Archive for May 2013 – Page 2

Disciples Beyond the Classroom

By the end of my first semester in college, I was convinced that learning a foreign language was out of my reach. Though I had done alright in high school, my first college-level Spanish course knocked me flat. It got so bad, in fact, that I ended up taking it pass/fail, and I barely squeaked by with credit. Clearly, I was no good at learning languages!

The following year, however, I spent seven months living and studying in Mexico. It was one of the most formative experiences of my life, exposing me to a culture totally distinct from my own. I fell in love with the people, places and heritage of Mexico, and I will always carry them with me.

Not to mention that my Spanish language proficiency improved dramatically. My semester abroad began with several weeks of intensive language instruction to bring me up to a passable conversational level, and for most of my seven months abroad I spoke almost exclusively in Spanish. By the time I returned for the fall semester in Kansas, I was ready to take – and pass! – Spanish literature classes. I realized that I was actually quite good at learning languages!

So what changed? When I finally did succeed in gaining Spanish-language competency, it was because I was operating in my native learning style. I am a kinesthetic learner, but almost all of the classroom methods of instruction were oriented towards audio/visual. The vocabulary sheets and recorded conversations seemed to work great for some people, but not for me. I needed to connect with real human interactions, real relationships, if I wanted to effectively learn how to speak and comprehend. I had to get out of the classroom, to be put in a situation where I could just do it.

Many times, our church communities feel a lot like the classroom. We get our audio/visual presentations, study written materials and cultivate our knowledge of Bible facts. Our eyes and ears are filled with all sorts of good things. But, for kinesthetic learners like me, it is the doing that really drives the message home.

I have read the books and pamphlets; I have heard the sermons and sung the hymns. These resources have enriched me and given me lots of food for thought, yet at the end of the day I sometimes still feel like an undergraduate who has emerged with his BA only to find that he has no practical skills or experience that apply to a career.

Do our Christian communities, with our classroom-style ways, risk similar irrelevance? Are we preparing one another for careers as disciples to Jesus? After years of Sunday School, are we any better equipped to make disciples and share the good news of Christ’s kingdom? Or have we just become better-versed in how to do church?

What are ways that we can equip one another to live as disciples and engage in the practical work of the gospel in our cities and towns? How can we get outside our comfort zone and embrace the immersion experience – the real-life baptism – that our faith demands of us?

Growing In Any Weather – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #53

Dear friends,

Spring took its time arriving this month in DC. We experienced several major shifts in weather – from the high eighties several weeks ago, down to the forties more recently. The climate here has shifted back and forth: We have seen hot and cold; muggy and dry; overcast days and others full of light. Sometimes, when things got really cold, misty and gloomy, it was hard to believe that we were in springtime and headed towards summer.

The trees knew, though. Despite all the ups and downs of an increasingly unpredictable weather cycle, the plants knew the signs of the times. Even in the midst of bitter cold, the trees began to bud; flowers bloomed and leaves slowly began to emerge. While I entertained doubts about whether we would ever see spring, the trees lived in hope.

The quiet hope and determination of the trees serve as a sign to me. This is how I am called to live: not being blown about by every change of conditions, but instead rooted in faith that God is sending the rain, sun and temperature I need to grow and thrive, even if I can’t quite imagine it yet.

Just like the trees, Capitol Hill Friends is a living, growing organism. As a community following Jesus, we live in hope. Though the outward conditions of life here often run counter to the loving relationships that we sense God calling us into, we persist in trust that the rain will fall, the sun will shine and the Spirit will blow among us.

Rather than being dismayed by every change in the weather, God is calling our community to steady perseverance – the patient endurance of the saints, as it says in Scripture. We are called to lead lives that are oriented towards the summer that is coming, rather than the winter that we are emerging from.

For my own part, I find it very easy to get bogged down in wintry thinking. I can get stuck in a mindset of scarcity, fear and timidity, thinking more about how to protect myself from failure than about how to prepare myself for success. Like the servant in the parable of the talents – oftentimes, it is tempting to bury my gift in the ground rather than risk losing everything!

But we have received a greater calling than the cautious self-preservation of the status quo. God is inviting us to be more than a leafless tree, forever in a wintertime mode. Instead, we can flower and bear fruit that blesses the world.

This is scary. Flowering means being vulnerable. It means investing a lot of effort and energy into something that, ultimately, might not even work. It means being open to the possibility that we might fail.

Even bearing fruit can seem risky. Will we be bearing apples? Bananas? Kiwis? How will this fruit taste, and will we even like it? Bearing the kind of fruit that John the Baptist talked about involves letting go of our control-freak tendencies and living in the power of God. Bearing fruit means allowing ourselves to be swept into God’s mission rather than dictating our own terms.

Somehow, this whole letter has turned into an extended horticultural metaphor! But that is, I believe, where we are at here in our ministry in Washington, DC: We are gardeners, and we are the tree. We are pruning, and we are blossoming to bear fruit. We are preparing for the harvest that is coming, and there is a lot of growing to do along the way. Pray that the Lord of the garden will call more gardeners!

In the weeks ahead, here are some ways in which you can be praying for us:

– That God would fill us with a spirit of boldness and enthusiasm to share the good news with our friends and neighbors, inviting others into our family in Christ.

– That God would activate and empower the spiritual gifts that are present in our community, raising up leadership, discernment, evangelism, pastoral care and teaching, among other gifts.

– That Christ would reveal to us with ever greater urgency and specificity the fruit that he is preparing us to bear.

We are so grateful for your ongoing prayer support. We could never have come this far without you, and we are counting on you to help us walk the next leg of this journey. Thank you for your faithfulness, friendship and love.

In Jesus,

Micah Bales