Today marks the beginning of a new series that I hope will give shape to the concept of “discipleship,” one of the two primary thrusts of the Christian life. I call the other primary thrust “outreach,” and I am convinced that anyone who desires to follow Jesus should be actively involved in each of these modes of spiritual growth. What that involvement looks like will, naturally, change over time and from person to person. My hope is that this series of articles will prompt you to think about how the practices of discipleship and outreach can take shape and grow in your own life.
To begin, allow me to tell a brief story. Recently, I had an hour-long phone conversation with a friend of mine who lives outside Michigan. He is a solid and wise Christian man, one to whom I look up on a number of levels. He and I were catching up on life, theology, and friends we have in common. Eventually, our conversation centered on a ninety-five-year-old man, a World War II veteran who has been faithful to his wife for over sixty-five years and to his Lord for longer than that. This man (T.S.) is a member of my friend’s church. In recent months, T.S. and his wife moved out of their home of 50+ years into an assisted living community. For the past few weeks, however, T.S. has had some health problems and is staying in a higher-level care center apart from his wife while he recuperates.
My friend has felt the desire to visit T.S. and his wife every Sunday after church, since they are unable to attend church at the present time. During one such recent visit, my friend described the discipleship class he is teaching at their church: many different topics of faith and practice, the “how-tos” of being a Christian, are on the schedule in that class. My friend told me that T.S. listened to this, nodded with interest, and said, “Make sure visitation is part of that class.”
Now, you have to understand, T.S. is one of the most gentle, kind, optimistic men you can imagine. He said those words without a hint of anger, sadness, or resentment. He said those words because suddenly, like never before, he was realizing the true value of church people visiting others who cannot make it to the weekly gathering of the family of God.
Take a few minutes to read Hebrews 10:19-25.
One of the ways we can grow in our discipleship is to visit those brothers and sisters in Christ who cannot gather together with other Christians on a regular basis. Every church has “shut-ins” or “the homebound,” and most churches are good about remembering to pray for these dear ones. But how good are we at showing up at their homes to remind them that they are not alone?
This is not the pastor’s job alone. I do my best to visit our homebound members on a regular basis, but I am just one person. Can you imagine how encouraged you would be if a different church member visited you every week or so?
You don’t have to have anything profound to say when you visit someone. In fact, you can ask a lot of questions, learn about his or her history, listen to his or her stories – and before you know it, an hour has passed. Visitation is one way that we can encourage our brothers and sisters, remind them of the great hope that we profess in Christ, and share stories of God’s faithfulness throughout the years.
Give it a try. Ask me for the name of someone you could visit. Call ahead and make sure it’s a good time to stop by. Take a friend with you, if you like. Make a new friend, ask questions, tell stories, be an encouragement. I promise you will both be blessed by the experience!