I became a Christian when I was in High School. I was bit of a fanatic. But in reality, Jesus grabbed hold of my life and ruined me for good! I got seriously involved in my church and youth group. I immediately began devouring anything I could to learn about being a follower of Jesus Christ. I wanted to follow Jesus well. I didn’t know I was a nerd a the time, but I did know being a good disciple meant being a student of Scripture, so I began to filled my mind with good teaching.
I started working my way through Design for Discipleship–a multi volume fill in the blank set of workbooks from the Navigators, and I dived into Ten Basic Steps toward Christian Maturity from Campus Crusade—another fill in the blank Bible, theology and discipleship study. I attended Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts. This was big conference. I got a big red notebook. I listened to lots of cassette tapes on Christian doctrine
All of this was good—as far as it went. There was lots of good information. I ate it up! I learned a lot. But looking back what formed me as a follower of Jesus best was not the books, the tapes, the fill in the blanks. What formed me best were relationships
My best friend and I, as a Juniors in high school were invited into a simple bible study led by a high school senior and some college freshmen. I don’t remember the Bible study, but I remember sitting together with guys who I looked up to, studying Scripture together.
This small group was more significant than all the study guides I picked up in the high school. It wasn’t programmed; it certainly wasn’t a study in isolation. It was intentional, and relational, in the ordinariness of life
The biggest influence on my life of faith has been my parents. They modeled church going to me, but more, they modeled what it means to trust Jesus in every aspect of life. Along the way in my life, my pastor and youth pastor in high school and college mentored me. They let me shadow their ministries and their lives, they showed me what it looked like to be a pastor.
In my own ministry I continued the same value. As a pastor I gathered with a small group of pastors from other churches. We shared our lives and our ministries and sharpened each other. As a pastor, and now at Fuller Seminary, staff gatherings have been so important. In these meetings, we intentionally share life and nurture each other in the faith.
I all this Pirate Discipleship because pirates, some say, were more than just outlaws. In the classic period of piracy, some pirates were fostering a new social convention, a culture that stood opposed and contrary to the norms of traditional society.
I think our discipleship efforts need to have a sense of piracy. We need to get beyond discipleship characterized by program, curriculum, isolated and individual. We need to move beyond an emphasis on dumping information and simple right believing.
The best understandings of discipleship focus on the relational, the intentional and the ordinary. The model is described in Deuteronomy 6:
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
From the text we get this sense: In the midst of ordinary life, as you relate to each other, impress the story of God’s working on your children, on others, don’t let them forget. Talk about it at home and on the road, create physical signs that remind you. This is formation that is relational, intentional and in the ordinary routines of life.
There is a disease that is inflicting American Christianity. Kenda Creasy Dean calls the disease and entitles her latest book: Almost Christian. She quotes John Wesley: “the church is full of almost Christians who have not gone all the way with Christ.” She also quotes George Whitefield said: “An almost Christian chiefly is one that is fond of form, but never experiences the power of godliness in is heart.”
Being a Christian transforms our knowing, our affections and our actions. But too often we see people who call themselves Christians but Jesus but don’t follow hard after him. These are nominal believers: Christians in name only. This is faith—nice and easy. Almost Christians don’t live transformed lives. Almost Christians are not engaged in changing the world for Jesus.
Dean and others call this type of religion: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Among other things this creed says:
- God wants people to be good and nice and fair
- The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself
- God is not involved in my life except when I need him to solve a problem.
It is a bland and banal version of Christianity. It is self-centered, drained of a missional impulse. This religion sees holiness giving way to accommodation, and self-preservation supplants an abandon of self-giving love.  This type of faith breaks our hearts in our churches. It is an indictment on our own lives sometimes.
I don’t think that simply pushing harder on right beliefs breaks through this type of faith. As good as knowing is—something more must happen for our faith to be transformative. It is the danger at Fuller Seminary where I teach. We can cram lots of information into someone’s skull. Its not enough—especially as we seek to train pastors, missionaries and therapists. We must be about transformational learning—learning that changes who we are and how we act.
New forms of discipling is about practice, a pilgrim walk, a journey, experimenting, making mistakes, supporting and being supported, being held to account and holding others accountable. We seek something more than a benign whatever-ism. We seek a discipleship, a faith, that makes a difference.
Church as fellowship is more than just punch and cookies. It is an intentional and communal push towards Jesus. John Wesley’s term is “consequential faith”—a highly devoted faith, a faith that grows out of a desire to love God and others.  This type of faith has a sense of God gripping our lives, of getting caught up in a larger story that makes significant demands on our lives, and offers hope for the world. More than anything else— this type of faith is all about cleaving to a person—to Jesus. It is a white-hot faith! It happens in a social context—relational, intentional and in the ordinary.
This is not a new idea. The Pietists in northern Europe, those who would become among other groups, the Evangelical Covenant Church understood this. They were simple people, who read the Bible and discovered, apart from the state church, new life in Christ. They called themselves Mission Friends: friends in Christ committed to each other and to mission. As they met each other or gathered in small groups, called conventicles, they would ask—Are you alive in Jesus? How is your walk with the Lord?
John Wesley’s Class Meetings had the same emphasis on discipling and spiritual growth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer created an underground seminary in Nazi Germany that had strong relational components. We read about that in his book Life Together. Neil Cole’s Life Transformation Groups focus around three elements: confession of sin, reading of Scripture and praying for others.
Discipleship happens in the most ordinary of ways. Our son Daniel as a junior higher was skateboarding in our neighborhood one day. He was trying a new move; the board got away from him and hit him, in a vulnerable place, hard! He was in pain and he was mad. He came running into the house, slammed the door, punched the wall, and punched a hole in the wall. Now he was in pain, mad and in trouble. He makes the call to mom, confessing what he did. Mom makes the call to Bob, a wise man in our church who is also a wallpaper hanger.
A few days later Bob comes over to our house. Bob, this wise older saint, and Daniel spend a few hours patching the wall. While patching the wall, Bob talks to Daniel about controlling one’s temper, what it means to be a man, and what it means to follow Jesus.
In relationships, in community, discipleship happens. Sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luchman maintain that conversation is the most important vehicle we have for maintaining a realty. Kenda Dean says: “We need rich relational soil of families, congregations and mentor relationships where people see what faithful lives look like and encounter people who love them enacting the larger story of divine care and hope.” This is a rigorous Christianity, focused on love. It is People walking with each other; carrying each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2); struggling to see Christ formed in each other (Gal 4:19).
One more example of this model—a post resurrection appearance of Jesus from Luke 24:
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles [a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
We must be connected to each other, and cleave to Jesus. This moves us beyond nice and easy Christianity. This is hard and risky discipleship. It happens as we walk with each other. It is relational, intentional and in the ordinary.
 See Kester Brewin’s blog, Kester Brewin: Issues in Code
(http://www.kesterbrewin.com/2010/08/10/original-pirate-material/) accessed October 30, 2010, and Peter Lamborn Wilson, Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs and European Renegadoes (Autonomedia, 1995).
 Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Oxford University Press, 2010.
 Alan Hirsch and Debra Hirsch, Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship (Baker, 2010), p. 64.
 Dean, p. 40.
 Dean, p. 5.
Steve Addison, Movements that Change the World (Missional Press, 2009).
Dean, p. 140.
 Dean , p. 11.