Definition-phobia

In a recent post Tony Morgan writes about reasons churches lack a strategy for life change. The first of his four reasons is that churches don’t define success, fearing the accountability that will come with it.

I ran first ran into this difficulty almost twenty years ago. I was leading a small congregation at the time. The church was hidden in an older neighborhood, well off the roads that carried most the traffic. Though not an very old church, the church was old in attitude. They wanted to grow, they wanted to reach people. The problem was they only wanted people like them, and there weren’t enough of them to go around.

At the time I thought focusing on making disciples would be a good idea. Jesus commands it, after all, and there were plenty of potential disciples around. I thought that if we were going to make disciples, learning to be disciples might be a good starting point. I did a study with the church leadership about the nature of discipleship. We look at the characteristics of discipleship. I soon learned that I had a problem. They’d heard the word discipleship enough over the years that they just assumed everything they already did were acts of discipleship. “Move along, preacher, nothing to see here. No change needed.” So I pushed back, adding some teeth to the description, highlighting the differences between the biblical picture of discipleship and our current reality. You may guess that it was not well-received.

Tony’s right. Definition is scary. It can easily imply the need to change, to leave our comfort zones and current certainties. It’s easier to just assume we’re already doing everything we need to be doing. If the results aren’t coming along, well, the fault must lie elsewhere. But definition is also what gives us traction in our lives and organizations. “I want to go to Dallas” is a fairly specific goal, while still offering plenty of flexibility. The concept “Dallas,” a city, is clear enough that we can specify where it is in relation to where we now are. We can identify some methods to move ourselves from our current location to that location. We can specify ways to know when we’ve arrived.

What if instead of saying, “I want to go to Dallas,” we said, “I want to go somewhere.” “Somewhere is pretty vague.” Success comes easily, since anywhere we go will count as somewhere.

Definition in discipleship, in leading for life change, gives us the traction we need to get somewhere. Sure, it can be scary, especially if the distance between that defined goal and our current reality is large, and we lack obvious means of movement. But I’d rather settle for a clear and difficult goal that means something, than an easy and achievable goal that I’ve already met.

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This entry was posted in Discipleship, Leadership, Local church, Ministry, Tony Morgan and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Definition-phobia

  1. Pingback: Dangerously defining discipleship | John Meunier

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