Most Fridays my family and I head off to Superstore on our weekly quest to replenish our cupboards, fridge & freezer with nourishment. Today was no exception. We meandered our way to our local stop and shop, all the while planning what sort of creative fun we may find for ourselves on this long weekend.
After wandering through the aisles and selecting a variety of goods, we ventured into the chaos that can be checking out from any grocery store...the cashier. We, however, selected what we thought would be the most efficient lane, only to found out our cashier was in training. Normally I would be frustrated by this mental blunder, but today I saw this as an opportunity to observe a scenario that should impact the way I think about discipleship in church, particularly in youth ministry.
What struck me the most was how this cashier's supervisor would calmly and adeptly step in to guide her fellow employee in training when prompted to do so...and in that moment lies the key to my lightning bolt experience for today. This supervisor wouldn't hover around the person in training, but would remain at a relatively close distance in order to lend a hand and provide some guidance when prompted to do so. This supervisor understood that unless she allowed her in-training co-worker to succeed (and fail) on her own, she may not learn how to be effective in her role as a cashier. Wrong numbers may have been punched, or entire orders cancelled along the way, but all the while, this in-training professional was learning how to succeed in her vocation.
I began to think about the shift that is taking place in the church today, and how I see it as a positive move towards true discipleship. More and more churches and youth ministries are beginning to focus on creating relational environments that spawn intentional disciples for Christ. Gone (or should be gone) are the days of emphasizing a program driven, activity oriented made to order "recipe for success" and ushered in is this new era of collaborative learning experiences in which mentors, mentorees and multi-generational expressions of worship are the focus. In this shift, discipleship is seen more as an organic response to deepening relationships with God and with others than any sort of program based teaching environment. Like this Superstore supervisor, as pastors, leaders, parents and others, we must seek out opportunities to engage, empower and stimulate this next generation in practice of spiritual formation. What is difficult about this new approach to discipleship is that it is far harder to measure success in terms of numbers, or guided curriculum study. Instead, our quest for success hinges upon seeing the development of spiritual fruit over time in the life of an individual. We are no longer able, nor should we be, to celebrate "check-list" success with our tangible measuring devices (conversion, baptism, discipleship class, etc.).
What's crazy to think is that there is actually no guarantee that the "system" will produce an authentic disciple of Christ. At best, we could hope for success in the form of downloading information into the brain of another person. Unlike our cashier friend, emphasis on the application of knowledge is not the focus at times of discipleship systems based on practice or habits. Instead, we must put our hope and trust in the relationship that is created between the disciple, the disciple-maker and God. In this unique relational connection is where true spiritual growth happens...within the bonds of community (two or more). When we create moments where community connections happen, discipleship is evident. These experiences provide us with teaching moments to communicate the "why", refine the "how" and de-emphasize the "what." The questions of who, when and where are predetermined as we connect people together in the bonds of relationship for the purpose of discipleship.
At the end of the day, this Superstore supervisor will end up with a disciple of her own...a competent cashier who is able to navigate the waters of the service industry with confidence and clarity. And in her moments of need, the cashier will be able to rely on the relational infrastructure that provided her with the experience she needed to find success.
I never thought I would learn to much from standing in line at a Superstore...but I did. My hope is that I will continue on this journey of discovery and remind myself that the process of being a disciple is an unending adventure, but one that truly does provide a full life.