The Bare Minimum: Part 3 – We Can’t Escape Time

This series is dealing with the ways in which a “bare minimum” approach to faith has robbed us of a deeper life in community – with God and others. In this third, and final (for now) installment, I’m getting to the crux of what I believe this has cost us – and what it will cost us to reclaim what was lost. This is something which, if not addressed, I believe will continue to block our growth regardless of what “discipleship” strategies or approaches to faith, worship and spiritual formation we engage.

Because we’re so obsessed with the bare minimum, I don’t think we put up much of a fight as society morphed into a series of disconnected moments in time. I recently read Building a Discipling Culture by Breen and Cockram. If you haven’t read it, and you’re interested in digging into discipleship (and how to go about it), then I recommend the book. I didn’t find anything new or earth-shattering, but it was solid stuff.

Their content and approach isn’t significantly different than what others have done, such as Greg Ogden in Discipleship Essentials and Transforming Discipleship. However, the authors, themselves heavily invested in equipping others for discipleship, have some very practical and useful “shapes” which make many of their concepts easily grasped and transferrable to others. And that’s a definite plus.

Their basic vehicle for the discipling relationship is huddles of 8-12 folks meeting together regularly (as opposed to Ogden’s use of triads called formation groups). These groups meet once a week or every other week for 1-1.5 hours. There’s also an expectation that those in the huddle have access to the “normal” life of the huddle leader – and I suppose, one another as well.

They make a point that Jesus’ disciples learned from him in the way that disciples learned from a Jewish rabbi – they followed them everywhere, learning as the walked along and witnessed how the rabbi operated in a wide range of contexts. They make the point that discipling relationships – Christian faith in general – requires time.

And that’s really the rub, isn’t it?

Let’s go out on a limb and say that Jesus was a better disciple-maker than me (not finding that one difficult to imagine, eh?) So, the disciples spent pretty much every day with Jesus for THREE YEARS and Jesus still had to send the Holy Spirit to explain this stuff again after his resurrection. Three years. With Jesus. Daily.

So…how does it make sense to expect an hour and a half meeting each week, with perhaps a few random times hanging out with someone is going to have the same effect as Jesus’ approach?

Yes, we certainly hold up the expectation that in our discipling relationships we’re actually encouraging one another to walk with Jesus daily. I’ve been trying that for a long time, and I’ve made significant progress in listening for God’s voice…but let’s be honest, it is not the same…at all.

My point isn’t to detract from Breen and Cockram or Ogden or anybody who cares deeply about discipleship – not at all. In fact, I greatly appreciate their work. However, as I consider how the overall attempt at disciple-making seems to have had minimal impact on Christians in our society, I wonder. What the heck is (or isn’t) going on?

It seems that the common element missing in nearly every discipleship process I’m aware of is time – at least in the way we see time spent in the life of Jesus and the early disciples. Many processes – the ones mentioned particularly – place an emphasis on time…but its still so “part-time.”

This is a large reason that I’ve been so drawn to the work of the neo-monastics and have sought to cultivate a suburban attempt at missional monasticism. Time is a large component in the examples of communitas that Alan Hirsch points out in his writings – sports teams, soldiers in combat, etc.

Yes, they have a shared mission, ordeal or struggle to overcome…but they overcome those things together in close proximity over a period of TIME. I’m not talking about another hour-long meeting added to the list. I’m not even talking about trying to call each other on the phone each day. I’m talking about daily, real-life, face-to-face time spent together – in both formalized and mundane contexts.

If the purpose of our life in God is more than just “getting saved” so we can go to heaven – and I hope its clear that I believe wholeheartedly that it is – then the bare minimum approach to faith just doesn’t make sense. Sure, I’m all about minimizing the bureaucracy and hoops to jump through – understood that way the simplicity of the gospel is compelling and reasonable. But that kind of simplicity shouldn’t lead to minimalism. Its simplicity is found in its reordering of life around the life-giving call to love God with our whole being and love people as we love ourselves (… and we sure do love ourselves with whole being). This kind of love can’t ever be expressed in the bare minimum. It requires our whole life. And that means time. With others. Lots of it.

“But,” you may say, “That just isn’t realistic.”

I know. That’s what scares me.

We live in a hyper-mobile, overly-busy society. We jump from one disconnected meeting or duty to another, with little time to talk, let alone share life deeply. In Building a Discipling Culture, Breen and Cochram suggest inviting those who we’re in discipling relationships with to accompany us to the grocery store or other mundane tasks. This is great advice, but we’re all spread out with different work schedules and availability. We don’t even go to the store at the same time of day. We can work to simplify our schedule and spend more time with one another but…we probably won’t.

The response seems simple enough – restructure time so that we are able to share life daily with others who are seeking to follow Christ together. But, its simple in the way that a drowning person knows that the answer is simply to keep their head above water indefinitely.

But I wonder – and I’m really wondering, not just employing a rhetorical device – if we might need to face the truth that either we’ll learn to reclaim time or accept that discipleship in the way that the early disciples experienced it is no longer going to happen.

I think the new monastics have figured out one good way to address this issue. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, one of the strongest voices in this movement, says “The first task of any monastic movement is to remind the church that our story is the adventure of God’s relationship with a peculiar people.” But he also points out, “My point is not that churches ought to imitate new monastic communities but that another way is possible.” (For a deeper look at what this “other way” describes check out New Monasticism and The Wisdom of Stability both by Wilson-Hartgrove).

Yes, another way is certainly possible. But is it at a price that Christians and the contemporary church are willing to pay?

We don’t have to plant new churches – in fact, even when we do, this issue remains one which must be considered deeply. Regardless of our ecclesial context, I don’t see how we can embrace life with Christ and not embrace another view of time and community.

I hate to leave such a long series of words on a bit of a downer – so I hope this isn’t the end of the thought. I’d really appreciate some feedback here…when you have time.


Posted on April 4, 2012, in Missional and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Who does “we” refer to?

  2. Western Christians in general.

    Certainly there are individuals who don’t fit this description of the “bare minimum approach.” But they are the exception that highlights the point. I don’t have any double-blind studies to point to, but in my own very unscientific research, there is a high correlation between those who display the “fruit of the spirit”/ discipleship and those who dedicate time to the pursuit of Christ with others and engage beyond the bare minimum.

    That’s where the question first arose. Accounts from the book of Acts and early church history are filled with stories of this commitment to whole-life discipleship being cultivated and transmitted rapidly (or at least, to whole communities rather than just a few “exceptional” individuals). In our context, individuals who exhibit signs of discipleship struggle to “make disciples” – which is different from saying they’re able to make converts.

    So, I apply “we” very broadly, including myself and others who, though not fitting the bare minimum approach personally, still struggle with its cultural impact through our interaction with the current models of faith and ministry.

  3. The “we” that refers to Christians of a bare minimum faith and the “we” that refers to Christians who struggle with its (Christianity/Jesus) cultural impact, are likely referring to two very different groups of people. If one subscribes to a bare minimum faith such as, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” they are unlikely to be concerned with the cultural impact and life long conformation to the image of Christ. How one addresses bare minimum faith ought not to be conflated with those concerns with discipleship or cultural impact for it risks misdiagnoses of the problem. I think there are a few other “we”s throughout that series that refers to a few other groups to which it is difficult to discern what you think the actual problem is and how one ought to go about resolving the conflict.

    I have given up the attempt to diagnose all of western Christianity; the quantitative range is simply to much. It is hard enough to get a handle on the faith and action of those who are a part of the community of faith in my own parish, of which, few I suspect, subscribe to a bare minimum.

    It seems to me that you have a contention that is likely validated by your pragmatic engagement with actual persons. However, the more that you can distinguish between the attributes of X and the attributes of Y, the better the analysis and so prescription.


  4. I see your point. I see where you can identify several subsections of “we,” and I certainly understand the hesitance to broadly diagnose – I usually am as well. However, in this case, I believe the effects of the bare minimum mentality impact a broad cross-section of “we” – even if that gets played out in different ways.

    My primary question is “why do our discipleship strategies seem so consistently ineffective?” – which I realize begins with the assumption that they are ineffective…and I’m pretty convinced they are. The statistics of decline in the Western church are just one indicator.

    But what really brought this to the forefront in my mind was the struggle to cultivate communities of discipleship even in “missional” church planting. Not just in our context or network and not just in one particular denomination or ecclesial model.

    As I’ve studied a variety of strategies and models it seems that a common denominator seems to be our “part-time” approach to faith in community. Those communities which are more intentional about their use of time seem to be more successful in “making disciples” – regardless of the theological particulars of that discipleship. Its true that the anecdotal evidence can only point to correlation, not causation.

    But, your comment about distinguishing between X and Y is very valid. Thanks for the feedback, this is helpful in highlighting where I need to focus more attention as I continue to flesh this out.

  5. I like what this “guy” you quoted has to say! :)There is a huge meahfgist taking place worldwide where, especially amongst newer believers, “church” is not a place to go, but a lifestyle we live 24/7. We have to get away from Christianity as a religion and get back to Christianity as a living faith.

  1. Pingback: Parts 4, 5 and 6…of 3 « Missional Monks

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