Growing as a Disciple
On Sunday morning Bishop Schnase welcomed people to what has come to be called the largest Sunday school class in the state at the Juanita K. Hammons Performing Arts Center. He introduced Rev. Jeff Brinkman, who grew Woods Chapel in Lee’s Summit from 100 to 1,300 in attendance.
When you look at growing in grace, Jeff has had some good thinking about what works and what doesn’t work,” Bishop Schnase said.
Brinkman began by acknowledging that he thinks we are all interested in spiritual formation and discipleship because we’re not very good at it. He grew up in the Lutheran church thinking that Christianity was believing in Jesus, and being a Disciple was learning more about what he believed.
“It was a knowledge based spirituality,” he said. It’s the same process that is in place in many churches, but Brinkman asked those gathered to consider the effectiveness of this academic method.
“When you get together at church for study, does it turn you in or out?” he asked. “Our groups caused us to turn in on ourselves. We certainly weren’t going to split our groups so others can join.”
When a church turns inward, the results can be devastating, Brinkman said, with people being concerned about power and control and losing focus on mission. The earliest Christians certainly didn’t spend most of their time studying scripture.
“The Disciples didn’t go to seminary. They didn’t have Bible studies. They didn’t even have Bibles,” Brinkman said. For years Brinkman preached to people as best as he could – to little effect. But he noticed when those same people came back from a mission trip, they had more life.
“When they went out in the world and became the hands and feet of Christ, they came back with their hearts changed,” Brinkman said.
Being a disciple is about believing, not just knowing about your beliefs, Brinkman said. He doesn’t discourage Bible study, he finds it important. His church has about 70 study groups. But the study should result in action.
“Studying is not an end, but a means,” he said. “Studying should send us out. Study should help change our paradigm so we go out and live a Christian life. Missions isn’t just what the mission department does – mission is what everyone does. Why do we love Mother Teresa? Because of her seminary degree? Because she’s completed Disciple 8? We love her because she lived with the least of these.”
Brinkman referred to a book by Rick Rusaw called The Externally Focused Church as a helpful guide to explaining how service is one of the most beneficial spiritual disciplines when it comes to growing as a disciple. He also recommended The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rolfing. In this book, Rolfing said imagine if in the story of feeding the five thousand, the disciples had gathered up five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus multiplied it, and then they just all feasted on the abundance and didn’t share it with anyone.
“We would hate that story,” Brinkman said. “But that’s how the American people live their lives when it comes to sharing their blessings.”
Brinkman has seen time and again the lives changed by people from Woods Chapel embracing mission, and the change comes both to the people being served, and those doing the service.
“When you live outside of yourself, it’s amazing the joy you can bring to other people’s lives,” he said.