As a fresh college graduate, I came to the Emerging Leader program in hopes that the Downline Institute would mend the wounds from a less-than-stellar last semester of college. And I wanted easier transition to the real world because what 22 year old knows exactly what they want to do with their life? I would like to say that my motives were pure and I entered this year selflessly, but I applied out of desperation. I wanted to be that faithful follower of Christ, but let’s be real, I wanted someone else or a 9-month discipleship program to do the gritty work for me. *I don’t encourage this option.
Needless to say, my skewed image of waltzing into this program and having my life fixed did not happen. I didn’t magically become an easy-to-love roommate eager to share her life with others. I didn’t suddenly and finally start pouring over God’s word daily. And I most definitely did not joyfully surrender over 12+ hours of my week on top of my first year of teaching at an elementary school. And in the midst of chaos is where Downline meets reality.
I quickly and frustratingly learned that a program couldn’t change me. Even with the most influential people in Memphis pouring into me over four times a week, I was still stuck. And finally, after keeping my roommates at arm’s length, trying to stuff all wisdom from anyone and everyone, and receiving my first grey hairs of teaching, I gave up my prideful resistance. And it only took me until November.
Loving Jesus has been really painful and hard this year. Nothing picturesque or easy about it. Not a graceful, quickly-dust-yourself-off kinda fall, but more like a Randy from A Christmas Story tumble…”I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t -get -up!” (For visual reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFAcRaK4cuM) The program isn’t driven to fix people or make following Christ easier and I’m incredibly thankful for that. The leadership of Downline and classes have all pointed me back to the one person I tried short-cutting the whole first half of the program, Jesus. And only Jesus. It wasn’t until I finally took all the baggage I checked at the door from college and surrendered it that I started seeing Jesus really move in my life. I allowed my roommates to see me hurt. I started to desire God’s word for myself and by myself because in it I found real freedom that all the pride in the world can’t replace. I’ve even learned to appreciate the grey stripes of hard-work in my hair.
So if you are looking for this program to fix you, make you a better Christian, or make a healing process less painful, then you aren’t going to find that in the Downline Emerging Leaders program. You are going to find accountability, teaching, and mentors who love you so much that they want you to taste God’s grace for yourself and I mean, really taste it. If you’re ready to get serious about loving the Lord and doing His work, with both sweet and painful moments, then these 9-months of learning paired with action are right for you.
Bailey Gilbert is a current Emerging Leader. She teaches ESL at a Memphis elementary school where she enjoys rapping for her kindergarteners. On her days off, you’ll find her playing outside, running, or laughing with friends.