We took a step back in time this week (maybe that’s why I’m a day later than usual with the blog.) We were in Toronto and visited Linda’s niece. She lives a couple of blocks from the old Church Army complex that we just had to stroll by. It looks quite different now. It has the same façade but has been developed as condominiums. We both had spent two memorable years there during our training period and then several years later moved back as I came on staff as Field Secretary. I worked in personnel and was Captain T.’s personal assistant for seven years.
The training period was wonderfully formative and I remember those times with a warm nostalgia. The community life with the rhythms of prayer, study and service is responsible for making me the person I am today. It wasn’t all fun, formation never is, but our memories are filled with joy. From early morning chapel services to singing before meals to a regular Thursday Night Prayer Meeting featuring a missionary home from some exotic mission field, these were the occasions where we ‘caught’ the zeal for the Gospel.
When I first entered the training, I knew the Gospel narrative and I knew many of the stories of the Old testament and the Acts of the Apostles but it was here that I began to grasp the connected and overarching story of God and his people. It was here that I began to formulate a theology that would sustain me through the years. The training though was as much about practise as it was about theoretical learning. Each student had a challenging practical placement outside the academic studies.
Community life is never easy, but in hindsight it was the very best feature of those days. Solomon writes about iron sharpening iron and that was certainly the case! We learned that we were inadequate to the task and to trust in God. The way to personal growth often lay in the shade of humility fostered in failure. We were thrown in over our heads and were to sink or swim. More often folks sank and I realise this may not be the most proficient discipling model, but it worked for me. I will be eternally grateful for those days. I find myself sorry that the students of today will never know this kind of formation. Time has marched on, as it inevitably does, and different methods are adopted for a different time.
Real formative discipleship remains essential, though. Education alone does not suffice. Our church in the west may be the most educated and simultaneously in steep decline. The answer is not in the head alone but in heart and in the hands. Zeal is sometimes scorned in our education dominated church culture, but it remains indispensable to the carrying out of the commission of the Church. The hands too need to be engaged. Our words without our action become meaningless to hurting world. My training reinforced the lesson I learned in elementary school. It is all about “Show and Tell!”