Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Pattern of Discipleship: Part 3

In response to my last post, my friend and colleague Shawn commented:

What I'd like for you to say more about is resisting “oversimplification in favor of true simplicity”. Are you pushing against step-by-step approaches to discipleship in general (if so, how does Live-Grow-Share address this concern) or is their something bigger here you hope to move away from? Perhaps to be more clear, what do you mean by true simplicity?
I would say fundamentally, oversimplification ignores complexity whereas true simplicity addresses it.

Oversimplification will not acknowledge that subtlety or nuance exist, let alone value them. True simplicity takes on subtlety, nuance, and complexity, reorders it, and emerges with a-whole-nother perspective on things.

I’ve been intrigued by this idea ever since I read “Church Unique” by Will Mancini. A few weeks ago I wrote this:
In the past few years, there has been a push for clarity, simplicity, and focus. I dig that! But in the rush for simplicity, sometimes we go too far and become simplistic. Have you noticed that many congregational "Vision Statements" are essentially re-arranged versions of someone else's? Will Mancini says that churches get bogged down in complexity and never move through it into the happiness of true simplicity because "the tunnel of chaos is too unbearable." So maybe the "simiplistic church" (constrasted with the truly "simple church") fails not because we go too far, but because we don't go far enough. Rather than shy away from complexity, perhaps we should push through it and discover where we end up on the other side.
In terms of Christian discipleship, a strictly linear approach does not come to grips with the complexity of real life. Sometimes I feel like I’m “back at square one” with God. You know how, for example when something bad happens or you are highly stressed out about something, God can feel really far away sometimes? Or you really screw something up and have to come crawling on your knees to God to beg for forgiveness?

If I’m thinking linearly, that could be perceived as a failure. It translates as God being somehow “further away” from me. However, if I’m thinking cyclically or seasonally or MC Escher-ly, then I know that the feeling of being “back at square one” with God is not the same “square one” as last time. Something has happened in the interim. I am different now than I was then. It is not a failure, it is a new opportunity, and God is as near to me as ever.

So, I think I’m answering Shawn by saying “yes” to both – I’m pushing against step-by-step discipleship and also trying to get at something bigger. I believe there is value in acknowledging, engaging, and moving through life’s messiness so that we might emerge on the other side of it with newfound clarity. True simplicity wouldn’t pretend that life isn’t complex; true simplicity re-prioritizes that complexity and “so orders our lives” that we are able to flourish in the midst of it.

Let’s make it real. One week I am in worship, loving God and loving neighbor, feeling groovy and all that. Having thus renewed the covenant, I head out into the week to grow in my love and knowledge of God and share that love by serving my neighbor. Then I experience a heartbreak, something deeply personal that makes me want to withdraw from the world and just wallow for a while. The next Sunday I come to worship, but I feel disconnected and angry, and I don’t really want to be there at all.

Now, if I’m thinking of my Christian journey as a straight line from point A to point B, how do I process this week? A detour? Sliding backwards? Things are supposed to just get better and better, as I get closer and closer to the bull’s eye, so what went wrong?

But if I could think of my Christian journey as a set of stairways, each one leading to the next, going ever onward and imprinting a life-pattern on my heart, I would be able to take the messiness of this week and incorporate it into my walk. Maybe I could even manage to think of the heartbreak of this hypothetical week as one of the steps on the journey, and now that I’m back to worship God, I have taken that step and discovered that God is right there through it all. I’m in a different place, but never far from the presence of God.

Okay – I kind of just wrote out those last few paragraphs as a stream of consciousness exercise to see how it felt. So, does it make sense to anyone? (I’m not even sure yet it makes sense to me, so if you are inclined to comment, feel free.)

Or, I might say it like this, "The fruitful, God-related life develops with intentional and repeated attention to five essential practices that are critical for our growth in Christ." - Bishop Robert Schnase, Five Practices of Fruitful Living, p. 8

I would emphasize "intentional" and "repeated."

1 comment:

bridger said...

Great Post. Goes right along with something I've been pondering this week. Sometimes in an attempt to be effective, we strive to be efficient. In being efficient, we eliminate a lot of the things that truly are effective. To simplify our lives and our ministries to others, we should strive to focus on the few things that God is currently showing us, even if it means neglecting the 12 other things living in the corners of our minds. We cannot eliminate those things in the corners, because they could be the next thing God is going to use to help us grow.
We must come to the realization that growth is not clean and efficient, but periodically adjusts our focus and draws from many areas
surrounding us. As a plant grows and develops, it's roots spread out and draw nutrition from the many surrounding areas. However, it focuses on sun, water and food. Who knows what the next bit of spiritual nutrition we will encounter? Some of us strive to grow in a controlled pot with potting soil, but pretty soon, we run out of nutrition and room. Focus on the basics, enjoy the messy compost of life. Let God handle the weeds.