Saturday, June 21, 2008

Forming concrete

I have a passion to see people embrace ministry and discipleship as a lifestyle. I also have a vision of a church that equips them to do so.

I get to live out a little microcosm of this vision each year through my work with CTI Music Ministries. Each August we are joined by about 14 young people who sign on for a year of encouraging the church, challenging Christians to loving action in response to Christ’s call to “make disciples of all nations,” and sharing the hope of Christ with those who may not know Him.

It is our desire to see the lives of our team members shaped as radically as they hope to shape the lives of those they meet on the road.

At the beginning of the year, team members embrace this vision readily… mostly because they’re told by us that it's what they’re supposed to be doing. So, in a sense, we make those choices for them. As the year continues and things become less new and more routine, they each begin to work through the process of deciding whether or not they will make these values their own. As their stated time of commitment nears an end, the back-pressure of compulsory ministry begins to ease, and team members begin to live out the personal choices they have made through the process.

Some see the impending end to this time of ministry that has been structured for them and realize for the first time that they really do want their lives to be about the things we’ve been striving for together during the year. Because it becomes their personal choice (instead of ours,) these team members tend to leave the program with a high desire to continue living that vision out. They discover and innovate their own ways to make ministry, discipleship and evangelism part of their daily lives once the ministry structure that CTI has enabled is lifted. They do this because these things have been formed in them as life-values, and they have chosen, independently, to embrace them.

There is also another path. If team members have not made the personal choices to value ministry (as we've defined it anyway,) then there is nothing to keep them going in it once the structure that enabled and compelled them is removed. Since the motivation to continue strong must now come from within, those who are not so motivated will not continue strong.

I've started to think of this process in construction terms. Each August we grade the lot, dig our foundations, lay the rebar and set up forms. As the year progresses, we pour concrete into those forms. By January, all the concrete has been poured and begins to cure. As spring approaches, we begin lifting the forms off. We remove the constraints and structure that has told the concrete where to be and what shape to take.

If the concrete has cured well, it will hold its shape once the forms are removed, and it will be suitable for building upon. If it did not cure well, it will lose its shape as the forms are removed. It might deform a little, or it might crumble entirely. Yet regardless of the outcome, the forms must be removed, and the object (or person) being formed must be given sovereign choice about whether or not they will keep the shape that they were formed into during this time.

I must confess how much it hurts when team members take that second path because, like I said, I have a passion to see people embrace ministry and discipleship as a lifestyle. I place a high value on the way those around me are formed. I rejoice when they make choices that align with these values, and I am saddened... almost personally hurt, in a way, when they choose a path that undermines something that is important to me. But values that are only compulsory values are no values at all. They only become values when they are chosen as such. And God gives to every person the right to choose. He has given this right to man since creation. And we have often chosen in a way that has hurt or violated Him. Yet God knows that if He were to force us to love Him, the very character of love would cease to be love.

I struggle, sometimes, to remember that each person must be allowed to choose for themselves. I can (and should!) continue to love them without necessarily condoning the choices they make, but once I’ve had my say in their life, I must not stand in the way of their sovereign choice.

God's ultimate plan for humanity has not been thwarted by the choices we have made, though many of them have broken His father's heart. Neither should we allow the choices of those around us to discourage the visions that He has given us for our lives.

Or theirs.


John said...

Perhaps its not the concrete that's faulty when it crumbles, perhaps its the forms that have failed, attempting to mold an identity into something it is not. Why are Christian so obsessed with values, morals? Those are ideas based out of western antiquity not Christian faith. There is no such thing as morality, the Christian pastor is as guilty as the prostitute on the street.

Chris Reed said...

John, you present an interesting problem inherent in my analogy. The truth is that the metaphorical form is almost certainly flawed. I would hope that every Christian pastor would readily agree with your point about guilt.

Christ’s final admonition to those who seek to be “formed in His image” (which I’ll put forward as my definition of the term “Christian”) was that they should be about the business of training others in the way of life He had demonstrated. This does require us to draw some conclusions about the way of life he demonstrated, doesn’t it? I would suggest that those conclusions result in the values and morals we’re talking about. Of course, every interpretation of Christ’s life will be a bit different, so we won’t see a hard-and-fast agreement on those values across the spectrum of the Christian faith.

By the way, speaking for me personally… it isn’t my goal to mold an identity into something it is not. It is my goal to help shape an identity into what it was intended to be. I believe God has a lot to say about his vision for who He wants to see us become, but the principle of sovereign choice is so important here: God has not removed anyone’s right to choose for themselves. If we attempt to do so while playing the role of the concrete form, then I believe we’ve stepped beyond our bounds. Perhaps this is an area in which the guilt of the “Christian pastor” has been most evident across history.

Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

John said...

hmmm... well not sure that we are to be formed in God`s image either, what exactly is that. It`s a pretty vague concept when trying to determine WWJD. I would suggest that ultimately we end up creating God in our own image, and then create rules to live by suggesting what it is God approves of and does not, eventually you end up with legalism. Maybe Christians could drop the idea of righteousness all together, Doesn`t it say in Romans that our righteousness is nothing more then filthy rags before God.

No one wants to mold anyone into something their not, unless they are a little slow, that would be like intentionally using a phillips bit for a flat head screw. (I know you like construction analogies) It`s when we unintentionally assume we understand what mold someone should be, the danger lies therein. I ask you this, if Christians are not trying to form people into one generic homogeneous ideal, why is it that evangelicals get so uptight at the very first sign someone has done something, that may not confirm with their idea of what is the `right`thing to do.

By the way whats up man, its been a long time. Hope things are well with you, I just happened to start reading some of your blogs today and thought I would respond. You always liked a good discussion.