John was a deacon’s kid. “Every time the church doors were open, we were there. It wasn’t a question or a discussion.” Following his mom and dad’s lead, John and his siblings engaged church life as many of us did in the 50’s and 60’s. The community that lived near by was also the community they met with every weekend. When there were marriages, birthdays and other significant social events, the people that filled the church also celebrated in the family back yard.
John remembers that he knew all these people socially, and similarly his knowledge of Jesus was social familiarity, not a real relationship. Going to church and socializing with other church goers was “all he knew.” Yet church, and spiritual live was relegated to Sunday, Wednesday nights, the once a month youth group, and summer camp. John’s dad set the boundaries. Even as a deacon, he didn’t want to “shove it down their throats.” As a result, majority of the week and social settings outside of church events remained decidedly secular.
When John launched into adulthood, the dichotomy continued. His head knowledge about Jesus Christ didn’t translate. “I didn’t understand anything of a relationship with Christ.”
His faith struggled. He knew the structure. He knew how to act from social training and church camp flannel graphs. However, the transformational power of Christ remained absent. He understood the structure he had learned, but had no experience of a committed, transforming Christian lifestyle.
When I met John, he was on his “newly back to Christ.” Like myself, life had thrown him a few curve balls. The social faith of his youth was long gone, and John wanted to find the prevailing transformational faith about which he had heard. He knew more existed. Where – John wasn’t sure.
“I wanted to go beyond the attendee status.” He wanted to connect with God. He learned how in our small group.
I had watched John grow over the next 2 ½ years we spent together, but I asked him to put it into his own words. “It was because of your friendship with me that I found a way to make a connection to a real faith. In group, we opened up and shared about vulnerable issues. We took a risk. It was like taking a knife, gutting myself, and bearing my soul. When I was accepted, I learned that in the relationship I sought Christ accepted all my issues too. I learned how to connect. The social Christianity of my youth became a lifestyle.” As we talked, John used some or these words.
Friendship – We built a lasting friendship.
Vulnerable – We laughed and cried together. We fished, picnicked, and watched fireworks together. Each was given permission to correct and encourage another in a mutual accountability.
Real – We were real, and the masks that the world demands we wear were left at the door when we came to group.
Mentored – Christ led the group, but the older Christians led the younger to a deeper, more intimate experience with their Creator.
Prayed – We learned how to pray openly, honestly, without pretense.
The result is that, in John’s words “there was bonding and binding of our souls as men. I built friendships that will last into Christ’s kingdom.”
John currently leads the Divorce Care ministry at Mt Hope Church in Lansing, MI. While the program is designed to be replicated nationally, John applies the transformational lifestyle he learned in our small group as he leads Divorce Care. He is building a network of friends which extends beyond the once a week class. He mentors those who are ready, looking to raise-up leaders, thus duplicate the discipling process he learned. He models the transformational and vulnerable lifestyle he learned in our group. As a result, John watches and participates with Christ as lives of those who come for understanding and healing as a result of divorce in their lives are forever changed.
Disciples are made, not born. Maturity in believers is not the result of church attendance, social religious involvement or prayers at the altar. Jesus spent 3 years to transform 12 men into transformational leaders who could carry his message to the world.
Who do you have with whom you are ‘real.’ The world demands we wear masks. Yet genuine spiritual growth requires vulnerable transparency. Who do you have in your life that fills this role.
The Next Step
If you are like a majority of Christians, this idea of vulnerable face to face accountability is new. Take the step. Find a person to become your Barnabas – someone who walks the path along with you.
PLEASE ENCOURAGE AUTHOR,
LEAVE COMMENT ON ARTICLE Read more articles by Tim Burns or search for other articles by topic below.