My family got a new puppy last week. He is an Australian Shepherd and I’m told he was bred to corral children. He sleeps a lot, maybe because the kids run him to exhaustion whenever his eyes are open. We took him to the Back to School cookout last Friday at the park. I fastened his collar around him- which would only stay on if I latched the tightest hole. The kids hooked up his leash but Sam just laid down. They tried pulling him but he wouldn’t budge. He just wasn’t that into the whole leash concept. Once we took it off and he had his proper nap he began to interact with everybody. He’s a “people dog”, but he doesn’t play any games yet. He can’t catch a Frisbee or fetch a stick. He doesn’t come when I call him or obey when I tell him not to bite. He makes an awful mess in the kitchen for me to clean up each morning and doesn’t understand that this is not the way we are to act in my house.
Sarah commented to me the other day about how patient I was being with Sam’s slow training and fast mess making. I was puzzled as I said, “he’s just a puppy, what else should we expect”. So true for everything that’s new. We don’t expect to pick up an instrument for the first time and play it like a symphony musician. I don’t expect my children to write stories like accomplished authors, or play sports like professional athletes. These skills, abilities, and traits while being somewhat within a given individual, nevertheless must be developed over time. A child may be a natural athlete or musician or writer, but they still need to be trained and given tracks for their abilities and passion.
Likewise I see people who may come to church for the first time in years, if ever. Should we expect a new believer, or a new church attender to automatically know the ropes? This is what the process of discipleship is all about. Jesus told us to go into all the world and make disciples, not converts. We don’t leave new believers where they are. Anyone new to the faith or to the faith community needs to be taught and shown what Jesus meant about how we are to live, fellowship, and worship. Anyone who has been born anew by God’s Spirit has His love inborn in them. They have been “bred”, in a way, to be Jesus’ hands and feet in this world. Discipleship however comes with training. The root word is discipline. We need training in prayer, in study, in spirituality, in service, in worship, in giving, and in interacting with a world hostile to our message (apologetics). Some believers never get any of this discipleship. They just kind of meander into a faith community and hang out on the fringes. They may genuinely love the Lord, but they’ve never been trained up/discipled to be the kind of person that God has bred them to be. Old habits stick around and their true potential as an ambassador of Jesus Christ remains untapped.
How can we correct this in our churches? By returning to intentional discipleship. None of us has arrived. All of us have, or should have someone in our lives that we look up to as a spiritual example or mentor. Or maybe you are a spiritual mentor and you have people who look to you. My former pastor Kenny Ashley used to say “everyone needs a Paul, Timothy, and Barnabus in their life”. That is to say, everyone needs a (1) mentor, (2) someone they’re mentoring, and (3) someone that is right where they are in their walk with Christ.
If you find yourself in need of some spiritual training here’s a couple of practical things you can do. First, find a church. I don’t mean find a worship experience, I mean find a church. Find a community of worshippers who are like a family. We all need support at different times in our lives and nothing can substitute a supportive church when you’re in need. Second, read your Bible. That is a daunting task, so begin in an easy place. The Bible is not chronological; you can begin just about anywhere. The Gospel of John is a good start. I like to read Proverbs daily. James is a practical letter. And find a Bible study to join. This could be a Sunday School or small group. I like to actually study the Bible in small groups, but there are mountains of great book resources that can be used to draw you close to the Lord and teach you about His ways. Third, pray. Talk to God- out loud. Tell Him how you feel. Tell Him about your anxieties and struggles. Tell him about your doubts. Pray for your friends and family. Prayer, especially verbal prayer, is an act of faith and the Bible says that faith pleases God. Finally, sing! It can be hard to sing, especially if you’ve been told you’re no good at it. But in singing to God or about God, we enter into a sacred realm. I’ll have to dive deeper into this subject another time, but suffice it to say that I believe, and the Bible backs this up, that singing is a key component of our discipleship as worshippers. These are some good places to start.
I have to get back to Sam. He needs some training. He doesn’t chase my Frisbee yet and he can’t seem to stop chewing on my shoes. He keeps pooping in the kitchen, and I keep cleaning it up. I realize one day he’ll be able to hold his bowels through the night and fetch a stick. Until then I have to be patient in his training. But I sure do love that dog.