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 settings...like 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!!