What happens when the Church overvalues Education, Information & Theology? Heresy.

What happens when the Church overvalues Education, Information & Theology? Heresy.

There’s a fantastic story I’ve been thinking about the last few years. I certainly won’t do the story justice, but I’ll swing for the fences and hope to hit a triple, then give some thoughts at the end.
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There’s a man who is from Nepal, deep in the mountains of the Himalayas. When he was a teenager, his mother became deeply ill and on her death bed. Because this region of the world still believes heavily in animism, the father took her to several witch doctors for healing and no one could heal her.

Not knowing what else to do, he then took her to a hospital in a town far away. The doctor (who happens to be a Christian) looked at her, examined her and told the family, “There’s nothing more than can be done. I’m afraid she’s going to die. All you can do now is pray.”

More than likely the doctor made the “all you can do now is pray” statement probably as something to tag onto the end, but the father immediately says, “Ok, will you pray for her?” So the doctor prays for her and immediately she is healed (much to the surprise of the doctor as well!).

This small family become Christians and visit a small church in the town and leave a few days later, taking with them only their personal story, the story of Jesus they’ve learned from hearing the Bible, and two Nepalese hymns (the family, along with the other people in the village they are from, are illiterate, so having a Bible would do next to nothing, they can’t read it!).

As time passes, the 17 year old grows up and as people are sick, as he had seen the doctor do, he prays for the sick and many of them are healed.

Now where they are from, the customary pay to a witch doctor for services rendered is a shot of whiskey. Not really knowing any better, the man takes the shot as payment. Eventually, after praying for several people in a night, it would not be uncommon for this man to come home rip-roaring drunk. Again, all he knows are the stories of Jesus and two Nepalese hymns. He doesn’t know that Paul has written, “Do not become drunk, as some are in the habit of doing, but be filled with the Spirit.”

One night, after he is walking home and after having a few too many shots of whiskey, he loses his shoe. He wakes up the next morning (probably pretty hungover) and prays about the experience and says: “I really feel like God is telling me to give up drinking. I need two shoes and if I hadn’t had so much to drink, I would have them!”

So he stops drinking. From then on.

Over the next few years, under this man’s leadership, literally hundreds of churches are started in the back country of Nepal, deep in the Himalayas. It is a revival the likes of which we read in the book of Acts with thousands and thousands of people coming to know Jesus. And he’s illiterate. No high school education. No formal training. Just the bare essentials of the gospel, a week in a small, rural Jesus community and the power of the Spirit.

You see, no one told him that it couldn’t happen this way. Now would we say that this is the optimal situation Probably not. We would probably all say that we’d at least like some formal training, some education, etc.

But this story really tapped into a stream of thought that’s been running through my mind the last few years: Here in the United States, we over-value education and to a certain degree, information, when it comes to the church and Kingdom of God. Notice I’m not saying education isn’t important, I’m simply saying we overvalue it.

It’s a little like (real) Heresy

Many of us approach books, education, seminary and the like as if to say: “If I can just learn more, gather more facts, know this a little bit deeper, then I’ll really understand and the puzzle pieces will fit together.” And if this is the case, isn’t this a different (and more elite) form of the Aryan heresy and what led to the spread of Gnosticism? That somehow we who have “special knowledge” and ascent to a higher level of thought have the answers?

I wonder if we have put education over and above the work of the Spirit, his work in his Body, and trust our Father who, in case we didn’t know, wants his Kingdom to advance and succeed more than we do.

I wonder what would happen if we spent less time trying to “educate” ourselves via post-graduate education, endless sermon and theology podcasts, spending hour upon hour reading everything that comes out…and a little more time practicing and learning the rhythms and power of the Spirit.

What if we spent just as much time actively listening to God as we did reading about him?

The fact of the matter is that the church we see exploding in scripture was led by, for the most part, uneducated, unqualified, often illiterate, average men and women.

They simply did what Jesus told them to do: “Do everything I’ve taught you and teach your future disciples to do everything I’ve taught you.” What were some of the basics? Well, Luke 9 & 10 outline it pretty clearly when Jesus gives the most basic instructions to the 12 and 72: When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Like a loyal Christopher Nolan fan, I really do enjoy the movie Inception (and I’m a fan enough to think that Interstellar is a highly underrated movie!).

What struck me hardest, though, was that it was an infinitely simple plot: What if you could dream inside of a dream? It really was that basic. But where the movie became complicated was when it dove further into that simple principle: What if you could dream inside of a dream inside of a dream inside of a dream?

Suddenly, it gets quite complex.

But the thing is…it wasn’t terribly complex if you fully understood the simplicity of it from the beginning.

I think there might be a very strong parallel here for us when it comes to education. I think we have never fully embraced the simplicity of the Gospel and chosen to give ourselves, through grace, to the very simple things that Jesus has asked of us. After all, the Gospel is not complex, but hard to do. Rather, it’s simple, but hard to do.

What is the fruit of our lives revealing? I wonder if it reveals we are over-educating our obedience levels.

What if we chose to live out of simple obedience first and then dive deeper down the rabbit hole into the complexity of theology. I realize this isn’t a binary thing, sequential thing. But I’m suggesting maybe it’s a posture of our heart. I think we sometimes believe that the reason people aren’t more like Jesus is because they just don’t have all the information, as if the right puzzle pieces need to be put together and then it will all just click.

That really is just a different form of Gnosticism! If the answer is to believe the Gospel harder, or to understand doctrine or theology more fully, that feels like we’re right back where we were pre-Reformation. Rather than “salvation by works,” it’s become “salvation by right thinking.”

What if what people really need is for us to do and live out the simplest truths of the Gospel and the simple things that Jesus gave us authority to do and then they’ll listen more as we dive deeper into the complexities of theology? Do we have a lens, a world view, a pair of glasses that would let us believe that an uneducated, simple, illiterate man is capable of being one of the next great leaders in the Christian faith? Here. Today. In the 21st Century.

If we don’t, how do we ever hope to lead out into mission ourselves?

Disclaimer: I understand I’m not stating important points on things like theology, doctrine, scripture, etc. I’ve specifically left those out to over-exaggerate the point I’m trying to make.

Top 10 Reasons Spiritual Families Fail

Top 10 Reasons Spiritual Families Fail

Video of the Jesus Pattern Tool

There are all different forms that “spiritual family” takes. Some are are really organic and seem to happen by accident, and some are a little bit more organized (things like small groups, Missional Communities, etc).

I’m using the term “spiritual family” in a broad way, but roughly speaking, I mean a group of people committed to living out the pattern of Jesus’ life together of UP (life with the Father) , IN (life with each other) and OUT (life demonstrating and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus with those who don’t know Jesus yet).

I helped create something called the Jesus Pattern Tool to help illustrate this. (You can even download the video here.But generally speaking, a spiritual family should grow and multiply over time, but they principally do that through people growing spiritually as they live on mission.

 

So what are the Top 10 practical reasons Spiritual Families fail?

 

1) The leaders of the spiritual family don’t know how to disciple the other people, apprenticing people and raising up future leaders. 

This can result in a few different outcomes:

  • The groups becomes the warped version of the culture they are trying to bring the Kingdom into. The leaders don’t know how to disciple people to be missionaries to a culture, therefore they never truly learn how to be “in the world but not of it.” Because of that, they are more influenced by the culture than redeeming the culture they find themselves in. In this case, there is a lot more cultural relevance than there is Jesus.
  • The group becomes a very religious space and is all about who is in and who is out. Doctrine is used as a weapon of defense and not something that helps to describe the reality of God’s Kingdom. People who don’t know Jesus find the MC the equivalent of running into a brick wall. In this case, there is a lot more law than there is Jesus.
  • When people become Christians, there is no one to disciple them as most (if not all) of the spiritual family doesn’t know how to disciple people. New believers become stagnant, and the life they were told about in the Gospel never comes to fruition and they become disenfranchised and divisions within the MC start to occur.

2) Lack of a clear mission vision.

Every single Christian could say, “We exist to love God, love people and serve the world.” But a spiritual family has a special Ephesians 2:10 calling. There are things that God has set aside form them to do. What are those things? A spiritual family should be discerning the crack or crevice of society where there is a lack of Gospel presence, and then form a Jesus community in that particular crack/crevice. It’s not generic, it’s specific.

For example, one spiritual family I worked with focused on artists.

In this case, the mission vision was very clear: Artists. However, this particular group of people in the burgeoning spiritual family were also VERY eclectic (and I mean that as a sincere compliment) and many of the things they commonly enjoyed weren’t necessarily artistic, but eclectic. What they ended up doing was many activities that eclectic people would have liked , but artists actually wouldn’t; so they never really grew by exposing artists to the Gospel. At the same time, the eclectic friends they had were never terribly interested in the community because it was stated that it was for artists…but they weren’t artists. So neither artists nor eclectic people found a family. In this case, the leader needed to decide: Does this group exist for artists for for eclectic people? Because it will actually be hard to do both. And because of that, the group found itself stuck in the middle, unable to grow or gain momentum.

 

3) Launching with too few people.

I think sociologically, families work best at the extended family size. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for nuclear families; it’s just that nuclear families exist as part of something larger than itself. So with spiritual families, it’s most common to see them thriving and multiplying in the size range of 20-40 people.

One critical mistake many groups make when launching is doing so with less than 15-20 people in the core group as they are starting. Why you may ask? The reason mission works so well with this size group is that new people who don’t know Jesus are welcome to hang out, observe, form relationships, but they can also be semi-anonymous if they choose. Because of the number of people, they don’t feel uncomfortable if they don’t fully participate or are simply in observation mode when the “family” has spiritual time together. There is a certain gravitational pull to these group dynamics; it really brings people in. HOWEVER…if you have fewer than 15 people, you’ll almost inevitably default to the social dynamics of a small group (6-12 people), where it’s very personal, everyone shares, and is very inward focused. That’s not terribly comfortable for someone who doesn’t know Jesus! We’ve found that at 15 people, there is a shift in these dynamics.

One exception to the general rule: If the leader of the group is an OUTSTANDING people gatherer. In other words, they could start something with 6 people and next week there would be 25 people there…they just have a gift.

4) The Spiritual Family isn’t part of a larger, worshipping body.

Church plants might be able to get around this (though in many cases they can’t either), but the reality is that life on the missional frontier isn’t easy. It’s incredibly exciting, an amazing adventure and it’s worth every ounce of prayer and effort you put into it…but it really is hard. Because of that, it’s really important that spiritual families regularly cycle into a worship service with a larger group of people (more than 75 people) to be reminded they are part of a bigger story, to hear how God is working in places other than just theirs, to hear teaching/preaching for the wider community, to take the sacraments together and to worship with one, unified voice. Another way of putting it: The scattered church gathers in order to scatter. Perhaps another way of putting it: We gather together so mission is sustainable. Spiritual families that operate alone will eventually wither and fall off the vine because it’s generally too hard to sustain apart from a wider community.

5) Leaders who aren’t accountable.

A good spiritual family is built on the principle of “Low Control/High Accountability” in how they relate to living under the spiritual authority of someone other than them. If your leaders aren’t willing to be held accountable, this is a spiritual problem (i.e. also a discipleship issue) and it WILL come back to bite you. You don’t want spiritual families to be the place where the rebellious renegades of the church are leading…the mission is simply too important. If you’re a leader at the wider church and they are refusing to be held accountable in whatever leadership accountability system you have, have some serious discussions with them about whether they should be leading a spiritual family under the spiritual protection of your church. Eventually, whatever is toxic in them that refuses to let them submit to someone in authority will eek out into the rest of the group and the toxicity will spread. Be clear what accountability looks like, what those rhythms look like, what the expectations are and make sure you follow through on these expectations as the person holding them accountable.

 

6) Too little mission…particularly at the start.

If you’re just starting, you need to do a LOT more mission than you do worship/teaching(UP) or times of hanging out with people already in the group (IN). You need to be out doing things that connect to Persons of Peace (people God has already prepared in advance to be open to you and your vision). This is essential to life as a spiritual family. If it doesn’t get into your DNA early…it probably won’t get in.

A general rule of thumb: For every time you do something UP or IN focused in the first 3-4 months, you need to do AT LEAST 2-3 outward, mission focused things.

7) The leaders do everything.

In many ways, when we talk about Spiritual Family, we’re talking about the texture of what we see in the early church. The word used in scripture is oikos, meaning household, and when we get down to the historical data, we see the average church size was maybe 40-60 people. So the book of 1st Corinthians is written to a fairly small group of people. The book of Romans is written to a collection of Spiritual Families (and Paul addresses the various household spiritual families in Romans 16). In chapters 10-14 of his first letter to Corinth, Paul outlines some really clear principles of how this community gathers, functions, participates, etc when they are together. One of the key principles? Everyone participates. Everyone gets to play. That’s the beauty of this Spiritual Family life.  Everyone brings something (food, a word of encouragement, a prayer, a song, etc). The point isn’t just that you’re together. If the leader is doing everything and isn’t dispersing either leadership or responsibilities, the group is done for.

 

8) The time together looks like a mini-Sunday service.

This is one of the more common mistakes people make. They don’t realize that what we’re talking about is a spiritual FAMILY on mission together, so the task is to build a family, not an event. But because all they have seen most of their lives is a Sunday morning church service (i.e. event), they do that…just without the same quality or number of people to make it appropriate from a socio-dynamic perspective. These communities sink faster than an anvil in the ocean. If people who don’t know Jesus were interested in going to a worship service, they’d find one that’s done well with a number of people that allows them to observe in an anonymous fashion.

 

9) The Spiritual Family doesn’t actively and regularly engage in evangelism.

I think there are two realities to this.

Reality #1: In the last 20-30 years, we’ve seen A LOT of evangelism done very poorly and through a lot of manipulation. Because of this, we have a generation or two of people who are VERY leery of actually sharing the good news of the Kingdom and make it easy for people step into discipleship who don’t know Jesus. Timid would probably be the right word to describe it. What we’ve done is jump from ditch to ditch. There are some major soteriological issues at play here, but I’ll just hop on one in particular by summarizing some thoughts by Dallas Willard. He says two things that I think are really helpful as we think about “evangelizing” people:

  • The point isn’t to get people into heaven after they die, but to get people into heaven before they die. (The point of the good news is that the Kingdom is available now…you don’t have to wait!)
  • If that’s true, evangelism isn’t really about getting people into heaven after they die, but getting them before they die. (Which means if we aren’t evangelizing people towards discipleship rather than heaven, we’ve completely missed Jesus’ message)

What we understand is the Kingdom is exactly what Jesus said it was: Available to us now. That means that the sin, pain, sadness, shame, brokeness, injustice and isolation that affects all of us, that all of us live in and out of each and every day…God can bring life to that TODAY. Discipleship is the process of living in the Kingdom more and more each day while we are on earth. While we should be concerned about people being with us and Jesus for all eternity, it says something about us if we don’t really care about getting people out of the hell they are currently living in.

The practical reality is people don’t become disciples of Jesus by rubbing shoulders with us long enough. At some point…we have to take a step towards them with an invitation into a new life! A Spiritual Family who isn’t bold in asking people to live into the new reality of the Kingdom will be like dry milk toast.

Reality #2: For quite some time, evangelicals have sadly and frustratingly neglected Kingdom work as it pertains to social justice and inequity. Finally, that tide is starting to turn and we are thinking more holistically about the Gospel. HOWEVER, I’m also starting to observe a different ditch-to-ditch reality…one where Christians say they exist to bring heaven to earth in terms of social justice, but do nothing about evangelism. If you are working and trying to do something about injustice but care nothing for evangelism, you are still missing quite a large chunk of Jesus’ message…just like when you were saying that everyone was missing a large chunk of Jesus’ message without addressing social inequities. You can deal with SYSTEMS of injustice that are inherently broken or evil, but there are still broken, warped, sinful people in needs of God’s transformation living IN those systems (which is how those systems were first built, groups of broken people created them). We need the WHOLE of the Gospel, not just the bits we are personally passionate about.

Here’s what I can tell you: When you have both of these working in concert with each other (seeing the KIngdom advance in social justice arenas while being partnered with individuals being brought from death to life)…that will change cities.

So if your Spiritual Family is heavily involved with social justice engagement (sex trafficking, homeless, racial issues, poverty, etc), you will not be functioning as Jesus imagined it without evangelism as part of the coming Kingdom.

10)  You don’t really engage with the supernatural.

I don’t think I’ll ever be accused of being a wild “charismatic,” but I’m not going to beat around the bush: If your Spiritual Family isn’t very good at praying or listening to the voice of God and responding or engaging with the presence, power and leading of the Holy Spirit…you’re pretty much done (Yes, I’m implicitly saying you can be bad at prayer. In the same way you can be bad at tennis, it’s something you can learn to do better over time. In the same way you can improve communication habits with your spouse over time, you can improve your prayer life with your Father).

Don’t believe me? Try to imagine the early church not only surviving, but thriving without the Holy Spirit on the forefront. Prayer isn’t a box you check.

Does your Spiritual Family actually believe you can do nothing without God’s leading? Something to ask yourself: When your Spiritual Family prays, what happens? I’m not saying things always happen like you envisioned it, but are things different in heaven and on earth because of the prayer life your family on mission is tethered to?

 

BONUS!!

Not every Spiritual Family makes it…and that’s OK! Even if you attended to all of the things listed above. Paul failed as much as he succeeded. So if it doesn’t make it, learn from what happened, grab a season of rest, listen for fresh vision from the Holy Spirit…and have another go at it!

There are all different forms that “spiritual family” takes. Some are are really organic and seem to happen by accident, and some are a little bit more organized (things like small groups, Missional Communities, etc).

I’m using the term “spiritual family” in a broad way, but roughly speaking, I mean a group of people committed to living out the pattern of Jesus’ life together of UP (life with the Father) , IN (life with each other) and OUT (life demonstrating and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus with those who don’t know Jesus yet). The spiritual family should grow and multiply over time, but they do that through people growing spiritually as they live on mission. (Here’s a video you can watch that I helped created call the Jesus Pattern Tool. You can even download the video here.)

Forget Missional. There’s a new ‘M’ word on the Block.

Forget Missional. There’s a new ‘M’ word on the Block.

As many others have stated, it feels like the ‘missional’ hype is a thing of the past.

Now I don’t mean to say that our fundamental ecclesiology of participating in what God is already doing in his world is, in any way, shape or form, off. Not at all. Or that this shouldn’t still be part of our conversations as Kingdom leaders. Rather, that all of the evangelical jargon around ‘missional’ has certainly reached its’ tipping point. Dallas Willard would often say, “Familiarity leads to unfamiliarity.” Something can become so commonplace that we forget what it even means.

Missional is so commonplace, so past buzzword status, that we might be well on the other side of being able to have helpful conversations using that word. And in response, many have moved on, searching for the next best thing that will ‘save’ the American church. (though I think a thorough an thoughtful post-mortem needs to be done on this phenomenon). Missional is far from dead and the principles it was going after are still strong and at work. But the word has given way and movement on to the next big thing.

But moved on to what?

 Well I think you hear it everywhere. Every network, every denomination every church seems to be using the word. You hear whispers of it, as well as billboard signs of it that scream we want to lead it, be a part of it, start it, create it, engineer it, steward it, multiply it.

What is it?

Well it’s ‘movement.

 I feel like for the better part of 6 or 7 years, my life and world inside the conversation of the church has been inundated with movement talk. What happens when Missional meets Discipleship meets Multiplication meets Leadership meets Reformation?

Movement.

 What does God want? Movements. What was the New Testament church?  A movement. What has God used to change the world in the past? Movements.  What was the Reformation? A movement. What do we need today? A movement.

What does the world really, really need? (A movement that I lead!)

And so books are written, conferences are thrown, cohorts and communities started, nomenclature to describe our churches change and our measurements for success altered.

And I’m not actually saying all of these are wrong or unhelpful. I actually think there is great value in some of this thinking and practice.

But as with all things, there can emerge a subtle nuance and shadow side, right? The church growth cycle created a culture where we judged our value by the size of our church. The emergence of the leadership cycle meant we judged our value by how much of a leadership guru we were and how sophisticated our development process. The transition to the Missional cycle meant our value is found in…well…I don’t know that it was even around long enough to fully determine that.

And now with the Movement cycle, it’s about how movemental your movement is (yes, the redundancy is needed because there are, of course, degrees of movemental-ness). Be careful, because you can’t simply lead a church or an organization or anything else without being seen as slightly-lesser-than.

Must. Be. Movement.

Because if it’s not a movement, perhaps “it’s not even worth being part of.”

There seems to be a special kind of need to be part of a movement right now with Christian leaders that passes the ‘smell test’ of what we seem to continually do as humans: Make idols.

Tim Keller once said, “An idol is any time we make a good thing a great thing.” And what all the movement and Missional and leadership and growth cycles seem to suggest, at least to me, is our proclivity to make idols out of anything and everything. There is a desperate need to define ourselves up and against something, anything, and not live into the words said to us by our Father: “You are mine. And I call you my kid. That’s all you need. You can rest in that.”

There were important things to learn in all of those cycles. Some things more helpful than others. (And some truly unhelpful things as well.) But I can’t get over how much we make good things….great things.

And maybe we need to pause for a moment and just be honest about the movement talk. Seriously. Think about this: True movements are really, really, really (really!) rare.

 Really rare.

And when we start talking about movements of God? Man. They get even rarer. We can talk about all the reasons they are rare and how we block what God’s Spirit wants to do with our own pride and ego, but I still can’t get over how rare they are.

My personal thoughts? My thoughts turn to the people serving the Lord long before a movement ever materialized.

I think about how the Moravians prayed and prayed and prayed and evangelized for more than 100 years…and then the Great Reformation bloomed. I think about how the first two missionaries on record in India saw just a handful of converts and died long before they experienced what was to come. I think about the early Celtic missionaries in the 5th and 6th century who saw only a little breakthrough, but learned practices for discipleship, worship, evangelism and bi-vocationalism that would yield massive fruit later (but centuries later after they died).

My mind wanders to Hebrews 11, where it says some of the most important leaders in our spiritual lineage never got to see the results of how God used their life.

I search the scriptures for absolutes that I hear in evangelicalism today like, “God always wants to work through multiplication,” and I just don’t see it. I see how God uses addition. I see how God uses multiplication. But I also see how he uses subtraction.

You know what absolute I do see?

Faithfulness.

I have the privilege to work with a number of churches and organizations and to walk alongside of them as they are going after movement. Moreover, the church I have the privilege to lead in…we are going after movement. Our strategies, practices, philosophy of ministry…it’s going after that. We believe it takes each man, woman and child God has entrusted us to reach every man, woman and child without them having to come or go anywhere. Sometimes I think we’re seeing movemental things happen.

Do I think we should go after movements of God? Yes. But we don’t control the outcome of that. We can’t judge our Kingdom effectiveness by whether we start, are part of or lead a movement. And I don’t want to judge my ‘success’ as a leader by whether I’m part of or creating or leading a movement. I don’t control that.

I can only be faithful to who I am in Christ and to do what he’s called me to do. Over and against everything else, this is what God wants.

Truth be told, I have no idea how God will choose to use my life or the life of my family. I don’t know how ‘significant’ we will be. I just don’t. Are we part of something that’s the next Reformation or am I the unknown missionary in India who God used to build a foundation, but never saw the promises materialize?

And if that’s not enough? Then my life says God isn’t enough.

I want fruit from my life, but I can’t pretend I know how God will use my life. But I do know the baseline is faithfulness and we can’t do that if we’re so prone to make idols out of each new wandering evangelical cycle.

I understand that’s human nature. But my prayer is that the transformative power of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit would fundamentally change that cultural aspect of the evangelical church.

Heck. I pray that it would change in my own life!

There is one, and one alone, who gives me my name, place, home and identity. And because I’m not him, I can’t presume to know how he will use me.

 

All I can do and all I can pray is this:

“I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be used by your or laid aside for you,
Exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.”

What does “going deep” actually mean?

What does “going deep” actually mean?

From time to time I hear people moving from church to church saying they are looking for a church that will “really go deep.” At one point their previous church offered depth, but somewhere along the way, they feel the church sold out, started watering down the Gospel and scripture, and stopped “going deep.”

“We just want really meaty teachings,” they say.

While I think I know what they mean by that, my actual question is this: Do they?

Now I think most of us can agree on what we want out of our spiritual journey here on earth: Transformation. We want to live increasingly more in the Kingdom of God, where God and his life are more and more available to us. And really, that’s all discipleship is. The process of discipleship teaches how to live in the Kingdom of God right now, right here… today.
That’s what is being offered to us as disciples of Jesus.

(it’s worth noting at this point that some of my thoughts are going to be straight up stolen from email conversations I’ve had about this topic with Ben Sternke, so in many ways, this post is a bit more collaborative.)

I think the impulse to “go deep” is essentially spiritual boredom, which comes from a stalled discipleship life. We’ve essentially stopped obeying in some way (or never were truly obeying), God’s voice has gone silent (or we never really heard him) and his presence seems far away (there are other reasons for these things happening as well, of course – dark night of the soul and all). BUT, I think people essentially mis-diagnose the problem and thus prescribe something that ultimately won’t help that much: Learning something new about the Bible.

I think the impulse to “go deep” is essentially spiritual boredom, which comes from a stalled discipleship life. Click To Tweet

But what they’re really seeking, I think, is simple, radical discipleship. They want to live a life full of meaning and significance – they’re just not going to get it by hearing the Word only. They have to DO it to “get it.” To really “go deep” requires that we put the teachings of Jesus into practice. That’s where the rubber meets the road, and where many choose not to go any further. I think what people refer to in their desire to “go deep” is the hit they get from hearing something they’ve never heard before; a new idea, a new paradigm, a new angle. We often get this tingly sense when that happens. We want more tingles.

But I think Richard Rohr hits this kind of thinking on the head:
We operate with the assumption that giving people new ideas changes people. It doesn’t. Believing ideas is, in fact, a way of not having to change in any significant way, especially if you can argue about them. Ideas become defenses.
If you have the right words, you are considered an orthodox and law-abiding Christian. We burned people at the stake for not having the right words, but never to my knowledge for failing to love or forgive, or to care for the poor. Religion has had a love affair with words and correct ideas, whereas Jesus loved people, who are always imperfect.

You do not have to substantially change to think some new ideas. You always have to change to love and forgive ordinary people. We love any religion that asks us to change other people. We avoid any religion that keeps telling us to change.
As has often been said, we have taught people far beyond their obedience levels. They don’t need more information. They actually need to do what scripture says to do!

Recently I read an article by Jeff Vanderstelt and he put it this way: Often when I speak to leaders and people who wish we did more bible studies at Soma (his church community), I ask them what was the last book of the Bible they studied. Let’s say they’ve respond with “James”. I then say something like, “That’s great! I’m sure you’re now caring for widows and orphans, visiting the sick, caring for the poor, etc…!” To which I generally hear, “Well no…not really!?” Then, I say, “But I thought you studied James?” “Well, yes, but I’m not necessarily doing that.”

As my friend Alex Absalom would say, “The problem with Christians isn’t that they don’t understand what Jesus said. The problem with Christians is that they don’t do what Jesus said.”

(we’re getting crazy on the amount of quotes right now, huh?!)

I think the rich young ruler had this impulse. “What must I do to be saved?” he asks Jesus, even though he’s a “good boy.” There’s something compelling him to go further, to “go deep.” This Jesus guy seems to know a lot, maybe he knows what I need to do. Jesus teases him a little, I think, by telling to obey the commandments. Almost as if to say, “Didn’t that do it for you?” He says, “No. I still want something more.” So Jesus says, “Here’s what you’re lacking, and what you really need: sell everything you have and come follow me.”

Internship opportunity of a lifetime (which it is for everyone, actually: discipleship to Jesus is the best opportunity you’ll ever get as a human being), and instead he goes away sad because he won’t part with his wealth. He wanted some kind of “deeper” teaching, but Jesus knew what he really was longing for was the freedom and joy of being his disciple. But he couldn’t get over the “giving up everything” part.

The rich young ruler wanted the hit of a new idea from scripture. He knew it all. He wanted something new. He wanted to “go deep.” But he got a hit of a different kind: You’re not actually getting the point of knowing the law. Here’s what you need to do to fix it.

He was interested in the “right answers” but nothing that required him to change.

And that’s my fundamental issue with the “I want to go deep” kind people. If we were going to make mass generalizations, it’s that while they want to go into the endless minutia of scripture, which can be a good thing, they rarely really want to do anything with it. The have bought into the lie that knowing more scripture changes you.

It doesn’t.

Doing what scripture says and responding to God’s voice changes you. This isn’t to say that knowing scripture isn’t important or that knowing creedal statements and doctrine isn’t important. But the point is that it is incarnated in you. That you are the flesh and blood embodiment of these things.

Ultimately scripture, creedal statements and doctrines are statements about what we believe reality is…so let’s live in reality! This isn’t something that can be disembodied from the way we live. If you’re not actively seeking to live in it, you don’t really believe it.

It requires a fundamental desire to want to change the broken person that I am and let God’s Spirit do his work. It is saying, “I’m not fully living in the reality of God and his Kingdom and I’m going to orient my life to do that.” In people who say they want to “go deep,” I have not seen that desire in these kinds of people.
They’re looking for the hit.

How to develop and use War Time Rhythms

How to develop and use War Time Rhythms

A quick observation from what I’m seeing in some of the people I’m coaching right now and experiencing in my own life.

For many Christian leaders, a sad reality is that there aren’t the scriptural rhythms of Rest and Work that define their reality. Rather than working from a place of rest, they push and push on work until they are forced (or crash!) into rest.

What I notice is that as people begin to develop daily, weekly and seasonal rhythms, often time for the first time in a way that is sustainable, they do it during what I call “peace time.” In other words, things in their life are often quite stable, repetitive and “normal.” They are able to wake up at the same time, have the same travel rhythms, put aside the same sabbath day; basically, able to manage their energy and schedule in a sustainable, peaceable way.

Which is fantastic.

However, I’m noticing that this is really stage one.

Because things don’t stay “peace time” all the time. Babies happen. Work can pick up. Travel can increase. Parents move in with you. People pass away. We experience sickness. Spiritual warfare. Sleepless nights. Things happen out of the blue that are completely unexpected and these unavoidable realities keep us from living out the rhythms we have painstakingly set up.

Perhaps a practical example: In “peace time,” I like to get up quite early in the morning, do something physical, then spend about 90 minutes by myself reading scripture, praying, journaling, listening to music, etc. That’s the best case scenario for me. And there was a time where this was possible.

But I noticed a big shift happen a while ago when Judah, my second kid, was born. And then my daughter Avery started to get up much earlier as she got older.

Big cannonball explosion into my rhythm. Suddenly, really through no fault of my own, my rhythm became unsustainable. For me, I’ve seen the same thing happen in heavy travel seasons.

What I noticed was that I almost needed a second set of rhythms that proved to be the drumbeat of my life during these times. What were things that I could do that kept me connected to the Father, continued to nourish me while I was in a more trying season without as much time and energy? This time isn’t negotiable, but the way in which I take these times can be. I don’t have as much time which means the time I do have needs to count just as much if not more.

What can I do with 5 minutes if 5 minutes is all I have?

It won’t be like this forever, but it’s reality right now. And what we’re so often prone to do is if we can’t get the idealized version, we do nothing at all.

I’ve seen in myself and the people I’m investing in that this war time rhythm is something that probably needs to be attended to, particularly in the day to day. My observation is that when this happens, we will actually need to re-double our efforts on our weekly sabbath, but really give ourselves to seasonal times of retreat and nourishment with the people (spouse?) who we do life with and draw life from.

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