Sustaining a Life of Mission…Spiritual Disciplines
Discipline…. Ooh I can just feel the shudder down my spine!
I wonder how many of us grew up in the Discipline = Death generation??
I’m fairly sure I did.
I think that when we think about “discipline” or discuss it in our communities, it can often be met with a similar level of enthusiasm to cleaning the toilet, or emptying the dustbin!
“OK – I’ll do this ‘cos I should, but let’s just do it as quickly as possible and move on!”
I think a helpful shift I have seen in communities is where we understand that discipline is a practice that helps us to grow as a disciple (they come from the same word after all), rather than associating it with something that always involves pain and punishment! I don’t know about you, but that is something I can get much more enthusiastic about.
So what on earth do we mean by spiritual disciplines then? From reading the New Testament, we can see how the disciples devoted themselves to such things as prayer, reading the word and fasting. In communities I have been part of, these are the things we would call disciplines, as they help us to grow as disciples. We encourage and challenge each other to grow in each of these areas. If we want to sustain a missional lifestyle, these are vital, because any heart/desire for mission is always birthed in a place of drawing near to God and hearing His heart for others. Spiritual disciplines enable us to do this.
One of the reasons I love missional communities is because they are places where we engage with these kinds of disciplines together – with others – and not just by ourselves. I really enjoyed Ben Askew’s summer post on reading the Bible in community, because I thought it was a helpful reminder not to be doing this stuff just as individuals. In our community, we read a passage of scripture together every time we meet. Sometimes we discuss it over the dinner table, other times on the sofa with coffee, but we make a point of reading together and then asking each other questions about it and how we can respond.
We also pray and worship together – and I would say that as the weeks and months go by, we can see each other to grow in our personal walk with Jesus. This is because as we practice doing this stuff together, people get inspired and challenged to do it more on their own. We can’t wait for everyone to nail spiritual disciplines magically by themselves and then bring this personal discovery into community! That’s not what missional communities are about – instead, they are about ordinary, busy, not-there-yet sorts of people trying to discover together how to live more like Jesus.
And the key to making all of this work? If you ask me, it’s simply accountability. The most fruitful, long lasting change I have seen in our young adult community this year has come from people being honest and accountable about the discipline God has asked them to engage with – not trying to do it by themselves, but asking others to help, pray for them, encourage them, or even join in. This has unlocked huge amounts of grace, provision, healing… I think this applies to spiritual disciplines too. The only areas of spiritual discipline that I have managed to sustain and grow in my own life are the ones that others in the community know about and can hold me accountable to.
And the great thing about all of this is – as we go through this process, it changes from becoming a just a discipline, to becoming a habit, to becoming a lifestyle and rhythm of community life. It’s how we live.
So my testimony and challenge would be that, in terms of seeing growth in spiritual disciplines and our personal walk, we have faith for as much change as we are accountable for. I can’t see that God ever designed us to operate in this alone. Discipline doesn’t have to mean death any more! It’s an opportunity to grow as a community of disciples trying to follow Jesus.
Which spiritual disciplines are you growing in as a community?
Is it part of your rhythm?
How much discipline are you accountable for/sharing with others?
Simon Ford lives in Sheffield, is part of the King’s Centre Church and works for 3dm UK. He has been part of and led various young adult and workplace-focussed missional communities over the last 9 years