Did you know that Christian discipleship is like Horse Whispering?
If you are now thinking about Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas, whoa there! I’m talking about the real horse whisperer, Monty Roberts, who is world famous and even trains the horses of Her Majesty, the Queen. To get to the point of this illustration I need to give you a bit of background.
Monty Roberts grew up as the son of a horse-breaker in the desert of the Southern USA. His father’s method of training wild horses was to tie them to a post and scare them until they submitted to his control. Monty watched his father, and the wild horses, and he noticed two things; firstly, that his father was using essentially the same method to bring him up, and secondly that there was a better way of communicating with horses.
He observed that a horse wishing to join a herd went through a long process with the dominant mare of the herd, which amounted to a series of invitations and challenges, communicated with movements of the head and body. These invitations and challenges, Monty realised, could equally well be given to a horse by a human. He imitated the gesture and posture of the horses and found he could very quickly get them to trust him and relate closely to him. Apparently the longest it has ever taken him to get a saddle and rider on to a wild horse is 16 minutes.
So what’s that got to do with Christian discipleship? Well, firstly we need to acknowledge that in the past the worldwide church has behaved like Monty Roberts’ father in scaring people into submission and obedience. I want to assure you, if you still had any lingering doubts, that we don’t do it like that any more! God is not a horse breaker; he is a horse whisperer, giving us loving invitations and gentle challenges through life, to draw us into close relationship with him. Just as Monty Roberts effectively became a horse to communicate with horses, God became a human in Christ so that he could show us how much he loves us.
And secondly, the church now functions as a whisperer, not a breaker. I hope you know you are invited – to come and be heard, to come and be part of something. Yet, if all we ever did were invite people, we would just be a cosy huddle, instead of a vibrant community of faith. Invitation then goes hand in hand, in church life as in horse whispering, with challenge. What do I mean by that? Well, people who’ve been church members all their lives are still on a journey of discovery, learning more from day to day, week to week, about God and what it means to be a Christian. That challenge is open for everyone, no mater whether they’ve never been to church or have been going for 90 years!
Invitation and challenge; we are aiming for a careful balance between the two, because if all you ever got at church was challenge, you’d soon be discouraged, but if all you get is invitation, you’d soon be bored. But with the right amount of both, the result is an empowered Christian community, on a journey of discovery together.
I look forward to journeying with you this autumn