Mark Scandrette offers the best practical insights into being a disciple of Jesus that I have heard.
If you want to follow Jesus better, or want to help others to grow in their faith, read on.
When Jesus made disciples
Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. Christians believe he was much more than that, but he was at least a teacher, with his own disciples, just like other rabbis of his day.
And like other rabbis, he taught his disciples by many different methods – example, parable, questioning, discussion and debate, events from daily life, and interpretations of the Torah.
By travelling and living with him, they learnt his understanding of God, the scriptures and how to live.
Being a disciple entailed a whole-hearted commitment and discipline to learn and follow the rabbi’s teachings and example.
And Jesus’ parting instructions to his disciples, recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, were to go on to make disciples that obey his teachings just as they had been taught (“teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you”).
We are meant to still be following those teachings, applying Jesus’ principles into our very different life situations.
It is obviously very different for christians today. I won’t try to describe all the differences, but I want to focus on one that I think is important.
We christians with a European Protestant heritage have made discipleship too academic and theoretical. Too much about learning and not enough about behaviour.
Too often (I believe) we teach new converts a simple set of requirements:
- read your Bible,
- come to church,
- tell others about Jesus,
- don’t have sex (until married) or do drugs, and
- if you are really spiritual, go to Bible college.
These are fine as guiding principles, but they are nowhere near as holistic as Jesus’ discipling. They are nowhere near “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you“.
This, I believe, tends to result in modern disciples being shallow and theoretical in a faith and life that is knowledge-based, dependent on trained ministers, and living very similar lives to the world around them.
The distinctives that Jesus said should make us salt and light in our communities seem too often to be lacking.
Jesus as “salvation object”
Too often we western Protestants treat Jesus almost as a “salvation object”. As if he only came to die for our sins. We see it even in the Apostles Creed, which jumps straight from his birth to his trial and death.
As if his teachings don’t really matter.
Sometimes preaching on the gospels ignores or misses the reality of Jesus as a first century Jewish rabbi, and interprets his teaching and parables as if they were only about his atoning death.
If the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is discussed, it is too often seen as too idealistic to be actually lived out.
Jesus’ teaching about living
Jesus taught a lot about how his disciples should live. We see it throughout the four gospels, but especially collected in one place in the Sermon on the Mount.
What if we took those teachings seriously?
What if we took seriously Jesus’ command for disciples to obey all that he taught? What if we moved beyond the confines of western evangelicalism and committed ourselves to living out teachings like loving enemies and being generous to the poor as well as evangelising?
Enter Mark Scandrette
This is the point where Mark Scandrette’s ideas come to the fore.
Mark is a San Francisco based writer, teacher and christian leader. For a while he was a pastor, but now he has a leadership and teaching role in a loose collective of christians who are trying to live out the way of Jesus in practical ways. They believe that this will be:
- more true to Jesus,
- more fulfilling to us,
- a blessing to those around them, and
- a more effective witness to the world.
They do this primarily via “experiments”.
Experiments …. because we don’t know everything
Instead of arguing about the meanings of words, or being worried about the social gospel, instead of feeling that Jesus’ teachings are too radical to be lived, Mark suggests we try experimenting.
Try different ways to close the gap between how we want to live and how we are actually living.
What if we took a step towards Jesus’ teachings on wealth and materialism by experimenting with living more simply? And see what happens.
What if we took a step towards loving our enemies or righting injustices instead of just talking about it?
What if we tried out practices in our lives that change the way we think and behave, and we do it together?
What if we tried to see what life can look like in the kingdom of love?
First steps in experimenting
We read Mark’s book about a year ago and attended a workshop he led in Sydney just before the pandemic closed everything down (he just squeezed back into San Francisco before the deadline).
Since then we have made a small beginning in trying these ideas out with a small group of interested christians.
I think this is one of the most important developments in my life as a christian, and one of the most critical challenges for the twenty-first century western church.
I think the events of 2020 are showing that it is time for the western evangelical church as a whole, and for many (most?) individual congregations to move beyond their traditions and adapt to the times.
And I think Mark’s experiments could be one of the new ways in which we need to walk.
But wait! There’s more!
Next post I’ll discuss a few of the practices we have tried, and a few more that we are considering or have read about. Don’t go away! 🙂