This is Awkward; Discipleship That Fits

May 10, 2016 — Leave a comment

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Every now and then I’ll read a book that makes me laugh out loud (i.e. LOL). It’s not often given the books that I tend to read, but when I saw that Sammy Rhodes’ This Is Awkward: How Life’s Uncomfortable Moments Open The Door to Intimacy and Connection was out, I knew it would do the trick. Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s partnership with BookLook Bloggers, I was able to get a hold of a free copy. I wanted to read it because 1) I enjoyed following Rhodes on Twitter, even as the whole plagiarism thing hit the fan (which he recounts in chapter 10) and 2) I’m an awkward introvert so I knew I’d resonate with a good bit of the book.

This book ends up being part humorous memoir of sorts and part meditation on how awkwardness awakens us to grace. Rhodes has a had a far rougher life than his jokes on Twitter would have let on. He can add “authentic” to his self-description along with “awkward.” It was probably already there and known to those students that he ministers to at The University of South Carolina. But now the wider public can get more of a glimpse.

Whether you primarily knew of Rhodes before the Twitter plagiarism fiasco ignited by Patton Oswalt or because of it, you’d do well to read Rhodes thoughts on it here. He had already come clean in my mind, but this gives you more background about where he was personally during that time and then moves from that to discussion of how being online can be an escape for introverts (or just people) but that it can also come with a price. I don’t think he tries to minimize what happened, and he definitely seems to have learned from it. He presents a kind of cautionary tale for what happens when you unexpectedly get “Twitter famous.”

Especially as summer approaches, I’d recommend taking a break from whatever you normally read and pick up This Is Awkward. I guess that is unless your usual genre of reading is awkward memoirs from introverted campus pastors. If that’s the case, I think you should point me in the direction of more books like this.


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Speaking of campus ministry, I recently went through a book that unlocked several insights for me. Thanks to Zondervan, I was able to get a hold of Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom’s Discipleship That Fits: The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow. For me, the key takeaway is what the subtitle suggests. Deeply indebted to Joseph Myers’ book The Search to Belong, Harrington and Absalom map out 5 contexts in which discipleship happens. Conveniently, you can also correlate these with relationships Jesus had in the Gospels (58-59):

  • Public (Jesus and the crowds)
  • Social (Jesus and the 70)
  • Personal (Jesus and the 12)
  • Transparent (Jesus and the 3)
  • Divine (Jesus and the Father)

As we seek to carry out the Great Commission and make disciples, we do well to attend to these different contexts. While it may be beneficial to teach people how to have a quiet time, that’s only one context (divine). Likewise, just because someone is in a small group (either personal or transparent context), doesn’t mean they are good to go. Ideally, all of the contexts work together to help mold us into the people that Jesus would want us to be. Within any school or church, all of these contexts should be present and developed in order to be utilized in discipleship.

I mentioned several insights were unlocked, and that covered a couple (pay attention to contexts, let them work together). Another was that I had been approaching discipleship at church and at school in a way that didn’t work within the given contexts. For instance, while we had developed the small groups at school a little more, their focus was primarily on doing Bible studies. But, they all already had a Bible class and heard sermons weekly. They needed a space to process what was going on in life, thus being more personal and transparent, rather than social, which was what it drifted toward when they had a “study” to do. I realized that we should provide a structure and possibly curriculum that is aimed at moving students from the social to the personal to the transparent context in their small groups. Not entirely sure how we’ll approach that yet, but it’s a slight modification we hope to make for next year.

In a similar vein, I realized that what we were doing for small groups at church (at least the ones I was involved in either as a member or a coach) was similar. I think often because of that, I found myself less interested week to week because I already did a lot of theological reading and studying so I wasn’t necessarily eager to do more. To be fair though, I really enjoyed and benefited from the times I was there. But I think the initial expectations were off because of what the group was. Had we spent more time fostering personal connections (and we did in the week that I personally enjoyed the most), I think it would have bound our group a little tighter together, and we could have done so without abandoning discussing the Bible or theology.

All of this is to say that Harrington and Absalom’s work is worth checking out and I found it immediately applicable. It’s helped me re-think discipleship in church and school and I feel like I’m better prepared for some of the things that I’ll hopefully launch later this summer and fall!

Nate

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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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