It was an uneventful flight over the Atlantic into Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, at least until the landing. I fly a fair amount and have experienced both take offs and landings in inclement weather. This particular early morning in the late fall was foggy, very foggy. I usually choose a window seat so that I am not bothered by other passengers needing to pass by to get to the lavatory though I do not mind bothering them! I was watching the display which showed the altitude and I was tracking it as we prepared for landing. I heard and felt the landing gear deploy and looked out the window to see any lights from the city. I could see nothing but fog. The altitude kept dropping and at 1000 feet I could still see nothing but fog. Seconds later the wheels touched down and the runway lights were barely visible. There is no doubt the pilot was using IFR. IFR is the abbreviation for “instrument flight rules” and is distinct from “visual flight rules,” or VFR. IFR uses instruments to sense the orientation of the aircraft and to direct it’s flight path. VFR is when the pilot can visually see the path before him/her and fly the aircraft based on physical sight. This morning in Amsterdam was no time for VFR!
David Brook’s book, The Social Animal, is about the relationship between our conscious and subconscious. His argument is that we are much more directed by our subconscious than we think or realize, that, “We are primarily the products of thinking that happens below the level of awareness.” (Location 69). Using the language of flight, he would say we live much more by IFR than VFR. He makes his case by taking the reader on a journey that follows two fictitious people through their whole life journey and demonstrates how their subconsciousness is enriched and how it informs, even before decision making, the paths they take. Thank God for the ways He builds a subconscious IFR into us.
As I reflect on the book, the message that reverberates in my thinking most is the importance of relationships throughout life. Brooks writes, “We become who we are in conjunction with other people becoming who they are.” (Location 165). He then powerfully and repeatedly presses that our subconscious is significantly impacted by all our relationships beginning even as a fetus, queuing on one’s relationship with parents (Location 885). His writing has greatly encouraged me to take more seriously how my life has been shaped by others and how my life impacts others when I am aware and also unaware of that dynamic.
I thought about the ministry of discipleship as I read the book and there were many important insights that relate to that ministry. Here are some of those insights.
- Discipleship is a process, not an event nor even a schedule of events. Christocentric discipleship is an experience of life on life, acting and reacting, forming and being reformed, and persons grow most as persons learn for themselves rather than being instructed. In the book, Brooks wrote about the impact of Heuristics (Location 3040, ff.). The heuristic aspects like priming, anchoring, framing, expectations, etc., can be found practiced by Christ in his process of discipleship. I found the parallel fascinating! The disciples may have thought that Christ was a great teacher, and he was! But he really helped the disciples to learn on their own in ways that can be practiced by all teachers.
- Obedience based discipleship. Those familiar with the verses Mat. 28:19-20 know that the command of Christ is to teach others to obey the commands of Christ. Obedience is the goal of making disciples. Brooks cites another author who makes a powerful statement regarding the importance of behavior. “One of the most enduring lessons of social psychology is that behavior change often precedes changes in attitude and feelings.” (Pg. 129).
- Church organization and discipleship. The traditional organized church (particularly in the West), invests significant resources into the organizational aspects of its operation, often much larger than resources invested in the production of disciples. This was bolstered by the comment, “The company spent more time managing its structure than improving its products.” (Pg. 221). The church should take this que.
- Successful discipleship. It is not easy to define metrics for disciple making success. But it is important that every disciple maker and church have meaningful ways of evaluating success. Those metrics must include, as a priority, character development. Brooks wrote, “a thinker may be very smart but unless she possesses moral virtues such as honesty, rigor, and fair-mindedness, she probably won’t succeed in real life.” (Location 166). If disciples are to succeed in real life, if they are to be Christlike, then certainly their life will reflect the virtues mentioned along with other important virtues. Disciple making must not only focus on content. Raw knowledge does not equate to discipleship success. Brooks writes, “The ultimate focus of political activity is the character of the society. Political, religious, and social institutions influence the unconscious choice architecture undergirding behavior. They can either create settings that nurture virtuous choices or they can create settings that undermine them.” (Location 5281). This is a powerful statement for building a disciple making culture/community.
- Discipleship is not a solo endeavor! Our culture values specialization and image and has facilitated a culture of individualization. This has taken place in the church as it has in society. In such a culture, real meaning in life is too often found in individual performance. I so appreciated Brook’s closing sentence in the book, “Harold had achieved an important thing in his life. He had constructed a viewpoint. Other people see life primarily as a chess match played by reasoning machines. Harold saw life as a never ending interpenetration of souls.” (Location 6204). Certainly, as we invest personally in life to life discipleship along with the person of Christ in our midst, we will experience that “interpenetration” that he talks about throughout his book and our lives will have been very meaningful.
Question: When you consider the life on life discipleship that Jesus Christ conducted, focusing on a few but relating to them regularly and deeply, how is that model being reflected in your own life? Is it your present reality? If not, how can it begin, or be improved?
Brooks, David (2011-03-08). The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement . Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.