Sacred Roads: The Adventure of Discipleship
Explore. Imagine. Experience. Discipline. Relate. Train. Receive. Care. Act. Inspire. Understand. Enlighten. Grow. Transform.
These are words that describe the process of spiritual growth. Components of a challenge passed down to us from the red letters of Scripture and from the generations who have gone before us. Though the word has grown stale and cold for many of us, it is the adventure of discipleship.
The pages of Scripture reveal anything but a dull life for the disciples. As far as we can tell, Jesus never herded his twelve Galilean buddies into a living room for an evening of cookies, Kool-Aid, and surface conversation and labeled it a “discipleship group.” Discipleship with Jesus was never reduced to a workbook of questions with obvious and simplistic answers. It was raw, active, in your face. People were being raised from the dead, demons were flying out of people, and Pharisees were being smacked upside the head (metaphorically speaking, except for during Jesus’ temple tantrum; then it might have been for real). And there was never a one-size-fits-all approach to anything.
A Kaleidoscopic Disciple-Maker
In just one chapter in the book of Luke, for instance, we observe Jesus’ creative and unorthodox strategies. Luke 5 opens with Jesus on a mission to choose his followers. Forgoing the more honorable resume postings at the local synagogue or the temple in Jerusalem, he found Peter on a fishing boat in the Sea of Galilee. After giving Peter and his crew a catch of fish that left them awestruck, Jesus told Peter to follow him. And Peter did. He gave Peter an experience that changed his life…and Peter’s life would never be the same again.
Jesus then encountered a leper. With the simple statement, “I want to. Be healed,” Jesus restored the leper to health. It wasn’t out of obligation or simply because he had the ability; rather, he healed the man because it was his heart’s desire. Jesus reached out with healing power as God incarnate and met the leper at the place of his deepest need, changing his life forever. He reflected his Father’s heart and changed a life simply because he cared.
Then, just as Jesus ministry was really picking up speed and his fame was beginning to spread, he did the unexpected. Rather than building on the excitement by performing miracles, Jesus withdrew to the wilderness to pray. If Jesus had employed PR agents, he would have driven them nuts. He recognized the value of personal time alone with God and realized it was a path to staying on track and reflecting the heart of his father.
The next day dawned with the healing of a paralyzed man (there is never a dull moment on the pages of Scripture). But this wasn’t just about healing; Jesus was picking a fight with the religious establishment. A theological show-down between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus not only healed a man, but he scored an intellectual victory over the Pharisees’ short-sighted and hard-hearted theological arguments.
The next item on Jesus’ agenda was the recruitment of another disciple—this time a tax collector by the name of Matthew. Jesus literally got into Peter’s boat in order to build a relationship with him. Getting into Matthew’s boat, metaphorically speaking, meant partying with his friends. It wasn’t about creating a life-changing experience, it was about entering into life-changing relationships. Jesus’ simple offer of a relationship drew Matthew to him and inspired Matthew to try to bring others into relationship with Jesus as well.
In each of these instances, Jesus was discipling people in new and unexpected ways. He gave people like Peter life-changing experiences. He met people like the leper at the place of their deepest needs and then changed their physical circumstances. He valued personal time with his Father even when the ministry demands were at an all-time high. He questioned the teaching of the religious leaders and debated them on an intellectual level. And he invited people like Matthew into relationships.
Jesus initiated not only a new covenant, but new methods of spiritual formation. And it drove the religious leaders nuts. And it all came to a head at the end of Luke 5, when the Pharisees demanded to know why Jesus’ disciples weren’t fasting.
Fasting? Seriously? That’s the best you can come up with? After miraculous catches of fish, lame men walking, and lepers with cleared skin, you are going to nitpick about why the disciples don’t fast? First of all, that’s some serious attention to the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of the law. Secondly, the Pharisees have clearly forgotten a little bit of history, like the clarification in Isaiah 58 about the kind of fasting God prefers.
Jesus responded this way:
“No one puts new wine into old wineskins. The new wine would burst the old skins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be put into new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the fresh and the new. 'The old is better,' they say." (Luke 5:37-39, NLT)
Jesus was not knocking fasting here. It was a discipline he practiced himself. But Jesus was trying to point out that the Pharisees were missing the bigger picture; they knew how but had forgotten why. The Pharisees tried to grow closer to God by following rules. Rules they had been following for hundreds of years. They were too small-minded to see the bigger story that God was writing throughout history.
Jesus didn’t throw out the rules; rather, He re-imagined, re-invented, and re-engineered them. He developed new methods and metaphors for what a growing relationship with God looked like and he implemented new pathways for discipleship. Experiences. Compassion. Personal discipline. Battle of the minds. Relationships. These were the sacred roads of discipleship that Jesus walked.
Here’s my concern: our generation is failing to meet Jesus’ challenge to make disciples because, in true Pharisee fashion, we have sought to follow a law. We have reduced discipleship to a one-size-fits all program of do’s, don’ts, and meetings. We’ve replaced spiritual workouts with spiritual worksheets. We aren’t making a significant contribution in our generation because we have not learned from those who have gone before us. Like the Pharisees, we have not viewed our lives against the larger backdrop of the grand story that God is writing throughout history, and that has left our spiritual experience boring, stale, and predictable. Discipleship for me typically got reduced to a list of approved spiritual “chores” that supposedly would help me become more like Jesus. And in their defense, the spiritual chores often did help me grow. But there were other experiences, as well, that weren’t on the list but often led to more dramatic growth.
At the youth retreat at Covenant College, I experienced the power of Christian community. The kind where you eat a bunch of Pay Day candy bars, wash it down with Orange Crush, and then throw it all up in the bathroom. And your friends are there for you.
When I celebrated communion at Christ Anglican Church, I experienced the holiness of God and the mystery of his presence in a way that opened my eyes to a new dimension of his character.
Digging for dinosaur bones in Drumheller, Canada helped me understand the majesty and sovereignty of God more than any sermon or book I had ever read on the subject.
Taking notes in Mrs. Waite’s 4th grade Bible class gave me an appreciation for learning theology and for journaling my walk with Christ.
Practicing for the children’s Bible Drill Team developed a love for the Word of God and a desire to know it better.
Reading about the life of John Wesley spurred me to grow in my faith more than any Sunday School lesson.
Was it possible that there were encounters with Jesus and opportunities for growth that occurred outside the approved list of spiritual chores?
The disciples were lucky enough to be a part of a grand adventure that took them all over the known world. For us, the adventure seems reduced to Sunday School literature, sermons, slides from the visiting missionary, and the occasional potluck.
There must be more…
Tools for the Tour Guides
Sacred Roads is designed to help participants explore five dimensions of discipleship: relational, experiential, intellectual, personal, and incarnational. This blog series is designed for the tour guides-- the people who have been charged with guiding people down the ultimate sacred road of transformation. It will provide practical tools for introducing new models, methods, and paradigms of discipleship to the people you personally lead. It will give you fresh ideas for leading relationally, experientially, intellectually, personally, and incarnationally and give you ideas for ministry implementation.