Those of you present at our November gathering last night can testify to a stimulating and productive conversation about how discipleship and spiritual formation happens within communities of faith. And those of you not present really need to drop back in some time. We miss you! And we especially miss the valuable insight and experience that you each bring to our discussions.
As with any good discussion, the thread weaved all over the place and sparked potential rabbit trails that could have used a good 8 hours each for further discussion. We started off the night asking four questions:
1. What does it mean to "make disciples"?
2. How has disciple-making/spiritual formation happened in the churches?
3. How do we see spiritual formation happening within scripture?
4. How has spiritual formation happened in your own life?
We began with some discussion about the differences between evangelism, discipleship and spiritual formation, and how these have perhaps been neglected or done poorly or well within the modern church. This led us briefly into the question of whether or not large, institutional, highly programmatic churches are the best vehicle for encouraging discipleship and spiritual formation (more on that later). We also talked about whether spiritual transformation is something that we can even affect or whether it is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit.
Mentoring and modeling was one area of discussion that we kept returning to. Biblical models of Christ and the disciples or Paul with Timothy, Titus, etc. seemed to point to a rabbinical style system of people doing life together and learning how to live in the way of Jesus by watching the example of others. We talked some about the difficulty of finding mentors, especially for women who are pursuing a ministry calling and can't find too many other women leaders in the church to learn from, and also for those of us being led in more emergent directions and not finding many older Christian mentors who are willing to go with us down that path.
Another dominant theme in our conversation was the fact that for most of us, significant spiritual transformation has happened most obviously during those times when we have been a part of an intensive missional community focused on a very specific ministry goal - e.g. a camp staff, a mission trip team, a ministry team within a church, etc. We talked about the value of being forced to spend large quantities of time with the same people and being focused together on a single purpose with those people. Many of us longed to make those kinds of experiences the norm for the daily life of the local church, but we wondered how that could happen, especially within a suburban culture where everyone is isolated and over-scheduled as it is. How do we create "monastic" communities that are not isolated from their culture and surroundings, but that at the same time live in a counter-cultural way to over-busy and overly individualized suburbs around us? What would that look like in an existing church, a multi-church ministry (like Emerge), or a brand new church plant like mine in Yorkville.
I for one came away from our discussion with renewed passion and some new ideas and directions for my own ministry, and I hope that others did as well. As we talked about what some of these ideas would look like in practical church settings, our conversation turned to what exactly is the mark of a healthy church, and how church growth ties in to church health. We decided that that should be the topic for next month: CHURCH HEALTH & CHURCH GROWTH.
I hope you'll join us next month on Monday, December 12 from 7-9pm at Wheaton College as we discuss those issues.
See you then!