It’s one of the moments of my life that I am most ashamed of.
I was in seminary, full-time, working part-time, with four children at home. One of my children had recently had a birthday party and received a duplicate gift; I had taken a couple of the kids with me to the computer-game store to exchange it. That’s all I wanted to do – to exchange the game for one of the same value that the boy didn’t already have.
But the store clerk perkily informed me that the store allowed no returns or exchanges. Not even though the game had the store’s name on it and was still in its mint-condition shrink-wrap, quite obviously unopened. The manager was no help, either.
I was very angry. I thought it was a silly policy. I let them know I was annoyed. My children were backing away from me.
And then, as we began to leave the store with our useless duplicate game, the security agent at the door demanded to see my receipt for it.
I’d had no idea what was boiling around inside me, but in that moment it all came shrieking out. And I do mean shrieking. My children were staring in disbelief. Everyone in the store stopped what they were doing. All of my opinions about the exchange that wouldn’t happen, the store that seemed to imply the game wasn’t from their store but now implied I was stealing it from their store…all of that was reverberating around the I-Beams that held up the ceiling.
We were ushered outside. I sat in the car, where my preteen children informed me that I’d embarrassed them. But I’d deeply embarrassed myself, too.
Now, I can say that I was overworked, overtired and trying too hard – all that was true.
But I also knew in that moment, that even though I was in seminary, even though I’m a follower of Jesus and have been a long time, I’d been operating out of a framework about who I was, that didn’t come from the Lord.
I thought I was important, because I was very busy. I thought everyone else, who was less busy – and less important or productive – owed it to me to make things easy for me. I thought I had a right to be demanding, a right to be curt, a right to be irritable, even to my kids. I had an image of myself that came from TV, or maybe from advertising. And I’d just left a “testimony” still reverberating in that store, about who I was and what I really believed about my place in the world.
Today as I’m thinking about how to be a church that “makes disciples who make disciples,” it occurs to me that we are always influencing somebody, whether we know it or not, and we are always being influenced. And unless we are intentional about what’s feeding us, the messages of a world that wants to use us will feed us lies – and if we believe them (even without deciding to), we will contribute a little bit more to the brokenness and woundedness of this world.
So, “making disciples” is less a kind of religious tutoring relationship, than having and being spiritual friends who help one another “feed” better. It’s why Jesus put us in groups and talked to us in groups, in the Bible. It’s what church is for – to make a community which is supplied by the Holy Spirit with gifts to build everyone up. When we have friends like that, one may be down while others are able to lift him or her up. That one learns something from the Lord while down there, and contributes it to the wisdom of the group. Together we pray, we read scripture, we analyze and interpret in our lives and help one another along as we pray together and for one another. We hold out hope to each other. And as one grows up, that one turns around and raises up another – making disciples, who make disciples.
Those kinds of spiritual friendships don’t just happen, however. The gravitational pull of being a church in this world is to become a kind of “spiritual goods and services” consumer center. If all we do is go to church to sit back and enjoy the show, even the friends we have at church are unlikely to enter into the kind of real relationship that makes disciples. It’s hard, in the planning of church events, not to cave to a very human desire to compete in what the world does well. But if we are making disciples, more is at stake than attendance numbers. We need to be the kind of place where people are comfortable admitting their vulnerability and failure, their ups and their downs, so that others can be honest, too.
It’s even harder if we’ve been influenced to believe we are important because we are too busy for spiritual friendships, that winners never talk about failure and that we’re too valuable to our work to spend our time that way. But if we are there, we need it all the more!
One of my seminary professors passed along to us what I’m sure is an old adage – that ‘evangelism’ is just one hobo telling another hobo where to find bread. So is discipleship. It’s walking with Christ, allowing him to show us (or let us be confronted with!) the lies about ourselves and our lies that we’ve believed, and replacing them with truth that comes from him – and then sharing that with others as we walk together, being healed as we go along, discovering that we are more than productive, more than important, more than busy – we are really eternal, made by love for love, meant for relationship with God-in-Christ and with others, from which comes real life.
“23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:23-25)