Tim Weshe, a longtime friend of mine who kindly offered to review my upcoming book, Special Graces in Common Places, sent me an email yesterday with some of the initial thoughts and responses he had; including this little quip:
A LOT OF PEOPLE down here would freak to read of a Christian fellowshipping with another and/or meditating upon spiritual truth with a cigar in one hand and whiskey in another. We’re the buckle of the Bible belt! (If there still is one!)
In light of that knowledge, I thought I would retool an older post on cigars and discipleship. Yeah, I know. I’m a bit ornery.
Let me share what might be perceived as a radical thought: discipleship is better suited for taking place at your local cigar shop than it is at your church.
“Dan!” you say, “Are you serious?”
Yes. Yes I am. In fact, I am at a cigar shop right now as I write this. Puff, puff! :-)=~
Let me unpack what I mean.
What is church for? What is the goal of church? Christians gather together at a local church for worship, teaching, training, and praying (Ephesians 4:11-16). Discipleship is the work that church equips us for. But discipleship is not primarily an “at church” activity. Discipleship is what the Christian engages in when he or she is not in church.
When we try to “do discipleship” at church, discipleship inevitably ends up being reduced to a program or a decision. So if you attend a church function, a Sunday school class, or a bible study, you are being “discipled;” or if you ever made a decision to follow Christ, you are a “disciple.”
That is not at all what discipleship is! Discipleship is not about class time, although learning is involved. It is not about formalized programs, although structured times and methods might be used. It may include those things, but it cannot be reduced to them.
If that is not what discipleship is, then what is it? To be a disciple in Jesus’ day meant leaving one’s home and business to live with your rabbi. In so doing, you were committing to going wherever your rabbi went. You were committing to accept his authority, his interpretation of Scripture, and to emulate him in every area of your life. You learned and adopted his habits, attitudes, likes, dislikes—everything. By seeing how your rabbi lived out and applied Scripture, you learned what grace and truth looked like in everyday life. It was an intense, intentional, personal apprenticeship that aimed at growing the character, wisdom, and heart necessary to live in obedience to the will of God. This was how Jesus taught His disciples. They left their boats, nets, and tax collection booths, and followed Him around and lived with Him for three years.
When Jesus gave what has become known as the Great Commission, go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), He obviously meant it in the way He understood discipleship. A Christian disciple therefore, is someone who looks at Jesus Christ as their Rabbi. Someone who is committed to Him, to His teaching, to His direction, to His work, to His mission, to His worldview, to His honor, and to His glory more than anything else.
To disciple someone, is to be in a relationship with another person where you are intentionally working together with Jesus to spiritually parent another person so that they can live for God through Christ—in whatever circumstances they might be in at that point in their life. Likewise, to be discipled means intentionally sitting under the care and guidance of a Christian as a spiritual son or daughter in order to learn how to live for God through Christ. As a Christian, we are to be actively pursuing both sides of discipleship: being discipled and discipling others.
The point of gaining knowledge about the Bible, is not so you can be quizzed on it, but so that you can live it. You can’t live what you don’t know. Just because you know a lot about football, it does not follow that you can play it professionally. You cannot become a great golfer simply by reading books, you have to practice it; and to really get good at it, you need to learn from someone who is doing it, and doing it well.
Discipleship is not primarily theoretical, it is primarily relational. Love is not something you learn by study. Love is something you learn by living in relationship with others, it is more caught than taught. That is what discipleship is, it is helping another person to grow in the practice of loving God and loving others (Matthew 22:37-40) in such a way that they are equipped to help others do the same (Matthew 28:19-20). Discipleship is walking with someone through life. It is sharing the love of Christ with them in what we say, in what we don’t say, and by what we won’t say. It is modeling God’s love in front of them in all of life’s joys and heartaches. It is intentionally helping another person work out the grace that God is working into them.
There is a reason that the best-selling Christian books are “how-to” books. There are too few people in the Church who are intentionally showing people how to live a life of love, and there are far too few people in the church who were willing to enter into such relationships.
Where do those personal relationships happen? Do they happen during church? Rarely. They happen around the dinner table, around the grill at a cookout, at the coffee shop downtown, on a camping trip around the fire, at the pub over a beer and chicken wings, on a walk in the park, on late night calls on the phone, and yes, even at the local cigar shop.
Who has God brought into your life that He wants you to be incarnating His love to? Prayerfully consider that, then pick your place, and go to it. You’ll be glad you did.