A Rector Goes Back to Nursery School      (by Jon Shuler​​)

The dear old friend I mentioned last week was puzzled when I asked him to forgive me, as he had nothing against me. But what I saw, in a flash, was that liturgical life in a strong, growing, and (what I thought was a) faithful parish was not equipping its people to be disciples who could make disciples. It had taught them that they needed to learn more to be faithful. And I saw that it was part of the very system that the Episcopal Church had taught me was the work of a priest. I became convinced that year that the whole of the Anglican Way, as I had learned it and taught it, was not producing the men that Jesus wanted. I made my friend say “I forgive you” on behalf of all ordained leaders in my family who were not making disciple-making disciples, not just myself. And I went back to Nursery School for disciples.

My first struggle was to ask why the pattern of spirituality that I loved, enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer, was not making such disciples? I became convinced, in time, that it was because it had become almost entirely irrelevant culturally to all but clergy. In effect it has become a way for priests, though it was once designed for all the members of the church. Given certain conditions of time, stability, and disciplined obedience, it can still make a true disciple out of a believing person. But for the average modern man or woman in America those conditions do not exist.

I began to ask myself, what are the most central characteristics that should define the life of a true believer? And further I began to ask the Lord to show me what – if I had oversight of someone for three years – would equip them for a lifetime of faithful discipleship? Not just keeping the faith, but helping to spread it wherever they lived? As I have often written, I came to the following: they were converted, that is born again of the Spirit of God, nurtured in the basics of the Christian life, equipped according to God’s purposes, and able to reproduce another disciple. That forced me to ask: “What are the basics of the Christian life?”

My list may not be yours, but here it is. They become faithful in seven things: Sunday worship, daily prayer, daily time in the word of Jesus, exercising their gifts in service, generous in giving, accountable to the body of Christ, and able to make another disciple.

I embarked upon an earlier version of this list, this definition of Christian Basics, over thirty years ago. I prayed that God would let me discover how to make it likely that anyone who was active in my parish for three years would have become a beginner in those seven behaviors. I wanted men and women to become active in the spread of the kingdom of God wherever they lived, wherever they went.

So it was that the 2:42 Ministry began at the Church of the Ascension. In less than one year we had nearly two hundred adults engaged in this new beginning. Change was everywhere to be seen, much of it gospel transforming change. But not all.


Next Week: The Rector Goes to Elementary School




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