Five Questions of Discipleship (Spiritual Formation)...
When it comes to almost anything that someone is interested in, most people who genuinely want to start don’t have a clue where to start…whatever ‘the startup” may be. There is a brief window of time that they are intrigued and interested in doing whatever it takes to begin the thing that they know they want to do. If they don’t seek help themselves or help isn’t voluntarily offered to them in that “window of opportunity”, they will, more than not, move on to something else.
You can only stand around looking stupid so long.
You wanna know how I know this? I started going to the gym a couple months back and it was the first time I actually felt what it may feel like to “give church a try”. It seemed to follow the same universal patterns of a person finally deciding to “go to church”:
I had been out of it for a long time...it had been forever since I'd gone.
I had put it off so long I felt a mix of awkward and guilty.
I had told people I should go for years but hadn't for whatever reason.
I had been told by some people I should go for years and blew them off.
I finally told myself I would go on a specific date. It was long overdue.
I had to force myself to go when the date came cause I had all kinds of excuses badgering me.
I had the gitters all the way there, dreading the unknowns.
I wanted to drive right back out of the parking lot when I first arrived.
I felt massive insecurity walking toward the front door.
I didn’t know where anything was when I finally walked in.
I noticed how everyone else seemed to know what they were doing.
I was greeted by some smiling people behind a desk asking if I needed help.
I felt embarrassed telling them how long it had been since I’d been there.
I finally got some general directions of where things were and ventured out on my own.
I wandered around and finally found a bathroom to hide in.
I left the bathroom and joined everyone else in the main space.
I tried to watch what they were doing so I could figure out what I should do next.
I noticed how comfortable everyone else seemed and how tense I was.
I also noticed how behind I was and how ahead they were in comparison.
I didn’t know how to do certain things but was too afraid to ask anyone.
I noticed people with special shirts wondering if they were going to scold me for doing something the wrong way.
I started to try out some random stuff, but didn’t know if I was doing it right.
I would look for signs or diagrams to help me figure things out on my own.
I slowly noticed unwritten rules that I wasn’t adhering to, things that weren’t on signs.
I was trying to fit in through adaptation and assimilation so that I didn’t stand out.
I was really just winging it for weeks on end before someone talked to me about a technique.
I felt like I started getting traction when a guy just shared a few pointers to guide me in the right direction.
I gained confidence little by little as I wore the right stuff and became more consistent.
I learned most of what I know by just watching people around me every day, copying them.
I haven’t had any training yet so I hope I’m doing things right and making progress.
I keep going hoping things will get better and I’ll get better…but feel I could really use a coach.
I’d love to have some feedback on what I shouldn’t do and should do to grow in my knowledge.
The truth is if I wasn’t on a Sabbatical with a coach that is keeping me accountable in the area of physical fitness, I probably would have stopped about the 3rd or 4th time I went. I’ll say it again: “You can only stick around looking stupid for so long.” People can feel when they aren’t integrating and assimilating into the current of the culture, whether it’s the gym or church. The fact is there are things to know and steps to take that help you “know and grow”. When you just try to figure it out by hook or crook, hit or miss, most people begin to lose motivation to keep trying…and you can’t blame them.
I was thinking (at the gym while running laps) about this idea of growth. A path of growth, a plan for growth. I’m not typically a guy who likes turning transformation into a formula or program, but there must be guideposts and guidelines--even guardrails--to help people feel like they are actually getting it and making steps of progress. The more nebulous and ambiguous things are or feel to a person, the more likely they are to move away from what is making them feel stupid, lost, or alone. Cultures that are healthy have natural points of entry normalizing newness and celebrating the profound courage to simply start (or the simple courage to profoundly start). They create an atmosphere to make people feel normal as quickly as possible. They will often say things like…
“If you’re new here, you're in the right place.”
“If you’re feeling lost right now, it’s ok, we’ve all been there and still are at times.”
“If you’re thinking you don’t know anything, we’re all learning new things, so relax.”
“If you’re looking around and feeling like you don’t fit, everyone here is pretty insecure.”
“If you’re wondering if this is for you, just give it a try, there’s no pressure to perform.”
“If you’ve got a question about anything don’t be afraid to ask for help…that’s why we’re here.”
“If you’re wanting to know what this place is all about, hit up the information desk and we’ll try and point you in the right direction.”
“If you’re tempted to think you’re all alone in your feeling, you’re not…this place is full of people taking one step at a time.”
Cultures that speak these kinds of things often, weaving them into presentations and conversations, disarm those who come in either defensive or pensive. But it’s gotta be more than just words I’m learning. There have to be actual steps, real practical steps so that people know they are both “in process” and “making progress”. We are wired to want to know where we’re at, where we’re going, and when we’ve gotten there. Life is a journey and that means it requires some sort of navigation, some map or GPS.
So like I was saying, I was running at the gym and 5 questions came to my mind that I had been asking at the gym and that I feel like people are asking at church or even in life. They are simple two-word questions, but I feel like they have a trajectory to them. A launching point, a flight, and a target. They could fit all atmospheres really, but I want to apply them to the church environment since that is my particular calling. Here they are…
I’ll dive into each of these individually in the days to follow…I’m shooting for tackling one question each day. I’m looking forward to fleshing out some of my thoughts lately…