(Originally published with the Art of Worship, Sept. 2016)
I grew up playing music. I went through elementary and middle school singing and playing the piano, clarinet, and trombone, and didn’t think too much of it. It was probably because it was required in school (or because my parents were paying the private teacher large sums of money). So despite the fact that I enjoyed it (much more than math, that’s for sure), I never really thought of myself as a musician, or identified too deeply with the art.
It wasn’t until middle school that it all changed. I had been playing keyboard in the youth worship team at church, and was learning basic open chords on the guitar. One day, my youth pastor dropped a red Squier Stratocaster in my hands (picture below) and asked if I could play lead guitar for one Sunday; I accepted, and ended up messing up most of the riffs. But afterwards, he said something that’s stuck with me ever since: “it’s okay, we’ll get it next time.”
I was a little confused at why he didn’t seem angry, or even a little disappointed. The fact that there would be a “next time” surprised me. I thought I’d be kicked off the team! The grace he showed – despite my failures – inspired me to work even harder, and gave me a sense of confidence. It wasn’t about whether or not I was qualified, or even willing. A few days later, one of the youth leaders showed me the riffs of John Mayer’s “Belief” and Hillsong’s “Hosanna,” and it kicked off a key season in my growth. These people were spending their precious time to teach me how to function in a band, and did so for the next few years. Today, I’m pursuing it as a career; I’ve internalized music as a part of my identity.
How does this parallel our walk with Christ?
I also grew up a Christian. For those of us who grew up in church, we know that it’s so easy to identify as a Christian because your parents did. Maybe you even enjoyed church because of the programs, social life, or free food. Or maybe you muscled through it for reasons like being moral, or having a good reputation. For whatever reason, there are so many people – who despite claiming otherwise – are merely church-attendees who don’t listen to the Holy Spirit. I did that (and still fall into it sometimes).
After one acknowledges the need to be holy, though – and failing (as we all do) – we run into the enormous grace of God. God shows us that ridiculous, incomprehensible grace through Scripture and others’ stories (testimonies) and calls us to be followers of Christ. Those who have encountered this undeserved grace – for me, it was through gradually listening to the wisdom of my parents and other mentors – can dedicate themselves to Christ with a fuller understanding of His work on the cross, and His will for their lives. Now, we do not merely go to a building called church; we live out our identity as God’s people, called the church.
God taught me how to worship Him, both musically and otherwise, and internalize my faith through events like these. There is a parallel in these two stories; in almost all the instances that I’ve grown or matured (not that I’m super mature yet; I’m only 20), it was never by myself. I realize that God put wise believers in my life, and I saw the Gospel in the way they acted. These key events and mentors have undeniably altered the course of my life. I never had a word for it, until recently; it’s discipleship.
What’s discipleship, anyway?
It’s no accident that Jesus’ last words before ascending into heaven were about discipleship. After stating that “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” – emphasizing the importance (unavoidableness? Is that a word?) of His next command – Jesus tells His followers to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20). Clearly, discipleship is a priority.
Discipleship doesn’t just happen in church though. At school I graduated from (LA College of Music) I realize that I was being discipled – musically – by the teachers there, and even by some of my friends. Pastors (at your church or on recorded sermons), family members, or authors (through books) can also disciple you. It’s coming alongside someone and learning how they operate, with the intent of applying what you pick up. So be careful about who’s influencing you!
How does it work?
You’d be surprised at how simple – yet effective – discipleship can be. When my pastor handed me that red electric guitar and allowed me to play in the band, he probably had no idea of how big of an impact it would have on my life. But it changed my life’s trajectory completely, and for the better. It amazes me how those people shared those moments with me, and walked me through the often rough learning process .
(Long story short: Psalm 98:4 says to make a “joyful noise unto the Lord,” which isn’t necessarily “beautiful.” A middle schooler banging out distorted open chords sure is joyful, but I’ll spare your ears the demonstration)
Similarly, discipleship doesn’t have to be an intensive 4-year program, living like monks in the middle of nowhere. It just means sharing a few everyday moments with somebody. Never think small things don’t matter. God sees them, and will use them to change lives. You’d be surprised!
This article was posted on a website called “the Art of Worship”; how does discipleship apply to that? When we worship God, we give Him the honor and glory. But we must first acknowledge who He is. We do this when we undergo the process of discipleship, and learn about His nature through each other. After all, we are His image-bearers in two ways.
The first is common to all humanity: by creation/birth (Genesis 1:26).
The second is common to those who follow Christ: by the Spirit within us (John 3:6-7).
To be a “lone-ranger Christian” is to miss out on all of that. We need to be continually reminding each other of the Gospel, and what it looks like to respond in worship through concrete action. That doesn’t just look like worship team on Sundays (although it’s definitely one way). Instead, it should manifest in our daily walking and talking: specifically, in community.
In fact, we should all be aware of the discipling relationships around us. Because of these, even our smallest actions reflect God – or not (uh oh) – and inevitably alter peoples’ perception of Him. In which direction are we leading our congregations? Our team members? Our families and friends? And are we making our small moments intentional, or just floating by passively? These are things we must be thinking about when we go through the week. And specifically for those who lead the congregation in singing, it should change the way we make music (more on that later).
Finally, through all of this, we are being discipled by God. It is He who arranges these meetings and relationships, ultimately to draw you to Himself. This is what Jesus tells us this in in Matthew 23:8-9.
“Do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.”
Be mindful of those discipling relationships; thank God for them this week! And if you don’t have anyone to disciple or be discipled by, ask God to show you people, and continue to develop friendships by spending time in Scripture, prayer, and meaningful conversation.
I hope that as you continue to follow Christ, you would acknowledge the overarching role discipleship has in our lives, and continually grow as a result!
(All scriptures taken from NASB, using biblegateway.com)