Last month, I went with a group of fellows to the last of a series of talks Paige Brown did on certain parables found in the Gospel of Luke. This final talk was on Luke 14:25–35, in which Christ plainly laid out the cost of discipleship to a large crowd of people who sought to follow him. In it Jesus pronounced that the decision to follow him is a one-way trip to the grave in which we are called to give up everything to him. One thing Paige mentioned which really stuck out to me is how Jesus instructs us to make an accounting of what it will cost us to follow him. It’s no run of the mill decision. It’s the decision as to whether or not we should bear our cross alongside Christ—a decision which Jesus himself wept tears of blood over.
I don’t know about you, but my story of coming to faith looked very little like what Jesus described in Luke. I didn’t do a full accounting of my life to figure out whether or not the cost of following Christ was worth the benefit of dwelling with him. Instead, I—along with most modern Christians, I imagine—came to Christ in a time of strong emotion and pain. I saw him as my great relief and I ran to him. This in and of itself is not at all a bad thing and is quite encouraged by Christ insofar as it draws the lost to him. He wants the lost sheep to be found and the wayward son to come running home. At the same time, however, Jesus calls those who run to him to do so in total abandonment of themselves for him. For us to actually do this we need to make an accounting of what our hearts hold onto so that we can actively give them up.
So, what does this have to do with the Fellows program? Well, Christ calls us to give ourselves up with as full a knowledge of our brokenness and need of him in order to love, serve, and commune with him. One of the primary means by which we accomplish this task is in and through the Church, the entirety of the body of Christ. The Church is a vital part of God’s emerging kingdom in the world and should be treated with the respect it deserves. This isn’t to say that we are to put the Church on the same level as Christ, but we are to see it as an eminent means of grace to the world and the only institution on earth that will last into eternity. In this stage of my life the main body of the local Church I’m apart of is made up of the Fellows and the church I attend in Nashville. In this light it is my duty in Christ to approach the Fellows Program with the same kind of honesty and intentionality with which Christ calls me to approach him. The Church is a body which, like Christ, makes an honest invitation to believers and non-believers alike to enter into faith, community, and the fullness of life in Christ with all of its difficulties and challenges. In the Fellows, then, I am to accept this invitation and to embrace the community I’m welcomed into with the same kind of seriousness with which I embrace Christ.
Attached to the community of the Church and Fellows is the duty for me to be part of the honest invitation of Christ. In the same way that Christ and the Church invite me I must invite others both to Christ and the Church. After all, as I become part of the Church, I also become part of God’s means of grace to world, even as I remain broken and incomplete. It is my joy and cross to bear that I honestly invite others into community with Christ, the Church, and myself. The community we experience within the Fellows, then, is to be one of mutual honest invitation with one another that we may resemble Christ.
I’m still trying to figure out what this honest invitation actually looks like for me in the Fellows, but I’ve found that a good place to start is in sharing my opinion. A distinguishing mark of the Nashville Fellow’s Program is that it is ecumenical and brings together a group quite diverse in perspective. Prior to joining the Fellows, I had a fairly well flushed-out view of my own theology, but struggled much with the idea of whether or not I should share it with others. However, part of the honesty with which we enter into community in the Church is sharing our ideas, perspectives, and differences with one another. How do we do this without conflicting with one another? We invite. If you invite someone to your home you allow them to enter into both the mess and the beauty of everyday life. I see this with my host family and they no doubt also see it with me (shoutout to the Brooks for putting up with me and my messes so graciously ☺). The nature of an invitation, however, is that it can be rejected. If we approach discussion in this light even our disagreements with one another can strengthen our sense of community. Our honesty of the good and bad in our perspectives and ideas can welcome another person rather than push them away.
The purpose of all this is to help build a culture of invitation. I’ve seen this to be a major goal of the Fellows Program as we attempt to gracefully approach one another with honesty about our lives and the problems we face as a group. For me, it’s a costly commitment to enter into community with others and to honestly invite them into my own struggles, perspectives, and joys. It’s difficult to build strong relationships, and I still have so much to learn in practical application. In the end, though, the benefit of life together in Christ is well worth the cost.