitate discipleship experiences for others if we have not experienced God ourselves. To shake yourself out of the routine, consider doing one of the following:
  • Go to a different style worship service to engage with God in a new way.
  • Plan a personal retreat.
  • Spend a few hours in personal or private worship.
  • Find a place that inspires you (mountain, lake, cathedral, coffeehouse, art gallery, etc) and read about the great God encounters of Scripture (burning bush, wrestling with God at Peniel, transfiguration, resurrection and ascension, etc)
Exegete Movies
Whether we like it or not, emerging generations are getting their theology from music and movies. Movies can create powerful experiences that transform us inwardly in ways that are difficult to articulate, Even the writers of the Bible appealed to the secular writers of their day to help them preach the Gospel in a relevant manner. Watch a movie like Passion of the Christ and celebrate communion together. Watch Luther and talk about the convictions we would be willing to die for. Watch a movie like Crash and talk about the power of community, forgiveness, and humility.

For whatever its worth, I think that live theatre has the ability to capture our imaginations more powerful than the big screen. But it's not always as accessible.

Lead a Pilgrimage
Plan a pilgrimage to a local site of spiritual significance. It might be a church or monastery in your town. It could be the site of a historical event with spiritual overtones. Even a cemetery can serve as a teaching trip. Put feet to the discipleship process and talk about themes of sacrifice, loving God with all our strength, and connecting with something that is larger than ourselves.

Meditate on the Stations of the Cross
I talk in more detail about this medieval devotional practice in the Sacred Roads study. As a facilitator of spiritual growth, find a stations of the cross service in your area during Lent and take some people with you. Afterwards, talk about the experience. What did you like? What did you not like? What was Biblical? What was merely tradition? Does it matter?

Then, create your own Stations of the Cross devotion as a team. One that fits the theology and ecclesiology of your group.

These are just a few ideas. Think in terms of places and events that touch the physical senses and heighten our awareness of God's presence. What are some other ways to practice experiential discipleship?


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