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Commonplace Discipleship

The idea of sharing a commonplace journal entry in our Discipleship Group was born out of an eagerness to know God, earnestness to stir one another up to love and good works, and the recognition of knowing our season. We wanted to make our time count as we decided to meet amidst our full daily lives. We each had previous commitments in our personal Bible reading plans and didn’t have capacity to keep up with an additional book or Bible study workbook. Yet we still desired to have an intentional and a productive discipleship group.

The Role of Discipleship

What is a commonplace? And what is discipleship? The concept of a commonplace finds its place in the historical practice of writing down noteworthy ideas, quotes, and meaningful words for reflection. This practice was meant to facilitate contemplation for greater joy and personal transformation. These ideas would be kept in some kind of journal, and you can still find old copies of great thinkers for your perusing.

What exactly is a disciple and discipleship relationship? The word disciple comes from the word meaning student. Christian disciples are those who are students of Christ. Mark Dever defines a disciple as “a follower of Jesus” and “discipling is helping others follow Jesus.” Disciples are those who have been transformed by God’s grace and given  to new life in him, turning from sin and believing in Jesus. Discipleship takes place in relationship between people intending to point them to the all-sufficient work of Christ. Those who have who have entrusted themselves to God by faith are welcomed into God’s family and thus become brothers and sisters in Christ. A church committed to following the command in Matthew 28 to “make disciples” seeks to facilitate these relationships in their faith family. Discipleship is oriented on Christ and it's the business of church members to take responsibility for the spiritual care of each other (Hebrews 10:25).

Disciples have an intentional mindset of how their interactions with other believers can encourage them to know the riches of Christ more. Mark Dever states, “Biblical discipling is helping others follow Jesus by doing deliberate spiritual good to them.” These relationships should be ordinary and common in the life of the believer. Maturing followers of Christ are committed to abiding in him through prayer, the Word, and good deeds. As we abide in Christ, the Spirit informs us of the things from which we need to trun and bring our lives into submission to him. As Christ's followers, it ought to be common for us to say to one another, “Even this?! Christ paid for that sin with his blood! You to?! Christ knows your weakness and sympathizes with you. He has given his Spirit to both comfort and correct you, so that you may continue to trust him each step of the way.”

Discipleship takes place in the ordinary and common places of our lives. It happens in the context of community, and it is an immeasurable grace to us on our pilgrimages toward our eternal home. It is a privilege to have each other as comrades and champions in what Deitrich Bonhoeffer has so beautifully described as this "life together." The varied spectrum of extraordinary events and the ho-hum activities of our daily lives provide ample fodder to share each other's burdens, confess sins, and seek God’s specific care for us. Milton Vincent says in A Gospel Primer,

"When God saved us, he made us members of his household, and he gave us as gifts to one another. Each brother and sister is a portion of my gospel inheritance from God, and I am a portion of their inheritance as well. We are significant players in each other’s gospel narrative, and it is in relationship with one another that we experience the fullness of God in Christ. Hence, the more I comprehend the full scope of the gospel, the more I value the church for which Christ died, the more I value the role that I play in the lives of my fellow Christians, and the more I appreciate the role that they must be allowed to play in mine.”

Commonplace as a Tool for Discipleship

People are made in God's image, so it is a very natural, even common, and human thing to be shaped by words. We were designed for words to leave their mark on us. We were created by the very Word of God and are re-created anew by his living and active Word which leads us to repentance and confession (James 5:16). Being made in God’s image denotes that we have the capacity to be formed into greater degrees of maturity. It is a specific grace for those in Christ to know ultimate truth, goodness, and true beauty.

The heart of a commonplace in discipleship is primarily about formation rather than information. A commonplace is oriented around being formed into the likeness of Christ. It is not concerned with the hurried consumption of information, but rather slows down to appreciate the words of Scripture and the wise words of fellow pilgrims on their way. It is seeking to be shaped by the good, beautiful, and true things of God. It is not a checklist or quest to find the “right” answers in order to pass a test. It is about what Augustine describes as the ordo amoris, the right ordering of affections. We become what we love and worship. Our hearts are in need of being transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is why James K.A. Smith says, “Discipleship… is a way to curate your heart, to be attentive to and intentional about what you love.”

Foundational to being a disciple is that we walk in humility, readily admitting that we do not feel, think, and do as we ought. Here, George Grant argues that humility and teachability are tightly connected to repentance:

 “True education is a form of repentance. It is a humble admission that we’ve not read all that we need to read, we don’t know all that we need to know, and we’ve not yet become all that we are called to become. Education is that unique form of discipleship that brings us to the place of admitting our inadequacies… It is a spirit of humility that affords us with the best opportunity to grow, mature, and achieve in the life of the mind. It is knowing how much we do not know that enables us to fully embark on a lifetime of learning; to recover to any degree the beauty, goodness, and truth of Christendom.”

One of the foundational truths about disciples is that they are repenters. Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” Those that are poor in spirit rightly know their sinful disposition and are eager to repent and be teachable. In the 1970’s, the communist regime in Romania mocked the Christians by labeling them as “repenters,” but this soon gave way to revival. What was meant to shame actually ended up testifying to the triumph of Heaven over the kingdoms of this world. What a beautiful and freeing thing to be known as “repenters.” Christians are secure to repent and be formed because we belong to a God whose heart is for us, giving us the kingdom of Heaven.

Discipleship is about formation, not affirmation or information. We are instructed to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”  To be a fully formed and whole person means having rightly ordered thinking, rightly ordered feeling, and rightly ordered actions. In Norms and Nobility, David Hicks says, “The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habitation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.” This is what commonplace discipleship aims to foster.

Rightly ordered thinking means that one must think well. Thinking well requires humility, study, and discernment. The disciplined activity of reading books, listening to lectures, etc are simply tools meant to train us in the art of thinking well. Rightly ordered affections entail that we love what we ought to love. We care about the things God cares about. We have the ability to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. And finally, a rightly ordered mind and rightly ordered affections will result in rightly ordered actions. In other words, do you know and love God and love your neighbor? Discipleship is seeking to love what we ought to love, know what we ought to know, and do what we ought to do.

The Nuts & Bolts

Our Discipleship Group is comprised of four women in their 20’s and 30’s, who are each managing a variety of responsibilities and callings: college studies, engagement, marriages, small children, graduate school, side businesses, and home/community education. We meet weekly at 6:30am at a coffee shop. Our only assignment is that we share our commonplace quotes from two places: our personal Scripture reading and/or another source (podcast, book, song, sermon, lecture, etc).

We note our commonplace journal entries and share why they stuck out to us. We then spend time sharing prayer requests and pray for one another. We have committed to meet for a year, and then we will re-evaluate to give the opportunity for change alongside the season of each individual. I think the commonplace idea has been effective in spiritual formation because it naturally has accountability built in without looking for "right" answers or having to keep up with a reading plan. The driving idea is oriented around communion with God and not about accomplishing a checklist or series of homework questions. This has produced spiritual and practical conversations quickly. I've been amazed at the connections of the Word and Spirit to bring correction, restoration, and dependence on him even if our content isn't uniform. I love seeing God at work in these women by his word, and it just "magically" cross-pollinates into each other's lives. Because these women make efforts to abide in him, his Word doesn't return void. Everyone usually has something to share about how God is meeting them or where they are needing him to help them.

For the disciple, each sin, sorrow, or circumstance is uniquely tailored to make them holy. Let us champion each other in our journey toward Jesus, knowing God rightly, loving God rightly, and doing what is right that we may be mature and complete. His kingdom come!
Grant me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know,
To love what I ought to love,
To praise what delights you most,
To value what is precious in your sight,
To hate what is offensive to you.
Do not allow me to judge according to the sight of my eyes,
Nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant people;
But to discern with a true judgment between things visible and spiritual,
And above all, always to inquire what is the good pleasure of your will.
— Thomas à Kempis, On the Imitation of Christ