Reflections on Discipleship – High Mileage Life

My job at the moment is developing discipleship in one Anglican diocese, so as you can imagine I do quite a bit of thinking about what discipleship is, what it means, and what it looks like. Here are some random thoughts, gleaned from my reflection on the Bible and current thinking …

My daughter has just completed a gap year discipleship programme before starting university, so we went back for her graduation to a church at which I had been on the staff in the 80s. The vicar preached a stunning sermon, concerning an advert he had come across for a 1984 VW for sale. It was advertised as having 15 miles on the clock, brand new tyres, exhaust and battery, pristine bodywork, and completely clean upholstery. It had only ever been used in first and reverse gears, and was being sold, the advert said, due to the owners losing their job. The attached photo showed a tiny island about 200 metres across, with a jetty on one side and a lighthouse on the other, with the car being used merely to ferry supplies between them.

 File:1984 VW Polo C 1.1 Formel E (15666695439).jpg

Cars are of course made to drive, to go on adventures, to change as we change. As young couples we might stick a tent in the boot and go off on holiday with no plans. Later it might commute us to work. Then it might ferry kids around their various activities. Later still it might need a topbox or bike carriers on the roof. It might take us to foreign countries as well as to Tesco’s. Cars which never get up to temperature are more likely to suffer wear internally, even though the bodywork might be pristine. The preacher who told this story challenged us to think about high-mileage as opposed to low-mileage lives. It’s possible to live nice clean simple lives, nicely polished with regular visits to church, with never a dent, scratch or wear. Disciples, though, he said, are those who live high-mileage lives, have adventures, go places, and occasionally get damaged in the process, as Jesus’ first disciples did. Disciples run into the ground.

 

Where has your discipleship taken you? How much has it cost? When your time comes, will you die in pristine condition, or will your life with Jesus have taken you to challenging and dangerous places? We need high-mileage disciples who, in Dylan Thomas’ immortal words, do not go gentle into that good night.

 

But this isn’t just about individual Christians: churches too can be low- or high-mileage. Some keep their liturgy highly polished, their worship-songs up to date, their accounts in perfect order, with nothing to dent their sparkling finish. But others take risks, do crazy things for the kingdom, use faith to take financial risks, make plans and reflect on them, learn, grow, change and adapt as the world around them changes. High-mileage churches have known amazing journeys of faith, but may well have a few scratches to show for it. I guess that can be true for dioceses too: living a high-mileage life is not always what the C of E has been known for, but it is, I believe, what we are called to. We should go places, rather than being stuck on our own little island.

Image: By Charlie from United Kingdom (1984 VW Polo C 1.1 Formel E) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

What’s Church For? Church as Pilgrim People

This week’s image of the church is one you won’t find in so many words anywhere in Scripture, and yet it is implied on virtually every page. The word ‘pilgrim’ and its relative terms do not occur in my NIV version at all. And yet from that fateful moment in Gen 3 when Adam and Eve are driven out of Eden God’s people have been people on the move. Another landmark of pilgrimage comes in Gen 12 when God tells Abraham to ‘leave’ all that he knows and to ‘go’ to the place yet to be revealed to him. This is the essence of pilgrimage, leaving, journeying and, eventually, arriving. It is interesting that in the Bible arrival is often synonymous with ‘rest’: Hebrews 4 talks about this particularly. So a good definition of church which works well for me is that we are a bunch of people on a journey to the new heavens and earth, and inviting others to join us as we go. As a model of church this one has a lot going for it: it is dynamic, not static; it is purposeful, and it is evangelistically focussed. For those with the right mindset it can be an exciting, exploratory journey, with new possibilities and no opportunity to get bored. Some however find this model a bit exhausting, perhaps those who prefer a holiday lying on the beach in the same place they go every year rather than cruising the Caribbean or climbing Kilimanjaro.

File:Helier pilgrimage 2005 Jersey.jpg

I can remember years ago hearing a charismatic speaker talking about the frequent accusations of ‘triumphalism’ levelled again the renewal movement. ‘I don’t believe in “triumphalism”’, he commented, ‘but I do believe in triumph!’ Since then my definition of ‘triumphalism’ has been ‘wanting your triumph too early before it’s ready’. I think there is something similar going on in church circles: so often we want our rest too early. Next time I’ll be looking at church as ‘haven’, the idea that church is a safe place amid the storms and ravages of life. By definition pilgrims do not play it safe, do not settle down, do not retrace old ground, but keep moving forward, setting their faces towards the new Jerusalem whatever hardship might await them on the way. Perhaps the greatest definition of a pilgrim lifestyle is that of Paul in Phil 3:12-14:

Not that I have … already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

So what would a ‘pilgrim’ church look like? It would first and foremost be adventurous, never playing it safe. It would be, in the immortal words, ‘purpose-driven’, and it would have about it a sense of wonder and excitement. It would know how to celebrate, not just because of the ultimate destination but also because of the little staging posts safely reached along the way. It would attract younger people and men, and it would be gloriously life-affirming.

Sounds good to me!