Category: discipleship

Boldness?

I heard a sermon today urging us to be bold like Peter and the early church.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

But the preacher didn’t seem aware of the problems with boldness. Being bold in the wrong way about the wrong things is surely one of the ways evangelicals have gone most wrong. Is it really boldness the church is lacking today?

As much as the Bible calls us to boldness and courage, it calls us to meekness and gentleness. Paul seemed to be always holding the two sides in tension in his ministry and teachings, and so did Jesus.

The call to boldness has to come with the call to gentleness – and we need to have conversations and discernment about when to be each. Send out a typical congregation with the command to ‘be bold’, and the results might be unfortunate. (To be fair, this sermon was the first in a series – the content and meaning of boldness might come later.)

We were offered three pictures of boldness at the start – Braveheart, Gladiator, and the unarmed man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. I wonder which of these pictures of boldness will be foremost in congregants’ understanding?

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A story of discipleship in The Office

“The Christening” (season 7, episode 7) is the most explicitly religious episode of The Office yet, and interestingly, it contains a subplot which illustrates Jesus’ teachings about discipleship.

The setup: the entire office turns up at the christening of Jim and Pam’s baby, Celeste, and the episode revolves around the misadventures during the service and then at the reception in the hall next door. The church is not identified; it seemed to me the writers were striving to make it generically Protestant. But it’s obviously not Baptist and there is a woman minister; furthermore, several seasons ago Pam mentioned she was a Presbyterian.

In one of the subplots, the christening service is also the send-off for the youth group, who are heading off to Mexico to build a school for the poor. Michael Scott, the office’s selfish and immature boss, is enchanted with the level of community and meaning which the youth group enjoys, wishing he could be a part of it. He tries to convince the others from the office:

Look at that, look at that – that’s fun! We need to do stuff together, outside of work. Let’s go help Africa… Let’s go build an airport. We’ll start small, we’ll have a carwash, we’ll send some cheerleaders to regionals.

When the others object, Michael says:

Okay, we don’t have to volunteer, but I think we should hang out together more… Look at these people – these are churchgoing people and they know how to party… What is wrong with you guys? What is so horrible about trying to get together and do something nice?

Michael (and then Andy) decide to get on the bus and join the youth, who embrace them. The idealistic youth leader says:

If the whole world were like you guys we wouldn’t have so many problems! … Nobody I know would leave their jobs and friends and families to do manual labour for three months.

A little while into the trip all the youth are trying to sleep and Michael is bored:

Michael: How long till we get to Mexico?

Andy: Well, two days minus, how long we been on the road… forty-five minutes… so like two days, basically.

Michael: What are we building over there again? Like a hospital? School for Mexicans?

Andy: I don’t know – I thought it was like a gymnasium…

Michael: Why aren’t they building it?

Andy: They don’t know how.

Michael: Do we know how. I don’t know how – do you know how?

Michael and Andy’s conversation might suggest some of the pitfalls of short-term mission trips – how much better do we rich white people know? But more than that, it is the falling apart of Michael and Andy’s resolve to do good and be a part of this community which seemed so attractive forty-five minutes ago:

Michael: I didn’t sign up for this. You guys are young! You want to give back to society! I’ve done that – I need to take!

Michael and Andy get off the bus. They hadn’t counted the cost, and they didn’t want to pay it.

It is a flattering portrait of Christianity – it shows Christian community as attractive but difficult, and the Christians themselves as welcoming and genuine.

*

‘Why have you always got to be so mean to me?’ – the only clip I could find from this episode isn’t from Michael Scott’s counting-the-cost story. Instead, Toby was once training to be a priest, and it’s his first return to church, presumably since his divorce. He hides outside (in the extras, even in a tree) before coming in alone to ask God the big question.