A post-Christian model for Discipleship: Spiritual Formation rather than Behavior Modification

My dear friend Erik Anderson is on the home stretch of adopting a 6 year old girl from South Africa. You should totally check out his blog and read about his story. Inspiring is an understatement! (If you are feeling generous, you should also help him out financially) Ok, are you still with me, because this blog isn't really about Erik, but in some ways it is totally about him.

Here is what I am saying. If you can humor me and agree (for a moment) that the gospel that you and I grew up as our bread and butter in student ministry is actually no gospel at all to this generation. And if we need a new shaping metaphor that to communicate this good news. And in an increasingly post-Christian context, adoption can be that metaphor that truly is good news to an alienated generation who long to be seen, known, accepted, cared for, and mostly to belong. What is awesome about the metaphor of adoption for the gospel and for salvation, it also gets to inform our understanding of discipleship and sanctification.

First we must die to any and all forms of behavior modification:

The traditional model of discipleship as behavior modification must be replaced with a model of spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is by it's very nature relational and implies process, and is cyclical in contrast to foundational, linear, and accomplishment versions we have today. If we can agree that behavior modification must die and want to invite this post-Christian generation to become formed spiritually, sanctified into the image of Christ, then we must start where they are, not where we want them to be. That is how we get back to adoption.

Use adoption as the model:

For generations we have lived in a cultural context that was for the most part Judeo-Christian. While not everyone shared faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they did share a common moral code, a common understanding of the boundaries and a general frowning on those who lived outside of them. This made discipleship relatively easy. We simply had to put words to the rebellion they had experienced, share with them Christ's forgiveness and payment for that rebellion, and then encourage them to continue living into the accepted moral code of our cultural context. (Just with less cussing and drinking)

This is very similar to adopting an infant. Even if the infant is from a foreign country, they are born into a family system and will never not chafe to the family expectations and the cultural rules. They will understand the language, clothing, food, and rules just like every other child born into that family.

In a post-Christian world we are not adopting infants into the family of God, we are adopting 6 year olds from South Africa.

What I mean by this, is that the young girl that Erik brings into his family has a completely different starting point then every other kid born into or adopted as babies in Modesto. She speaks a different language, is used to different foods, and will have a different understanding of the morals and values that Erik and his wife have.

The assimilation process for this young girl can not be the same as every other child who is born into a family in Modesto. It can not be the same for every child born into a Christian home in Modesto. It can't even be the same for other children adopted later in life from other parts of the United States. Her process of "sanctification" living into the family trajectory and values of the Anderson family will be totally unique. It must throw timetables out the window. She can not have the same expectations as other 6 year olds. When she rolls into her 1st grade class next fall, she will know completely different things then the other 1st graders.

I am so impressed with Erik and Jessa and their heart of love and grace for this girl, and I know that they are already preparing themselves to welcome this girl into their family and to give her the time and space to figure things out on a timetable that is as unique as the situation. Over the months and years this young girl will become acclimated to the Anderson family, their church family, and to their town and to her school. It will happen, but not in a linear, building block model. It will be done in a relational, process that will be full of love, grace, frustration, and uncertainty.

Discipleship is Spiritual Formation:

In a post-Christian context people are going to come to faith from all over the spiritual, moral, political, sexual, spectrum. We no longer have a common story that our entire society agrees upon, which means when God grabs a hold of someone's heart, they will not look like the mom and dad with the four kids who live in suburbia, vote republican, and play soccer all seasons. Some might, but they will be urban, multi-ethnic, living with their girlfriends, over their heads in debt, homosexual, artists, liberal, educated or not, believe in evolution, value nature, eat organic, consider themselves to be tolerant and open minded, socially conscious, and want to enjoy life, and for the most part are.


So, if we drop on them that discipleship means assimilating into the religious right then we have missed the mark. This group of people will come to faith from all over the moral and spiritual spectrum. But I am not talking about a linear spectrum, I am talking about the color wheel spectrum. And if they show up on the spectrum from every color, from every shade, the discipleship process actually becomes easier. Rather then having to become like me, then move towards Christ, I get to remove me from the equation. The discipleship process is one of spiritual formation, a process simply of moving more towards Christ, no matter the starting point.

Spiritual formation is me dying to myself, picking up my cross daily, and striving to follow Christ. This looks different today than it did yesterday, then ten years ago. If my prayer is search me, know me, test me, reveal any offensive way with in me, and lead me along the path of everlasting life, then every day I am moving more and more towards Christ.

Do you have space for the adopted child from another country?

We are not giving up discipleship or sanctification. In fact this entire model of ministry banks its existance on this reality. No more is a simple prayer at camp and refraining from drinking an acceptable version of Christianity. Rather now, we are inviting every and all people into the family of God. And no matter at what age or what background, they are welcomed for who they are and where they are at. This sounds easy, and sounds "Christian," but if you have ever welcomed someone from a different worldview /culture into your group, it becomes quite challenging.  Are you up for that challenge?

All of us are invited to journey together towards the cross of Christ so that we can become more and more like our savior Jesus, even those on other parts of the color wheel.

Ok, this has gone from an earth shattering post to me rambling.

I have to wrap this up. I am still in process with this stand of thought. I would love to know your thoughts and am open to your pushback. Hopefully in the weeks and months to come, this will get refined and reduced into something more coherent. But until then, thanks mom for reading!

Unless we are willing to put everything on the table and not discuss out of fear, but out of a conviction and passion to share the good news, the saving news, the transforming news, of Jesus Christ with young people, then we will not be able to move this ball forward! Join the discussion, and lets have a strategy sesh!