I have a friend who used to jump out of airplanes. He thought this was great fun and tried to encourage me to give it a try. His description of the exhiliration of free falling was meant to inpsire me, but did little more than cause me to shrink back all the more. At the time, he was a bachelor and I was married with two small children (and two more yet to come somewhere down the line). I told him I couldn't afford to jump out of airplanes; there were too many people who were counting on me.
As far as parenting goes, we bring children into this world, try to attend to their physical, spiritual and emotional needs, instill in them our ideals and philosophies, then push them out of the nest. Biology helps us by planting in them the sometimes-obnoxious personality traits of teenagers and instilling in them a "hunger" to make their mark in the world. Still, they maintain a lifeline to us and we find that no matter what age our kids are, we continue to nurture their development, until our roles are eventually reversed and in our advanced years, they parent us.
Yes, the idea behind parenting is, it lasts a lifetime. It's about connectedness, not free falling.
I say all of this as a way of introduction into my thoughts concerning discipleship. I've been reading the book of Acts and gleaning from several of Paul's letters. Most recently, my studies have shown me the great care Paul took in not only converting individuals and establishing whole churches, but staying connected to his converts and congregations and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth.
My church's on-going ministry with women in recovery has afforded us the awesome opportunity -- no, miracle -- of seeing people either being baptized or reaffirming their faith every single week. (There were 5 this morning.) The thrill of it is more powerful to me some weeks than others, but still, its effect is deep. Lately, I find myself experiencing a greater appreciation of God's grace at work in me -- the sheer miracle of it -- as I watch these women begin their own faith journeys.
And yet ... and yet ... I keep asking myself, now what? Not for me, of course. I know for now I am doing exactly what I have been called to do. I mean for the women. What's next for them? The challenge of discipling them is nearly insurmountable. They may be at the nearby rehab facility for 2, 4, 6, maybe 7 months. We have "access" to them 2 times a week -- once during the class I teach and once at church. They come from all walks of life and all geographic origins. Once they are discharged, they have other "tasks" they must complete in the course of trying to regain control of their lives. In short, when they're gone, they're gone.
How do we fulfill our commitment and responsibility to disciple these women? Nurture their faith? It worries me. You don't teach someone to swim and then throw them in the middle of the lake and say, "OK, let's see what ya got. I'm heading back to shore." No, you stay right there with them, ready to jump in with the life preserver.
For those whose life circumstances might eventually, someday allow them to be a regular part of our church family, how do we communicate, "You are one of us. We are connected. Come home!"
I firmly believe the Lord sent some strong encouragement to me today in regard to these questions. There were 3 ladies whom I had contact with in church today who have discharged from the facility.
The first, Stephanie, discharged over a year ago and was in church with her husband and toddler. "Remember me, Ms Tammy?" (Lord help me, I have met more than 1,000 women in the last 2 1/2 years.) After some deep thought, I did remember her. I was so happy to see her. I tried very earnestly to communicate to her that we wanted to be her church family. I hope she will be back!
The second, Eden, was discharged just this week. She had told me she was going to try to manuever through the metro bus system to get to us. Instead, she found a girlfriend to give her a ride, but by golly, she was there! She seemed to recognize that she needed and wanted to be there.
The third, coincidentally, was also named Stephanie. She discharged sometime in the last 6 months (Can't put my finger on it ... again, there are so many of them.) She told me, "I went to my Mom's church for a while, but I finally told her, 'Mom, I need to go back home to my church."
HOME to HER church. Those words were music to my ears. What a blessing.
So back to my question ... how to disciple and nurture a transient population? How to be more intentional about it to the point of ... dare I say it ... inconvenience? THAT is a question I must ask myself and pray about daily; and ask others to pray about as well.
Christianity and free falling just don't mix. There is a connectedness. Our faith demands it.
20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. (John 17:20-23a)
"...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you..." It's not just flowery words; grand and lofty thoughts. It is God's plan, his desire, his perfect will for each of us as we work out our salvation.
Copyright 2008 Just Enough Grace Publications