Monday, December 19, 2011

182. Discipleship and the Person of Peace Part 5

As I reflect more and more on discipleship and the person of peace strategy (Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4), I keep coming back to the topic of chemistry. In previous posts, I have developed the importance of chemistry being a fundamental component of the discipling relationship. It is not only the permission structure that allows challenge to take place, it is also the magnetic structure that draws two people into a discipling relationship.

When we talk about chemistry, we are basically referring to a certain kind of reaction that takes place between people when they connect or interact. Just like certain chemicals set off certain reactions when mixed with certain other chemicals, there is a certain kind of "chemical" reaction that can take place when two people encounter each other and interact over a period of time. The nature of that reaction can be either good, bad or neutral depending on a combination of factors, like say personality, season in life, maturity, circumstances of meeting etc. Good chemistry means at least one of the persons experienced a good reaction from the encounter. There was a certain level of congruity and positive energy that reciprocated between them. A certain something that often times can not be explained, but you know it when you experience it. In short, there is a certain attraction between two people, and I am not talking physical.

So what is the nature of this attraction? If good chemistry is a positive reaction to another person, how does this work itself out in a discipling relationship? What is it that attracts us to someones life and makes us possibly want to be discipled by them? What is the nature of chemistry in a discipling relationship?

I would like to suggest two fundamental elements of a persons life that can attract us to want to imitate someone elses life: Character and Competence.

Character: being attracted to someones character means you want to "be who they are." That is, the quality of their walk with God, the depth of their spirituality, the consistency and integrity of their life makes you say to yourself, "I would love to be the kind of person they are." Imitating someones character essentially means imitating the pattern and disciplines of their life that have led them to be the person that they are.

Competence: being attracted to someones competence means you want to "do what they do." If they are a good speaker, you want to be a good speaker. If they are a good evangelist, you want to be a good evangelist. If they are a good discipler, you want to be a good discipler. Competence could also be in the areas of parenting and raising your kids. It could be centered around someone ability to remain sexually pure while being single, or something associated with life skills.

With these two fundamental elements of character and competence, I want to offer this "elemental table" in order to distill the nature of chemistry in a discipling relationship.

High Character/Low Competence: When someone is attracted to someone else primarily because of their character, I call this Personal chemistry. It is centered around who the person is. Their personal attributes, personality, or way of being. Discipleship, in this sense, starts from a really solid foundation. Character is the most difficult thing to develop. So when this is the primary attractor, you have got first things first. Developing competence will find its proper place in this kind of relationship. 

Low Character/Low Competence: I label this kind of chemistry as Casual. Although this is not the most desirable scenario, a productive discipling relationship can still take place if the person being discpled has a significant level of maturity.

Low Character/High Competence: I use the term "vocational" for this kind of chemistry because the attraction is based on the competence of the potential discipl-er in relation to a certain kind of task or field of practice. When we observe a level of competence or mastery in an area of someone life that we also want to develop competence in, if I do not allow jealousy or envy to get in the way, then I am naturally drawn to want to be around that person. 

A word of caution: If vocational chemistry is the initial foundation of the relationship, then the relationship can potentially turn consumeristic where one person seeks to extract all the goodies from the other person in order to achieve their own goals. Acquiring the skills and competency of discipl-er becomes the primary goal of the disciple, leaving the essential element of character out of the equation. Aristotle would call this a utilitarian relationship, which in the world of discipleship and imitation, means the relationship devoid of any character development. 

A word of curiosity: Is it possible that this is exactly what took place in the relationship between Jesus and Judas Iscariot ? Could Judas have primarily been attracted to the the competency of Jesus as a leader and miracle worker? Could this explain the seeming lack of character development in Judas over the 3 1/2 years he spent with Jesus? What if Jesus' ministry did not produce the kind of political results Judas was looking for? What if this disappointment led Judas to enter into another utilitarian relationship with the religous leaders? What if he, through what he thought was a clever plan, decided to somehow manipulate the accrued social capital from Jesus' ministry towards accomplishing his own political goals? Either way we understand Judas, it is quite obvious that his competence exceeded his character. Increasing competence without increasing character is a recipe for trouble for all involved. So we should proceed with caution when this kind of chemistry is a starting point for a discipling relationship. 

High Character/High Competence:  I call this "radical" chemistry because it is the most desirable form of chemistry and allows the most optimal level of imitation to take root between a disciple and a discipl-er. This kind of chemistry between people is rare indeed, but when it is present, the potential for kingdom breakthrough is really high. 

A word of curiosity: When we think about Jesus and the twelve apostles, it is interesting to note that they are all listed in pretty much the same way each time in the four gospels. There are three groups of four, and the first person in each group is always the same. 

Could it be that the first group consisting of Peter Andrew James and John had a "radical" chemistry with Jesus? What if the second group led by Phillip primarily had "personal" chemistry with Jesus. That is, they were primarily attracted to the Character of Jesus. What if the third group led by James son of Alpheus had high levels of "vocational" chemistry with Jesus? What if they were primarily attracted to Jesus' competence as a teacher, leader or prophet? Think about it, both Simon the zealot and Judas Iscariot potentially had competing agendas that would potentially draw them into a utilitarian posture with Jesus. In other words, out of all the twelve, these two guys are most known for being vulnerable to a utilitarian posture towards their relationship with Jesus. It is all conjecture, I know, but it is worth reflecting on. 

The challenge from thinking about the nature of chemistry is to look at the people who are attracted to you and are open to being discipled by you and ask yourself: is this person attracted to my character, competency, or both? If both, I would say they should take priority when you decide who to invite into your inner circle and invest most of your time with.  


Geoff M. Pope said...
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Geoff M. Pope said...

TreMENdous! I'm going to reflect on this further, especially looking into the life of Andrew, while sharing your article with some leaders and mentees at church, family members, a few fitting students, and to whomever else the Holy Spirit leads.