Transcript—Get Your Spirit in Shape: Following Jesus Every Day
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Joe Iovino: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org's podcast to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I'm Joe Iovino.
My guest today is the Reverend Junius Dotson who serves as the leader of Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church.
Junius Dotson: Discipleship is—if you haven't figured out yet—it’s my passion.
Joe: We talked about things you and I can do to more closely follow Jesus.
Junius: Spiritual disciplines form us. They grow our faith. They stretch our faith.
Joe: One of those disciplines is sharing our faith naturally and authentically.
Junius: If you are a teacher then you're strategically located in a classroom, if you are a lawyer you're strategically located in a courtroom, if you are a doctor, in other words you there are natural places where you can grow and build relationships and just be open.
Joe: Another is prayer.
Junius: I'm praying when I'm listening to music, I'm praying when I'm driving my car, I'm praying when I'm washing the dishes. Prayer for me is just a continuous way of being.
Joe: And one more is worship.
Junius: There have been times that I've actually been running on the treadmill and I'm listening to gospel music and I just go into praise. I'm raising my hands and I'm, “Praise God, yeah, yeah.” That's spiritual exercise. There's a double meaning to that.
Joe: Reverend Dotson's passion for discipleship is contagious.
Joe: I'm in the studio today with the Reverend Junius Dotson the leader of Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Welcome, Junius.
Junius: Thank you so very much. I'm so excited to be here.
Joe: And we're really pleased to have you with us today. You are the leader of Discipleship Ministries, and I want to spend a little time today talking about what it means to be a disciple. Often people think there were 12 of those a long time ago. How can I be a disciple today?
In simple, basic terms, how would you describe that, how can we be disciples today?
Junius: Well, I think in its most basic form to be a disciple is to be a follower, to be a follower of Christ. And if you are a follower of Christ there are some characteristics that go along with being a disciple. Some of those characteristics are growth. How are you growing in Christ?
And the things that we do, habits, that help form us spiritually. These are spiritual disciplines like prayer, that's a spiritual discipline, praying on a daily basis I think is important, making worship a priority in your life I believe is an important piece of growing as a disciple.
In terms of sharing your gifts, and that means giving. Giving to support the ministry and mission, that's an important piece, because what that says is that number one, I'm grateful for the gifts that I've received and all of my gifts come from God. But it also says that, I want to support this effort to reach other people, to reach new disciples. That's an important piece I think of our growth in Christ.
And another piece I think that's so crucial and vital is a willingness to share our faith. That comes in a variety of forms, but God provides so many opportunities for us to share our faith. I call these divine opportunities, divine moments, divine appointments, and I pray for divine appointments, every day. God show me the divine appointment. It's just an opportunity to engage someone who I would not have been able to engage previously, and I call these providential moments from God.
Joe: Do you have an example of one that comes to mind, either for you or for someone that you've heard of?
Get Your Spirit in Shape
Junius: Well, I can tell you generally... I'm trying to think of the last divine appointment that I had.
When I go to restaurants one of the things I like to do is to get to know my server. I always ask the name of the person who’s serving, and then I would always also share with them that, “Hey, I'm going to be praying for my meal.” If I'm with somebody I would say, “We're going to be praying for our meal, is there something you would like for us to pray with you about?” And you would be surprised how many people will open up in and they'll share something deep that's going on in their life.
“Hey, would you pray for my mom, she's about to go through surgery.” And then they will give you some history and then all of a sudden you started this beginning of a new relationship. This has been a regular part of my ministry, personal ministry, and I like to frequent the same place a lot so that I can get to know people, and that's one of the ways that that happens.
Then of course I travel a lot so if I'm on an airplane, I sit next to somebody, they'll start sharing their story, those are divine appointments. So those are probably some very key ways that I meet new people.
Joe: Do you get a sense that those conversations aren't happening on a regular basis for people that aren't connected to the church? And so when you crack the door open just a little they're ready to give you all kinds of things that are happening?
Junius: You would be surprised. I think so, because ... and it's amazing to me, Joe, that when I'm in these conversations how I'm not intentionally steering these conversations towards a spiritual nature, but we end up talking about God. We end up talking about church, all of those sort of things. I usually try to have these conversations before somebody asked me, “What do you do?” because sometimes they say, “Well, what do you do?” “Well, I'm a pastor.” And then it's like, “Eee, okay, conversation's over.”
Joe: Things change.
Junius: Things change, but this is a normal person in a normal conversational exchange, and you'd be amazed at the depth of these conversations. I think people are spiritually hungry. I think they are, I think people are hungry or the things of God, and it may not always articulated or named in that way, but the character of the conversation usually is around those sort of things.
Joe: It's an interesting way to approach it too because lots of times when we talk about—the church word for years was evangelism—we talked about doing evangelism. That felt really intimidating, but asking your server if there's anything I can pray for you seems a lot more inviting in a wonderful way to do much the same thing.
Junius: Absolutely, and I can tell you that at Discipleship Ministries one of our ministry priorities is engagement, engagement with people who are currently outside the church. We say a key to engagement is to developing relationships. And how do you develop relationships? How do you connect with people? How do you engage in these relationships in a way that that's authentic? In other words, as a genuine... I like people. I generally want to get to know people. That's genuine, that is organic, and consistent.
By organic I mean that when you're in a relationship with somebody things evolve and you grow and I think in terms of helping people or offering Christ if you will I've discovered that when I'm in a relationship with somebody, and I go back to the restaurant example, I have so many stories of restaurant example, but that there are natural times when I'm able to share my faith. On this day I'm going to share my faith or ... and I'm not beating people on top their head with the Bible. It's just we're in relationship with each other.
You may be going through something and that's the opportunity for me to either pray with you or to say, “Hey, my church has a support group that can help you move through this.” Or, “Hey, the pastor's preaching a series on grief or the pastor's preaching series on relationship, you may want to come check it out.” So those are just natural opportunities to be able to share in that way.
Joe: As we talk about discipleship or followers of Jesus, this was the way Jesus related to people too. I mean, it's really similar. When you think about ... the story that's popping in my mind right now is the woman at the well. It's a normal everyday occurrence.
Junius: Everyday interactions.
Joe: He just chooses to have a conversation ... a surprising conversation but He chooses just to have an everyday kind of conversation with her.
Junius: Absolutely. I like to say in a historical sense of the word discipleship; I'd like to say that we are strategically placed. That first and foremost, last and utmost we're always disciples of Christ, we're followers of Christ. And if you are a teacher then you're strategically located in the classroom, if you are a lawyer you're strategically located in a courtroom, if you are a doctor… In other words there are natural spheres of influence or natural places where you can grow and build relationships and just be open... Just be open to those organic opportunities to be able to share your faith or to be able to share a wonderful faith formation opportunity where that somebody may be interested in.
I think what we can't do is compartmentalized our faith.
Joe: Meaning, this is my church world, this is my work world?
Junius: Exactly, exactly. I think they're all integrated. I think as you live as a follower of Christ, everywhere you are you are a follower of Christ. One of the most surprising things for me was when I pastored St. Mark in Wichita; I served on as a commissioner on the Kansas State Sentencing Commission. I was appointed by the governor to serve on this commission. When I went into the room everybody had named plaque, and so of course my name plaque said “Reverend Junius Dotson,” right? Oh, okay, wonderful, I get you now.
But you'd be surprised at how many meetings, gatherings, when we did retreats, meals, those sort of things where people invited spiritual guidance, they invited spiritual direction. They invited me into that world. And I wasn't appointed simply because I was a pastor, I was appointed because I was a community leader.
But I was pleasantly surprised at how many of those representatives—and there were lawyers and judges on this commission—were genuinely interested in things of faith. They were generally interested in the faith community. These were things that they really had a deep desire to know more about.
Joe: So when we're open in other spheres of our life we have opportunity to have these conversations. Is that what I hear you saying?
Junius: Absolutely. I think we're sometimes reticent or sometimes we're afraid, “Hey, nobody's going to want to hear this.” Or “I don't want to pray.” Or whatever the case would be. And what I discover more and more is that the opposite is true, that I think people are wanting us to be our true authentic selves as followers of Christ.
Joe: Let's talk about another one of those that you brought up as a path of discipleship or an element of discipleship is probably better said. Let's talk about prayer because we've been touching around that a little bit. You say prayer is a very important part of your life every single day.
Junius: Yes, prayer for me is foundational. It centers me, it provides direction. I get a sense of peace, that peace that surpasses all understanding. Whenever I'm making a major decision, when I feel like it's the right decision is when I feel that sense of peace.
Prayer gives me the opportunity to give things to God, things that I would ordinarily worry about or things that maybe I take responsibility that maybe doesn't belong to me.
Joe: Oh, wow, yeah.
Junius: Those sort of things where I think prayer is a very important part of my life personally.
Joe: How would you coach somebody who is struggling with that aspect? Prayer for some people is hard to wrap their arms around. What are some tips that you would give someone who's saying, “I'm having trouble finding meaning in my prayer life.”
Junius: I think about variety. I think there are several ways to be in prayer. Typically when we think about prayer you think, “Okay, I'm going to close my eyes and fold my hands. I'm going to ..” Then this is a very designated time for prayer.
I think about prayer as continuous, so it's not just one time when I'm on the floor or on my knees praying to God, but it's continuous. Look, I'm praying when I'm listening to music. I'm praying when I'm driving my car. I'm praying when I'm washing the dishes. I'm praying when I'm saying grace at a meal. And I'm praying for people in the restaurant. I mean, prayer for me it's just a continuous way of being.
And so in quiet time, as I said prayer is not always you saying things, sometimes prayer is listening, listening for God and trying to hear the voice of God. I think that's a very important part.
So I think thinking about prayer as continuous, thinking about the variety of ways in which we can pray.
Sometimes I journal. That's a form of prayer for me to sit out and write and to reflect on things. That definitely is a form of prayer for me. Also, I think one of the simplest things but I found this to be very helpful is to pray the scripture, especially the Psalms and turn to a Psalm and just to pray through it, to make it your prayer or my prayer for the day and to kind of live out of that.
Joe: We're almost using the Psalm as an outline, is that how you see that?
Joe: Okay. When you talk about praying continuously, all the time, what I heard you say, and so I'm going to check this out with you, what I think I heard you say was it's an awareness, right? It's an awareness of the Spirit of God in this space.
Joe: But also an awareness of those around you, the things that are going on in the people's lives around you. So it's this... awareness. Can you help me?
Junius: Absolutely, yeah. It is a sense of awareness.
One of our initiatives at Discipleship Ministries is to see all the people (#SeeAllThePeople) and part of seeing all the people is seeing, and I believe that seeing is dialogue. It's certainly the beginning of being and wanting to be in a relationship with someone.
So having an awareness of the people that are around you, also having an awareness that you may be having a bad day but that person could be having a bad day too. And just having a desire to ... Again, I'm going to go back to ... I love to engage people, so I'll talk to anybody. But I also discover, Joe, that people talk to me, and I think part of that is because of having an acute sense of awareness and being approachable and knowing that sometimes people just want to talk, want a friendly hug or a hi or, hey, how you doing, and that kind of thing. But just amazing things, amazing things happen.
Joe: Yeah, you're far more outgoing than I am, I can sense that just in this little bit of conversation. I, actually, am less… It's not as easy for me to approach someone that I don't know to talk to. But one of the things that I've found as a quieter person, is that people like to talk to me because I'm going to listen. And it's this weird sense that people seem to have. You ask that little question and suddenly there's a whole flow coming your way.
So there's lots of ways we can do this, and you don't have to be a pastor to do it, we can just be aware of the people around us prayerfully, and have these meaningful conversations.
Junius: One of the biggest examples of that… There's a certain airline that I fly from time to time where the seats are not assigned. So you sit, and I'm always amazed that when you're walking on the airplane it's clear when somebody doesn't want you to sit next to them. Either they won't make eye contact with you or they'll start fidgeting or those sort of things. I just think that's one of those perfect examples of being in a different kind of space, where you’re open, “Hey, how are you doing? Take this seat if you like.” That's what it takes.
That's the sense of that peace of awareness of being approachable, and even if you're a quiet person or an introvert there's still ways that we can't see all the people and be in dialogue with people without having to be extroverted personality.
Joe: Yeah, you don’t have to initiate the conversation necessarily to be a welcoming person.
So we've talked a little bit about sharing our story, I like that a lot. We've talked all about prayer. Let's spend a few minutes talking about worship, because one of the other things you brought up was being a part of a worship service. Tell me how that's part of our discipleship.
Junius: Well, I think all roads lead to worship. I think disciples are followers of Christ. They're worshipers. We worship Christ. I think there is a corporate worship where we gather together as the body of Christ, and part of that is this time of celebration. We're celebrating the presence of God. I mean, everybody's awesome, God is awesome and we're lifting up and loving on God and we're allowing ourselves to experience the presence of God in our lives and personally and in a corporate sense.
That's the kind of corporate worship of God. I think that's a very, very important piece of our walk, that's a very important piece of this journey that we're on. It feeds us, but it also empowers us to be able to feed others. It empowers us for the journey ahead. And so I think that's a very important piece.
Then there's private worship, and I believe that followers and disciples of Christ can't wait for Sunday to worship God. We can't just wait for the corporate gathering to worship God. You have to be intentional about having some individual private time, private worship time with God. So, of course, there are many ways to do that, many settings to be able to do that, but I think that's an important piece of our growth, this piece of worship.
Joe: You talked about quiet time earlier, that can be our worship time of our personal worship.
That leads me in a way to… we've been talking about these things that are about how we are shaped by God in those quiet times, but also you talked about our gifts and the ways that we can use our gifts, including our financial gifts to be disciples. We don't often think of it that way as a discipleship piece, so help me with that, tell me a little bit about using our gifts to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
Junius: Well, we're talking about stewardship, and when I think about giving I think about giving as a spiritual discipline, because spiritual disciplines form us. They grow our faith. They stretch our faith. So giving as a spiritual discipline out of the heart first and foremost is the acknowledgement that everything I have comes from God, that God gives me the ability, and this is somewhere in Deuteronomy, gives me the ability to create wealth, right?
By that I don't mean being a rich person, but the ability to engage in commerce, the ability to have financial means, whatever the level. Every gift comes from God, and so it's an acknowledgment of that. No matter how large or how small the gift comes from God, and so giving first and foremost is the acknowledgment that if it were not for God I would have it to give in the first place.
And so as I give then I'm growing deeper in my understanding of that, and my sense of gratitude is enlarged. So that's a very important piece for me.
The other aspect of this for me is what giving means to support the ministry and the mission, right? If I were in a local church I say of this local house or the ministry and mission of this church, right? And the beauty of course of being the United Methodist Church is that we have the ability to be able to support ministry and mission beyond ourselves, beyond the local church and have significant impact on the lives of others.
This is so that people who don't know Christ can come to know Christ, that for the people who are yet to come, right? So we have the ability to do that. So giving is a very, very important piece then of what it means to be a disciple because we want other people to come to know Jesus. We want other people to be followers of Christ, and we want this movement of Christ to continue to grow and have impact beyond ourselves.
Joe: Wonderful, wonderful. We've been talking about discipleship and how you are the leader of Discipleship Ministries; I want to learn a little bit more about you for a second. So tell me about your job and the way you see what you're doing at Discipleship Ministry?
Junius: Well, first off discipleship is if you haven't figured out yet is my passion, and I've always been so passionate about discipleship, and so part of my job at Discipleship Ministries is to inspire a disciple making movement.
Joe: And you're doing a pretty good job.
Junius: Thank you so very much. Across our denomination, our mission is to assist local church leaders and your conference leaders in their task of making disciples.
That's our mission. We equip, we're all making disciples, and that means training and resourcing, and those are two significant ways that we do that. Leadership training is a piece of it, we work with young people. Path One, we try to inspire this movement for starting new churches. Why are we starting new churches? To reach new people.
And I'm a church planter. I planted a church in California, planted a second campus in my time in Wichita. The greatest joy for me in starting churches was seeing new people come to Christ. There is nothing like seeing a person who didn't have relationship with Christ come to know Jesus and the joy, it's like a light turns on and they are just so full of enthusiasm and full of energy and they want to take on the world. That's the greatest; I get no greater joy than that. So that's part of what we're trying to do at Discipleship Ministry, not only for new churches but for existing congregations.
It's about rediscovering that why and living out of it. This is why we're here, we're here to reach people for Christ, we're here to make disciples and we're here to transform the world.
Joe: Yeah. I was just going to say the same thing: that The United Methodist Church says our goal is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
You're on the front lines of trying to help make that happen for us.
Joe: On Get Your Spirit in Shape we talk about the spiritual nutrition as the things that we talk about like these ideas about discipleship, but we also like to talk about spiritual exercises and ways in which we can grow and exercise our faith and be disciples of Jesus Christ. In your life—and you've already shared some of them, but I'm going to ask you directly because we do this with every guest—What is something that you would recommend that we try, maybe something we haven't tried before that would help us in our discipleship?
Junius: Well, one of the most meaningful practices for me… I love music, so I do a couple of things. Particularly in the mornings, I tell that little machine that I'll talk to and she'll start playing music for me. “Hey, play some modern gospel.” I turn it up, and I just allow that music to minister to me. And man, nothing changes my mood quicker; nothing gets me going quicker than that piece. And depending what song it is, I'll crank it up a little bit. So that's important for me.
Here's another thing I do: I work out. I go to the gym, and I love... I put my headphones on and I'm listening to gospel music. There have been times that I've actually been running on the treadmill and I'm listening to gospel music and I just go in to praise, I'm raising my hands and I'm, “Praise God, yeah, yeah.” That's the spiritual exercise. There's a double meaning to that.
But those are two things that are just meaningful for me. A very, very important piece for me, I love doing those things. I love finding spiritual themes that are looking for God, spiritual meaning, and television shows or movies and then having conversations with people about that. There'll be a phrase that's said on a show or something that I'll write down and that is with my staff actually, I'll write it down, I was like, “Hey, did you ... let me tell you about this thing I saw last night.” And it takes you deeper into exploring different aspects of faith.
Joe: Sure. I love the music thing, I think that's great, and it takes absolutely zero talent to be able to turn on and listen to music. Are you singer, just I'm just curious?
Junius: I love to sing.
Joe: You have a great speaking voice, so I was thought…
Junius: But I am not a singer. Usually my music team would say, “Oh, we need you to sit down.” But listen, when I'm in praise mode it doesn't matter. I'm just going to open my mouth and make a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Joe: Thanks, Junius. This has been a great conversation. I've really enjoyed this.
Junius: Thank you so very much. I appreciate the conversation and God bless you as you seek to keep inspiring disciple-making.
Joe: That was the Reverend Junius Dotson, leader of Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. To learn more about Junius and Discipleship Ministries or to find other great United Methodists podcasts visit UMC.org/podcasts, and look for this episode.
Also we'd love it if you would take the time to review Get Your Spirit in Shape on iTunes, or just give us some stars. Great reviews help more people find us.
Thanks for listening, downloading, and subscribing. I'll be back soon with another conversation to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I'm Joe Iovino. Peace.
This episode first posted on March 16, 2018.