Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Missional Discipleship: Part Two

The second post from a talk I gave for the folks at Forge Chicago.

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When I was in high school I played in our school jazz band. At performances our jazz director, Harry Jansen, would count off each song, then walk off the stage while we played together. He put his faith in our capacity to play our individual parts well, and to mesh our individual parts into something collective that represented the song well and drew out its power to move the audience. At the end of each song he would walk back on stage and help us end together. The performance was the thing, and our director knew it, so he would get out of the way and let us do it.

In rehearsal space, though, Harry was omnipresent. He was in all our faces when even one of us blew a riff. He would stop a song in the middle and start it over from the top. He would take us all the way to the end and start us right over. Practice was the thing, and he wouldn’t let us off the hook.

But we were never far from the next performance. Harry knew we weren’t there to practice; we were there to play. And so he helped us to prepare for each next performance, and when we were ready, (or even when we weren’t), he set us loose.

I’ll contrast that very briefly with my junior high band director, Dr. Loman. We were utterly dependent on Dr. Loman at every performance. One time he started us out on a song—the theme song to Hogan’s Heroes, if I remember correctly—and eight bars into it we had gotten so off track that he stopped us and started us over again. It was the kind of performance every parent of a child musician dreads but fully expects: awful sounds, shoddy showmanship, a hot mess of music. For Dr. Loman, God love him, every performance was simply a practice in front of an audience. Consequently the audience suffered, and eventually even the band revolted: we went on strike in rehearsal, refusing to perform the notes he was directing us toward.

The role of the director is reserved for practice—the private preparation for public play. Once performance time comes along, the director can be a liability rather than an asset. That’s why bandleaders like Count Basie and Miles Davis are best remembered not for their leadership—though they were great leaders—but for their performances. They led in private; in public they played.

The APEST, in the vernacular of the missional church conversation, acknowledges this logic as it applies to discipleship: in public the apostle does the work of apostleship, the prophet prophesies, the evangelist evangelizes, the shepherd shepherds and the teacher teaches. In private, by contrast, the logic of APEST is one of training and directing. The apostle holds high the value of apostolic work and calls out other apostles; the prophet speaks truth into the gathered community while also calling for truth-tellers to go out into the world; the evangelist demands that we recall the gospel to be good news worth sharing; the shepherd drills into us that the gospel is wholistic and directed toward whole, hurting people; the teacher teaches in order that the people of God are equipped for every good work. Organizationally, the APEST is for the discipleship of the church as it gathers.

Too often those commissioned to serve those directorial roles in local faith communities block or otherwise inhibit the discipleship of people as they scatter into the world. They direct in public when they should either be playing along or getting out of the way.

Too often those following APEST directors settle for outsourcing their discipleship. They never play themselves, never perform, never make an impact. They love gathering to enjoy the APEST; they loathe scattering where they are left to their own devices.

Gathering and scattering is part of the natural rhythm of the church, but historically it’s been too easy for the gathering to be reconceived as performance space and the scattering to be reconceived as practice space. The challenge is to recognize gathering times as practice times and scattering times as play times.

This was how Jesus did it. The disciples would go away with him to quiet places, where he would teach them privately, indulge their questions, resolve their conflicts, identify and call out their gifts, communicate a future vision, stretch their imaginations.

Then he and they together would set out, or he would send them off on their own, and while thus scattered they would heal the sick, feed the hungry, cast out demons, overturn tables, confront and be confronted by hypocrites, face the wrath and impersonal injustice of empire, and spread the good news of the kingdom of God. They would gather for private practice, and then go out and perform the work of the kingdom, playing the salvific games Jesus had prepared them for and prepared for them. Then they would return to Jesus, debrief on their experience, and go through the process again. Practice and play, play and practice.

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