The "Doldrums"

By Steve Manskar

“a spell of listlessness or despondency”

“The catechesis of being accountable for aspects of discipleship which have been neglected or taken for granted, gives each group a wealth of insight and challenge during the first two months of meeting together. After three or four months, however, a sense of routine sets in. The questions seem to become mechanical. Answers lack spontaneity, and member begin to question the validity and usefulness of the whole exercise.

“It should be clearly stated to new groups that this time of ‘doldrums’ is to be expected, and for two reasons. The most immediate cause is the wish to turn to something new when the novelty of the groups has worn off. In part this is reflective of our culture’s preoccupation with self-fulfillment, and it should be firmly resisted. Indeed, withdrawing from religious ‘junk food’ is one of the most important functions of covenant discipleship groups.

“There is a deeper spiritual reason for the ‘doldrums,’ however, which can best be described as ‘getting a second wind.’ Most churchgoers today are out of practice when it comes to accountable discipleship. Many have allowed themselves to become spectators in church, watching and perhaps admiring those who seem to be committed to their faith, though not really wishing to join them in the work of Jesus Christ. Now that they are in a covenant discipleship group, there is no avoiding the challenge of discipleship. While this is exhilarating at first, there comes a time when the routine of the task begins to take hold, and when the daily grind requires stamina.

“As a group gets this second wind, it should be explained that this is exactly what covenant discipleship is all about. It is an agreement to watch over one another in love. We are in covenant, not merely to share the high points in our journey6, important though these are, but much more to sustain the support each other in the midst of the routine and the commonplace.

“If a group remains faithful to its covenant through these ‘doldrums,’ it is not long before the rough and tumble of living in the world brings the member to realize even more profoundly the value of this common bond. Such times of apparent aimlessness are no more than a test of the commitment they have made, a searching and tempering of discipleship, a moving away from self-serving interests to those which are Christ-serving. It is a form of spiritual growth well attested in the history of the Christian faith; but groups need to know about it at the outset, and to be ready for it.”

-- David Lowes Watson, Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation Through Mutual Accountability, pages 163-4. Used by permission.