What is Flourishing Anyway? 5

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What is Flourishing Anyway? 5

What is Flourishing? 5 – A Rule of Life

Well, isn’t this a lovely surprise? An unexpected fifth episode in this series! Let me explain…

My fellow Northumbrian Collective associate Roy Searle and I were presenting a paper to a room full of Baptists on what kind of churches the UK needs in the future. It went well. The Baptists were positive and wanted to talk about the implications of what we were saying (it will be published on this blog in the future). We were arguing that church needs to focus more on how to bring transformation to people and society and less on how to do religion – particularly worship services – ‘correctly’.

Defining what a correct worship service is and then counting the number of people who attend them is relatively easy to do, particularly if you are an established bureaucratic organisation like a Christian denomination. It’s certainly a lot easier than trying to measure whether we are really making a difference to people’s lives. One of the responses to the discussion was to say that different kinds of churches define human flourishing (what Christians often call discipleship) so differently that we’d never be able to come up with one way of defining it that everyone could agree on.

I agree… kinda.

I have read more books on discipleship than I really needed to. As a Church Minister, it felt like it was my job to know what it was I was trying to point people towards. There was always something a bit confusing about many of them. Some books focussed on the practices that I needed to undertake, like praying and reading the Bible, as though discipleship was just things I should do and it didn’t matter what effect those things had on me*. Others seemed to expect that certain behaviours would be the result of discipleship, such as confidently sharing my faith, seeing miracles or getting involved in social change, without explaining how I supposed to turn into the different person who would find these things natural and easy. Quite often there was a mystery at the heart of these books: what is a transformed person like?

My suggestion in the last four blogs is that while every church in the world will tell you something different about what you need to do to be a disciple, I can’t see how any of them would say that we shouldn’t be exhibiting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control. While we will undoubtedly disagree about how Christians ought to live out their faith in almost countless way, can we not agree that we are supposed to be becoming Christlike? It’s everywhere in the New Testament. So, while your church may say that speaking in tongues is a vital part of being a follower of Jesus and mine might say adult baptism is a non-negotiable, I hope we can agree on the things I’ve been writing about. If your practices don’t lead to the five things I’ve written about, you need better practices, and if people are being transformed into Christlikeness but they don’t want to live out your definition of mission, you may need to check out your definition of mission!

I was so excited that at the end of the meeting I attended, the people present said that they could see how important it would be if we could measure discipleship. However, I don’t think we should let different kinds of churches simply set and mark their own homework. The scriptures ask more of us than that. Jesus and Paul both want us to be teleios, so whatever kind of church we belong to, we should be looking for that. Think of discipleship as being like a sand timer, with a very narrow neck. On one side are all many ways we try to find God and allow God to influence us. On the other side are all the many ways that we try to live out our faith in ways that bring the good news of Jesus to the world. I believe that the five aspects of a maturing faith that I outlined in the last post are like the tiny, narrow connection between those two huge bulbs: every grain of sand needs to pass through it to get to the other side.

When monastic communities talk about having a rule of life we tend to see the word these days as meaning rules, as in laws. However, a rule is also a way of measuring things, like a slide rule. Christlikeness is not a law, a law we will always be breaking. Rather, it is something we can live towards, an image of growing and becoming that can help us live. We may never ‘pass the test’, but every day, like a plant placed in the sun, we can grow closer to that sun, slowing becoming more and more what the one who planted us hoped we would be.

*Not all religious practices have the same effect. In a famous study in the US, subjects who listened to expository preaching every day for 40 days reported that they felt further from God at the end than they did at the beginning. Those who practiced Lectio Divina felt closer to God. See ‘When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God’ by T M Luhrmann (New York: Vintage 2012)

About the Author

About the Author

Simon loves helping individuals, churches and organisations through times of change and re-envisioning, and bringing together the people and resources needed to turn dreams into reality. He is also a gifted teacher and preacher and a member of the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology.

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