Taking the “I” Out of Discipleship


This is part of The False Promise of Discipleship blog series from The Bonhoeffer Project. Read the blog that came right before this one by clicking here.

The first, and perhaps the most obvious, problem with The Human Paradigm is that we never arrive! Have you noticed that X is ever-elusive? The closer you get to it, the farther away you realize it is! This plays out in life all the time, when say, we get the job we wanted and find that somehow it doesn’t satisfy us. Have you ever noticed that getting what you thought you wanted can actually be a miserable experience?

And in spiritual terms, we all know that for all the growth and progress we make, there’s always more to go. We’re never where we could or “should” be. The more mature you get, the more you realize that attaining some sort of spiritual standing on your own merits is not going to happen. We’re always discovering just how far we are from the person we want to be. And yet, many—if not most—of us believe that we have to earn God’s love or grace, and then resent that, and resent that we aren’t able to do it.

So that’s a real problem: As much as we grow, we never arrive and, in fact, we can feel like we’re traveling in a circle, not a straight line. For this reason, many Christians get burned out on following Jesus. It’s just exhausting, if you’re approaching it through The Human Paradigm.


Bill Hull and Brandon Cook, authors of this blog and eBook, will be teaching at this year’s Forum. Meet them and get more content like this in person at the 2017 National Disciple Making Forum.

This is one of the largest gatherings of disciple makers in North America with 65+ workshops, 15+ speakers, and 10+ tracks. Join us to learn practical ways to make disciples of Jesus this November 9-10 (Thursday-Friday). Register for the 2017 National Disciple Making Forum here.


Growing up, I (Brandon) was constantly told to have a quiet time for prayer and reading Scripture. I thought that was the only way I would get close to God, and I did sense the value in times of quiet for my soul. To this day, I believe that silence makes way for an encounter with God, and that without silence there is no space for spiritual transformation. Yet I struggled—as did most everyone else I knew—with having quiet times. It’s just hard and somehow unnatural to approach with any eagerness a God who you believe, at root, is trying to fix you or trying to get you to climb a ladder toward Him.

Many people, in fact, leave the church entirely after discovering that “doing the dance” doesn’t deliver all they thought it would. People leave the church because they discover the gospel they have believed—that life will basically work out if you do this dance—proves to be insufficient. Tragedy occurs. Life twists and turns, sometimes painfully, and if you believe that it’s because you didn’t do the dance well enough, you’ll either conclude that God is capricious or that all this Jesus stuff is just hooey. This just can’t be who God is, and if it is, then I want no part of Him. Who could blame them? We’ve taught people, in essence, “do these things, and everything will be okay” instead of “everything will not always be okay, but God is with you and that’s enough!” Our gospel, under the influence of The Human Paradigm, is often way off. Rather than teaching people the gospel of God with us, we’ve taught them the gospel of “do it right to get close to Jesus.”

The second problem—and this is a critical one—centers on focus. Where is the focus in this paradigm? On self! How am I doing? Am I having enough faith? Am I readingmy Bible enough? I, I, I! In fact, as we said earlier, the defining question in The Human Paradigm is “How am I doing?”

Now, this is not a bad question per se. In fact, it’s a great discipleship question that Jesus often engages people in. But if it’s your only, or even primary, discipleship question, you’re in big trouble. Any spirituality exclusively, or even just primarily, focused on this question is cut off from real life and vitality. It’s trapped, imprisoned; it leads to highly educated people who have no real outlet for their knowledge and desire. They often grow tired and give up, and the desire for more dissipates into the tissue of ordinary life.

The problem is, while the question, “How am I doing?” is really satisfying to the ego, the concerns of our spirit are wholly different. We were designed to be most satisfied when we’re forgetting ourselves, not focusing on us. Heaven is self- forgetfulness. Jesus described our way of being as “like little children.” Think of the freedom of a two-year-old who has not yet developed his fear of “what people might think about me.”

Come over to my (Brandon’s) house most nights and you’ll find our daughter dancing in circles, the definition of “throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care.” When we give, we become self-forgetful, which is not far from an experience of heaven. When we focus on others instead of our own immediate needs, when we do something beautiful for another, we discover that truly “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” And the opposite holds true: The heart of hell is a soul focused only on itself and its own needs at the expense of others. So it’s very unlikely we will experience much joy or abundance if we’re constantly monitoring, evaluating, and bemoaning on the one hand—or pridefully exulting, on the other— how poorly or how well we’re doing.

Jesus is constantly trying to get our focus off of ourselves and onto loving God and loving others. He said that such a devoted life sums up the entirety of His work in human hearts (Mark 10:45). But oftentimes, we are so caught in a paradigm that has trained us to constantly check in on how well we’re doing at being “good Christians” that we never become good Christians.

 

*Stay tuned by coming back to our blog for the next blog in this series, which will be coming soon!

 


This is an excerpt from the free eBook written Bill Hull and Brandon Cook of The Bonhoeffer Project. You can download the full eBook on their homepage here.

Bill Hull is a Co-Founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Bill’s passion is to help the church return to its disciple making roots and he considers himself a discipleship evangelist. This God-given desire has manifested itself in 20 of pastoring and the authorship of many books. Two of his more important books, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker, and The Disciple Making Pastor, have both celebrated 20 years in print. Add his third in the popular trilogy, The Disciple Making Church, and you have a new paradigm for disciple making.

Brandon Cook is the lead pastor at Long Beach Christian Fellowship and a co-founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he studied at Wheaton College (IL), Jerusalem University College, Brandeis University, and The Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He worked as a professional storyteller before joining a transformational training organization and moving to SoCal in 2006, becoming a pastor three years later. Over the course of five years of pastoring, he became convinced that his work—and the work of the church—is to become fully committed to discipleship and making disciple-makers. The Bonhoeffer Project is for him a quest to live into the question “How are people transformed to live and love like Jesus?”

Image Credit: Daniel Burka

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