Discipleship as Story: A Shared Journey of What It Is to Be Fully Human

india 1.jpeg

Tale of Two Trips

I’ve been to India twice now. On both occasions I took in a trip to Agra to visit the Red Fort and the famed Taj Mahal. I was traveling with my family on the second tour and wanted them to experience all I had in my first Eastern adventure. 

You see, my first tour was with a native travel guide who completely immersed herself in the history and legacy of her country. She told stories about the people and events that had inhabited the sites as though she had experienced them herself. She was connected with the story. She told it as if it was her own. I listened with keen interest, hung on every word. I was invited into her world, her history, her life. I not felt I knew her country and her heritage; I believed I knew her. 

Eager for my wife and daughter to experience the same riveting interaction, we embarked on the two-hour ride to Agra from New Deli. My eagerness waned as our tour guide behaved more like a hired Atlas map than a tour guide. He got us to where we were going. He pointed to all the same sites. He knew the land and the history.

But, we didn’t hear the first story. There was no involvement. No connection. No fun.

My first trip was an invitation to a journey, filled with surprise and wonder. The second was a guided taxi ride, void of enjoyment and awe.

Discipleship: been there, done that

I fear that in many churches our take on discipleship has had a greater parallel to my second Agra excursion. Often discipleship is a dry, disengaged dirge of boring direction. Sometimes there’s good intention to remove the dirge, but still lay out a uniform, one-size-fits-all, pre-determined track of curriculum. And call it discipleship.

When discipleship is reduced to a regimented process with various activities checked off as “attended”, we diminish the adventure of following Jesus to a dusty tour of “been there, done that.”

We want to get it right

I get it. There is a tremendous burden on leaders to be responsible to their people. However, it’s possible that the leader’s sense of responsibility translates to figuring out the right thing or feeling good about providing some measurable process that allows the leader see success – or not. Ultimately, it’s easy to celebrate the numbers of people who’ve hit the participation metric we outlined. The notion that the best approach to that end is to get everyone on the “track” misses the dynamic truth of story, of journey.

Don’t get me wrong. 

The intent is good. It’s right. We want people to walk in the way of Jesus, to take on his character, to look like him in the culture. Somewhere, somehow, we must learn that we are created as image-bearers of God; this is already our identity. And there has to be purposeful teaching and dialog about what it means to be beautifully, fully human, reflecting the character of God: LOVE. Radical acceptance. 

And this lands us squarely in relationships. LOVE is only experienced in relationships. The exclusivityof our relationships mustbe challenged. LOVE compels us to expand our view of humanity, of our common story. And LOVE calls us to inclusively come alongside those around us – those in our “tribe” and those not in our “tribe.” LOVE invites us to share our stories, to journey with each other. LOVE nudges us into the Mystery of who God is and what his likeness looks like in our shared experiences. 

It’s uncomfortable. We want definitive answers. We want the mystery resolved. We want to know that we’re right. In bible terms we want to create and celebrate our own righteousness. We humans keep nibbling away at the metaphorical tree of good and evil. If we can be conclusive about life, we’ll feel complete. In doing so, we also redefine what “human” is supposed to look like as we judge, cover up and build walls justified by our perception of what is “right.”

But we aren’t made for “right.” We’re made for Love andLife. The fruit of that other tree. Life – full of wonder and mystery; delight and disappointment; light and dark; my story and yours. And our shared stories, personalities, experiences and relationships put each of us on a unique, yet shared journey. 

An alternative approach

What if we created environmentsthat embraced that journey? Environments that helped us ask good and thoughtful questions. Questions that don’t have easy answers, if “answers” at all. What if we learned tolisten toeach other’s stories with curiosity and care? What if we engaged the journey with peoplemore as a guide than an instructor? What if the “track” was a shared real-life journeythat allowed us to see each other as the wonderfully complex, messy and beautiful humans we already are? And what if those human relationships provided the opportunity to discover more of our Mysterious God; to giveradical acceptance toeach other; to experience what it is to be fully and divinely human?

It’s really good when guides arrange opportunities and environments for us to learn together. It’s powerful to organize ourselves around a cause to bring value to every human being. It’s wonderful to share mantras that help define how we live and travel together in community. 

What could that look like? 

I’m certain it could take on many forms. I don’t know that there’s a “right” way to go about it. Let’s just be sure we’re inviting real life stories to be exchanged – real stories that break down walls of economics, race, sexuality, religion, politics and geography. Let’s help each other tell true stories about ourselves and be willing to haveour “rightness” confronted by the wall-destroying grace of God that takes in all the differences we tend to prioritize. 

Let’s do everything we can to eliminate the dirge that often results by well-intended leaders and prescriptive instructors, who justify the growing list of church activities as discipleship. We need relationship. We need shared experiences. We need to not only hear but experience the Story with each other.

The Story goes something like this: we are created to be image-bearers of God. People who recognize every other human as an image-bearer of God. People who follow Jesus – who came to show us what it looks like to live out the image of God. A community of people, disciples of Jesus, who like him are always welcoming others to the table. People who love their neighbors and community with no other motive than to love…which seems to be the true measure of what it is to be a God-created human: LOVE. Unconditional, fully inclusive LOVE. Like God does. The One in whose image we are created. 

Let’s invite people to bring their entire story on a shared journey of questioning, discovering and living LOVE as the humans God created us to be.