Monday, January 31, 2011

Is it Mobile & Reproductive? - Discipleship 122

What I'm learning most right now about the discipleship of people and youth is based on two questions:

1. Is it mobile?
2. Is it reproductive?

The wave of the information age has done a lot of great things in our world. Technological advances like the internet, cell phones & handheld devices (pda's, ipods, psp's, ds's, etc.) have made our entertainment much more mobile and reproductive. The challenge for the church and for youth ministry specifically is to view these cultural values or norms as assets in the mission of discipleship and the battle for relevance of the Christian faith in today's emerging youth culture.

If we know that a growing number of youth and adults are using technology to enhance their educational experience and personal growth or development (entertainment, connectedness, etc.), why then wouldn't we consider how to use these same tools to develop people spiritually?

Ministry and more specifically discipleship, that is mobile and reproductive is biblical...Jesus modeled it to us. Very early on Jesus challenged His first followers, the disciples, to limit the number of things they brought with them on their journey while learning to embrace a more nomadic routine to life. During their travels from ministry setting to ministry setting, Jesus embraced and demonstrated a mobile, interactive and reproductive discipleship strategy. He used shared experiences as launching points for spiritual conversations; He took time to reshape and question cultural practices that were no longer relevant to the Christian context, and He invited people to join Him on the journey.

When you think about your current ministry context, is it mobile and reproductive? Are your programmatic elements for ministry bound by a pre-determined location, or are they able to be adaptable to a different context and setting? If it's mobile and on will become reproductive.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Contextualize This!! - Discipleship 121

I love to dream. I spend a lot of time developing strategies, understanding systems, looking for patterns and examining behavior. My mission of observation has often led me to some interesting places. One such place is this emerging idea of contextualized discipleship - developing life long, devoted followers of Christ.

Some things we did as kids, we don't stop doing as adults. Remember the game copy-cat? You would simply mimic the behavior or words of someone else for the soul purpose of annoying them. I can remember engaging in such activity as a child with one of my older cousins being my muse. For babies, being a copy-cat is healthy to learn things such as speech, crawling, walking and other interactive behaviors. For toddlers, grade-school children and older adults...being a copy-cat is less appealing and beneficial.

Why is it then that in the world of church, and specifically youth ministry, we love to copy what others are doing? If someone generates any type of momentum, we immediately adapt their "strategy" as our own in hopes of reaching our goals and targets for what a healthy ministry might look like. If we're honest, we at times do this very thing in our families...ever heard of keeping up with the Jones'??

Where does this desire to replicate systems and behavior come from? I can't speak for anyone other than myself, but I know that when I feel pressure to perform or some other form of insecurity as a leader, I can tend to grasp at straws and look for other "success stories" to begin replicating in my own ministry context.

What I am learning about contextualized discipleship is that there are a few common threads that can be adapted from other ministry the early church from the book of Acts. Theses threads, however, are more boundaries than strategies for success. And to be honest, I really believe that boundaries are the only system or strategy that we can actually develop for discipleship.

The early church existed for fellowship (relationship), teaching (learning), breaking of bread (generosity & eating), and prayer (no contemporary word for this one). I believe these are the boundaries or elements for contextualized discipleship. Where the freedom lies is in the implementation of these elements.

Imagine if you were a missionary to an indigenous people group in the middle of a jungle somewhere. How would you engage this group of people with the transforming power of the gospel? Would you go "hut to hut" and drop off a steps to peace with God booklet? Would you host a whacky games night where you drank coke through a used sock? Probably not. But would you instead observe the culture, learn the uniquenesses and begin to interact with this group of people by understanding their context or setting?

Just like individual tribes of people have their own uniquenesses, generations, age-groups and even segments of people within the same municipal or rural setting have their own uniqueness. The key for contextualized discipleship is to understand your ministry setting. What are the needs of the people you have been called to serve? What are the cultural practices? What are their expectations? Knowing these things does not mean you have to lead based on these answers, but these answers will help to inform and shape how you implement or contextualize discipleship in your current ministry setting.

Be creative, be unique. Use your skills as a leader to contextualize discipleship for your current ministry setting. The last thing our world needs is another copy-cat!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Strategy - Discipleship 120

One of my favorite Christmas gifts of all-time is the board game Strageo. I can remember the year that my cousin Lance and I both received this game for Christmas. We spent the next 7-10 days playing this game non-stop!! It combined all the elements that we loved...strategy, deception, conquest and competition.

Sometimes I wonder if this is our approach to discipleship. Do we see people as projects or spiritual conquests, and are we in competition with each other to see who can do the most for the sake of the Kingdom? I often wonder how misaligned our motivation to invest in others may be at times.

As a logical, creative thinker...I gotta tell you that I love to strategy. I love creating a system and plan for not only organization, but also development. Man some of the things I have put together over the years look so good on paper!! The problem seems to be when I see the strategy as the end goal rather than the people whom the strategy is supposed to serve.

I think that at times our desire for results is what keeps us from actually realizing our goals whether it be in our personal lives or in our ministry driven lives. Please don't misunderstand me, I believe there is value in keeping the end or the desired outcome in mind. But when this goal becomes our focus and we lose sight of what present reality is, this is where we strategy becomes a hindrance to discipleship.

I've been asked by people many times, well what about Jesus discipleship strategy? To be honest, depending on who you talk to, some people would say He didn't have a strategy, while others would say that he absolutely did. I think Jesus had the God-given ability to keep his desired outcome in mind while being able to develop a unique strategy for each of his disciples. There were times when Jesus used a more hands on discipleship strategy approach (miracles) and other times when He threw the strategy and tradition out the window to simply engage people (the Samaritan woman). I think the lesson to learn about strategy is that there needs to be a balanced approach to its' use in the process of spiritual transformation or discipleship. We can have an overarching plan on how we want to spiritually develop people, but we must recognize that each person will require a unique strategy for development individually. Yes, they may still fit the overall plan or strategy at large, but how we tangibly engage them relationally and disciple them spiritually will remain unique. My kids are a great example of this. My daughter requires instruction in a different way than my son, but my goal for both of them remains the same...I want them to become radical, world-changing followers of Jesus Christ.

The next time you are sitting down to plot out strategy on how to develop people or how to engage your friends, remember that although strategy is a key cog in the wheel of spiritual transformation, it is not the end all be all. There are times when our strategy for ministry needs to be more mobile and reproducible than clean, neat and tidy!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Transitions - Discipleship 119

Transitions seems to be a theme that is saturating my life time and time again. As a bit of a self-proclaimed sports junkie, the theme of transitions is something that has always sparked my interest. The key to any team's success in sports like soccer, basketball, hockey and volleyball is how well they perform in the transitions. Transitional defense and transitional offense separate the mediocre teams from the elite teams. In one aspect, a team capitalizes on the mistakes of its' opponent and goes on the offensive. In the other, a team is able to recover from its' own mistake and defend their territory. In these moments of transition the system or the structure doesn't really matter, but the response to the situation and the set of circumstances does.

Discipleship is often filled with transitions. These transitions can occur during a leadership change, a vision realignment or a different systematic implementation of ministry philosophy. In these transition moments, what remains key is how a team, or in this case, a community responds to the transition. Our natural human tendency is to reject change of any sort. Believe it or not, we are creatures of habit, and we love some sort of routine. Statistics have shown us that youth who experience stability are those who most often become stable adults, but youth that have experienced instability in their formation years tend to never be able shake the mantle of insecurity as then enter adulthood.

So if we know that transitions will occur in every type of ministry setting, how do we prepare ourselves to continue the pursuit of discipleship in the midst of change? What I am learning is that the key in times of transition is to make change manageable. Knowing that we as humans do not embrace change willingly, as leaders we need to be able to invite people to experience the transition with us by projecting and emphasizing stability. Seems kind of weird doesn't it? Pursuing stability in the midst of transition?

The allies for any leader in any context in the midst of any transition are communication and relationship. In moments of transition, the need to communicate effectively and efficiently in the context of relationship is crucial. Back to my sports analogy...on transitional defense it is key that all teammates communicate what is being done or needs to be done in order to defend one's territory effectively and efficiently. Hockey players will make sure to take a man or cover a portion of the ice with relentless vigor, all the while verbally directing their teammates what they can do to help defend...well, that's if their team is good at the transitional game. Same goes for offense, players need to communicate with one another in order to gain an opportunity to change the momentum of the game to their advantage.

Discipleship is similar to these sporting pursuits. No, it's not a game, but it is a pursuit that must be aware of key transition moments in order to ensure that the purpose of creating lifelong followers of Jesus Christ is not being neglected in any capacity.

Maybe you find yourself in a moment of transition in your own life. My encouragement to you is embrace clarity in your communication strategy while making sure that all you do is supported by your relentless pursuit of authentic relationship with those whom you are serving in a leadership role.

Transitions happen. Whether or not we are prepared to lead in the midst of these moments is entirely up to us and our readiness as leaders to make the change manageable.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Creative Partnership - Discipleship 118

A few days ago I was able to catch a documentary on the Pacific ocean while watching history television that has sparked a lot of internal thought and speculation. The premise of this program was examining how ocean volcanoes in the Pacific are still active in creating new land masses in our world. Many of the views that were shown were simply stunning...and I found myself marvelling at the creative power of God.

My mind has continued to flirt with this subject matter of creativity; my imagination has been captivated with this theme. I've been drawn to study the creation account of our world from the book of Genesis, and one phrase in particular has held ransom my thoughts over the past few days. After creating the world, God commands His creation to be fruitful and multiply and "to fill the earth." I've often stopped the cognitive process at mammals, humans, birds, fish and reptiles reproducing. But lately I have been thinking about the earth itself and this theme of creativity.

The invitation to create is a divine invitation. Something in which we can partner with God is fulfilling part of His purpose for creation itself. I can't help but wonder if this is not a similar theme that should be etched into the process of discipleship also. When we are seeking to disciple others in the ways of Jesus, are we not inviting them to be a part of the creative process? In this case, the creation is about a life and a character, something that at times may not seem to be a tangible part of the creative process. But, isn't it true that so much of the creative process at large goes unseen my the human eye? Think about how human children are formed in their mother's womb. Much of this formation process is still a mystery to us as humans even with all of the scientific advances that have been made throughout history. Yet what goes as unseen on a human level is seen by the Almighty Creator Himself.

What I am learning about discipleship is simply this: without ownership, all of our efforts are destined to fail. As a father of two small children I come face to face with this basic principle each day on numerous occasions. If my kids do not have ownership of what I am asking of them (cleaning up, eating, taking a bath, etc.), my desired outcome of obedience will not manifest itself. If, however, my children possess ownership of the activity at hand, if they feel as though by their participation they are contributing to the entire family at large, then the desired outcome of obedience and character transformation is attained.

When we think about discipling others, are we inviting them to be a part of the creative process in their own lives, or are we simply handing them a list of things to do and a list of things to refrain from doing? Discipleship is about character transformation; a creative initiative extended to us through a divine invitation. As a follower of Jesus, think about how you may invite others into a creative partnership that is being a "fisher of men" (making disciples). Maybe is volunteering in a church setting; maybe it's transforming how you view your relationships with your co-workers. We are all invited to play a role in the creative process. Will we live out God's command to be creative, or will we settle for something much less?