Every year I try to read Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship. It was my father’s favorite book. Dad was a part-time medical missionary. He traveled several weeks out of every year to work with hospitals in Ghana and Nigeria. He would always take people with him; and he would make each one read Cost of Discipleship on the plane. Dad gave me my first copy when I was thirteen. So since his death I’ve picked it up every new year in his honor. Sometimes I make it all the way through. Sometimes I only finish the first section. Every time I see something new. I started it again last night and the opening statement struck me in a new way since we started the Thingy.
“Revival of church life always brings in its train a richer understanding of Scriptures. Behind all the slogans and catchwords of ecclesiastical controversy, necessary thought they are, there arises a more determined quest for him who is the sole object of it all, for Jesus Christ himself…In the last resort, what we want to know is not, what would this or that man, or this or that Church, have of us, but what Jesus Christ himself wants of us…The real trouble is that the pure Word of Jesus has been overlaid with so much human ballast – burdensome rules and regulations, false hopes and consolations – that is has become extremely difficult to make a genuine decision for Christ.”
Bonhoeffer goes on to say in his introduction that discipleship is liberating joy.
On Monday night the Thingy met. We spent time talking about 2009 and how we have changed. Our discussion was interrupted by my two-year old falling down and cutting a huge gash in his head; but before that happened I saw something really beautiful – a small handful of people that have been chasing Christ for a year and been radically changed by the run.
And here is what I have learned. The Thingy’s simplified system of church, our decentralized leadership, our simplistic meetings, our extremely paired down style of meeting is wonderful for us because we have found liberation in it; but it is not the system that is special. It was/is simply a tool for engaging the Spirit. It is chasing the Spirit that is the important part. It is pursuing the character of Christ that really matters.
I see the same passion in the people of Valley (the traditional church I just began working at). They also have a hunger in their hearts for something more, for the Holy Spirit to break loose. They want to cry like Moses did, just as we did in the Thingy a year ago, “Now God, show us your glory!” It is not about building a monster church for them. It is not about massive amounts of numbers, increasing attendance, or becoming a “successful” model. It is simply about rediscovering what it means to be a disciple. It is about chasing Christ with all we have. It is an exciting time to be with them. I can’t wait to see what the Holy Spirit does.
But here is the rub. Like I said, I read Bonhoeffer every year. So I knew last night that the reason the members of the Thingy were changed this year was because, like the Tax Collector, we were willing to put everything to death, to surrender it all, to throw it everything away in hopes of finding new life in Christ.
That is the hard part. We all want the liberating joy of rediscovered, refreshed discipleship…but are we willing to follow our Christ to Jerusalem? Are we willing to walk from the table of money like Levi in an act of single-minded obedience? Are we willing to join the community of the cross?
To do so there are a lot of brutal truths we must confront. We have to be painfully honest with ourselves. There is no room to be like Achan and give lip service to the mission while hiding gold in our tent.
Are you willing to toss out your understanding of “church”, your rituals and rules, if following Jesus demands it?
I, like many others from all different directions of the faith, long for reform. Even though we seek it through different systems, in the end we all are searching for the same thing – Christ a new. Are we willing to put the old man to death in order to become the new? I pray the Lord will continue to give me the strength to do so in 2010.