I spent a good bit of my academic work on my MA arguing that one of the most profitable tools that Early Celtic (or other brand) Monasticism gave the church was the idea of the ‘Rule of Life’ or the ‘Monastic Rule’. Without going into all the detail, I was making the case that, left to our own devices and without some sort of framework, our life of discipleship is formless and somewhat ineffectual.
Now, I came to this conclusion many years before I did the MA. I lived many years with The Salvation Army’s ‘Articles of War’ as my Rule of Life. This document set down discipleship commitments of how, together, we were invited to express our discipleship commitment in a very public, counter-cultural and quite radical (even controversial) ways. On moving on from The Army, I very quickly felt that I wanted to associate with another community which had some sort of framework for discipleship, and so I developed a connection with the Northumbria Community.
The benefit of defining our understanding of discipleship is NOT to beat ourselves up about it, although there is a place for discipline and self-reflection. Rather, some sort of framework helps lift our commitment to the life of discipleship off the ground.
I’ve consistently found the the bar of discipleship in the UK is set extremely low. Extremely low. Many Christians aren’t regularly engaging in reading the bible, let alone studying it; people’s prayer life runs in fits and starts (more fits than starts); people don’t generally engage in spirtual reading outside the bible; people rarely integrate mission into their lives, let alone see their whole lives as being on mission; commitment to gathering with other believers is quite low key…I guess there are other things I could write, but perhaps you recognise what I’ve written so far and could identify more in your own setting.
If you raise this in the context of community, people would resist the expectation that discipleship has actual substance, on the grounds that it sounds like legalism. Therefore, the idea is ‘I’ll decide myself what I deem acceptable as a life of discipleship’. Calling people to what sounds like a fairly basic discipleship commitment is often, to my mind, a thousand miles short of the real deal, but even then there can be resistance. It really befuddles me!
My honest confession is that this makes me weep. It is such a rare thing to sit with someone and hear something of substance in their spiritual life and spiritual disciplines. The church has colluded with this culture by drawing back on stating what the life of discipleship looks like. Pastors raising this issue sound like whinging old spoilt-sport moan-bags. Yet, when people’s lives move into some sort of crisis that is often a result of non-existant discipleship practices to sustain life through its challenges, somehow the pastor (or whoever) is to pick up the pieces. It’s almost as if churches hire people like me to be disciples for them.
How can the church break through this discipleship conundrum? I guess this is where the concept of a ‘Rule of Life’ comes in. Can a collection of common, shared, discipleship commitments help spur us on to increasing engagement, in season and out of season? There seems to be that there is only so far that prayer for revival/renewal will go. Every ‘revival’ in history has been preceded by a commitment to prayer, scripture and a search for the presence of God. Discipleship at the lowest common denominator is no discipleship at all.
How can I invite you to engage? How can I pray that you might respond? How can I help kick-start your discipleship base camp? How can I help you undig old enthusiasms and passions now dormant?
We have to begin somewhere and sometime. Why not here and now?