This week our guest post comes from Kenny Wison.
Kenny Wilson is presently the Senior Tutor & Lecturer on the ‘Youth Work with Applied Theology‘ degree at the International Christian College based in Glasgow.
Kenny has gained his youth ministry experience in diverse settings focussing mainly on outreach to unchurched young people. He is passionate about advancing youth ministry and is a bit of a pioneer. He initially established locally based schools work for SU in England, and then when based in Oxford he helped to found Oxford Youth Works, Britain’s first professional youth ministry training centre. However the thing he is probably best known for is for founding and establishing Relational Youth Work a new style of youth work which is now common throughout the UK. Before coming to ICC in 2002 Kenny was active in ministry with Young Life in Canada and was on staff at Edmonton Baptist Seminary. Kenny is married to Julie and they have twin daughters Amy and Jordan.
When I say the word ‘Discipleship’ I wonder what image, comes into your mind. What picture do you have in your mind? I also wonder what elements you associate with it? Might it be Discipleship Programmes? Might it be Discipleship as Forming Christian Character? Might it be Discipleship as Mission?
Certainly over the past 40 years or so these three elements have surrounded and dominated discipleship for young and old. We have sent young people on mission, developed more and more discipleship programmes and through weekly bible study groups tried to help grow Christian character. I’m not wishing in any way to demean or decry these in any way but I am here to contend that alongside, and maybe even before, either of these elements there exists something more foundational: Discipleship as an Adventure.
For the earliest Christians, Discipleship was an adventure. It wasn’t just a programme; where they sat down together and studied the scriptures for an hour or so each week, and asked how they might apply it to their lives, thought hey certainly did do that. It wasn’t just a venture that was undertaken to some needy part of the world though they did that too. Valuable, and important, though these elements may be, it was more than either for Discipleship was a daily adventure.
It was an adventure to discover how Christians might bring the love of God to others.
Imagine that morning as Peter and John had come in from a night’s fishing, tired and weary, but most of all discouraged, because they’d caught nothing.
Could they even have imagined that by lunchtime their nets would be filled to breaking point with the biggest catch of fish they’d ever caught? What an adventure but then I suppose that being a disciple of Jesus meant you never knew what might happen because every day was an adventure.
Imagine another morning a few weeks later as Peter and John set out to do something that had become a new daily habit: going to the Temple to pray. Could they have imagined that by the end of the day the city would be in an uproar over something that they’d brought about or that a previously lame man would be able to walk around as they did? I suppose the point about being a disciple of Jesus was that you never knew what might happen because every day was an adventure. But is this the way we think about discipleship today? Do we really think about it as an adventure or has it become and annual adventure when we go on mission or maybe learning about adventure as we study the scriptures together?
I think that one of the reasons that adventure has dropped out of discipleship is not because Jesus is no longer physically with us, or that the works of the Holy Spirit are no longer as visible as they used to be. I think that it’s because we’ve made discipleship into something different, some thing less than a daily adventure, and that this has come about because, in our evangelical desire, we’ve emphasised some things more than others.
Firstly I believe that we’ve emphasised the Great Commission over the Great Commandments!
Long before Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples [The Great Commission], he taught them about the great Commandments and he told them that these were the two most foundational elements of the Old Covenant and the founding ones of the New Covenant. They were that we should “Love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind” and then he added that we should also “Love our neighbours as ourselves”. These were the foundations of this Kingdom that he had come to usher in.
Especially when it comes to working with young people I think that we’ve got things the wrong way round. In our evangelical desire that others should know how wonderful it is to know Jesus we have emphasised the Great Commission over the Great Commandments. What we have done is to ask young people to go and share their faith before they’ve had the chance to live out their faith. We’ve encouraged them to go and make disciples before they’ve discovered what it means to be a disciple.
I well recall what it felt like to be a young 14 year old Christian for I had two conflicting emotions. Firstly I had a desire to let people know how wonderful it was to be loved and found by a loving God. Secondly I had a sort of inner knowledge that if I pushed this knowledge on people, rather than waiting for an opportunity to give account for my faith, it would not be well received. This left me with a problem because while I was waiting for that opportunity, I wasn’t sure what I could do. What I did do was to attend church and youth fellowship; read my bible to get to know God better; and get baptised. But none of these brought me an inch closer to be able to live out my faith; to DO something. I wanted to go on mission but knew that I’d have to wait until I was much older, until I was 18 and that was a lifetime away! How then does a young Christian live out their discipleship if the opportunity to share their faith with others does not present itself?
Just recently as I was thinking about this again I recalled an incident that suddenly took on new meaning and relevance and it came after I’d gone to speak at a youth fellowship about ‘loving your neighbour’. Some weeks later two of the young lads who were at that youth fellowship came to chat with me. It has become a life changing conversation!
Their names were Gabs and Ollie and they told me that they’d been thinking about how they might love their neighbours, and about who these neighbours might be and decided that their neighbours would most likely be their friends.
As they’d thought about how to ‘love their neighbours’ they formed a plan. They were into bikes because, at 15 bikes gave them some degree of mobility and independence and most of their friends had bikes too. However one of their closest friends had an old ramshackle bike that was in a bad way. So one evening they ‘liberated’ his bike from beside his house. When he came into school the next day he was livid because, as he told everyone he met, someone had stolen his bike in the night.
Over the next weekend Gabs and Ollie went to work on that bike and they restored it to as new condition as they could. They shined the rusted spokes and wheels, replaced the brake pads and anything else that was dangerous. They adjusted the chain and oiled every thing in sight. They test rode it and when they were satisfied that it was good to go, they replaced it just where it had been.
On the following Monday the lad came into school with a different story. He’d gone out of the door that morning to find his bike, though he didn’t at first recognise it, completely restored. Furthermore he’d found a little piece of card stuck in the spokes with the words ‘From The Nice’ written on it.
The next week a similar thing happened to another lad in the school. On Friday his old bike was ‘liberated’ and on Monday returned restored and again it had the card ‘From The Nice’ stuck in the spokes. Word of this got round the school like a wildfire in the bush. The Nice had struck again!
The reason that the lads had come to tell me the story was not because they wanted to brag; quite the opposite was true! Firstly they wanted to thank me for telling them about loving their neighbours because as young Christians it allowed them to do something, something that hadn’t just required weeks of bible study or waiting until they were 18 or until the summer mission rolled round again. Secondly, now that the word was out about The Nice some people were laying their old bikes out hoping that theirs would be restored too but others were determined to find out who the perpetrators were!.
Knowing that they’d have to lie low for a while they came to ask me if I had any other ideas about what they could do.
What attracted me greatly to their actions was the fact that they wanted to remain SECRET DISCIPLES? Part of the adventure for Gabs and Ollie was that they didn’t want thanks or recognition. Despite, and I believe because, these young guys didn’t publicise what they did, but kept it secret, the power of their actions spread far and wide.
Was it not Jesus who told us not not to proclaim our righteousness from the hilltops as the Pharisees did. Was it not Jesus who asked some of those he healed to ‘say nothing’. Perhaps we should take his advice much more seriously and involve more secret discipleship and so create that frisson of adventure, that ‘who dunnit?’ mystery?
I can’t help but wonder that if we made the emphasis on discipleship in the chronological order that Jesus taught it: to love God first, our neighbours second and then emphasised the great commission if we would not see much more discipleship amongst young people. Would this not free up discipleship so that anyone, of any age could join in?
I believe that it’s time to re-empower our young Christians, to give them the chance to live adventurous lives and to let them decide how to be disciples for their age, for their communities and for their neighbours. I think that it’s also time to use organised programmes and events as a support to daily adventures not in place of them.
It’s time to put the Adventure back into discipleship!