By George Bullard
What’s going on when you ask Christians about a specific practice of discipleship in their life and they say, “That is between me and God”? Perhaps nothing unusual. Or, perhaps a whole bunch of evasive things. What do you think?
Legitimately some people are very private about their practice of Christian discipleship, they are shy about sharing, genuinely humble about boasting, or truly believe it is inappropriate pride to talk about their practices. These people do hold an annual gathering in the telephone booth at the corner of West 47th and K Street in some major city in North America, but I cannot remember which one.
I suspect the vast majority of people who will not share about their practice of Christian discipleship are hiding the fact that their answer will not be an acceptable one, and they do not want to lie. They would rather hide behind God than lie.
What are the practices people are asked to reveal? Tithing and other forms of generosity? Personal devotional life as part of spiritual formation? Sharing their faith with pre-Christians and unchurched persons? Their position on tough theological issues? Their position on tough moral or ethical issues? How they voted on a controversial issue in their congregation? Their drinking and drugging habits? Their sexual practices? Their support of their pastor and staff? Their disagreement with some theological position that is strongly held in their congregation?
What else would you add?
It could be that by this point you are saying, “So what? What’s the big deal here? Give me three reasons why it is important to share practices of Christian discipleship.”
Let me offer three as a beginning point. You should feel free to add and subtract reasons, or modify my understanding of these three.
First is openness. Sharing in appropriate settings in appropriate ways to appropriate people is a sign of openness and the willingness to be vulnerable. It is often a sign of a healthy emotional and spiritual life.
“I am willing to tell you who I am and what I do,” is a good perspective for people to have. We learn so much from one another when persons are willing to share something about themselves and others are willing to hear it without judgment. Perhaps it is the fear of judgment that keeps us from sharing. Congregations need to be a safe place where we can share.
Obviously that is a challenge for many congregations. Too many congregations are not this type of safe haven, so people are afraid to share. A few congregations go to the opposite extreme where they expect people to share everything and judgment is expressed toward people who do not share.
Second is accountability. An effective part of growing spiritually is to develop a system of personal accountability. This can be to one other person or to a group of persons. Growing spiritually and continually is a tough task for most of us. At least it is for me. Our willingness to share who we are and our practices of discipleship, when coupled with a request by others to hold you accountable for taking the next steps in your journey, can be a powerful reason for sharing.
Sharing plus accountability can equal greater emotional and spiritual maturity. If one seeks accountability that goes beyond being more Christ-like to practicing a Christ-like faith through missional engagement, it can also result in helping the world become more loving and just.
Third is community. A willingness to share our practices of discipleship with one another can greatly benefit the character and depth of relationships in a congregational community. It can create a place where people are willing to share and risk with one another.
This sharing can result in a community that dialogues with and prays for one another at a deeper level than the shallow prayers we typically offer for one another. When people are afraid to share their innermost hurts and hopes for which they desire prayerful support, then the congregational community is a little less than it otherwise could be.
Every time a person says, “Don’t share this with anyone else,” and it relates to a personal hurt and hope, they may be saying their congregational community is not trustworthy. It is not a safe place. It is not an emotionally and spiritually mature place.
If you were asked to evaluate your congregation — and I am asking — on a scale of 1 to 10, how would it rate? Consider 1 as an unsafe place to be open and vulnerable and 10 as a deep Christ-like community where people share, are supported and are helped to grow emotionally and spiritually. What is your congregational number?