“Describe in your own words the picture that best represents the process facilitated by your church/ministry that helps an interested follower to become more Christ-like.” I have asked this question of hundreds of ministry leaders, mostly lead pastors, and easily more than 95% do not include focused and/or regular times of reflective contemplation. If Forrester is to be believed, then embracing reflective thinking time is critical. He states, “The question we must ask ourselves is this: “In the midst of dramatic and extreme change, has decision making devolved into merely informed chaos, or can we imbed reflection and think time into our habits and routines to arrive at better outcomes and understanding?” (page 5). Making key decisions about following Christ certainly belongs in our question box! If Christ’s disciple making example is telling, we can certainly agree that he spent time in conversation with his Father reflecting about his incarnate journey. It is my thesis that common discipleship processes do not include such times because churches and church leaders do not practice reflective thinking and they do not equip or promote for such activity. Instead, many churches use a “turn key” approach; imitating or purchasing discipleship programs that when applied according to instructions will produce disciples.
Discipleship is not a life style where short cuts are helpful. Forrester encourages us to have a “meeting with oneself. With the tethering to technology that happens to us throughout the course of a day, it is clear that we treat time with our thoughts as a low-level priority” (page 51). I meet regularly with a friend and early in our relationship he would often use his iPad a lot to look up things on the internet while we were discussing various issues. He noted that I did not do that and finally asked me why. I told him that I did think that researching various perspectives is important but that our questions and purpose for research must first be clarified. Thinking through the question at hand and gaining personal clarity concerning that question is important before chasing the various trails that others beckon us to follow based on their agendas.
Another que that disciples get from churches is the “avoidance” que. Forrester writes, “Unfortunately our society tends to focus on today and not worry about emerging challenges until they reach crisis proportions.” (page 204). Many churches, especially more conservative ones, are reticent to embrace almost any change in the guise that change equals going liberal. Therefore, they hold fast to practices even when previous track record shows they are not effective. They ‘tune up’ those practices by implementing them with more resources. It is only when a crisis hits that they are willing to take an honest look. A case in point is the Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois. To their great credit they acknowledged the lack of spiritual growth that many of their followers achieved. They really did ‘open their books’ to an open investigation and are making significant changes to the practices they once labeled “best practices.”
On numerous occasions I have explained the topic of my thesis paper (at least as it now exists) and often I have received the response, “why do you think Jesus’ model of making disciples should be attempted in our culture when it seems that the cultural settings are so different?” Fair question. I give my response to that question not thinking it settles the issue, but in the hopes that my response opens a crack in the door to trying! Since few other approaches are showing signs of effectiveness, why not try Jesus’ model? Forrester’s comment pushes me forward, “Technology vs Human Capacity” One of the key villains stealing away time for thinking and reflection is technology, the same thing that helps bring so much good to life through its ability to parse and move data. Connectivity and the narrative of responsiveness afforded by technology drive often-addictive behaviors” (page 213). I understand the challenges to leverage human face to face time! I get push back all the time! But, to the extent that I am able to move ahead on achieving more face to face time, I experience better interaction which in turn results in the disciple’s capacity to think through their issues and obediently implement what Christ shows them.
As is often the case, leadership must lead. Forrester writes, “Guidepost 4: Leaders who Walk the Walk Building reflection into the habits and routines of an organization will not happen if the senior-most executives don’t lead from the front” (page 214). It is tough for leaders to reformat their schedules so as to make room for meaningful reflective think time. I agree with Forrester that this is extremely important. The key is to trigger actions that will result in this habit. When lead pastors do this, when churches do this, more disciples will take the que and do this. Or, perhaps it will take place bottom up?
What have you found that moves a person to build reflective time into her/his schedule? How have you facilitated their action?
Forrester, Daniel Patrick. Consider Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization. New York City, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.