By Dan White Jr.
Discipleship is at the heart of the missional movement or at least it should be. Jesus provoked followers to become gardeners that would till-and-toil for the flourishing of his in-breaking Kingdom. Jesus was a rabbi. Like other rabbis before him, he invited others to journey along side him. The rabbinic teaching style did not primarily consist of attending lectures, reading texts or going through a preset study. The primary learning approach was through Midrash which was a way of processing with story, conversation, questions and reflection. Today we are challenged with excavating an apprentice-heart in Jesus-followers for the sake of God's mission in the world. But I wonder if we have time and patience for Midrash anymore?
In many ways in the evangelical imagination, discipleship has become so intertwined with our consumerist tendencies that we are blind to how fused they've become. Discipleship, beginning with the twelve and moving into the early church, did not have embedded expectations of programs for felt needs, affinity groups and fill-in the blank accessibility. It's become so innate that discipleship be quarantined to one night a week or to a 12 week notebook or to a one-year intensive. Certainly, the previous options present people with potentially the right information in an arranged environment. People may even have an ah-ha moment in settings like these. But I believe this modus-operandi of practicing discipleship over the last 50 years has created some unintended consequences. You cannot microwave disciples. With these programs, participants often receive high emotional return on completion but dare I say without the invasive, conflict-exposing, vocation and life-integrated, initiative-required, vulnerability-based, relationship-saturated, locally-rooted qualities. I‘m convinced there is a bit of smoke-and-mirrors when it comes to what discipleship tracks actually foster in us. I understand the demand for organized ways to funnel people through essentials in an efficient fashion. But when we establish that discipleship is a “system" we short circuit the impulse of the Holy Spirit found in the stew of community. If you apply discipleship in-a-can you will get processed results. Discipleship needs to be purposely fastened to the rootedness of oikos, integrated into our rhythms of life. For as much as it challenges our patience and need-for-speed, we should never detach from a communal orientation in order to fast track discipleship.
We need to develop a community that begins to disciple itself. I know that sounds impossible or idealistic. But our vision should stimulate discipleship becoming “cross-pollinational”-- circular and reciprocal. Yes spiritual leadership is required to model, direct and stir-up this ethos (more on this at the bottom). Still we should be compelled to kindle a culture that disciples "one another" outside of formal, organized programs. Resist the factory mode of building Jesus-followers. The “producers” in us might struggle with this. We often want to guardrail and quantify how people are developed. We are afraid of people telling each other “bad stuff.” Honestly, this is happening anyways in the most highly organized environments. Learn to push discipleship subterranean and make it less-and-less dependent on spiritual gurus and experts. Develop people to practice mutuality and initiative with each other to intentionally “work out their salvation” (Phil 2;12). High control works against viral disciple-making. I promise you this is not a buy-off-the-shelf approach that becomes a simple “plug-in” for your church. Take the long view of recalibrating over a steady period of time.
This is a communal diagnostic instrument we use to help empower priesthood. This tool (sketch below) is a guide for those currently tethered to a community who are working a habit of Midrash into their active life. This tool can be used one-on-one or in a triad to "spur one another on to love and good actions" (Hebrew 10:24) Each domain has three questions to mutually ask each other. I personally don’t bulldoze through all the domains in one sitting. Mutually and incrementally we converse our way to a better future.
Identity - Who I am & status in the world around me
- What am I currently afraid of? (past or present circumstances, events, limits)
- What am I currently angry about? (bitterness, overreaction, family)
- What am I currently insecure about? (status, abilities, capacities, acceptance)
Community - Belonging & rootedness in spiritual family
- Where am I challenged inter-personally? (offense, avoidance, jealousy etc)
- Who am I attempting to love generously? (forgiveness, patience, communication)
- What am I stirring on from our collective study? (teaching from our larger gathering)
Renewal - Investment in places of brokenness
- Who is in my circle of influence? (my neighbors, my city)
- Where am I sacrificing for another? (availability, vulnerability, proximity)
- Where am I seeing Jesus in others? (identifying the Imago Dei)
A Diagnostic Tool for Midrash
Dan White Jr. is a church planter in Syracuse, New York, serving at Axiom Church.