We just completed the pilot year of a hybrid-seminary-discipleship-program at my church. We were the guinea pigs—emphasis on the guinea because nothing makes you feel smaller than subsisting on an average of five hours of sleep a night for ten months while simultaneously realizing you are just not as smart as you think you are. Aside from reading and homework assignments, inclusion in this program required we:
Be covenant members at our church Be serving in lay or official ministry at our church Not show up even a minute late to classes each day (This one had consequences with embarrassing results—so much for sola gratia here...)
Going into the program I thought:
Getting up at 4:30am won't be that bad, plus it'll train me to wake up that early every morning: think of what I could do with an extra three hours awake on my off days!?
This much Bible reading will be the most concerted effort I'll have ever made to read straight through scripture. That can't be a bad thing.
Studying some key books inductively sounds on one hand exhausting (won't we get tired of the same book?) and on the other hand thrilling (18 weeks in the book of Romans? Yes, please.).
On this side of the program, here are some reflections:
My enthusiasm for rising early waned quickly because I am a morning person. However, my morning-person mornings break with sunshine, yes? Lacking sunshine I am apparently not a morning person. I desperately missed regular mornings at home, reading quietly over my morning coffee.
At the beginning of the program we were encouraged to read devotionally (the Bible as well as supplemental texts) instead of academically. However, the volume of required reading was so far out of my normal reading style, that I struggled to read it devotionally at all. I had to change the way I read, which wasn't a bad thing, and it helped me step back from the texts to see a more holistic picture.
I need sleep. I tried to do everything I normally do, plus this program (including the extra commute it added to my day), and do it on minimal sleep. I hit March and realized I just couldn't do it. It wasn't that I was doing too much, it was that I was doing it on not enough sleep. My relationships have suffered, my work suffered, my writing projects suffered, and my soul suffered under the guilt of what I wasn't able to do. Looking back, it would have been worth it for me to move closer to my church for this year simply to save on the amount of driving I had to do in the morning.
One section of the program required the students to teach through the book of Psalms. Rising early on those mornings was pure joy. To hear my fellow students wrestle with a text, the Lord, and their testimony every morning was a recipe for worship. We couldn't help but worship.
The most healing section of the program for me was studying the book of Acts inductively. I have a lot of baggage from that book and going through it start to finish was so completely complete. We studied it historically, geographically, theologically, and spiritually. It's a beautiful book.
The most challenging section of the program for me personally were theology classes. Every week I learned of more misconceptions and errors in my thinking and understanding of theology. This was challenging and relieving. We're all theologians, but we don't all have good theology.
The most rewarding aspect of the program was the opportunity to walk alongside about 30 other individuals (most of whom I knew or knew of already) who deeply loved Jesus, His Church, and His word. These were people who were chosen to pilot the program, who would give their all, and who were actively serving others. Coming together each morning and just extolling the name of Jesus together, shouldering burdens with one another, praying for one another, laughing, questioning, and wrestling with texts, theology, verbiage, and life together was a deep blessing for me personally. I don't know that there will be another opportunity in my life to walk alongside men and women of such caliber so closely for ten months.
As we finished our last class the other day, reflecting on what went well and offering feedback for future years of the program, I couldn't help but just reflect on what the Lord has done in my life in ten years. Ten years ago I participated in a similar program (though less rigorous) at my church in New York. It was the first real discipleship I'd ever experienced and the men who taught those classes shaped so much of my formative thinking in regard to theology and the word of God. Walking through this experience, ten years later, lent such perspective to what the Lord has done in me in a decade. He has been good to me.