I am fascinated with patterns found in nature and in the Bible. I have noticed two patterns surrounding the birth of Jesus and the start of his ministry that affect discipleship today. One is the multi-player effect and the other is the catalyst effect.
The Multiplayer Effect
Have you ever noticed the convergence of many small details of the lives of different protagonists in the Christmas story? There is not one hero and everyone else just watches. There is a couple struggling with infertility and have a baby in their old age. There are shepherds doing their job who are the first to get the good news. There are faithful servants of the Lord who are used to declare important prophecies. There is an antagonistic political leader who make life difficult and trigger the fulfilment of prophecy.
We struggle with a hero culture today, where we believe that there are a few super-gifted leaders and the rest of us are spectators. I think we need to be more open to the multiplayer effect where we should be expecting that our very own circle of relationships, interests, skills, and life-situation form the environment where great things happen. Everything can contribute to events that provoke growth in and around us as Jesus’ learners.
The Catalyst Effect
It is often assumed that discipleship is a long-term relational commitment as evidenced by Jesus and his disciples or Paul and Timothy. Have you considered that in the New Testament there are examples of short-term learning opportunities that were used just to shift people’s thinking? In themselves they were not the sum total of discipleship but without which something more long-term would not be possible.
Consider the baptism of John who himself told the people that he baptized only with water, but there was one coming who could baptize with the Holy Spirit. Why not just tell people to wait until the real thing would happen? But the experience, while incomplete, still prepared the way for something deeper. John still had his long-term disciple relationships by the way, but he also played an important momentary role in the paradigm shift as a catalyst for change.
Both effects are practiced in the 40 Days of Discipleship
We need to be open to both Kingdom effects in discipleship.
The multiplayer effect. How many times has someone shared a verse from their devotional time that empowered another through a difficult moment, or given an embrace or practiced active listening, or was just fully present at the right time and place. Our lives are the ‘Stuff’ of kingdom work and we need to be open to see Kingdom patterns emerge. This challenges the secular/sacred divide, making all of life the stage on which the Jesus’ learning adventure is performed. Practicing the spiritual disciplines is not purely for one’s own use, but plays a role in the formation of others. Hobbies, jobs, circumstances are not hindrances to the programme, but form the avenues where God works. We need to work harder at recognizing the discipleship possibilities that are presented in an integrated life.
The catalyst effect. One could discount the 40 days of discipleship as far too little to make a difference. I would challenge that. It can be used to confront assumptions, demonstrate what is possible, introduce new ways of thinking, imagine new possibilities, form new connections with others, provoke steps of risk and give new terminology for things we can begin to observe and discuss. These new patterns can be practiced and new ways of learning can form.
I would love to hear your stories of these effects at work in your Jesus’ learning journey.