Incarnational Practice 4: Mobilize Discipleship

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : August 10, 2005

When Jesus trained his disciples, he didn’t take them into the wilderness for 3 years.  He didn’t take them to Jerusalem Seminary for 3 years.  Nope.  He took them with him for 3 years.  The way you do training and discipleship should fit the form of your church.  The University system developed out of a midieval ecclesiology. The current Seminary system is roughly based upon the university system.  And most in-church discipleship training is often loosly based upon seminary training.  We need to re-orient our methods of discipeship to fit an incarnational church. 

I’ve alluded to this recently in other posts–and other blogs that I link to have brought it up as well: we need to get more "monastic" in how we do discipleship.  Monks take vows (they agree with a certain pattern of Christian life), and the entire brotherhood (or sisterhood) centers around these shared vows.  Postulants (newbies) spend a trial time with the community.  If it seems as though they are ready to be continue in this path, they become novices.  A monk is usually a novice for 3-5 years, which is the length of their training. The Mendicant (begging) orders–like the Franciscans–were not cloistered away.  They are very active in service to the world.  But their vows make them distinct.  They engaged the world from a place of distinction.  We need to move from membership to discipleship.  From a gathering of interested people to a mobile order.  Sure, a monasticized church will still gather, but their gathering will be an expression of who they are.  Gatherings will develop out of missional, discipled, incarnational, ministry.

I think we can learn something from this approach.  The Mendicants were very serious about discipleship, but they did it on their feet.  We need to find intense and rich ways of training people on their feet.  It may involve some coursework, but coursework done in a missional way.  But mostly it would involve lots of one-on-one conversations between "novices" and those who have gone before them. 

I’m going to develop a concrete example of this over coming months.  Here are some links you might want to investigate:

New Monasticism


Leadership/Theology/Life Institute

for further reading . . .

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5 Responses to “Incarnational Practice 4: Mobilize Discipleship”

  1. JustinG on August 11th, 2005 8:04 am

    How difficult do you think it would be for Western Christians to agree to live a life that is distinct from the rest of society?

    I think it would be easy if we quit making Christianity about fire insurance and overemphasizing the idea of “salvation by faith alone” (which i agree with but do not see it as meaning we can live however we please post-conversion).

  2. jim on August 11th, 2005 2:33 pm

    I remember a guy advocating the following;
    Find someone willing to listen to what you have to say about God, Christ and the need for forgiveness. Meet with them 2 x per week. 1 time for instruction and 1 time for practice (some kind of service in the community). I have always wanted to try that but since I am starting seminary in the fall I will be too busy thinking abstract thoughts in the academy to do this:-) Actually I did try it once and felt very awkward and overwhelmed and self important and not adequate. The sessions ranged from being way too deep to being far too simplistic and the service portion was just plain work. It cut into my family time and I began to resent the commitment. I also got the sneaking suspicion that I was holding the guy back. Instead of relying on the indwelling Spirit for growth and direction he looked to me to tell him what the Spirit was doing. Since I had no desire to be a priest I found that very difficult and uncomfortable. We finally decided to just meet every once in a while when he was really struggling. That works. On the other hand I meet with a mentor every week. We do not have an agenda. He is just a very wise old man who has lived and is still living his faith.

  3. jim on August 11th, 2005 2:55 pm

    ok two posts…
    It occured to me after I posted above that perhaps the monastic model would be as out moded and ineffective as the seminary model. Which is why many discipleship attempts fail especially if one is talking to someone not savvy with xian lingo. There is no point of reference for disciple. But there is an understanding of a “friend” a true friendship may be more condusive to intentional development in the front half of the 21st century. Of course the commitment is huge and you can’t fake it or boot your friend out if he “fails” the trial period. But the payback is worth it. I will allow friends into my life.

  4. Tschaka on August 15th, 2005 4:25 am

    I don’t know if this would be the kind of thing you are talking about. Our church has been practicing intentional community for neatly 40 years. We offer a training year where people from other churhes can join us for a period of discipleship training. You can read a little about it at the our church website. My own personal blog on life in community is at Living Radical - The Jesus Army Life. I hope you enjoy it.

  5. Van S on August 15th, 2005 3:26 pm

    Thanks Tschaka…I’ll check it out.

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