Have You Forgotten Your Number, Disciple?

The Women’s Ministry at my church hosts a “retreat-ish” experience each December. In the past, the decision to host has alternated between being held locally and out of town. I know of many, including myself that were super excited to be going away this year, to the beach no less. Unfortunately the difficult decision to cancel our beach getaway was made due to uncertainty amidst COVID-19. Prayerfully it can occur in some format, but that has yet to be unfolded. At any rate, I’d made a minimum downpayment on the registration for me and my mom. Our First Lady who provides leadership for the experience reached out to me and others via email asking registrants to direct their intent for monies paid. If the intent was to donate to “tithes and offering,” one was asked to send their name, address and disciple number. I had no problem with the first two requested fields, but the third, I was completely blank. Typically I complete my disciple number at least once per month on the envelop by which I pay my tithe and other Sundays for offering, or I have cash on hand or occasionally I donate electronically. Since I’ve not attended church physically since March 8th, I’ve not been required to write my disciple number. A simple task that I engage in regularly has been eliminated and suddenly I am completely at a loss for recall. I was able to log into our giving website and secure the last four digits of my disciple number, so I provided that. However the beginning portion is still missing from my memory. Thank God for the workaround and my ability to respond to my First Lady, albeit late (my deepest apologies Lady Cheryl), but I couldn’t help but wonder what other aspects of discipleship might we have forgotten as a result of not gathering together.

Sheltering and missing attending church in person may not be a thing for some. That is because everyone doesn’t have it as a component of their normal. I’ve attended church since I was a child and have experienced little interruption. In college, I partied until 4 or 5 in the morning and still waited for the church van at 10:30ish outside my residence hall. I knew I would get a good Word and a good meal! As a young adult, when I moved out of my mother’s home and the requirement to attend was no longer a misdemeanor, I still went. As primarily a single parent, I embodied the requirement as modeled by my mother and took my daughter. And now, that my mother and I again share a dwelling space, we attend together. The ultimate reason I attend is because I enjoy it. I absolutely love the assembling of the saints. I am moved from every emotion available to me through praise and worship. I revel in witnessing deliverance and liberation and awe of God. I have literally experienced my life being saved through the power of spoken prayer in the sanctuary and as a scholar, I am always intrigued by the extrapolation of God’s Word into practical application. And the bonus is sharing what I learned, sometimes in chunks or tiny bits and pieces to encourage someone else, along the way.

However, I understand that everyone has not had a climatic Color Purple experience with the “church,” and that the physical gathering represents historical trauma and conjures memories of vulnerability shattered. For those, I hold in my heart and pray for their latter days to be better than their former. For those that have no interest in attending, and feel that it is an outdated practice, my hope is that one day, you will give it a try again, and share your God given gifts accordingly to enact much needed transformation. For those that have never attended, this sheltering in place has forced me to question the extent to which our discipleship has contributed to your “stay at home ministry” and makes me curious as to wonder if as disciples, we have demonstrated inaccurate and complicated demonstrations of the God that we serve. Do we know our own number disciple? Not the one assigned by the administrative office when we joined, but the symbolic value of who we are in God. Do we have identity markers that trace our linkage to God? Are we in fact able to count ourselves worthy in the number to trust God instead of being led to enact our own cryptic devices of manipulation? Is there mathematical space for us to be counted on in Kingdom assignment or are we instead simply fractions compounded in the fishes and loaves ministry?

COVID-19 is teaching us monumental lessons in relation to discipleship. It might provide opportunity to strengthen our faith, and to lean into God in ways we never imagined. It might make transparent a paralyzation of our faith, and offer extension to seek assistance in understanding the culprit. It might lift up that our faith is weak and not as strong as we’ve hoped (or professed) given our many trials and victories, yet that provides invitation to go deeper into God’s Word and create more intimacy with Him. However, if there is no interrogation of our faith, and we are not changed at all as a result of this pandemic, I’m afraid that we’ve chartered a disappointing place, void less of God, un documentable in terms of the tenets and practices of discipleship, essentially as if we’ve forgotten that value of our number, disciple.

Luke 22:32 reads, “but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail. When you have come back, you must strengthen your brothers.” PC or pre Covid, or pre Calvary, Jesus prayed for us. I believe those prayers have the ability to tunnel through time and cover us today. Additionally, Jesus sits at the right hand of the God making intercession for us (Romans 8:34). So, if Jesus is intentional with action, He models behavior for us that must be mimicked. Discipleship is terminology that we’ve embraced in our churches, but being a disciple, and making disciples is a lifestyle that we must all engage. If in fact one is only challenged to be a disciple while attending the church, we’ve missed the lesson, the call and we are harmful to the masses, the number of those in need of salvation.

I am not suggesting a form of religiosity, Lord knows that has gotten us nowhere. But what about the transformation of your life is evident in your walk? I love graphic tees to be sure, but if the quotes are the only evidence of being a disciple, we are failing Christ. If opening one’s Bible app to share the daily scripture on one’s social media timeline, and our living is oppositional to our witness, we’ve missed the mark of the high calling in Christ. If we are only available to things of church through its physicality, neglecting the power of God to sweep through homes, cars and timelines and be transportable by the Holy Spirit, through downloads, phones, tablets and video conferencing, we’ve socially distanced ourselves in ways God never intended.

Saints, the doors of the church are opened now in ways that we could not have imagined. Folk who do not identify as disciples are doing discipleship unapologetically, sewing masks, preparing meals, encouraging others, while those “in” the church have relinquished the weaponry to get us through. May we not close the door of our neighborhood, home, street and hospital “churches” in our inability to demonstrate His grace, His steadfast love, warmth, laughter and embrace. May we be intentional in remembering that as disciples, we carry an enormous amount of weight, influence and witness, more than the number of likes on a page. As a collective, the number of us in Christ, moving through our anointing and faith in God is powerful! May we value the cost of Calvary,, After Calvary (AC) or after COVID and recommit ourselves to being fishers of people in our walk. May we use this sheltered time to refuel, reconnect, realign and reboot parts of ourselves so that we may be fit for the Master’s use. May we engage in some deep calculations as similar to that orchestrated by Dr. Katherine Johnson to determine our applicability to God’s will and His intentionality with our purpose. Numbers represent meaning, and as disciples, we must endeavor to represent Christ. It is permissible for me to forget my number, but it is unfathomable for me to forget that I am His child, His beloved, His disciple.