That’s between me and God (and God ain’t talkin’)

What’s going on when you ask a Christian about a specific practice of discipleship in their life and they say, “That is between me and God”? Perhaps nothing unusual. Or, perhaps a whole bunch of evasive things. What do you think?

Legitimately some people are very private about their practice of Christian discipleship, they are shy about sharing, genuinely humble about boasting, or truly believe it is inappropriate pride to talk about their practices. These people do hold an annual gathering in the telephone booth at the corner of West 47th and K Street in some major city in North America, but I cannot remember which one.

I suspect the vast majority of people who will not share about their practice of Christian discipleship are hiding the fact that their answer will not be an acceptable one, and they do not want to lie. They would rather hide behind God than lie.

What are the practices people are asked to reveal? Tithing and other forms of generosity? Personal devotional life as part of spiritual formation? Sharing their faith with preChristians and unchurched persons? Their position on tough theological issues? Their position on tough moral or ethical issues? How they voted on a controversial issue in their congregation? Their drinking and drugging habits? Their sexual practices? Their support of their pastor and staff? Their disagreement with some theological position that is strongly held in their congregation?

What else would you add?

It could be that by this point you are saying, “So what? What’s the big deal here? Give me three reasons why it is important to share practices of Christian discipleship.”

Sharing Practices of Christian Discipleship

Let me offer three as a beginning point. You should feel free to add and subtract reasons, or modify my understanding of these three.

First, is openness. Sharing in appropriate settings in appropriate ways to appropriate people is a sign of openness and the willingness to be vulnerable. It is often a sign of a healthy emotional and spiritual life.

“I am willing to tell you who I am and what I do,” is a good perspective for people to have. We learn so much from one another when each person is willing to share something about themselves and others are willing to hear it without judgment. Perhaps it is the fear of judgment that keeps us from sharing. Congregations need to be a safe place where we can share.

Obviously that is a challenge for many congregations. Too many congregations are not this type of safe haven so people are afraid to share. A few congregations go to the opposite extreme where they expect people to share everything and judgment is expressed toward people who do not share.

Second, is accountability. An effective part of growing spiritually is to develop a system of personal accountability. This can be to one other person, or to a group of persons. Growing spiritually and continually is a tough task for most of us. At least it is for me.Our willingness to share who we are and our practices of discipleship, when coupled with a request of others to hold you accountable for taking the next steps in your journey, can be a powerful reason for sharing.

Sharing plus accountability can equal greater emotional and spiritual maturity. If accountability is sought that goes beyond being more Christ-like to practicing a Christ-like faith through missional engagement, it can also result in helping the world become more loving and just.

Third, is community. A willingness to share our practices of discipleship with one another can greatly benefit the character and depth of relationships in a congregational community. It can create a place where people are willing to share and risk with one another.

This sharing can result in a community that dialogues with and prays for one another at a deeper level than the shallow prayers we typically offer for one another. When people are afraid to share their inner most hurts and hopes for which they desire prayerful support, then the congregational community is a little less than it otherwise could be.

Every time a person says, “Don’t share this with anyone else,” and it relates to a personal hurt and hope, they may be saying their congregational community is not trustworthy. It is not a safe place. It is not an emotionally and spiritual mature place.

If you were asked to evaluate your congregation—and I am asking—on a scale of one to ten, how would it rate? Consider one as an unsafe place to be open and vulnerable and ten being a deep Christ-like community where people share, are supported, and are helped to grow emotionally and spiritually. What is your congregational number?

George Bullard

Author's Website
About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. More than a dozen consultants and coaches are related to The Columbia Partnership. It is a strategic partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive director] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at www.NABF.info. This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. One final role George holds is that of Senior Editor of the TCP Leadership Series books with Chalice Press at www.ChalicePress.com. More than 30 books have been published in this series during the past seven years.

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  • GMG248

    George, you have put into words the reality I have often experienced as a pastor. I once told my deacons at a monthly meeting that I wished we could discuss a sensitive issue one of the deacons had raised about a member but that was not possible because they could not be trusted to deal with the issue confidentially. I added that they knew that before I got home from that meeting the phones in the community would be ringing. You should have seen their eyes. They didn’t fire me that week because they knew it was true.

    • George Bullard

      Too many of our conversations in church are shallow, and speak to a shallow discipleship–even on the part of some of our most committed church members. We have not done an adequate job of creating in-depth community that allows people to grow deep in their faith. So, when going to and participating in church becomes a repetitive habit rather than an enriching practice, why are we surprised?

  • GMG248

    George. I hear a lot of young pastors talking about the need to revive the practice of publically disciplining church members who stray from basic church beliefs or prohibitions. There are of course, a long list of human failings listed in the scriptures and new ones are being discovered every day. We human beings are so creative. What words of wisdom do you have for young pastors who are tempted to follow this path?

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