Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
– 1 Corinthians 9:24–27
There is an old Hasidic, rabbinical parable about a prince who dreams of his kingdom being a place where people live in perfect community. He dreams of a place where all the people of the kingdom give, love, serve, and mentor one another. As he shared the vision with those in the kingdom, they all agreed with great excitement! To seal the covenant of the new community, the prince called for a great ceremonial bowl to be placed in the center of the town and for each person to bring their finest vintage bottle of wine. They would seal their covenant by all pouring their best wine in the ceremonial bowl together, and then they would all drink from the gifts they shared. One of the elders went home and looked at the vintage wine and decided to empty into a decanter and fill the bottle with water. As the elder poured the wine into the great ceremonial bowl, he prepared to drink with all of the others. The cups were handed out, they were all filled from the great bowl and they all drank together…but to their utter surprise it wasn’t wine at all but water. Everyone did the same thing as the elder. No one was willing to pay the price for true community.
Paul says we are to run the race of faith in such a way as to win it. Verse 24 holds a lot of irony. For many of us today, the aim is not victory but simply the way we run the race. We live in a culture where participation is all that matters. Paul indicates there must be passionate effort and dedication to achieve victory. We are to run the race of faith with great self-control and purpose. We train our bodies and minds. We never run aimlessly. Paul continues by saying we should “punish my body and enslave it”. The earliest Christians spent a lot of time thinking about the passions that had power of all of us. They believed those passions must be overcome through dedicated lives and regular prayer. Are Christians today willing to commit the effort it takes to devote everything in life for the sake of the Gospel? I would have to be the first to admit I’m not always ready to give that much. I need to commit myself to something more. I also need help in my training and as I run the race. If I am going to bring my best wine to the ceremonial bowl, I am going to need some help along the way.
One of the things we have dedicated ourselves to at Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas is a renewed commitment to discipleship. We have done well in our history with clear and appropriate discipleship pathways for children and youth. We haven’t done so well with adults. How do we recommit ourselves to our basic call? How can we help adults grow as followers of Jesus?
Ascending Leaders has helped us frame some priorities in this renewed focus.
Get People Moving – We must have a clear mission and a clear pathway for how we make disciples. Followers of Christ must be in movement (even when we stop to pray and rest, we are active in faith). The verbs are clear in Paul’s letters. We are to “press” on. How we create movement in the life of a disciple is key.
Make Scripture the Heart of Everything – We focus on God’s Word, but do we make engagement with the Bible easy and meaningful? What about for people at different stages of their faith journey? How do we take what we preach and teach on Sundays and extend it into the other 6 days of the week?
Everyone Owns the Vision – I love the question Ascending Leaders asks: Do we see ourselves as more than people who GO to church and begin to believe we ARE the church? How do we build this culture change in the church? Our mission of making followers of Christ is to enable followers to make more followers.
Minister to the Local Community – I truly believe that a local church has to see their community as their mission field. Our whole world is our mission field, but we must start locally. If a local church is not working to improve the lives of those we serve by tackling real, local issues and concerns, then it won’t really matter if we go away. I want the church I serve to make a difference in the neighborhoods we live in.
Christ Centered Leadership – As Evagrius Ponticus said, “Love is the way of the Christian life; humility is the way we achieve it.” In John 13, Jesus washed his disciples feet and said, “I have set an example for you…love one another as I have loved you.” Followers of Christ model the same surrender to power Christ did.
We are making a renewed commitment to discipleship at Chapelwood. I think Christians everywhere should do the same. If there ever was a time we needed effective followers of Christ influencing the world, it is now!