Meaningful Disciple-Making

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A few years ago, a question began haunting me

What makes Kingdom community flourish, regardless of culture, geography, or history?

I was going into my eighth year living in community and had been pouring over the latest books and podcasts on the subject. Most seemed to recommend some fantastic Bible study formats or ways of introducing Jesus in conversation with neighbors. But they all seemed so… so, well, North American, I guess. Having just returned from Uganda where we had just failed at fostering authentic community, I was hungering for something a bit more universal.

Usually, then I hear the world “universal”, my eyes want to look up. It’s just this weird habit, but I tend to think of “big picture” things as inherently above me. As I began looking for answers, I found they weren’t where I was looking. The universal answers were foundational answers – and “foundation” makes my eyes want to look down, not up. The things that tend to foster Kingdom community were beneath the surface – invisible and unnoticed. Most remarkably, they seemed unnoticed by the practitioners as well as by the “crowds” they were serving and transforming.

Check out Matthew 25:31-46 for a cool example of this.

This led us to the “tri-fold tri-fold” that we generally refer to as the core of Subconscious Church. (it’s right here if you haven’t seen it)

The question has morphed twice since then.

The first shift came two years ago when a familiar verse suddenly gripped my soul. I found that when Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” he meant it! The question that plagued me, then, was, Why are there such high rates of burnout in ministry? Just Google it – too many people who faithfully follow Jesus wind up completely burnt out.

Yet Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He lies in front of the fold as its Gate, and he leads his sheep through the grips of death and through pastures of remarkable beauty. He doesn’t let a single sheep fall by the wayside.

If this is true, then why are so many of us falling by the wayside, mired in burnout and fatigue? How can the very followers of the Good Shepherd, who have yoked their lives to his, be the ones who experience such rampant rates of burnout?

We are all postured before the cross in humility and before the Throne in unity (Identity). As adopted children, we increasingly take on the family traits – leaving behind old family dynamics and expectations and taking on the dynamics, values, and expectations of our new family: the Family of God (Character). We don’t even notice that, suddenly, people begin to take notice and inquire about our new family and we have the opportunity to introduce them to our Father King (Movement).

But there is a breakdown between how simple it sounds to how hard it is to live. There is some missing link between following Jesus and burning out, and following Jesus and not burning out. There must be something fundamentally different about the life of a following sheep who actually experiences Jesus as the type of Shepherd described above. It’s not that one has the Holy Spirit and the other doesn’t; it’s not even that one takes Jesus more seriously than the other.

When we are required to invest special energy in a ministry event or program, it will eventually lead us to a place where we have no energy left to invest. We have our lives and our regular pattern (which we love), and when we are particularly convicted we will modify our regular life to fit in the new thing for a while until it becomes inconvenient, and then we’ll just go back to our regular pattern.

The third shift in the question is this: When my life is on auto-pilot, what does my life produce? If my life were a machine, and the various things I spend time on throughout the week were each a cog in that machine, what widget would my machine produce?

Play-dates. Increased church attendance. Good grades. Star Wars movie marathons. A beautiful garden. Poorly written blogs. Temper tantrums. The latest healthy-eating craze.

I think we are good at occasionally changing gears for a limited amount of time to produce something specific – new converts from a VBS, clean water from a well-drilling project, or serving at a local homeless shelter. But, deep down, we know it’s not ‘auto-pilot’, and eventually we’ll need a break and put life back on auto.

If I’m honest about it, right now the ‘machine’ of my life produces: a full time job, family time, a floundering group of people toying with the idea of taking Jesus seriously, and a lot of time sitting on the couch watching television. Of course, if you look at the actual hours, there is a pretty real bias towards couch time with my best friends: Hulu and Netflix.

You know what I’d love for my life to produce? Disciples. Not binge-watching Breaking Bad.

How do we align our lives with the family values of God in such a deep (read: subconscious) way that the natural by-product of our regular life (on auto-pilot!) produces disciples? I suspect that if we can find a meaningful answer to that question in each of our own lives, we will suddenly and unwittingly find the Kingdom springing up all around us.

K Livingston
K Livingston
I believe in dreaming big, working hard, cheering loud, standing tall, bowing deep. All of it because I believe Jesus = life.
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