My dad turned my attention to a band I had heard of, mostly because of their two songs "Cumbersome" and "Water's Edge" from the album American Standard. I thought, "Oh yeah, the roots rock band from when I was in high school." Not so, I was told, and since Dad and I share nearly all things musical (Fogelberg, Prine, and bluegrass I owe to him) I gave it a shot. Tonally, there are many things familiar about this record, but what is surprising is the tremendous lyrical moves they make in the course of albeit brief ballads. They break, in the final half of the album, into a bit more of the driven rock that brought them success with American Standard, but the best moments in the album are crooned over acoustically-crafted melody lines and whiskey-voiced intensity. It's worth downloading at least the first few cuts and giving it a listen.
Reading now Andy Stanley's Creating Community, which is written (admitted by Stanley in the introduction) largely by NorthPoint's community life pastor Bill Willits. After the other readings I have done, this seems light in comparison to Wilhoit and Ogden, but I see the point. The small group program, if it is to be done, must move beyond a "program" into a culture. Yet, Andy Crouch's great book Culture Making reminds us that to say we can change "a culture" as if it can be defined as just one culture, is kidding ourselves because we all live in multiple "cultures" simultaneously. I think the Stanley book is hitting at their congregation's practice of small groups and how it has become indicative of their corporate mindset, but I don't know that it is as pervasive or possible in other locations as it is in theirs. The subtitle, "5 Keys to Building Small Group Culture" is ambitious and perhaps misplaced, but at least they avoid the John Maxwell mistake of saying "THE 5 Keys..."
In all this thinking about discipleship, I think perhaps the one most powerful tool that enters into the process of following Jesus is the opportunity to say NO to the whole thing. I think we need to recapture the idea of giving people the chance to say "I can't follow Jesus, I can't make that step" because it reveals the inverse--the strength and pervasive effect of saying YES to following Christ. I don't mean simply being baptized--we have plenty of soaking wet people who aren't disciples--I mean opening up the whole picture before them and saying "This is the life of the disciple, this is what it means to follow, can you take this on?" John 6:60-66 is powerful to me, haunting even, because Jesus stands in the presence of people who are thinking about leaving, and He does nothing really for retention. Other places he intimates that this is a decision that should be thought through beforehand, rather than the typical position of "Hey, now that you're baptized here's what you just agreed to." The magnitude of that cannot be missed on the landscape of an impotent Christianity such as the one we're confronted with. Perhaps there are fewer and fewer disciples because the "bait-and-switch" of evangelism is incapable of producing lasting change?
In other words, the strength of discipleship lies in the option to categorically turn the whole thing down. The decision to follow, with the option to say no, shows the weight of the change needed to follow.
listening: Iain Archer