Yesterday I sketched a vision of where we’ve been. I suggested that Gabe Lyons points us in the right direction for understanding where we’re headed with his book (The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America). I also suggested that the “next Christians” are radically reforming what has been traditionally called “the Christian life” and that means discipleship programs that focus on traditional disciplines will also change.
Let’s say the traditional disciplines are prayer, Bible reading (lectio divina), fasting, contemplation, solitude, and perhaps having a spiritual director. I don’t look to see these things disappear, but we are all probably willing to admit that these tend to be individualistic, they tend to downplay the vital role of the church, and they all tend to miss out on other themes.
I contend these disciplines are the instrumental means and not the “ends” or “outcomes” or “results” we want to achieve, or we believe God has designed us to accomplish. But they are objective and do-able, and therefore they are at the top of our list. My contention, then, is that we need to learn to focus on the ends and less on the means.
Frankly, the Next Christians want to move forward, they want to move beyond, and they want to chart new waters by revitalizing the Christian life as living out the kingdom vision of Jesus in this world. The Next Christians want to focus on the ends.
So, what will the major “themes” of these kingdom ends be? Let me frame it this ways: What are the Designs of Kingdom Living? Are these designs of the kingdom characteristic of what we focus on in church discipleship programs? What can we do to incorporate them into what we are doing? I’m hoping some folks today will look at some discipleship books and tell us what the major themes are? What are they trying to accomplish?
I want to suggest that we need to reframe discipleship programs from the older paradigm of spiritual formation, without ignoring spiritual formation or pretending it is not vital, to a discipleship paradigm that forms disciplines that lead to the design of kingdom living.
Here are the designs of kingdom living:
First, I suggest we need once again to return a life of faith, or a life that nurtures the Dream of the kingdom. I suggest we focus here on the themes of the Bible’s eschatology and one very good place to see these dreams on display are the parables of Jesus. Those parables are Jesus’ sketch of his kingdom dreams.
Second, I suggest we make loving God and loving others, what I call the The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. Pull out your spiritual formation books and see how many of them land where Jesus landed: a spiritually formed person for Jesus is someone who loves God and loves others with heart, soul, mind and strength.Third, the Next Christians want a vision of the church and of the Christian life that embodies justice and works for justice in the local community. The single-biggest development in evangelicalism in the last decade is the near obsession with local churches becoming involved in justice ministries. This is fantastic, and it taps into the essence of the kingdom vision: Jesus began his ministry, Luke 4:16-30, by announcing he would be forming communities of justice. I believe too many today are asking the government to do this for us and that the political process is how to bring about justice. But justice is important. In a discipleship context we need to see it embodied in a local church — treating one another justly and forming a just community of faith — and extended into the community.
Fourth, this discipleship shift will focus on achieving peace. Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers.” He brought peace, while cutting his culture into the peacemakers and warmongers, but the one thing that we need to focus on is seeing peace as a “spiritual” or “kingdom” discipline. It’s not for the Federal government and for the United Nations but for individual followers of Jesus to form a local church that embodies peace and that creates people who are peacemakers everywhere they go.
Fifth, the Next Christians also want a vision that is leads Wisdom. I may be stretching this one, but I believe wisdom is a desired item but our culture simply doesn’t know how to create a wisdom culture. A fundamental characteristic of the culture of Jesus was wisdom — they knew who was wise and they wanted to become the wise. We have overcooked information and knowledge and devalued wisdom.
Now take a look at these kingdom themes, themes that emerge straight from the Bible and from Jesus’ kingdom vision, and ask if we have these themes shaping our “discipleship programs.” I suggest we need to develop communities who want to embody these themes, and that we measure discipleship by how we participate in these Jesus/kingdom themes. Instead of asking if we have read the Bible, we might ask the further and deeper question: Have I loved? pursued justice? worked for peace? am I wise? Am I caught up in the kingdom dream of Jesus? These are the marks of the followers of Jesus. They are at the epicenter of a kingdom discipleship vision.
For a long time I have been working on these themes and wishing like mad that more pastors and more churches and more parachurch ministries would reframe what they are doing — not by cutting out spiritual formation disciplines but by incorporating them into the kingdom disciplines — by letting the kingdom disciplines be the central categories of discipleship. I write about these in One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow . I hope you can see that it’s a place to begin for those who want to reframe the Christian life and discipleship as kingdom designs that complete what spiritual disciplines are designed to do.
Why or why not?