Misfit Ministry: Organic Discipleship

For a long while there was a popular meme going around the internet which lamented the existence  of the “man cave” as a replacement to the man’s study. “Ditch the man cave,” the meme says, ” and bring back the study.” At one level I can appreciate the sentiment, but it comes with a glaring failure. Notice, for example, that there is only one chair in the study. It equates wisdom and greatness with reading books for hours a day alone in an office. This, however, fails to take into consideration the diversity of people and the importance of community. It is, like all memes, a simplistic reduction. It reflects the same  reductionist approach that the church has developed with regard to discipleship. Misfit Ministry does not approach discipleship as a program.

 

For far too long the church has adopted an understanding of discipleship which reduces men to thinking creatures and discipleship to a process of communicating information. If, after all, we are simply thinking creatures, then change comes by means of information transference. So, do you want to be more godly? Then take a class at church. Do you want to look more like Jesus? Read this book. Do you want to stop your sinful habits? Participate in this Bible Study. Within such models of discipleship we truly believe that transformation is about getting people the right information so that they will then know the right things to do. But that’s not really the issue for most of us.

As a counselor I rarely encounter a Christian who doesn’t know what they are supposed to do with regard to their sinful struggles. The issue is more that they don’t know how to stop doing what they shouldn’t. Their cry is more akin to Paul’s in Romans 7:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (v 15)

Discipleship, then, can’t simply be about giving information. There must be a component of modeling godliness, consistent encouragement, accountability, and positive reinforcement. In that regard discipleship can’t be a programmed, planned, nor contained ministry. Discipleship is not something that happens within certain hours, only on certain days, and only by certain means.

Willow Creek Church learned this truth the hard way. For years they celebrated their success in terms of numbers, bodies in the church actively doing things. The question of “how many” was a driving force in their decision-making and evaluations. What they discovered, however, was that despite having many people attend, participate, go through classes, etc. they were not actually growing spiritually. A three-year research project, conducted by the church through a private marketing research consultant, which included over 120 individual interviews revealed the weaknesses in their discipleship. Willow had been the model of a growing church of years, but their model of discipleship simply didn’t produce the results they thought they were.

What’s true for Willow Creek at the massive level is true for all churches. We have overly professionalized and overly progammatized discipleship. Misfit Ministries take their discipleship cues from Jesus, not Willow Creek. Jesus did formal teaching, of course, but the majority of his disciple-making happened as the twelve apostles spent time with Him. They learned from His example that discipleship is more organic, flowing out of relationship and conversation more than formal instruction.

In some sense, our model of discipleship is reflective of the American idolatry of education. We have elevated formal education to an unhealthy level of importance. Americans have such a high view of formal education, and of a specific model of education at that, that we have even argued that education can change the world. Social ills can be ended with better education. Our problem are not moral depravity but intellectual ignorance. The church has often adopted this same little idol. Mention discipleship and people instantly think of books, classes, and formal teaching environments. That’s not how Jesus or the Apostles made disciples, however, and it’s not how we need to make disciples.

Misfit Ministries want to emphasize discipleship by means of relationships. Such ministries want to cultivate more opportunities for building community, equipping people to fulfill the “one-another” commands of Scripture, promoting mutual responsibility. Misfit Ministries want to change the culture of discipleship in the American church. If all we do is offer classes we are likely to build people up in knowledge, but not love (1 Cor. 8:1). If all we do is offer classes we are likely to keep people busy, but not growing. If all we do is offer classes we are likely to generalize information, but not tailor truth and help to people’s real needs. Discipleship must be more than formal instruction. Misfit Ministries get that.

If it’s true that Man Caves can be self-indulgent and sometimes encourage sustained youth of adults, it’s certainly not always true. On the flip-side, studies can encourage isolation and intellectual egotism. For many men, Man Caves represent community, camaraderie, and fellowship. In a culture that neglects friendship, especially among men, we need more spaces to cultivate relationships. For it is through meaningful and godly relationships that discipleship most readily happens. Misfit Ministries aim to cultivate communities of discipleship.

Misfit Song of the Week: “Zion & Babylon” by Josh Garrels

Is this hip-hop or folk? What exactly is that sound? It’s the unique work of avant-garde Portland pastor turned singer/songwriter, Josh Garrels. Garrels combines traditional folk guitar, minstrel crooning,  hip-hop beats, and poetic rap riffs. “Zion & Babylon” is the sixth track on his second full-length album (released in 2008), Jacaranda.

Garrels is not well-known, and he seems to be okay with that. Popularity, fame, prestige, these are not his pursuits. Instead he, like his music, is unique in the industry. He stands out as one who appears as humble and kind as he is talented. But make no mistake, Garrels sings like a prophet, especially when writing about the materialism, greed, and oppression of our culture. He calls the church on its hypocrisy, but he also calls her to the beauty of truly following Jesus. This is exemplified in “Zion & Babylon.”

The reggae-styled song addresses the culture of “Mammon,” and the pursuit of wealth and fortune built off of the backs of the poor and oppressed. He intros the song with bold words:

Oh great Mammon of form and function, careless consumerist consumption, dangerous dysfunction, disguised as expensive taste.

He speaks of our love of guns, money, and power as a culture:

Protect my ninety percent with my guns. Whose side am I on? Well who’s winning? My kingdom’s built with the blood of slaves, orphans, widows, and homeless graves. I sold their souls just to build my private mansion.

He minces no words, but cuts right to the heart in his lyrics.

The song builds a contrast between two kingdoms: Zion, the city of God, and Babylon, the city of man. It highlights the contrast in graphic terms, but points to hope. If this world is madness, chaos, and cruelty, there is hope through faith in Christ. The song unfolds like a conversion story, and in the latter half he sings:

Come to me, and find your life. Children sing, Zion’s in sight. I said don’t trade your name for a serial number, priceless lives were born from under graves. Where I found you. Say, my name ain’t yours and yours is not mine. Mine is the Lord, and yours is my child. That’s how it’s always been. Time to make a change.

The call of the Lord is the beginning of transformation. As the song moves towards its conclusion the call to faithful discipleship goes out, with, again, strong words and compelling invitations.

Garrels work won’t appeal to everyone. The prophetic nature of it, however, is compelling to Misfit Ministry. It invites us to challenge our cultural adaptation and to pursue truly counter-cultural discipleship. It’s not a Martin Luther 95 Theses, but it’s good Misfit theology.

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