Saturday, September 24, 2016

Discipline and Growth in Grace

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you. - Deuteronomy 8:5

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. - 2 Peter 3:18

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 109:21-31; 1 Samuel 15:24-16:13; John 3:1-15

I didn't post on Thursday or Friday this week because I was away for a workshop at Trinity Lutheran Seminary with Kenda Creasy Dean. The topic was youth ministry - by which she means encouraging youth to be active and entrepreneurial in their own ministry, not so much "hanging around in the church basement." So in reading today's Daily Texts, the themes of growth and discipline are bouncing off some new ideas about youth and childhood.

We often assume that youth is something to be navigated through on the way to adulthood, and that it ought to be filled with education and training to that end. I think this attitude is reflected in what we commonly see in the church: that children and youth have formal instruction, up to and including Confirmation classes around 7-8th grade, which they're expected or forced to endure, and then they can stop learning (or, also commonly, stop being involved in any church activity at all, ever again). This way of thinking assumes that adults have "the stuff" that needs to be poured into the young people's lives or used to mold them into a certain form.

But the Bible's way of talking about discipline and growth is very different! The word "discipline" of course is related to the word "disciple," which shows that all of God's people - especially adults! - are to be growing and maturing in God's ways, all their life long. "Growing in grace and knowledge," as 2 Peter puts it, sounds pleasant. The Hebrew word for "Discipline," which is sometimes translated "chastise" or "admonish," sounds unpleasant. But by gospel and law, affirmation and rebuke, or we might say invitation and challenge, God calls forth growth over time.

One key insight from the workshop with Kenda Creasy Dean is that our whole way of encouraging growth in ministry, in fact our whole way of being the church in the world, is changing. One of many dimensions of the change is that our young people are already actively living a new way of being church, although that way is not clearly understood or defined yet. Less interested in preserving an institution, memorizing dogma, finding their place in a rigid hierarchy, they have been placed and prepared by God to be ministers of God's kingdom who are creative, collaborative, and focused on justice and well-being in the real lives of other people. We've reached a point where the youth can teach the older generations! They are not "the future of the church" in the sense that their faith will resemble ours and they will take our places in perpetuating the church as we know it. They are "the future of the church" in being active pioneers of a new way of life, who can train us how to see it and appreciate it and foster it - IF we are willing.

As a member of one of the older generations, I'm coming to see that it's time for ME to be humbled and disciplined, by being a servant and supporter of those who can teach me, who just happen to be younger than me. May I be able to recognize this as both a challenging, sometimes-less-than-pleasant process, and a gift of God's grace for my growth and the growth of the church and the kingdom.

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