Practice makes perfect,” they used to say. I thought that too until I discovered something during my basketball playing days at Grace College. One day in practice I noticed something about my shooting form that sent chills up my spine: my follow-through was putting a slight spin on the ball. Muscle memory is everything under pressure, so my incorrect form had not produced “perfection” after much practice, but rather the opposite.
Now we say, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” I agree completely. If only I had asked someone to take a closer look at my shooting form. I knew the right information (B.E.E.F.—balance, elbow, eyes, follow through); I didn’t have input from someone else to point out what I didn’t realize until it was too late.
The Discipleship Disparity
This might also be why we are disappointed that those claiming the name of Jesus don’t look as much like Him as we might hope. (I hear the cautions of the wise sages screaming that my expectations are too high and that there is much going on in the heart that we don’t see. I’m not disputing this, but I don’t think Jesus had the low standards we’re accustomed to adopting today.) What are we to do with the disparity between those engaged in vibrant discipleship—becoming more like Jesus in action, word, and thought—and those merely professing to be Christians?
All of us want to see our church families filled with fully devoted followers of Jesus. The question is not our intent, but rather our execution. What’s the secret sauce for discipleship?
In case you haven’t searched Amazon for discipleship material, I’ll tell you that we don’t lack biblical resource materials—information. What we are lacking is a strategy that provides our people with imitation.
I realized this recently in a profound way. I thought about the amount of time “just doing life” with people I don’t spend. People don’t satisfactorily catch the subtleties of obedience to Jesus in the sterile laboratory of my sermons, Bible studies, or other “controlled” settings.
Learning New Rhythms
How can I better help people open their eyes to hurting people around them? I probably need to take them with me and watch how I imperfectly speak to hurting people. How do I better help people interact with their kids? (Gulp.) I have to show them how I interact with my kids. Even when I’m “hangry” (it’s real, I promise). How do I help people struggling in their marriages? (Gulp.) I have to show them how I interact with my wife. And not just when we’ve got our “game faces” on (“Hey kids, daddy will give you dessert if you don’t kill each other when our guests are here.”), but when we are also at our weakest.
Too many people I shepherd need to see what this life of following Jesus looks like in me. I believe more than ever that those with God’s Spirit in them are often ignorant more often than rebellious. They may not even have a vocabulary or the wherewithal to tell someone they are struggling to put Scripture into practice. But
I have boundaries to maintain. Why can’t I continue to institutionalize discipleship? I could, but then I recently read a text that grabbed me by the jugular. I saw something I’d never seen before.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:14-17 (NIV): “I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason, I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.”
Paul is like a father to the church at Corinth. And he invites the Corinthians to “imitate” his life. And in his absence, Timothy was a viable substitute because what he does, Paul does. How he talks, Paul talks. How he thinks, Paul thinks. Perhaps Paul didn’t intend for this to be descriptive of his ministry strategy, but rather prescriptive for us today (because it works)!
But this requires a re-orientation of how we view ourselves in our churches. We aren’t professionals who offer services for consumers. We are role models to be imitated. Would this bridge the gap between the number of professing followers of Jesus and the number of fully devoted disciples of Jesus?
It’s the Small Things
I recently took my eight-year-old daughter to a funeral visitation. It was risky. But I want her to develop a heart for hurting people. The lady from our church who had just lost her dad grabbed my daughter by the hand and took her to see a display of her dad’s John Deere toys. She relished the therapeutic balm of my daughter’s presence in her time of need. My daughter was just taking it all in. I can tell my daughter all the time that caring for hurting people is important, but she got to feel what it’s like that night.
Our churches are filled with people who are craving a person whose life looks like Jesus. Where will they find it if we don’t show them?
It’s the Raw Things
There are a lot of skeletons in the closets of people sitting in our auditoriums each week. People are resistant to be open about being abused as a child, dealing with mental illness, sexual struggles, marital tensions, financial chaos, parental stress, sexual identity confusion, etc. Who knew, right?
How likely is it for them to fully live on mission for Jesus if these are the sorts of challenges plaguing them daily? And what do they too often see from me?
I’m good at putting my best foot forward when I know people are watching. And so are these struggling people. What’s it going to take to move them toward healing and wholeness? Somehow I hear Paul’s words again. Not because I’m perfect, but because I’m a living example of one who aspires to live like Jesus. If I don’t show these people, who will?
Is it a gamble to lead with a “limp”? We risk having people who know what the Bible says without understanding the way it ought to change their lives. Know anyone like this?
It’s the Main Thing
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9). This is the Apostle Paul again. Most of our churches have great theological and practical content (aka information). But do the people we shepherd “see” an example to follow up close? Is the information you teach colored by illustrations of your imperfect life?
Of course, you can’t live up close to everyone in the church. Jesus only had twelve disciples. Moreover, the disciples of Jesus didn’t change the world because of the teaching they received from Jesus (much of the time they didn’t understand anyway!). They changed the world because Jesus lived life next to them, showing them how to have a healthy relationship with God, with each other, and with the lost people around them. Jesus didn’t rely on information alone. He provided adequate imitation. He’s probably on to something here.
It is laughable that Jesus’ disciples were still clueless right up until his death. But when the empowerment of the Holy Spirit came upon them, these guys resembled their Lord, Jesus. We can take solace in this.
I wonder what would have happened if someone would have pointed out to me sooner that there was something off with my basketball shooting form? More importantly, I wonder what would happen in our churches if we believed that discipleship must include supplying both the right biblical information and real time imitation? It worked for Jesus. It worked for Paul. Why wouldn’t it work for us?
Editor’s Note: Jeremy Wike is pastor of Community of Hope Grace Brethren Church, Columbia City, Ind. He and his wife, Tonya, live in Columbia City with their four children.
This first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of GraceConnect magazine, the publication for the people of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. A downloadable pdf version of this issue is available by clicking here. It also may be read online at issuu.com. If you would like to receive the magazine delivered to you at no charge via U.S. Mail, click here to subscribe.