I’m at a meeting at Evangel University in Springfield, MO Springfield for the first of a series of meetings with a small team of diverse leaders to craft a strategy for discipleship/spiritual formation over the next 3-4 years across the Pentecostal/Charismatic world through the Empowered 21 initiative. The task is to articulate a strategy for formation that takes the Spirit seriously…pretty exciting stuff. As part of the Commission on discipleship/spiritual formation for Empowered 21, Cheryl Johns asked us last night to share who and how we were discipled ourselves. It was surprisingly difficult to answer. Growing up a 5th generation Pentecostal in a minister’s home, I certainly learned most of what I know about God from my family in valuable ways. But since my father’s administrative work involved pulpit ministry all over the country on weekends, I never had the sense of place, the kind of local Church rootedness, that I believe discipleship requires. So to put it in short, I don’t think I experienced real discipleship until I was in my 20’s. My spiritual grandmother, Margaret Gaines, a lifelong missionary to the Palestinian village of Aboud, became the person through whom I wanted to see and interpret the world. Or perhaps more accurately, I saw in her a world I wanted to live in. In Tokens of Trust, Rowan Williams says
Belief in God starts from a sense that we ‘believe in,’ we trust some kinds of people. We have confidence in the way they live, the way they live is the way I want to live, perhaps can imagine myself living in my better or more mature moments. The world they inhabit is one I’d like to live in. Faith has a lot to do with the simple fact that there are trustworthy lives to be seen, that we can see in some believing people a world we’d like to live in. (emphasis mine)
For me that is what discipleship is about—you find someone that makes you say “the world they live in is the way I want to live.” Margaret became that person for me. I suppose now I am more preoccupied than ever with becoming that kind of person for someone else, becoming that kind of person for the Church I serve, the people I love.
As I’ve been preaching on Revelation these last few weeks, St. John has been mentoring me in his ways. I now see that, without subverting the enormous role of community in spiritual formation, it is on Patmos (in the place of exile, isolation, solitude)—the place of knowing God in comfort and terror and seeing colors only found in God’s presence—that is the business of the Pastor. I am increasingly convinced that the best way I can serve my Church is to know Jesus really, really well, so naturally and so completely that to simply be with me is to be ushered into a different world—the world that John saw and Margaret lives in and the Spirit creates.
Not life “caught up” in another realm per se, aware that while John was “in the Spirit” that he touched things, tasted things, saw things, heard things. Many bodies are strewn along the path of mystic escapism, people who failed to see that revelation is less about transport to heaven and more about where heaven and earth collide. In the presence of God, rightly understood, it is not just that we are carried away but rather we become carriers of the divine presence into the world around us. The only chance of becoming so “heavenly minded that we are no earthly good” is if we misunderstand what it is to be heavenly minded. The fact that John was caught up in heavenly reality is precisely why he was able to give explicit, clear, pastoral instruction to the seven churches he knew and loved so well. I don’t want to escape from my community into another world. But I do want to bring another world down on them and down into them, to live a life of unpretentious piety that draws the people around me in life together into the world I’ve been seeing when I am alone.