The Discipleship Training Exercise | Jesus’ Creed


The Discipleship Training Exercise

When we talk about discipleship in the local church, this is what comes to mind for most people. They will meet with a group of friends. They will talk about their jobs, their families and their favorite sports teams. They’ll trade gossip, but they’ll call it prayer requests. Then, in the last few minutes of the allotted time, someone will read a Bible story and ask a few questions.

The answer to every question is Jesus.

Then everyone will go out to eat.

Is it any wonder that most local churches have responded so poorly to the challenge of the pandemic? To be fair, most of us in church leadership had never faced something like the quarantine required by the pandemic. The closest we had come was several weeks of bad weather, but even then when the weather cleared you knew what to do. You could shovel snow. You could rebuild after the tornado. You knew what to do.

But who knew what to do during the pandemic? What could you do

I reflected on the failure of the church to creatively and courageously meet the challenges of the pandemic and read an interesting, if slightly disturbing, book by Laurence Gonzalez called “Deep Survival”. Here are two of his conclusions. First, sooner or later everything breaks. We live on the edge of our technology. Our cars, our phones, the materials we use in our buildings, everything about our lives is uncomfortably state of the art. Because of this, things get broken. Sometimes we should have seen it coming. Other times there was no warning.

Think about it. Our universe is a testament to failure. Evolution itself witnesses all that does not work. Sooner or later everything breaks down.

Here is his second point. We are now deciding whether or not we will survive the future catastrophe. Who knew when we found our place in the sanctuary and waited for worship to begin or those days when we were trying to find out if we were too tired to go to Bible study that the decision we were actually making was whether yes or no we would “survive the various challenges of getting our families through the pandemic.” We believe that when our lives get tough, we will measure up. We don’t. As Gonzalez reminds us, “We are not up to the task. We are falling to the level of our training”.

If you are skiing and caught in an avalanche, it is too late to google “what to do if you get caught in an avalanche”. You have already made the decision to survive. When the pandemic strikes, it’s too late to know how your family will fare. You don’t have time to plan how your church will adapt to COVID restrictions.

Our fears have exploded. We have lost the ability to think critically. Weddings have been pushed to their limits and families have struggled to adjust to having everyone at home at the same time. Very comfortable houses suddenly got too small. Everyone annoyed everyone.

Why weren’t we – all of us – more prepared? Simple. We never drill. All other entities that deal with crises train themselves to prepare for these times. Military exercises. First responders exercise. They sit down and think about what could go wrong, then prepare their response for times when things do go wrong.

For some reason, as Christians we don’t drill. We have this illusion that when the time of crisis comes, we will quickly become men and women of deep faith and divine wisdom. No, we won’t. We will fall to the level of our training. When Jesus was challenged in the wilderness, Jesus responded by quoting verses from the Bible that he memorized as a child. When his life flowed from his hands and spilled out to his side as he died on the cross, he quoted the scriptures and prayed prayers that he has known throughout his life. Jesus had drilled, practiced, for when things would go wrong.

And things turn out badly. Sooner or later you will get the phone call you didn’t want to receive. Sooner or later the doctor will tell you something that you didn’t want to hear. In an unexpected moment, the worst thing that can happen … happens.

We are now deciding whether or not to pass. To be a disciple is to drill for these moments. The Bible verses you memorize will be the only Bible you will have while sitting alone in the waiting room of a hospital emergency room. The prayers we pray are the repetitions of the prayers we will try to pray when life hits us so hard, the only prayer our empty lungs can handle is: “Jesus”.

Jesus warned us that storms would come. He told us the rain would fall and the winds would blow. Jesus warned us that we would not be able to survive these challenges if our lives were not built on the rock of his words. When then the storms come – and they will come – it will be too late to check the foundations. You won’t have time to prepare. You will need to be prepared.

We are not up to the task. We are falling to the level of our training. Discipleship is our training for when things are going badly. And when they go badly, we will have already made the decision whether or not to survive.

And we are making this decision now.

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