Why discipleship matters and it isn’t as scary as you think..
I don’t know if you remember but a couple of years ago the Synod did a consultation with Congregations and Presbyteries about what they could use some help with.. One of the key areas that was mentioned a number of times was a lack of confidence in sharing the Gospel and growing disciples. For a long time the “disciple” word was a bit of a swear word, particularly in the Uniting Church. Our amazing ability to work in the Ecumenical and Interfaith environments, means that the call to respect silenced us around the treasure we have in the Gospel.
Over the Easter break I took some study leave to do a deep dive into some of Barna’s research into Discipleship. They have just released a short book called Growing Together – a 3 part guide for following Jesus and bringing friends on the journey.
The research reflected just what we had discovered in the Synod consultation, people lacked confidence. Whilst busy lifestyles did play a part in it, a much larger part was that people hadn’t thought about it, hadn’t found someone who they would want to have that kind of relationship with or that people just didn’t know how to have this kind of relationship. People just didn’t know how. It was also interesting to learn that most Christians like 70% see their discipling task done if someone becomes a Christian. They didn’t see that continuing to help them grow in faith or that they come to a point where they are discipling others as part of the task.
The word disciple, is actually the root word to discipline, which comes from the latin word “discipulus” which means student, to study or to learn. The disciples were people learning from Jesus. Our call to be disciples is simply about a choice we make to learn about who Jesus was and what he was on about and how to implement that into our everyday lives. Nothing scary, nothing mystical, nothing complex. Who is Jesus, what does it mean to follow him in our everyday lives..
So why is it so hard then??? According to Barna’s research one of the big factors that hold back particularly our Baby Boomers is the belief that came about with the move from the Modernist movement to Post Modernity that faith is a private thing, not something you discuss with others. Like politics. The problem with not talking about these things has meant we have become terrible at having respectful conversations. How do we remain friends, how do I love you like Jesus does when I disagree with you? Many choose not to have those conversation, then others take it way too far and at times I have had people out right tell me I am not a Christian because I don’t belong to their brand or because I belong to the Uniting Church.
Interestingly the assumption is that people who are not part of the Church are equally as judgmental and standoffish and don’t want to talk to you about faith, this is not the reality. In recent studies from NCLS, people are willing to come to church if people actually invite them.. I tested this theory over Easter with some friends, I was preaching so asked – want to come to church with me? Here’s the Facebook link if you want to watch it online. To my great shock and surprise they actually did!!!
Discipleship is not a big scary thing with a magic formula to follow, that you have to get right or you are going to hell. It is merely the choices we make about how we live our life and faith. Being discipled by another is about allowing someone else to keep us accountable to those things we value. To disciple another is about allowing them to see the truthful, messy, musings of your life as you try to live this Jesus life in your world today, which encourages, challenges and teaches how it looks for them..
You probably are being discipled and discipling others every day and didn’t even realise it!
If you’re not, can I recommend it to you.. Having faithful people to genuinely wrestle with about what does it mean to be a student of Jesus will change your world, it moves it from an isolated trudge of discipline through a forest looking for a path not often travelled to a bush walk with friends. So much easier to stay on track!
If you don’t know how to do this, pick someone from Church that you think is interesting, you respect or you get on with and invite them out for a beverage, then be honest with them.. Ask them if they are willing to meet with you to keep you on track around an area of faith you are working on.. Prayer, reading the bible, unpacking what a Jesus life looks like for you. Or maybe ask them one of the big questions your wrestling with around how faith is impacting on your family or work. Don’t start with faith questions if it is too much just start talking life.
It is really just about authentic real relationships. You will be amazed at how talking just about life and faith can challenge you and help you to grow.
I promise the first time is the hardest but it is worth the investment. May the Spirit honour your courage!
Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.