Imagine gathering a group of friends who are committed to following Jesus, that is, who desire “to live the way Jesus would live if he were in their bodies.” That’s a John Ortberg phrase. Imagine you take the Gospel of Luke and you study it together in a specific way. The group is assigned to note every verb in the Gospel of Luke of which Jesus is the subject. You observe simple things like “Jesus said,” “Jesus went,” and “Jesus walked.” You also observe other realities like “Jesus touched,” “Jesus prayed,” “Jesus taught,” and “Jesus rebuked the wind.”
Your band of disciples now seek to categorize all the actions of Jesus. Some are unique to Jesus alone like “…he breathed his last” [breath on the cross accomplishing atonement]. Other actions are common to all human beings whether they are Jesus’ disciples or not (he ate, he said, he fell asleep).
The final goal is to define all the actions of Jesus which we, his disciples, can imitate. As John the Apostle wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). With the verb “walk,” John is using a metaphor that means “to live the way Jesus lived.” 1 John 2:6 lays down an obligatory call to Christian discipleship.
I actually did this project in Luke’s Gospel with a company of eager Jesus-followers. What the group finally “panned out” (as in sifting for gold nuggets) were 19 clusters of behaviors that we concluded were worthy of being lived out by Christian disciples today. We felt we had discovered “the Jesus Way” in Luke’s Gospel. We were stoked!
The 19 clusters of behaviors in no particular order are:
1) praying (all kinds of prayers),
2) practicing solitude and silence,
4) touching, laying hands on others and healing them,
5) demonstrating humility before God and others,
6) living the faith fearlessly,
7) mentoring/training others,
8) telling vivid stories,
9) capturing “the teachable moment,”
10) practicing interactive communication,
11) engaging in spiritual warfare,
12) demonstrating a Spirit-dependent life,
13) empowering others for ministry,
14) expecting God to work in startling ways,
15) accepting spiritual growth as a process,
16) violating religious customs at the risk of being viewed as a rebel (wow!),
17) demonstrating vulnerability,
18) resolutely living a God-given, Scripture-based personal mission, and
19) living life as a servant.
What do you observe about these 19 behaviors? They have become through history the basis for the classical spiritual disciplines. They are the verbs giving shape to the practices, behaviors and relationships deeply energizing to Christian formation. We recognized, of course, that there are many more spiritual disciplines not in the 19 clustered behaviors. To name just a few: journaling, corporate worshiping, and “slowing and practicing secrecy” (as John Ortberg defines them). Still, we defined the core behaviors that have gripped the church as a template for being “Christian.”
The purpose of informing you of this is to encourage you, especially pastors, to think about taking on a similar project with a group in your church. I can hear someone say, “Why can’t we just buy Ortberg’s book or Ruth Haley Barton’s or Richard Foster’s? Why all the fuss with a Gospel?” Here is my answer, my witness: When you see a group of ordinary people in your church, having surveyed for themselves all the Gospel-recorded ways Jesus lived, light up as they define a template to guide their own lives in spiritual formation, books by others about the spiritual disciplines become “the icing on the cake.” The group in your church will have baked the cake. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.