These are some ongoing thoughts springing from our discussions about discipleship in a messy context at the regional coordinators’ Round Table.
Discipleship is a huge issue and will carry on being one. We’re all learners and what feels right at the moment may not be in the long run, but we need to be faithful to what we think God is revealing to us in our context at the present time.
Messy solutions need to be found for messy situations: we felt we can’t just expect to put traditional church solutions (for example, Emmaus, Alpha, house groups…) on to Messy congregations, but must think imaginatively and honestly about what would help MC congregations grow in Christ / walk the journey with him / live Christian lives (or however we express what discipleship is – and that in itself is a huge question in a MC context).
Messy Churches are happening in very different settings (Durham pit villages to gin and jag Surrey) so one size of discipleship will not fit all in any case.
Here are some of the points that came up (not necessarily agreed with by everyone): There has to be a ‘next step’.
We’re all part of the wider church and need to help each other take the next steps.
MCs may already offer more opportunities for faith development than is offered by a Sunday church (space for conversations, space to explore and take responsibility for one’s own growth, spontaneity).
MCs are already doing discipleship within themselves and leaders need to be confident that this form of discipleship (spontaneous, modelling, relational, gentle, nurturing, longterm, accepting, winning trust) is working.
Should there be a questionnaire / interview process to research what MC congregations want / need / are asking in order to go forward with producing materials / suggestions for ‘the next step’ in collaboration with church growth experts, as has been offered?
The vote was overwhelmingly against (22 people were against and 3 people were for) on the grounds that it would scare people, might feel heavy-handed, could do damage, as MC is loved for being gentle, unthreatening, relational, non-confrontational. One person worried that it would ‘institutionalise’ MC and that we should instead just ‘let it be’. Someone said this would be ‘too far beyond where people are at’. The cliched image of pulling up seedlings to see if they’ve got roots came vividly to my mind: the process of assessing growth might hinder growth or even kill off what we’re trying to grow.People also worried that we would be trying to measure the unmeasurable.
A suggestion was made that regional coordinators and Messy Church leaders commit to prayer and fasting during Advent to help this spiritual process. There is the possibility of organising it as a game or activity, or as interviews rather than questionnaire, but still the majority felt very negative about doing it at all.
However, the suggestion that the question of discipleship should be developed through MC teams rather than congregations was met with much more approval and excitement. Some intentional strategies are already in place (for example, Ann’s non-study Bible studies in Co. Durham, Lucy’s Messy Teas, Gill Noles’ Deeper Mess, Bridget Shepherd’s Emmanuel Church’s Messy Extras – though this is for the congregation) – these should be supported, written up, prayed for, critically assessed, made available – a job for BRF working with the regional coordinators. Lucy and Jane will take this forward.
My own feelings: ‘stepping lightly’ keeps coming back to me as a way forward in messy discipleship. We need to be humble and admit we don’t know how to do it. But we need to have confidence that our instincts are God-given, that we – not ‘experts’ know our congregations best and that God will take the initiative in his own time. We have the resources and goodwill of the whole church to draw on.
Our responsibility is to be organic gardeners – to watch and pray over this wild seed God has dropped in our gardens so unexpectedly; to be gentle, faithful and patient, to water and protect our wild plants, however unruly they look to neat and tidy gardeners who might prefer us to prune back the growth: that time may / will come but I don’t feel it’s here yet. It’s like watching a plant growing when we don’t know what species it is: we can only do our best to tend it and watch and wonder what sort of flowers and fruit it will have eventually.
I have a feeling of fun – let’s ENJOY this movement of God’s Spirit. If we feel it’s right to spoil people in church, let’s spoil them – with cake and crafts and joyful worship and friendship. If we want to give, let’s give, like a grandparent showering presents on beloved grandchildren. If we want to show them how wonderful God is, let’s just get on and do that without getting our knickers in a twist about doctrine and dogma and discipleship.
I have a feeling that this is like parenting: it’s about just being there for people, living with them, loving them, modelling a way of life and a set of values to them, giving them opportunities rather than challenges – life has its own challenges. I can’t ever remember Paul (my husband) and me saying earnestly, ‘But we must challenge the kids to do such and such!’ We simply try to give them opportunities and support them through those opportunities and through the challenges that they inevitably face just by being human. I guess this has more emphasis on ‘life in all its fullness’ rather than ‘take up your cross and follow me’ and we need both sides of discipleship.
But maybe there is a season for everything and for us the season of singing is here for the moment: a season of joy after a season of – arguably, with church numbers dropping, buildings closing, congregations dying off, etc. – drought. So, though I never imagined I would quote this in a Messy context, I’ll finish with this sensuous, tender, hopeful, tentative passage from Song of Songs 2:10-13 (NIV):
Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.