by Tommy Rutledge
Always and never are two words our household has all but deleted from the vocab. When these two words go flying through the airspace, a fight almost "always" ensues. However, there is the rare occasion when always or never is appropriate. Now if you could somehow fit both of these words into the same sentence, impressive! Well, here goes nothing:

The gospel is never planted in a vacuum, but always in a context.

Always and Never.

This one sentence opened up Pandora 's Box for me in the task of planting a disciple-making Church. For most of my adult discipleship life, I assumed that if I could just preach the right Biblical content and effectively transmit from point A to point B, then discipleship would automatically occur. Context was irrelevant. Content ruled the day. I rightly valued exegesis concerning the Word of God but wrongly valued exegesis concerning the context in which I was situated.

Soma Asheville has identified 7 aspects we believe are critical to a long-term sustainable process of discipleship around the centrality of the gospel.

Importance of Story is the first aspect.

A person's story is the personal context of the heart God is interested in cultivating. There is also the heart of a collective context to consider (i.e. the world), but that is for a later post. Why is personal story so critical in the disciple-making process?

Personal story establishes the true spiritual reference point. God asked Adam and Eve in the garden a profound question, "Where are you?" Personal story helps us know where you are in your own story and establishes the right reference point Jesus will be working from. I've learned the hard way in pastoral ministry that what people believe is not what they say with their mouth, but more so what they say with their life. I've also learned that where people say they are and where they actually are often do not align either. Good work in personal story helps with this realignment. Having a clear spiritual reference point in place is critical to seeing the tangible, concrete areas Jesus is interested in redeeming and restoring going forward.

Personal Story exposes the lie of the lesser story. Most of us grew up living within a lesser story. That lesser story scripted for us how to create an identity for ourselves, what to value, where to find security and significance, and where to find meaning. It also came riddled with "little lords" that we trusted in, bowed down to, and depended upon to get all these things met. More on these idols in the next post.

Believing in the gospel means among many things usurping the lesser story of your life for the greater Story of God. When we believe in the gospel, substitution becomes the key word. His life becomes your life. His Story becomes your story. You are given His name. You are part of His family. The Scripture becomes your family tree.

What often goes wrong in the discipleship process is that Jesus becomes conditioned or subordinated to your lesser story. Aspects of your old story go unevangelized or undiagnosed by the gospel and then we wonder why change strangely eludes us. Here's the crazy thing. You can read the Bible, have great religious devotion and even accent your week by great spiritual ritual, but if that underlying story is not displaced by the greater Story of God, the desired change will not come. When Jesus said He was Lord, He really meant it. He desires to be Lord over your entire life, not just your religious or personal aspect.

Personal Story restores the right vision for how God is re-making you. C.S. Lewis said, "the more God takes us over, the more of ourselves we become." As you move along this discipleship continuum, the more uniquely you, you become. It's like an outer body experience. You're still you, but the deeper your life goes into the reservoirs of gospel belief, the constitutional change happens. It's like getting to know yourself all over again! Jesus is a real Lord and a real Savior to your real life. That's what makes it such good news. He brings the better life!

I have witnessed many industrialized, pre-packaged, processed forms of discipleship yield uniform disciples with precious little diversity. I have found the exact opposite to be true when personal story is allowed to be the context the discipleship process works within. Personal context allows for the discipleship process to be local enough to each individual's story.

I'll conclude with two discipleship assumptions to avoid. The first assumption is employing content download as an effective means to discipling. No listening or discernment of culture is required with this discipleship strategy. No personal relationship is required either.

The second assumption to avoid is unintentionally discipling someone up into your story rather than their story. The imposition of your story is a subtle form of imperialism. Everyone else's discipleship journey must look just like mine, right? Wrong. While there are certainly clear markers that accent the journey, allow enough room for God to redeem their story the way He so desires. I promise you it will look different from yours.