This past week marked the beginning of another school year in the Kelley household. This one’s a bit different than in years past because this year, we’ve got a middle schooler. That means two different school start times, two different drop-offs and pickups, and two different sets of expectations and apprehensions. But despite all those things, we made it through with minimal anxiety and bloodshed. And as I think back across this week, I am filled with admiration for my children.
I admire their attitudes and excitement. I admire their desire and individuality. I admire their ease in making friends and trying new things. And I have admired the way they’ve asked us to pray for them about specific things this week. I’ve seen so many things in them this week that have caused me to give thanks but that have also challenged me. I’m not starting school this year, but in a sense, we are all in the school of discipleship. It’s a progressive school where we are moving further and further toward Christian maturity, learning and changing and repenting and going at it again along the way.
I’ve seen in my children, the way they have begun this year, a few things that ring true about the school of discipleship as well. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from them as applied to my own ongoing spiritual education. I hope these things will be helpful to you also as you continue to serve in the capacity of some kind of small group ministry.
1. Routine can bring freedom.
We have been pretty set in our morning and afternoon routine these past few years, mainly because it was relatively familiar to us. But with the advent of middle school, we have had to reevaluate how things function in our home. When are lunches made? How is homework done? What time do people get up in the morning? All those things play into establishing a routine. And because this year is different, we had to somewhat turn over what we were formerly doing and start over. But a few days in, the new routine has been established.
And in that routine has come freedom. Expectations are set, and they are met, and when they are, there is a lesser amount of anxiety and franticness. Routine allows a slower and more intentional pace because you don’t feel like everything has to be done right now. Such is the case with discipleship.
Routine builds our expectations and allows us to anticipate the right things at the right time. When we, for example, have a routine about the way we read the Bible and pray, then our minds click into gear with the time is right. We don’t feel the pressing tyranny of the urgent because we know that there is a time for everything, and the time now is to sit and read. Of course, routines are made to be broken. And in the school day as well as in discipleship, it takes wisdom to know when the routine has stopped serving you and when you have started serving it.
2. Together is better.
We have had sweet times together over dinner this past week. Part of that is because of the newness of school—when everything is the most amazing and awesome in the world. I’m sure that will change soon enough. But those times will be sweet in a different way, for those are the times when we have the privilege of not only laughing together but also crying together as a family. The key word here is “together,” and together is better.
Such is the case with discipleship. Together is better here, too. We often think of our spiritual development in isolation, and that’s good and right so far as it goes. But God has been building, for all time, a people for Himself, together worshiping Him for all eternity. When we come together regularly with the people of God, unified by the truth of the gospel, then we are able to laugh, weep, rejoice, and bear each other’s burdens. We are able to encourage and remind each other of the promises of God so that we might press onto another day in faith.
3. Mercies are new every morning.
They are indeed. Thank the Lord. I shouldn’t make it sound like this first week has been perfect; far from it. We’ve had arguments, and discussions that turned into arguments. But at least for the time being, the kids have come downstairs each morning cheerful and ready for a new day. It has been a reminder to me that a good night’s rest is an amazing antiseptic—nothing looks as bad as it does at midnight, and everything looks a little better in the morning.
I don’t think this is just “self-help” rhetoric—I think it is because, for the Christian, we know that God’s mercies are truly new every morning. And that when we wake up, we can be confident that this is the day the Lord has made, and we should be obedient to rejoice and be glad in it. The kids, even though they might not recognize it, are showing me this discipline with the way they are coming downstairs even if the night before has been difficult.
For the disciple, every morning is a new day. And with the new day comes the choice to believe that God is not absent, but instead has filled that day with good works for us to walk in. We can, then, as a matter of discipleship to look on the coming day as an opportunity to embrace His work in and through us.
4. In the midst of complexity, return to the basics.
This year is going to be complex. Jana and I have already discussed how our new middle schooler is within weeks of aging out of our ability to legitimately help him with his math homework. It’s going to be complex, and math is just the beginning of the list of reasons. How will we handle all that complexity in school, relationships, and dynamics? I don’t know specifically, but in general, I think we will go back to the basics again and again. We will have dinner together. We will pray together. We will laugh together. We will be safe together.
This is one of the glories of home—that no matter what else is happening in the world, home is where you come back to and leave all masks and pretense at the door. Home is where you are you, and you are loved. That’s returning to the basics.
The same thing is true in discipleship, for there are certainly complexities in the world for the Christian. There are moral complexities, societal complexities, and relational complexities. There are also theological and doctrinal complexities. What, then, can we do in light of these things? We can return to the basics.
For the disciple, that means coming back to the home of the gospel. It means returning again and again to the simple and unchanging truth that with Jesus, we are eternally safe because He has loved us even unto death.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua (10), Andi (7), and Christian (5). He serves as Director of Groups Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. As a communicator, Michael speaks across the country at churches, conferences, and retreats and is the author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God; Transformational Discipleship; and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. Find him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.