Practicing What I Preach... While I Preach
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say? I’ll show what it’s like when someone comes to me, hears my words, and puts them into practice. It’s like a person building a house by digging deep and laying the foundation on bedrock. When the flood came, the rising water smashed against that house, but the water couldn’t shake the house because it was well built.” (Luke 6:46-48, CEB translation)
I have had the most amazing thing happen over the past few months. In my desperate search to find a way for churches to understand how to create a discipleship pathway to grow in their faith and invite others into a relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit handed me an answer. While I was teaching a Bible study on the last words Jesus speaks in each Gospel before he ascends, I came (through the Spirit) to understand that each of those words revealed a particular understanding, and thus a particular pathway, of discipleship.
From that understanding, I developed an assessment that reveals if someone is a Markan (Holy Spirit inspired), Matthean (action driven), Lukan (relationship focused), or Johannine (mentor-apprentice nurtured) disciple, based on types revealed in each of the Gospels. The assessment works for individuals, but it gets really interesting when a whole church takes the test. It explains so much of our church dynamics! Once we have revealed such things, and have brought them into the conversation of what this means for our discipleship, we have a way to move forward.
It turns out each type has a pretty clear path for discipleship, a path that both fits everyone who tests in that type and can be customized to account for particularities. And those paths work for individuals and churches both! Watching the revelations, as well as the variety of the applications, has been probably the most exciting thing I have ever experienced in ministry. I have watched churches change course right in front of my eyes, and I have watched people grasp discipleship in concrete ways that they haven’t before.
And yet, in the midst of such exciting work, I have been personally assailed. This past year has probably been my most difficult year ever, wracked with grief and guilt and loss and change, and so much more. It has threatened to derail my faith. It was such an ironic position to be in, to be going around teaching people how to grow in their discipleship at the same time as mine was so far off track.
But just over a month ago, it occurred to me I could do something about it. I could practice what I preach.
I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that if I am going to show people how to live their discipleship, I should probably do that too. I can only claim kinship with the people Jesus is criticizing in Luke 6:46 – calling him “Lord, Lord,” but not listening to what he was telling me. But I realized my error. And I set about to change it.
So I know that I am Markan, and according to the very system I developed, as a Markan I should identify a top spiritual gift, and then set about using that gift in four realms of discipleship: spiritual formation, worship, service, and evangelism.
So, I tend to test high on gifts related to tongues (largely because I have studied 5 languages besides English). Also, working in the Conference Offices, you sort of meld into the whole up there, subverting your own voice to the larger purpose. So the gift I decided to work on was voice. And from that flowed this plan:
· Voice in Spiritual Formation – For this instead of using my voice, I decided to receive voice. So every day I sit in centering prayer, and instead of lifting up my concerns, I just listen. I listen for God’s voice.
· Voice in Worship – Need someone to fill in for you for preaching? I may be your girl, if I am not already booked. I am offering my substitute voice where it is needed. Including recently doing a children’s sermon, which, honestly, are the bane of my existence.
· Voice in Service – And now you know why my blog has become so regular. Each week I am committed to offering whatever weird and crazy thoughts come to me that I hope can be of use in some way to our virtual community, and that may serve each of you in your face-to-face spaces as you share ideas with each other.
· Voice in Evangelism – Evangelism. Look, I struggle with this as much as you all. Part of the reason I like being a pastor is I have a good reason to bring up Jesus, as soon as anyone asks me what I do. But I need to get better about wading into those public spaces and sharing my faith, kind of unrelated to my job. That’s what you all do. So every Wednesday night I am in town now, I go to Wednesday Night Poetry at the Kollective in Hot Springs (the nation’s longest running consecutive weekly poetry reading – they haven’t missed a Wednesday since they started February 1, 1989), and every other time I am there, I get up and read an original poem with theological themes during the open mic time.
It is that last step, the poetry reading, that has astonished me. Partially because it is so out of my usual realm for faith sharing, but mostly because it has reminded me who I am. I wrote my first poem in elementary school on the swing set. In junior high and high school, I am pretty sure I single-handedly kept a paper company in business with all the poetry I wrote. And then, about 20 years ago, I just stopped. I don’t remember why. There probably wasn’t a why. It was probably just one of those myriad of things that fall away in our lives. Things that gather dust on the shelves for years until we finally notice them, blow the dust off, and recall who we really are.
And now I know, not because it just seemed like a good idea that was resonating with other people, how this Gospel Discipleship idea actually works. It is changing how I live out my faith, but it is changing it to bring my faith walk more in line with who I am. I am not trying to be the disciple someone else is called to be. I am becoming the disciple I am called to be. And my faith is fighting its way through the darkness as a result. I am standing less and less on shifting sand, and more and more on the rock that will not sway, no matter how the flood rises.
I am practicing what I preach. Literally while I preach. And that is setting things right.
If you want to know more about the Gospel Discipleship process, I invite you to check out the other website I launched just this week, gospeldiscipleship.net. You will find a link to pre-order the books; just a heads up, they aren’t scheduled to release until April 2020. You will also find a link to sign up for the newsletter. You can also send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to share more with you if you are interested.