This excursus, “Disciplemaking and the Problem of Transparency,” is the fourth part of my series, “Programming for Discipleship.” I think the excursus will itself have four parts.
I wrote earlier that one essential element of discipleship programming is the accountability group, a small group of 3-5 people including the facilitator, who share honestly and transparently about their struggles, hold each other accountable, and faithfully pray for each other.
“In those tiny groups, the more transparent the members are with each other about their struggles and failures, the more powerful the move of the Holy Spirit to heal and transform.
The problem, of course, is that transparency is HARD.”
Why is transparency necessary?
Transparency is necessary because discipleship is both internal and external. Look at the teachings of the master disciplemaker–Jesus–and you’ll see this, over & over.
- The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) shows Jesus going up on a mountain to teach his disciples–a clear allusion to Moses giving the ten commandments. But instead of a list of “do this” and “don’t do that” commandments, what does Jesus give his followers? “Blessed are …”, BE this, don’t BE that.
- In other words, Jesus takes Moses’ ethical teaching, which focused on external behaviors (rule ethics), and turned it into character ethics (which focuses on internal attitudes and dispositions.)
- This is not a criticism of rule ethics, just an observation about how Jesus used character ethics in his context.
- Matthew 23.25-28 is part of Jesus’ extended rebuke of the Pharisees.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
- In the dispute over the disciples eating with unwashed hands (Mark 7), Jesus says:
Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them. … For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.
What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. (Mk 7.15-23)
Our tendency as humans is to cover, to deflect, to protect ourselves and our pride. DEALING WITH YOUR STUFF IS HARD. Sometimes, we would rather do ANYTHING other than look at ourselves, our actions and motivations, honestly.
(Think of David in Psalm 32: he didn’t just hide his wrongdoing from the world, and try to hide it from God. He even tried to hide it from himself, and it almost killed him.)
Our capacity for deception is staggering, and the people that we lie to the best and most consistently is ourselves. (This is one of the chief insights that recovery ministry–Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous–offers those of us in discipleship ministry.)
The best way to fight this is to have a small group of people that we make our best efforts to be completely honest with, who have the ability to see through our deflections and rationalizations and excuse-making and have our permission to call us out when we’re not being honest.
Transparency is necessary, but it’s difficult. And pride and self-deception aren’t the only obstacles to healing; that’s the next post.