I dream of the day when someone walks into our church and asks the question ‘so how does someone become more like Jesus around here?’
No one has – ever…
Plenty of visitors assess the quality of the music, the degree to which the preaching inspires and the energy and fun of the kid’s ministry, but it seems this single most critical element in church life always gets passed over.
Truth be told the preaching is only inspirational if the preachers know Jesus and being formed into his likeness. The music will lead people towards Jesus if the worship leader has a personal connection with the one we are worshipping. And let’s face it – any goose can run a fun filled child care service that makes kids want to come back next week, but only someone close to Jesus is going to be concerned for how we form little people into Christ.
I think it was Dallas Willard who framed this question and it has stuck with me as eminently important.
‘How does someone become like Jesus around here?’
It presupposes an actual plan for discipleship and Christian formation – it assumes we have thought this question thru. But I’m not sure many have. I know we have pathways into small groups or into service in church. If you’re a newcomer then there is a room for you and trained people to make you feel welcome (as opposed to the other people sitting next to you who may not even acknowledge you).
But the presence of methods and mechanisms does not guarantee a person’s Christian formation. At best it provides a means to an end and I sense we too often seek to achieve the means rather than the end. We focus on ‘getting small groups up and running’, rather than asking if ‘small groups’ are even what is needed at this point.
We had our QBC men’s retreat over the weekend and I spent some time delving into this particular question – because I feel it is so important. I’m also aware that at face value our church may not have any plan for discipleship and those coming in as newcomers may feel at sea for a while until they learn the culture.
We are most definitely focused on this question and I shared with the men how we see it happening. There are basically two ways.
The first is where you ‘train yourself to be godly’ as Paul said to Timothy (1 Tim 4:7). He tells Timothy to make time for his own spiritual disciplines and practices and to prioritise this stuff. You are responsible for your Christlikeness. Don’t expect that you will be spiritually fit without any effort. Don’t blame your church if you haven’t done your own share of the job.
It definitely was Dallas Willard who stated that ‘grace is not opposed to effort but to earning’, helping us remember that we do not earn God’s favour with our spiritual practices but that these things still take effort. It really doesn’t matter what spiritual practices you choose so long as they do the job of drawing you close to Jesus and help you encounter him and listen to him. So we do our own ‘work’ and we generally see ‘results’ proportionate to investment.
Then as well as telling people that they are responsible for their own Christlikeness we tell them that they are also responsible for one another’s Christlikeness. I am responsible for your Christlikeness and you are responsible for mine. The Bible is full of ‘one another’ statements and those ‘one anothers’ are often the means by which we help one another take shape into Christ. If we are to encourage one another, rebuke one another, teach, forgive, confess our sins and so on then this will be part of our formation – but this only happens in tight relationships – where we have made that kind of commitment to each other – and where we have permission to be lovingly and brutally honest.
Churches can easily become social clubs where we talk about everything but Jesus (which is weird), but if we are to answer that critical question (remember – how does someone become like Jesus around here) then we will have to acknowledge that we only become like Christ in community – where we know others and where we are known for who we really are. Of course this requires a level of vulnerability and rawness that some will find hard, but it is by stepping into this space – as terrifying as it may be to some – that actually enables us to become the people we say we want to be.
So some way, some how we need every person to be in a relationship with at least one other person, preferably more (other than their spouse or partner) where life can be discussed, reflected on and dissected – where sins can be confessed and where joy can be shared. In these spaces we encounter love, grace and forgiveness and… Jesus.
And then of course there is life – everyday life – where we try to live this life together in a way that gives people a picture of who Jesus is.
How does that work?
When I go out for dinner with my family they observe how I treat the cafe staff, whether I am kind or abrupt, whether I show grace to the new and flustered girl behind the till after she has got my order wrong 3 times, whether I can be attentive to my family at the meal or whether I am distracted by my phone… and so on…
Everywhere I go I am Jesus – simple as that. People watch me. They watch you too. They learn what Jesus is like by the way you live your life – like it or not…
It was CS Lewis who said:
‘The Church exists for nothing else but to draw people into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.’
That’s a big call hey?
But if he’s right – and I think he is – then we better have a plan.