When I was in seminary, I took a class called Programming for Youth Ministry. One of our primary projects for the semester was to create something called a Discipled Student Profile. In other words, we needed to define what all of our programming, our weekly gatherings, our goofy games, our tough conversations, our weeks of camps and retreats, and everything else we do in youth ministry was driving towards. Making disciples is the simple answer, but what would that look like? What are the changes in our students’ lives or the characteristics we were trying to create and develop? What was our win?
In truth, not much is different between the goal of youth ministry and the goal of ministry is general. Our goal is to make disciples regardless of age and not much is different between a discipled student and a discipled adult. Their characteristics are the same even if they may express themselves differently and be developed differently given their differences in maturity and stages of life. I settled on several key characteristics fairly easily; authentic faith, love for God, love for others, obedient, connected in community, missional mindset. They seemed like the basics and were things most people in church know are important for Christians. I knew there was at least one more thing that I felt like really set apart more mature disciples that I struggled to articulate though. I wanted to encapsulate so much of what I hadn’t already addressed that should characterize a more mature disciple. It also happens to be a characteristic that I believe we are desperately deficient in and as such is causing Christians to contribute to the chaos in our culture. It’s a characteristic that I came to call “Hanging in Tension.”
Hanging in tension is like spiritual grit. In the realm of discipleship, it means recognizing that God is in the business of reconciling the irreconcilable and being able to live in that tension and get out of our comfort zone to follow Jesus. In our culture today, there are two things we have to recognize in this area. First, these are tense times culturally. The 2020 Presidential Election may be over, but tensions and division are still high. Even if we tend to avoid politics, that tension and division in our culture tends to seep into our personal lives. And the second thing that’s true is this: we don’t like tension in our lives. In fact, we despise it as a culture. We are addicted to ease and comfort and simplicity and that holds true in our politics and religions as well. It’s a driving factor behind our polarization. Extremes are fast and easy. Stereotyping and dismissing requires less thought. The left or the right is simple.
Unfortunately, in politics and discipleship the simple extremes are rarely the best road. Even when we don’t hold an extreme position, it’s easy to get caught up in the us vs. them culture. We have become increasingly convinced that it’s one or the other. Black OR white solutions. Republican or Democrat. As disciples though, we are called to the narrow road of following Jesus. The hard road. Usually, the middle road. And it’s because that’s what Jesus himself did.
Jesus embodies unity. Much of His nature involves holding together irreconcilable things in tension. He’s fully God AND fully man. He’s full of grace AND full of truth. Not one or the other. Unfortunately, church history is filled with splits and divisions because of trying to emphasize one thing over another. One of my seminary professors, Michael Svigel, once said, “Orthodoxy usually involves holding several vital truths in tension. Heresy relieves the tension.” It’s a concept I learned early in my discipleship when I was captured by a phrase used by a pastor in college, “The real Christ is found between two thieves.”
As we move on from the 2020 Presidential Election in our country, thieves will abound. The extremes that try to attract us with their simplicity and divide us will remain. Hanging in tension between them isn’t fun. It often involves sacrifice, humility, and dying to ourselves. In short, it means being willing to suffer. Our Savior was and did. In fact, His final act before death was to literally hang in tension. Arms stretched wide. To the left AND the right. He calls us to do the same.
How can you initiate and spread healing and unity in the coming weeks? Where do you need to identify less as a Republican or Democrat and more as a disciple of Jesus?